‘This is the life,’ Janet said, leaning back in her sun lounger and taking a big swig of her ice-cold beer.
‘Huh?’ her husband, Paul, said, looking over the top of his magazine.
‘I could get used to this.’
He smiled and nodded then went back to his reading. She watched him for a second, then looked away. This trip to the States had been just what the doctor ordered. The holiday had been planned for the following year to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary, but they’d be lucky to reach that milestone the way things had been going recently.
Through raunchy messages on Paul’s Facebook account, her doubts that he had been having an affair with Rachel, his secretary, had been confirmed. This trip was his way of apologising; typical Paul, all flash and no substance. The intention was for them to share some quality time, try to work through their issues. It’d either bring them closer together or blow their marriage apart for good.
Her long blonde hair fell back over her shoulders as she closed her eyes and lifted her face to the sun. A bead of sweat ran down her forehead, cutting through the thick layer of sun cream she’d applied before sitting down by the pool.
Savouring the warmth on her face, she winced as she began to picture Paul and his curvaceous, red-headed secretary at it on his desk for what felt like the thousandth time that week. A noise from by the pool jolted her out of her thoughts and brought her back to consciousness. She ignored the noise, reasoning it was probably just kids messing around.
The noise came again, a pained groan.
She looked up and saw a man with lobster-red skin dragging a teenage girl over to the pool. At first she thought it was just a game – some of the tourists here were forever throwing each other in the pool – but the man had a sadistic grin on his face and the girl seemed genuinely frightened.
The girl’s feet slipped on the wet tiles. She fell, crying out as her arms cracked against the floor. The man changed his plan and instead punched her in the face. The sound reverberated through the still air.
‘Paul, help her,’ Janet said.
Paul looked up from his magazine. The tell-tale tic he got on his right eye when he was frightened or stressed turned up right on cue. A gormless outraged look was plastered over his face but he remained seated. He was a big believer in keeping out of other people’s affairs. Putting your nose in was a good way of getting it broken.
A burly man got up from his sun lounger and made his way across to the stricken girl, whose face was now pale and blood-streaked.
He’s going to help, Janet thought and relaxed.
Instead of helping, the burly man slammed his bare foot into the girl’s midsection. Air exploded out of her. The two sunburnt men grinned as they started to pummel the girl.
Janet didn’t know what to do. She and Paul watched, helpless, as the assault continued. They saw a man with whom they’d made friends get out of his sun lounger. His name was Billy and he was a bouncer from Seattle. He’d help.
Billy ran to the men and shoved one of them forward into the pool, sending water crashing into the air. Billy swung a punch at the other man, hitting him in the back of the head. He jolted forward and turned to face Billy.
Already, more people were getting up. Janet sighed as it looked like the momentary period of stunned inaction was over. An old woman, her skin burnt and leathery, moved over to Billy, a glass beer bottle in her hand.
Billy splattered the first man’s nose across his face with a straight right honed working the doors in Seattle’s roughest nightclub. The old woman darted forwards, moving much quicker than someone her age had a right to, and slammed the bottle into the back of Billy’s head. The glass shattered, adding further wounds to Billy’s battle-scarred scalp and sending blood coursing down over his mangled left ear – a souvenir of his first night on the door when he’d lost his ear lobe to a disgruntled hooker he’d found plying her trade in the cloakroom.
The girl on the floor tried to get up, but the big man slammed his bare foot onto her face. The impact made a horrendous sound.
Billy turned to face his unseen assailant and the old woman thrust the bottle towards him. The jagged glass cut into the skin around his left eye. Billy cried out in dismay as blood poured down his cheek. He’d been glassed before but never as badly as this. The old woman twisted the bottle, a grin of triumph on her face.
A younger woman joined the fray and she grabbed Billy from behind and held him steady so the old woman could continue her work with the bottle. She gouged and twisted until Billy’s eye popped out of the socket and hung down on his cheek.
Despite the agony and terror, Billy found his door experience allowed him to remain calm and think rationally. He cupped one hand to his cheek, trying to save further damage to his eye, and threw a short uppercut that hit the old woman in the gut. She folded like a cheap umbrella and landed on her arse on the tiles.
The burly man continued to stomp on the girl’s face. Each blow of his foot made a horrid cracking sound as the bones shattered. The girl fell still, blood welling from the split in her skull. This didn’t stop him. He stomped again and again until the girl’s head was a bloody pulp beneath his foot.
Billy saw the state of the girl’s head and resolved to get away. The woman behind him still held him tight. He jerked his shaved head back, slamming it into the tip of her chin. He felt her legs buckle and threw her over his hip.
By the time she hit the floor, the first man was climbing out of the pool, water sluicing down his sunburnt skin. He still wore a sadistic grin.
The other man gave one more stomp to the girl’s mangled head then turned his attention to Billy, who by now had realised how much blood was streaming from his eye and onto his pale blue t-shirt.
Janet and Paul were transfixed by the horrid yet compulsive scene. Paul’s right eye was twitching like it was going out of fashion.
A few more holiday makers had now gotten up and seemed to be going to Billy’s aid. One of them pulled at his arm, trying to drag him away from the enraged group.
The man who was trying to help Billy fell after receiving a hard blow to the back of the head. The old woman crawled to him and pinned him to the floor with her weight. He struggled to get out from under her, but she was freakishly strong. Her face contorted into a hideous grin then she plunged the broken bottle into his throat. Blood sprayed up, lending her face an even more insane appearance.
One of the hotel’s barmen ran over, an expression of horror on his face. He picked up one of the heavy bar stools and smashed it into the back of the old woman’s head. She fell forwards.
The sunburnt men turned and leered at the barman. Their movements were perfectly synchronised, like they were two halves of the same person. The barman’s face dropped as he realised the danger in which he had just put himself.
Billy took his chance. With the two men distracted and the women dazed on the floor, he had time to get away. He dived sideways into the pool. The water splashing the men’s backs seemed to make them realise he was escaping. One of them stayed focussed on the barman. The other dived into the pool after Billy.
The rest of the poolside tourists were on their feet now, moving towards the fray. With horror, Janet and Paul noticed that they had the same blank stares and creepy grins.
A grinning old man tackled the barman from behind. He uttered a pained cry as his face hit the tiles. The old man sat on the barman’s back, grabbed his ears and started to smash his face into the tiled floor. The sickening cracks jolted Janet out of her indecision.
A blood-stain appeared on the tiled floor beneath the barman’s face. It grew every time the old man slammed the head down. The barman’s face was a mass of crimson. He cried out, making bubbles in the blood.
Janet and Paul ran from the poolside. Billy climbed out of the pool and followed them, his eye bouncing off his cheek as he ran.
The man who’d followed him into the pool ran a little way in pursuit, but then re-joined the scene by the poolside. The barman’s screams slowly faded as they ran.
‘What the fuck was happening there, man?’ Billy cried out, his voice high-pitched with shock and awe.
‘They’ve gone crazy,’ Janet said, shutting and locking the door to her hotel room.
‘I’ll say,’ Billy said. ‘My eye’s fucking killing me.’
‘You need to get that seen to,’ Paul said, ever the voice of reason. His know-it-all tone made Janet wonder what had happened to the reckless daredevil she’d fallen for back in high school.
‘I’d rather not go out there till everything’s died down,’ Billy said. Blood still dripped from his eye socket like crimson tears.
A cry from outside the door made them all start. Paul slowly approached the door and looked through the spyhole. He saw a young boy run past, panic hewn into his features. The kid left a trail of bloody footprints behind him. A few seconds later a woman ran past. She wore the blank expression of the crazy people they’d seen by the pool.
Before Billy or Janet could ask what he was doing, Paul had picked up a sturdy lamp from the chest of drawers and hauled the door open.
‘There’s a young lad out there. I can’t let him get hurt,’ Paul said.
‘But, you can’t go out—’ Billy began, but Paul had gone.
Billy darted to the door, quietly pushed it shut and locked it before Janet had chance to go after her husband.
‘We’ve got to help him,’ Janet said, her fear of the maniacs temporarily overriding her anger towards her husband.
‘We can’t risk our lives just cos he’s being fuckin’ stupid.’
Janet opened her mouth to argue but saw the logic of what he was saying. She sat down, her hands fiddling with the hem of her shorts, and tried not to look at the savage wound on Billy’s face.
Doing his best to keep to the shadows, Paul followed the trail of bloody footprints that led to the right of the room. Distant cries echoed from all around the hotel complex. He didn’t know why the hell he had decided to do this – he was no fighter. Just the thought of fighting flooded him with nausea. Janet would have had more chance out here than him, at least she read books about serial killers so she’d have a vague idea how to kill someone.
He pushed this thought out of his mind.
The lamp’s weight felt reassuring in his hand, but it soon felt lighter when his heart started to thud in his ears.
He ducked into the shadows beneath the stairway as a man ran past. With a shudder, Paul noticed the blood that dripped from the man’s hands. The sooner he found the kid and got back to the room the better.
He gave it a few seconds longer, to ensure the man with the bloody hands had definitely gone, then broke cover again. The trail of footprints made him despair; if he could use them to follow the boy, then so could the psychotic people he’d seen by the pool.
He was just about to turn back, thinking that there was no hope for the kid and that he was just going to get himself hurt, when he heard a whisper off to his left. He turned to see a small, pale hand waving from the darkness of an open doorway. Looking over both shoulders, he cautiously moved over. He recognised the owner of the hand as being the boy he had seen in the spyhole.
Putting a finger to his own lips to shush Paul, the kid beckoned him forward. Paul squatted beside him in the darkness, wincing when his knees cracked.
The woman he’d seen in the spyhole moved into Paul’s field of vision. Behind her, Paul could see the dim outlines of more blood-soaked people. He put his hand over his mouth, trying to control his breathing. The kid’s eyes were wide and he looked like he was going to pass out. Paul knew the feeling.
The woman sniffed the air curiously. Blood was matted into her hair. Her teeth seemed extra white compared to the crimson that seemed to cover the rest of her face.
The lad realised that the woman had seen them a second before Paul did. He tugged on Paul’s arm, leading him further into the darkened room. The smell of refuse filled the air. Flies buzzed around their heads. The woman darted forward, managing to get her head and shoulders through the door before Paul’s stunned body could move to slam it shut.
She let out a cry that chilled Paul’s blood and sent the tic on his right eye into overdrive.
Through the filthy windows set into the side of the garbage room they could see the outlines of more people. The kid seemed to know where he was going and he pointed to a door at the far end of the room.
Paul’s eyes quickly followed the boy’s pointing finger then flicked back to the woman. She was snarling at him like a rabid dog, spittle flying from her jaws as they gnashed the air between them.
Paul froze. He had absolutely no idea what to do. Distant memories of being challenged outside the pub by Janet’s ex-boyfriend flashed into his mind. That time his fear-induced paralysis had earned him a week-long stay in hospital. Now, he feared the outcome was going to be much more severe.
The woman darted forward. Her hands splayed out, her sharp fingernails scoring furrows in Paul’s chest. The pain made him react. The lamp seemed to move by itself, flying through the air towards the woman’s head. It met her forehead with a meaty thud, sending a strangely satisfying jolt up Paul’s arm. She wobbled but didn’t go down.
Paul’s whole body shook, particularly his arm. His eyes felt like they were going to pop out of their sockets. With presence of mind he didn’t know he had, he swung the lamp again. This time the sturdy metal base connected with the woman’s temple. Her legs buckled, dumping her on the floor.
She let out a low moan and started crawling along the floor towards them.
Paul’s nerve broke and he ran to the door where the kid was trying to undo the bolt.
He pulled the deadbolt with a strength born from terror. It squealed as it unlocked. Paul booted the door open, letting the sunlight into the dim outhouse. The woman was already struggling to her feet.
Paul grabbed the kid by the arm and ran out into the light.
All around them they saw the crazy people. Some of them were busy satisfying their bloodlust; a teenage girl was slamming a door on an old man’s legs, a grinning child pounded a lump of paving stone into a bloody mass that had once been a human head, a man in blood-spattered chef’s clothes gleefully plunged a knife into the chest of one of his porters, while others searched for their victims. All of them stopped and looked up when Paul and the boy emerged from the outhouse.
‘Run,’ Paul said.
A rock crashed into the wall beside them as they took off. Paul’s legs propelled him faster than he’d ever run. The kid matched his pace. Paul risked a glance behind him and saw that a few of the crazies were pursuing them. They moved startlingly fast.
Paul and his young companion spun to the right into the corridor that led to the hotel room. The sounds of running footsteps and heavy breathing echoed all around them. As they moved onto the last stretch before the room, a man lunged out of the shadows by the stairwell, knocking them both flying. They bounced off the wooden wall of one of the rooms and the kid tripped over.
The man was on him, his hands gripping the boy’s arm with a force that turned his knuckles white. Paul moved forward and smashed the lamp into the man’s mouth, splintering his front teeth. He let out a cry of dismay and his grip loosened. It was all they needed. The kid ripped his arm free and set off, dragging Paul along with the force of his movement.
Paul brayed on the door to the room.
‘Janet, it’s me. I found the boy. Open up there are shitloads of them out here!’
He looked around and saw the blood-spattered chef running full pelt towards him. The knives in his beefy hands were thick with gore.
Paul slammed his fists on the door again. ‘Janet,’ he screamed, no longer caring if all of the nutters could hear him. ‘Open the fucking door. Please.’
The chef drew closer, the whites of his eyes showing. He wore a grin that Paul would see in his nightmares, assuming, of course, that he survived. The chef raised the knives, making blood slide down the blades. Paralysed by his fear of the madman sprinting towards him, Paul closed his eyes and prepared for the end.
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