Over the next two weeks, in celebration of Halloween and the new anthology The Cutting Room: Dark Reflections of the Silver Screen, Tachyon and editor Ellen Datlow present excerpts from a selection of the volume’s horrifying tales.
Today’s selection comes from “Deadspace” by Dennis Etchison.
It was only his first morning there. But, very early, he was awakened by the ringing of a bell.
So soon? he thought.
Well, it was about time… .
He rolled over and fumbled the receiver out of its cradle.
The ringing continued.
He lay on his back for a moment while his senses reassembled. One of his legs tingled, as if he had slept with it twisted under him. He could hardly feel it. But he swung his feet down, climbed out of bed as best he could and went in search of the sound.
As soon as he opened the drapes and staggered outside, it stopped.
He squinted and tried to clear his head.
From the balcony of his room at the Holmby Hotel, he had an unobstructed view of a sea of evergreens rolling away in tufted waves toward Sunset Boulevard and the Palisades beyond. Above the treetops clouds parted like curtains framing an electric blue proscenium, clean and vibrant with promise. He stood with his hands on the railing, his face tipped back, and awaited the warming rays of the sun as it passed on its way to the Pacific.
Now the sound resumed, drawing his attention to the driveway below, where it became the distant bleating of an automobile security alarm.
He braced his arms and leaned forward. The alarm was cut off as a door slammed and a desperate woman in a white jumpsuit hurried to the carpet in front of the hotel, swinging a bulging Sportsac like a stuffed armadillo. A valet tipped his cap at her heels, opened the car door, slid behind the wheel, closed the door and guided her black Mercedes away from the curb and into the underground garage. As the sedan glided out and turned into darkness, the insignia of the hotel was revealed in the macadam beneath. The roof of the carport covering the loading zone was dull and weathered, but the inlaid coat of arms was readable even through the yellowed Plexiglas.
VAYA CON DIOS, read the circle of tiles. BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA
He had not noticed it before. Go with God? he thought. Was that really what it said? Decipherable in its entirety only from above, the message must have been designed exclusively for visitors on high, like a mysterious hieroglyphic invitation to the gods of the Nazcas. Reeling from a sudden rush of vertigo, he grasped the railing with both hands and forced himself to step back.
He wondered if the management had considered the possible effect such a logo might have on guests of suicidal inclination. It was conceivable that someone on the upper levels would see the emblem as a target. An image came to mind of a despondent man hurtling down, executing a perfect swan dive as he crashed through the panes to take the place of the Mercedes dead-center on the mosaic. From this height a body would fall like a stone, straight as a plumb line. The thought left him dizzy.
He took a deep breath and lifted his face again to the morning light. Somewhere a radio was playing a transient popular tune; it came from the other side of the building, from the high-priced bungalows or perhaps the pool. Was that the sound of another telephone ringing? No, only the whine of a power saw fading in and out like static on the breeze. On a nearby balcony glasses clinked. A scent of orange juice ripened the air. He opened his eyes.
The sky remained clear above the trees, though the expanse of blue invited some new pattern to take up the slack. If more clouds did move in to clot the horizon, he would not be surprised in the least.
He was sure of only one thing.
Once, a long time ago, someone had taken from him something irreplaceably valuable. He couldn’t remember what it was. And no one would admit it.
But now, today, all that was about to change.
For information on The Cutting Room: Dark Reflections of the Silver Screen, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover by Josh Beatman.