The lights came on in a rippling rush.
And the shadow creatures were gone. They didn’t fade out or burst into flames.
They were just gone.
But their quills remained in his arms and back.
His spinal cord sent furious hurt signals all over his body. Down to his fingertips. Inside his fingernails. His elbows. His knees. His throat. His hair.
To the roots of his fangs.
“HURTS!” He clenched his teeth.
And fake Elsie appeared in his mind.
Why wasn’t it her?
Why won’t she haunt me?
Why has she abandoned me?
He mouthed the word, Why?
He grabbed handfuls of the quills, yanked them out of his arm, and threw them on the floor. Over and over.
His breath came out in ragged shivers and shudders.
He reached behind his back to remove those quills, but they were buried under his shirt with just a half-inch of their tips exposed.
Ambrose tried to yank his shirt off, but that pushed the quills into the opposite direction.
And it all hurt like a brand new hurt.
Ambrose doubled over and pressed his forehead against his wrist. The heavy, rushed sound of his breathing combined with the heat of his breath to make him 12,000 times warmer than he already was.
If I survive this, I am going to take a long, freezing cold bath when I return to the hotel. It will be so cold everyone else will be left with hot water. They won’t even be able to make ice cubes. Ha!
The quills disappeared all at once. And it took all of the pain away.
His body went limp with relief. His breathing returned to normal.
Unfortunately, his day exhaustion remained.
Ambrose spread his hands on the floor. He idly rubbed his finger up and down the letter opener. It was new metal smooth and clean. Not a single trace of blood on its blade.
Yet, the faintest trace of old potatoes clung to the metal.
He blinked a long, slow blink. His gaze wobbled about.
Sammy crouched beside him. “Mr. Smith? Are you all right?”
Ambrose focused on him. “What do you consider all right?”
Sammy smiled. “You can talk with your normal amount of attitude.” He nodded sharply. “You must be all right. So. You came.”
“Yeah. I’m here. So, what the ever flaming heck do you want?”
“It isn’t a matter of what I want, Mr. Smith. I was simply curious.”
“Curious.” Ambrose narrowed his eyes. “You made me rush all the way over just because you were curious?”
“And that’s it?”
“You know, I could be sleeping right now.”
“You will get a chance to do so later.”
“I need to sleep right now.”
“Later, Mr. Smith. I ordered you to come here because I was curious if you would obey me under such…” He paused to contemplate the right word. “…trying circumstances. And you did. I will say that it took you much longer than thirty-five minutes.”
“Yeah. You try to get a taxi driver in this town to hurry up.”
“Hm? I don’t have any problem with that.”
“Because the taxi drivers and I have a…We have an understanding.”
“Care to explain?”
The fluorescent light above their heads exploded into shimmers and sharp sparks.
Ambrose startled and shielded his head with his arm.
Sammy’s expression turned unreadably bland. “No. I don’t care to explain.”