Bryce is stirred by songbirds, the tiny creatures flitting by the tinted window that looks over the lake. The young woman sits up in an unfamiliar bed and rubs her eyes, a heavy grogginess making it difficult to focus. It takes her a moment to realize she is naked, but she feels no sense of shame. Leaving the sheet behind, a familiar scent touches Bryce’s nose and her heart flutters with every breath. She wanders over to a dresser and opens a drawer to find a collection of lingerie, each one from a wish list that she only shared with one person. Stretching her arms and arching her back, she notices a torn teddy hanging from a ceiling fan. Curious about the ruined garment, she climbs onto the bed and carefully takes it down. Without thinking, she presses it to her face and inhales the smell that has permeated the entire hotel room.
Hearing movement in the bathroom, Bryce vaguely remembers spending the night with Trina. The longer she thinks about the beautiful event, the more vivid the memories and emotions become. With a mischievous grin, she returns to the dresser and searches for a bra and panty set that she knows is in the drawer. To her dismay, she notices it already ripped and piled beneath a table. Knowing she has to think quickly, Bryce searches for a combination that she knows Trina will enjoy. After choosing a pair of crimson shorts that hug her curves and a black sports bra, she strategically puts a little water from an ice bucket on her skin. Checking herself in the mirror, the young woman smiles and jumps onto the bed where she strikes a pose that part of her knows is more ridiculous than seductive.
“I can hear you moving out there,” Trina calls from the bathroom. She is momentarily drowned out by a shower turning on, but the door cracks open to let her speak clearly. “Getting away from everyone was a great idea. Both of us really needed the break. Not that we’re physically resting. Do you want me to invite you in or will you surprise me? I’m up for either way.”
“I was hoping to stay in bed,” Bryce admits, hiding her disappointment. Hearing a thud on the window, she turns in time to see a raven fly away with a crimson songbird held tightly in its beak. “Since we aren’t going anywhere, we can start here and move into the shower. Love the smell of the room, so I don’t want to risk changing it. Is that a new perfume that you started wearing?”
“It’s called Odeur de Fantome,” her girlfriend replies before coughing. Steam wafts out of the room and drifts toward the bed like a warm fog. “It’s new and I wanted to experiment. Very intoxicating and makes me feel like myself. Best thing about this perfume is that it’s made better when you wear it in a hot shower.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“I swear it’s true.”
“You’re trying to trick me into the bathroom.”
“Only one way to find out.”
Licking her lips, Bryce is about to climb out of bed when her legs lock and she is left dangling over the edge. Pushing herself into a more comfortable position, she stares at the stiff limbs and tries to massage them. She wiggles her toes and bends her knees, which show no signs of the momentary affliction. Once Bryce can move both legs again, she swings them to the floor first and waits a moment before standing up. A surge of pain rockets up her spine and drives back onto the bed, the violent impact threatening to break the frame. The agony is gone almost as quickly as it appeared, leaving the young woman gasping for air and too terrified to move. Her eyes dart from one corner of the room to the other, her brain searching for anything that would explain the strange occurrence. It is not until she hears Trina singing her favorite song that Bryce clenches her fists and jumps to the other side of the bed. Nothing happens this time, but she moves carefully to be safe and keeps one hand on the moist wall. It takes a few steps for her to be sure that she is back to normal even though there is a lingering sense that something is wrong and she is in danger.
Coming to the bathroom door, Bryce is amazed at how much steam is flowing out of the crack. Stepping inside, she cannot see anything in the hot fog and immediately strips off her clothes that are already sticking to her skin. Not hearing Trina, she opens her mouth to call out her girlfriend, but a violent cough cuts off her voice. Before she can recover, Bryce steps on a pool of warm and sticky liquid. Unable to see the floor, she bends down and puts her hand on the damp tiles. A ripple of fear runs through her body when she finds blood on her fingers, a horrible stench suddenly filling the room. Groans and a gagging gasp for air emerge from the thickest part of the steam where a bloated silhouette moving from one side of the room to the other. Too scared to continue forward, the young woman blindly goes back to the door and runs her hands along the walls.
Finding a pair of switches, Bryce flips one and nearly screams when the lights go off. The sensation of fingers gently touching her bare back calm her down, but the feeling disappears when she turns around. Standing in the darkness, she listens to a wet plop that repeats from the direction of the shower. Hoping that her mind is playing tricks on her, Bryce flicks both switches to put the lights and fan back on. The steam is sucked through the ceiling vent as her eyes focus on Trina. She shrieks and backs away from the dead body, its internal organs dripping out of its mouth and into the toilet.
“Poor little thing,” a voice says from the bed. Slithering out of the covers, a brunette in ebony lingerie playfully slinks toward the terrified student. “You should have listened to your mind and muscles. Much smarter than that tattered piece of junk you call a heart. Kept up the strong façade for longer than I expected, but you couldn’t hide from this. By the way, you should feel guilty. That one would still be alive if you never entered her life. Maybe. Hard to tell since I’ve killed people for less. Now, this is when you ask who I am and I proudly declare that Dawn Addison is . . . Kind of dead?”
“I don’t understand what’s going on,” Bryce mutters as she moves into a corner. She tries to slide down to the floor, but the strange woman grabs her by the chest. “None of this can be real. I have to be dreaming, so I want to wake up now. Unless I died in the library. I think I remember getting crushed by a shelf. What are you doing here?”
“Having fun,” Dawn replies with a wide smile. She goes in to lick the side of her victim’s face, but abruptly veers to the left and kisses a face in the wallpaper. “Whether you think you’re alive or dead is not my concern. I’m only here to play and tenderize. Need to make sure the piece I need is ripe. You and the others take less effort than the other others.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Of course not. Why would a cog understand its purpose?”
“Stop touching me.”
“Like I said, I’m checking to make sure the piece is ripe.”
“I don’t like this.”
“Oh dearie, I haven’t even started.”
With a wild grin, Dawn pushes against Bryce’s chest until her hands begin sinking into the soft and sweaty flesh. Bird-like claws burst from the wall to grab the red-haired woman’s flailing limbs and prevent her from escaping. All attempts to scream are stoppered by the struggling victim’s tongue enlarging like a balloon to fill her entire mouth. There is no blood seeping from the neat wounds that enlarge as the mysterious killer grabs her real target. A golden eyepatch sprouts from Dawn’s face as she pulls out Bryce’s lungs and leans in for a closer look. She carefully sniffs at the organ, which is a healthy pink and rapidly moving due to the young woman’s rising terror. Pulling them up more, she checks the exposed cavity to make sure she is not missing anything. Shrinking her head, the reality-warping killer sticks her face into the gore, which shifts to avoid touching her.
“Perfect and pretty,” Dawn announces as she shoves the lungs back into place. She yanks off the skin of her hands like there are latex gloves, the flesh beneath clean and tan. “Thank you for being a helpful hostess. Wish all of the pieces were as well-behaved as you. One in particular is giving me some trouble. Do you have any suggestions? Hello? Now, it’s just rude to collapse and drool on a guest’s feet. Kids these days have no manners.”