Since February’s Writing Contest was less about writing and more about conceptualizing, I’ll share this piece I wrote for a contest last year, and got an honorable mention for.
The prompt was that the main character should be drinking and having flashbacks to something they don’t want to think about.
Something that’ll burn on the way down, I thought, but didn’t say, as I hesitated over the bartender’s question. “Can I get a shot of tequila?”
The stocky bartender nodded and turned to the wall of bottles behind him, shot glass in hand. I settled back on the bar stool and laid my hands out in front of me, watching as they trembled. It was a little before 11 PM, and the hotel bar was empty save for a couple at the other end. The pair, perhaps a wife and husband, were completely focused on each other, talking quietly about something that looked like it must have been very funny.
The bartender’s return brought my attention upward, and I retrieved my wallet and paid. The shot glass was practically full to the brim, and I brought it to my lips slowly, not wanting to spill a drop. As I hoped, it did burn as I knocked it back, and I shut my eyes for a moment, wincing at the harsh taste. There was a strange noise behind me, like–
— like a skull giving way; Moore’s head collapsing in on itself…
I shut my eyes for a moment and tried to push the image from my mind. I wasn’t here to think about that. The shot glass was loose in my fingers, and I set it down on the bar before I could drop it.
I turned my gaze to a man who hadn’t been there the moment before, and realized the noise I heard must’ve been the door opening behind me. The man wore a rumpled business suit, dark in color.
“What can I get for you?” The bartender asked the new arrival, who, to my displeasure, took the seat next to mine.
“Hm,” the blond tapped his fingers against the bar, as if deep in thought. “What are you drinking?” He asked, turning to face me.
I stiffened in my chair. “Tequila,” I replied, after what felt like a slightly too long pause.
The man smiled. “Perfect, can I get the same?” He looked to me again once the bartender walked away. “I’m Tiernan.” He held his hand out.
I pressed my hand into his. “Cecily.” I hoped he would leave the conversation at that, but I doubted it. I must’ve looked like an easy target; a woman alone at the bar.
“A pleasure.” Tiernan waited for his order, paying when it came. I watched as he downed his shot, slamming the glass down hard on the table. “Want another?” He asked me.
“Sure,” I replied. As much as I had been hoping to drink all by my lonesome, I wouldn’t say no to a freebie.
A couple minutes later, the two shots were in our hands. “To your health,” Tiernan murmured as I clanked my glass against his. This shot burned a little less. Tiernan wavered a bit in his seat, his ever present smile growing wider. “You here alone?”
I nodded, thinking that if I had met Tiernan just a few days before, the answer would have been, ‘no.’ But you’re alone now, I reminded myself. You made sure of that.
A melancholy expression must’ve crossed my face, because Tiernan rapped his fingers on the bar and leaned in close. “You certainly don’t have to stay alone, Cecily,” he assured me genially. “There’s not a lot to hold a person’s interest in here… Not even a casino,” Tiernan noted, nudging at his empty glass with two fingers. “Have you seen it yet?” He asked, after a short pause.
He didn’t have to elaborate on what ‘it,’ was. The only thing of interest for miles was the Grand Canyon– the only reason anyone came to this hotel. They didn’t come for the heat, the dirt, or the sun, I’m sure. Just the huge, jagged tear in the earth.
“Not yet,” I admitted, hailing the bartender for a glass of water. I was starting to feel a little woozy.
Tiernan put his hand up as well. “Me too!”
I sipped gingerly on the water and tried to will my head to clear up. “Have you seen it yet?” I echoed back at Tiernan.
“Yeah,” He replied, his voice tinted with awe. We made eye contact and he held my gaze as he continued, “It’s amazing. I didn’t think I would care, you know? It’s just a big hole in the ground.” He lowered his glass without taking his eyes off me. “But Cecily, it’s fucking beautiful. Everyone should make a point to see it before they die.”
I could hear my heart pounding in my ears as flashes of red flooded my vision. It was seeping in under the door, leaking from the collar of Tiernan’s shirt, pooling on top of the bar. There was blood everywhere. Tiernan seemed to not have noticed, and the bartender and couple across from us had no reaction either.
I took a deep breath. “Wow,” I said, my voice cracking somewhat. I closed my eyes, and when I opened them, things appeared to be back to normal. No more blood. Not even a drop. I plastered a blank expression to my face, resisting the urge to scream, or to grab Tiernan, to bash his face in…
I inhaled deeply again. Alcohol had been a bad idea. I had meant to numb myself a bit, not lose control. Maybe now was a good time to return to my room, before I did something drastic. I glanced over at my companion, who had grown quiet, turning his gaze to his cell phone. He didn’t resemble Moore much, besides the fact that they were both men. Tiernan’s hair was a dirty blonde, lighter than Moore’s brown. Even their build was different; Moore had been much slighter than Tiernan. The largest discrepancy, the one that made my stomach churn, was that Moore was dead, head smashed, blood soaking a permanent stain into the cheap beige carpet, while Tiernan sat next to me, very much alive.
I closed my eyes again and the vivid image of Moore’s corpse faded just a little. I downed the rest of my water and began to gather my things, which caught Tiernan’s attention. “Going so soon?”
I smiled. “I’m a little tired.”
“I couldn’t tell,” Tiernan replied, standing as well. “Way you were drinking…”
“It always puts me out,” I said agreeably, even though he was starting to annoy me. I didn’t come here to hurt anyone, I reminded myself. Just a quick drink.
“I wouldn’t be a gentleman if I didn’t offer to walk the lady to her room.”
I just looked at him, thinking of a quote I had heard before, but couldn’t quite remember. Something about yielding to temptation. I wasn’t sure if it was good advice, but I certainly wanted to.
“If you insist,” I finally said, turning to head out of the bar and up the stairs. There were two sets, a grand set of stairs in the lobby that curved up to the second floor, and a second set of dog-leg staircases that led all the way to the roof. My room was on the fourth floor. I could use the walk; hopefully it’d have a sobering effect.
I pulled open the heavy door to the stairwell, Tiernan shuffling in behind me. The fluorescent lighting stung my eyes; the bar had been much more dimly lit.
“What floor are you on?” Tiernan asked, as I began the trek up the first half-flight of stairs. “I hope the second.”
“Fourth,” I responded, waiting for him politely on the landing.
“Don’t tell me you’re a health freak,” Tiernan said, still making no movement to begin climbing the stairs. “Like you’ve come to hike the entire canyon.”
I laughed for the first time that night, something I didn’t expect. “No.”
Tiernan nodded. “Alright,” he replied, gamely following in my footsteps.
“What’s your floor?” I asked him, mostly just to fill the eerie silence of the stairwell.
“Eleventh,” Tiernan answered. “You won’t catch me walking all the way up there.”
I laughed again and paused at the second floor landing, waiting for Tiernan, who was shuffling up at a much slower pace. It occurred to me, watching him stumble up the stairs, that he might have started drinking before he even got to the bar.
Upon joining me on the second floor landing, Tiernan held up a hand to stop me from continuing. I hesitated and watched as he reached into his jacket, unearthing a flask. “I’m a little thirsty,” he said with a smirk, tilting it towards me. “What about you, Cecily?”
A small, very far away voice tried to remind me that I’d drank enough that night. But I took the flask from his hands anyway, downing a long swig of whatever was inside. Which was a mistake, because it was a lot stronger than I anticipated. The flask was heavy in my hands, both of them, as I–
— raised the cast iron skillet to about chest level and brought it down as hard as I could on Moore’s head. I was ready to do it again, but he sunk to the floor before I could, the back of his head more of a mess than I could have ever been prepared for.
A wave of nausea pulsed through me and I pressed the flask back into Tiernan’s grasp with one hand, putting the other to my mouth as I bent over and coughed. The less I thought about Moore’s death, the duller the sensations associated with it became. It was all rushing back now, the heady horror and excitement of it filling my bones.
“I take it you’re not much of a whiskey drinker,” Tiernan inferred, placing the flask back inside his jacket. I shook my head no, settling into a seat on the cool, gray steps. The coughing had robbed me of a decent amount of oxygen, and I needed a minute to catch my breath. Tiernan dropped down next to me, his gaze fixed on the bottom of the staircase above us.
“I can’t take you to my room,” I said, my throat tight from the coughing. It seemed as good a time as any to break the news. Killing Moore had been a monstrous thing. Which, I supposed, made me a monster. But that didn’t mean Tiernan had to meet the same fate.
“Cecily,” Tiernan began, “I had zero intention of–”
“Sure,” I said quickly, cutting him off. “You just wanted to walk me up.”
“Well.” I stood, grabbing onto the railing tightly. The floor was definitely swaying beneath me. “Two more floors,” I murmured, putting one unsteady foot in front of the other.
We didn’t speak anymore as we walked, which made it even easier to keep thinking about Moore, the way he gurgled and spat blood and curled his long fingers into the rug. As disturbing as all of it had been, the thing that bothered me the most about the entire incident was what happened before I hit him, in the seconds that passed as I raised the skillet up, before I ever brought it down.
Moore had looked up at me, which I hadn’t been planning on. Recognition flashed in his eyes, almost like he knew what was going to happen next. He didn’t move, and I didn’t stop. I wanted to know that he never saw it coming. But I couldn’t say that now.
I pulled the door open to the fourth floor and let Tiernan walk in front of me. The stroll to my room was a short one, but it felt longer through the haze of the alcohol. I stopped at 408, and turned to Tiernan. “This is me.”
He bowed his head somewhat, taking a step back. “Good night, Cecily. I had a much better time with you than I would’ve had alone.”
That was the time to reply with a false, ‘Me too,’ but I couldn’t force the words out.
“You said you haven’t seen it, right?” Tiernan leaned a little closer. “The Grand Canyon. I’d love to go with you. See what you think.” He produced his cell phone from a pocket in his slacks. “Can I get your number?”
I chewed on my lip, thinking of what to do. I wasn’t here to see the Grand Canyon. I was here to get away, to not have to share a house with a rotting corpse. Tiernan stood in front me, waiting patiently. It seemed like no matter what I said, I couldn’t be rid of him easily. It hit me then, the quote I had been thinking of earlier: ‘The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.’
“Did you want to come in?” I asked, leaning against the door for support.
Tiernan hesitated, confusion plain on his face.
“Just come in,” I insisted, rooting through my pocket for the keycard.
Tiernan kept his mouth shut, not offering any protest as I swiped the card through the reader. It shone green and I opened the door slowly, Tiernan trailing close behind. This time, I assured myself, would be much better than the first. This time, for certain, he would never see it coming.