Here’s my round 2 entry in the NYC Midnight flash fiction contest. My group’s prompt was:
Genre: Ghost story
Levi McKrell threw an empty Dr. Pepper bottle at the television in his hotel suite and yelled, “I’m not missing! I’m right here trying to finish this goddamn book!”
The bottle bounced off the screen and spun to a corner. The talking head on TV equated McKrell’s disappearance with that of Paul Sheldon in Misery. He spun a pizza box like a Frisbee into a corner. The box landed and emptied the last slice onto the carpet.
“Shit,” he said and jumped off the couch. He reset several pepperonis and devoured the pizza while he frantically paced the room. Described as gangly, several months of seclusion in a hotel suite had only enhanced his haggard appearance.
The world awaited the final volume of his Doomsday Rendezvousseries, and Levi McKrell, the writer who most critics agreed had assumed Steven King’s throne as the ultimate horror master, didn’t have a clue how to end it. The manuscript had been due to his publisher by Halloween. A detail not unnoticed by McKrell as he watched public works crews outside dismantling Christmas and Hanukkah decorations.
A knock at the door interrupted his anxiety.
He crept to the door and looked out the peephole. Nothing.
His suite was hidden in the back of the Beverly Hillshire. A suite only in the loosest sense, the room had served as Warren Beatty’s office when the actor lived in the palatial penthouse suite in the 70s. Beatty famously destroyed a sofa here by piling several hundred rejected scripts onto it, until its frame collapsed. McKrell felt like that sofa; every idea for his book’s ending burdened him with the fear that it wasn’t good enough.
McKrell opened the door and looked around. He listened, but heard no footsteps. He started to close the door when he noticed a silver room service tray on the marble floor. He knelt and looked at the tray. Knife, fork, and spoon were sharply wrapped in a white linen napkin next to a single stainless steel plate and cover.
McKrell sniffed the air then removed the cover and found a large, freshly-grilled hamburger – one patty sandwiched between two white buns. He looked down the stairwell.
“Hello?” he called out.
The suite’s occupants had to take an elevator to the tenth floor and then ascend a long flight of stairs to get to the room.
McKrell propped his door open and shuffled down the stairwell to the tenth floor: empty. He jogged up to his room, keenly aware he had been neglecting his cardio. In his room, he dialed the concierge.
“Concierge, this is Cecilia. How may I help you?”
“Yeah. Someone just delivered room service to my room, but I didn’t order anything.”
A long pause.
“Hello?” he said.
“I’ll be right up,” Cecilia answered.
McKrell waited for the concierge on the top step, not wanting her to see the pizza box and other messes in his room. He heard the elevator arriving on the tenth floor, then the concierge’s heels clicked down the marble floor and up the stairs. When she was halfway up the stairs, McKrell cleared his throat.
“Is there any other way to my room?”
“Only the fire escape off your patio,” Cecilia replied.
“Must be some pranksters,” he said.
The concierge wore a pinstripe pantsuit. She arrived at the top step with a smile and picked up the tray.
“So sorry about this,” she said. He noticed she wasn’t breathing hard, though she looked nervous.
“Nothing to be sorry about,” McKrell responded.
Cecilia blushed, catching the writer by surprise.
“No. It’s just that…once in a while, the hotel has a visitor from…from the great beyond,” she said.
Levi cocked his head to one side.
“I know,” she said. “I feel stupid talking about ghosts with the modern master of horror.”
“Oh, I’m not the master,” he said, admiring the woman’s modesty. “This hotel is haunted, huh?”
A grin flashed across Cecilia’s face. “Yeah. We’re not supposed to say anything, but there was a kooky room service attendant who was attacked in the kitchen.”
She paused and looked skittish. “Do you like hamburgers, Mr. McKrell?”
“No. Not at all.”
Her body relaxed.
McKrell smiled. He enjoyed true crime stories.
Cecilia continued, “I guess the kitchen was closed for a month after his murder. To clean and remodel. Because none of the kitchen staff would go back.”
“That is disgustingly awesome.”
Cecilia clenched her teeth. “Yeah, he died in this stairwell. Bludgeoned with a typewriter.”
McKrell’s jaw dropped. He was overcome with a vision. He had the ending. He could finish the book!
“Thank you so much,” he said. “This has been so helpful!”
“Sure thing,” she said, confused, as McKrell rushed back into the suite, grabbed his laptop, and returned. He sat on the top step and began pecking away at the keyboard.
Cecilia continued, “Yeah. His name was Bruno. He enjoyed delivering people’s food. Made a lot in tips. After it happened, guests would occasionally find room service trays outside their door.”
“Uh-huh,” he said. McKrell typed furiously.
Cecilia thought the writer was listening so she described the story behind Bruno’s last moments in the stairwell.
“He must have struggled,” she said, unaware McKrell wouldn’t have heard a nuclear explosion over his character’s dialog in his mind.
“I’m so glad you don’t like hamburgers,” she added. “The legend is, if you eat the food Bruno leaves you, he’ll return later and stab you to death.”
“Uh-huh,” McKrell said, oblivious.
Cecilia realized he wasn’t listening. Artists she thought, then turned and walked away, leaving the writer alone.
Levi worked feverishly and finished the novel an hour later. His laughter echoed down the stairwell as he typed ‘The End’.
He pressed save and stepped back in his room.
“I can’t believe I did it,” he muttered and set the laptop on his bed as someone knocked on the door.
He opened the door expecting to find Cecilia, but found only a room service tray: holding a pepperoni pizza.