Suggested by a song by Brecht and Weill
I sweep, I scrub and I work the grit from the nooks and crannies.
I see the evidence of your dirty couplings and weird indiscretions.
And I take. Not anything that you value, but what you’ve thrown away, lost or forgotten.
When you pass me on the stairs, you barely acknowledge I’m human. Which I note against your account. I remember all faces. The bearded businessman on a holiday from his wife’s nagging. The kids on their way down the chute with morphine and chaos. The student with a promising future who bagged it all because he discovered his skill with cards. And so forth. This hotel is haunted—crammed with spooks, in the traditional sense, and another way. All the paths not taken.
I don’t judge. I watch and learn. I lean on my mop and retrieve the dustpan a few seconds longer than I might otherwise. I don’t necessarily listen at the door or watch the clients through secret holes in the wall, but if I’ve finished my chores early—and I’m efficient, and industrious, so inevitably this is the case—then yes, I do drink it all in. Every seamy detail.
And put by the pieces.
Because even if I wasn’t a witch, I still know the worth of insurance, bargaining chips. And while it’s not always the case, chances are if somebody treats me with less than respect, it’s because they’ve got their own personal peccadillos.
I don’t like having to exact retribution, but the thing is, I can. It runs in the family. My grandmother came down here in pirate ships as the resident sorceress, and she taught my mother, who taught me.
So when you see me, have some care, remember that my job, as lowly as it may be, is as essential as yours, even if you’re a magistrate or a surgeon or the President.
That’s why I smile and trace my fingers through my long, dark locks and say nothing when you elbow me aside, slamming your way down the hall with a bimbo on your arm. I pretend not to see the actress with the drinking problem, even though a simple phone call sends over a tabloid reporter. The hotel ain’t hard to find, it’s right here in the harbor. Just set your GPS for Blackbeard’s Arms.
We had a guest last week who fooled me. This doesn’t happen very often. He was quiet, he was courteous, he acted like an older student from the graduate school here in town, and brought a number of books into his room. Of course I had a glance at the titles when I turned over his covers. When I saw him in the evenings—he took a walk along the quay, a little bit distracted, humming some unknown tune to himself—I asked him how he was, and he was considerate and cordial with an old school manner. His dark goatee was neatly trimmed, his scalp gleamed in the setting sun, and he dressed with a kind of shabby gentility. I wasn’t able to determine who he was or what he actually did, and the books weren’t much help either—volumes on pre-Columbian archaeology, that kind of thing.
I didn’t think much of it, but on the second day when he accidentally bumped up against me in the corridor, all the loneliness I nursed in my heart leapt up thunderously. All at once he wasn’t just some absent-minded scholar—he was very present, very much there, and very much a man. I almost never do this, because it dulls my advantage, but I let him have me.
It was a sweet romp, and when I was lying there in his arms, just for a moment, I allowed myself to relax and wonder if I could afford to be less rigid, less self-protective. No wonder I felt so alone. And that was dangerous. I had the powers to keep myself in pleasure, have any man—or woman—I desired, when and how I wanted them. So why didn’t I let it happen? I smiled and nearly laughed to myself. I couldn’t answer that question.
The encounter was not renewed, and I turned my mind to other things. Only when he checked out, and left an envelope for me under the pillow with a wad of bills, did it all come together. I’d misread the man. His contempt for me was even greater than that of the rest, the others who showed how little they esteemed a woman who earned her bread from sweeping up after them, wiping up their messes. He treated me like a common prostitute! Before he left the hotel permanently, I brought him back under the pretense of a book he’d forgotten—which I’d actually stolen on the first night, because I thought intuitively I might need it. I took him to the room he’d occupied, locked the door and put him under a light trance so I could find out what I needed to know. No, there was nothing benign in his intention. He wanted to humiliate me. It was even—and this actually shocked me, which is rare—a long-term plan of his. Ever since he’d seen me on my day off, walking about the harbor, muttering spells and curses under my breath. He thought I was just a crazy.
I convinced him to stay. He was independently wealthy, and had lived in this town by the sea for the past year, doing nothing, always preparing for some research trip investigating Meso-American artifacts that never quite came together. But this time, because of my wit, seduction, hypnotism and use of potions, he would take that journey. He would get on the boat. But it wouldn’t be the specifically equipped vessel he thought it was, a yacht manned by real scientists and state-of-the-art equipment. Once he’d been out to sea for a few days, he’d understand that he was in the hands of pirates, friends and family of mine, and the torture would take place on international water; mental and physical and, ultimately, fatal.
Bio : Called “a mad, genre-defying genius” by author/filmmaker Terry M. West, Alex S. Johnson is the author of such books as The Doom Hippies, Bad Sunset, Shattergirl and Doctor Flesh. He has also edited and published the Floppy Shoes Apocalypse clown horror series, the Axes of Evil heavy metal horror series, Chunks: A Barfzarro Anthology and others now in preparation through Nocturnicorn Books. He recently edited the dystopian satirical anthology Trumpocalypse for Horrified Press, and plans to do more work with them soon. Johnson‘s novella Freaks of Hell is due to arrive later in the year from Sleazy Viking Press. He enjoys salty, sour and spicy foods, coffee and all manner of media. Johnson currently lives in Sacramento, California, at the heart of the Central Valley.