The Brick Hotel opened its doors just at the start of the summer season. The building took up half a block, was four stories tall, and built like an old Roman domus, four halls surrounding a splendid atrium. This atrium, however, was filled with machines, The Brick's main attraction, an entire steam-powered garden. The leaves were cut steel, the tulip petals polished silver, the roses a special gold alloy. The roots were buried beneath the soil, and snaked back to an underground control room, where nobs, dials, gears, and a host of tubing fed carefully measured amounts of steam into the plants, allowing them to bloom and close, grow and shrink with the seasons. It was a magnificent attraction, but not a cheap one.
Steam Hotels, such as The Brick, were notoriously hard to keep open. The attractions were madly popular with locals and tourists alike, but overhead costs were crippling. Robots broke down with alarming frequency, the price of coal had sky rocketed, engineers had formed their union. A hotel would need to pack four people in every room in the house every night just to break even. Some places managed to stay open a little past the average nine months by being their own engineer, but that scenario had its own problems. The Palazzo, owned by Miles Lancaster, lasted the longest of them all. After eleven months and three days of working what amounted to four simultaneous full-time jobs, Doc Lancaster succumbed to stress and was carted away to the rest and relaxation center.
The Brick, on the other hand, sailed merrily along, seemingly unaware that it was pulling off the heretofore unattainable. Rumors circulated on the methodology employed to bring about such a miracle. Perhaps some new super-efficient method of steam production? Dodgy labor? Black market parts? One after the other, managers of rival hotels booked themselves a night at The Brick, desperate to know its secrets before it put their own hotels out of business. Each one left equally disheartened. All the robots were legal, the coal as normal as could be. No one gave a second thought to Maddy.
Maddy was the lift operator. She had worked at several of the more spectacular steam hotels of recent memory, each one falling to competitors not long after her departure. Of course, visitors suspected nothing. One ship sinks, join another crew, that's what they thought. Anyone who made a comment to The Brick's owner-operator, Mr. Edmond Tillsbury, would only hear what a hard worker Maddy was, how well she fit into The Brick's little family, how glad he was to have her on his staff. Indeed, he was glad. Glad, and not a little afraid. He thought, once or twice, about telling someone, anyone, about Maddy's true self, her bizarre demands, her tyrannical side, but he never went through with it. Maddy would find out, she always found out, and then his hotel would be for the wrecking ball, just like the others. Tillsbury knew her history, knew all about it. She'd explained it to him. "I'll keep your little toys running smooth, love, smooth like you never saw, but you'll give me whatever I want, and no questions asked. Humans are easily replaced."
He'd agreed of course, and eagerly. A guaranteed profitable, relatively stress-free steam hotel was an offer too good to pass up. And so, The Brick opened at the start of the summer season, smack in the middle of downtown, with Maddy glibly pulling lift cords and directing visitors to their rooms with a smile. Just over a year passed before the first girl went missing.
Tillsbury nearly fainted when Maddy gave him the order. "Get me that girl," she said. "The one with the purple feather thing in her hair." When he questioned, her mouth set into a frown, metal grinding against metal like fingernails on slate. "I want her," she said. "Bring her round after hours."
Maddy's demands had been growing steadily weirder - meters of pipe, a seven foot glass tube that he'd had to lie to a friend about, a key to the garden's control room - and now a young woman? But Tillsbury didn't have much of a choice if he wanted his hotel to stay open. Besides, Maddy had yet to hurt anything, and she was just a robot. If things got out of hand, he could always turn her off. So that night, as the grandfather clock sounded twelve quiet chimes for the top of the hour, Tillsbury and his newest friend made their way across the lobby from the bar to the lift. The doors swung open with an eagerness that would've been surprising if not for the pure lust emanating from Maddy. Tillsbury's doubts magnified.
"Very nice," Maddy purred, her tiny, glowing eyes looking the girl up and down. She reached out and snatched her prize into the lift. "This month'll be big," she promised.
The doors sprang shut, leaving Tillsbury alone in the large lobby. The "B" above the lift lit up. Maddy was taking her to the control room.
The next morning, the girl's family showed up at the front desk in a panic. She hadn't returned to her room. Tillsbury paled. The police were called, and The Brick searched, even the garden control room. No sign of the girl. Tillsbury was as honest as he could be. God only knew what kind of lies Maddy made up. The police ruled it non-suspicious, assumed she'd found a lover among the hundreds of guests and gone off with him. Tillsbury felt bad, but did nothing.
As Maddy had predicted, the next month was big. Tillsbury half feared, half prayed, that business would drop off, but news of the girl's disappearance only enhanced the sense of mystery surrounding his establishment. Guests flocked to The Brick like birds of prey. Reporters hung about looking for celebrities, celebrities hung about looking for reporters, ordinary people hung about oohing and aahing. Tillsbury raised rates twenty-five percent, and still he was booked solid every weekend, and nearly so on weekdays. Six months passed before Maddy pointed out another girl.
"Your new laundry girl, Tillsbury. I want her." His heart froze. "Just like last time," she said, and snapped the lift doors shut on his objections. Ginger was a slight, perky girl, barely sixteen. She hadn't been working more than a month, and already she was a staff favorite.
That night, Tillsbury went straight to bed after closing, no girl, no Maddy, no garden control room. The next morning, he awoke with a jump. Someone was banging on his door. Tillsbury opened the door, still rubbing his eyes, and found the head busboy, Peter, rubbing his as well. He'd been crying.
"She's gone, Mister Tillsbury, gone. We've looked everywhere!"
"Ginger. She didn't show for work this morning and no one's seen her since last night, but all her stuff's still in her room. We've looked everywhere."
Again, the police were called, and The Brick searched, even the garden control room. Again, no sign of the girl. This time, Tillsbury had no lies for the police, but he did fail to mention any of his suspicions about Maddy. The police ruled this disappearance non-suspicious as well, but even they seemed dissatisfied with the explanation.
This second disappearance did not attract guests the way the first had, but by the following spring, they were back, mostly tourists. The locals had learned to stay away. When Maddy called Tillsbury over and pointed out the next girl, he complied. It was no use resisting.
The next five years saw a disappearance about once every six months, sometimes two in the summer, but The Brick's business never seemed to wane. In fact, every six months, business would explode anew, young men and women hoping for a little ghostly excitement. Unfortunately for them, Maddy always picked the one girl who had no idea what all these self-styled ghost hunters were on about, the one girl Tillsbury prayed she wouldn't pick.
One day in January, shortly after his dozenth girl fetching, Tillsbury awoke to August heat. He pulled on just enough to be decent and stumbled out into the lobby. Guests were milled about, fanning themselves with whatever they had to hand and complaining about the heat. Peter met him just outside his door and trailed him the short distance to the front desk.
"Mister Tillsbury, sir? Sir?"
Waving him off, Tillsbury climbed a stool and waved for quiet. He assured his guests that there was probably just something wrong with the furnace, that he'd call the repairman and have it fixed in a spell. He stepped down, hoping he'd be able to live up to such a claim. If the problem wasn't fixed by lunch, he'd probably have to start giving out refunds.
Peter was still trying to get his attention. "Mister Tillsbury? Sir! Maddy's gone."
Tillsbury stopped halfway back to his office, his blood suddenly running cold, and headed back for the lift. The doors snapped open to reveal an empty lift.
"I've been running it since about three this morning," Peter said. "It seems to have stopped working around midnight."
"Call an engineer." Tillsbury stepped into the lift, pulled the cords, and headed for the basement.
If the lobby had been hot, then what the doors opened to in the basement was a sub-tropical rain forest. Tillsbury coughed as the heavy air entered his lungs and started off towards the garden control room. The tunnel that led to that room had never been hospitable, being particularly stout and vulnerable to plumbing dysfunction, but now passage was nearly impossible due to a massive amount of steam. As Tillsbury stumbled along, one hand to the wall, he thought he heard something. Laughter? He hesitated a moment, but steeled himself and continued.
The humidity increased as he neared his destination. By the time he reached the control room door, he was covered in sweat and breathing heavily. He felt like he was moving through gelatin. He put his hand on the door knob, and heard a voice.
"Tillsbury!" The voice was Maddy's, but at the same time it wasn't. Her voice had changed, become less mechanical. "Do come in, Tillsbury."
He was certain he did not want to see whatever was beyond that door, but he couldn't make his feet move. Several moments passed. He heard the swooshing of taffeta and the creak of hinges.
"It's quite rude to keep a lady waiting, Tillsbury."
He broke and ran. Not bothering with a hand to the wall this time, he fled back through the tunnel and leapt into the lift, yanking the cords down as fast as he could. In the lobby, he exploded through the doors and began screaming.
"Out! Out! Everyone out!"
The panic in his voice urged the guests on, and they rushed for the double exit doors almost as one person. As the pile-up began, the lift dinged it's goodbye and started back down. "Peter! Peter!"
"What the hell's going on, Mister--"
"Open up all the doors, the kitchen, everything. Use the windows if we have to. We need to clear this room."
"Yessir!" He ran off just as the lift dinged again. It had reached the basement. The lobby was emptying, but not nearly fast enough. Tillsbury was glued to his spot in front of the lift. A third ding sounded, heralding the arrival of Maddy, and he took a deep breath. The doors slid open to reveal... a human figure?
A humanoid figure, he quickly corrected himself. For there was nothing human in the pale patchwork of flesh, taken from a dozen different girls and stitched back together in a gory imitation of human features. Two differently colored eyes stared out from mismatched sockets, one cheek slightly darker than the other. Seam lines, only partially hidden behind eyebrows, continued around her nose and down the side of her face before joining under her chin and disappearing down the middle of her torso. Her hair, pulled back and up into an elaborate bun, was three distinct shades. She wore the outfit of the first girl, purple taffeta and purple feathers, and smelled as if she'd been dead five years.
"How do you like my new look?" she said. The flesh couldn't completely hide her mechanical origins. A puff of steam escaped from somewhere on her back and fogged up the mirror on the back wall of the lift. She picked up her skirts and advanced, forcing Tillsbury to back up.
He tried to swallow. She'd been collecting flesh. In his basement, his hotel, she'd been collecting the flesh of young women and sewing it back together.
One of the guests glanced over and screamed. The level of panic in the lobby rose a notch, and people began climbing over one another. More quickly than he had thought possible, Tillsbury found himself alone in the lobby with Maddy.
"I liked this outfit the best," she said blithely. "I know it's a tad out of style, but what's a girl to do? One can't change one's own taste." She rolled her eyes toward the ceiling, but only one of them came back down. Another bit of steam escaped from her back. "I'd like to thank you, Mister Tillsbury. I've been trying, in one form or another, to work this out for near on five decades now. Never met anyone so eager to help."
Her condescending tone snapped Tillsbury to his senses. "You'll not be getting any more help from me," he informed her.
Her lips curled upward in a smile, but slowly. The muscles were not used to the exercise. "You misunderstand, Mister Tillsbury. I no longer require your assistance. You have been rather useful though. Thank you." She took a quick step forward, reached her arm out, and suddenly Tillsbury found himself in a heap on the floor on the other side of the front desk. Peter was crouching over him, his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open.
"Stop gawking, boy. We've got to turn her off."
"What the hell is she?"
He met Peter's eye. "Remember all those girls who disappeared?"
Peter nodded, puzzled. Then realization dawned. "Oh my God," he breathed. "Ginger?"
Tillsbury nodded. "We've got to turn her off. She's still just a machine. Her gears are still there. I'll distract her, you get in around behind her and turn her off."
"I don't even know where the switch is, sir. And what about the code?"
Tillsbury frowned. All robots had a code that had to be entered before anyone could turn them off, a security measure lest any curious guests accidentally turn off your employees.
Peter jumped to his feet. Before Tillsbury could pull him back down, Peter shouted, "Maddy, wait!"
Taffeta rustled. "Peter?"
"What're you doing? I mean, where are you going? I mean..." Peter swallowed hard. "What the hell have you done, Maddy?"
More taffeta rustled. Tillsbury made for the end of the desk.
"I'm human now. And beautiful."
"Maddy, you killed people."
"They created me," she said. "I'm their child. And they make me work like a slave."
Tillsbury hid underneath the flap at the end of the desk, crouched between the desk and the wall, and glanced around the corner. He couldn't see Maddy. He slipped around the desk and crawled as far forward as he dared.
"How many days have I had off?"
"You never asked," Peter said.
"You think they'd give it to me? It's twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, or I'm on the streets. Well, no more. I'm one of them now."
Tillsbury stopped listened to her as she became visible over the white marble of the desk. First her feathers, than the hair, then those eyes. The one had fallen back into proper alignment, but with her wrath stoked, her eyes now had an orange glow to them. Tillsbury inched forward, arching a wide circle around the lobby and towards his prey. Peter kept arguing with her, bravely holding the monster's attention as Tillsbury made his way a quickly and as quietly as possible down the center of the room. A switch stuck out from the base of her skull. Oh yes, Tillsbury thought. She's still just a machine.
"Why didn't you tell us, Maddy?" Peter was saying. "We'd have--"
She reached across the desk and grabbed his shirt collar. "You humans never listen! You only want what you want, and you don't give one wit for anybody else's--"
She started to turn, but only made it half way. She froze there, hands still gripping Peter's shirt collar, face twisted in righteous indignation. Tillsbury collapsed.
Edmond Tillsbury's body recovered of course, but his mind never did. An investigation was ordered into why Maddy had gone so far off her programming, but none of the engineers who took a look could figure her out. Deep inside of her, where there should have been only oil and steam, they found blood. They also couldn't figure out how she was able to make the hotel prosper exactly when she wanted it to. By that time, though, no one really cared how she'd done it, they just wanted to be rid of her. Maddy was buried deep in the soil of the mechanical garden, and a new gazebo erected over her. The Brick was eventually sold, but with its secrets out, business never picked back up, and it was forced to close for good. It still stands, four long halls and a collection of frozen flower machines, nearly forgotten surrounded by newer, taller buildings. No one ventures past it's boarded up entrance.