The Deco was a glitzy hotel turned rundown tenement a few dingy, garbage strewn, yellow-lit streets from the closest thing Lip had to safety. Even in the early evening, the streets were empty of the bustling dinner crowd of Apex. There seemed to be more trash in the streets than people—not counting the eyes she felt watching her from alleys and hallways. Shards of glass from the broken lights above crunched beneath Fae’s shoes.
Fae stood in the doorway of The Deco and put her hood down, looking at the litter-strewn avenue she had walked down. A few kids darted between dumpsters, peeking their heads out to see who the finely dressed person was. They were curious. The scrawnier ones covered in blisters and patches of pink sunburned skin looked more nefarious. Their eyes were dull. She tried to buzz Ms. Lark’s apartment, but the keypad was unresponsive.
Getting nervous that she’d have to try again some other night, Fae tried the main door’s handles. She grunted as she threw her weight against the door, feet slipping until she gave up. As a last resort, she scanned the door with her Slate. To her surprise, the Slate showed a simple electronic lock barring the door. Fae quickly connected to the lock, broke the simple software, and unlocked the door. She pushed her way in and closed the door, catching a last glimpse of the group of mottled residents outside.
The entrance hall of The Deco looked similar to the exterior: the dusty remains of a once artistic and nostalgic hotel fallen into disrepair. The fake marble floors were scarred with scratches and divots, the synthetic wood front desk marred with years of abuse. It was hard for Fae to imagine the history of violence the hotel lobby had seen, let alone the atrocities the remaining residents had witnessed.
Locking the door behind her, Fae looked around the lobby for a way to get to the fourth floor where, hopefully, Ms. Lark was. A lift was nested between the two grand sweeping staircases, but the doors were dented and askew like they had fallen off their track. She climbed the grand staircase, stepping over shreds of soiled linens and more shattered glass. Bottles and broken pieces of bedroom furniture littered the stairs and the hallways they led to, some of the larger pieces were smeared with flaky brown stains that could’ve been blood.
At the top of the stairs, the landing forked off into two long hallways that ran a few hundred feet to the left and the right. More trash was piled against the narrow hallway walls, overturned ratty mattresses tumbling out of doorways. Fae thought she saw splotches of blood on the walls, splatters sweeping up to the ceiling. She strained her eyes and tried to get the best view without moving closer—the blood looked fresh.
Fae’s heart started to race as she breathed through her nose, sucking in air laced with must, iron, and hints of decomposition. She looked down the other hallway, trying to find a staircase up, but she saw most of the same: blood-spattered walls, ripped open bags of garbage. A body-sized streak of blood from the end of the hallway wove around the detritus and ended at the lift door in the center of the landing. The lift door was open, the lift car wedged off kilter halfway down the doorway. Darkness enveloped the rest of the shaft, the buzz of flies echoed up and out of the shaft.
Fae hadn’t expected Lip to be this bad—the videos and news reports made it out to be a slum, but not a war zone. Nearer the train terminal, there had been plenty of beggars scabbed over and sunburnt. The weak struggled for scraps. Almost everyone had some kind of sunburn or skin discoloration, moles and large melanomas pockmarked their leathery skin. Here, there was no one, only the milky-eyed, starving vagabonds outside.
Fae jumped as there was a pound on the hotel’s front door stronger than a casual knock. The pounding increased as more and more fists slammed against the door. Then it stopped. Fae took a deep breath and unclenched her fists, realizing she had been pressing herself against the wall next to her. She could hear their shoes scraping outside along with the screech of metal being dragged along the concrete. The door bowed inward as a few more threw their shoulders into the door. The metal scraping got louder.
One of the intact, orate floor-to-ceiling windows shattered, followed by a heavy thud. The tinkling of glass poured from several rooms down both long hallways. Fae’s imagination ran wild with images of ravenous, sunburnt vagabonds from horror movies. Her skin crawled imagining their bleeding fingers gripping glass shards and sun-poisoned bodies shambling through the debris.
Fae leapt onto the landing as metal made contact with the front door. Her bones ached, feeling the strain in the simple lock keeping them at bay. She heard hallway doors being cleared of debris. Yellow light began pouring through the splintered doors in three directions as Fae inspected the lift closer. The car sat at an odd angle like it had crashed, the doors bowing outward with the burst of pressure in the shaft. Fae climbed into the shaft, the precarious lift car groaning with her pressure. The front doors burst open as the lock gave way and people rushed down the hallways, bloody footprints painting the cracked concrete.