She stopped in front of the door, clenched her eyes shut and inhaled sharply. She held her breath for a moment and steadily released it from her chest, her worried face morphing into a vivacious smile as she exhaled.
She gently knocked on the door and received no reply. She waited and knocked again this time slightly harder. Still no response from inside. She sighed with relief and turned to leave.
“Just one second!” A man shouted from the other side of the door.
She put her smile back on. She could hear his footsteps on the other side. The glowing red and white fire exit sign to her right caught her eye. Lucy was never able to shake these jitters. She could only accept them as another pitfall of the occupation and do the best she could to mitigate it. Motels like these held strong associations with memories metastasizing in her subconscious. This time something felt different. Her heart was racing, and her chest was heaving. Her body was telling her to escape. She heard the chain lock slide off, and the knob starts to turn it was too late. Small beads of sweat had begun to form on her forehead and she quickly wiped them away.
The door opened, and she had her first introduction with her “gentleman client.” He looked older than her but not by a wide margin. He stood almost a foot taller than her. He looked down at her with narrow bespectacled eyes. His thinning hair was cut into a neat flat top.
“Hello, I’m Jack,” he said warmly.
“Lucy,” she politely replied.
Jack looked her up and down and smiled. “Well Lucy you really don’t disappoint,” he said.
“Heh,” she chuckled nervously.
He invited her inside. She shuddered when the door closed behind her, and the lock snapped shut. It was the point of no return.
She glanced around the room. It was a standard layout. With a bed against the far wall flanked by two lamp bearing night stands. On the other side of the room a small television sitting on top of a low rectangle dresser. The only odd feature was the large mirror behind the tv. The spotless glass surface took up nearly half the wall. She glanced at her reflection and quickly turned away.
She heard the bedsprings condense under Jack’s weight and she shivered.
“Sit down and have a drink with me,” he said.
He popped open a bottle of champagne and poured them each a glass.
“So how long have you been doing this?” He asked in a casual tone.
Lucy hesitated, “For a little while I suppose. May I ask what you do?” she said as she took a sip of the pale gold bubbly.
“I work for the government,” Jack replied before downing his glass in one gulp. “In defense actually.”
“Oh that must be interesting,” she said with a smile.
He put his glass on the nightstand and fell towards her. She was startled but managed to hold onto her drink. His hands tore at the front of her dress, and his tongue started leaving a wet trail up and down her neck.
“Woah Woah just a second please,” she said trying to scoot away. He backed off, and she threw back the glass like a shot and set it to the side. Jack took that as the green light and pounced on her again. She lay back, and he brought his weight down on top of her and buried his face in her neck.
She stared at the whirling ceiling fan. Her eyes rotated in their sockets as they followed a revolving blade.
“Just do your best to escape from the moment,” that was the best advice she’d received so far. Her unblinking gaze seemed to slow the fan’s rotations. Her eyes locked on an individual blade and followed it around and around. Her body pantomimed the motions of lovemaking but her conscious mind was going idle. Muscle memory took control, and she moved without thinking.
Suddenly Jack stopped and lifted himself off her.
“Is something the matter she asked?” as she instinctively fixed her mauled dress.
Jack looked dazed. “I uh just feel a little uh….” he gripped his stomach.
“Are you ok?” Lucy asked.
“I’ll be right back,” Jack blurted as he darted for the bathroom.
He slammed the door shut. Lucy shrugged and continued to fix her dress. After a few minutes, she went over to the other nightstand to refill her champagne glass.
“I don’t think he’ll mind,” she mumbled.
She caught a glimpse of her reflection in the large mirror on the wall, and it captured her attention. She stood and faced the scene that seemed to extend back beyond the borders of the mirror's frame. The polished glass showed her an uncomfortably clear reflection of this moment in her life. Her reflection gazed at her with downcast eyes that somehow didn’t seem to be her own. She hung her head and quickly turned away from the living glass portrait.
She could hear Jack wretching in the bathroom.
“Oh great,” she murmured with a roll of her eyes.
The toilet flushed, and Jack staggered out of the bathroom.
“My face, my face.” he moaned.
“What’s wrong?” Lucy asked alarmed.
“My skin….I think it’s melting.” Jack said hoarsely.
“Your face is melting?” Repeated Lucy.
With trembling legs, Jack walked over to the mirror. He leaned towards into the glass until his faced bumped into the mirror like a bird.
“My face is coming apart,” he whispered.
Lucy stood quietly for a moment. “Should I go?” she asked.
“Shhhh!” said Jack. “This room is breathing.”
“How much have you had to drink?” Lucy asked.
“This room is alive the walls are breathing!” Jack shrieked. “I’ve gotta get back to the bathroom!”
He bolted for the bathroom and again this time he locked the door behind him. Quickly and calmly Lucy put her glass down gathered up her belongings and headed out the door. When she got into the hallway, the room adjacent to Jack’s opened and two men stepped out in front of her.
One was a somewhat stocky middle-aged man with black and pepper hair and a round sun-cracked face. The other was a thin, bald man with a brown mustache.
“Woah, Woah slow down there,” the stocky man said.
“Who are you?” Lucy demanded.
“Just calm down,” the man said gently.
“I’ll scream,” Lucy threatened.
“There’s no need for that.” He assured her.
“Now my name’s Lawrence House this is my colleague Gearold Morris,”
“Nice to meet you,” said Gerald.
Lawrence held out his hand, and Lucy reluctantly took it.
“There now we’re all properly acquainted why don’t you step into our room and let us talk to you for a minute,” Lawrence suggested.
Lucy stepped away. “Oh, I know what you want,” Lawrence said with a friendly grin. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a roll of cash. He pulled a 100 dollar bill from the roll. “Just give us ten minutes,” he said.
A thick cloud of stale cigarette smoke hung in the air. A third man was sitting at a small round table with large headphones plugged into a portable reel to reel recorder. He acknowledged Lucy with a wave and a smile.
Their room had a large mirror on the opposite wall. Lucy looked towards it and didn’t see her reflection. Jack suddenly stumbled into the mirror and Lucy gasped.
“You’re spying on us?! Are you cops? Am I under arrest?” Lucy asked in a quivering voice.
“Don’t worry you’re not in trouble,” Said Gearold.
There were empty whiskey bottles scattered around the room. “What’s going on here?” Lucy demanded.
“Lucy I’m gonna level with you. We’re agents of the US government’s department of defense in DC.” Lawrence explained. “We’re here tonight for reasons of national security. Now I can’t give you all the details, but I assure you any assistance you give us would be greatly appreciated by us and your country.”
Lucy glared silently. “Alright look,” Lawrence sighed. “Here’s another 100 to get back into the room and I’ll give you another when we're done. That’s 300 dollars for doing nothing else but your job.”
“He’s insane though!” Lucy protested. “He thinks his face is melting!”
“Yeah but he’s calmed down,” Lawrence assured her. “Just look at him now.”
They turned and saw Jack’s face inches from the mirror. He was holding a small paper cup of water. He put his fingers into the cup and splashed the mirror with the water on his fingers. His eyes followed the drops they streaked down the glass. A smile broke across his face, and he repeated the process.
“Alright here’s another 100 just please go back in there and pretend it’s just another day at the office,” said Lawrence.
“Well not really the office but you get the point.” Gearold chimed in.
The clandestine voyeurs watched Lucy walk back onto the stage framed by the glass portal. Jack was sitting on the ground now staring intently at the floor. He didn’t acknowledge Lucy right away. He just continued to mutter incoherently about water.
“Are we all children of the ocean?” Jack muttered as he poured a cup of water onto the floor and watched the dampness spread across the carpeting.
“Alright we’re back,” Lawrence said proudly. “Gearold pour me a glass I’m gonna take a piss.”
“Sure thing.” Replied Gearold. “Oh, should we leave what just happened on the record?” He asked.
“Pfft yeah right” scoffed Lawrence.
Lawrence was washing his hands when Gearold started yelling at him through the door.
“Lawrence you gotta hurry up and see this!” Gearold shouted.
Lawrence rushed out of the bathroom. Gearold and the agent monitoring the recording equipment were watching with disbelief as Jack strangled the life out of Lucy on the floor of the room. Her hand was reaching for the mirror.
“Help,” she chocked. “Please help me,”
“Oh shit!” exclaimed Lawrence.
Her eyes rolled up in her head as she clawed at his clasped hands. Blood oozed from her red painted lips and down her chin. Her cheeks flared into a fiery crimson and faded into a dark purple.
“Jesus Christ,” said Lawrence taking a sip of scotch.
She stopped struggling, and Jack rolled off her corpse and began to sob. Lawrence turned and looked at his slack-jawed colleagues.
“Let’s get the hell out of here.”
The spooks packed up, and their recording equipment and left. Housekeeping took care of the rest. The flimsy experiment that resulted in the murder of a young woman was incompletely and incorrectly recorded before being sealed and filed away in a forgotten basement beneath the Pentagon.