MARTIAN MAINTENANCE

Eric S. Fomley has not only sold some stories recently, but has also edited a pair of well-received anthologies: Sins and Other Worlds, and Timeshift.

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The third-floor maintenance closet was haunted. At least, that’s what the staff told me whenever something disappeared. They avoided that closet like the plague. I’m not superstitious, but I found it ironic when a guest complained at the desk that someone was beating on the inside of that closet door.

When I stepped off the elevator and heard it I groaned. A person locking themselves into a maintenance closet was nowhere near the weirdest thing I’d dealt with at three a.m. Years of hotel management will do that.

When I unlocked the door, a man in a black duster and matching Stetson like in some old western movie stood in the doorway.

“Who the hell are you?” I asked.

The man laughed and that’s when I noticed he only had one arm. “Very funny, Joe. It’s me, Archangel!”

“Sorry, buddy. Don’t know an Archangel.”

“Come on, Joe, I don’t have time for your jokes. We got a couple of rogue Martians to kill.”

“Martians? Really, dude?” I’d left a good wrestling match and a Diet Coke downstairs for this?

“You know, Martians? Earth’s time-traveling neighbors, the ones that drink human blood?”

This guy was cracked. But, oddly enough, this wasn’t the first I’d kicked out of the hotel going on about Martians.

“You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”

I shook my head.

“Well shit, the timeline is worse than I thought. Let me make this real simple.” He reached into his duster and put a pinwheel-looking device with a neon pink light into my hand.

“We’re about to bust in on some really bad people. When we do, flip that switch.” He indicated a switch at the bottom of the device. “I’d handle it myself but—” he made a show of his one arm. “Sound simple enough?”

I nodded as if anything he said made sense.

“Good man.” He pulled out what looked like a phaser from Star Trek.

“You do that, and I’ll be able to shoot ’em with this,” he raised the device and took off down the hallway.

I debated on backing off and calling the cops, but I knew the hotel owner hated bad publicity. Still, I needed him out of the hotel before he hurt someone. Though I doubted he would while he was pretending to be Captain Kirk or whoever he thought he was.

He stopped halfway down the hall. I caught up with him, about to grab him and escort him out, until he kicked one of the doors. It was a powerful kick and the door frame cracked as the door crashed inward.

Archangel ran inside and I chased after.

An awful stench sickened me. I stared in horror when I saw one of the hotel guests hanging upside down from the ceiling in the middle of the room, wrapped in a green slimy cocoon.

A young man and woman leaped up from the bed when they saw us and pulled out switchblades.

“Woah, everybody calm down!” The last thing I needed was to call the hotel owner and tell him a crazy guy with a fake gun kicked in a door and attacked two knife-wielding guests while a fourth hung upside down from the ceiling. Something told me that story wouldn’t fly very well with the boss.

“What are you doing, Joe? Flip the switch!”

The guests charged at us.

Archangel leaped in front of them, swinging his gun around. Incredibly, the two crazies seemed afraid of his device.

“Joe!”

I was still holding the weird device. The pink fluorescent glow was brighter now than when he handed it to me. Oh, what the hell, I thought. Then I flipped the switch.

One of the guests let out a high-pitched squeal. I dropped the device and clamped my hands over my ears. Their skin shimmered and disappeared. Instead of a man and a woman, there were two gray creatures with four arms and rattlesnake fangs standing in front of Archangel.

A shiver jolted my spine. We were going to die.

Blue flames flickered from Archangel’s gun so fast I hardly saw him do it. The monsters screeched and collapsed. Their wounds bubbled and oozed with green blood and the scent of the steam that rose from their burned flesh turned my stomach.

Archangel walked up to the nearest and kicked it with his spurred boot. “That ought to do the trick. You were a little slow on the draw there, Joe, but it all sorted out in the end.”

I’d never seen or smelled something so foul as these monsters in my entire life. I threw up on the floor.

“Stinks, doesn’t it?” Archangel spun toward me with a grin. “So, how—”

The cocoon behind Archangel exploded, splashing my face with a gooey substance that got into my eyes and burned like hell. I dug furiously to get the slime out when I heard a shriek followed by a series of labored grunts. I cleared my vision in time to see a gray monster fling Archangel across the room. He hit the wall so hard it left a three-foot hole in the drywall.

My heart thundered in my chest. I saw Archangel’s gun on the floor, maybe ten feet away. The hideous creature turned to face me, rattlesnake fangs protruding with a blood-curdling hiss. I dove for the gun.

The monster grabbed me by the leg two feet short of the gun and slung me like a rag doll onto my back. My head hit the floor hard, swimming with pain and confusion. I nearly blacked out. Then the monster climbed on top of me, two hands pinning my wrists while the other two beat the shit out of me. I felt my bones creak and grown and each powerful hit felt like a cinderblock.

I strained against the creature’s hold but the thing was just too strong. I was a dead man. In a final gamble, I brought my knee up between the creature’s legs. There was a screech and I felt the grip on my wrists loosen just enough. I yanked my right arm free, punched the creature in the face, and shoved it off of me. Crawling on all fours, I made my way back to Archangel’s gun. Just as I reached for it I felt the monster grab my foot, but I stretched out, grabbed the gun and fired right between the monster’s eyes. The blue fireball left a hole the size of a golf ball. The Martian spasmed once and was still.

When I rose unsteadily to my feet, Archangel was standing on the other side of the room.

He whistled. “Well that was something wasn’t it?” A grin split his face.

It seemed like nothing could keep him down. “What the hell was that?”

“Well, I guess they captured one of their own and not a human as I thought. Maybe it went rogue or something—this part of the job is always conjecture.” He came up to me and slapped me on the shoulder. “Look at you, though. We’ll make a Martian hunter out of you after all.”

I groaned. There wasn’t a part of my body that didn’t hurt. Downstairs there was a bottle of Tylenol with my name on it.

Someone banged on what was left of the door. “Hello? Is everything okay in there?”

Shit. My heart leaped into my throat. How the hell was I supposed to explain this? I started for the door, Archangel grabbed my arm.

“Easy there, partner. Under no circumstances can they know about these Martians. It’s strictly on a need-to-know basis. I need you to run interference, you feel me?”

I nodded, aggravating my headache. No way could I clean up this mess without someone finding out. I was so fired.

It didn’t take much to push open the busted door. Three burly guys in T-shirts and sleeping pants stood in the hallway. “Woah, you okay, mister?” Judging by the older man’s shocked expression I figured I looked like shit.

“Yeah, I’m good.”

“What the hell is going on in there?” he continued.

“Maintenance issue. We have it under control.” My insides groaned as soon as I said it. What a dumb excuse.

“Bullshit it’s a maintenance issue,” a younger, skinnier guy said.

He pushed passed the others, and me, and went into the room. The others followed and I sighed but felt too weak to stop them. I shuffled after them, trying to think of a better lie.

The room was clean and in perfect alignment with hotel standards. Archangel and the Martians were gone.

The guys scanned the room, then the older guy glared at me. “You must have a funny way of dealing with maintenance issues in the middle of the night around here. Some people are trying to sleep.” He stormed out of the room, something about the word asshole muttered under his breath. The others followed.

I let out the air I didn’t realize I’d held and glanced around the room again. I’d have thought I was a madman if it wasn’t for the way my ribs felt.

There was a folded piece of paper on the bed.

You didn’t think I’d leave that mess for you, did you? I have ways of cleaning these things up. You did good tonight, Joe. I’m sure I’ll see you around again soon.

—Archangel

P.S. There was a portal in your third-floor maintenance closet, probably how the Martians got in. Don’t worry, I sealed it up for you.

So, not a haunted closet then. I wasn’t sure the staff would believe me if I told them. I shoved the paper into my pocket and went out into the hallway. Most of the guests were out of their rooms, looking at me expectantly.

I sighed. It was going to be a hell of a night.

Copyright © 2019 by Eric S. Fomley