Mortuus Meretrix

That house always stank of smoke, sweat and sex. Of course, I didn’t realize it at the time. I was a child, and the smell was as much a part of my life as were the moans and cries of strangers and near-constant solitude. But of all the senses, smell has the longest memory by far.


***


The motel room was dim as I opened the door. Thin, bright blades of light from the drawn blinds slashed through a million dust motes suspended on a smoky, silver haze. She was sitting on the bed’s rumpled comforter in cut-off jean shorts and a halter-top knotted above her midriff. Her blonde hair was in pigtails. She smacked the bubble gum in her mouth, hardly bothered with a fake smile, and patted the bed next to her—anxious to get it over with. She wasn’t my first, but I was already rock hard in anticipation and holding my breath.


I slipped inside and pushed the door shut with an elbow.


“Lock it first,” she said.


I did, and finally remembered to breathe.


The smell hit me like a physical blow. Both my stomach and the room turned uncontrollably. The blood ravening overcame me instantly. I was on her before she had time to think of screaming. My hands closed around her throat choking off all sound. Her eyes bulged in panic, and she slapped at my arms and clawed at my hands, trying fruitlessly to pry them away. I became hyper-aware, the thick, cloying stench of the room gagging me. I could see the fine blonde hairs on her arms as she flailed, the poorly-applied bright orange polish that did little to hide the ragged, chewed nails beneath. She had freckles, mostly hidden by thick foundation and the angry acne of a teenager who subsisted on a diet of potato chips and sweat—both hers and that of the countless men she let on top and inside of her. A thin shard of sunlight fell across her face, and I swear I saw one of the tiny capillaries in her right eye swell and burst. It was fascinating to behold.

I watched her complexion change beneath her makeup—the pale skin of her face turning from pink to red to purple to blue. I felt the strength in her body ebbing away. Her kicks and thrashes weakened. She focused her eyes on my face for a second, mascara and tears inking dark streaks down her temples and into her hairline. She stopped struggling altogether then and touched my arm gently with her fingertips, a simple caress louder than any spoken plea.

And then I did something entirely unexpected to both of us. I let go of her throat. She choked in air, and the color in her face instantly started reversing its way back toward normal. Her hands instinctively went to her neck as her lungs struggled to resupply oxygen to her body. Her fingertips fluttered and shifted from bone white to pink. Her lips quivered and her tongue darted between them. I sat on the bed next to her, just watching the process of her recovery, mesmerized.

After a moment, she turned her head toward me, her eyes wide with terror and maybe just a shred of hope. She was still panting; her chest rose and fell rapidly but was calming, and her color had almost returned to normal. Except for the dark bruises blooming around her throat, she might have just been resting after a strenuous go with one of her johns.

I smiled at her then, which is apparently not something I do convincingly. She drew in as deep a breath as her straining lungs would allow, prepping for a mighty scream. My fist slammed into her stomach and knocked the wind back out of her. The only sound that ever escaped her mouth was a tiny squeal and a whoosh of air.

I took my time beating her to death.

When I was finished my arms were weak. My hands and knuckles would be raw for several days.

Once she was dispatched to the Else, I undressed her and carried her limp, naked body to the ratty sofa positioned against the wall opposite the bed. I lay her on it and made some adjustments until she was just so. The sense of déjà vu was intense. So was the orgasm that I left on her cheek and in her hair—it seemed to rattle my teeth and left me lightheaded.

I spent a little bit of time constructing a plausible tragedy. I pulled the 9-volt out of the smoke detector above the bed and slipped it into my back pocket. I put an ashtray on the floor in front of the couch and draped the girl’s arm so that it hung a few inches away. I found her smokes and a lighter in her purse and was also rewarded with several hundred dollars. Robbery was never my intent, nor anything I’d considered to that point, but it seemed more than a little crazy to leave it behind. I slid the cash in my pocket too, lit a cigarette and set it on the floor just under the tips of her dangling fingers. I set her purse close by and tossed the pack of smokes next to her corpse. I used her lighter to ignite the ruffle that trimmed the bottom of the couch, which was frighteningly flammable.

I stood there for a moment as the flames grew more intense and began to engulf her body. Smoke roiled through the room, clenching at the stale air with dark, curling fingers. I tossed the lighter into the small inferno and vanished—like much of the shitty little motel did that night.

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