It was hours after midnight and the night had been ghastly from the start. I stumbled on my way to the casino, my feet slipping in the slushy snow. After too many scotches my vision was blurry, all I could see were fat flakes of snow falling before me, and then out of nowhere, the silhouette of a man. A tall dark figure standing what looked like a mile away. I couldn’t make out his face, but the similarities to the man who haunts my dreams were too exact. My mind was bombarded with flashbacks. I fell to the floor, confused and in pain. I could feel the alcohol crystallizing every cell in my body, my head hitting the floor against the cold, wet concrete. Light-headed, I look up at the figure that is now appearing closer to me. I did what anyone else would have done, I tried to get up and run. I didn’t get far until I fell again, when I got up the second time, I ran like what felt faster than I’ve ever ran before.
The night was as dark as a yawning grave, and quiet like a husband should be during an argument. That was something my mother used to tell me, I never really understood it. There was no one for miles. It was like a deserted battlefield, cold and dead silent. I felt alienated from my surroundings, like I was invisible. The trees suffered from the weight that the snow brought upon them, the idea of them crashing was like a certainty. Moments later, a tall pine tree fell before me. The ice was slippery, it was hard to keep momentum without falling. I kept on running, struggling to keep myself off the ground. Finally, after what seemed like hours, I stood before an entrance to what looked like a hotel. I almost fell into the ornate metal gates that sat closed before a long winding driveway. There was a sign saying ‘Welcome to the Grand Hotel Casino’.
I turned around looking for my hooded shadow, but there was no one. With a powerful push, I swung open the gates. I was alone. I felt relief spread through my heart and into my veins until they reached my fingertips. The casino was a massive building. Gothic in style. There was one security guard but he didn’t seem to mind me. I bust open the door to the casino, as the cold finally caught up to me. I was in awe, dumbfounded, studying every detail around me. The lights, the music, the laughter, it was beautiful. It was as if I opened the door to find myself in the 1920s.
Before I reached the reception, a tall thin woman with an exquisite physique approached me.
“Oh sweetheart, you look dreadful,” she said. She spoke with a foreign accent, French, I assume. “Long night,” I replied politely, trying to ignore the unintentional insult. “How long are you thinking of staying here?”
“Just for tonight, I live a bit far.” She looked at me, full of excitement, she put her arm in mine and led me towards the elevator. “This place is ridiculously expensive, especially if you’re only staying the night. My boyfriend had to fly home for the day and should be back in the morning. You can take his bed.” I hesitated for a second, trying to find a response, “I don’t even know your name,” I said spontaneously. She looked at me and smiled, “It’s Fleur.” I usually wouldn’t accept this kind of offer, especially not from a stranger, but something about her felt safe, it was probably her accent.
She brought me up to her room and gave me a change of clothes. I was skeptical, paranoid by her sudden hospitality. She gave me a red-velvet dress with a slit coming down my thigh, the neckline just above my chest, paired with black Valentino stilettos. She curled my hair and adjusted it with what felt like golden hair clips. I listened to her quick breaths as they brushed against my ear, her heartbeat was fast, she was scared. I sat back asking myself what she is scared of, or who? Whatever it was, it scared her enough to feel safer in a complete stranger’s presence.
She put her arm in mine and led me down the stairs. Her arm was shaking, I held onto it tightly and smiled at her, I wanted her to feel safe with me. It was a grand stairway, replicas of Michelangelo and Da Vinci framed in elegant gold, scarlet carpeting reaching all the way to the entrance. I placed my hand on the handlebar to feel its glossy surface, I followed it all the way down to the entrance of a grand hall. In front of me, a colossal curtain transcended above me. It was decorated with a simple maroon floral pattern. A man dressed in a tuxedo with a matt black bowtie approached the curtain and lifted it open for us to enter. There it was again. The dresses, the dice, the money, the wheels, the cards, the drinks, the darts, it was like a black and white movie came to life with colour.
Fleur leaned closer to me and tilted her head so her lips were next to my ear, “You’ve stolen the crowd’s eyes.” I slowly glanced around the room, she was right, everyone was staring at me. One man that caught my attention. A sudden shiver crawled up my spine, my eyes followed him around the room until his met mine. He grinned and finished his drink, not breaking eye contact, he came closer. My heart jolted as I recognized his face, it couldn’t be. He slowed down about 3 meters away from me and held his hand out. “Care to join me for a walk?”
I couldn’t move. All I could hear were the sounds of my parents’ voices from that night. Flashbacks of the most traumatic night of my life cascaded through my mind…
“Nasconditi dolcezza al piano di sopra, verrò a trovarti” is the last thing my dad said to me. I remember his eyes filling up with tears as he kisses my forehead. I ran up to the attic, I’d never been allowed up there, it was dark, and creepy, I felt as if I wasn’t alone. It started to get hot, the type of heat you’d feel if you stood too close to a fire. And that’s when I saw them, murderous flames burning their way through the trap door. I tried escaping, but there were no exits, I was trapped, and as my vision drifted, I saw him. A tall dark figure submerging through the flames, all I could make out was a wicked grin he had on his face and a tattoo on his arm as he turned around, and walked away.
The rest of the night was a blur, but I can remember their screams. The screams of pain coming from my parents as their flesh melted off their bones, you could almost feel the excruciating pain they suffered. All I remembered was waking up at the hospital with all sorts of wires and cables connected to me. I had an oxygen mask attached to my face, I felt stiff and irritated. I looked down in agonizing pain to find my body covered in bandages. By the pitiful facial expressions the doctors carried as they walked into my room, I knew they were gone. “You were lucky last night, not many would have survived the events that happened to you. God blessed you with a miracle and you only came out of there with many first and a few second degree burns.” I couldn’t really understand what he was talking about. All I could think about was how I was never going to see my parents again.
I stood there in awe, I felt hatred firing up inside of me as I stared at his face. As if the flames that almost killed me were surfacing on my skin, ready to pounce with violence. The man who killed my parents, who almost killed me, was standing right infront of me, completely clueless as to who I am. Anyone’s first instinct would have been to call the police, but I had a different idea in mind…
I looked at his cold dark eyes, searching for a small shred of humanity in him. He looked… empty; no happiness, no fear, no sadness or joy, completely emotionless. I forced a smile and took hold of his hand, “I’d love to.”
He took me outside into the gazebo, you couldn’t make out a shred of colour, everything was covered in thick layers of pillow like snow. However, across the garden, the only spot of colour that was visible for miles appeared to be a small pool house. The house itself wasn’t at all big, but it was vibrant; decorated with yellow Christmas lights and covered with gorgeous red poinsettias, red and white rose bushes surrounding it frozen to the core. I felt drawn to it, an unexplainable and indescribable pull that was forcing me towards it. I led the man towards the house. It was made of oak wood, the same kind that my old house was built with. The door had almost identical carvings to the ones that my old front door was covered with. It was like fate. I knew what I wanted to do, what I had to do. I had to get my revenge. “It’s cold out here, what if we sit inside.” I turned to the man who was already in front of me holding the door open for me.
The house consisted of two small rooms, the storage room and a small bedroom. I assumed a member of the staff lived here in the summer. It was nothing extravagant, a small double bed with a bar next to it. Before I could sit down, the man was already holding out two glasses. Behind him was a bottle of Moet & Chandon champagne. I was pretty familiar with this champagne, and as he handed me my glass, I immediately recognized the smell. It smelled off, it had an extra scent. Didn’t take me too long to figure out what it was, rohypnol.
I waited until he put his glass on the table in front of me, “Interesting painting there, isn’t it?” He looked at the wall behind us giving me a chance to switch the glasses. He agreed. I attempted giggling to make it seem like I had the right glass, I sounded quite stupid. But I didn’t have to keep it up for long, within 20 minutes he was out. Amazing how quickly a man can put a girl to sleep, pretty disgusting really.
I get my coat and head to the bar. “3 bottles of Bourbon please,” the waiter looked at me with astonishment, as if a girl couldn’t drink all that without killing herself. It was probably true, but I wasn’t in the mood to take offense. I hid the bottles in my coat and walked towards the exit, I was suddenly interrupted. Fleur ran to me almost in tears, “Oh thank goodness you’re alright! I was beginning to think something horrible happened to you,” she hugged me tight and felt bottles under my coat. I tried to get away, but she wouldn’t let me. I couldn’t waste another minute, so I told her everything.
I wasn’t about to let Fleur change my mind, so before she could respond, I was already out of the door. I ran to the pool house and started soaking the wood in the spirit, Fleur came up behind me with 2 more bottles, “If we’re gonna do this, we can’t get caught. 20 minutes from now, room service will be at our door so nobody suspects us, so I suggest we get moving.” She starts dunking the liquor everywhere, inside and out. We both looked at each other as I held a lit match in my hand, “Questo è per te, mamma e papà. Vi amo.” We watched as the match fell, and I stood there as the house went up in flames. For once in my life, I felt free. All the pain and fear I had felt since that night, all gone. Everyone tells you to face your fears, I suggest you kill them instead. I never knew why this man wanted revenge on my parents, what they could have done to set him off the edge like that, but I do know that whatever it was, he got exactly what he deserved.
-Gabriela de Bellegarde
Written in the style of Raymond Chandler