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Voices crossed the threshold of Jason Donovan’s dreams, invaded the colorful haze, blurred the line between reality and fantasy. His eyes snapped open. The familiar feeling of waking in an unfamiliar place rushed over him. He blinked the floral bedspread into focus, the feeling of freefall ended by the stiff mattress beneath him. Even though Donovan was awake, the voices from his dreams remained, drifting from the hotel hallway into his room.

His hand slipped from beneath the elastic band of his boxers and searched blindly for the clock radio on the nightstand. Still half asleep, he dragged the digital numbers into view. He couldn’t make them out without his glasses so he slid his hand along the back of the nightstand until they brushed up against the metal frames. He placed the glasses onto his face, bringing the world into focus, and read the clock again: 9:36.

“Shit,” he said.

His pulse pounded in his neck and the other half of him snapped awake, adrenaline flooding his veins and shocking his body into motion.

Where the hell was my wake-up call? he thought.

The faded garden on the bedspread fluttered to the floor. Donovan moved with as much urgency as his middle-aged body would allow. No time for a shower; the Versace pin-striped suit would have to be enough. Luckily he’d ironed the night before. He coated his body with his battle armor: circle jacquard woven shirt, his Versace suit, gold tip dress socks, his leather lace-ups, and his favorite pin-striped red and black tie. Even though he was short on time, he still went with the St. Andrews knot. It took longer to do, but Donovan never felt confident going into a meeting without it. If he was going to be late, he’d at least look fashionably late.

In the middle of the second tie attempt, heavy footsteps stopped outside the door. A man’s voice outside said, “Can’t wait to see the mess in this one.” The door clicked open and two men in JCPenny suits, one black, one white, stepped inside the room, the Caucasian holding a keycard.

The men froze at the sight of Donovan, standing in front of the mirror, his tie hanging half-tied in front of him. Donovan stared back, his hands frozen to his tie. He noticed their ties before he noticed their guns. Their ties were tied with sloppy Cavendish knots, quickly done by someone who had to wear a tie everyday and hated it.

“What the hell?” Donovan said.

No answer. The men stared at him, then each other.

“He’s alive,” the white said to the black. He spoke as if Donovan couldn’t hear him.

“What are you people doing in my room?”

The hands of both men shot to their sides and returned carrying 9 mm handguns, aimed directly at Donovan’s chest.

“Hands in the air!” the white suit screamed.

Donovan’s hands released his tie and were in the air before he even realized he moved them. The black suit stretched his head out into the hallway and screamed, “We’ve got a live one here!”

The white suit ordered Donovan against the wall. Donovan obeyed. Then he felt a hand move in, out, and around the Versace suit, the gun hanging in Donovan’s peripherals. The breath of the man fell heavy on his neck, reeking of instant coffee.

“He’s clean.”

The same strong hand turned Donovan around and pressed him hard against the wall. The white suit had his gun aimed in his face and wore a look one might reserve for a Nazi-sympathizer.

“What is happening?”

A woman with a hard jaw line entered, wearing black slacks and a blazer, just as white suit produced a pair of handcuffs from his belt. She cleared her throat.

“Carlson, what are you doing?” The white suit, Carlson, froze, the handcuffs dangling in his hand. “Get away from him.”

Carlson backed away, stepping behind the female suit and falling into line with his dark-complexioned counterpart.

Donovan stared at the three of them, blocking the door. Cameras clicked away in the hallway, the flashbulbs producing a tiny sunburst in the dimly lit hall.

“What the hell is going on here?” Donovan asked.

“I’m Detective Stokes—homicide,” the woman said. “What’s your name, sir?”

Donovan told her.

“Check the list, Miller,” the detective said to the black suit.

Miller dug a piece of paper from his inside suit pocket and ran his finger through its contents.

“He’s on here,” Miller told her. “Room 315.”

Stokes ordered her male counterparts to leave the room and clear the rest of the rooms on the floor. Whoever she was, it was obvious she was in charge. As soon as they left, Stokes ordered Donovan to take a seat on the bed. He did, and she pulled up the desk chair next to him, set it backwards, and straddled it.

“What time did you go to sleep last night, Mr. Donovan?” Stokes asked. She held a notepad in her hand.

“Just after eleven. As soon as I got off the phone with—with my wife.”

“Did you stay in your room all night?”


“Did you hear anything suspicious before you went to bed or did anything wake you in the middle of the night?”


“Are you certain about that?”

“Just the usual hotel noises. People’s televisions on too loud, people walking in the hallways—those sorts of things. What is this all about?”

“Mr. Donovan, do you remember—”

“No. No more questions. What is going on here?”

Detective Stokes abandoned her chair and walked over to the bed, taking a seat next to Donovan. She crossed her legs and placed her hands, stacked, on top of her knee. As a veteran in the business world, Donovan recognized the signs of someone preparing to deliver bad news.

“Mr. Donovan, last night thirty-seven people, including hotel staff, populated this hotel by the time the last guest checked in at 11:27 PM. This morning, of those thirty-seven individuals, you’re the only one still alive.”

Donovan’s breath caught in his windpipe, clogged, trapped somewhere between his throat and his stomach A tingling ran up his spine, a spider creeping along the spinal cord, eight legs crawling, crawling.


“You’re the only person we’ve found alive—so far,” Stokes repeated. “We still haven’t checked all the rooms on the third floor, but, so far, you’re the only person who fell asleep last night in this hotel who still has a pulse this morning.”

“But—how? A gas leak or something?”

“Oh, no, nothing like that. There was a goddamn massacre here last night sometime just before midnight, Mr. Donovan. Every single one of our victims was murdered—in a very nasty fashion, too. Definitely a multi-suspect case.”

Donovan tried to wrap his mind around the detective’s words, but he felt unconnected to them, as if he overheard a conversation she was having with someone else. The contrast between reality and fantasy pushed at the inside of his brain cavity, his brain trying to break through his skull, the pain an all-encompassing fog lowering all around him.

“Maybe you want to call your family, Mr. Donovan,” Stokes said. “The press have been all over the story for the past hour.”

“I can’t be in here,” Donovan muttered. “I have to get out of here. Let me just grab my stuff—”

He tried to stand but stumbled, nearly crashing to the carpet. Stokes grabbed his arm, helped him to his feet. Donovan clumsily began to collect his clothes in his suitcase. After years of traveling, his packing skills were nothing short of immaculate. This time, however, he jammed his clothes and toiletries into the suitcase with as much ceremony as someone dumping a corpse into a dumpster.

“I’m going to warn you,” Stokes said, “when you step out into this hallway, you’re going to see some things you don’t want to see, Mr. Donovan, some things you’re not going to be able to unsee. I suggest you keep your eyes forward, don’t look into any of the rooms, no matter how badly you may want to. Do you understand, Mr. Donovan?”

Donovan’s head nodded mechanically. He adjusted his tie and wrapped his white knuckles around the handle of his suitcase.

“I’m ready,” he said.


The forget-me-nots stood in full bloom in the garden in front of the Donovan residence. Donovan remembered them being nothing but sprouts the last time he had been home. He sat in his Lexus, parked in its usual spot in the driveway—the one Stacy kept open for him no matter how long he’d been gone. The garage door desperately needed a paint job, and he added it to the long list of projects he made every time he came home. He had no idea how long he sat in the car before he finally managed to force himself to throw open the car door and begin the long march to the front door.

Donovan’s key still fit in the lock. He turned it, hoping to hear it click open. It did. He pushed the door open and stepped inside, gripping his briefcase. From the foyer, he spotted Stacy on the living room sofa, in the exact spot she sat the last time he had left. He walked into the living room and stood silently behind her. The television was on, and the picture showed a helicopter shot of the hotel Donovan had left hours earlier, the hotel with its halls that would forever be ingrained in the dark corners of his memory.

The caption at the bottom of the screen read Hotel Massacre leaves 37 Dead; Sole Survivor Released from Police Custody.

The gray hairs in Stacy’s brunette hair had multiplied; she had aged considerably in the last seven months. She sat staring blankly at the television (which looked new), her arms crossed over her chest. Donovan set his briefcase on the hardwood floor, afraid Stacy hadn’t heard him come in.

“I’m home,” he finally said.

His voice seemed to break her free from whatever trance she was in. Her arms unfolded into her lap, and she slowly rose from the sofa and turned around. Her hazel eyes met his, glassy and uncertain, and then she made a sound as if something were caught in her throat and she raced around the sofa and threw her arms around his neck.

Donovan hesitated only for a second, and then wrapped his arms around his wife as she wept into his cashmere long coat. They stood, interlocked, for almost five minutes, Stacy crying into his chest, Donovan gently rubbing her back with the palm of his hand. When she finally removed her face from his coat, she pushed away from him and said, “I’ll make some coffee.”

She left for the kitchen, snatching a tissue on her way. Donovan removed his coat and placed it on the back of the sofa. He sat and watched the report while he waited. The reporter, a young blonde, ran down the details of the massacre, quoting from a source on the gruesome scene inside. He picked up the remote and tried to shut off the television but found that the remote only operated the DVD player. It took him two more remotes until he finally managed to silence the reporter.

Stacy reentered with the coffee. She set the cups down on coasters on the coffee table and sat down, leaving one cushion between them.

“Stacy, I’m sorry about—”

“That doesn’t matter,” she said, interrupting. “Not anymore. I just need to know whether or not you’re all right. Are you?”

Donovan nodded. “You?”

Stacy took a sip of her coffee and set the cup back down. “I just—I thought the worst when I saw the report. I remembered that’s the hotel you usually stay at in New Haven and I just thought, ‘He’s gone.’ And then I remembered how you left here and I was so ashamed. I thought—”

“I know.”

Donovan and Stacy both reached for their coffee at the same time. They sipped greedily, paused, waited for the other to finish, and then continued.

“Do the police have any idea what happened?” she asked.

“Not really—at least not yet. Apparently the people who did this weren’t very careful. They left fingerprints and shoeprints all over the damn place. The detective I spoke to thought it might be some sort of ritual killing or cult massacre or something like that. The shit I saw in there—”

Donovan shook his head, trying to shake the memories clear. He finished his coffee.

“You should see the kids,” Stacy said. “They’re probably asleep but I’m sure they wouldn’t mind being woken if it was you doing the waking.”

Donovan glanced back at his coat.

“You need to see them, Jason.”

“I know. Just not tonight. It’s too much.”

Stacy opened her mouth to say something, hesitated, then nodded. “If that’s what you want.”

Donovan shifted on the sofa, ran his hand down his slacks. He felt something silky brush against his hand. He reached into the crack between the cushions and pulled out a clip-on blue and white tie.

Stacy smiled. “That’s where that ended up.” She reached over and took it, smoothing out the wrinkles. “Jack had his first jazz recital last night. He did great. You should have seen him up there.”

“A clip-on? You’ve got my boy wearing a clip-on? He’s almost in middle school, for Christ’s sake.”

“I don’t know how to tie a tie, Jason. No one in this house does.”

Donovan nodded, slowly rising to his feet. “Stacy, I should—get going.” He retrieved his coat from the back of the sofa.

Stacy walked him to the front door, but, as he slid his coat on, she positioned herself in front of the exit.

“You could stay here,” she said, “even if it’s just for tonight.”

“Can’t. Gotta get back on the road. I’m staying in Fairfield tonight.”

She shook her head and crossed her arms over her chest. “No, Jason, no. This thing—it happened for a reason. You can’t just go back to work like nothing happened—not after this.”

“I’m not sure why this thing happened,” Donovan said. “I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. Detective Stokes said it was a mistake—the people who did this, they made a mistake. I was supposed to die like the rest of ‘em.”

“It’s not a mistake, Jason. God doesn’t make mistakes this big. You need—”

Stacy stopped herself, brushed the hair from her face, reloaded. “If you really insist on continuing your trip, maybe I could come and maybe spend the night with you at the hotel. I could get my mother to come over and watch the kids—”


“Please, Jason. We should at least try.”

He thought about it and then nodded. “I’ll text you the info.”

She smiled and stepped out of the path of the doorway. He moved to leave, then paused in front of his wife. They both appeared to lean in at the same time, their lips met, held for a few brief seconds, then he pulled away.

And then he was gone.


Night wrapped around the brick apartment building like a warm blanket. Donovan jogged from his car to the building and quickly pressed the buzzer for apartment C-4. The few seconds before the door popped opened were excruciating. Finally it popped open and he jogged inside and up the stairs. Kayla stood in the hallway, tapping her fake nails nervously on the doorframe. She squealed when Donovan stepped out of the elevator. She met him halfway in the hallway and leapt into his arms, showering his face with kisses. Donovan carried her into her apartment and pushed the door closed with his foot.

“You had me so freakin’ scared,” Kayla said. “I was a mess. I took, like, a dozen Zanex after you called.”

Donovan dumped her back on her feet and ripped off his coat, throwing it on the futon in the living room.

“I need a drink,” he said.

Donovan marched over to the liquor cabinet and pulled out the bottle of whiskey from its usual place. He didn’t even bother with a glass. He shoved a few stray pieces of laundry off the back of the kitchen chair and plopped down into it. Kayla stood over him, inspecting him.

“So where you been? I thought you’d come right over after the cops let you go.”

Donovan took a sip from the bottle, cringed, closed his eyes, and swallowed. He coughed and wiped his lips clean with the back of his hand.

“I went to see my family.”     

The bottle found his lips again. The whiskey went down easier this time.

“Your family? What’d you go there for?”

“I just thought I should, damn it.”

Kayla grabbed Donovan’s necktie and led him, like a dog, toward the bedroom.

“Let’s get that mind of yours on more important matters.”

He followed her, obediently, and lost himself in her satin sheets.


Afterwards, Kayla lay in bed smoking while Donovan stared blankly at the ceiling. The dull whiteness of the ceiling transported him back to the hotel room, surrounded him once again with the flowered bedspread and the low roar of the heater. Kayla took a deep drag on her cigarette and let the smoke filter from the perfect circle of her lips. The smoke settled above the bed, a fog hanging in the stale air.

“Do you have to smoke that damn thing in bed?”

“How crazy was today?” Kayla asked. “I mean, you woke up this morning in a hotel full of dead people.”

“Do you have to talk about it?”

She extinguished the nub of her cigarette in the ash tray on the nightstand. She rolled over onto her side so she faced Donovan.

“What was going through your mind?” she asked. “What were you thinking when that detective told you that everyone else in the hotel was dead?”

The answer came immediately.

“I was thinking, why me?” he said without blinking. “Still am. Of all those people in the hotel, why am I the only one who walked away?”


“Luck? Is that all it was?” Donovan rolled over to face her. “There was a church group staying at that hotel last night on their way to build homes for the homeless. All 12 members of that church group, including the priest, didn’t walk out of that hotel this morning. I did. A young couple and their four adopted kids stayed in the hotel last night, on their way home from vacation. They didn’t walk out of that hotel this morning. I did. So why me instead of them?”

Kayla laughed. Her laughter caught Donovan’s breath in his throat.

“What? Do you think you surviving was, like, some act of divine providence or some shit like that? The detective told you, the people who did this just missed your room. It was dumb luck. You don’t believe in all that psychobabble bullshit.”

“No,” he said. “I guess I don’t.

Donovan threw the covers to the side and stepped out of bed. He retrieved his clothes from the floor and started putting them back on.

“Aren’t you staying tonight?”

He continued dressing.

“Where are you going?”

He buttoned up his shirt, his back to Kayla.

“Are you really going back on the road? You’re going to stay in another hotel after what happened?”

Donovan took his time with his tie, his hands moving mechanically until they created the perfect St. Andrew’s knot.

“What’s it matter?” he asked. “It’s all just a crap shoot anyways. I’m just as safe in another hotel as I am here in your bedroom. A 747 could fall out of the sky and crush this entire building according to your philosophy.”

He left Kayla lying there. He staggered out into the living room and picked up his coat from the back of her futon. He put it on. Kayla appeared from the hallway, wrapped in the bed sheets.

“Maybe I could meet up with you tonight,” Kayla said. “You know, keep you company, keep you safe.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

His hand reached for the doorknob but froze. Kayla came up behind him, pressed the door closed. The sheets fluttered to the carpet. She pressed herself against his back. Even through the coat and his shirt, he could feel her nipples pressed into him. She reached around his waist and grabbed a handful of him.

“You’re not going to forget about me, now are you, Mr. Donovan?” Kayla whispered into his ear.

“No, how could I forget you?” He rested his hand on top of hers.

“Good,” she said. “Then I’ll see you later tonight.”

She released him and Donovan watched her walk proudly back to the bedroom completely nude. He was already in the elevator before he remembered his invitation to Stacy earlier in the evening.


Donovan raced his Lexus down Route 34. The familiar feeling of driving to a hotel made him feel safe, feel normal.

His cell rang and he checked the number. It was Detective Stokes.

He answered it.

“Mr. Donovan, Detective Stokes here. Where are you?”

Donovan told her he was on his way to a hotel in Connecticut.

“That may not be the best idea, Mr. Donovan. I can’t really go into details, but we have reason to believe the individuals involved with the hotel massacre may be looking for you.”


“I suggest you find the nearest police station and stay put. I’ll come get you as soon as I know where you are, and we’ll find you someplace safe.”

Donovan’s hotel appeared on the horizon.

“I’m almost at my hotel, Detective Stokes. Couldn’t I just hole up in my hotel for the evening and report to you tomorrow after my meeting?”

“I can’t force you to do anything, Mr. Donovan, but I must warn you, you’re giving these maniacs another shot at you.”

“That’s all right,” Donovan said. “Maybe they deserve another shot.”

And he hung up.


Donovan sat in a garden of mattress flowers. The print was familiar, not much different from the last hotel he had stayed. The bed, the desk, the television, everything appeared to be the same. After staying in enough hotels, they all began to bleed into one another, morph into a single room that Donovan stayed in over and over and over again.

Donovan glanced at the clock on the nightstand. The red digital numbers told him it was just before midnight. He still wore his clothes, including his tie. He sat on the edge of the bed, listening for sounds in the hallway. Someone walked past the door with heavy footsteps, but did not pause, did not stop, kept moving.

Another minute passed.

A knock on the door, light, subtle, expecting an answer.

Donovan stood, adjusted his St. Andrew’s knot, and marched across the floor. He opened the door without even bothering to glance through the eyehole.

He was not surprised by who he found staring back at him.


Douglas James Troxell received his BA in English and Creative Writing from Lycoming College in 2006 and always pushes the dresser in front of the door when he stays in a hotel overnight. His fiction has appeared in publications including Mobius: The Journal for Social Change, Word Fountain Literary Magazine, The Fringe Magazine, and The Wilkes University Review.


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