Vladimir stopped. The bright light hurt his eyes, and for a moment he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He stood in the bedroom doorway, a sudden shock, a paralyzing fear glued his feet to the floor. Bile rose in his throat; his head spun.
The first thing he saw was the woman. A table had been pulled to the middle of the room, a large round table with ornately carved legs, and the woman was strewn across it, completely naked, her arms and legs splayed out as though she’d been crucified. Elaborate patterns had been carved into her skin; concentric circles across her arms and shoulders and strange symbols – what looked like some ancient language – across her breasts and abdomen. The wounds were still fresh; blood welled up and dripped from her body to the floor. Her head lolled to one side, her eyes stared up and out into nothing. Her mouth was open, but her ample breasts were still; no breath escaped her lips.
He could tell within a glance that she was dead.
Around the room were the remains of an elaborate ceremony. Black candles on the floor circled the table; several had been knocked over, all were extinguished. Ash and soot was everywhere – somehow smeared across the walls and covering the countertops in the attached kitchenette. The hotel paintings had been torn down and something had been written on the walls, some great symbol or map or chart. It looked as though it had been drawn by hand, some horrific finger-painting with red paint or wine or…
Vladimir felt his knees go weak, felt himself fall, but he was disconnected. His mind was slowly giving up, unable to process his surroundings. His hand reached out on its own accord to catch him, but he did not feel it. His fingers reached out but did not grasp, and he fell to his knees. Memories came flooding back to him, images flashed before his eyes like sparks from a flame. He lurched and twisted, the shock to his mind was like a physical blow. His arms stretched out before him, barely holding him off the floor and finally he saw, above his forearms where he’d washed minutes earlier, crimson stains across his elbows and upper arms. He looked down at himself in horror. He was covered in blood: fresh wet blood was splattered across his clothes; two bloody prints were pressed on his shirt where he’d wiped off his hands. His stomach lurched; panic exploded in him like shattering glass.
He had another momentary flash of memory: an image of the three of them – the two men and himself – circling the woman, raising ornamental glasses and drinking deeply something that resembled wine, but was thicker and darker and tasted mildly of salt. One of the men held a knife, and he cut the woman as they chanted. But Vladimir was not himself; he was but he wasn’t, as if he was looking through someone else’s eyes, as if he’d taken a step back and was watching it all happen from a distance. His arms moved on their own accord; someone laughed with his voice; he spoke words he did not recognize. The woman was alive, albeit just barely, and her eyes rolled back in her head and she moaned nonsensically; her mouth shaped words and phrases he did not understand. One arm flailed out – one apparently not secured to the table – and struck him, knocking the decanter from his grasp. The glass tumbled and time seemed to slow; he watched the glass twist and turn, striking the table and spinning on end, shattering on the floor, spilling its content in a messy red puddle.
Then Vladimir was back in his own head, his body a heap on the floor, his stomach retching and his head pounding while the fragmented pieces of memory forced their way to the surface.
He fumbled with the door, leaning heavily on the frame while one hand clutched at his chest, and staggered into the hallway. The door clicked closed behind him. Down the hallway and outside he stumbled, into the disorienting light of the late morning.