“Three Stars,” Josh Loomis

She walked through the halls with his picture in her hand. She stopped the hotel’s staff and other guests alike. She struggled to keep her tone of voice even, despite the desperation of the last 24 hours that had pushed her to this point. Every person she stopped was asked the same question.

“Excuse me, have you seen my husband?”

They’d look at her, then at his picture, then shake their heads. Some of them uttered apologies and others just shrugged and told her “no hablo inglés”. She was getting that a lot. It didn’t surprise her, given they’d chosen to honeymoon in Mexico, but it was making her search more frustrating.

They didn’t find a lot of options. Despite both having jobs, being young and in entry-level positions meant that there wasn’t a lot of money to spare after bills and debt payments were satisfied. Still, both of them craved not only a honeymoon but one abroad. The meager savings they had put airfares and decent hotels both out of reach, leaving them with anything within driving distance. Adding in their truncated timetable due to a lack of vacation days, and that left Tiajuana.

“Excuse me, have you seen my husband?”

“No hablo inglés, señora.”

A cockroach chased its mate into a crack in the baseboard. The wallpaper was stained with water damage to varying degrees all around her. How this hotel had managed a 3-star rating in its reviews on Google, she’d never know. Maybe some of the employees here were savvy enough to bump up the hotel’s ratings and draw in more lodgers, but surely tourists like herself had been smart enough to point out things like the large rat in the emergency stairwell.

She thought she saw another rodent as she entered the lobby. The dark shape scurried behind an endtable, a solid wooden set piece that was slammed against the wall by the bellboy. She jumped at the sudden movement, and the bellboy looked up at her. There was no sympathy in his eyes, only a cold dispassion for his menial task. She backed away from him and forced herself to turn to the front desk.

“Have the police called?”

“No, Mrs. Frazier, they have not.” The desk clerk leaned on his meaty hand, sweat glistening on his skin. “I suspect the spring breakers and the soccer hooligans are keeping them busy.”

“Please, my husband’s been missing for an entire day. Surely someone out there’s seen him.”

“If they had I would have been called, and I would have called you right away. Just like I told you two hours ago, señora.”

She sighed. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to keep bothering you. I’m just worried about him.”

“I know. I understand. So do all the guests who’ve come to me asking if you’re feeling okay. Nobody’s really complained yet, but it’s only a matter of time. Please, go back to your room.”

She nodded, thanking the desk clerk and tipping him. She walked back to her room feeling defeated. Then again, what had she hoped to accomplish? Was she really so certain someone would just recognize him out of the blue? She shook her head. She needed rest.

She found the door to her room already ajar. The housekeeping cart was outside. She pushed the door open to find the maid going through her husband’s wallet.

“Hey!”

As she moved into the room, she registered that the young Hispanic woman was holding onto a very specific card as she dropped the wallet.

“Mrs. Frazier!”

“What right do you have to go through my husbands things?” Frazier grabbed the woman by the wrist and glared at her, and then glanced at the card. It was his blood donor card, which had his blood type listed in bold letters. Frazier looked back at the frightened housekeeper.

She was about to demand an explanation when she felt something sharp jab her in the neck. She struggled to turn behind her to look, only catching a glimpse of cold, dispassionate eyes before everything went dark.

When she woke up, she was aware of being cold and of her side hurting like crazy. She moved her arm towards the pain and felt tiny round objects sliding around under her skin. Her fingertips touched her side, but instead of smooth flesh they found rough stitches. She moved her head to try and look down, and whimpered in disbelief.

She was naked, face-down, in a bathtub full of ice. The stitching was over a long incision on her side towards her back. Three knots stood out among the stitches, like tiny black stars against her white skin. Numbly, she tried to climb out of the bathtub only to collapse. She struggled to get a grip on the counter and hauled herself over the sink, where she promptly threw up. Gasping for air afterward, phlegm and spittle dripping from her face, she turned her eyes to the white piece of paper on the counter.

“Your kidney has been removed. Seek medical attention.”

She reached for the paper, but instead of picking it up it slid away from her towards the floor. It turned over in the air and she found her husband smiling back at her.

Sobbing, she picked it up. After a moment, she grabbed a towel from the rack. Wrapping it around herself she stumbled out of the bathroom and into the hallway. There was a water fountain by the door to the back stairs. She took a drink then shambled into the emergency stairway. The rat watched her with beady red eyes.

She came out on the first floor. She held the towel tight to her body as she stopped the first man she saw. His back was to her.

“Excuse me…”

He turned. Her eyes went wide. The picture fell from her numb fingers. The clerk at the desk heard her scream.

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