October 1st. Start of short story tentatively titled Hotel 555. Total word count: 1,140

It was the sound. The faint hum of dried out fingernails dragging down a wooden door drifted through the air. He could hear it, from the top of the door down to the floor boards, he could hear the nails scrape. Long, continuous scrapes.

Hayden stood on the back balcony, a full room away from the door, and stared at the ocean. Seagulls called out to one another and left trails of shit and feathers on the sand, the great sea a backdrop that moved and flowed with waves and sparkling glints of light. Hayden watched the birds dance in the wind and took a deep breath of the salty air.

“It’s beautiful,” he whispered. His eyes scanned a coast line completely devoid of people. This was the first time he could recall seeing an empty beach. Ever. And if he looked straight ahead, all he could see was sand, ocean, and birds. It was his illusion of complete isolation, a view of the world before people. He knew that if he turned his head enough to the left or the right, he’d start to see the illusion break. There would be rows of hotels lining the coast, buildings interconnected by restaurants and wooden decks and fences that kept nothing in or out. Manmade structures like Jet Ski rental shacks and shitty generic surf shops that sold clothes and shells to tourist. Fishing shops and the piers that they lead to. But here, looking straight forward, there was nothing but the world.

Hayden sighed and lifted a glass of whiskey to his lips. But he didn’t take a sip, just held the brim of the glass to his lips and felt the alcohol collect there. After a moment, he brought the glass back down and set it on the table next to him. Somewhere behind, deep into the hotel room, he heard the scraping slowly slide down the door.

“I can’t do this,” he said to himself. Hayden leaned on the railing of the balcony and looked down. Twelve floors separated him from the concrete below. Even if he landed in the pool, even if the fall didn’t kill him instantly, he’d be too hurt to run. And if he couldn’t run, he couldn’t live. He thought about the landing, how there was something called the five point landing that he heard about from television or a magazine. Feet, calves, thighs, ass, shoulders. This was supposed to distribute the force of the landing and lessen the blow, but he didn’t expect that to work. He figured he’d get about half way through calves before his shins popped and splintered out of his skin and his internal organs ruptured or bruised. And if he managed to leap with enough force and accuracy to hit the pool, he’d have to aim for the deep end. That made his target impossibly small and any miscalculation in his descent would result in hitting the edge of the pool or the shallow end where he’d likely break bones on the bottom. Jumping was not an option. Not one he’d survive.

Hayden spat and watched the saliva fall to the earth. It splattered on the concrete below with a very faint thwack sound.

The night made its way over the beach and line of hotels. The splashes of burnt oranges and pinks that capped the clouds started to dull away as the sun sank below the tide, revealing a sparkling display of stars in the blackness. The light in Hayden’s room vanished with the sun. He stretched himself out on the single king sized bed in the bedroom. He could see through the doorway into the kitchen living room combination. A very wide open area for activities and family events. The perks of good reservations. The bedroom was also equipped with a separate room that held a shower and Jacuzzi style bath that he never made use of. The towels hanging in the bathroom were the originals that were here when he arrived. Unsoiled, clean. As he lay on top of the dark blue comforter, he could hear the ocean. Waves cresting and crashing onto shells and sand, sucking back into the depths to repeat the motion. The repetitive sound paced his breathing and he felt himself start to drift to sleep. Drift into the ocean.

A shrill cry cracked the calm air like thunder. It swooped through the room and lifted Hayden from his bed with sudden urgency. His heart bounced in his chest, trying to regain control and rhythm as he ran to the window and looked outside. Nothing but the darkness and stars met his gaze. He spun around and ran out to the living room and flung open the balcony doors. Stepping into the cool night, his eyes darted around the hotel line looking for the source of the scream.

“Help me,” a voice shouted from above him. It was a female’s voice, maybe three floors up. It cracked and popped as she yelled again for help. Hayden leaned over the railing as far as he could and looked up, hoping to spot the woman in peril. There was nothing but railings and the sky above him.

“Hey, where are you,” Hayden asked, cupping a hand around his mouth. He listened to the air. Silence. No sound of struggling or the screaming. Hayden prepared to yell again but stopped as a new sound drifted down towards him. A muttering, chanting, a prayer maybe. It was too faint to make out what exactly was being said, but he could tell it was the woman again. He leaned further off the railing and strained to listen.

The stars in the sky blinked and faded for a split second, and instinctively Hayden threw himself back on the balcony. As he landed, his eyes met the eyes of the woman. Head first, she stared at him with mascara streamed down her eye lids. Her hair pushed back by the wind and hands up to protect her. Her orange sparkled dress flapped up, revealing her pale legs and high heel shoes. She passed his balcony without a sound, and he heard her hit the ground. A sickening crunch. A heavy thwack sound. Then the night was quiet again.

He sat on the balcony for several minutes. The breath was caught in his chest and he held it for a long time before finally exhaling weakly. He stood up on shaking legs and purposefully turned his back to the railing. He didn’t want to risk seeing it. Seeing her. With slow, staggered steps, he walked back to the living room. Before he passed through the doorway, he grabbed the glass of whiskey from the table. The amber liquid swirled in the glass, then met his lips. He placed the glass back on the table as it was before.

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