Paradise Hotel 51

Where Gaming Dies

Epoch: Chapter 6

Dan pulled himself to a sitting position, and stared at the fireplace. It wasn’t lit. It was just there, solely to make an attempt at confusing him, he thought. It was succeeding. Fucking good for it. Dan didn’t care; he would sit until he felt he had a handle on things.

Art by Kitano Smith

The handle never came; it only grew sharp, and bothersome. It didn’t matter. There were sneakers, so he completed the look of idiocy by donning the gay apparel. He’d played basketball in high school anyway, shot hoops with Harry and…
Dan pushed an ugly thought away; one he couldn’t entertain on a daily basis, and certainly not on the verge of crisis. There were things about his past life – or, so-called past life – that vexed him so deeply, there were few elements that could drive them away; the alcohol. The saccharine gloss of violence, killing; sometimes, even sex sufficed. The thrumming, haunting mental images were thankfully lost in any act that contained bitterness, pain…or was just gloriously messy. Sex was often a mess. And a gracious one.

Dan tugged at his t-shirt collar. He didn’t mind the clothes, really. But the sweats weren’t…comfortable.
Suits were comfortable.
And sure…there was comfort in a neatly folded pile beside him, even with an extra pair of suit comparable clod-hoppers. But the extra effort was unwanted. A game he didn’t want to play. If Harman was apologizing, he was in for a surprise. It wasn’t like Harman to apologize, anyway. That much the two men had in common. Apologies were a waste of time; you can’t take anything back. That’s just the way things are. You can’t take anything back.

Words weren’t sufficient ammo. In fact, they were quite insufficient. Harry had been good with words, had read several books a week, sometimes the same book over again, analyzing it. What had those words gotten him. And where. No where. Somewhere dark, and cold, and six feet under.

Dan was revisiting the same book over and over without so much as one word being read; and he wouldn’t play Harman’s little games. The ‘big one’, he’d learned to live with …and bitch about on a grand scale.
If he could have killed that bastard just once…maybe Dan would feel better about things in general.
But specifically, the fucker just kept on keeping on; the cacophony of hours, end on end, droning day after day at Harman’s purgatory of a house had just been mundane torture turned deafening tranquility.

Harman could eat the suit. The clothes he had on were fine. There were no weapons, Dan guessed, but there was a restroom, which he noticed was dark. He tried standing up, and staggered uncontrollably for only a moment before getting his bearings. Death was hard on a body…but this wasn’t like the last time. He’d been on is back for two weeks or more after Harman had recruited him. The fucker. No one ever asked him if he wanted to be alive again. It was like birth, in essence. No one ever requested being born. The tradition kept on, effortlessly. And no one had asked him a goddamn thing.

He carefully flipped the bathroom light on, and peered inside; all was neutral, cream-white. But there was a mirror, and a sink, hopefully some water he could splash his face with. Dan planted his palms firmly upon the marble sink – what looked like, felt like actual marble, water treated. Slowly, he pulled himself in front of the large, circular mirror; there was vanity lighting, and it wasn’t harsh, it was very nearly the most professional lighting job for a bathroom this size Dan had seen in his life.

The hotel had been shit compared to this level of craftsmanship. He wasn’t in the hotel, anymore; he knew it now. Hadn’t really considered the possibility of not being in the Union. Whatever the room number had been.
It would serve the old man right if he just broke the goddamn mirror, and cut up the train tracks. It would be a glorious mess for Harman to mop up. But it wouldn’t change anything, and Harman’s healing abilities were god awful, non-existent. It was like visiting a surgeon for a gunshot wound and having him glue you back together. Dan had certainly felt like glue had been holding him together. This was different; this was all different.

Absently, Dan raised his eyes to his reflection, expected to look tired, awful. Like himself. He was shocked that he actually looked…healthy. He turned his face to one side, looking himself over. Then to the other side. This had to be a dream, all pinching aside. So, he Dan did what any reasonable man would do…if completely insane.

He punched the glass, sending rivulets of compression breaks outward, marring his image with streaks of stress fractures. Incongruence. Blood. His hand stung, ravaged by controlled force and stinging glass bits, biting into his flesh. The break wasn’t as satisfying as he’d hoped it would be, and there was barely a baseball sized circle in the realm of the mirror. Looking down, streaks of blood mottling the sink basin, a milky metal material, Dan rode the adrenaline in the back of his skull and his sinuses. It was still good to be alive. Baffling, but good. The pain made it real.

Dan ran the water in the sink, listened to it run down the drain, knew he should be moving his ass. It didn’t matter; he would find someone, or someone would eventually find him. He was never free to simply be left alone. The cool water felt amazing on his unmarred, open palm; he ran the palm, chilled and damp, over his features. Through his jet black hair. He looked up to view his face again, and caught only the warp of concussion in the mirror. He moved slightly to the left. He looked into his own eyes for a long time, and had forgotten how clear they could actually get. He would suppress the clarity as soon as possible.

Art by Dcat

After finding appropriate bandages, not to avert others from the modest gore, but to make himself more useful, Dan walked casually towards the door to what was probably more weird shit. He’d simply throw the ‘crazy’ onto the pile, and sort it out later. He’d wasted all the time he could stand.

The thing slid open of its own accord, and Dan was unsurprised he hadn’t jumped. He continued walking, just barely at the mouth of the entryway; there was a short, outer hallway, that seemed to act as…cover? A security measure? Nah. That was paranoid, even for him. But stranger things could happen. Had.
Dan edged his way to the end of the small hallway, wishing he had a gun, any gun. His ‘grip’ skills were rusty and out of practice. He only used them to clear migraines of their salt, usually. He would dust them off quickly, and ply their trade as necessary, as usual. Curtis had been incredibly sadistic in his tutelage, had horded advanced moves and bludgeoned Dan with need for the usage of known ones. But the ceaseless testing, the endless badgering had made him sharp. The blade of skill stayed, but the sharpness had dimmed, dulled.

Harman had never cared what he did, so long as he was ready to kill at the drop of a hat. No problems there, and certainly not now. Dan doubted he’d ever made Curtis proud, but that had never been the goal; a change of life, of power had been Dan’s only desire at the time he’d gone with the white-haired bastard; he wouldn’t hesitate now to see Curtis dead as-

Then Dan got this sick feeling of conflict, this feeling he’d finished something he hadn’t started. It was a gruesome feeling, and he pushed it away as hard as he could muster. It was reentry. That was all.

There was a sound. The door sound. Another door, across the way. Dan smiled. Finally. Some action.
He edged farther, nearing the hallway, and peered around the corner. There was another room, adjacent to the one he’d exited. It had an outer corridor, like his own, one he couldn’t see around. The two juxtaposed room entrances would have been perfect for a gun fight. It was a shame. But, what could be done? Dan could think of some things.

He nearly strolled into the hallway, and towards where the other sliding door would be. He heard breaths, quick and jagged. His smile darkened. Most people were afraid to die. It was a trait Dan took full advantage of, in all circumstances. This circumstance was like all the others. And he was ready to scare the shit out of someone.

Very close to the corner, Dan stood. And he waited. It was only a matter of time. In reality, it was only a matter of seconds. Fractions of seconds. And there was a blast of movement that must have been a mighty imposition upon the nerves of his frazzled attacker.

An arm swung out at him with a shock of precision that defied the fear Dan sensed in his potential target. He grabbed the appendage with such a fierceness, it blew away his fatigue and the pain in his hand as he squeezed. Squeezed soft, smooth skin – not that of a man, he knew within an instant. Dan held back, paused with all his might, as familiar eyes met his; the dark lashes, porcelain frame of skin about the doe’s glance. A hunter relishes in these eyes. That of the hunt, that of the prey. The look was consuming, numbing.

Kaede was nearly face to face with him. She breathed heavily, heart a nearly audible rattle-thrum in her chest. She looked at him with suddenly upturned eyes, and looked him over, irises darting. The way she always looked at him, even in times of peace. Dan still held her arm, felt her pulse now, brachial artery fluttering away under his palm. It was soon calming as he stared at her, wordlessly. She swallowed a lump that made Dan crave a frigid shower; the thing about coming back to life is…rigidity feels like a familiar mode of transportation. Dan would opt for the shower.

They stood for moments, without speech, without need for speech. Kaede moved to pull away…but Dan held tightly, pulled her forward a bit. He smiled again, amused at her dilemma. Loosed his grip for an instant, feeling her pull back again, then squeezed again. He held her eyes. Smiled. Playing with one’s food is usually frowned upon; that’s the best part, of course, in playing with one’s food. She soon flushed, with the anger he’d been waiting for; the impatience. It made his smile intensify upon his face. Then he let her arm go completely, and she nearly fell backwards. Still, there were no words. And Dan made no effort to steady the girl. There was no need.

“Change your mind?,” Dan asked her. She steadied herself, and straightened her shirt. She was also wearing the sweats. They were form fitting, and high-lighted her athletic build. She seemed puzzled at his statement…but not too. She then bore this shadow about her face; it was a look Dan recognized…as guilt. He guessed she hadn’t changed her mind. Oh, well.

“What?,” Dan found himself asking with a surprising amount of impatience. Kaede looked up at him, as if she was about to lose her composure, to cry or yell at him. She could do whatever she wanted; Dan was immune to fits of insanity, fits of all kinds. He waited for the twenty-year old to throw her fit at him…but she never did.

“You’re bleeding,” she said, her voice a pall.
“It’s not the end of the world,” Dan replied, making a fist with the bandaged hand, and relishing in the deep ache the motion brought. Kaede was distracted, and looked all around them; she seemed frightened enough to need protecting. Well, she could stand behind him, but he wouldn’t protect her. She needed the practice.

“What did your note say,” she asked.
“What note?,” Dan puzzled, the venom draining from his voice.
“The note on your bed,” she replied, sounding confused.
“There wasn’t a note on my bed.”
“Are you positive? Were drinks provided?”

There it was; the fire he wouldn’t need to fan. It was a guilty pleasure to see it burn, self-sparking.
“There wasn’t a goddamn note on my bed, Kaede. Alright?”
She shied away again. Then her chin was up once more, in protest. Pretzel logic indignation.
“Well, then you’re gonna follow me, Dan.”
She went to walk away, and he grabbed the same arm the same way he had before. She turned sharply to face him, and her expression went doe-like again. Dan razored his voice into a thin whisper, eyes focused,cooling upon her.

“I’m not following you. If you’re going anywhere, you’re following whatever ink splatter you’re referring to, and I’m following no one. Is that clear?”
Anger, not ache graced Kaede’s face then, tempered soon after by the same shadow of guilt he’d seen before; the bastard emotion seemed to be reacting to their situation below the surface of her common time temper.

“Do whatever you want, Dan!,” she spat, without reaching a true volume. “Go fuck yourself, if you want to! Let me go!” There wasn’t anger, but a disorienting flare of alarm in the low exclamation.
“Let me go,” she then repeated, with only a quiet pleading Dan wanted to cease immediately.
He relinquished his grip upon Kaede’s arm calmly, without obeying her order. He was releasing the wild animal back to its natural habitat; utter helplessness. She seemed surprised, at his compliance, in spite of herself.

She was then collected, and turned sharply in the opposite direction; there was a fierceness to her walk that was abnormal. Kaede was usually grace incarnate, carnal delicacy that could pick a man off half a mile away.
Her incisors were showing now, unprovoked; bloodied, purposeful.
Dan watched the small of her back, flushed as it was with the motions of her flexing spine. It was arched in fury.

He walked after Kaede as her trudge softened into her more comely jog…
but Dan did not follow her.