The Car

Catherine and Daniel are lying in bed.

Daniel: We should get going.

Catherine: Do we have to?

Daniel: The bed will still be here when we get back.

They get out of bed and get dressed.

Daniel: Close your eyes.

Catherine closes her eyes.

Daniel ties a red handkerchief around her eyes.

Catherine: What are you planning?

Daniel holds her hand and leads her out of the bedroom, down the stairs, and out of the house.

A beat up pickup truck is on the driveway.

Daniel: Are you ready?

Catherine: I think so…

Daniel removes the blindfold.

Catherine stares at the ugly car sitting on her driveway.

Catherine: What is this?

Daniel: Happy Birthday!

Catherine: Are you serious?

Daniel: You don’t like it?

Catherine: This isn’t funny.

Daniel: Come on, let’s take it for a spin.

Catherine: I’m not getting in that thing.

Daniel: At least give it a chance.

Catherine: No fucking way.

Daniel: We’re going for a 5 minute drive. I guarantee you’ll be more than satisfied at the end of 5 minutes.

Catherine frowns. Daniel makes a pleading face.

She gets in the vehicle. So does Daniel.

Daniel starts driving.

Daniel: You won’t regret this.

Catherine: Isn’t that what you said just before we had sex for the first time?

Daniel: Well our first time was amazing wasn’t it?

Catherine: No comment.

They drive in silence until stopping at a gas station. They get out of the pickup truck.

She gasps in shock. Standing before her is a red Porsche 911.

Catherine: Wait… is this my­­–

Daniel: real present? Yes it is. Happy birthday.

Catherine: You’re such an ass. But a lovable one.

Hotel Girl

I see her reading an article on her laptop titled, ’20 Teeny Baby Animals You’ll Want To Put In Your Pocket.’

The more tiny animals she sees, the wider she smiles: tiny sea lion, tiny sloth, tiny lamb, tiny meerkat, and so on.

“Looks like you have something in common with them.” I put my arms around Cassandra from behind.

She smiles, “Go back to bed. You shouldn’t be up so early.”

“Actually I’m still in bed.”

We’re in a hotel room. The bed is near the desk. She’s sitting on a chair in front of the desk and my arms are around her as I’m sitting on the bed.

She starts reading another article, ’15 Tiny Presents You Can Give Someone to Make Their Day for No Reason.’ Here’s some of them: wireless panda speaker, pineapple shot glasses, and matchbook manicure (tiny nail files inside a matchbook).

“Hey, I got a present for you that’ll make your day. It’s in my pocket. But it’s not tiny.” I squeeze her tight.

“Not tiny? I beg to differ.” She giggles.

I frown.

I close her laptop, pick her up and put her on the bed. She snuggles into my shoulder.

“I was just about to start working you know?” She pouts. “Let me go back to my laptop.”

“Later. First things first.” I start kissing her.

I move the kisses down to her neck, breasts, stomach, and finally between her thighs.

And then her phone rings. The noise is deafening.

She puts it on silent.

I continue going down on her.

But then we hear loud knocks on the door.

I get up, preparing to answer it, but she whispers to me, “Get back down there!”

I obey.

Hopefully whoever is knocking will come back later.

But the knocking doesn’t stop. The knocks are getting louder.

“Just answer it.” She says, sounding extremely pissed off.

I get up and put some clothes on. She stays naked and goes under the blanket.

I walk through the hallway and as I’m approaching the front door, the knocks get louder.

I look through the peephole and see the concierge that checked in Cassandra and me last night.

I open the door and wait for him to speak.

“Sir, I’m sorry about disturbing you at such an early hour.” The concierge says rapidly. “But we heard screams coming from this floor a few minutes ago and we’re going door to door to inquire if our guests are safe.”

“We didn’t hear anything. And we’re fine.” I reply.

“That’s a relief to hear, let us know if you need anything. Thank you. And once again I apologize for disturbing you.”

The concierge leaves and I shut the door. What’s strange is that the rooms in this hotel are pretty soundproof, every reviewer of this hotel mentioned it online.

“That was really weird.” Cassandra says when I walk back into the bedroom.

The front door isn’t far from the bedroom so Cassandra heard everything.

“Yeah I know.” I reply. “Anyway, he’s gone. Should we pick up where we left off?”

“Later.” She frowns. “My sister texted me. She still hasn’t made up her mind.”

Cassandra’s sister, Melisandre, is going through a rough time. Melisandre has a difficult and painful decision to make. Her infant son is going to die if he doesn’t get a heart transplant but she isn’t sure whether she wants to pursue a transplant. Even if her little boy gets a new heart, she’ll have to fund a lifetime of medical care. That’s a ruinous financial burden for a single mother.

She doesn’t want her son’s life to be defined by a transplant and the doctor said he has no chance to live past the age of 30 so what’s the point? She feels that in a way its better if he dies now before he’s old enough to know what’s going on, before her other children spend their entire lives with him, and before he gets married and has kids of his own. It would spare everyone the heartache.

“I need to call her.” Cassandra says before wearing one of my extra large t-shirts and going to the balcony.

Cassandra and I both think Melisandre should not pursue the transplant. The financial headache and emotional turmoil just isn’t worth it. Melisandre doesn’t know what to do yet, she’s stuck between a rock and a hard place.

I feel like taking a nap for a while. But before I can fall asleep I hear a scream from the balcony. I rush over there but I don’t see Cassandra. Did she fall? I look over the edge of the balcony, expecting to see a body below, but I don’t see anything.

My hands are shaking as I call reception.

Before the concierge can speak I start talking fast, “My girlfriend was on the balcony and I heard a scream and now she’s not there anymore. I don’t know what happened or where she is.”

“I was afraid this might happen. I’m coming up immediately.”

The concierge arrives in a few minutes. He inspects the room carefully and goes to the balcony.

“I’m afraid she’s gone.” He says mournfully.

“Gone? What the fuck do you mean she’s gone?” I ask angrily. “Where did she go? Did someone kidnap her? And what was that scream you were asking about earlier? Does that have anything to do with this?”

“There’s something you need to know about this hotel. It’s haunted.” The concierge isn’t making eye contact with me anymore. He’s looking at the floor.

I laugh sarcastically, “Haunted? Really?”

“This is no joke, sir.” He says. “We haven’t had any incidents in decades but this year we have… including your girlfriend’s disappearance.”

“Why is this place haunted? What happened?”

“The first owner of this hotel used to live with his 7-year-old daughter in one of the penthouse suites on top. The hotel first opened about two hundred years ago. He was a cruel man. He used to beat his little girl daily. One day he went too far and whipped her to death with a belt. The first few years after she died went without incident. Then guests began complaining of spotting a little girl in their rooms and the description of this girl matches the pictures of the first owner’s daughter. Then the incidents began to get worse. Guests began to dream of the little girl harming them and would wake up with cuts and bruises on their body. Then the disappearances started… our hotel was almost shut down because of it. Eventually things settled down and nothing bad happened for a long time. But this year, it seems like the ghost of that little girl has returned with a vengeance.”

The concierge pulls out an old black and white photograph from his pocket. It’s a picture of the first owner and his daughter. I look at it carefully. Both of them are standing in front of the hotel. The first owner looks stern. The little girl has a look of hopelessness and resignation on her face.

I’m not quite sure what to say. Even if I believe the concierge, why would the ghost of that poor girl want to cause so much misery? If she suffered so much at the hands of her father, why would she want to make other innocent people suffer? Why not instead become a ghost that protects the innocent? All these questions are making my head hurt. I just want to find Cassandra and get the fuck out of here.

“I think we need to call the police.” I tell the concierge.

“I already have. I am truly sorry.”

“You should’ve told us about the darker side of this hotel.” I say.

“Nothing had happened in so very long and I wasn’t sure of that the stories were even true. The incidents before this year took place before my time.”

“I believe you when you say nothing bad has happened recently. Otherwise it would’ve been mentioned on hotel review sites, social media, and the news. Everyone would be talking about it. But still, you should’ve told us what you knew before something like this happened.”

“I’m sorry, sir. Of course everyone is going to know what happened now. I wouldn’t hide this even if I could. The hotel might be shut down until this is resolved.” The concierge says, feeling quite ashamed.

“Let’s search the place inside out until the police arrive.” I suggest.

We search every corner of every room in the hotel. When the police arrive they search everywhere too. No sign of Cassandra. It’s as if she disappeared into thin air.

By the time we’re done searching it’s late at night. The police tell us they plan to search nearby areas as well. I tell them I’ll join them in an hour. I need to shower and take a short nap first.

As soon as I shower I jump into bed. My head is pounding. I’ve never had such a horrific migraine in my life.

I fall asleep immediately.

I begin dreaming. The dream starts of beautifully. I’m hiking in the Rocky Mountains in Canada. The weather is cool. The air is fresh. I feel motivated to climb to the top of as many mountains as I can.

But then the dream sours. I’m in a dark room. I hear screams. I recognize the voice behind the screams, it belongs to Cassandra. Then I see her in front of me. She’s being crucified to a brick wall. A little girl is hammering nails into her body. The little girl is the owner’s daughter, I remember her from the picture the concierge showed me. Her blood is dripping down the wall. I try to help her but I can’t move. I’m paralyzed.

I wake up with a jolt. I’ve never had such a bad nightmare in my life. My heart is beating faster than it ever has. Then I see something that I never thought I would. Cassandra’s dead body is beside me in bed. Her body has nails sticking out of it. The bed sheets are soaked in her blood.

How the hell is this possible?

Suddenly the door bursts open and several police officers storm inside. One of them yells, “You’re under arrest!”

Lost

The plane has been missing for 86 hours and 29 minutes and I have no idea when I’ll see my sister again.

I told her to stay put until I could make time to see her but she’s never been patient. And now I feel guilty as hell because if I had just visited her when she asked me to last week, she wouldn’t have just disappeared. My parents tell me that it isn’t my fault that Sonali went missing but my decision to postpone visiting her led to her deciding to visit me.

I haven’t told any of my friends or coworkers. My parents are telling everyone they know but I don’t want to deal with people’s concern right now, it’ll make me think about it more and get even more stressed. I was so disoriented this morning in the bathroom that I spent at least 5 minutes searching for my toothbrush even though I was holding it in my left hand.

I hear my phone vibrating as I’m watching TV. I don’t answer because the caller ID tells me Stacey is calling. My phone vibrates again. I decide to answer it and before I can tell Stacey I’m a little busy, she speaks rapidly, “I messaged him. It’s been two minutes and he still hasn’t replied. What should I do? What should I do?”

It takes great restraint to tell her that I don’t give a shit. I’d feel this way even if I weren’t worrying about Sonali. Stacey made an account on some dating site last month and has constantly been pestering me for advice by asking questions like: “What should my display picture be? That one from work or from when I was in Cuba?” or “What should I put in About Me? Can you write it? You know me so well.”

I take a deep breath before answering, “Stacey listen to yourself. Two minutes?”

“I wouldn’t expect such a quick reply but he clicked like on one my pictures like five minutes ago and I don’t know why he’s taking so long to reply. It’s been three minutes!”

“Just be patient. I have to go now. I’m busy with something.”

Even if this guy replies to Stacey and they start talking and then meet up and then start dating, there’s a strong chance that he’ll be an asshole because that’s the type that traps her. I first started talking to Stacey a few years ago in college on Valentine’s Day. I remember her telling me: “Your girlfriend is so lucky. You actually gave her roses and a really sweet card. My boyfriend didn’t even remember what today was.”

5 minutes later, I hear my phone vibrate again. It’s Jaxon Conway, Sonali’s boyfriend of one year. I answer it and he says, “Christopher it’s urgent.”

“Why can’t you just call me Chris like everyone else?”

“Sonali sent me a text ten minutes after she got into the plane last week.”

I switch off the TV with the remote, “What? What did it say? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Her text said, “Something doesn’t feel right.” To which I replied, “What are you talking about?” And she never replied to that.”

“You should’ve told me as sooner! I was at the airport three days ago waiting to pick her up and while I was there, every paper in the world reported that the plane had gone missing and had possibly been hijacked. Then I called you and you said nothing. Why?”

“I’m sorry. I haven’t told anyone else. I’m really worried.”

I turn the TV back on and I hear a news reporter state that some gang has claimed responsibility for hijacking the missing plane and is hiding it on some island.

“Jaxon watch the news. Right now. And tell the police what happened.”

I cut the call and watch the news intensely. The kidnappers are demanding a ridiculously large ransom in exactly a week’s time or they’ll start killing hostages. Pictures of several hostages are shown and one of them is Sonali, looking bruised and shocked. Now everyone in the world knows. Authorities are also warned that if they attempt to locate the island and come anywhere near it, they’ll start chopping limbs of the hostages.

15 minutes later Stacey tries calling me again but I ignore it. She sends a text: “Chris, oh my god. Why didn’t you tell me? I’m so sorry. I’m here for you.”

I receive dozens of similar texts from friends and colleagues. My phone doesn’t stop vibrating and eventually I switch it off.

I’ve never felt so powerless. I get out of my apartment because I feel stressed and claustrophobic. It’s past midnight so I probably shouldn’t be out but my head feels like it’s going to explode. The streets are deserted and I start to calm down a little before a mugger pulls me into an alley.

He throws me to the ground, points his gun at me and says, “You know how this works and you know what your choices are.”

My hands are shaking and I can’t concentrate. Several seconds pass before he says, “Don’t make me repeat myself. Time is money.”

I quickly pull my wallet from my pocket, take off my watch and throw it to him. I also toss him my phone. He picks up my wallet, removes the cash and throws it back to me. He also throws my watch and phone back to me. And then he says, “I’m not greedy. I just need enough to help my mom.”

“What kind of trouble is she in?”

“She needs a kidney.”

“So you plan to buy her one?”

“No choice since she’s on the waitlist at the hospital and time’s running out.”

“Take my watch. There’s a pawnshop nearby. You’ll need more than a hundred bucks for a kidney.” I throw my watch back to him.

The mugger stares at me for at least a minute. He looks at me and says, “I’m… sorry for hurting you. It’s just that–well my mom, she’s always been there for me. Whenever I’m upset, she gives the best hugs.”

“I understand.” I get up slowly. My right knee is killing me. “I better go home now. You should too. Take care of yourself and your mom.”

I return home slowly and switch on the TV. Some billionaire philanthropist has agreed to pay the ransom. Most governments worldwide are against it because it’ll set a dangerous precedent but this billionaire could care less because his daughter is a hostage. I’ve never been more relieved in my life.