When the small creatures hush their singing, said Adam One, it’s because they’re afraid. You must listen for the sound of their fear.
You must inhale the smell of their fear. Some say that fear has a particular scent, something overly saccharine, something a little salty, something like salted butterscotch. The salt of your sweat mixes with the panic glands which produce a sickly sweet allure which attracts predators from all around. That’s how they know you’re there, shaking in the dark, under the brush and behind the earthen musk of woodland bark. That’s how they know you’re the furry little creature they’ve been after.
Sunlight comes flooding through the bars on the window and Toby sighs, deciding she’d better do something before the humidity kicks in. She managed to get some sleep last night, but for just how long, she couldn’t say. She’s glad she did though, and she’s gladder that she made it through another night unscathed. Her stomach rumbles. She needs to find something to eat. She hobbles over to the fridge and when the door swings open, no light comes on. There hasn’t been any electricity in the area since the incident, but no matter. She only stores some supplies of bread and tinned food in there anyway.
Leaning against the bench of the breakfast nook, she rests all her weight on one side, her left side. She’s in awesome agony, but she’s managed to channel that pain into determination. Even though the sprain in her right foot has definitely puffed up since last night, she needs to keep moving. She eases herself onto the floor, props her foot up against the fridge door and redresses the problem area with careful figures of eight. The bandage is gathering brown patches of sweat and grime, but nothing she can’t handle. Toby gently pulls on her worn joggers and sighs, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear.
This place has good security. It’s kept her safe for a few weeks. The barred windows offer enough of the outside in and at least the toilet still functions. She decides to slip the door key in her pocket before she grabs her coat.
The door sticks a little then opens, just a crack, which is enough for Toby to survey the hallway. Bathed in an amber light from the far end of the corridor, it seems empty. The doorways are a little murky for comfort, but nothing seems to be lurking there, the shadows aren’t dark enough. The blood rushing in her ears again: katoush, katoush, katoush. She’s ready. She edges herself out the door toward the stairwell. Since the elevator’s out and she can’t risk trying the back stairs, she sets for the fire escape.
Using the subtly corrugated walls as support, she doesn’t look back. Toby stays on track, moving forward, forward. It’s nearly two flights down before she realises that her hands aren’t sliding along the roughness of the walls anymore. They’ve felt something cool, something wet. She pauses in her tracks, her heart is banging. She rubs whatever it is between her forefingers and thumb. It’s sticky. She draws it up to her nose and inhales. Metallic. She swallows hard, her breathing quickens. She keeps walking, this time more cautiously. Her knees are a little bit more bent as if ready to spring into action, although she’s unsure of just how much action her ankle can take.
Toby reaches the ground floor and sunlight pours into the foyer of the empty hotel. Although the air is like expired red-meat in here, although the air is heavier in here, the thickness associated with a locked sun-room just isn’t there. She’s stopped in her tracks by a snap that wasn’t her. She looks underfoot, the floor is smeared with a rusty spatter. There’s a click and she jumps, eyes darting around. But it’s only the foyer door moving with the zephyr. She’s holding her breath. She looks over at the reception desk. There’s someone at the computer.
She staggers as best she can around the front desk. Her eyes are burning but they can’t peel themselves off the woman sat there. The woman’s hair is perfectly slicked into a tight bun at the nape of her neck. She’s slumped forward a little bit and she seems to be sleeping. Her nude foundation is smudged on the collar of her white uniform, but as Toby hesitates nearer, she sees a thin, ruddy line trailing from just above her diamond earrings, all the way down her jawline to just under her chin. Toby was right, she did hear women’s voices. They were calling to her in pain. There was somebody left.
Snap. Toby twitches and looks back at the foyer door left ajar. Absent-mindedly, puts her hand down on the counter for support, but nearly slips with the stickiness on her hands from the wall in the fire escape. Judging by the flake of the blood, the reception lady had been gone for a while. So why was the blood on her hand still wet?
Toby’s whole being tenses. She stumbles behind the reception desk, gets on her hands and knees ignoring the burn in her ankle and crawls under the table, beside the printer and office bin. She can see the foyer through the reflection on a fading Cezanne on the wall and she can hear a shuffle. Snap. The morning sun blasts through the foyer doors now.
Bang, the door is violently pushed open, something shuffles and something slides. Toby wasn’t as alone as she thought.