Gavin sat in his car with his head down, drumming his hands on the steering wheel. He looked like he was either having a mental breakdown, or he was psyching himself up to rob a bank. If you pulled into the parking space next to him and looked over, you would probably pull out and look for another.
Do this for Gabbie, he thought. Do it for her.
“You’re hungry,” he told himself out loud. “Don’t do this on an empty stomach. That would be dumb. Get some fuel.”
He raised his head and surveyed the strip mall to see what he could eat. Jumbo Juice grabbed his attention. He loved Jumbo Juice. He would get a Terminator Shake, chalked full of protein and ginseng. It was healthy and it was a treat that could take his mind off the job for 10 minutes.
Gavin got out of his car, whistling fragments of a song he just heard on the radio, trying to look, act, and feel somewhat normal. He held the door open for people as they walked out of the juice bar. When he got to the front of the line, he forced a smile and said, “Heya. I’ll have a Terminator. Hold the yogurt.”
“Good choice,” said the indifferent teenage girl working the till. “That’ll be $11.50.”
“Wait. I thought these were $9.50 after tax? Didn’t they use to be?”
“Yeah, everything went up by a buck or two. Corporate said so. We had to get new menu signs. It was a whole thing. So, $11.50. Can I get your name, please?”
Gavin winced for a second and then forced a smile, even though the cashier wasn’t looking at him.
“You know what? Just give me 3 of those protein ball things and a bottle of water.”
“Ok, so that’s $6.50.”
He took his meal back to the car, even though it was a far less rewarding splurge than he originally planned. The protein balls satiated his hunger pangs for now, but didn’t really distract him as much as he hoped. It didn’t matter. He had to leave right now if he wanted to be on time. So, Gavin backed his car out of the space and set his GPS for the Black Diamond Chalet and Resort.
He pulled up to a red light at the intersection just before the highway. He cracked his neck on each side, trying to relax. It didn’t help.
A homeless man sat on a milk crate on the concrete divider, with a sign that read, “Old and Broke. Anything helps. God bless.” Gavin pulled some quarters out of the cup holder, rolled down the window, and waved. The old man jogged over, wearing pyjama bottoms and an old Chicago Bulls Starter jacket. He was filthy and heavily bearded, but he still gave Gavin a warm and gracious smile as he cupped his hands to accept the quarters.
“You’re a good man, Charlie Brown,” said the old man.
“No worries. Take care.”
The old man returned to his crate. Gavin inched his car forward to make the left onto the highway. As he pulled a little closer, he noticed something next to the old man’s seat. It was a Jumbo Juice. A fresh one. A Terminator.
“Motherfucker,” Gavin mumbled to himself, before realizing the light was now green. “Mother. Fucker,” he added one more time and pulled onto the highway.
Gavin found the Black Diamond Resort and pulled up to the front doors. His car was old enough to legally rent another car, and it was humbled by the brand new Audi Q8 parked directly in front of him. Someone that appeared to be the hotel manager was putting bags in the Audi’s trunk and closing the door.
“Always a pleasure to have the Coopers stay with us! Safe travels back to the city,” said the manager, knocking on the roof twice before it pulled away.
Gavin stepped out of his car. The manager looked at him quizzically, then looked at his car, then back at Gavin. “Can I give you directions somewhere, sir?” he asked.
“I’m with The Agency,” said Gavin.
The manager exhaled and seemed incredibly relieved. “Very good. Can I get you to move your car to just over—”
“I won’t be here long,” said Gavin, cutting him off.
“Fair enough. I’ll get one of our men to move it for your convenience.”
Gavin shrugged and threw his keys onto his seat through the open window. “Fine. Show me to the room.”
The manager led the way through the lobby and into the housekeeping staff’s locker room. Once inside, his tone went from short-and-to-the-point to merely short.
“I thought you’d have a uniform,” he snapped at Gavin.
“I don’t. Is this your first time calling The Agency?”
The manager mugged a bemused smile. He seemed to think he was being made fun of. “Of course it is. This isn’t that type of hotel, thank you very much. No need to leave your business card behind when you’re done.” He reached into a dirty clothes hamper and pulled out a massive pair of utility overalls and threw them at Gavin. “Here, put these on. Do try to blend.”
Gavin held the overalls up to his body. They were laughably too large for his thin frame, with a nametag that read “Raul.” Gavin snickered. “Has Raul heard of Noom?”
“Very funny. You’re Raul today. It’s room 2005. The money will be waiting for you at the front desk when you’re done.” The manager performed an odd half-bow and left the room, placing a keycard on the table.
Gavin put on the overalls and transferred his belongings into the deep pockets. He rolled up the pant legs and sleeves so he would only look half ridiculous. He then grabbed a random toolbox on the floor, grabbed the keycard, and headed off for Room 2005.
He took long and deep breaths in the elevator, trying to clear his mind. Trying not to think about the job. And trying not to think about the fact that he couldn’t stop thinking about the job. The elevator doors opened and Room 2005 was waiting directly in front of him. No need to look for it, but no more time to psych himself up.
He walked over to the door, set the toolbox down, and fished through his enormous pockets for the keycard. For a second, he thought he might have forgotten it in the changeroom. He briefly thought he would have to go all the way back down there and repeat this ritual, but he found the card stuck behind his cell phone.
“I hear noises in that room,” said a voice from behind him.
Gavin didn’t turn around, but responded, “Oh yeah. What type of noises?”
“It doesn’t matter! That room is supposed to be empty.”
Gavin half-turned to meet the voice. It belonged to a young housekeeper, no more than 17, but almost certainly more than 7 months pregnant. She looked petrified.
“It’s Ok,” said Gavin. “I’m here to make them go away. You might not want to look inside when I open the door, Ok?”
She nodded. Gavin raised the keycard again, but she cut him off before he could unlock the door.
“Is this place haunted?” she asked. “Should I stop working here? Please tell me the truth.”
“I’ll take care of it. I promise.” He tried to give her a reassuring smile.
“Ok,” she said, biting her lips together and nodding. She was trying not to cry.
“Did someone die in here recently?” Gavin asked.
She looked at him and a tear finally escaped her green eyes. She kept nodding.
“Were you the one who found them?”
A sob escaped her mouth. She gave up fighting the tears and wept, “Yes.”
“It’s Ok,” said Gavin looking for her nametag. Her name was Chloe. “Chloe, listen to me very carefully. It’s OK to be afraid. But, I’m going to get rid of it. I go in there, I put a bible on the bed, and I say some Latin. Then it’s gone. Gone for good.”
“Ok,” she said, still nodding.
“Back away from the door now, Chloe. Please.”
She gave him a heartbreaking smile through her tears, mouthed thank you, and walked away quickly. Gavin watched her walk down the hall to make sure she was completely out of sight, then lowered the key card. Nothing happened.
Gavin looked down and the reader was gone. He snapped his head back up and saw that the room’s door was now wide open.
“Ok. That’s a new one,” he mumbled. Taking one more deep breath, he closed his eyes and walked into the room.
There was a noticeable temperature drop inside, even though Gavin felt no draft when he stood outside the door. The cold air seemed to stop at the threshold. Gavin rolled his sleeves down and walked around, rubbing his wiry biceps.
It was dark, but the light from the open door showed him that the bulbs in the kitchen’s track lighting were shattered. So were the bulbs in the living room’s lamps.
He closed the door behind him and put on a battery-powered headlamp, just above his eyes. He clicked the light on. It shone a powerful white LED beam wherever he looked, as he slowly moved his head from side to side, surveying the room.
Gavin guessed that nobody had been in here since they removed the body. It certainly hadn’t been cleaned by pour Chloe or anyone else. He stepped into the middle of the room and looked at the previously quaint kitchen area, now decorated with a dried bloodstain on the granite kitchen island. An equally blood-dried paring knife sat on the kitchen floor with a few spots of blood next to it.
“Are you still here? Show yourself!” Gavin called out, startling himself with the volume of his own voice.
He walked further into the room where he could see both the kitchen and the bedroom through the open door. Besides the broken glass on the carpet and the bloodstain, the rest of the suite was in pretty good order. He could see that the luxurious white hotel linen had been kicked down to the foot of the bed. But there was no blood in the bedroom.
Gavin slowly spun around on the spot, shining his light over the pictures on the walls. None of the glass frames were cracked, despite all of the lightbulbs being shattered, and there were no signs of any sort of struggle or scuffs on the walls. He once again shone his light into the bedroom, and then back to the kitchen. And then again.
“You got to him in his dreams, didn’t you?” he called out. “You entered through his dreams and you made him kill himself in the kitchen. That’s what you did.”
Gavin walked closer to the bedroom door, but he dare not enter it yet. He looked up at the wall just above the headboard and switched the headlamp from white light to red. That dimmed the amount of light in the room, but the red light revealed black footprints on the silk wallpaper above the headboard. Gavin had no earthly idea what made a demon’s footprints show up under red light. But he was, not for the first time, glad they did.
The footprints walked up the wall onto the bedroom’s white ceiling and out of the room. He followed them into the kitchen where they circled above the island. He flicked the light back over to white to inspect the bloodstained island, directly below where the footprints stopped.
“Yes. That’s exactly what you did,” Gavin told the empty room. “So, where did you go after that?” He flicked the light back over to red and looked down at the floor. There were black footprints on the kitchen’s floor tiles, and nearly every inch of the living room’s floor and walls. “Everywhere. Great,” he whispered to himself.
“Are you still here?” he asked the silent room. “It’s Bangungot, isn’t it? The Sleep Demon? I can find you. I can send you back, or you can leave right now!”
The room remained still. Maybe this would be easy?
Gavin slowly made his way to the bedroom. Just do it, he thought. Go in there, place the bible, do the job. Do it now. Do it NOW! His feet felt nailed to the floor with fear, but he eventually moved one. Then the other. He tentatively picked up the white sheet from the floor and slowly bundled it in his arms.
It was time. Gavin took a long deep breath from his nose, smelling the chill in the air. He hoped that’s all it was. He let the sheet fall to the floor and snapped it once to shake the dust and wrinkles out. The snap was louder than he expected and he looked around the suite to see if the noise stirred anything. Or anyone. Nothing. He threw the sheet outwards from the left side of the bed, letting it fall gently on the mattress.
Only some of the sheet touched the mattress. The rest fell on top of the unmistakable shape of a body. Someone was lying on the bed.
Gavin fell backwards in terror, as he scrambled and crab-walked on the floor away from the bed. He put his hand over his mouth to try to muffle his hyperventilation, but couldn’t. He took his hand away and forced himself to take in a trembling deep breath as quietly as he could. Then out again.
The impact of his fall sent Gavin’s headlamp down around his neck. He pulled it back up and pointed the red light at the bed. The bed was empty. He flipped over to the white light, then back and forth a few times. Whatever was on the bed couldn’t be seen under red or white light. Or… it wasn’t on the bed anymore. Gavin pushed himself back upwards and re-gathered the sheet.
It doesn’t matter, he told himself. It doesn’t matter if the bed is empty or not. Put the bible down. Say the words. Do the job.
Gavin threw the sheet into the air and over the bed again. This time, it revealed the body was sitting up and its head was looking right at him. A black hand reached from under the sheet and grabbed his arm.
The demon snarled at him like a wild animal, but the noise didn’t come from under the sheet. It came from inside Gavin’s head. He shook his hand loose from its burning grip and fell backwards. He stumbled through the bathroom’s open door and fell hard into the bathtub, smacking his head against the shower’s tiles.
The growl in his head stopped, but it was replaced by dizzying pain from the back of his skull. Bright stars danced in front of his eyes, even though the bathroom was dark. Gavin looked up and could just barely make out a dark bloodstain and cracked tiles above him.
Nausea made him want to roll over onto his side and vomit, but he knew he didn’t have time. He tried to shake the stars out of his vision, but the motion made him feel sicker.
You don’t have time for this, he thought. Do something!
He pointed the head-lamp back at the bed to find the demon. It appeared to be still under the sheet, but it was now perched like a panther ready to pounce. As long as part of it remained under the sheet, he could still see it. But Gavin knew it wasn’t going to just sit there.
Get up, he told himself. Get the fuck up now!
The sheet fell suddenly as the demon shot across the floor towards him. The primal snarl inside Gavin’s head returned with a vengeance and the pain shocked him into action. He jumped up onto his feet and slammed the bathroom door closed, pressing his hands against it.
He felt Bangungot crash against the door, opening it about a third of the way. Gavin dropped to the floor with his back against the bathtub, using his legs to close the door and hold it closed. He heard scratching noises on the other side of the door, and then the demon violently pounded on it with a flurry of fists.
Hold the door, Gavin told himself. Hold it until your legs snap. The screaming inside Gavin’s head returned. This time it sounded like the voices of a dozen people, all crying out in pain. Gavin couldn’t help but scream back at them.
He felt the demon attack the door again, this time with a barrage of both fists and feet. And then… it all stopped. The voices in his head stopped screaming and the banging from the other side of the door disappeared. Gavin sat silently in the bathroom with nothing but the sound of his own panting.
I can’t keep this up, he thought while still panting. How long could this door stop a demon? How long could his exhausted legs hold it off? Another minute? Two? He knew he had to face the evil on the other side.
Just place the bible down on the bed and recite the lines, he thought. Even if that thing sinks its teeth into your spine while you do it. Get it done. Get it done, get it done, get it done.
Gavin flexed his legs against the door one more time to hold it, and pulled a small Bible out of his back pocket. This had to happen now. Right now! He stood up quickly and flung the door open.
The room was empty. He frantically scanned the walls with the red light, trying to find Bangungot, even though he knew he couldn’t see it. The light revealed fresh black footprints above the bed, seemingly pacing back and forth. It was on the ceiling. And it was waiting for him.
A low grumbling entered Gavin’s head. Was it laughing at him? He tried to shut it out and walk forward, holding the bible in front of him like a shield. He inched his way closer and closer to the bed, his eyes still staring upwards at the footprints on the ceiling. He slowly placed the bible down on the bed. But then, Gavin’s mind drifted.
This is pointless, he thought. I won’t survive this. Nobody could. I need to kill myself right now so I won’t be awake while that thing rips me apart.
No! You’re not awake, he thought. You’re unconscious. You hit your head when you fell and now he has you. But Gavin still found himself walking to the kitchen while his mind drifted away again.
Kill myself. It’s the only way.
He bent over and picked up the paring knife on the kitchen floor.
Slash my wrist and it’ll all be over in seconds. They say it doesn’t even hurt. It could be over that quickly.
The red light from the headlamp revealed black footprints above him, circling him. But Gavin stayed focused on his forearm.
The demon is going to pull my flesh off. What can I do to fight it? Nothing.
Gavin rolled up his baggy sleeve. He traced the long blue veins under his skin with his finger.
Just above the veins, he saw the words, “Redire ad inferos. Nullas hic potestatem,” tattooed in gothic green letters. Those words were there for a reason. He knew that much. But why? Something seemed to be blocking his memory of why they were there.
The screaming returned inside his head, louder than ever. Gavin dropped the knife and fell to his knees in pain. It felt like something white-hot was being ripped out of his brain and dragging sharp talons inside his skull on the way out.
End this pain now. Now!
Gavin picked up the knife and squeezed it. He looked down at the tattoo again. Why was it there?
Do it now! He raised his arm and readied the knife to slash his wrist. But something inside of him made him hesitate. It was faint, but it was strong enough to stop him. Gavin couldn’t seem to shake the memory of hitting his head in the bathroom.
You’re asleep, he told himself, pleading with the part of his mind that controlled the knife. Wake up! The demon is controlling you. Wake your ass up!
Gavin grabbed hold of the kitchen island and plunged the knife into the back of his hand. Dark blood spurted out of the wound. He yanked the blade out and threw it across the room, then dropped to his knees. He was in agony, but he was awake. He knew the demon was no longer controlling him.
The tattoo is part of the job, he remembered. Do the job. Put the bible on the bed and say those words. That’s why you’re here.
Dark blood poured out of the back of Gavin’s hand as he dragged himself across the carpet into the bedroom. The screaming inside his head returned. It grew louder as he got closer to the bedroom.
Almost there, he thought. A few more pushes. He passed through the bedroom doorway and pushed himself up onto his knees. Two black footprints appeared in front of him, as Bangungot jumped off the ceiling and stood in front of him, blocking his path. Gavin looked up. He still couldn’t see the demon, but he felt its fingers form around his neck.
It snarled inside Gavin’s head, then ripped him off the floor and held him in the air by his throat with ungodly strength.
You should have taken the easy way out, the demon said inside his head.
Gavin batted weakly at the invisible arm, unable to break the grip around his neck. His feet dangled in the air and kicked at nothingness. “Redire ad inferos. Nullas hic potestatem!” he gurgled.
The demon dropped him to the floor and jumped back up onto the ceiling. It hissed down at him. This time, the noises weren’t inside his head. They were inside the room, sounding weaker and more desperate.
Gavin snatched the bible from the floor and slammed it down onto the bed. “YOU should have taken the easy way out,” he told the demon. He then summoned all the air he had left in his scratched throat and yelled, “Redire ad inferos. Nullas hic potestatem!”
The bed burst into a tall blaze of flames, sending Gavin back against the wall. A dark hole materialized in the center of the blaze.
Gavin saw frantic claw marks appear above him, as an unseen force dragged a screaming and thrashing Bangungot across the ceiling and down the wall onto the bed.
The hellfire’s red flames illuminated the room and finally revealed the demon’s thin silhouette. Black skeletal wings shot out of its shoulders, so long they nearly covered the entire width of the room.
Bangungot’s jumped off the bed and flapped its wings. It shrieked as it fought the force pulling it down into the hellmouth. It screamed again. It flapped harder and harder. It squealed louder and louder until the bones in its wings snapped like two tree branches and the dark void consumed it.
In the blink of an eye, the room fell quiet as the portal vanished and the flames turned to smoke. It was gone.
Gavin was alone. The job was… done.
Gavin walked up to the front desk of the hotel. He placed his good hand on the counter, hiding his other crudely bandaged hand in his pocket. It appeared to be a casual gesture, but Gavin did it to stop himself from falling over. He could barely stand.
The manager walked over, looked Gavin up and down, and then whispered, “It’s done?”
“Is,” Gavin groaned. He cleared his throat by coughing and started again. “Yes. It’s done.”
“What state is the room in?”
“Well. It’s now fucking free of sleep demons, if that’s what you mean.”
“Very good,” said the manager. He opened a drawer behind the desk, produced a clean white envelope, and asked, “Do you mind if I ask what possesses a man to get into your line of work?”
“I have my reasons.”
The manager slid the envelope across the counter briskly and said, “I assume that will be all.” He made certain it didn’t sound like a question.
“Nope. I’d like a suite for tonight, please.”
The manager tried to smile it off, but wasn’t very convincing. “You must be joking,” he whispered.
“Nope,” Gavin said firmly. “I’m sure this will cover it. And two lift tickets to the mountain.” He slid the envelope back across the counter.
“Fine, suit yourself,” said the manager, whipping the cash back. “I’m sure it’s a good idea to have you here overnight anyways. In case it comes back.”
“They don’t come back. At least not to the same place,” said Gavin, wincing as he touch the back of his head to see if he was still bleeding. He wasn’t, but it was tender to the touch.
The manager shook his head in frustration and started booking Gavin in through the computer. “You said two lift tickets?”
“Please. One adult, one junior.”
“Gavin and Gabrielle Redd.”
The manager hit a few keys and walked over to the printer. It hummed and spit out two colourful lift tickets. Gavin thought they were the most beautiful things he had ever seen. He dabbed at the sides of his eyes with his wrist.
“Enjoy your stay with us, Mr. Redd,” said the manager, trying to act as normal as possible. “Check-in is in an hour.”
“Thank you. I will.”
This was his weekend with Gabbie. Her mother agreed to let her stay with him on her birthday. Gavin had promised a big surprise for the weekend. And now, he actually had one to give her.