Hey there and thanks for checking in with the blog. Besides writing and directing films, I write short stories as well. The magazine Weird Tales is publishing “THE BUZZARD” in June, and “IN THE MIX” is coming out in the horror anthology book Dark Delicacies III in September. In the meantime, just for the New Year, I’d like to share a creepy new tale with you exclusively for ARROW IN THE HEAD. I got the idea while I was staying in a hotel in Secaucus New Jersey that was huge and mostly empty, and there were these lonely maids and all these Do Not Disturb signs and, well, do you ever wonder what’s behind them? Enjoy…
“DO NOT DISTURB”
The Do Not Disturb sign had hung on the door of room 510 for three weeks straight. It had been up the entire time since Jane Williams had joined the housekeeping staff of the Route 9 Hotel in Provo, Utah. Berry, the Latino girl who had the maid job before her, told her the room was occupied and the Do Not Disturb sign had been there the whole time she had worked there and that had been the full summer. The hotel manager Mr. Sweeny told Jane when she took the position to just leave the guy alone, his credit card is good and he’s all paid up. The only time they heard from him was when he called room service and asked for the big bucket of ice. He did it three times a day and housekeeping was to leave the bucket outside the door. A few hours later the empty bucket was left outside the door, where housekeeping would refill it with ice and put it back.
Right from the beginning, cleaning the rooms on the 5th floor, that constant Do Not Disturb sign made Jane uncomfortable. Why would somebody never come out of their room? Those linens must not have been changed in how long? If she were the owner of the hotel she would have at least requested that housekeeping changed the bedding. But she wasn’t the owner, Sweeny was, and he was paying her and the one time she said something he told her to shut up about it. The guy paid his bills and business was intermittent off the Interstate during the fall months. Berry had told her over drinks at the local Ramada Inn bar that it bothered her too. But it wasn’t Jane’s business and she needed the job. Berry’s leaving the open housekeeping position came at a fortuitous time for the 20-year old single girl who needed the money, even though the job paid little more than minimum wage.
Jane put the fresh bucket of ice outside the room.
Pushing the cart of housecleaning supplies into room 504, Jane changed the bedding, switched the towels, replaced the little soaps and shampoo, turned down the bed, disinfected, cleaned the trash buckets and set out new mints, flushing a used condom she found under the bed She rolled the cart out into the stained grey-carpeted hall.
The ice bucket was gone. Room 510 had taken it and the Do Not Disturb sign was still there. The maid couldn’t resist. She snuck up to the door of 510 and put her ear against it, listening for what she could hear inside. At first nothing. Then she heard a hissing sound. The hiss was regular, coming at intervals, a hiss then silence, a hiss then silence. What was going on just beyond the door? She both wanted to know and didn’t want to know at the same time. She crouched down, eavesdropping and listening, gazing down the hall at the drab lane of doors leading off the elevators, the stairs and the soda and ice machines.
The hotel, mostly used by conventions and businessmen in the Provo area, was like a million others. Jane thought the place smelled of mildew and bleach constantly. She kept listening to the door, hoping she wouldn’t get caught or that whomever was in Room 510 doing who the hell knows what wouldn’t walk out and see her and get her fired. For long moments, she heard nothing. The sound of a door opening up the hall made her snap to attention. She leaped up and ran back to her cleaning supplies cart, just as an elderly husband and wife left their room arguing and heading to the elevators to their RV where they would continue on their retirement trip around the United States after they had breakfast downstairs. As she was pushing her cart, Jane froze as she heard a door open behind her and the thunk of an empty metal bucket placed on the ground. Before she could whirl to see inside the room, the door had shut, the Do Not Disturb sign swinging lazily on the latch.
And the next week it was still up. Jane filled the ice buckets, cleaned the other rooms, and stewed. Her mind wandered as she busied herself with her chores, her thoughts just went places, and these days they went what lay beyond the door to room 510. The occupant must go out at night, she decided. He had to eat and all he ever ordered from room service was ice. At the end of her shift as she walked through the parking lot to her car, she looked up at the side of the 5th floor of the hotel, looking at the window of 510, but the shades were always drawn. Over drinks at the Ramada, Jane asked Charlene, one of the night shift housecleaning crew if the maid had ever seen Room 510 leave and she said nope, she hadn’t. Sweeney said leave the guy alone and just deliver him the ice. It didn’t make sense to either girl. What did the guy eat if he didn’t have food stockpiled inside? He never left. He couldn’t live on ice. Actually Jane had read guys in India could live on ice. Charlene wondered if 510 was a vampire. Jane reminded her that vampires didn’t drink ice. Three drinks later, Jane was still wondering about that Do Not Disturb sign.
One day, Room 509 directly across from 510 was vacant. The Maid brought the filled ice bucket and set it according to routine outside the door. Quickly, she ducked into 509 and quietly closed the door. Pressing her eye against the peephole that stared across the hall to 510, she watched the door with the ice bucket in front of it. It was a long wait. Then the Do Not Disturb sign twitched as the latch slowly turned. The Maid’s heart jumped in her chest as she squinted through the peephole to see the door crack just a little, then a little more, the room dark beyond with no lights on inside. Soon, the long, marble pale fingers of a hand reached around through the crack of the door, grabbed the ice bucket, and pulled it in, closing the door. It reminded Jane of a toy she had as a kid where you put a coin on a box and a mechanical glow in the dark plastic hand would slowly crank out of the box, grab the coin, and snap back in. Now the door was shut again. Moments later, Jane tip toed out into the hall, noticing a fresh scent of Lysol in the air, and put her ear to the door of 510. At first nothing. Then from inside she heard the squishing. A wet slushy sound. Then a snap. Jane’s eyes widened, disturbed, and she pressed her ear harder to the door. She heard the hissing sound. She heard the slushing, squishing sound. A sharp pop. A crunching. Then a hisssssssssssssssss. Then silence. That was enough. Jane fled, truly creeped out.
For the next hour, Jane was preoccupied with cleaning up the puke in the corner of a room from some kids on the 4th floor. Then she changed the towels in the bathroom and wiped the counters dry. Suddenly, there was a loud thud on the ceiling above her, like somebody fell down. It was only then that saw the open door of the room she was cleaning and the number 410, and realized she was directly below 410. Hours later the empty ice bucket had not been put outside the door as usual. Towards the end of her shift, Jane found herself standing outside 510 with the perpetual Do Not Disturb sign, knowing full well that she should rightly go down to the front desk and tell Sweeny she thought that the occupant had fallen or had an accident, but knowing if she did there was the chance the manager would tell her not to do what she was about to do now, which was to knock and if there was no answer use her key and let herself in. To Disturb.
Then she would never know. So she knocked. No answer. Knocked again. Silence. Jane listened at the door. Nothing. So she reached past the Do Not Disturb sign, pushing it aside, grasping the door handle and slowly opening it. The smell of Lysol air freshener, incredibly thick and floral, assaulted her through the opening door, where it sat in the air. Jane gagged. She said hello. Nobody answered. It was black as pitch beyond the door as she stepped inside to a completely darkened room with the drawn curtains. Entering cautiously, throwing the wall switch, she turned on the standing lamp. Many boxes of Lysol aerosol cans were stacked floor to ceiling by the wall, and more boxes of discarded ones. The room was surprisingly neat. The bed was made. The light cast a dim illumination over the bed. It was empty. The bathroom door was closed. The maid approached step by step. Hello, she said apprehensively. Jane noticed how wet the carpet was as the cold water soaked through her sneakers just as she opened the bathroom door. It was empty, but the shower curtain was drawn. Jane pulled it back.
Berry lay dead in the tub, naked in a state of gray semi-decay, eyeballs black with hematoma. The maid’s legs had been eaten, the flesh and bone chewed off below the knee on the left and a huge meaty shag around her exposed femur on the left. The ice cubes dumped over the body, to preserve it for feeding and keep it from rotting, had largely melted. The tub was brimming red with blood and foul cold water. The sink was lined with knifes, forks and cleavers, cleanly washed and gleaming sharp. Jane took all this in and started to scream in a split second, but that was all it took for the Cannibal to rush out of the closet and grab her from behind. The pale, naked figure covered her mouth and broke her neck with a quick, violent twist. Jane Williams died instantly. Her body dropped into his arms and he eased her onto the closed toilet seat, where she slumped into her own lap like a discarded rag doll. The Cannibal lit a cigarette and fretted over the situation. At least he had food for a month. It wasn’t his fault. The last two maids would still be breathing if they had just paid attention to the sign on the door.
Three simple words, familiar at every hotel.
Can’t people read?