Every day, when he returned to his skid row hotel, Eric imagined himself returning to a huge hungry swallowing mouth. Inside, he padded through the hallway to the guts of his dwelling place. A 7 x 12-foot room with a bed and a sink looked out upon an opposite room of equal measurement. Eric felt like a bacteria surviving inside a greater beast. He shared the place with other organisms, other living debris, Archie the alcoholic, Brandon the lonely old perv, Lon the cracked toothed manager. Around him along skid row stood other hotels, also full of human misery. How did he get pulled into such a place? He spent more time thinking about the question than doing anything about it.


Alice, an emaciated six foot tall woman with a tiny head and a wide, curved-up jaw arrived at the hotel one evening, loaded down with old blankets and plastic bags full of rags. Eric passed her as she sweated up the stairs with her burdens. She gazed down at him with big yellow flecked eyes, the pupils a deep, deep blue. She opened her mouth wide and closed it with a snap. For an instant, Eric saw a long red tongue and sniffed in a deep musky scent. He felt a short burst of desire, mixed with apprehension. Alice ran her hands up to her curly black hair and said, “What the hell you looking at?”

In her first few weeks at the hotel, she didn’t scream at all. Eric awakened only a time or two each night to hear pounding feet along the rooming house hallway. When he got up to look out, he saw her stomping up and down, moving her small head from side to side, her long neck rippling. “Checking it out, checking it out,” was all she said.

“She’s nuts,” said alcoholic Archie, who lived across from the shower room. “She’s always in the showers banging on the walls.” He raised a bottle of aftershave to his chapped lips. “Notice there’s not so many cockroaches around?”

Eric agreed. “Yes, there used to be dozens pouring out of the cracks as soon as I turned the light out. I only catch one or two in my night traps now.”

“I think there’s a connection,” Archie leaned forward. His breath smelled like gasoline. “After Alice, there’s been a humungous reduction in the little critters.”

“She’s pretty weird. A bit sexy, in a slinky way.”

“Yeah, but those eyes, man. I suggest you carry around a bottle of clove oil.”

“Clove oil?”

“Yeah, that repels reptiles, and it’s good for headaches, too.” Archie winked and patted Eric on the arm. “Come in and have a drink,” he said.

“No, Arch.” Eric knew the moment he started drinking aftershave, he’d be totally lost. “I just rub it on my face, thanks.”


Brandon, the retired lumberjack living in Number 26, never cleaned his room.

Whenever he visited, Eric always noticed cockroaches climbing through Brandon’s shirtsleeves and out his pant tops. Since Alice’s arrival, he seemed pest-free. “Yeah, Alice has gained some weight,” Brandon said, holding onto the wall while munching on a huge pizza. “I think the mental health team needs to be called. On the other hand, she’s cleaning the place up.” He grinned. “I opened my door one night and there she was, sitting on the floor popping roaches into her mouth. I found it kind of attractive,” he chuckled. “Someone’s finally doing something about the bug problem.”

“I’m going to complain to the manager about the pounding,” Eric said. “Cockroach eating? That’s just gross.”

“I’d mind my own business,” said Brandon as his pizza crumbs dropped on the floor. “I personally think Lon bought her in to clean this place up, and I’m glad he did.”

Manager Lon agreed with Eric. “She pays her rent however she can,” he whispered, smiling through his black and rotted teeth. “I’ll talk to her about the disturbances.”

The noise and pounding ceased for a while. Then the mice began to vanish like the cockroaches. Eric set out traps for them, like he did for the roaches, but now they remained empty. It felt good not to feel rodents skittering over his blankets in the darkness or rustling in his nearby backpack. If she was getting rid of the vermin, maybe Alice was okay after all.


One night, Eric walked down to the shared washroom. He observed Alice down on all fours in front of Brandon’s door. “Are you okay?” he asked, and she gazed up at him with a big, broken-toothed grin. The yellow flecks in the whites of her eyes flickered as Eric stared into her blue orbs. For a moment, he felt like falling.

“I’m hunting,” she growled. “Are you the one who ratted on me?”

“Oh, about the noise?” He came back to normal with a start. “Oh no, not at all.”

She gave him a half-smile. Her enormous mouth stretched unbelievably wide, far across her wide, spittle-flecked cheeks. “I hope it wasn’t you,” she said. She didn’t seem to have any lips, Eric noticed, but there was that long red tongue. That mouth could swallow a large animal, Eric thought. Strangely, this turned him on for a moment. Then Alice grabbed a silverfish darting out from under Archie’s door, crushed it, and popped it under her bottom lip. “Little shits,” she whispered in a hoarse voice, “don’t bug me.”


After that, Eric minded his own business. He was relieved to be far from the hotel most days, out at dawn at the back of a long lineup of guys, waiting for casual work. He’d unload trucks or do warehouse labour with these fellow indigents. He’d graduated from university with a degree in Medieval Studies, and now turning 26, getting older, too proud to ask for any help from his mom or family. Most days, it felt like a weight pinned him to his current life. He couldn’t think outside the usual routine. Get up, go to work, come home, and sleep. “You become who you hang around with,” said Archie. “You crash through to who you are.”

“Yeah,” said Eric. “Maybe that’s it.” But he couldn’t think his way out.


Over the next few weeks, Eric heard Alice striding the narrow hotel halls, banging her small head with her fist. “Vermin!” she’d shout. “Unleash the prey.” Then she’d hit her head again. She lurched by Eric and said, “Nothing to eat, I’ve got nothing to eat.” Eric offered her a bag of raisins. “I don’t like sweets,” she said. He put a ham sandwich outside her door one night. It lay there in the morning, with the meat removed. He noticed that whenever she passed Brandon’s door, she licked her lips.

“She should be on medication,” Eric told Lon.

“I know,” the manager said. “Poor woman will never find a man.”


The next day, Eric returned around 7PM, flush with casual labor cash. On the way to his room, he noticed Brandon’s door open, the light on. He peeked in and asked, “Hey, are you okay?” A pile of empty pizza boxes lay on the bed, and a dank odor wafted up. “Maybe the old logger’s down the hall in the john,” Eric thought. “It’s not like him to leave his door like that.”

He moved along the hallway, heard loud, heavy snoring and traced it to Alice’s room. Her door vibrated with each noise expulsion. Liquid seeped out the gap between her door and the ripped, brown linoleum. He knelt on the floor for a moment and examined the substance. It smelled a bit like cheese.

Eric met Lon in the hall and asked him about Brandon. “Maybe he went on a trip,” said the manager, picking at his swollen gums with a long toothpick. “I’ll check on it.”

“Alice’s snoring really loud,” said Eric. “Maybe Brandon’s in there with her.” They both laughed.


Eric headed for work. The fog rolled in from the port. “I want to go back to my room and sleep my life away..”  he yawned. Everywhere, the air smelled like Lon’s rancid breath, and he thought of Alice eating the silverfish. Eric knew something rotten was happening to his mind. How he’d changed from a university student graduated and ready to meet the world to an aimless wanderer through the skid row zone. “I’ve lost my drive,” he said to himself. “I should have majored in carpentry.”


Alice didn’t come out of her room for three days.

“Lon checked on her,” said Archie. “She’s under the covers sleeping all day.”

Archie coughed and poured himself a glass of homemade wine. “I was with Lon when he opened her door. Said he was worried, but we only saw a head joined to a great big lump.” Archie swished, then swallowed his drink, and coughed some more. “She told us to f… off.” he chuckled. “Sounded slurred, like she’d been drinking. You’re a good listener, Eric. I think I can call you one of us.”

“One of you?” Eric asked. Archie was too involved with his coughing to reply. He poured Eric a glass of his wine, and handed it over with a shaky hand. Eric took the glass, swirled the wine around, lifted and swallowed. Then he had another glass. The more he drank, the more the world swirled, the hotel itself like a whirlpool, spiralling him in, always downward. He woke up the next day with a bad headache, too late to go to work.


That evening, Eric saw Alice stagger out of her door. She looked thin, but with a slightly swollen stomach. “What are you looking at?” she shouted, leaning on the wall. The familiar musky smell hit his nose and he stepped back. Alice smiled and stared right at Eric’s face with her huge eyes. He held onto the stair rail. “Feeling hungry today,” she said. She pulled herself closer along the wall.

“I think all the mice are gone,” Eric said in a louder voice than usual. Then he laughed at his own joke.

Alice ran her tongue along her top lip. “I’m not a cat,” she said. “Now kiss me, or run along and mind your own business.”

Eric laughed thickly. “I’m okay,” he said, and sidled on down the hall. She followed him just behind, giggling. He thought of her huge blue eyes and very strong hips. Even the disgusting smell could be overcome, he thought. It had been so long since he experienced any pleasure. He felt another headache coming on. He remembered what Archie said about oil of cloves as a cure.

In his room, he thought over his social life. Girls rarely looked at him, with his stubby arms and bony face. “You’re so quiet, we hardly know you’re there,” they said. He sat in his room and rocked back and forth, thinking of his sorry situation until he fell asleep. He awakened at noon with another bad headache, went out, and bought two bottles of oil of cloves.

He held his aching head. If I put this under my nose, I should be okay, he thought.

Alice stood at the top of the stairs. She wore lipstick, which seemed unusual as she barely had any flesh there. She wore very short yellow pants. Eric saw how shapely her thighs were, even on that skinny frame. “How are you, Eric?” she asked. “I”m okay,” he said. The musky scent exuded even stronger today.

“Do you have any more sandwiches?”

“Um, I do have a couple in my fridge,” he said.

“Can you bring some over to me? I haven’t eaten yet today.” She grinned. “Just the ham,” she added.

“Okay.” He looked in her eyes as he passed. He’d never been so close to this creature before. The blue orbs went back and back like crystal-ice tunnels; he stared in and wanted to fall through. The musky odour drew him in now, as he bought the sandwiches and entered her room.  His headache vanished.

I might as well go for it, he thought. Suck myself in.

Alice’s room was as small as Eric’s, with one small window that looked out over a filthy alley. All the blankets lay piled up on the floor; there was something under them because they lumped up high as the window. Alice lay on the bed in her shorts and a tank top. She possessed barely any breasts that Eric could see. Her lower jaw dropped down and she smiled very widely and said, “Shut the door behind you and give me that ham, my friend.”

Eric closed the door and held out the meat.

“It’s right over here,” he said.

“No,” commanded Alice. “Bring it over here. Kinda close.”

Her eyes drew him in, so deep, those yellow flecks moving around; how could they be shifting like that? Eric’s mouth felt dry; his heart quickened. Alice’s musky smell overpowered his consciousness; her eyes pulled him forward. He’d been moving on this tangent since he left college, falling towards an ever-gaping hole, always facing the ground, not the sky. He witnessed Alice’s jaw open as he knelt closer with the meat. She exhaled, and her breath blew oyster scent and sex. He took his hand and pushed the meat into her mouth. She sucked it up and he felt his hand go in, too. How big a mouth did she have? His hand went in, and then his wrist. What the hell was going on?

It didn’t feel bad, though; like hot connection, skin on skin, he flopped his arm forwards. Alice’s mouth gaped. She twisted herself out from the bed like a gymnast; her long arms grabbed his shoulders as his hand went further in. “Mmmmmm,” she hummed, and Eric saw liquid flow from her face.

Pleasure flowed up his arm from the warmth and stickiness; he wanted to push, to force his way in faster.

It felt like he was going into a warm cave, a soft tunnel, a womb.

He thought, I’ve fallen this far; why not push all the way in?

His left hand lay in his pants pocket. Alice’s other arm tugged at it. Eric became aware that his fingers wrapped around something. He gripped the thing tighter. Oh yes, a bottle of clove oil. That momentary distraction took his mind and his eyes off of Alice, and in that second, she raised both her legs up fast and wrapped them around his midsection. Then she lifted him right up into the air and towards her face. His right arm fell up to the elbow in her mouth.

What the hell was going on? He looked down to see Alice’s mouth become a maw, a huge widening hole with two giant gums. He no longer saw her eyes, only the mouth in front of him, wide and breathing out hot ham-smelling steam. His right arm slipped in up to the shoulder.

“No,” Eric yelled. “That is far enough.” It’s a good feeling to fall, he knew, you don’t have to do anything but let circumstance take you, it’s passive yet exciting, but Alice’s gullet was the limit. No more going inside, further towards helplessness. His left hand came out of his pocket with the bottle of clove oil. Alice pushed his head closer to hers and he heard her grunt and his thumb pushed open the container. Half his ear was inside her cheek now and her knees lifting his stomach held him almost ninety degrees in the air; he felt the fingers of his right hand slip further. With his left arm, he reached around and poured the contents of the clove bottle into Alice’s gullet.

He felt the huge force of Alice’s arms push him back. He crashed sideways towards the window and fell on the pile of blankets. Alice sat up, retching. She staggered upright, her mouth hanging low, loose skin drooping almost to the floor. She lurched out towards the washroom. Eric leaped up, full of adrenaline. The blanket he crashed on came with him. Eric stood gasping. Underneath the blanket, a pile of bones. A skull full of grey hair, in Brandon’s 50’s pompadour style. Bits of clothing and more hair and a couple of greasy pizza boxes underneath.

“She’s a f…ing serpent owl!” Eric gasped. He flew out of the room, lurching and crashing towards his own.

He burst inside and felt his right arm burning; he looked at it and saw blisters formed, from the tips of his fingers almost up to the shoulder…an acid burn. His cheek stung, too. He slammed his door and locked it, peered in the tiny mirror over the sink. Sure enough, the cheek blistered too, from where it nudged up against Alice’s inner mouth.

Eric manically pushed all his clothes and books into the big packsack at the side of his bed. His left arm worked frantically, and his right, although injured, did what it could. No more falling, thought Eric.

He’d jog to the bus station, withdraw all his available cash. He’d return home humbled to his mom and her trailer in the north, finished with the spiral, the sucking down of his life.  Regurgitated and free, to start again.

He leaped down the stairs and out of the hotel door, loped down the street with his heavy pack,  dodging around the homeless lying in doorways; with every step, his pace accelerated, like a rocket ship taking him away. By the time he reached the bus station, his arm and cheek still throbbed terribly, but he could barely smell Alice’s musk.

That odour’s memory, though, would remain in Eric’s mind the rest of his life, an ever-wafting reminder of his battle with the owl serpent.