Self-indulgent, but free, she looked out a window. Caribbean spread before her, from one edge to another. Rich blue with white froth crowning its majestic, ten-meter high waves, sunlight bounced off its silky surface and entered Kari’s retinas, pleasuring her brain with electric signals of the right stuff. In the scene, sea went on all the way to a horizon, where Earth began to curl into a ball. There, it met a sky, a painting of crimson and magenta tints surrounding the lifegiver Ra, settling down for the night. In truth, sea did not meet the sky; it was merely visible against it. And, for all its poetic grace, the merciless old scortcher of a sun, a star by a broader definition, was not settling down; the Earth was spinning as fast as it could to avoid burning in the gaze of its spiteful master.
Kari, a humanoid female of thirty-two Earth years, grasped a door handle, with her outstretched left arm of five digits, and pushed it down, causing a mechanism hidden out of sight to operate. With this movement, a metal piece holding the door in place slid in such a manner, she could rotate the obstruction out of her way.
She breathed deep, walking to a balcony’s edge, and grasped the railing. Salt, the stuff brine is made of. Wind blew against her hair, which swung in erratic, but frequent pulses. It was bright red; too bright for anyone to mistake natural. But she could not care less. Letting her tranquil, orgasmic, deep gaze roam the scene; from the sky, to the sea, to the beach below with its thousand surfers, sunbathers, pickpockets and plain swimmers; Kari was at home.
Lightning struck far to the east, where dark clouds were rapidly approaching, bringing a stormy night with them. Squinting, she could see flashes in the majestic cloud formations from the balcony located in floor one hundred and nine. “..two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine.” A low, booming rumble rippled around her, which felt funny in her lower belly. Kari had loved thunderstorms ever since her early childhood. But truth be told, she would not want to stand on that beach below when the storm arrived. She much rather lay in her luxurious double bed, staring at the window, mesmerized; lightning-fast flashes on her face and curves, sipping a herbal infusion.
Three kilometers to the east, an electric eye hovered in a rain. A ball of energy, it was barely visible to the human eye, with faint red disturbances as its silhouette. Bobbing, jerking, struggling to stay in phase with her reality, it was feeding on immense reservoirs of electricity in the storm clouds. Currents of energy around it were erratic, and so stability was an issue as it surveyed her, looking back, from a side of a high-rise. The humanoid female of thirty-two Earth years turned and retreated back into depths of the building. That was alright. The Observer was not a slave to time. Waiting was not an issue.
High heels on a carpeted floor, she stepped gracefully along an invisible line. Kari’s legs were covered with latte stockings, morphing into a lusciously red dress tight against her wide, round hips. It was her skeletal form, which she dared not to fatten; born to give birth, but not once had she been that lucky. Or cursed. It depended on which of her friends she chose to believe. After the hips, which swung from side to side (a group of men behind her were exchanging wow-expressions amongst themselves), the dress kissed her narrow waist, feeling her rib cage and then a rather hefty pair of knockers. Artificially enhanced, but ever so lightly, they still felt quite natural to touch. So she had been told and so she knew herself, having two toned arms which wore a light tan.
Turning on the heels, she swung to face a sliding door and with a manicured finger, its nail painted red, she pressed a button. Quite aware of admiring glances that had escorted her, she swung her head around and took a quick at the men. The three wore suits and looked rather young. She could not see how expensive their attires were from fifty or so meters away, but judging by their behavior, with boyish smirks, nervous glances and, at last, overly daring steps towards her direction, they were not of high status. Perhaps a trio of frat boys, out on their own, burning through pop’s hard-earned credit.
She had applied light make-up before leaving her room. Instead, she put her faith on the borderline arrogant, aggressive, but still feminine personality accumulated through years of modeling and, strangely enough, acting as a part-time medium. A queen of the catwalks, Kari had begun her career in her teens. Tall, daring and stunningly beautiful; an easy pick for the ravenous agents of fashion industry. But she had seen strange, prophetic dreams, read people’s minds and told their fortunes since her early childhood. Hell, the earliest thing Kari remembered was watching her mother chopping carrots. She screamed and pointed her short, stubby fingers to no avail, not knowing the words, but feeling something bad was going to happen. Her mother was surprised by something and cut into her hand, blood pouring onto orange rings.
Underneath that assertiveness and I-get-what-I-want attitude, she was, at most, pretty. But in all her glory on a night like that, no man could resist her lure. But she was not going to settle for any old, fat bozo. Hers was the grand prize, one she was going to find and have to herself.
Looking at the display above, Kari was aware of the men by her side. Their gazes felt irritating on her groomed, carefully grown body. It was coming from above. “121, 120, 119, 118 ..” The numbers went by at an accelerating pace. Such a tall hotel needed fast elevators. Any slower and they’d have had to open lunch bars in the moving rooms for fat, food-addicted bastards frequenting the popular holiday destination.
“So, you going to hit the roulette table today, Jake?” asked man with a pony-tail resting on his shoulder.
“Yeah, why not. Perhaps I’ll win big, like last year.” This was a taller, more athletic type. Kari allowed him an inquisitive, subtle sideways glance, which he registered with a smile above a big, square jaw. Handsome. Boy. She knew the game. They would not approach her directly, but pollute her air with inane, reciprocal verbal back-slaps. She turned her gaze back at the display, reading “102” with a ring. The door slid open and she stepped in, pressing L for lounge and her way to the back. There was no way she’d let them gaze at her ass for one hundred and two awkward floors.
Something was off. In hum of the elevator, she closed her eyes and explored a sense of foreboding. Blocking out the ever-present, naive banter before her, she realized something was about to happen. In just a moment. On a wall it read: “81, 80, 79 ..” The machine was performing without a hitch, but –
The elevator stopped and the floor readout went dark. Soon after, the lights followed.
“What the fuck?” one of the men said. Kari backed off until she felt a smooth, cold mirror against the back of her head.
“No electricity, could be?” another laughed.
A moment of silence.
“Lady! You ok in there?”
But that was not it. She was still feeling the threat as a growing, bubbling and vibrating presence; pulsating in the darkness. It was still to come. And slowly, the irritating presence of the youngsters turned into pressing fear. Opportunity makes a thief.
“I am fine.” That second, lights came on. They were faint bulbs, hidden into lower corners of the room. Before him, he saw three men looking at her, yellow, low-angle light hiding their faces in sharp shadows. Demonical, definitely foreboding. A trio of hungry young wolves, closed into a pen with a hen.
Regardless, her face wore no expression. She was not avoiding those darting, testosterone-driven stares, but faced them with poisonous indifference. She’d seen it all and waited for something better to come on. The tall, handsome character took a wide step towards her and stood another away from her, dead-center of the room. She could smell whiskey in his breath.
“What’s your name, beautiful?” The drunken, limp smirk brought the irritation back. Kari bore into him with cold indifference, raising her brow ever so slightly. In any other place and time, surrounded by somebodies and somethings, she would have laughed and moved on. But there, her back literally against the wall, there was only one way to go. Fracturing his boyish, fragile self-esteem, no matter how sweet, would deteriorate the situation further.
“Ann”, she lied with a girlish voice, extending her curled hand, palm facing down. He grabbed it and, to her horror, in a tacky move of by-gone times, leaned over and kissed the back of her hand. He actually touched her delicate, carefully tanned skin with his wet lips, which made her gag a layer or two below her visible facade.
“Enchanté”, she retorted in an equally tacky gesture. The youngster did not catch the sarcasm, pleased, and winked at his sidekicks, each leaning against a corner. The man distracted, she tried to pull her hand back. His grip tightened just enough to stop her sliding away. She could see the smirk had widened into a grin as he turned to face her again. He took the remaining step, standing only inches away.
Bringing his face next to hers, he whispered: “Where are you going, beautiful?”
She could not believe it. A few minutes into the power shortage, it had already come to this; a whiskey-reeking hunk leaning way past the lines of her personal space, whispering into her frail ear that made regular appearances on covers of fashion magazines. Then, she had a sudden flashing insight into what was going to happen just a moment from now. She saw it in full colour, with vivid, morbid detail that made her smile with sadistic pleasure.
Power came back on, which caused several things to happen at once. The readout came back to life: “79”, which turned into “78” as the wall behind the two men in the back began the move. An old elevator, it had a moving wall with regular seams and crevices, which a big sticker above the ominous readout that read: DANGER: KEEP HANDS AND HAIR AWAY FROM THE DOOR. THE OPPOSITE WALL IS THE SAFEST PLACE IN AN ELEVATOR. The pony-tail, as drunk as the other two, had not read the sticker. Before her, he levitated for a one floor long moment, with a dumbstruck look on his face. His hair, now stuck in between the elevator and its shaft, pulled his brow tight. With a loud snap, his scalp of well-rooted, thick mane, separated from his skull and disappeared into space above. As the man fell onto the floor, he registered the rather painful loss and began to scream.
“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit”, the other two kept repeating, taking steps, reminiscent of a dance in Kari’s bemused eyes, around their elevator-scalped friend, howling in pain like a child he was. She could not help it and laughed. Just a little. The three stopped moving and gawked at her through tears of sheer panic. Blood gushed down the man’s shoulders, running down his arms and back onto the floor, its carpet sucking it in like a huge tampon from hell. His skull was out in the open; white and glittering in the full-on lighting.
By the time the doors opened, she had suppressed her cackle and assumed the role of a frail woman, pale with shock and disgust of the gruesome scene. The pony-tail-less man was wheeled off by paramedics, escorted by pals who glanced at her one last time with fear and disgust in their eyes, before disappearing behind a corner. They seemed glad to leave her; a feeling which was mutual.
The great ballroom of the Marymell Seaside Resort was long and wide, stretching several hundred meters in each direction. Glittering silverware, countless glasses, pitchers and ornamented dresses glinted in a bright, but subtle lighting that swelled from aptly placed, hidden fixtures in walls and ceiling. But what caught her eye, as she stepped through the high double-doors, her heels sinking into the luxurious red carpet, were the tall windows to her left; to the seaside itself. There, a storm was brewing. Kari could see lightning strike the ocean somewhere far away, which left an impression on her vision. That night felt exceptional to her. And she, herself, felt exceptional about herself. She had always liked the storms and this one was not going to be any different.
“A table for one, miss?” a smooth voice came from her right. Kari had been so mesmerized by the display, the waitress had gone unnoticed. He was in his early twenties; short, almost bald blonde head and serene blue eyes. Waitresses wore an uniform of black and white, and Kari thought of them as penguins, skating along the floor of the ballroom.
“Yes, please”, she said, adding without pause, “By the window, please.” She let her face relax into a gentle smile, as thunder boomed in the background.
“Right this way.”
Closing the windows, she had a strong sensation. Kari had had those since her childhood, when ghosts would haunt whichever house she happened to inhabit. There had been countless of instances when she saw or felt a strange, sinister presence in a room. Dark figures in the corners, flickering lights and whispers out of nowhere were commonplace to her. But now, she could see a table glowing. It beckoned her: “It is me you want. I am the table you should choose. Sit by me.” And being a strong pull, she did not even try to resist it but let go, her feet doing the rest. The waitress had gone another way, trying to guide her to his idea of the perfect locale.
“This one will do nicely”, Kari said more to herself than the boy, who just then caught up with her.
“Very well, miss.” He pulled a chair back, one that face the window. A quick learner, I give him that.
Kari sat down and felt a tingling around her. The moment she placed a hand on the table cloth, her body was hit by a bolt of energy that made her gasp deep. All around was light and bloom. The ballroom was glowing.
“And here is the menu for the evening”, he narrated, seemingly oblivious to her state. So he’s not seeing any of this. Good. She thanked him from far away. Then, he said something about returning in five minutes or fifty. She wasn’t sure and did not care.
All around her, countless voices were forming intricate dissonances: they were a mixed choir of male, female and juvenile; young, old, and all very dead. She’d been through this before, but never grew tired of it. These were late visitors to the resort, whose presence from even a hundred years back lingered on. The ballroom had history and a lot of it, stretching back one hundred and fifty years. Many a tourist, celebrity, king and fool had measured its glossy floor since its opening.
The voices, however, did not come from nowhere. Each had a mouth, connected to a spectral body that floated around in the hall. They did walk, but as the hall had been renovated a number of times, the floor was at a higher level than originally. As a result, most of the spectres stepped into the floor like broken video game characters.
Next to her, a family dined around a table, even more non-existent than they were. A father, dressed in a suit that might have been from the 40s, was squatting in mid-air with his knees at an impossible-to-maintain ninety degree angle. Across the table, what he assumed to be the mother, was wearing a long, white dress, sitting at an equally impressive manner. She was always speculating on the rules these recordings followed: it was not only the bodies time preserved, but also their clothes. Sometimes, Kari had even seen object in the hands, which she speculated to be of great importance. But for most part, things in immediate proximity of the bodies stuck; clothes, mainly. And behind the mother, almost hidden from Kari, sat a little girl, who was spooning away at some invisible dish. Leaning forward, Kari could see a doll in her lap, held tightly by an arm. It had long lockets and big, black dotty eyes. An object of great importance.
Leaning back, she inhaled deep and let her gaze drift up. Just as the year before, she could see them floating, not far from ceiling. Spectres walking, sitting and talking in mid-air, spread all along the breadth of the hall. They were an impressive fifty or so meters above her, each tightly locked into the same arbitrary level. Kari had done her homework on the joint. Turns out, there had been a great fire in the old wing of the resort in nineteen forty-six. The ceiling used to be lower; above it lay offices of the resort’s management. The fire had collapsed the floor onto the hall below, where thousands had been feasting, drinking, laughing and serving on Christmas Eve seventy years ago. More than five hundred had died that day.
Her eyes transfixed at the ceiling, the waitress went unnoticed again. He couched in courtesy.
“Has miss decided?” Not moving her gaze, she thought of the unopened booklet before her.
“The special for the evening, with a chilled bottle of red. Nothing cheap.” The words melted together, pouring out from a feverish, deeply focused mind.
“The special for tonight is seafood, miss. May I recommend a white wine, instead?”
“No.” Anger flashed in her eyes, which had locked onto the waitress. His smile melted away, leaving a nervous expression in its wake.
“Yes, miss. Just a moment, miss.” He fled, docking tables with nimble, well-trained moves. Looking after him, she could see boys of times long gone darting across the ballroom as part of the same timeless dance, zooming from one side to another with the one flesh-and-blood participant in the middle.
She rapped the table with her red nails and stared at nothingness. Her vision was filled with hundreds of ghost-like beings. Like with gender and age, they varied in intensity; the most vivid ones wore clothes from times not so distant. They were fresh imprints on whatever construct held their presence in place. However, as the bass growl of thunder closed in on her, the apparitions grew in intensity. Feeding on the massive storm outside, the unliving were making their return.
Kari felt empowered, as she usually did on these occasions. Her sensed were sharp and her thoughts ran like wildfire. But, unlike before, she felt something else, hidden beneath the surface. She was not nervous, but not serene either. Something was going to happen; something big. And she’d be there to witness it.
She was eating, with a band playing in the background. A trio performed on the large maple-wood stage; a piano, bass and jazz guitar. Smooth jazz. Nothing fancy, invasive. Elevator music.
Ravenous with hunger, she gulped the white flesh down without even sprinkling it with the accompanying lemon. The potatoes were somewhat overcooked, but grazed deliciously with cheese. She skipped them, for her figure’s sake. Immersed in warm palates of the wine, she hung leaning against the table and gazed at the sights before her. Now, a strange, overpowering mixture of the past and present, she was trying to eavesdrop on their conversations.
The family had moved on from the main course. It was apparent from their delicate movements they were having dessert.
“Daddy, daddy!” the little girl exclaimed, jumping around the table. Her mother was sipping on something, keeping her eyes on the daughter. She was smiling. The man, who was eating a slice of pie (she had heard their exchange with a spectral waitress), murmured:
“Yes, after we have finished here.”
It was then, she knew: the resort had been engulfed by the storm. Strangely erotic vibrations passed through her, bringing shivers down here spine. The sun had set and she could see outside only momentarily, as lighting flashed and allowed her snapshots of the external reality. The sea frothed as intense winds beat it to a frenzy. She could hear grains of sand hitting the window without pause.
As the storm grew in intensity, so did noise in the room. A large show was taking place on the center stage with an orchestra and a large variety of dancers, none of which interested Kari. Wherever she looked, she could see singles, couple and families huddle up together; that way they felt safe. Or at least safer than out there, facing the elements on a barren beach.
But Kari not only perceived one increase in volume, but another one as well. The spectres were flocking as well. They were probably tied to time of the day as well, so it being ten o clock, they, in the distant past, had too gathered together. From what she read, a lightning may have had been the cause of the fire long time ago.
In the end, she was so bored, she began to examine the table and its ordinary, everyday-objects. The knife was made of silver and had no respect for her form; on its bulging surface, her nose looked like that of a witch. However, it turned into an agreeable form if she turned the piece of cutlery ever so slightly. The form, similarly, was made of silver. It had three spikes, which were long and had some degree of sharpness to them. It would serve her well, would some drunk decide to grope her; with a slight movement of her frail wrist, the spikes would disappear into a fat thigh and buy her a few second head-start. The spoon was made of the same metal alloy, but her reflection on its bulging side was less than satisfactory. As a matter of fact, it made her move back to the knife and its distorted vision of her looks.
The table cloth was white and woven of cotton by some machine, far away in the land of China. It bore a zigzag pattern, which interested her little. However, it still had a smooth and pleasant feel to it. The fish bones and now-cold cheese crusted potatoes lay on a wide porcelain plate, which had blue flowers on its fringes. They were actual ceramic flowers, fused together with the plate. A factory product, but still beautifully designed and implemented. But, what she liked most was the wine glass. A wide, high-legged beauty of crystal, it was a joy to use and watch. Letting the wine air and present its colour and nature, the glass left nothing to imagination. It had a solid feel to it and could not fall easily.
A vase lay in the middle of the table. In it were flowers of three sort: black, red and yellow. Kari wondered, whose poor taste it represented. Then again, the trio was such a poor match, it was borderline camp. Kari wondered whether it was the creation of a visionary, ground-breaking visionary or a colourblind retard; a paradox she could not solve. The container itself was transparent, but had ornamental, upward-spiraling bubbles inside it. It narrowed towards the top, but then widened like a flour blossom.