Menagerie

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Nightfall.

A mother and daughter walk into a hotel lobby, dragging their entire lives in a pair of suitcases behind them. The Daughter is about 13 years old; a carrier bag slung over her shoulder with a lap dog inside; she looks like she’s been crying for hours. The Mother is in her mid- to late-30s; she quietly carries her own burdens that make her look over her shoulder with extra caution. They both wear that tired, haunted expression of people who have been driving all day under the worst imaginable circumstances. They have hit a wall of exhaustion and this nameless, unexceptional airport hotel is the closest thing they can find to respite.

In the background, a few people are checking out of the hotel. Dropping off key cards, settling bills, dragging suitcases. Although they seem rested, they wear their own dull, dazed expressions. This hotel is a way station in the middle of nowhere. No one stays here for longer than one night and a stay here invariably means you’re still a long way from your final destination.

The Daughter gravitates toward an old, circus-themed pinball machine in a corner of the lobby. She slaps the flipper buttons a few times before realizing that the machine is dead; the dust caked on the glass suggests it’s probably been sitting in disrepair for a small eternity. Disappointed, she sits on her suitcase and has a staring contest with her dog as her Mother checks them in at the front desk.

They make their way to the elevator banks where an airline pilot and two flight attendants are waiting with their luggage. They look like they’ve been through their own harrowing evening but manage to smile sympathetically at the weary-looking mother and child. The Older Flight Attendant crouches toward the Daughter and admires her dog.

“What’s his name?”

“She’s a girl. Her name’s Diablo.”

“Pretty name. She’s lucky to have you.”

The slight frown on the Daughter’s face doesn’t budge. The elevator arrives: an antiquated deathtrap with a claustrophobic cab. Parts of this hotel are clearly overdue for renovations. The aircrew lets the Mother and Daughter take it.

The elevator lifts off with a heavy, ominous churning sound. The Mother places her arm around her Daughter. The Daughter pulls away. They’ve reached a point in their trip where words are meaningless.

They arrive at their floor and drag their suitcases down the carpeted hallway. The Mother scans the numbers on the identical doors. They pass by a middle-aged man in a gray suit and glasses, carrying his suitcase into his room; the Businessman nods hello at them but they are in their own world.

The Mother stops at a door and tries her key card. The door won’t open. She tries a few more times, getting flustered. The Daughter sits down on the floor and hugs the carrier bag to her chest, absently noticing a patch of floral-patterned wallpaper peeling off the wall. The exposed corner of wall is covered in rust.

The Businessman approaches them, offers to assist. He flips the key card around and slips it into the slot: green light. The door opens easily. He helps carry their suitcases into their room.

“Thanks,” says the Mother, as an apology and a polite invitation for him to leave. “We’ve had a long day.”

“I’m right next door, if you need anything,” he offers, lingering a little longer than comfortable before he lets himself out.

In the hallway, the Businessman returns to his room as the aircrew passes by him. They head further down the hall, to the two adjacent rooms they’ve secured. The Flight Attendants in one room with the Captain on his own.

The Captain pauses at his door. “If either of you ladies are looking to forget the flight we just endured, I’ll be in my room dismantling the mini bar.”

● ● ●

The Captain steps into his room. Drops his suitcase in a corner. Heads straight for the mini-fridge beside the television.

● ● ●

The Flight Attendants walk into their room. The Older flops on her bed as the Younger begins to unbutton her uniform.

● ● ●

The Businessman sits in the dark on the edge of his bed, numbly flipping through channels. Weather. Static. Pay-Per-View Porn. Static. Local news. His unblinking eyes glaze beneath the sieve of his pristine glasses. The warm glow of television light reflecting off his lenses, flickering to darkness each time he changes the station, creating a strobe effect. A private ritual he’s done a hundred times in a hundred different hotel rooms over the years. Watch him for a moment and he just looks sad; watch him for a few moments longer and he looks downright insane.

● ● ●

The Mother leans against a dresser with a thousand-yard stare. The Daughter sits on the bed and lets her dog out of its carrier. The dog scampers about the hotel room and pisses in a corner. Mother and Daughter are both too numb to react.

The Mother breaks the silence: “You know, we’re going to be fine, right?”

“Where are we going?”

“Somewhere far. Far enough to be safe.”

“We’re not safe now?”

The Mother lets out a deep sigh that seems to relieve tension pent up in her body. “Sure we are. No one’s going to hurt us here. We’re just in the middle of nowhere. We’ll find someplace new to settle down. Start over.”

“Does that mean we can never go back home?”

This seems to sting the Mother more than she’d care to let on.

“I don’t think we want to go back, sweetie.”

The Daughter tears up. “You didn’t let me say goodbye to any of my friends. Not even Jenny.”

“I know you must think I’m some kind of monster but I’m doing the best I can. We’re on our own now. I promise we’ll find someplace really nice and you’ll meet new friends—”

“How do you know that? You don’t even know where we’re going! You think it’s easy making new friends? I could be miserable…”

“Becky, stop it. You just have to trust me.”

The dog leaps up onto the bed. The Daughter grabs her into her lap and strokes her as she sulks. The Mother walks over and sits down on the bed, at a loss for words. She picks up a laminated menu on the nightstand, sets it down before the Daughter. “You must be starved. I’m starved. Order us something to eat while I wash up.”

The Mother heads to the bathroom, flicks on the aging fluorescents: a modest, inviting bathroom filled with single-use items. She closes the door. Turns on the faucets. Blasts the shower. Under the cover of running water, she slumps down in a corner far away from the door and has a nervous breakdown.

Out in the bedroom, the Daughter can hear the sounds of crying through the door. She tunes the television to a dead channel to drown out the sound. Looks over the laminated menu. Reaches for the phone.

In the next room, the Businessman listens to the sound of crying leak from the vent in his bathroom.

● ● ●

The Older Flight Attendant lets her hair down as she sorts through her suitcase. The Younger stands by in a bathrobe, looking more shaken. “How often does something like that happen?”

The Older brushes this off. “Every so often,” she lies. “When you do this long enough, you’ll wish for nights like tonight, just to break up the monotony.”

“What do you mean by ‘monotony’?”

“The boredom, hon.”

“Why didn’t you just say ‘boredom’?”

“Look, the skies can be unpredictable. Davis is the best in the business. He’s been flying longer than I’ve been walking the aisles. We hit a rough patch of air up there, that’s all. Passengers get on edge when they think they might die.”

“Was he drunk?”

“He’s strictly an off-hours drunk. He was stone-cold sober tonight.”

“How do you know?”

“Because we’re alive and not being covered by the evening news. Take a shower, Erica. Rinse off the flight. You’ll feel better.”

The Younger heads to the bathroom. Runs the shower: calcium deposits in the shower head skew the stream and it blasts her face. She shrieks with surprise and adjusts the angle. Drops her bathrobe. Steps in. Steams rises up. She lathers shampoo into her hair. The surveillance camera in the room suddenly zooms in and we get a closer appraisal of her anatomy…

● ● ●

Elsewhere, a security camera is fixed upon a figure watching the surveillance camera feeds. The Watcher sits silhouetted against the light of HD screens. His attention currently focused upon the feed of the Younger Flight Attendant taking a shower. He remotely controls the camera as he quietly observes her.

● ● ●

The Captain opens the door and lets the Older Flight Attendant into his room.

The bed is littered with empty little bottles of booze. The Captain cracks the seal on a fresh bottle.

“Close to killing the mini. May have to graduate to the hotel bar in the lobby.”

“Were you drunk up there tonight?”

“Have a drink, Heather, you’re way too sober.”

“I want to know what was going on in that cockpit.”

“I’m going to need you to drink a lot more before I start opening up about what happened up there.”

● ● ●

The Mother steps out of the bathroom. The Daughter has fallen asleep on the bed. The dog is barking as someone raps lightly on the door. The Mother opens the door and lets a service attendant push a food cart into the room.

“How much do I—?”

The attendant leaves without making eye contact, without saying a word.

She removes the cover from a plate, revealing a burger and fries. She chews on a fry as she takes a long look at her sleeping daughter. Completely at peace. The dog runs to the food cart and starts yapping at it.

The Mother pulls some covers over her Daughter. The Daughter instinctively clutches onto the sheets as she settles in.

The Mother grabs her purse and quietly heads out the door.

A moment passes after she leaves…

… and then a fine, white gas billows out from beneath the food cart… the small dog’s barking begins to slow… as if he were a wind-up toy winding down…

● ● ●

The Businessman crouches by the doorway of a concrete stairwell, fumbling with something below the camera’s frame. The surveillance camera zooms in but cannot view what’s in his hands from this angle, settling on a tight closeup of his face.

The door bursts open and cracks against his skull.

A surprised shriek from the other side of the door as he stumbles backward, dropping something on the floor.

The Mother emerges. Startled to see him here.

He smiles awkwardly at her, adjusting his crooked glasses. Snatches his disposable lighter from the floor, plucks a beat-up pack of cigarettes from his suit jacket. Offers her one. She declines, pulling a fresh pack of her own out of her purse. He lets out a nervous laugh.

“Thought you were going to bust me,” he says. “You can’t smoke anywhere these days. Used to be everyone smoked and you could smoke everywhere. Then they corralled us into smoking sections. Then they eliminated the ghettos altogether and booted us out onto the streets, like unwanted orphans. People get really offended if you smoke near them. Like you’re violating their bodies.”

“I’ve quit,” she says as she takes a long, luxurious drag, keeping her distance from him. “It’s just been a trying day.”

“If you don’t mind me asking…”

She looks at him. After a moment of consideration: “Ex-husband. I don’t mean to be rude, I just don’t want to talk about it right now.”

“Say no more. Maybe you could help me figure something out. There’s this stain on the wall here…”

The walls of the stairwell look like they’ve been painted over dozens of times. Mostly touch-ups. Ghosts of graffiti tags bleeding through the off-white paint. The surveillance camera fixes on the spot that the Businessman gestures toward: a faint, reddish-brown smudge just above a handrail.

“… it looks like a partial-handprint to me. You can make out a thumb and a forefinger. I don’t want to say it looks like dry blood but I also can’t escape that feeling. I’m sure there’s a far more mundane explanation. What do you think…?”

She looks at the stain. Disturbed. Stubs out her smoke. “I should go.”

“Wait. Please. Listen. I’m trapped in the middle of this never-ending business trip. Let me buy you a drink. No offense but you look like you could use a drink. One harmless drink to settle the nerves. From one divorcee to another. We don’t even have to exchange our real names. Chance meeting in a place like this, you can be whomever you want to be. You can call me… Charles.”

She scrutinizes him for an extra moment before offering: “Call me Angela.”

● ● ●

The Daughter lies asleep in bed. Her dog passed out on the floor. Wisps of sleeping gas dissipate near the bottom edge of the food cart.

Through the drawn, diaphanous window curtains, the shadow of a tree branch. Trembling. Gently tap-tap-tapping against the windowpane.

A face suddenly presses against the window. A distorted shadow through the thin folds of the curtains. The window opens. Curtains flap violently inward on the fierce rush of wind.

● ● ●

Little empty booze bottles surround the Older Flight Attendant and the Captain as they tear through the contents of the mini bar, crying with laughter over some lost joke.

The Captain catches his breath. Reaches for his jacket which has fallen on the floor.

“You really want to know what happened up there, tonight?”

“Have I had enough shots to earn the truth?”

“I don’t know but I’m drunk enough to share. Ready to see something scary?”

He fishes a flip cam out of his jacket. Fumbles with the controls for a moment. The surveillance camera zooms in toward the device and the room-feed freezes–

Flip cam footage suddenly takes us into a commercial airline cockpit. 30,000 feet in the air. Hours earlier. The cam shakily frames the windshield and some strange lights that move through the dark sky ahead. Obscured by distance and cloud cover, it’s difficult to make out the source of the lights, but it doesn’t look or move like a common aircraft. The Captain’s voice, from behind the cam: “What in the hell is that…?” Without warning, a bird slams into the windshield just as the entire sky whites out – the flip cam footage breaks into digital static…

The Captain and Flight Attendant sit together on his hotel bed, hunched over the flip cam. They look like they’ve sobered.

“All the controls froze for a good minute or two. I was sure we were fixed on a collision path.”

“With what…?”

“Twenty years, I’ve never seen anything like that. I don’t know what it was.”

“Did you report it?”

“I’d rather report I was drinking. You don’t report this kind of thing if you want to keep flying. It’s a career ender.”

● ● ●

The water abruptly shuts off while the Younger Flight Attendant is in the shower, soap in her eyes. She curses and stumbles out toward the sink…

No water at the faucet, either.

The surveillance camera moves to cover her action. She grabs a towel and staggers blindly into the bedroom.

“Heather? Are you there…?”

The figures of several hotel staff members lurk in the corners of the dimly lit bedroom, watching the Younger blindly falter into the center of the room. From their uniforms, they appear to be lower level maintenance workers. Faces shrouded in shadow, they each stand crooked… as if their bones had been broken and healed at odd angles. They stand, watching, observing, stock-still.

She squints through the sting of soap, rubbing her eyes, trying to open them. “Is someone there…?”

Then all at once, they close in on her—

● ● ●

The Captain and the Older Flight Attendant are making out in his bed, tiny empty bottles spilling onto the floor as they wrestle each other’s clothes off.

A bloodcurdling scream stops them cold.

The Older bolts to her feet. “That was next door. Erica…”

● ● ●

The Mother and the Businessman have a drink at the hotel bar. It is a small, lonely facade of a bar, only large enough to serve three customers a selection of bottom-shelf liquor. Her body language and proximity make it apparent that she’s warmed up to him marginally. A nondescript bartender stands by in the shadows. Observing.

“I’m on the road on business most of the year,” he says. “I’ve got this large house that isn’t being used much anymore. I’m going to say something that’s going to sound crazy because we’ve only just met and I’ve had a few drinks but hear me out: you and your daughter are welcome to stay there until you find a better option.”

A sad smile crosses her face at the offer. It is a smile that he recognizes as the precursor to a rejection. He stops her before she can respond: “Don’t say anything. You don’t have to say anything just yet. Let me explain how much sense this makes…”

A sound suddenly rises up outside. Like an airplane landing… but there’s something off about it. Too much bass. Strange mechanical rhythms. The ground trembles. White light begins to flood in through the windows.

The Mother seems to recognize the light and sound. She runs off without explanation. The Businessman runs after her.

● ● ●

Elsewhere. The camera is zoomed in on The Watcher as he follows the path of the Mother and the Businessman running back to her room, his head moving from screen to screen.

The camera slowly zooms out to reveal the massive bank of monitors spread before him. Spanning the walls. Rising to the ceiling. Dominating this small chamber. Far more surveillance feeds than would be practical for covering the security of a modest airport hotel.

The Watcher manipulates his controls. Throughout the hotel, surveillance cameras in empty locations go black. We are left with a smaller clutch of monitors focused on our active guests.

● ● ●

The Older Flight Attendant and the Captain burst into the adjacent room:

The Younger Flight Attendant has vanished.

They run down the hallways, calling out her name.

The Mother and the Businessman race down the hallway from the elevator bank. The Older Flight Attendant rushes to them.

“Have you seen my friend, the other flight attendant we were with? Did you see her leaving with someone?”

The Mother frantically pushes past them, the Businessman following her into her room:

The Daughter has vanished.

She checks the closets. Bathroom. Empty. No sign of the dog, either.

“Becky!?”

The Businessman tries to calm her down. “She can’t be very far. You think your ex found you?” He tries to use his cell phone: it’s dead.

“What?”

He approaches the hotel landline. “Your ex-husband. Becky’s father. You told me you were running from him.”

“I wasn’t entirely truthful with you earlier,” she confesses. “Her father’s been out of the picture for years. There’s… someone else that’s been pursuing us for the past few weeks.”

He clicks the landline a few times: no dial tone. “Who’s been pursuing you?”

“I don’t know… but it’s here.”

“What do you mean by ‘it’…?”

All the lights throughout the hotel suddenly go out.

Surveillance cameras switch to night-vision as everyone begins to panic.

● ● ●

The Captain and the Flight Attendant make their way down a dark stairwell to the ground floor. They rush to the front desk. Nobody is there. The staff has vanished. She slaps on a service bell repeatedly.

“Hello??”

“Who was the guy who checked us in earlier? I can’t even remember what he looked like.”

“Somebody, help! Who’s running this hotel??”

The Captain jumps the desk and roots through drawers. Finds a flashlight. Grabs a stack of key cards.

● ● ●

The Mother tears through the dark hotel halls, floor by floor. The Businessman at her heels. Both of them calling out her Daughter’s name.

They suddenly arrive at a floor where all the lights are on. They squint as their eyes adjust to the light. This floor is clearly undergoing some renovation…
Long hallways stretch out before them, faded blue carpeting torn up in patches to reveal dirty metal grates. Floral-patterned wallpaper peels down to reveal rust-covered metal walls. A thin skin of paper, paint and carpeting seems to separate this entire hotel from a stark raving house of horrors.

The door to every room on this floor is wide open.

They burst into room after room. Each one nearly identical. Each one completely vacant. No signs of life.

Out of nowhere, the faint sound of children’s laughter echoes through the halls. Is it actual laughter or does it just sound like that? There is something about it that seems artificial when you listen carefully.

They exit a room and find a maid standing down the hallway with a cleaning cart. The stocky maid’s face is obscured in shadow. She seems to stare at them through the cover of mop handles. Stock-still.

The Mother and the Businessman look back at her. Uncertain.

The Mother calls out, “Hello…?”

The maid does not move. Does not respond.

The Businessman takes a step toward her. “Excuse me, we’re looking for a—“

The maid suddenly starts pushing her cart toward them. Moving faster and faster as she advances. A sense of determination in her movement. She pulls a steel tool out of the cart that resembles a cross between a butcher cleaver and a corkscrew.

The Mother and the Businessman duck into another room and slam the door.

In the room, the Businessman wedges a chair against the door handle. The handle twists frantically as the maid tries to enter, ramming her stocky frame against the door. The Businessman reaches into his jacket – pulls out a gun.

The maid abruptly stops banging on the door.

The Mother looks at his pistol. “Why do you have a gun…?”

The Businessman is at a loss. “I…”

She starts to back away from him. “Thought you said you were a businessman.”

He approaches her. “I am… I-I just keep this for protection–”

“Don’t come near me.”

She suddenly notices there’s a small figure lying in the bed here, covered in sheets…

● ● ●

The Captain and the Flight Attendant make their way through the darkness of the second floor with the flashlight. A hotel staff member quietly stalks them from a distance, cropped slightly by the edges of surveillance camera frames; his uniform indicates that he works at the front desk. He slouches through the shadows with an awkward gait.

The Captain starts opening doors with key cards.

Empty rooms.

Empty bathrooms.

Empty closets.

Every so often, they nearly catch sight of the front desk clerk who pursues them, but he always manages to stay just outside their field of light.

They turn a corner in a hall and see someone standing at the far end.

It’s the Younger Flight Attendant. Facing away from them. Just standing there, in the middle of the hallway, in a bathrobe. She seems to be dripping wet. It’s not from the shower.

● ● ●

“Becky…?”

The Mother rips the sheet from the bed…

… revealing an old, wooden mannequin. Its arms torn off.

She picks up the mannequin and throws it against the wall. “What’s going on here?!”

The Businessman approaches her, gun still in his hand.

She turns on him: “I told you, Don’t come near me.”

The Businessman slips the gun back into his jacket. “Listen, occasionally, I have to work in situations where–”

“I don’t want to hear it. I’m not in the habit of accepting drinks from strange men who carry concealed weapons.”

“Would you rather be with someone who was unarmed right now? You have to trust me.”

“I don’t have to do anything except find my daughter and leave.”

The Mother looks around the room. Checks under the bed. Opens up the closet. Runs into the bathroom and pulls aside the opaque shower curtain.

There’s no one here.

She leans against the sink.

The surveillance camera behind the mirror zooms in on her face as she goes through a range of emotions. Panic. Frustration. Anger. Fear. The camera adjusts and makes a whirring sound which she seems to notice.

She stares through the mirror, directly into the camera. She sees it.

She picks up a plunger and bashes the wooden handle against the mirror. The mirror cracks. Shatters. The camera zooms out to a fixed wide-shot. She reaches forward and takes the surveillance camera in her hands, looking straight into the lens.

“I want my daughter back, do you hear me??”

She yanks the camera out – the feed goes black.

● ● ●

In the darkness, the Older Flight Attendant approaches the figure of the Younger… quickly at first and then with more caution as she gets a better view.

The Younger stands there with her back turned, swaying lightly on her feet as if she were in a trance. She is covered in a liquid that is slightly viscous.

The Captain calls out from a distance: “Don’t touch her…”

The Older ignores this and turns the Younger toward her. Her eyes are wide open, pupils dilated. She whispers something indecipherable before she collapses into the Older Flight Attendant’s arms. Davis runs to them.

“What is she covered with?” He checks her vitals. She seems to be normal.

All the lights on the floor suddenly blink on, along with all the televisions in the rooms. A distorted cacophony of different channels blares out at full volume from every open door.

● ● ●

The Mother combs through the bedroom, searching out all the hidden surveillance cameras and breaking them. The Businessman looks at her curiously.

“What are you doing?”

“They’re watching us. They’ve got cameras planted all over this place.”

“Who are ‘they’?”

“Whoever they are, whatever they are, they want us to panic. They’re toying with us. Conducting some twisted psychological experiment. I think they want us to put on a show. I’m taking their show off the air!”

As soon as she destroys a camera, another hidden surveillance camera blinks on and whirs to focus from another hidden perspective until our view of the room is completely turned around.

The final camera frames a clearer view of the locked door. Before she can destroy the camera, the chair falls away from the door and the door clicks lightly open…

The Businessman draws his gun. They both tentatively step out into the hallway.

It’s empty. No sign of the maid.

Somewhere further down the hall, the Daughter’s voice calls: “Mom…”

● ● ●

The Captain and the Older carry the Younger out of the elevator and through the ground floor lobby. Lights and electricity have returned but the place is still deserted.

“We’ll get her checked out at a hospital,” he says.

“We should try the landlines again, maybe they’re working now.”

“We just need to get out of here…”

● ● ●

The Mother and the Businessman head down the stairwell, following the sound of the Daughter’s voice calling her, “Mom…” There is something slightly off about it. Like the children’s laughter earlier. Something synthetic.

“Becky? We’re coming for you, sweetie, where are you…?”

Further down the stairwell, we see another hotel staff member descending the steps. His uniform indicates a hotel manager. We get a clearer look at his face: it is slightly misshapen, like a crooked mask. Nothing that would raise alarms at first glance. Something that seems more wrong the longer and closer you look at it. He calls out with the Daughter’s voice, “Mom…,” luring them further down…

● ● ●

The Mother and the Businessman emerge on the ground floor. They see the Captain and Flight Attendants approaching the glass entrance doors to the hotel.

The doors are locked.

The Captain futilely bangs against the glass.

“Have you seen my daughter…?”

The aircrew turns as the Mother and Businessman approach.

Older Flight Attendant: “We haven’t seen your daughter, hon. We’re locked in.”

Suddenly, through the glass doors—

The Daughter runs across the parking lot as if being chased.

The Mother rushes the glass, starts banging against it, hollering her daughter’s name. The Businessman pulls her away, draws his gun and starts shooting at the glass. Spider web cracks splay out from each bullet impact but the glass remains intact. He kicks at the shattered glass but it won’t budge.

The Older Flight Attendant begins to break down. “What are they doing to us…?”

The Mother turns back toward the lobby. Notices a door marked

SECURITY ROOM

She heads for it…

● ● ●

A small bank of monitors sits in the windowless security room. This is not the same surveillance room we saw earlier. These are not the same cameras we’ve been viewing throughout. They cover far less ground, with far lower quality.

The Mother and the Businessman investigate the room alone.

The Mother shakes her head. “This isn’t it.”

“What do you mean?”

“These aren’t the surveillance cameras from the rooms.”

“You think there’s another security room in here?”

She notices a section of wall where the paint doesn’t match. She presses her hands against it. Lays an ear against the flat surface. The wall opens like a sliding door, revealing darkness.

● ● ●

Out in the lobby, a quick series of white flashes pulse silently through the windows. The Captain and Older Flight Attendant look stunned. Frozen in place while kneeling by the Younger Flight Attendant.

The Younger calmly rises to her feet. Starts to walk back toward the elevators.

The Captain and the Older rise and follow her. As if they were all sleepwalking.

● ● ●

The Mother and the Businessman enter the hidden chamber beyond the false security room. The only light source spills from the room they just left. In the darkness, this seems to be a large storage area that’s been poorly kept. They stumble over debris as they head deeper into the space.

“What is this…?”

Overhead lights suddenly flicker on, revealing the nature of the space.

A lab. Or a butcher shop.

Bleached human skeletons litter the floor and a series of metal tables. Large, hand-drawn diagrams of deconstructed human anatomy plaster the walls, accompanied by mysterious symbols.

The Mother tries to back away from the horror but there’s nowhere to turn. “What are they doing here…?”

Another hotel staff member is suddenly standing at the entrance. Wearing a security uniform. Face in shadow, stock-still.

The Businessman pulls his gun – unloads his entire clip into the man…

The bullet-ridden security guard stands for a moment longer as the smoke settles. Then drops to his knees before collapsing on his face.

The Mother looks down at the body in horror. Looks up at the Businessman. “You killed him.”

The Businessman stares at the body, uncertainly. He stammers, “He was one of Them.”

“How do you know that?!”

“He looked like one of Them…”

The Mother elbows the Businessman in the gut. He doubles over and his glasses fall to the ground. She steps on them as she runs out of the room.

● ● ●

Back in the lobby, the others are gone.

The Businessman clumsily chases after the Mother, his broken glasses in one hand and his gun in the other. “Angela, wait…”

“You stay the hell away from me.” She backs up against the locked glass doors. Behind her, we see hotel staff members emerge from the darkness of the parking lot. Keeping their distance as they peer in through the glass doors.

The Businessman advances, squinting without his glasses. “I thought he was going to hurt us… he could have hurt us…”

Just off to the side of the lobby, in a waiting lounge… the sudden roar of fire.

A dormant fireplace has lit up with a fresh pile of burning wood.

The Daughter sits in a reclining chair before the fire, numbly staring into the flames. She’s soaking wet.

The Mother rushes to her. “What did they do to you??”

The Daughter speaks with a measured cadence: “I’m all right, mom. Everything’s going to be all right. They want us to stay a little longer.”
Pulses of white light flood through the windows…

● ● ●

The Captain lies alone in his room. Eyes open.

The Flight Attendants lie in their beds. Eyes open.

The Mother and Daughter lie in their bed. Eyes open.

The Businessman in his room. Eyes open.

Staff members emerge from the corners of each room. From closets. From darkness. From the edges of surveillance camera frames. Some emerge from beneath beds. They all wear varying staff uniforms. A longer look at them betrays something that’s not quite right. As if their flesh were a costume that doesn’t fit. Their faces are fixed masks, obscured by shadow.

Some are holding strange operating tools. The curious sound of children’s laughter rises again… but it’s not really children’s laughter after all. It’s the alien sound of their communication. As it grows in volume, it sounds nothing like laughter. It sounds like a nightmare.

The bullet-ridden security guard limps into the Businessman’s room, his back to the camera. He raises a long scalpel and makes an incision in his own forehead. With both hands, he strips the damaged human body off of his frame… revealing a thin, gray creature with spindly limbs.

The figures slowly close in on the hotel guests, who remain in a trance through the entire harvesting operation.

Surveillance cameras black out.

● ● ●

Morning breaks.

The Mother and Daughter sleep soundly as the dog leaps onto the bed and starts licking their faces. They both stir toward consciousness. Well-rested.

The food cart sits beside the bed with a half-eaten burger and a few leftover fries. The television broadcasts a local weather report.

The Daughter turns toward her Mother. “When did we fall asleep last night?”

The Mother smiles and shrugs. “We probably needed the rest.”

The Daughter absently rubs a small scar on her abdomen.

Down in the lobby, everything is exceptionally normal. Some hotel staff calmly replace a broken glass door. The Mother and Daughter drag their suitcases toward the front desk and drop off their key card. The Daughter notices a small bald patch on her dog’s head. “When did you hurt yourself, girl…?”
The Businessman is at the front desk beside them, settling his bill. He adjusts his pristine glasses as he notices the mother and daughter. He nods hello at them but they are in their own world.

They pass by the Captain and Flight Attendants. No one seems to remember or acknowledge each other. They all wear a similar dull, dazed expression as they shuffle toward the exit. This hotel is a way station in the middle of nowhere. No one stays here for longer than one night and a stay here invariably means you’re still a long way from your final destination.

A family of four walks into the hotel lobby, hauling luggage. A young couple and their two young children. By the worn-out expressions on their faces, they look like they’ve been traveling for days without a rest.

The children gravitate toward the circus-themed pinball machine in a corner. They slap the flipper buttons a few times before realizing that the machine is dead.
The parents head to the front desk to check in. A temporary spot to rest, under the protection of strangers.

Original Author: Michael P. Hidalgo

9 Comments on 'Menagerie'

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  • Commented on August 29, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    Very well written, I love this style of writing! Kept me in suspense. Personally, I didn’t like the whole “creature” aspect and I thought the ending was a little unclear. I do like how you circled back around to the beginning though, very nice.

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  • Commented on December 8, 2013 at 12:44 am

    I liked this pasta. It was long and interesting like…nevermind. Anyway, this pasta has deserved a spot in my bookmarks. Very good show my good man.

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  • Commented on September 17, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    Thanks for the kind responses. This was originally supposed to be a treatment for a movie, which is why it reads that way sometimes. I agree, it is a bit too long and grows a little unclear narratively about 3/4 through. I think I could strip it down somewhat. A more spare version could be stronger.

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  • Commented on April 30, 2015 at 8:32 pm

    This would make for a seriously good web series – focus on the different people checking in, odd bits here and there to keep the tension up, then head toward the end where all the characters we’ve grown to know and love fight for their lives. Really great concept.

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  • Commented on August 13, 2013 at 8:57 pm

    Shouldn’t have read this before sleeping :s
    Totally awesome pasta! Keep writing!

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  • Commented on August 15, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    It’s almost like a movie script. And to be honest it isn’t my preferred writing style, but it’s still very good nonetheless! Also leaves a lot of questions for me, maybe I didn’t understand it well enough?

    4/5 Nonetheless

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  • Commented on October 16, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    Great. I did picture this in my head as a movie, also. I liked it.

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  • Commented on February 14, 2015 at 10:50 pm

    that wasn’t scary to me. it was really good tho.

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  • Commented on October 17, 2015 at 1:30 am

    Wow! The story was rather long but it was definitely worth the read! I really hope to read more from you!

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