She lay her head on his broad chest and tried not to think of his wife. He fiddled with her soft, auburn hair and stared at the grey wall ahead. She hoped that he wasn’t already thinking of elsewhere and other things. Apart from their breathing the room was quiet. The sunlight shone through the curtains, outlining them in a haze of grey. It was she who interrupted the silence. She always – despite wanting to keep him – opened her mouth and sent him away.
“What time do you have to get back?”
“Soon, I guess. I’ve got to go to the office to pick up some stuff, and then – well, I think there’s plans later.”
“We can stay a while longer, though.”
She’d learnt to love and hate at exactly the same time. She was still pressed naked into him, but was filled with such quiet rage. She knew it was pointless articulating it. The afternoon would just end badly – screaming, yelling, him storming off. Undoubtedly she’d think she was right in that moment, but tomorrow she’d crumble and call him. Even though she was the person wronged, she’d end up bearing the guilt, offering the apology. And so she stayed silent, hidden away with him on a sunny afternoon. Lovers, friends – looking forward to a quickie and another goodbye.
There was a grunt behind them, female and sexual. They both stared at the bare wall beyond the headboard, as if they’d be able to peer through it.
“Looks like someone has the same idea we do,” he said.
“That’s what hotels this cheap are for, darling. Anybody checked in now is busy humping.”
The woman next door cried again. A high pitched yelp, enjoying the most pleasurable pain.
“Do I sound like that?” she asked.
It was one of their jokes that the little moans she’d thought were contained in her head were actually loud and projected.
“No.” He laughed. “Yours are more prolonged.”
The woman next door yelped again.
“I wonder what he’s doing to her,” she said.
“How do you know it’s a he?”
“Oh, don’t do that,” she said. “Please keep your adolescent thoughts to yourself – please. Let’s assume it’s a man and a woman. Do you hear anything except her? I don’t. I can’t even hear the mattress, and if they’d been next door while we were doing it they’d certainly have heard the mattress.”
“Maybe their mattress is better.”
“Oh, come on, how many times have we been to this dump? Have we ever had a good mattress? Do you really believe that theirs is the only good mattress and they’re hiding it from us?”
“It’s the best I can afford, babe,” he said. “It’s the most I can spend without – ” he always hesitated to say his wife’s name “ – noticing.”
The woman cried again and then gave a quick, harsh sigh.
She raised her head from his chest and studied that wall hard. “Are we sure she’s okay?”
“She’s fine,” he said.
“That didn’t sound like she was having fun.” She was whispering now.
He whispered back with a smirk tacked on. “Maybe that’s just how she sounds. Maybe it’s S and M and he’s tied her up in some ridiculous position. Maybe he’s stubbing cigarettes out on her. I’m sure she’s fine and enjoying it and is a consenting party.”
The next cry was long, the clear sound of pain in her larynx. It shuddered the wall. There was a gasp, where she tried to draw air to the base pit of her lungs, then another elongated scream.
“She’s fine and enjoying it and is a consenting party?” She asked.
He was staring over his shoulder, concern now on his face. Carefully he let go of her and for once she didn’t try to hold onto him. She watched as he picked up the glass from the bedside table and placed it to the wall.
There was a careful minute when he stood at the wall, trying to hear the happenings of the next room. Finally he let go and stepped back. He smiled at her, handsome and reassuring.
“Whatever’s going on,” he said, “it’s stopped.”
Her next cry was awful. The word “No!” ripped from her stomach and dragged out long and horrifically lingering.
Startled, he dropped the glass and it shattered on the floor. He leapt to the bed, to save his naked feet from the broken shards. His arms clutched her. One hand carefully around her waist, the other jammed over her mouth.
The two of them sat there, wrapped into each other, desperate to not even breathe. His pulse was pounding its fear in to the skin of her cheek; her heartbeat was careering furiously in her throat. Both seemed way too loud.
There was a step in the next room, shuffling and light, so they could only just pick out the sound.
At least she thought it was a step at first.
She tried to concentrate on it over the exaggerated beating of her heart, but it was weird, it was frightening. The sound she was hearing was wrong. Like whoever was in there was – no, whatever was in there, wasn’t walking on two feet, but instead dragging itself to the wall.
Whatever was next door with that poor woman, didn’t sound like a man or a woman. It didn’t sound human at all.
It didn’t gently place its head there, but instead smacked itself into the other side of the wall. Making sure that – if there was anybody in their room – they knew it was listening.
Trembling now, she thought she could hear breathing in the next room. An incredible, rasping, angry breath.
They didn’t know how long they sat like that – listening to being listened to.
Through blurry eyes she could see him blinking as if bottling up his own tears. He acted like he was everyone’s friend, approachable and happy to talk about anything. But she knew him well enough now to understand that he was expert in concealing his emotions. It’s what made him so good at deceit.
Neither of them was sure they heard it creep away from the wall. The step was too light, too delicate. They only knew – absolutely knew – the next time the woman screamed.
“Be quiet,” he whispered. “If I let you go, please don’t make any noise.”
She nodded and he slipped his hand from her mouth. Her gaze turned to him and sailed over his feet, he grabbed his hand back to her mouth just as she was about to scream. His toe was sliced open and blood was seeping across the white sheets.
“It’s okay,” he whispered. “It’s just a cut. That’s all. It doesn’t hurt, it’s not going to kill me. Please don’t make any sound. You can’t make any sound. He can’t know we’re here.”
The woman’s next cry ended in a whimper, her strength ebbing away. They heard her sob, weep in pain and fear. There was a slap and then silence.
He let her go and sat back against the headboard, clutching a pillow case to his toe.
“What are we going to do?” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Ring the front desk,” she said. “Tell them. Get them to come up and stop it.”
“Yeah.” He picked up the phone. “Surely somebody else must have done this. It’s so loud. How can we be the only people to hear it?”
“How many people do you think are in this shithole?” she asked. “If it’s only us and there’s no one in that corridor then we have to do it – please.”
There was another cry, the longest yet. It got choked in her throat, like she was being made to swallow it back down.
“Hello. Hello. Hello.” he said. He pushed the receiver down a couple of times and said “Hello” again in his loudest possible whisper.
He looked at her. “It’s not working.”
There were a series of yelps – short, sharp articulations of suffering.
Eyes wide, she pushed herself as far away from the noise as she could. He stayed by the wall, one hand with the pillow to his foot, the other holding that broken telephone.
“What are we going to do?” he asked.
“We have to go to the front desk, call the police – save her.”
He stared at her. “I don’t know if I can do that.”
“If we call the police we can’t just slip away before they get here, we’ll have to be here when they arrive.”
“We can just send the front desk up here,” he said. “We’ll check out, tell them something is happening next door and get them to come up.”
“But they might not do it straightaway. She’s going to die in there. We have to get the police.”
The woman whimpered, as if being touched by something dreadful.
He sat on the bed, still with the phone, still with the pillow, his eyes squeezed tight, as if trying to shut out the real world.
“If we get the police we have to stay and talk to them,” he said.
“We’ll have to give our real names. We can’t be Mr and Mrs Smith anymore.”
He hesitated. “Mary will find out.”
“What?” She stared at him, appalled.
Gingerly he put his foot to the floor, gazing nervously at the old beige carpet in case he pierced it down onto broken glass.
“Don’t you see?” he whispered. “I’ve got to think of that. It can’t get out, us being in this hotel. I’d lose everything. I have to think of that – we have to think of that.”
“What?” she said. “That woman is going to die!”
“Not if we work fast. I’ll check out, you run to the phone box. They’ll never identify us – never. She’ll still be alive and we’ll be okay too.”
There was another scream, then another, then another. It sounded like she was being ripped apart at the throat.
“No.” she said. “We can’t do that.”
She got up and started to swiftly – clumsily – put her trousers back on.
“I’m going to run down and tell them,” she said. “I’m going to get them to come up, call the police. Can’t you hear her? We have to stop it now.”
She started to fumble with her blouse.
He lunged across the glass at her.
She staggered backwards away from his grasp to the wall
It was with a grunt of sheer frustration that he dropped back to the bed.
“What the fuck are you doing?” she cried.
“Let me go first,” he said. “Let me get out of here. I’m sorry, but it’s got to be this way. I can’t be caught here.”
“She’s going to die! Is your wife so important you’d put her above this?”
There was another scream, the most tortured yet. A scream that grabbed hold of their innards and yanked them around. It was drawn out, terrifying – final.
He clutched his hands to his head, tears blinding his eyes.
“Oh no!” he cried.
And they heard that step again – the light, shuffling step – and simultaneously they realised how loud their voices had become.
They looked at each other – too scared to scream, whisper or breathe – just nervous eyeballs peering at nervous eyeballs, a trembling apparent on both their skins.
The step moved away from the wall and they heard that room’s door open. The corridor had thicker carpet and it was harder to make out its movement, but they knew which way it was coming.
He sat on the bed – naked, shivering, bleeding.
She stood, half-dressed, tears running down her petrified face. They waited, apart.
It – whatever it was – lingered for a moment in the empty corridor. Beyond that was a deserted staircase and floor after floor of vacant rooms. The lobby was a long way down, too far for anybody to hear anything.
There were three heavy knocks on their hotel room door.
Meet the Author:
Husband, father, author and man who seems capable of holding seven streams of nonsense in my mind at any one moment. I’ve written two novels of supernatural fiction, The Wannabes and Hell’s Secrets. This year I've also published two lengthy short stories, and The Strange Fate of Lord Bruton, while most recently I've released a collection of disturbing, claustrophobic fiction, entitled Confined Spaces. Adultery is the first story in that collection. I blog most days and you can find me at: