The Drooling Path: Part 3
rating: +49+x

When James returned to his apartment that evening, the CD in his pocket seemed to weigh ten pounds. His roommates were playing Magic: the Gathering, as usual, but their game had once again been derailed by a different kind of imaginary battle.

“I'm just saying, I think 058 could take it,” Mark said.

“No way,” Carl pondered, examining the cards in his hand. “682's too big.”

"Yeah, but 058's faster.”

“So? It's too small.”

“What are you talking about? Thing's like the size of a minivan.”

“What? It's a cow heart. They're like this big.” He demonstrated with his hands, unwittingly exposing his cards to his opponent.

“Yeah, but cow hearts don't have tentacles and shit either.” Mark noticed James, furtively extracting a bag of chips from the minifridge.

“Hey, you work on 058.”

“Yeah?” James said, frozen awkwardly in front of the half-open fridge.

"How big is it? On a scale of normal cow heart to minivan."

"Minivan, definitely."

"Ha! Told you."

"Well, so what?" Carl protested.

"So it's got size and speed. 682 can regenerate as much as it wants, 058's got it beat. Tell him, James."

James, who was already halfway to his room, just shrugged and avoided eye contact.

“Hey, you alright?” Mark called after him. James didn’t answer, just closed his bedroom door. He appreciated Mark’s concern, but those two were insufferable sometimes. If they were working on SCP-058 they wouldn't discuss it so casually. Once he had his laptop out, James put on his headphones so he wouldn’t have to hear another debate about whether or not 058 was capable of seeing SCP-096's face.

He’d been wrestling internally all day, unsure if he should really listen to the CD he’d stolen or just put it back without Johnston noticing. On the one hand, he enjoyed the simple act of rebellion and was genuinely curious about its disturbing content. Morbidly curious, perhaps, but curious nonetheless. 058’s vocalizations were just coherent enough to make you think there was some kind of hidden meaning that you’d missed. It was like a riddle, kind of. But on the other hand, it was actually pretty scary. Hearing that old man’s voice go on and on, perfectly calm, without even pausing for breath was subtly unnerving in ways James couldn’t really describe. Then, on top of that, there was his fear that whatever had happened to Dr. Scott might also happen to him.

He sat there at his desk, laptop open and CD in his hands. Was he really going to chicken out and not even listen to this thing he'd stolen? Admittedly, whether or not he listened didn't change the fact that he was sticking it to Dr. Johnston. And that had been the whole point of this, really, hadn't it? Sure, the actual content of the disc was interesting, but it wasn't like he had to hurry. His interest in 058's recordings was purely personal. There was no paper to be written, no report to be filed. He could do it whenever he wanted. At the very least, he could wait until there was a clear victor in the battle between his morbid curiosity and the vague sense of dread oozing from the CD. Besides, it was probably better anyway to wait a few more days to see if something bad really had happened to Dr. Scott before following in his footsteps. Having come to this lack-of-a-decision, he stashed the CD in his desk drawer, to be thought about some other time.

Conrad made excellent time; it wasn't even dark yet when he first spotted the lights of Sin City on the horizon. Though Area-14 was as isolated as possible, that also meant that the roads had been essentially deserted. Once he'd gotten out of the mountains, he'd popped Welcome to Sky Valley into the CD player and exceeded the speed limit by as much as his car could manage. It looked as though he'd reach Vegas in time for a late dinner, after which he could check into the hotel room he'd already reserved for the night. There was a plane flying direct to Pittsburgh the following morning, and he'd already reserved a seat. If everything went according to plan, he'd be at the Atherton by this time tomorrow.

Las Vegas was a popular vacation destination for the personnel of ABCA-14. On the rare occasion that someone was allowed to leave, it was simply the most convenient place to blow off steam - and if you worked at the ABCA, you had a lot of steam to blow off. That said, Conrad himself had only been there once, shortly after being transferred to that godforsaken base in the mountains. Some younger colleagues - Jose and Bart had been their names - had talked him into coming along for a weekend of debauchery over the holidays. They'd enjoyed themselves, but he'd found the jangling slot machines and overcrowded casinos to be an assault on the senses as well as the wallet. Sometimes he wondered if there was a correlation, because unlike Jose and Bart he was still alive. Bart had gotten his neck broken for coming at SCP-326 with a needle; Jose, on the other hand, had caught some of SCP-1801's nastier components in a screw-up at the Medical Facility. Bart was the luckier one.

But none of that mattered right now. This wasn't a vacation, regardless of what Dr. Glass said. It was a mission.

Conrad stopped at the first decent restaurant he saw for dinner, and had already forgotten its name by the time he arrived, leftovers in hand, at his hotel. He made his way up to his room with as little human contact as possible, then settled in for what was unlikely to be a restful night. He would at least make an attempt to get some sleep, though, since his flight was an early one.

It was perfectly normal, on the edge of sleep, for a person's mind to wander back over the events of the day, the things that'd been bothering them at work, and such. Conrad was no different, but the events of the day and the things that'd been bothering him at work were the things normal people had nightmares about. Conrad was lucky enough tonight to be worn out from the combined effects of his morning outburst and the monotonous drive through the desert, so he didn't have much trouble falling asleep for once.

Of course, once he finally was asleep, no amount of exhaustion could protect him.

Conrad was with his wife. They were dining at her favorite establishment, a restaurant and microbrewery back in her rural hometown. It wasn’t a fancy eatery, but the food was good. The speakers were quietly playing some soft rock. Steve Miller, perhaps.

Outsourcing the upside of our swim-lane,” she said, in SCP-058’s voice.

“Oh no," Conrad sighed, closing his eyes. Lucid dreaming was reflexive for anyone who'd come out of memetics division training with their brain still between their ears, but Conrad had always had difficulty waking himself up.

Downsizing our synergistic paradigm,” Allison continued.

"Just a second," he said, staring intently at her. If he couldn't wake up, maybe at least he could turn Allison's voice back to normal. He concentrated, trying to remember how she'd sounded the last time he'd spoken to her.

“Give me innovative pain points,” she replied. Her voice still wasn't quite right, and she was still spitting that God-awful corporate buzzword-salad, but at least she didn't sound like 058. She smiled at him, but he couldn't bring himself to do the same. Lucidity was a double-edged sword; though he knew the nightmares weren't real, he couldn't fool himself into thinking the good parts were either.

A waiter approached. He had the face of Ronald Reagan.

“What did I see atop the scarlet mountain travesties?” he asked, as his right ear was peeled away.

Conrad glared at the waiter, daring him to be mutilated any further. "We're still deciding," he said.

"Now there you go again," the waiter sighed. He wandered off, leaving a trail of blood and a piece of nose on the floor nearby.

"Stick to our core at a lovely little hotel..." Allison began

"Shh," he replied, holding out a hand to stop her. "Just let me look at you." Unlike her voice, he had no trouble remembering her face. He saw it every day, in the picture on his desk, the last one taken of her before their whole reality fell apart and exposed the weird world that had been there all along. It was nice to see her again, even if it was only her facsimile in a dream. As the restaurant dissolved into the static of a degraded Betamax tape, he focused on her face: her long, black hair; her nose, which she was self-conscious about but he thought was her best feature; and finally her deep blue eyes, the last thing that remained of the dream as it faded away.

Conrad woke up with a headache, half an hour before his alarm. It was not going to be a good day, but his foul mood was mitigated somewhat by the hope that he might catch some Z's on the plane. This thought, along with the mounting anticipation of whatever waited for him in Pennsylvania, was what motivated him through his morning routine, the checkout process, the trip to the airport, and all the various annoyances that inevitably awaited him there. The flight boarded on schedule, and he was happy to settle into his second-class back-row window seat for a nap.

Unfortunately, sleep eluded him. It turned out that the mingled excitement and trepidation regarding the Atherton Hotel was too intense for him to relax. Conrad briefly allowed himself to fantasize about the outcome of this trip: perhaps he'd finally solve the mystery of SCP-1981's true purpose and nature, or determine where 058 had come from, or both. Maybe, if he were really lucky, he'd even discover some reliable way of understanding or communicating with one or both anomalies. Any of these outcomes would be the first major breakthrough on the corresponding object in decades, and his first major discovery about any object. Perhaps the information he gained would be so useful that the Foundation would hold back on demoting or terminating him after they found out about this insane off-the-books investigation.

Conrad frowned. He hadn't yet given much consideration to how he'd explain himself when this was over. Usually, when someone tracked down an anomaly on their own time, they just claimed they'd randomly stumbled across it on vacation. Conrad doubted that excuse would work for him, however. As soon as the Foundation found out about the hotel, they'd search for it online, and it wouldn't take long after that to make the drooling path connection. Though what he was doing wasn't technically forbidden, it was still completely against procedure and incredibly stupid besides.

It then occurred to him that he was, perhaps falsely, assuming he'd survive whatever happened at the hotel. Conrad had been too busy booking flights, planning drives, and scheduling car rentals to seriously ponder what he actually expected to encounter in State College. This whole trip was precipitated on the assumption that the anomaly at the hotel was somehow connected to SCPs-058 and -1981, but beyond that he knew very little. The near-gibberish in which the cognitohazardous review was written suggested that "Kaylee M", if she even existed, probably wasn't human. A human leaving hazardous online reviews, perhaps to draw more customers to their hotel chain, would've done a much better job of making them look normal. However, the fact that it wasn't completely nonsensical was, in some ways, more worrisome. 058's vocalizations were complete gibberish because (Conrad believed) it wasn't trying to communicate; it had never shown any interest in anything but destruction, so the things it said were probably just intended to distract or frighten humans so they'd be easier to kill. That hotel review, on the other hand, was a deliberate attempt to imitate human communication by something that clearly didn't understand it very well. The thought of a being as completely divorced from sane reality as 058 trying to pass itself off as human made Conrad's skin crawl. He didn't know why such an entity would advertise for some random hotel in Pennsylvania, but doubted that it wanted him to have a nice stay. Perhaps it was just vague memories of Stephen King's 1408, but Conrad was seriously concerned the hotel might try to eat him.

Then there was the question of SCP-1981. What could a killer heart monster and an alien hotel room possibly have in common with a future-predicting video of a mutilated president? Not much, he suspected. SCP-1981 had also predicted 9/11 and various other events that certainly weren't connected to SCP-058, so it was entirely possible that the cut-up Ronald Reagan's mention of the drooling path was just another one of these predictions. The prospect that such a phrase might one day become relevant to American politics was certainly frightening, but like most of 1981's messages it didn't really amount to much meaningful or actionable information. If Conrad wanted to know more about this drooling path business, he'd have to find something at the hotel.

This train of thought led Conrad back to something that'd been bothering him since he first embarked on this mad crusade: he'd never finished reading the review. He was too afraid that there might be a stronger hazard further on, one that he wouldn't be able to resist as easily as the first. If a second hazard snagged him, he might march right into the jaws of the alien hotel room (or whatever it was) without even leaving a helpful note for the people who would eventually come looking for him. It was also possible that the review wouldn't prove more hazardous than he could handle, and the information contained within might be the one thing that helped him survive whatever was waiting in room 710. After some consideration, though, he decided that this latter possibility was unlikely. The review was a lure, created by an entity that was at least smart enough to attempt imitation of human speech. He doubted that such an entity would've provided any helpful information to its potential customers, prey, or whatever else it intended the people snared by its trap to be. He was much more likely to gain an advantage by showing up unaffected by the cognitohazard, hopefully to the hotel entity's surprise.

Either way, he should probably buy a gun before he checked in.

"Huh?" Martha asked, wheeling her cart to a stop. She looked at the door across the hall, the one to Room 106. Then she looked back at the one in front of her.

Room 710.

She stared at the number for a few more moments, a puzzled expression on her face, before shaking her head and getting back to work. The weird numbering must have just been a typo or something; it was probably supposed to be Room 107. Whatever its number was supposed to be, it needed cleaning.

When she opened the door, she heard faint music coming from within. It wasn't unheard of for guests to leave the TV on, but it was annoying. Just one more mess for her to clean up, as if the shit stains in the toilet, wet towels in the floor, used condoms under the bed, and full trash can beside the desk weren't enough. That was a worst-case scenario, of course, but people who did one inconsiderate thing tended to do others.

As she stepped inside, Martha was disappointed to find that Room "710" was no exception. The people who'd stayed there last night had evidently left in quite a hurry. The covers for one bed had been slung haphazardly in the floor, all the lights had been left on, and some knucklehead had forgotten his toothbrush. She decided to deal with the TV first. However, as she crossed to the center of the room, Martha didn't see the remote anywhere. It was probably bundled up in the covers, slung off to the side in the difficult-to-reach gap between the bed and the wall. Sighing, she turned around to switch it off the old-fashioned way.

The TV was on some kind of music channel, playing what sounded like elevator music. She couldn't discern any more information about it, because instead of displaying the song title or artist like a normal music channel this one just had a picture of a sailboat on a lake taking up the whole screen. The music wasn't half bad, though, so she decided to let it play, at least until she found the remote. Maybe it'd help to ease her annoyance at the disrespectful tenant of this room while she cleaned up his leavings.

The remote was not bundled up in the bedclothes, nor was it under the bed. As Martha eventually discovered, the previous tenant had somehow managed to knock it behind the nightstand. Then he'd been too lazy to reach behind there and fish it out. Now she'd have to do it. Martha swore quietly but profusely as she crouched down in the narrow space between the bed and nightstand, feeling behind it for the remote. She had just managed to get a grip on it when she heard the voice. It wasn't familiar to her, but Dr. Conrad Scott would've recognized it in the beat of a giant bovine heart.

"Let me tell you a story."

"What?" asked George, manager of the Atherton Hotel.

"She quit," Jess repeated.


Jess, the woman who'd been at the desk when Martha left, shrugged. "Not sure. Something about Room 710, I think."

George's brow furrowed. "710? What did she say?"

"I don't know, something about the TV. She didn't stick around." Jess bit her lip for a second, debating, before she continued. "She looked scared."

George put a hand to his forehead. "Great. Wonderful. I step out for thirty minutes and my employees start going nuts." With a sigh, he looked back up at Jess. "Well, thanks for letting me know."

"No problem, boss." She started to leave, but stopped at the door.

"Uh, George?"


"What is the deal with 710?"

"The number's a typo, it was supposed to be-"

"No, not that."

"What, then?"

"I…I don't know, exactly. It just seems like the people who stay there are always in a hurry to leave. Nobody ever stays more than one night."

"Hmm," George said, rubbing his forehead again. "I don't know, maybe the beds are uncomfortable."

"Then why is it always booked? I work the desk a lot, and that room's never vacant. Yesterday some guy called and requested it specifically."

"I don't know," George said, somewhat irritably. "I guess people are just leaving really good reviews or something."


"Don't you have a desk to be working?" he snapped, surprising Jess.

Jess scowled. "Sorry," she said, then returned to her post.

George leaned forward, placing both elbows on his desk and both hands on his face. He wished people would stop asking about Room 710. He didn't know what was wrong with it, and he didn't care, as long as it kept bringing in more money than the rest of the hotel combined. So what if the number didn't make any sense? Who cared if it was the only room that broke the otherwise symmetrical layout of the floor plan? And what difference did it make if, when he'd first been promoted to manager, he could've sworn it didn't exist?

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