The Strangler’s Hotel by K.C. Mead-Brewer

Zoe’s been running this place for years now, and she knows for a fact: there’s nothing sexier than a haunted house. It speaks to your every sense, even your quietest sixth one. She feels the icy little zip of awareness tighten her nipples whenever she steps through the heavy front door. She feels it as she replaces the lightbulbs in the antique sconces bending out of the walls, the old bulbs hot and firm as she takes them in hand. Taper candles stand shamelessly erect all over, fitted smoothly into their brass candelabras, washing the rooms in dreamy glows and plenty of shadows to grope in. Obscenely framed mirrors hang here and there, gossiping at every furtive motion: a woman ducking into a room not her own, a hand tangling into someone else’s hair, wet lips parting for a kiss. The musty rug in the main hall is meant to depict an elaborate menagerie, and maybe that shape there does look a bit like an eagle, but in the wavering shadows the design better resembles a plush tangle of fucking, and—in those rare times when she has the house to herself—it’s one of Zoe’s favorite things to skim her bare feet over its every debauched thread and fiber. The lamps glowing bright, the hushed gasp of a match-strike, the bite of smoke, the candles burning, mirrors licking the walls with their silver patinas, these are the moments when Zoe knows they know: it’s all for them, the house. Every couple who takes a room here, who bites their lips trying to keep quiet (they can’t, the beds groan at even the tiniest movement, Zoe makes sure of it), it’s for the house. This ancient succubus with its grand staircase and rounded entryway, its parquet floors and opaque murderer who’s stalked the lushly wallpapered halls for nigh-on a century now. He’s naught but the shape of a man in a dark window, or out the corner of your eye, yet he sends chills down your back and wets your mouth with the sudden taste of blood, the pressure of his thumbs against your throat (here and gone, here and gone). There’s an elderly couple in the Lily Room tonight, and Zoe knows they’ll be at it like rabbits (the look in the old woman’s eye, the way she licked her paper-thin lips as her boyfriend accepted the heavy metal key). The sex doesn’t have to be good to make the house’s lights flicker, the walls moan, but Zoe lights a special candle (purple and thick) just to be sure. In its flame, she burns a slip of paper (a spell, a secret) and heats a spoonful of something dark and rich as tongue. She swallows it. Oysters; petrichor; salt sea air! She sucks her fingers to make sure the old woman is wet. She strokes the candle to keep her lover hard. She whispers to the strangler’s aching ghost, fuck, have you ever felt so alive?


K.C. Mead-Brewer lives in Baltimore, MD. Fun fact: her rowhome used to be part of an orphanage in the early 1900s; no child-ghosts have been encountered yet, but one can hope. She is a graduate of Tin House‘s 2018 Winter Workshop for Short Fiction and of the 2018 Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. For more info, visit