Pub Competition Entry: The Hanging Gardens

6 minute read

Pub Name: The Hanging Gardens

Proprietor: Lucius </strong>

Don’t awaken the dead as you sleepwalk around. If you have a dream, brother, hush, not a sound. Just stand there and rust, die if you must, And play the game. -Richard Thompson, “Can’t Win”

The Hanging Gardens has shrunk to insignificance on the RavenBlack City skyline. A mere 24 stories tall, it is dwarfed by such colossi as Caesar’s, the Golden Nugget, and Trump’s Taj Mahal. Gray and solid, it would seem more an office building than a casino were it not for its two extensions: the amusement pier, and the gardens from which it derives its name. The pier, complete with carnival rides and games, extends gaudily into the sea at the Northern city limits, but its bright lights and brighter colours are at odds with the notoriety it attracts. Several times, some unlucky soul has threaded his or her way past the cotton-candy booths and the tilt-a-whirl rides to the low wall at the end of the pier, clambered up its seagull-scarred surface, and plunged into the waters below. Though the Parks Commission estimates the depth of the water to be no more than 15 feet, none of the suicides’ bodies has ever been recovered, or even seen once the leap has been made. Those with a scientific bent mumble of sharks or strange currents caused by the pier’s unusual structure; others have darker theories.

The gardens are what give the hotel its name and its identity, however, and they are truly magnificent. Set off in a massive greenhouse attached to the main building by an elevated walkway, the gardens house exotic flora from around the world. The motif is what some crazed designer imagined Babylonian might have been, and so frescoes of lhmu and other ancient Mesopotamian images decorate the vine-covered walls. Lengthy flowerbeds hang suspended from the ceiling by steel cables mocked up to look like twining vines; from these spill profusions of flowers. Squads of gardeners work around the clock to ensure that flowers are constantly in bloom, and one section of the greenhouse roof actually retracts, allowing the gardens to be opened to the air during days of good weather. Winding paths wend their way through the lush greenery, and often one can take no more than a dozen steps before being completely isolated amid silent walls of verdure. The plants themselves are as bizarre as money and import laws will allow; it is not uncommon to encounter a giant blossom that stinks of rotting meat side by side with delicately sparkling sundews and peonies nodding under the weights of their own blooms. How the gardeners coax the disparate species to coexist is a mystery, but the effect is spectacular. There is a negative aspect to this lush growth, though; any patron caught damaging a plant is immediately expelled from the premises. No doubt this draconian policy has cost the casino a great deal of business over the years, but it remains firm.

To the Undead population, however, the gardens are not so inviting. One might expect them to be sere and withered, but rather they are vibrant with a growth that can only be described as cancerous. The vines have conquered all; they have pulled down the flowerbeds and choked off the paths, turned the walkway into a living tunnel and strangled the sides of the tower. Even inside the building itself, the threadbare luxuries are shot through with probing, searching tendrils of green. There is literally nowhere in the Hanging Gardens where the gardens themselves do not reach, and while there is a sort of life in these pulsing cables, it is a feverish, desperate life. The gambling floor itself is kept relatively free of this unwholesome plant life, and here, perhaps, is the truer marvel of this place. It is the sanctum sanctorum of Chance’s worshippers, and thus it manages to be simultaneously crass and reverential. Rows upon rows of relic slot machines, each beloved of and cursed by thousands of humans in its time, stand ready to swallow the coins of those vampires who either feel lucky or who simply cannot control their addictions. As each of these machines has been invested with sorcery, a rare jackpot can be tallied in emotional fodder as well as in brightly ringing coins. There are card tables as well, manned by Heretic dealers faithfully working dog-eared decks discarded by their living counterparts. A beautifully conditioned Wurlitzer jukebox sits in one comer; when sated with coins it plays loudly enough to drown out the moans from within its belly. More ghouls serve as cashiers, ready to reward Chance’s favourites with glistening stacks of coins. Generally, though, Chance favours the house. Very rarely is it intimated by some unlucky loser that the house has in fact stacked the odds in its favour. This accusation is regarded as pure blasphemy by the true believers of the Hanging Gardens, and if one repeats the comment one is likely to find oneself melted into coin and condemned to the belly of a one-armed bandit.

Where the hotel’s management erects stages in the parking lot for the rare boxing match or concert in the realm of the Living, the Undead find the Blood Pits. Little more than gouges in the sand, these chambers are arenas where vampires battle for a variety of reasons, including hatred, profit, and entertainment. Combats in the Pits are huge spectator draws, and those watching a match often throw in coins, weapons, or even each other. Each Pit is overseen by an acolyte of Chance whose functions are to officiate over the match and to take bets on the action. Cheating would be smiled upon here, except that there are no rules to break. After all, any advantage a Combatant might gamer is nothing more than a Product of Chance. The fact that Chance sometimes disguises itself as a knife tossed into the Pit by an overzealous spectator is of little concern, at least to the acolyte.

Above the gambling floor are the chambers that correspond to the rooms of the hotel. Certain of these are occupied by resident vampires. Most of the chambers, though, are generally empty, used for the occasional tryst or blood rituals and orgies, but generally left to the ever-patient vines. The amusement pier, on the other hand, appears as a desolate stretch of twisted steel and rusty powder. To the Undead, the tilt-a-whirl is already nothing more than a pile of rusting beams and mouldering wooden shells, and the mortal who rides it is no more than a mourner at a particularly perverse wake. At the end of this wasteland surge the dirty grey waters of the sea, occasionally slopping over onto the surface of the pier. A whirlpool bubbles and throbs just offshore.

Humans still come to the Hanging Gardens, of course, but not the big spenders or high rollers that a casino must cultivate as carefully as a gardener tends roses. Rather, the elderly come here, and the desperate - those who have little to lose and focus themselves on the slim chance of gain. Few families come to the Hanging Gardens, and only those honeymooning couples unable to afford the more expensive accommodations offered elsewhere on the Boardwalk. The traffic is steady rather than bustling, and only by keeping the gambling floor open around the clock can the casino remain afloat. On the whole, a Hanging Gardens patron is far more concerned with how he is going to spend the big score that he knows, knows is waiting for him at the next pull of the lever than with how he is going to pay for his room once he has emptied his pockets. The optimism here is forced and fevered, because few of the Living who walk into the Gardens can afford the luxury of entertaining the possibility of failure. The emotional atmosphere is thick and charged, and hope and despair scud through the halls like cigarette smoke. The Hanging Gardens is no place for reserve, after all, and this holds true whether one is speaking of emotional reserve or financia