Deus Ex Machina Ch. 03: Sheabyfieryjen©
Chapter 03: Shea
"Room 147. It's right up those stairs. Take a left at the end of the corridor. Here's your key. Enjoy your stay."
The lines came out of Shea's mouth automatically by now, her delivery monotone as she let the slightly bent key ring fall into the outstretched hand of her customer. The edge of her hand brushed his thumb for a moment, making her pull her hand away hastily. The mid-thirties man, dressed in jeans and a leather jacket, peered at her for a moment, making Shea cross her arms before her chest instinctively. The semi-darkness of the lobby did nothing to dispel the air of creepiness that surrounded the man, and Shea was glad when he finally turned to the pretty young girl who had come in with him, grabbing her by the arm and walking off in the direction of the stairs Shea had pointed him to. The girl looked nervous, but not scared, and Shea dismissed all thoughts of the two of them as they left the lobby, leaning back into her chair and shuddering, trying to shake off the uncomfortable feeling that had befallen her.
There had been a time when she had worked here that she had actually put a certain amount of effort into her work. When she had meant the last line she told every incoming guest before she handed them their key, and given them a smile. It seemed so long ago now, as if this had been another era, gone by forever. Shea had since lost the illusion that she could make a difference in a person's day, that anyone who checked in here actually cared.
Just like the world outside. Shea wasn't sure how she had been able to miss the fact that the city was a corrupt hell until a few months ago, but only after Anna's death had she really noticed how little anyone cared to investigate the murky depths of this society to solve her murder. Discouragement and outright hostility had met her at every step, and she hadn't been able to stop the authorities from ruling Anna's death a suicide and closing the case. Shea had been frustrated, enraged and hurt. No one in the world knew Anna better than her, and even though they hadn't seen each other in some time, she knew that her sister would never, under any circumstances, consider killing herself. The circumstances of her death had been suspicious even with the phony psychological assessment.
Shea caught herself playing with the bracelet on her right wrist, as she often did when she thought of her sister. Staring into a dark corner of the lobby, she could only too well see Anna's face giving her a pleading look from the afterlife, asking her not to give up on figuring out what really happened to her. And she would. Anna had been the only family she had ever known, they had been each other's keepers all the way through their childhood. Anna, who had always been the more energetic, lively of the twins, green eyes sparkling and long blond hair flying as she moved. She had been one of those girls that disliked being still for any amount of time, instead hugging and running and laughing and jumping every moment of her waking hours. Even when she slept, there was an unusual amount of activity in Anna's face, a slight twitching of the mouth, or a fluttering of the eyelashes. When Shea had been asked to identify Anna's body, looking at her through a window in the bare wall, the realization of how still Anna was had struck her at once, and it had been the moment when she had truly realized her sister was dead.
Shea blinked, and the eerie image of Anna's body behind the glass disappeared. She shuddered once more, fighting the goosebumps that had formed on her skin. She wasn't much of a believer in ghosts and the like, but this dark, gloomy place could put her imagination into overdrive.
Half an hour later, Shea said goodbye to the girl who had the next shift and let herself out of the side door that existed behind the counter. It was faster to get home this way than to walk around half the block, even though it brought her straight into one of the more disreputable looking back alleys of the city. Trash was piled up high on both sides of the narrow street, and small animals whose nature Shea had no desire to know about scurried away as she approached. The alley itself was filthy, dark and cold, and Shea pulled her coat tighter around her body so she wouldn't freeze while she tried to pick her way without stepping into one of the puddles of undefined liquid that graced the asphalt.
She almost ran right into him. It was a very slight movement that alerted her to his presence to her immediate right, a shadow that didn't stay put like it was supposed to. She jumped, moved hastily to the left and stepped directly into one of the deeper puddles. When he grabbed her arm and refused to let her move, she screamed, not caring any longer about the disgusting feeling of her sock being soaked with wetness. A hand promptly closed over her mouth, and her body was pulled to the right and pressed against the closest wall.
For a few long seconds, she was sure she would die. Anna's death so fresh in her mind, the stong smell of blood that was suddenly in her nose and this dark stranger with his body pressed against hers panicked her. At the same time though, she was rigid with fear, as if some unknown force had wrapped itself tightly around her, and she was unable to struggle or even breathe as the stranger pressed himself even closer to her body, his dark eyes searching for something in hers. She could feel a finger carefully tracing the features of her face, brushing over a strand of her long hair.
Then, suddenly, she was able to move again, and the air came rushing into her lungs as the dark figure in front of her suddenly let her go. Shea closed her eyes for a second and fought the dizziness that was taking over her head, and when she looked up again, the stranger was gone. She leaned against the wall at her back once more, relieved, although still terrified. She had no idea what had caused the incident that had just happened, or why the stranger had let go of her. She did know though, that her path wouldn't take her through the back alley again any time in the near future.