Omaha, 2.E, 2500 words

In a hotel that stands alone dwarfed beside sometimes a lake by a clotted collage of landscape features entwined such that they cannot be distinguished valley from range, peak from sink, plain from furrow, Jacky performs, or allows, a ritual eradication of human kinds. Where each stands each’s surroundings draw forward, like a coverlet made around each’s ill form. Sunlight of old afternoon pries into rooms. The sky only, jettisoned from its dusty referent, of such convex blue uniformity, loses its color, coating the glass like gray slate, an approaching chalkboard or falling toward a peaceful and moonless night sea. Wheeling buzzards’ digital wings draft up before the glass etching through into otherwise silence. An alluvial town below looks to be crumbled from both from the tower itself and the brittle sinkhole walls constricting it. The tower stands like a spindle above the crest of land’s sagging hood. The interior valley is closed all round. Water only escapes through evaporation. Connie cleans rooms. She straightens. The need for her labors doesn’t cease. Always arranged still lifes chatter out of alignment. She doesn’t cease. The trolley filled with nauseating disinfectants, abrasive linens, thin stationery pads and stickpens, sealed soaps, and swabs and rags mottled with dinge props her up as she walks. Its wheels on carpet breathe in chorus a breath unending to emulate. Connie knocks a fingers-curled and palm-toward-face quick knock and its quick echo, “Housekeeping.” Both long evacuated of caution or pause by the coiled chain of their endless use she unlocks and enters a room without waiting for reply. Each dry, split finger diverges on many paths. In sinks each soaks, recombines, diluting and disappearing in fraying streamers of old blood, tired skin, and cloudy suspension. Tapping from door to door Connie isolates emptied rooms in a copied table on her clipboard. Some may only be emptied though still occupied by belongings strewn and stacked. The televisions still pick up some signal, though even static through a wall has humanity’s uneven cadence. Disembodied voices surround her taps at most doors. The great hall of the hotel appears to be empty below. It has eroded in such a way though that most of its contiguous space is obscured by partial enclosure and shadowy colonnade and wending vestige. The great hall of the hotel is empty. The unpredictable drip of dripping water overtakes Jacky’s distraction, though other antagonists may be the off angle of a chair tucked to table or a roll and swale of quilt or his shirt blousing over the waistband. Earthly prompts shiver down the tenuous tower of colored sand from which he faintly concentrates into the paint-mended and chattering rubble of town. Somewhere far enough over the crown of ridges, across a dry grass plain, the coagulation of humankind is streaming toward some force of gravity again in homogenous, dry powder, with pulverized stones, disintegrated books, poorly crafted furniture. Supercessive spaces similar to the deferred voice of their disappearance are found in the great but diminutive presence of fans, in heaters, exhaust ports, in chillers, or atop metal frames or standards in the open to encourage air exchange. This he teaches himself in each setting for a basic reason, to be alone, and not for crises, but for all. It is certain this is not a moral impulse. He sat at tables with groups of conventioneers and did not judge them. They flickered as he listened. Human voice shares with the tender warmth of the mouth an urgent drive in him to be smothered by moist fabric. He takes up in a room in the hotel to complete the ritual. He struggles to recapture scenes filled with people, recollections, an apartment he shared, taking turns in the golden wing chair, views out of windows with vague forms in the street, but he only sees the room around him. Standing next to the tempered roar of a little wall heater, its orange elements scorching dust, people in the street are vague apparitions not matching up to the hollow of the fan hum. His hearing given over to the space of the heater, his touch continuous in the uterine heat, only his vision creeps out from the shelter into what then is another place. He closes his eyes sitting by all the lit lamps in the room. A mess of ritual devices appears. A beige jelly that smells like a breath fills the bathtub concocted from lotion bottles, his hair, and weeks of darkness. It is sweet and opaque. With all of the lights on in the bathroom he immerses in the tub. Without twinkle or sigh only people are occluded. This is a tuning of vision. People are gone; the atrium still hums under the door. He sits again in a packed sort of silence, like folded linens in a chest, dry and snug. No whirring, no fans or wind, or rustling, no coils, immobile and velvet warm exhalations of many days inhaled exhalations. The room is different. Shadows lift furniture away from the carpet. Everything has sick legs; all have self-shaped holes to fall into. Jacky casts a shadow up the wall, rotten-tooth-colored spilled over beige. Sunlight is new and, though severe and unerring, its intrinsic dry bog decrepitude, is accustomed to the carpet even with the sudden passing on of the cloud cover, casting insidious shadows while Jacky tends to the leaking faucet in his water closet. Tapping from door to door Connie begins again at the lowest stratum of chambers. Edges glimmer in reverse through each peep. Shrunken vague jewels capture the gasps of small dreaming figures. Three diminutive funerary boxes, all caskets, glass-lidded, one pyramidal and crowned by a pommel appear to contain gowned figures, the two flanking hidden behind masks of yawning mouths, the central sleeps bare-faced, harlequin bib with piping draped to its fallen-forward feet, its casket vitrine only atop a white bier traced by moldings, acanthus heraldry, and shadows pooled between petite cabriole legs. Trapped characters, immobilized in cast glass are easily assigned motivations and gripping paranoia. The eyes of emotionless death, the eyes of the fluid-smothered absorb almost all standard debilitations, abandonment, failure, neglect, smothering. The doors with no response, those restraining silence, she opens. Sunbaked odors bolt swollen through the open doors. Some doors brush the carpet down. From floor to floor up through the great hall, looping in the same direction on each, opening doors and propping them with a folded washrag from each’s water closet. The still sailing afternoon sun, early in her process lends a glow crept through the lower strata foreign and dreamily agitated. She laps around the top. From above and across the late day fallen sun throws a snaggled iron maiden wall of glowing spears through the velveteen suspension of the hall. The prongs grow erect then darken to a livid brown where the sun dips into the crest of the mountain range before diffusing. In the peace of a room’s blank wall, Jack’s breathing slow, inaudible, his eyes lost from one another roam about across the vague surface and into its gas and spun grain, the beige smoke parting to more luminous beige such that the distinction that his eyes report independently is not verifiable, nor even is the recollection of two eyes, tethered or skullsame ever. The absence of reference that is first smothering, after a sort of death within it, the clenching sensation of an elastic membrane of immense pressure delineating his face by clinging to the minutiae of its features and bearing upon them like a leaden sphincter, across whose frontier opens the unchanged landscape of limitless and perfect beige now coupled with or producing the idyllic sway of falling fuzz, untouched, the body, the visions’ concrete origin disintegrating, the sinking of cold water through a deep choking lake. As if the breeze could be felt in its movements by the texture of vision, so the color caressed past him. Coded in the texture of the hall hush small wheels press through carpet ruts. A wax woman comes to his empty room and props open the door. Her waxen face scrolls along the railing high above. The duration of an elevator chase might culminate in her disappeared into a stair or locked in a room. The direct path to her spans out over empty the gulf hundreds of feet deep. The two of them adrift in the hotel’s ribbed gullet trudge through a disinterested hide-and-go-seek free-for-all. Jack examines the backs of his hands. Scarred smooth pink skin tightens against his knuckles. It is fragile white against threatening knuckles. Ligaments search for weakness. The woman’s head falls below the railing. Night enters. Its darkness leaks forth from the columbarium walls of disinterred rooms. Their private lisps slip out after dark with the exchange of moonlight from above for the crawl of their sacred hush. The voices rasp around corners and behind pillars all around the darkened great hall. Dim areas, distant areas, through the smell of continuous passages of air, charged and nearly luminous flits of bits on warmed currents, recognize, with solidaritous though icy glare, the nearby shining of the sun. A large hotel, the pinnacle landmark of a crumbled town, what could have been the debris crumbled away from an ashlar block, its potential for habitation unimportant, somewhere between pyramid and cone in form, is emptied of its guests. By each moment it seems to expand against the sky, to appear larger, eschewing any relative tether. It seems to be pulled into the sky as clouds against the clear draw along neither up from nor across the town. Jacky awakens on a bed rushed over by air and sucking starlight. He adjusts on the bed with unfamiliar hesitance. A terrain of pillows in varying aspect ratio and fill wrack his legs and neck. His eyes diverge. Sights are vestiges. He thrashes about the down and foam redfaced, sweating, as if stung and burned. The pillows strewn follow him falling into new forms on the carpet, up the base moldings, drifted against the wardrobe. They glow horribly in the dim. Jacky tosses each through the open door where they disappear over the railing of the arcade. Clouds migrate unseen through the night. A vector of a headache, relentlessly directional, biases his stalking always to his right. The brain swells from sleeping in the afternoon. Beyond all the open doors white pillows glow out of the dark preserved with luminous scalp oils. From each floor, each arcade, each open room they rain. Jacky in a frenzy whirling watches them spin through the emptiness of the great hall, tossing again and again hypnotized by the limp descent. The most slow rotation bleeds across inbetween spaces to form a radiant gel, the pillow blending with damaged and frayed trajectories. Rising in place the liquefied fabric inscribes a ghostly white cord through the moony dim of the great hall and puffs onto the carpet with the sound and subdued gentleness t’would have dropped from two hands over a downy bed. White peaks of a pillow moraine fledge the furniture and higher into masses of their own across the floor of the great hall. He draws a bath. The bathtub is short. His legs erect against the tile his back on enamel flat, ears beneath the horizon. The scintillating points of ablutionary dew sparkle all across the tub rim firmament. From one dark doorway plashing water on water on hand raising aloft cupped, tepid puddles crinkles from the dark water closet. The delicate privacy of a local hydrological cycle is a harbinger sound of the secret, the intimate, as a groan or whimper, fabric across skin, listen carefully, the sticky peeling away of a bare foot from linoleum. From dim arcade to dim alcove the door thresholds no longer strike a boundary of hesitation, nor are they visible in such a way as to divide space but are visible as mottled phantoms, their edges contingent to the elasticity of the iris. The more palpable dimness, pregnant upon the air, where the wall phantoms are not, lends some geometry to Connie creeping unabashed toward the source of tinkling wavelets. A luminous, downy nude, emaciated and slowly pantomiming a yawn, finely tinted, translucent nipples falling, disappears up to its neck. Consumed either by black bathwater or by blooming black fog on the mirror the nude swoons in some embracing cocoon. It yawns again drawing out its smooth throat from elision. The vague sense of light clings to the surfaced features. Connie is not visible to herself for the glow, her hands sliding on phantom wall-covering, feet coasting buoyant over ocean floor crevasse, until, impossibly, her face appears deep in the room mirrored in the same overcast fluorescence. The face of the nude all aghast swallowed by its black mouth and pupils, disappears behind the clattering shower curtain. Connie flees in advance of quite a chaos of splashing sounds and high, breathless whining. Turning from already far around the arc of arcade back to the room she and the nude exchange gazes as he, a young man, flings himself over the railing, a bright hailstone falling. A belated shriek, more sonorous exhalation, hangs above the limp plummet. From far down a diminutive puff of dust spangles rises in a swirl through the hall from the landscape of pillows. The fallen form is immediately indistinguishable from the phosphorescence of pillow floe. Yet, the whine continues and devolves into weeping that comes from high where Jack is collapsed over a rail rubbing his palms over the air as if to conjure the form back with tether or magnetism. Connie sets out for Jack disappearing oblivious. He recedes, faces a tile wall and showers. Scalding water parts at his neck and sheets as if over smooth marble falls. All waits, dormant, until the decay of that prismatic solid of steam formed in the locked water closet. Connie is gasping through steam clinging to the high arcade and threading into a dark doorway. Needling precipitation cools her shins. Hair blooms thirstily from her scalp and nape. A ghost’s voice is a wordless song, high and wavering like a machine. “Jack. Right?” “Constance?” They commit to what they saw. They commit to having seen it. They commit to one another a long sequence of events that decays even as it is imagined by their tongues. First they commit to proving to one another what they had seen. They rustle across the cotton surface of the pillow moraine. Its lunar pulp silhouettes their hands and forearms diving into the peaked entrance of a glowing tunnel. Down they wriggle. Deep below the endothermic fabric, foam, and feather are stifling. A slithering vein of sweat stains through fissures pressed open by a soaked, crawling body betray Jacky’s location in the heap. One of each of their hands takes hold of the arch of a foot at the end of a still diving body and are drawn into the blinding light or darkness all together.



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