When Cameron opened the door to his grandparents' house, the first thing he smelled was blood. It didn't come as too much of a surprise, then, when he found his grandparents in the living room. They were lying near each other, throats slit; blood making the white carpet seem dark scarlet brown. Dottie, his grandmother, had received especially brutal treatment, face mutilated with stab wounds. Judging by the blood around her body, her trunk was the same. His grandfather, Chandler, though, only had his throat slit.
"Someone doesn't like women," Cameron murmured to himself.
He knew their murders were meant to upset him, but they didn't. As a psychopath, Cameron cared little for anybody but himself. As a result, their deaths to him were only slight annoyances.
"What meaningless violence. Nothing to gain, killing them . . ."
The writer pulled out his cellphone. Max's text was still open. Cameron read it again.
"I'm at your grandparents' house. We need to talk."
Had Max found the bodies? If so, where was he? Better yet, Cameron had to question why he'd come here in the first place. They were supposed to be packing for tomorrow's flight. Not that they had much to pack . . .
"Max?" Cameron called out. The name echoed throughout the expensive house without a reply. Only eerie silence. The dark ecru-skinned writer didn't want to admit it when he felt fear beginning to blossom within him.
The Aussie hadn't been acting quite like himself these past few months. As of late, it'd only become more drastic. Was this the pinnacle of it? Had he driven his innocent Max to sporadic murder? He looked down at his phone. His hand was quivering. Regardless, he pressed the call button.
Deeper into the house, it started: Max's ringtone. The sound of it here, now, further agitated Cameron. Though he attempted to distance himself from the fear, the slight tremble in his body remained. If it'd been anyone else, he wouldn't have felt a thing. But it was Max. Max, who he'd studied for almost two years, who'd only two months ago stopped being predictable. Anyone else, he could've guessed their next move. Could've guessed their motive, their purpose, whether they intended to kill him next. But Max . . . Would Max kill him? Would Max even remember killing his grandparents? He trusted the Aussie—he was the only person he trusted. Was that a mistake?
With slow footsteps, Cameron slunk past his grandparents' bodies, into the dining room. There was no wall separating it from the kitchen, so the pantry door of foggy glass was visible to him over the island. The ringtone was coming from inside. Cameron felt himself make a dark smirk. The pantry was short and narrow. As the one not cornered inside, he'd have the upper hand.
On the counter beside the pantry door was a wooden knife block. One was missing, so Cameron took one as well. With his fingertip, he tested the sharpness of its edge and point. It would do.
The pantry's was a sliding door. He reached for the concave handle, knife in his dominant left hand. With force, he tore the door open. Then, he stood there, waiting for something to happen. The ringtone continued, but no one jumped out at him. As he tightened his grip on the knife's handle, he stepped into the pantry. There was a pile of boxes near the back, tall enough for someone to crouch behind. He raised the knife, stepped closer. When he whipped his head to see who was behind the tower, he saw no one. The ringtone sounded closer still. He raised his eyes; on the edge of the third-lowest shelf sat Max's phone.
Cameron's confidence and heart both sunk. His mistake only became clearer when he heard someone step into the doorway. The ringtone finally stopped. Cameron dared not move, though it was obvious he'd been seen. Was he afraid, or only disappointed by his own gullibility? He wasn't sure; hiding in the pantry seemed like a "Max" thing to do. Though, it seemed that way because he'd forgotten that Max wasn't quite himself anymore.
The writer let out a small, defeated huff before saying the name of who would now either be his killer or next victim: "Max."
The five-star Park Hyatt hotel in Zürich was expensive to stay at. Over 700 U.S. dollars a night, at least. Max knew Cameron would spend more, though. He wouldn't rent out the most expensive suite, as some sort of unspoken rule, but he'd rent out one of the most expensive. It wasn't that he didn't have the money for the most expensive suite. He just never went that far. Was it to seem humble?
Humble my ass. He told me this is one of the most expensive hotels in the city.
The flight to Switzerland had, to Max, come as a surprising Christmas present. Only twelve hours ago, 8 PM on Christmas Day, they'd been in Pittsburgh. Now, half past 8 AM, they were in Zürich, riding a bus to their hotel. Why they hadn't taken a tram or a taxi was a mystery to Max, but so were a lot of other things Cameron did.
Snow was plentiful outside. Max, who'd been born and raised in Brisbane for the first ten years of his life, wasn't a fan. He liked to be reminded of home; it never snowed in Brisbane. Though, he supposed he should be used to the cold by now. It'd been eleven years since he moved to America, after all. Before Pittsburgh, he'd lived alone in . . .
As he stared out the window to his left, it took a few seconds for him to realize he'd lost his train of thought. That'd been happening a lot lately, since two months ago to be exact. Getting beaten about the head and falling from a second-storey balcony, only to crack his head on a stair had its side effects.
Boston. I lived in Boston before . . . I think.
It was surreal, the situation he found himself in now. Almost two years ago, he'd lived alone in an apartment in Boston. His only friend had been his ex-girlfriend, Stacey. Now, Stacey was dead—had been for almost two years. And here he was in Zürich, on holiday with her murderer. Helplessly in love with her murderer. He couldn't help it: how irresistible he found Cameron. With his silky black hair in a small quiff and his creamy dark ecru skin, eyes of dark caramel and athletic body . . . Despite his psychotic and psychopathic nature, he was delicious. Apparently Cameron liked him too, with his messy brown hair, pasty white skin that didn't fit an Aussie, and empty gray eyes. Being so scrawny compared to him, Max couldn't help but see Cameron as his guardian at this point. A guardian whose protection he couldn't escape even if he wanted to.
Sleep was foreign to Max now, despite his exhaustion. Ever since he started having night terrors in early November, he'd got little of it. Though Cameron didn't like to admit it, he'd had noticeable bags under his eyes since around that time. Because of Max's late night screaming fits and tendency to sleepwalk, he didn't sleep much, either. This trip to Switzerland, then, might've been an attempt to return to form. Max hoped that he might be able to get some normal sleep in another country, but he doubted it. Back on Halloween, Cameron had for the first time killed someone in front of him. The sight haunted him every time he closed his eyes.
The blood . . . God, the brutality of it. Red, white, pink, red, red, red—
Cameron's hand touched his, pulling him from his troubling memory. Though he didn't look, he knew it was Cameron. So, in response, he turned his own hand around to lock fingers with him. He held his hand tight, as if it'd help to keep him anchored in the present.
"You look so sad," the writer said. Or, well, former writer; it'd been a little over a year since Cameron wrote a word. When they first met, he'd been a freelance novelist. Now, he was only a rich serial killer.
Max didn't answer him. People walked down the street as they drove past. He wondered if any of them had lives like his.
Not likely. How many people accidentally meet a murderous psychopath and fall in love because of it? Nobody, I reckon. Only me. Only me, because I'm sick, as sick as he is. Deep down, am I any better than him?
"Things will get better, Max. Just you wait and see." Cameron leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "She'll be apples."
Those words made the Aussie narrow his eyes, but he didn't say anything.
That's what I thought when I first met him. Back when I was naïve enough to think it was improbable that he'd be a killer. She won't be apples. I never should've thought that.
Today, December 26th of 2018, was a doomsday. While Cameron was always happier on doomsdays, Max was always antsier. If the psychopath was going to kill anyone or do any other crazy things, it would always be on a doomsday. This year, doomsday meant every Wednesday. Next year, Thursday, if he had to guess. Cameron's love of John Conway's Doomsday rule was something Max would never understand, as was the rule itself. He could cope with it, though. At least it gave him an idea of what days he should panic on.
When the bus stopped again, Cameron elbowed him. Finally, he turned his head. The writer stood as a non-verbal sign that this was their stop, but Max didn't stand until he grabbed their bags. Cameron handed his to him; he took it without comment. He followed behind the taller man and watched him step off the bus. Once outside, he extended his arms out and took a deep breath.
"It's been too long," he exclaimed. "I love this city!" Then, he turned to look at Max, who stood hesitating on the bus' steps. He held out a hand toward him. "Are you coming?"
Max lowered his eyes to the snow. It looked kind of deep, but that wasn't the problem.
If I step off this bus, it's like I'm succumbing to him once and for all.
Oh, too right, you twit. It's only a bus. You've already succumbed to him, anyway. You did that two bloody years ago. Get off the fuckin' bus.
He stepped down, sneaker sinking about an inch into the snow.
Well, what's done is done. No sense feeling so conflicted about joining him here.
The entrance to the hotel was right in front of them now. As people walked past, entering and exiting, Cameron flashed Max a handsome smile and turned. The Aussie watched him go, but couldn't bring himself to follow.
I can't believe it. I'm in a whole new country. I feel so out of my element here. Will I belong any better here than I did in Boston? God, why am I here? Couldn't we have stayed in Pittsburgh, Cameron?
If he'd thought he had a lot of anxiety before, his late head injuries had only made it worse.
Switzerland will only be temporary, right? At this point, I don't think I can adjust to a new country . . .
He didn't notice that Cameron had returned to him until he was right in front of him. For a beat, they only stared at each other. Then, Cameron raised his hand and used it to stroke Max's cheek. The Aussie leaned into it for comfort.
Is it ironic that Cameron might be my only link to sanity? What does that say about me?
"Do you trust me, Max?"
Max's eyes met Cameron's as he took in the question. "Despite everything," he answered in a serious tone, "yes."
You're the only person I trust, even though you should be the person I trust the least.
Cameron smiled again and gave his cheek a gentle, assuring smack. Max took it without flinching. "Let's check in."
The Aussie nodded. There was a row of rounded bushes in tall black stands. Past them, a set of windows showing them part of the next door art gallery. Cameron approached the windows, turned right in front of them. Max followed him through the rotating doors into the hotel's entrance.
The hotel's floors were made of polished black marble, the walls crème-colored. Before them was a long hall, beside that a set of staircases leading up to the second floor. Cameron started down the hall, so Max followed doggedly behind him.
Deeper into the foyer was a smaller room, connected to two other hallways. The first thing that came to Max's eyes in the warm-lit entrance area was the gigantic painting on the wall, placed above a black leather couch. As an artist, he appreciated it. As a person, he thought it looked like a portrait of spaghetti. When Cameron made a sharp turn right, Max lagged behind a bit. Everyone he passed was dressed more or less formal. This only made Max, wearing sneakers, jeans, a red hoodie and a baggy beige jacket, feel even more out of his element.
The lounge restaurant was spacious but for a large, spiraling art piece in the center. It caught Max's eye, so he stared at it as Cameron approached the reception desk.
You know, I wasn't cut out as an artist, anyway, he thought as he tilted his head in bewilderment. What the fuck is this thing? This is art?
"Reservation for Cameron and Max Fenn," Cameron told the receptionist. Max shot Cameron a glance.
Max Fenn? I guess he can't give them "Aleshire", since I'm a missing person, but . . . It sounds a little strange, doesn't it? Me, with his surname . . . He felt himself blushing a little, running his mind over the name once more. Max Fenn . . . It doesn't sound too bad, actually. I could get used to it.
To take his mind off of it, he glanced back at the art piece. As he turned his head, he noticed someone at the far end of the lobby gazing at him, though, so he moved his eyes back to them. That was how his gray eyes locked with ones of dark sea foam.
The man across the lobby was tall, though not as tall as Cameron. His light brown hair went down to the nape of his neck, bangs hanging over his brows. If he had to compare him to anyone on the spot, he'd say he looked a bit like a young Zac Efron, but there was something more dapper about him. His face was thin, with large, lashed eyes and a handsome nose. Slim jawline, clean-shaven. He wore a black suit, as did the man he stood talking to—or, rather, paying half attention to.
Something about the sight of the mystery man made Max's heart skip a beat. He couldn't take his eyes off him. It seemed this was mutual, as the man kept glancing at him with an expression like the one he felt himself making. Finally, he looked at the man he was talking to, smiled, said something, nodded. Then, they disappeared down a hall together.
Still gazing in that direction, Max blindly reached out and pulled on Cameron's sleeve. "Hey," he said, then pointed down to where the mystery man had gone. "Where does that lead?"
"One of the conference rooms, I guess," Cameron answered. "Why?"
Who was that guy? Is he a businessman? I felt weird, staring at him . . . like I just laid eyes on my soulmate or something. He shook his head clear, but shaking away the heavy beating of his heart wasn't so easy. I'd better get my head out of the clouds. The odds of us crossing paths again are slim.
"Park Junior Suite, yes?" inquired the receptionist.
"That'd be us," replied Cameron, sounding chipper.
"How many nights?"
This question wasn't so simple for the writer. "Uh . . . A week, I suppose. I'll pay by the day."
"All right. One night comes to 1,030 francs."
Cameron pulled out his wallet, nosing through the banknotes of converted currency. "Two, four, six, eight—thousand." He slapped five 200 franc notes onto the table, then a twenty and a ten. The receptionist smiled and collected the notes. Then, she handed him a keycard.
"Enjoy your stay, Mr. Fenn," she said.
"Thank you." He turned and looked at Max, who was still gazing off into the lobby. "Max?"
The Aussie turned. "Hmm?" Cameron held up the keycard. "Oh, right. Let's go."
Together they got into an elevator up to the floor their suite was on. When they were inside, Cameron abruptly said, "She forgot to ask if we wanted someone to take our bags for us."
Max paused for a beat or two before asking, "Did we want someone to?"
"No, but she's supposed to ask."
"Slipped her mind, I guess."
"Should be routine by this point."
"She must be new, then, Cameron," Max snapped. "What do you want me to say?"
"I never asked you to say anything."
The elevator doors opened and they exited into the hallway. Cameron looked left, then right, then left again, as if he didn't know which way they needed to go.
"I've never rented this suite before."
The Aussie sunk his face into his palm. "Let's try left, then."
Cameron, chipper as ever, puffed out his chest and started heading down the hall to the left. When they tried the keycard on the door at the end, it beeped, light for the handle turning green.
"Oh. You were right." Cameron didn't sound surprised, rather somewhat pleased. He opened the door, then stood back, holding it open for his smaller lover. "Ladies first."
"Piss off," Max muttered and stepped inside as Cameron smirked.
Their suite was cozy-looking with some beige walls and some of dark wood. The carpet was a light sand color, with two yellow leather chairs behind a small, round coffee table of glass. On it was a teardrop-shaped vase with a dark rose sticking out of it. Near the wide window, which was covered by a thin white veil of a curtain, was a work desk. Its chair had a wooden frame matching the walls, with light ecru leather backing and cushion. The desk itself was oval-shaped and had wheels on its bottoms, three on either side. There was a lamp on top.
To the left of the work desk was a king bed with white sheets and pillows. It also had a dark wooden frame, to match the wall it was placed against. Above the two nightstands on either side were lamps. Above the pillows, framed by the wall paneling, was an off-white canvas with browning green leaves scattered about.
Turning his gaze again, Max noticed the two doorways. He took the rightmost one. Inside this tucked away section of the room was a bathroom with a deep white tub. As Max looked at it, he wondered how, exactly, one was intended to use it. It was, to him, so misshapen that it looked like it'd be uncomfortable to sit in, though he knew it likely wasn't. The bathroom counters were made of black marble like the floors in the foyer. The walls, of white marble. Sets of towels hung from the bar under the sink and laid folded on a shelf under the counter.
When Max finally stepped out of the bathroom, awed by everything, he found Cameron sitting in one of the yellow chairs.
"It's a bit small, isn't it?" he griped.
"Shut up, Cameron." Max smiled, looked around the room again. "This is . . . This is too much."
"You've never been in a hotel like this before?"
"I've never been in a hotel period. But this . . ." He shook his head. "I've never seen anything like this before."
Cameron leaned forward in his chair. "I suppose the question I should be asking is: do you like it?"
The emphasis being on "like" threw Max off—returned him to his anxiety.
He sounds upset with me when he says it that way. Is he upset? Should I say yes? Should I say no?
Trying hard not to let his fear show on his face, Max attempted to deflect the inquiry. "Do you?"
Cameron smiled, as if he saw through Max's façade. He didn't answer, but stood up and approached the bed. He sat down on the rightmost side, closer to the window. As he reached up and loosened the knot of his tie, he patted the other side of the bed. Max felt a chill run down his spine, but stepped closer anyway. With his back to Cameron, he sat on the bed.
"You seem agitated. Do you want to have sex?" the writer suggested after a moment of silence.
Max didn't move. "I'm tired, Cameron."
"You'll fall asleep faster."
"It's light out. You know I don't . . ." He trailed off. Talking about his sexual habits was too awkward for him.
"Right, you only fuck when it's dark outside." Cameron let out a small huff. "Which is weird, because you don't mind if the lights are on inside."
"Look, maybe later, all right?"
That shut Cameron up. He leaned back on the bed, sniffed in intrigue. "Maybe later" was the closest thing to a "yes" he'd received since Halloween. "Do you want to go get some breakfast?"
Max looked at him over his shoulder, eyes draped in sardonicism. "I'm tired," he repeated.
Cameron nodded in acknowledgment. Then, he stood up and stretched. "Well," he said, "I'm going to take a shower."
"Bath," Max corrected as Cameron headed past him to the doorway.
"Bath, shower. Same general neighborhood." He entered, then poked his head out. "You're welcome to join me."
"I don't think that tub can fit one person, let alone two," joked the Aussie.
"Are you kidding? Nah, we can both fit. You're small enough."
Max shook his head, held up a hand in reluctance. "No thanks."
Cameron shrugged. "Your loss." Then, he pulled his head back.
As he heard Cameron start the bath's faucet, he let out an anxious sigh. He took off his sneakers before moving his legs up onto the bed and laying down on it.
Oh, my God. It's so firm. Comfortable, too. But somehow, I still can't tell if this is heaven or hell.
Only a minute or two went by before he found himself thinking about the stranger in the lobby. Try as he may to remove him from his mind, he couldn't. For some reason, he felt certain they'd see each other again.
He probably wasn't even staring at me because he felt the same way. He might've been staring because I look so out of place here, not wearing a suit. But then why did he look so . . . surprised? So entranced by me, as I was by him?
It didn't make sense. Max sighed and turned over onto his side, facing toward the window. There was a pot of white flowers on the ledge; they seemed to glow in the light. Gazing at the glowing white petals and listening to the steady stream of water in the bathroom, Max closed his eyes and tried to sleep.