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The Gin and Smoke

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He drinks another cocktail and he smiles at the beautiful women as they file into the Manderley. He greets them, kissing their hands, while they giggle and turn away, blushing. He could always make the women blush.

"Is it your first stay at the McKittrick?" he asks.

"No," one woman replies, without a trace of blush in the dim light, "but I haven't seen you here before."

"Then you've been coming on the wrong nights."

She smiles. "I suppose I have."

He likes her, but he can't say that it's his last night at the Manderley. He can't speak of how this simple bar has seeped into his skin, and even when he leaves, he can still smell the gin in his clothes and the smoke on the air. What goes on behind the walls of the hotel has bled into him, and soon it he will drown in it if he doesn't swim to shore.

As the night wears on, the bar empties slowly. People disappear behind their masks and into the hotel. Eventually, the music stops and he sits at the bar for his latest gin and tonic. It won't be long before the bar comes back to life and the music will be too loud and the women stand too closely, overwhelming him. It's all the things he used to love, but now he can barely stand without shaking.

There's a figure in the shadows, in the dark corners of the Manderley, like every corner. Leaving behind his drink, he walks to the shadow, and as he gets closer, the shadow becomes a beautiful woman in a red dress.

"You can't be here," he hisses. "You're too early. They're waiting for you."

She can stop time if she wants to. She doesn't say it, but she doesn't have to. She runs a long, red fingernail down his jaw and he stiffens. He's paralyzed. He couldn't leave, not that he would. Her spell is too intoxicating.

"And let us not be dainty of leave-taking," she says quietly into his ear. She rests the flat of her hand to his cheek, and her skin hot like a burn. "But shift away. There's warrant in that theft, which steals itself, when there's no mercy left."

Now he quivers and tears well up in his eyes. She kisses his cheek, her lips soft, and he's not sure if it's farewell or hello. She disappears into the shadows, back into the hotel, and time starts again.

He doesn't question how she knew he was leaving. Something ripples through the hotel when there are changes. Something only she can see.

Slowly, the bar comes back to life. The music plays, and the people come and go. He helps himself to another drink. There's always time for one more drink.

"How was your stay?" he asks the woman from earlier. Her mask rests on her forehead and she smiles widely.

"It was wonderful and I can't wait to come back again," she says, sipping at her water. "I hope to see you here next time."

"So, do I," he replies, though he knows she never will. He wants to tell her to not come back, to leave before the hotel swallows her whole, but perhaps that's not her fate. Perhaps it's only his.

He leaves his empty glass on the bar and finds his overcoat. He puts on his hat and he walks down the stairs and onto the streets where the world is so different.

He wants to believe that he's saved now that he's walking away, but the McKittrick Hotel will always pull him in. He never really leaves. He can never leave it behind. Manderley will always be a part of him. The gin will always be in his skin.

That's why he can't stay.