Samantha and Gabriel’s luggage rolled and scraped against the asphalt of the resort’s parking lot. They had spent three days in Havana, Cuba, staying with Gabriel’s uncle. The three days were filled with sunbathing at the beach, their golden skin becoming darker, and the nights were spent dancing in the clubs with mojitos in hand.
Gabriel had planned it all out, even finding the resort from an online ad on a Cuban tourist website. The price was incredible, and it was quiet and secluded, precisely what he was looking for. Gabriel wanted it to be romantic because he planned to propose to Samantha, who he had been dating for six years.
Samantha was graduating from college, and Gabriel was in his second year, having moved from Cuba to Miami when they met. He only knew his cousin, who he was living with, and was happy when he started a friendship with Samantha. By the time Gabriel finished college, he was in love and they were in the process of moving in together. A couple of years into their new jobs, they managed to save up enough money, after the high monthly rent, school loans, and bills that needed paying, to go to Cuba.
Gabriel’s heart raced with anticipation of the days to come and of the night that he would get down on his knees to ask Samantha that one question he’s been meaning to ask for so long. He patted the ring box in his pocket. He noticed Samantha smiling at him, and he winked.
“Mr. Sanchez and Ms. Conejo?” A man in a uniform addressed them in Spanish.
“Uh, yes? Do you speak English?” Gabriel said.
“Yes, yes, of course!” The man said as he adjusted his white guayabera. “We’ve been expecting you! Right this way to the counter. My name is Hector, and I’ll be checking you in.”
Gabriel and Samantha dragged their luggage to the wooden counter. Hector pulled out some documents and placed them in front of them, along with a pen. He did it with such a flourish that Samantha gave Gabriel a raised eyebrow. Gabriel shrugged.
“Mr. Sanchez, I would need you to sign and initial this,” Hector said as he placed his finger on different points on the documents.
After signing, Gabriel and Samantha turned around to look at the lobby. There was a large sitting area with coral-hued sofas and wooden coffee tables. House plants surrounded the sitting room but were dwarfed by the potted palm trees fencing the center. On the far side were hallways leading to either a dining area or the back way. On the left side was a staircase and then further down elevators. The ceiling stretched upward with square windows open to let the warm breeze in. As beautiful as the lobby was, something seemed odd to Gabriel.
“Where are all the other visitors?” Gabriel said as he pulled out his ID and credit card to give to Hector.
“They’re probably at the pool or maybe the dining area. Right now, it would be about halfway through lunch. Some of them might even be at the Reserva. It’s not too far from here.” Hector said, and he returned the cards.
“You said you have a pool here?” Samantha said.
“Yes, we do. I can show you around!” Hector said as he dashed around the counter.
“It’s alright. We’ll go to the room first and then go around.” Gabriel said.
“It’s not a problem for me! I’ll be more than happy to show you.” Hector said with a big, mustached smile.
“Don’t you have to watch the desk?” Gabriel said.
“No, it’s alright. I have a co-worker; they’ll be along shortly.” Hector said, moving in front of them.
“Thank you, Hector. We don’t mind.” Samantha said as she raised her eyebrow and pulled on Gabriel’s arm.
Hector guided them to the massive dining area, which had about five diners; they smiled at Gabriel and Samantha. Hector greeted them warmly. Afterward, they headed to the pool area; it turned out that the resort was on a cliff, and the pool was an infinity pool, making it seem like one would swim off the edge. Gabriel smiled as he noticed Samantha’s mouth drop open. Gabriel was glad that the resort was as pictured. The next stops were the gym, the laundry room, and the lounge. Out of all the other areas, there were only two more guests, which Gabriel found strange. A resort like this should be filled.
The three of them reached Gabriel and Samantha’s guest room; Gabriel was glad to be ending the tour with Hector. He wanted to relax and be alone with Samantha.
“Here’s your room, 402. Would you like me to go in to check on the room? Maybe show you how the microwave or fridge works? I can pull the curtains for you.” Hector said his smile widening.
“No, it’s alright. We can handle it. You have been very helpful, Hector.” Gabriel said as he pulled out his wallet to give him a tip.
“No, no. That’s not necessary! I am at your service. Please let me or any of the other staff know if you need anything.” Hector said as he pointed at a woman pushing a cart with cleaning agents. She gave them a wide smile.
Gabriel raised his hand to Hector, and they shook. Gabriel let go slowly as he noticed a large area of peeling skin on the underside of Hector’s arm. He glanced at Samantha, but she was looking elsewhere.
They were surprised to see how large the room was; it appeared to be a penthouse. On one side of the room was a wide tv on the wall, a long, blue sofa with a wooden coffee table; and an oval, patterned rug lay underneath. In the middle were two tall glass doors that led to a balcony, and on the other side of the room was a wooden canopy bed with wispy nets hanging on the sides. Samantha gasped and sprinted to the glass doors. Stepping outside, she gasped again. Gabriel came up from behind and wrapped his arms around her. The view was spectacular. The infinity pool was below, and the jungle lay ahead as far as the eye can see.
“It’s beautiful here,” Samantha said.
“I had a feeling you would like it,” Gabriel said.
“It would be nice to stay here forever,” Samantha said.
Gabriel laughed and spun her. He bent down and placed his lips on hers, soft and supple. Their hands swept across each others’ backs. Samantha slipped her tongue into his mouth and began exploring delicately; Gabriel lifted her and carried her to the king-sized bed.
The afternoon sun was bothering Gabriel, his throat was dry, and he couldn’t tell if his swimming trunks were wet due to swimming or sweat. He glanced over at Samantha; she was sunbathing on her stomach; she didn’t seem affected by the sun. The glare from the pool passed through his sunglasses. He wiggled out of his beach chair.
“Sammy, do you want anything from the bar?” Gabriel said.
“No, I’m fine. I still have my water.” Samantha mumbled.
Gabriel flip-flopped over to the bar. There was a couple perched on two metal stools, drinking daiquiris. They spoke softly amongst themselves. The bartender eyed Gabriel and nodded.
“Can I have a mojito and hold the mint leaf,” Gabriel said.
As the bartender began creating the beverage, Gabriel glanced at the couple. He noticed that they had looked at him, he smiled. They returned the smile and raised their glasses.
“Great place, huh?” Gabriel said.
“Yes, it truly is.” The woman said with an English accent.
“And it was relatively cheap,” The man chimed in.
“Yes, I couldn’t believe the price too. It’s a bit off the beaten path, but I think it’s worth it.” Gabriel said.
“We weren’t planning on having a stay here. A man in Havana convinced us to come, and he even drove us here.” The man said, taking a sip from his drink.
“Really?” Gabriel said.
“Here you are, senor.” The bartender said.
“Cheers!” The couple said.
Gabriel raised his glass to them. The bartender began to wipe the counter, and Gabriel could see that he was staring at someone. Gabriel peered to where Hector was standing. He didn’t have the usual smile, yet when he noticed Gabriel looking at him, it returned. Then the bartender spoke.
“Tonight, the resort will be hosting a banquet for all guests to enjoy. Please join us.” The bartender said robotically.
“Sounds wonderful!” The woman said; she hopped off the stool. “Let’s get ready for it, dear.” She said to the man.
“Alright.” The man said, reluctantly placing his glass down.
“See you tonight!” The woman said to Gabriel.
Gabriel waved at them and turned back to the counter. The bartender had left the area; he was at the other side of the bar. Gabriel glanced back towards where Hector was standing. He had gone too.
Gabriel and Samantha walked hand in hand as they entered the dining room. He was cradling the ring box in his pocket. He was glad to see that there weren’t too many guests; he didn’t want a crowded room when he proposed to Samantha. She wore a flowing maxi dress that skimmed the floor; her skin glowed with the cocoa butter she had applied. To Gabriel, she was a goddess.
They were seated by a window that overlooked the jungle; the full moon glowed softly through the clouds, adding to the ambiance of the evening. A waitress came by with a tight smile and asked for their drink orders.
“Do you find it strange? The staff, I mean.” Gabriel said.
“Yeah, they are strange. Earlier today, when we came back from the pool, one of the cleaning maids had walked in while you were taking a shower. She startled me; I was standing on the balcony. I asked her what she had wanted. She claimed that she had forgotten something, and she apologized like five times.” Samantha said.
“What did she forget?” Gabriel said.
“I don’t think she forgot anything. I think she was putting something in our room.” Samantha said.
“She had gone to the bed and acted like she was looking for something. Then she rushed out. I went over, and I noticed there was some kind of yellow powder. It wasn’t a whole lot, but I could see it.”
“Powder? Maybe it’s freshener? Or maybe it’s Santeria?” Gabriel said
“Wouldn’t it be white, not yellow, if it’s freshener? Santeria… you believe in that crap?” Samantha said as she straightened her ponytail. “Do you think we should report it?”
“Do you feel like talking to Hector?” Gabriel said, smirking.
“No, not really. He creeps me out. Everywhere I look, there he is.” Samantha said.
The waitress returned with their beverages and placed a menu sheet of what the banquet was offering on their table.
While they were reading the menu, waiters and waitresses filed in and removed the tops off of the burners sitting on long banquet tables. The fragrance wafted towards the diners, and everyone began to murmur. Hector, who was standing by with a broad smile, stepped forward.
“Good evening, everyone! We are so glad that you are staying at our resort and as a thank you we have prepared this fine meal. Please enjoy!” Hector said as he waved his arm towards the tables theatrically.
One by one, the diners stood up and formed a line, grabbing plates from the end of the banquet tables. Gabriel and Samantha were the last in line. Gabriel studied the staff, standing nearby, their backs were straight, and they each had a wide grin.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, please join us after dinner outdoors, where we will have music, dancing, and a surprise; you sure wouldn’t want to miss!” Hector said and left them with a bow.
“That sounds romantic! Are you up for that?” Samantha said.
“Sure, it sounds nice,” Gabriel said and decided that he would leave the proposal for that moment.
The guests mingled and danced under the brightness of the moon. They took center stage as the staff lingered in shadows watching. Gabriel would have thought it strange if it weren’t for the drowsiness that took over his mind. A guest walking by tripped and almost fell to her knees but was caught by one staff member.
“Oopsy, that was close,” Samantha said, giggling.
“Do you feel alright?” Gabriel said.
“Yeah, sure. I probably had too much to drink.” Samantha said, her eyes droopy.
“We only had one drink,” Gabriel said.
An unease crept over Gabriel as he thought about what they had for dinner. He scanned the other dancers. Some of them seem to be inebriated. Something is going on here. Gabriel yawned. Samantha followed.
“I think we should sit,” Gabriel said.
Gabriel guided Samantha to a patio sofa. She rested her head on his shoulder. He thought of asking for water but then realized that the staff could have put something in their drinks or meal. That’s crazy! Or is it? Ever since they checked in, he had a strange feeling that things weren’t as they seemed. Then he saw it. A topless man with a mask walked towards the center of the dance floor with a procession in tow. There was a bump from behind.
“Please, sir, ma’am, right this way.” One of the staff members said.
The guests were being brought to face the masked man; they were too drugged or drunk to complain. The masked man began to chant, then the staff. Huddled before the masked man, the guests started to fret.
“What’s going on?”
“Is this a performance?”
“I don’t like this.”
Two of the staff members grabbed one of the guests and dragged him forward. The masked man placed his hands on the man’s shoulders and pulled him closer. The guest squirmed and stammered. The masked man pulled his mask off, and the guest screamed. The unmasked man had a reptilian face, yet he had a body of a man. The other guests staggered back but were held in place by the staff.
Dislocating his jaw, the reptilian man opened his mouth and thrust the guest into its opening. The others screamed, some passed out, and others tried to run, yet their legs could not support them anymore. They watched in terror as the man was swallowed. Gabriel searched around for an escape as he gripped onto Samantha, who was trembling violently.
Gabriel placed his lips on her ear, hoping that the screams would drown out what he was saying.
“The pool! We can swim to the edge and jump. Over that edge is a tall tree that reaches close to the pool; if we land on it, we can climb down. That’s our only chance.”
Samantha nodded; she seemed drained. Gabriel hoped that she would be able to swim. The scene in front of him sobered him. He peered back at the reptilian man; he had finished another guest and was on to the next. Gabriel nodded at Samantha and then quickly pushed the two staff members that were surrounding them.
They rushed to the pool and jumped in. Gabriel broke the surface and gasped. He could hear shouts and running footsteps as he pushed Samantha along. They swam to the edge; Gabriel peered over the side and saw the tree. He helped Samantha over as he noticed some of the staff jumping into the pool.
“Hold onto the edge! Align yourself with the tree and jump!” Gabriel said.
He scrambled to the other side and shimmied over to Samantha. They looked at each other for a brief second and then jumped.