A blog where Stephanie M. Belser test-drives her fictional stories.
Expect the occasional
"stall, spin, crash & burn".

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Project

(Another flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig)

The Project

    The hotel was an old brick building, nine stories tall.  It looked like something that could have been built in Stalingrad in the 1930s. It took up a quarter of a block of prime real estate on Lakeside Avenue.  The last guest had checked out during the Kucinich Administration.   To my knowledge, nobody went near the hotel building.  The building was untouched by graffiti artists and taggers. Not even a window had been broken.

    There had been three previous attempts to do something with the property.  Nobody had opposed the proposals.   Everyone who had tried had obtained clear title and the permits.  Each time the projects had failed and the property was then sold for a pittance.  Compared to the costs of either razing and rebuilding or converting the existing building, the asking price for the property was little more than the costs of the legal and title work.  Even with the collapse of the real estate market, the prospect of having a shining new building with killer views of the lake attracted developers.

    Which is why I wound up in a lawyer’s office in a glass building on Public Square.  The lawyer could find no legal reason why none of the earlier projects had failed.  The property had never fallen into foreclosure.  Each time the projects failed, the lenders not only took major haircuts, they filed the papers to release the mortgages.  The lawyer wanted to know why.  That’s what I do. I walked out of there with a thumbdrive of files.

    I started with backgrounds on the developers.  The 1979 project had six principals.  All were dead.  The `91 project had four principals.  Two were dead.  One was in a psychiatric hospital.  One had emigrated and disappeared.  The `04 project had twelve principal investors, once I worked through the levels of limited liability companies.  Five were dead. One was in the Cleveland Clinic with terminal cirrhosis.  Two were in psychiatric hospitals.  Two were in state prisons, one for stabbing his family to death.  He was arrested as he was tanning their skins, the jury sent him to prison because they couldn’t believe anyone was that crazy.  The other convict had been in a fatal car crash and had set a state record on the Breathalyzer of .52, that’s six times over the legal limit.  The other two had fled.

    I did a spot check on the loan officers for the lenders.  The results were the same, none of them were working and all had met similar fates.

    The 1991 project had gotten to the point of work commencing.  That one had been a conversion, they intended to keep the exterior and convert the interior to luxury condos.  I looked up the prime contractor.  It was out of business.  I tracked down the owner; he was tending bar in Yuma.

    I flew out to interview him. He looked ten years older than his age.  He aged another ten when I told him why I was there.  He told me that the building was cursed, nobody would work there longer than a hour.  Then nobody would work for him. I asked why he had moved to Yuma.  He said he thought it was far enough, but it wasn’t.  He threw his bar rag down, walked out the door, got into his truck and drove away.  I didn’t think he was coming back.

    What is it about that building?

    Did I tell you that I went inside it?  After I got back from Yuma.  I had a flashlight, a respirator mask in case of mold, a tyvek suit, gloves and booties.  The door wasn’t even locked.  When I went inside, the place was clean.  No dust, no mold, no dirt. There was high crown moulding in the lobby, spotless.  The stairwells were clean, no musty smell, no bums had peed in them.

    Think about that.  Nine stories.  Fifty rooms each on the top eight floors, twenty on the first floor.  The building had a restaurant, two ballrooms, kitchens, laundry, boiler room, the whole bit.  I went in at least twenty rooms. Every fricking room was spotless. You’d have thought that the maids had just left.  Martha Stewart would have approved. Does that make sense to you?  The hotel had been vacant for over thirty years.

    I was on the third floor when I felt it.  A presence.  I felt a voice, no, I didn’t hear it, I felt it.  It said if I left right then, it would leave me be.  If I didn’t go, it would never leave me.  Hell, I had a job to do.  I said that aloud.  Why, I don’t know.  This is my home, the voice said. You are not welcome, it told me.  Get out, it said.

    I went up to the fourth floor.  The voice was more insistent.  No, it wasn’t shrieking. But it told me it knew what I had found out, it knew that I went to Yuma and if I did not want to end up like the rest, to leave.

    I didn’t believe in that supernatural shit.  I said that. 

    I went up to the fifth floor.  The voice told me so be it.

    Imagine that someone unscrewed the top of your head and poured in molten lava.  That would hurt, right?  That would be nothing compared to what I felt.  Somehow I was outside, back in my car, heading down I-71.  I drove south and west for thirty-six hours.  I found a bar, drank there until they threw me out, then I drove and drank and drove.  The voice was quieter if I was drinking, but I had to drink a lot.

    Well, you know the rest.  I’m sorry about those kids I ran over.  I’m sorry about the cop, too. Not much I can do, now.  No, the voice doesn’t mind me telling you any of this.  You won’t believe any of this anyway.

    The guards are here, padre.  It’s time, now.  Pray for me?


Jamie Wyman said...

Strong. In the beginning paragraphs there's room to streamline by combining sentences, but once you get the ball rolling to Yuma it really picks up.

Nice work.

Stephanie Belser said...

Thanks, that's only the fourth time I've tried my hand at flash fiction.

And here is the p.s.:


Three hours later, it was over. The reporters were gone, the protesters were gone, the dead convict was on his way to Potters Field.

The priest got into his car. He was tired. He angled the mirror to look at himself. Then he wasn't looking at himself in the mirror. He was looking into an abyss. And it was looking into him.

He heard a voice. Tell no one of what you were told and I will leave you alone.

The priest shuddered. "I agree" he said aloud.

He saw his reflection in the mirror. He reset the mirror, started the car and drove home to the rectory.

He drank himself to death inside of a year.

AllMyPosts said...


Really cool a plot. Everyone in this challenge started writing that something is strange with the building. Cool.

Good, very good. Please do read my entry here:


and let me know how you feel about it.

The Hopeless Gamer said...

I like the time spent building up the sordid history of the building. The more history we got the more I kept asking myself how bad the narrator was going to get it.

I agree that some of it could be chopped down to be a little tighter. It would also give you a little more space to strengthen the ending, which I think might have gotten a way from you compared to the strong beginning.

You can check out my entry here if you like: http://paulvogtwrites.blogspot.com/2011/03/first-impressions.html

Anonymous said...

I like the plot and the voice of this character. I think it was good that you started slow and normal and then as we went ahead the pace picked up, too. Great work!

Anonymous said...

I really liked this!!! And the ending too! For me it was fast paced, from the beginning to the end. I think it might be your style? Short sentences fired rapidly taking the reader for a fast ride!!

A.L. said...

This has got style. It starts slow, but revs up real nice. Keep it up!

Joyce said...

This was very good. I love the way it begins and we get the backstory of the various projects and developers. You just know the character shouldn't go there. Like in those movies when someone hears a noise outside and you tell them out loud not to go out there, but they do anyway and what do they get? Cut up and hacked up? If only they'd listened. This character should have paid attention to whatever it was. The postscript was chilling too. Curses just don't fade away. Great job.

Anonymous said...

You have a distinct voice with flashes of humor. Keep writing! :)