Hotel Cecil Room 369 Key/Bottle Opener & Short Story Bundle | The Saga Continues!
Though often overshadowed by their now historic, creative marketing, that really burned itself into the collective consciousness of America, the scent of Burma Shave in its own right is quite iconic too, if not more so! Warm, Powdery, Clean, Spicy, Masculine & Nostalgic! A scent so classic and epic we couldn't sit by any longer and see it lost to time. Sure, the signs, rhymes, and history of Burma Shave is the stuff of legend but the scent is equally so and should be celebrated as such. I can't fathom anyone not immediately falling in love with this fragrance. Seriously, there's just something so pure, wide eyed Americana, and forever innocent about this stuff, and THAT may just be the reason for this ultimate Halloween Mashup Paradox of Good & Evil, Dark & Light, Heaven & Hell! Bwa-ha-ha-ha...[*Lightning crashes. You may turn off the Vincent Price Voice now.]
Parallels & Paradoxes
Make no mistake, I do not exaggerate when I say that this may be our most mind blowing homage yet! Like a madman, I chose to do a joint homage to two American icons simultaneously, Burma Shave and then...The Cecil Hotel. The Cecil is possibly one of the most haunted hotels in the USA, if not all of the world! Typically, Fran and I have always done original scent blends for our Fall & Halloween releases but this year, 2020, has been anything but typical, so I thought I would reflect that anxious spirit into something untypical. Having an interest in all things paranormal and all things wet shaving, it really just made sense. But would it be possible to cobble together these two opposing forces? I was certainly up for the challenge!
Burma Shave (or Burma Vitae) represents life and sun. Heck, Vitae in Latin actually means "Life". Whereas The Cecil Hotel to many, symbolizers something very much the opposite. Believe it or not, they were both born in 1924. It's true, construction on The Cecil Hotel actually began in 1924! And in that same year, the version of Burma Shave that would eventually go to market was formulated.
You also have to admit, there is a striking similarity between those classic Burma Shave Signs and those clever, sardonic rhyming tombstone epitaphs that still stand in graveyards across the Wild West! Aside from the uncanny shared rhyme schemes, many were also made of wood approximately the same dimensions of the Burma Shave signs! Eerie, right?
For those that are too young to remember, Burma Shave was known not only for their innovative Brushless Shave Cream, but also, and possibly more so, for their clever, roadside verses. But don't misunderstand me, these were not billboards but small red signs positioned on the roadside 100 feet apart from each other. Each of the signs were part of a larger jingle, and all ended with the last sign reading Burma Shave. No one had really ever seen anything like this before and it immediately caught on with the public. You couldn't not read the cheerful, always funny, even sometimes a little risqué, signs.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, The Cecil Hotel was built off of skid-row in downtown Los Angeles. Granted this was in the mid 1920's but still within a couple years it was emerging as the location of many strange, unexplainable deaths and paranormal occurrences. It is said that someone has died in all 700 rooms. It can also boast that two serial killers, in the midst of their killing sprees, were living there. Even the Black Dahlia is rumored to have taken her last drink at the hotel bar before her shocking end that made world news, and is still talked about to this day!
As recently as 2013, the Cecil or "suicide hotel" once again was in the news. Canadian tourist, Elisa Lam's body, after being reported missing for 3 weeks was pulled from one of the water towers on top of the hotel. The body was only discovered after hotel guests reported the foul water coming out of their taps for over 2 weeks. They had been drinking it, cooking with it, brushing their teeth with it and yes, bathing in it too! And this, is just the tip of the creepy iceberg when it comes to the high strangeness that the Cecil Hotel is known for! I encourage you all to dig a little deeper into it! The Elisa Lam story is quite a doozy I promise!
Though in real life it is dubbed The Cecil Hotel, in our alternate Phoenix Shaving Universe it exists as The Hotel Cecil. That said, they are not so different, and you will see that as you delve into the most recent continuation of our ongoing saga!
The Storytelling Elements
I began with the artwork. The first two things I had to obviously connect were the classic Burma Shave-esque sign we can all see in our mind with the spooky, ominous facade of the Cecil! This however is more of a for those who have eyes to see type tribute. Honestly, I was hoping even if those two images juxtaposed didn't immediately jump out at the viewer or initiate, it would at least strike a vibratory chord at a subconscious level.
Truth be told, this whole project was a complete blast from product development and concept, to the ephemera included. Both Fran and I are very proud of it. Also, this may be the first story I actually wrote within the saga that has an ending! All in all, I promise you, there are many layers to this one, and with every reading & rereading, you’re sure to see something you didn’t pick up on the first time!
It took us many years to develop such a strong, supportive following that would allow for us to get as experimental and innovative as we have and I thank you all. Since day one I have always said, Phoenix Shaving is MORE THAN JUST SHAVING. This confused more than a few who were really just looking for soap, even made some suspicious, lol…but I knew one day if we kept at it, we’d find the others! Thank you all again for “getting it”!
Hotel Cecil - The Saga Continues
“If you only knew the magnificence of the 3, 6 and 9, then you would have the key to the universe.” ~ Nikola Tesla, 1924
"Where the veil is thin, built of toil and sin, Your head grows bald, But not your chin.” ~ Burma-Shave, Created in 1924, Formula 143
When we last saw our hero, Douglas Smythe, he had just been abducted from his garage and taken to the infamous, sordid, world’s most haunted & cursed, Hotel Cecil. See our last installment, Terra Preta.
We once again find him there, and then some. Join us now for the thrilling conclusion of Hotel Cecil!
10/31 Hotel Cecil, Los Angeles, California [Built in 1924]
Future Doug felt like he was on the outside looking in. This was mostly due to the fact that he was very much on the outside and looking in. In fact, he was currently standing stone still, holding his breath, while clinging to the brown brick framing of a moonlit window sill 4 stories above the steamy Los Angeles pavement below. It wasn't nerves that prevented him from breathing, but a conscious effort not to fog up the window he was presently peering in and potentially give himself away. He turned from the glass for a second to exhale and accidentally glanced down, then quickly twisted back toward the window before the vertigo kicked in again. "What kind of a hotel overlooks such a key design element like the classic ledge?" he grumbled to himself, clearly annoyed.
It's true, there were zero ledges on the facade of The Hotel Cecil. Seemed like Art Deco didn't get the memo. Seemed like Art Deco didn't give a damn.
Waiting until the cover of nightfall, he and CUBE had carefully made their way up the building by way of the fire escape accessible from their corner room, Room 143, on the second floor. Room 369 was luckily only a few windows away and a few feet off of a tiny balcony outside of the hallway. With the aid of CUBE, Doug shimmied up a drain pipe attached to the fire escape. Then, like a clumsy, drunken ballroom dancer, he box stepped to the side with his left leg aiming toe first at the 3" ledge of the awning mount above a 3rd story window. Once he tested his weight on it a little, and satisfied, he stretched out his left arm to get a hand hold on the protruding bricks of the window ledge above it. When he was convinced he had a solid grasp he committed to the lunge. He only had to do this one more time to traverse to the next awning and then he could climb up to the balcony. From the balcony he had to make his way to the neighboring window sill, where he presently found himself perched. Sweating and flushed with adrenaline he refused to think about having to do this all over again if the window happened to be locked. Instead, he clung for dear life and slowly peered around the half drawn curtain through the window. It had taken him longer than he originally expected it would without the aid of a good old fashion ledge and he sure hoped they had not missed their window, er, that is to say, chance. The clock was ticking.
The scene before him was more than a little surreal. There, beyond the grimy glass, in a grimy room, dimly lit by one bulb screwed into a grimy, shadeless lamp, he sat gagged, slumped over, bruised and bound to a chair. Well, that is, a version of himself sat gagged, slumped over, bruised and bound to a chair. Past him. “Past Doug”. They wore the same identical, shabby clothes. Future Doug’s looking a little worse for wear. Miles Davis’ Kinda Blue played on a tiny phonograph from somewhere in the shadows of the room. He could now see that Past Doug was slowly coming to, awaking from yet another forced, drug induced slumber. Though still foggy in parts, Future Doug could remember this exact moment.
"Then I look out the window..." he thought out loud as he quickly pulled away from the window so as not to be seen by his confused past self.
"Wooo, that would have really put past me over the edge." he chuckled, the irony of his choice of words was lost on him but not on CUBE who hovered next to him giving Future Doug a patronizing nod. Stabilizing himself he again peeked back into the room. He could see Past Doug staring around the room helplessly then his past self's eyes came to rest on an ashtray in the center of the table.
"Man did I get that whole thing wrong." he whispered to CUBE. He remembered at that time he had noticed lipstick on the butt ends of the stubbed out mentholated cigarettes occupying the ashtray. This led him to deduce women, possibly New Jersey sorority girls, had kidnapped him. Never in a million years could he have imagined what actually was behind these hussied up cancer sticks.
Just then the door to the room blew open causing Future Doug to reflexively pull back with a sudden jolt. So much so he nearly lost his footing for a second. Luckily CUBE was at the ready and leaned into him.
A large hooded figure burst into the room with a small, clanky tin box under one arm with what looked to have a flimsy hand crank attached to it. Gracefully he turned to latch the door. Before he returned the room key to the dark, inner recesses of his cloak, he, in one fluid motion, plopped the box on top of the table and produced an unlabeled green glass bottle of absinthe seemingly out of the dank air. Effortlessly, he popped off the cap with the room key.
"We need that key..." Doug whispered to CUBE; "...and we need that box!" CUBE gave a nod in agreement.
The stranger proceeded toward Past Doug whistling something that sounded a lot like The Three Stooges theme song. He then, without missing a beat, stuck his gloved hand into his hood to make a popping sound plucking his finger off what both Dougs (past and future) could only imagine was the inside of his mouth and burst out in a singsongy rasp, "Pop goes the Cecil!" He then grabbed the back of the wooden chair across from his drowsy captive, turned it around and straddled it appearing rather pleased with himself. He leaned over and pulled down Past Doug's gag. "Ms. Rose I presume." Past Doug said, at least he tried to but he was far too parched to make any real sound.
As if in response to Past Dougs attempt to speak, the mystery man took a long, exaggerated guzzle from the bottle of absinthe for what seemed like a lifetime, and then teasingly held it out to Past Doug for a swig. After a few seconds, the hooded fiend began to laugh a laugh that began somewhere deep down inside of him. Possibly in his suspiciously oversized red shoes. It rumbled upward like a great, dark geyser, Old Faithless maybe. There was almost a theatrical element to it. The sheer force of cachinnation rattled the window that Future Doug now pressed his ear to. He immediately pulled away and looked at CUBE wide eyed with fear.
When You Check In / If caution ceases / You are most apt / To Rest In Pieces / Hotel Cecil!
Pins and needles are a lot like getting a splinter. It immediately shifts your priorities. Whatever you were doing before, suddenly takes a backseat or a nap. However, he was tied to a chair so there was nothing Past Doug could really do to remedy this limb numbing predicament. In the movies you never see this part. Typically the brave hero that has been tied up for days somehow throws off his ropes and begins taking on his captors in fisticuffs, or darting for a weapon, or the door. You don't see the first immediate 5 minutes of him trying to shake off the prickly sensation in his legs and arms. But trust me, that's what it really looks like.
He had now been awake for almost an hour and the man in the hood had once again left him alone. He had left abruptly after his beeper went off. At least that is what Past Doug presumed it to be. Granted, he had not really seen a beeper in use since the 90’s, but he was sure one was hidden under the goons cloak, clipped to his hip. Doug gave him a knowing, supportive nod as if to say, better get that. After the last 45 minutes of laughing, chain smoking, and blowing putrid smoke into Past Doug's face he was more than happy to see the creep go. He left in a rush leaving his empty green bottle rocking precariously on the edge of the table. Next to it was what appeared to be some sort of antique music box. The ashtray now overflowed with curious, red stained cigarette butts, and a toxic nimbus cloud of second hand smoke floated in a whirl above him. His limbs felt fat, dumb, and unresponsive, but he immediately knew what he had to do and began rocking in an effort to nudge the leg of the table. His motion had more oomph than necessary, causing him to fall backwards. At the same time the leg of the chair connected with the leg of the table and the bottle teetered off and fell onto the floor, shattering.
Past Doug managed to turn onto his side, still tied to the chair. He slowly made his way to what was left of the bottle. Cutting himself in the process, he grabbed a shard of glass and began sawing into his restraints. Once free, he started to jump around, shaking off the numbness in an effort to get his blood moving. He then removed the bandana that was covering his mouth and wrapped it tightly around his bleeding hand. Finally, he made his way to the door. He looked through the peephole. The hall seemed clear and quiet. He slowly opened it and left.
* * *
As soon as Past Doug closed the door the window to the room flew open and in came CUBE followed by an exhausted Future Doug. "Damn, I…I thought I'd never leave!" he stammered, as he stamped around the room trying to walk off the pins and needles in his legs. After a few minutes his priorities realigned themselves and he headed for the bathroom. This is something else you never see in the movies, but when the hero has got to go, he's gotta go. When he was done, he turned on the faucet only to retract his hands in disgust. The hot water ran black with the unmistakable smell of something dead. He had almost forgotten about the “plumbing issues” here. Calmly, he turned it off, shrugged his shoulders, and wiped his hands on his already soiled shirt. He then, out of curiosity, decided to look in the medicine cabinet having never seen one before in a hotel.
Not many know this but in addition to taking regular guests, Hotel Cecil also offers permanent residency on certain floors. That said, some of its occupants have been here for decades. Future Doug assumed this here cabinet was a remnant from one such past arrangement. Having to really dig his fingers into the door, it was clear that it had been many years since it had last been pried open. Inside was a healthy smattering of cobwebs clinging rather greedily to its contents; a timeworn, half full, apothecary bottle of nearly powderized aspirin, 2 half bars of soap in peeling, yellowing wrappers, and a vintage open tube of Burma Shave. Fascinated and absorbed by his find, he held the shave relic to his nose, languidly closed his eyes, and smiled, “What am I doing?” he said to himself.
Time was truly of the essence and he best not dilly-dally any longer. He pulled open the door and stepped back into the main room to find CUBE hovering level with the Jack-In-The-Box on the table. "Making new friends are we?" Future Doug teased as he picked up the chair from the floor and sat in it sliding up to the table. It really felt good to sit. He then picked up the tin box and began to crank it. This is what he had come here for. Soon he would put a stop to this caper and be on his way home. Instead of Pop Goes The Weasel as one might expect, another eerie tune expelled from its hidden inner workings. After 4 bars of tinny, creepy music, the lid popped open and a tiny, spring loaded harlequin popped out and said "All's....." -- and that's when the door to the room flung open, and all Future Doug heard was himself screaming.
* * *
Past Doug shivered as he looked up and down the hallway of the dimly lit hotel. Menacing looking exposed pipes ran along the ceiling hissing and whispering to the shadows. It was now close to midnight and many of the light bulbs in the dingy corridor were burned out or very close to being so, flickering like visual death rattles. He turned back to the door he just stepped out of and dedicated the number to memory, 369. It just might be a good idea to remember that. He decided to take a left and see where that led him. As he did, the hall became noticeably colder in spots. The hair on the back of his neck started to stand up, and chills raked up and down his back like cold dead fingers reading a braille tattoo from the base of his spine to the nape of his neck. He picked up his pace.
When he got to the end of the hall he had the option to take either a left or a right. As he stood there collecting his thoughts, the light bulb on the wall in front of him suddenly popped. Past Doug nearly jumped out of his horripilating skin. Ever the skeptic, and in an attempt to put his mind at ease, he leaned in close to inspect the fractured lightbulb and a black, inky liquid started to ooze from the socket. Great, he thought, and decided to continue moving. He took a left once again, starting a light jog. Not only was this to put distance between himself and the light fixture from hell, but also to warm his body up. There was a dramatic drop in temperature and he could now see his breath when he exhaled. His heart raced something fierce as he kept his eyes peeled for the elevators.
Ahead of him, at the far end of the corridor, the light on the wall burst, and then the next bulb, and the next, as if the darkness was now coming down the hall to gobble him up. He did a 180 and started to head back in a mad dash towards Room 369. Up ahead of him, on the wall, he could make out a red sign that he was pretty certain wasn't there before. It read, 3 Inverted Stars May Seem To Some Pure Evil. “Well that's odd,” Past Doug thought to himself and picked up his clip again. He then took a right down the next hallway, and there again on the wall, at the end of the next corridor was another sign, But That's Just Our Rating, At The Hotel Cecil. If he wasn't already, Past Doug was now perfectly horror-struck. He threw himself, shoulder first, into the door marked 369, screaming.
To Get Away / From Shadowy Shapes / Guests Throw Themselves / From Our Fire Escapes / Hotel Cecil!
Fran and Aldous were seated on cold, damp concrete, and bound by crinkly, yellow packaging tape to a large load bearing column in the center of the basement of the Hotel Cecil. Next to them was a cage, or what the more civilized now call a crate. Inside was Huxley, curled up and pretending to sleep. He was feeling somewhat humiliated and left out. On top of the cage was a laptop with a very futuristic looking explosive device plugged into the USB. You didn't need to strain your ears too hard to hear an ominous, tell-tale ticking.
"What are we going to do?" Fran asked Aldous, who was just far enough around the column to be out of her range of sight. Her voice echoed in the vast chamber. But Aldous' mind was far too busy at work to stop and answer. He was scanning the room. What was this place? The room reeked of stale cigarette smoke, mildew, and something else, something sinister. To one side was a beat up mirror mounted on the wall, encircled in a halo of lights. A glass Hotel Cecil ashtray teeming with lipstick stained stubs, and spent tubes of face paint spilled across the unleveled, antique table below it; a setting one might find in the dressing room of some half rate theater. Yet the rest of the room looked like a disheveled maintenance shop of some sort. And then there was the random pentagram on the floor every few feet, and other witchy shapes and sigils. Black candles were arranged at random in makeshift candle holders; mason jar lids, dirty diner mugs snagged from the hotel bar, small rodent skulls, and other oddities. On one of the work benches was an old, heart shaped planchette, its pencil tip worn down from over-use. This was an artifact left over from the spiritualism movement. A precursor to the Ouija Board and well over 100 years old. It was used in a kind of DIY mediumship called Automatic Writing. Instead of being used on a game board, it was used on blank paper. Where the devil were they?
"Aldous!" Fran cried out, starting to panic. Her voice bounced around the room like a rogue pinball. Huxley lifted his head and looked back and forth, following the sound as it ricocheted off the damp and dreary walls into the shadows.
"Ya, ya, sorry I'm here. I'm trying to understand where we are and what's going on...and more importantly, how we can get out of here!" he answered, attempting to sound more sure than he actually felt.
"We were kidnapped! Remember, we found Huxley leaning on the horn of Doug's Jeep in the garage, with Doug nowhere to be found.” She sounded calmer as she recalled the event. It was all coming back to him now. Yes. They had let the anxious, whimpering Malamute out of the car who began to howl and talk like only Northern breeds do. Suddenly, a net dropped upon them. Aldous shook his head in disbelief at the memory. Why were nets so damn effective? Next, two mercenary types were holding drugged rags to their mouths while Fran demanded to know why they were doing this. Before everything went black, Aldous heard one of the thugs answer her in vain for she was already out. "Insurance."
No more than two / A sleeping pill / If the water don't get ya / The mortician will. / Hotel Cecil!
Future Doug was doing his best to hide under the table with CUBE while a hysterical Past Doug ran, well, past him and into the bathroom. He slammed the door shut and began to talk to himself in the mirror while slapping cold water on his face. There was a lot wrong with this. 1, NEVER under any circumstances do you EVER look into a mirror while staying the night in a possibly haunted hotel, especially on Halloween. And 2, there was that issue with the smelly, black hot water.
Luckily, Past Doug having shut the door to the bathroom, gave Future Doug the opportunity he needed to dash out the door into the hallway. In all the confusion, CUBE was left behind hovering in the air. The door to the bathroom exploded open and Past Doug came running out again screaming with black gelatinous goo dripping from his face and hands. Mind you, this wasn't your common, everyday middle of the road type scream, but a scream reserved for super shuddersome experiences. The type of scream one would emit if they say, woke up in bed naked, under a strobe light covered in squirming, glistening centipedes (You know the ones). A shrill, unholy ululation that comes from some other place inside you where it sits and waits to be used under lock like a fire axe. He stopped in the center of the room and slowly, symmetrically, wiped the goo out of his eyes in a parting, almost peek-a-boo motion, only to find himself staring into the sheepish, nervously smiling face of CUBE, if CUBE had a sheepish, nervously smiling face.
"YOU!" Doug bellowed, turning beet red. No longer frightened but just plain mad, raising his hands as if to threaten a strangle hold. Instantly, a white beam shot out of CUBE hitting the door knob causing the door to open enough for him to fly out. Past Doug stood there for a few seconds twitching and talking to himself. In this vulnerable moment the ghost of Pretty Pauly materialized by the window doing her best impression of Vanna White, offering up the still open window as if it was the next best option. "Yeah, um no." said Past Doug, slow and thoughtfully, then in one sudden, eruptive move he turned and ran out the door after CUBE.
Now in the hall again, he saw CUBE as it took a right and was almost around the corner. He immediately bolted after it. By the time Past Doug made it to the next corridor CUBE was gone. He was about to turn around when he heard a phone ringing, apparently coming from one of the rooms. It wasn’t a cellphone ring but a big clunky, good old fashioned, rattling phone ring. It seemed to be coming from a nearby maintenance closet. Before it was done ringing it was picked up. Was there someone in the closet? he wondered to himself. Then a familiar, surly voice followed. It belonged to the hooded fiend, he was sure of this! His first impulse was to turn around and run, but curiosity got the better of him again, and he decided to eavesdrop. He cautiously pressed his eye to the keyhole. There stood the brute, hood thrown back revealing a ghastly, glowing clown face! “what the?” Past Doug gasped. The heavy, bakelite handset of the phone was pressed to the scoundrels ear. Past Doug couldn't hear the voice of the caller but only one side of the conversation, but judging by the tone, it sounded as if the hooded monster was reassuring his boss that the password was safe and hidden well away in a Jack'n...but before he could catch the rest he was raised to his feet and spun around by some unseen force and there, standing in front of him, in his underwear, was the transpicious specter of Ricardo Ramírez, AKA: The Night Stalker. The ghoul leaned in close enough for Past Doug to feel his foul breath on his face. "Boo." the ghost said rather nonchalantly. Past Doug did an about-face for the umpteenth time that night and high tailed it down the hall. When he rounded the corner he saw CUBE there, holding open the elevator. Past Doug ran in as CUBE zapped the Janitorial key slot with a white beam and pushed the basement level button with one of his corners. The doors slid closed and they began to descend. Past Doug was leaned over with both hands on his knees trying to catch his breath, when he finally looked up CUBE was once again level with his face. They held this moment for a long time as the color came back to Past Doug's face. And then he spoke. "Thank you. I'm not sure what your part is in all this but I know you are not the bad guy in this story. In fact, I think you’re pretty slick.” He gave CUBE a big dumb, weary smile and patted him on his top side. Then, without warning, the lights went out and the elevator went into free fall. "IIIIIIIIIIIIIIII, HAAAAAAAAAATE, THIIIIIIIIS, PLAAAAAAACE!!!!" Past Doug screamed into the cold, metal ceiling of the elevator which he was now pressed up against as they dropped. Oh yeah, also, ALWAYS a bad idea to get on an elevator in a haunted hotel.
* * *
After frantically running down two flights of stairs like a virgin fleeing a Satanic mass, it occurred to Future Doug, CUBE was no longer with him and on top of that, he had forgotten to grab the damn Jack-In-The-Box. How did he botch this up? Heck, he already lived this night as Past Doug, be it more on the receiving end last time, which when considered, could explain the extensive lost time and blocked traumatic memories...but still. He jumped the last three steps and stopped at the base of the stairs, and with hands on hips, gave an audible harumph that reverberated mockingly around the extent of the stairwell. He then turned around and started to run back up the stairs two stepping it in double time. He had to get back to Room 369, and fast.
* * *
The elevator started wailing and screeching as it slowed down. Future Doug could see sparks spraying from somewhere, but before he could give it much thought, or dazed appreciation, he was thrown from the ceiling and body slammed back to the floor as if gravity was jealous of him slow dancing with free fall. "I am never…staying here again." Past Doug mumbled on the verge of blacking out, and he would have too had the CUBE not slapped the spit out of him. Of course not having hands it looked a little more brutal than a typical slap, but drastic measures and such. Sensing the disoriented human might misinterpret the CUBE’s version of a friendly “wake the hell up slap”, he entered Past Doug’s thoughts replaying what just happened from CUBE’s perspective. While they were both pressed against the ceiling of the elevator during the sudden plummet, CUBE realized he was on the maintenance panel door. He managed to toggle the lever, opening it. In an instant, he was in the elevator shaft free from the falling lift dropping in rapid descent. Now, he could have himself a short little "think". Short being a micro second, totally more than enough time for a superior being such as himself. An attractor beam of white light shot from him encasing the dropping death box, slowing it to a halt seconds before it made a crash landing on the floor of the basement.
* * *
Future Doug caught himself more than a few times mindlessly whistling Pop Goes The Weasel as he ran up what seemed like miles and miles of red, thinly worn carpeted stairs. Though a pleasant enough tune he really needed to stop before it drove him mad as a hatter. But you know how it is when a song is stuck in your head. While your mileage may vary, the average length of time an ear worm will stay ingrained in your brain is approximately, 30 minutes. They also, practically always, contain lyrics rather than being just instrumental. He smiled and thought, “I’ll just have to let it play out.”
Three notes into a new refrain is when he noticed it. A red sign menacingly nailed to the wall on the landing above him. Thin, seeping, arterial streams of what appeared to be blood escaped from where the nails punctured the fading wallpaper. As he came closer he began to read it, slowing down slightly, just in case it was important. In life one learns red signs are often worth stopping for. “A Midnight Stroll” he read out loud. He turned and kept going and there at the top of the next landing was yet another sign. “Around Our Halls”, again reading it out loud, he didn’t like where this was going. But he kept climbing, he had to. Just as before, there, up ahead on the next landing, was another, by this time, familiar red sign. “Can Often Lead” he gulped anticipating the end rhyme. Sure enough as he turned around the railing finally approaching the landing of the third floor, his stop, was the last sign. “To Tragic Falls — The Hotel Cecil!”. Well, as daft and demented as it was, he thought to himself, at least they take pride in their establishment and the safety of their guests.
Then the lights went out. But not before he managed to throw open the door into the hallway. The temperature dropped by about 20 degrees and the few bulbs that were working on the walls flickered like candles. From somewhere came an incoherent, disembodied voice. Then there was that returning sense of dread and nausea. Yep, he was definitely in the right place. Room 369 was in eyeshot halfway down the hall, he was going to make it! How he hoped the door wasn’t now locked. Haunted hotels are often unpredictable.
Just when Future Doug believed he would in fact make it to Room 369, the hooded man stepped out from a maintenance closet, threw back his hood and gave Doug an icy smirk that made him pee himself a little. Though he remembered catching a peek of this miscreant through the keyhole earlier, nothing could have prepared him for this sucker in full frame. Future Doug stopped to take it all in. There before him stood no man at all, but a giant clown in all his luminescent, creeptastic glory. Three red, conical shaped tufts of hair sprouted from his bald white head like horns. He just glared at Future Doug nose flaring, while his white gloved hands went to work fingering at the decorative button on the collar of his cloak. There was a barely audible click and the garment dropped to the floor. While it’s well known that being on TV can add 15 pounds to how you look, a little lesser known fact is that cloaks can make a person look short. When that person is a clown, it can also have a mildly slimming effect. But that is neither here nor there when it came to what Future Doug was contemplating. He saw attached to his opponents belt, dangling, the key to Room 369. Time was running out. Future Doug reached into his pants pocket and felt his own room key.
From where he stood, he could see Room 369 just beyond the glowing, pulsating monster clown. Future Doug gave out another sigh and clenched both fists, slowly he began to whistle that damn tune again. With a start that stunned not only him, but also the painted fiend, Future Doug ran directly at him looking unhinged and deranged. A few feet before impact Future Doug dropped onto his back. He slid between his adversary’s legs and at the very last moment let out a quick jab which connected with a rather disturbing looking velveteen codpiece. “Pop! Goes-The-Weasel!” Future Doug cried out victoriously. The creature made a noise that shook the hallway, and doubled over in pain. Future Doug hopped back up onto his feet, fumbling with his newly acquired key to Room 369. The old switcheroo!
He Saw / The Bellboy's Blade / And Tried To Duck It / Checked In To Check Out / And Kicked The Bucket / Hotel Cecil!
Fran and Aldous heard a loud thud and then with a cheerful ding, the doors to the elevator opened. There, on the floor of the lift, amongst a rising dust cloud, lay a very beat up looking Douglas Smythe with the CUBE levitating above him. It wasn’t clear if the CUBE was helping or hurting him but suddenly Doug was back on his feet and rubbing his jaw.
“Douglas! Over here!” Fran yelled
A surprised Past Douglas and CUBE made their way over to his friends. “What are you guys doing here?” he asked as he noticed the bomb on top of Huxley’s cage. “Ohhh” he said nodding, now understanding the situation a little better.
“We need to deactivate that thing before it takes us and the entire hotel with it!” Aldous blurted out, pulling at the yellow packaging tape that held him adhered to the column. Huxley was now standing and his tail was wagging at full throttle in an effort to catch Past Doug’s eye. It did. Past Doug unclipped the carabiners on the door and freed his furry friend, then made his way to Fran. “Well it’s about time.” Fran said playfully as Doug used a tile knife he picked up off a nearby workbench to slash through her bindings. Before Doug could react Fran had her arms around him as Huxley tried to worm his way into the love huddle. Once freed, Aldous immediately made his way to the ticking laptop. “Oh dear…” he said and scratched his head nervously. Doug looked up from his current embrace, “Oh dear what?”
“This thing is password protected and we have a little over 10 minutes to diffuse it! It’s seven characters long. Any thoughts?” Aldous said without taking his eyes off the screen. Password? Why did that sound so familiar to Past Doug he wondered to himself.
* * *
Running on pure adrenaline at this point, Future Doug jammed the key into the door, turned and gave it a push, he was in. He looked back down the hall before slamming it shut, the clown was nowhere to be seen. “Wonderful…”, Future Doug thought; “…he could be anywhere”. He turned all the locks and latches and slid down the door catching his breath. After a moment, he remembered why he was there. He looked at the table and there it was, the password. He gave a big, thankful sigh. At least not all hope was lost, the Jack-In-The-Box was still there, where he had left it. He pushed the eery little clown back down into the box and closed the lid. Steadying it in place with his left hand he began to crank it. The tinny tune once again started in the same cadence of Pop Goes The Weasel, but still, it was a different melody. When it came to the end, the lid exploded up and the puppet gruffly yelled “All’s well that ends well!” — “That’s it! Shakespeare's Lavatch!” Douglas exclaimed dropping the box and turning towards the window that he originally came through. On the street below he could see three people, a wolf, and a CUBE making their way across the dim lit street in the early hours of the morning, All Saint’s Day. That’s when the pounding at the door began. “Housekeeping!”
Future Doug made an audible gulp.
Where the water / Runs black / As Stygian Diesel / Don’t fill your scuttle / From the tap / At The Hotel Cecil!
“There’s no time” Past Doug said as he grabbed Fran’s hand and pulled at Aldous’ shoulder.
“But what about all the people asleep in the hotel?” Aldous replied
“We are really out of time my friend and I’m pretty sure the only guests here are extended stay evil, cursed, and undead.” Past Doug said raising his voice now with a new intensity. He didn’t look well. He was bruised and had dried blood caked to parts of his face and hands. His shirt was covered in stains and he looked like he was working on a serious hangover. He began to swoon but Fran and Aldous caught him. Doug was right, they needed to get the heck out of here. They each took an arm over their shoulders and made for the stairs up to the first floor. CUBE lead the way with Huxley taking the rear.
* * *
Back in a now familiar state of panic, Future Doug scanned the room looking for anything. He was running out of ideas and that’s when he saw it. On the wall to the right of the bed was a curious raised section under the wallpaper. It was a rectangle of about 2.5’ x 4’ and Future Doug was willing to bet his life that it blocked an antique Dumb Waiter! It was going to be a tight squeeze for certain. The pounding picked up at the door to the room again. He unwound the crank from the Jack-In-Box and used it to scrape through the wallpaper covering the plank that hid the outdated shaft. He lied back on the bed and with his right foot against the wall, he kicked at the dry, raised up plywood. It came down in one try with a resounding crash on top of the night table. Future Doug stuck his head into the dark, dry and dusty hoistway. His face pressed into taut rope. “Perfect…”, he thought; “…the pulley system is still in place.”
The shaft, though wider on the inside, the opening was even smaller than he anticipated. Was this all for not? He had an idea. He ran past the door to the room that seemed it would soon be pounded right off its hinges as the clown on the other side continued to wildly throw himself into it. He stepped back into the tiny bathroom where the medicine cabinet was still flung open. He grabbed the cap-less tube of Burma Shave and ran back towards the dumb waiter. He took off his teeshirt and started greasing himself up, then tossed the empty tube. He then climbed onto the night stand and hooked one leg at a time over the edge and into the shaft. Holding his breath, he wiggled and squeezed himself in while gripping firmly onto the ropes, all the while praying they would bear his weight. With a massive clattering crash, the door split open with an axe. Breathing heavy, the clown stuck his head in through the battered panels and looked around the room as he proclaimed with premature gusto, “Here’sssssssss…” as his addled eyes came to rest on a flattened, empty tube on the floor, he mindlessly finished his proclamation, “…Burma Shave?” The room was empty.
This may have been the first time in history someone actually lubed up their hands before climbing down a rope. The friction of the rope actually reawakened the vintage scent of Burma Shave as he slid down into the dark as if swallowed by the Hotel Cecil itself. He managed to curl his right foot around the rope, slowing his descent considerably. Being pitch dark he was not going to be able to prepare himself properly for impact. But it came sudden. He picked himself up off the hard floor of the shaft and took an inventory of himself. Everything seemed in place and unbroken, but bruises were sure to be in his near future, if he survived this. He knocked on the walls on each side of him to locate which side was boarded up. He found it and with his back up against the opposing wall, he kicked it in. He was through and back in the basement. Up ahead he saw the now empty kennel with the laptop on top of it. He could make out large red numbers now turning on the screen and counting down; 10, 9, 8…Against his natural instincts he bolted towards it.
* * *
They stood in the parking lot across the street. “We can’t just stand here and watch all these people die.” Said Fran. It was now almost 6 am on a Monday and Los Angeles was waking up. The morning commute had begun. “How much time do we have Aldous?” Asked Past Doug with obvious concern in his voice. He was again awake with his second wind, though still leaning against a parked station wagon for support. “Under 5 minutes. We are simply too late. But we did make an attempt to raise the alarm, no?” What Aldous was referring to was, on their way onto the street from the hotel foyer, in a last ditch effort, Doug pulled the fire alarm on the wall. Nothing happened. Again, haunted hotels, totally unreliable.
Past Doug stood up straight and leaned over to CUBE who was hovering over his shoulder. He whispered into one of the black boxes 6 sides and hoped for an ear. When CUBE began to nod he knew he had found his target. Fran, Aldous, and Huxley watched with exhausted interest. “Ok then, it’s settled. We are time hopping back.” Doug blurted out matter of factly. “What? Time Hopping? Is that even a thing?” Fran asked on the verge of hysterics. Admittedly, it did sound more like a dance than a, um a thing, but CUBE’s words not his. As exhausted as he was, both Past Doug and CUBE would zap back to when all this began and make it right, or die trying. Aldous just stroked his red beard in drop jawed disbelief. “I’m not so sure that is a goo…” but Aldous didn’t get a chance to finish his thought before Doug and CUBE were gone in a flash. Fran, Hux, and Aldous looked around befuddled. Aldous looked at his watch and then shouted, “Take cover!” The three of them ducked behind a parked SUV. After a few minutes, Fran peeked over the hood of the vehicle. Nothing happened.
Next, there was someone suddenly across the street in front of the hotel whistling at them, It was Future Doug, shirtless, covered in dirt and grime, but smiling and waving rope burnt hands. When there were no cars passing he hurried across the street towards his now even more bewildered friends.
“All’s well that ends well! Now where was I?” and with that, Present Doug again swooned into their arms.