|My eyebrows bunched together as I compared the hotel to its brochure.
"Talk about a bait-and-switch…" I grumbled. I had been expecting a cheerful white-bricked building with a charming growth of green ivy twisting around the balconies. Instead, the bricks were covered in a sooty grime and the vines were withered and black.
"Take yer bags, sir?"
I tried not to flinch as the bellhop reached for my suitcase with skeleton-like hands.
"Uh, I wasn't sure about staying," I admitted, taking another look at the hotel and wrinkling my nose.
"Yous the one ta win the contest, ain't'cha?"
I glanced at the bellhop's name tag, "Well, yes, Mr. Cadavre," With a startled cough I shuffled back a step, "Cadavre?"
Mr. Cadavre grinned and flicked his name tag with one long, dirty finger, "It's French. And if yer here to claim yer prize then ye'll hafta come inside."
Biting my lower lip, I gave the building another skeptical look, "I guess I shouldn't judge a book by its cover…"
"Very good, sir," Cadavre winked, "Now if ye'd be so kind as ta let me do me job?"
With an embarrassed chuckle I relinquished my hold on the suitcase and followed the bellhop past the dilapidated front doors.
Inside, the old rugs were worn and tattered. The paneled walls were cracked and cobwebs stretched across the bowing ceiling.
"Welcome Mr. Blaze! Welcome to The Dragon Hotel!" The manager bounced out from behind the front desk and held out a pudgy hand. I tried not to stare at his flowing black cape as he gave my fingers an enthuastic squeeze.
He rolled his eyes and pressed a hand to his chest, "Oh, where are my manners? My name is Mr. Reaper and I own this marvelous hotel."
His dark eyes fixed on mine and I smiled weakly.
"It's, um, very…unique," I gulped, "But…"
"I've had Mr. Cadavre take your bag to your room," Reaper interrupted, "We have a lovely room overlooking the graveyard for you."
"That sounds, uh, very nice but…"
"Here's your key," Reaper grinned, "I've put you in room six."
I took the key and let it dangle between my fingers, "Mr. Reaper, I think…I think there's been a mistake."
Reaper frowned, "I don't think so, Mr. Blaze. We at The Dragon Hotel strive to be perfect in every way."
My eyes darted to the peeling wallpaper and back to his flabby face, "Be that as it may," I cleared my throat to keep a nervous laugh from bubbling up, "I don't think I'm supposed to be here. Or, rather, I think I've come to the wrong place."
I pulled out the brochure and laid it on the desk. Smoothing down a bent corner, I tapped the name on the brochure.
"See, I won a free stay at this hotel…not yours."
Mr. Reaper tugged the brochure out from under my sweaty fingers and squinted at it. With a laugh, he flicked it back to the desk.
"Hotel Celestia? No, no, no. You, sir, were invited here."
Reaper shook his head, "There must have been a mix-up somewhere. Though I can assure you the mistake wasn't made on our end."
"I should've known it was too good to be true," I sighed and set the key on the desk next to the brochure, "Look, I'll just grab my bag and get out of your hair. This wasn't what I expect…"
"Why, my dear Mr. Blaze," Reaper sneered, "You can't leave."
"Wha…what do you mean?" Chills ran up and down my spine as Reaper laid a hand on my shoulder.
"This is the hotel for the dead," Reaper patted my back sympathetically, "There's nowhere else for you to go."
"That's impossible!" I shouted, "What kind of sick joke is this?"
Reaper gestured toward an old, tired looking computer. He rested his fat fingers on the keyboard and raised an eyebrow.
"Rupert Blaze? Born February fourth, nineteen seventy-two?"
"Yeah?" I swallowed past a sudden lump in my throat.
"Says here," Reaper tapped the screen, That you died December twenty-first, in two thousand seventeen."
"Yesterday? I died yesterday? That…that can't be right!"
Reaper sighed and clicked the computer mouse, "Says you slipped off your roof while installing Christmas lights…"
"That shouldn't have killed me!" I interupted.
"…and was electrocuted by a faulty wire on your way down," Reaper continued.
"This isn't real," I whispered.
"Records indicate you were taken to Faith Memorial Hospital…"
I darted for the door, nearly tripping over a rug in my haste to escape. Rain started pouring as I ran for my life. Chest heaving, I flung open Faith Memorial's doors and darted inside.
"Nurse," I licked my lips, feeling ridiculous, "Is there a…a Rupert Blaze here?"
I waved a hand in front of her face when she appeared to ignore me.
"Miss?" I tried again before slamming my hands on the counter, "Miss!"
She couldn't hear me. My heart raced as I realized she couldn't see me, either. Taking off down the hall I searched every room until I found my body hiding in the hospital's morgue.
"There you are!" I sighed in relief, "Now how do I get back in there…?"
I tried jumping into my shell but I slipped right back out. An eternity passed as I attempted to bring myself back to life. Eventually I had to face the cold, hard facts. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain."