Before I get started, I just wanna preface this account by stating I have zero evidence for any of the claims made in this spiel. If you wanted to hear laid-out, well-documented, and fool-proof authentication for what I am about to unveil, I apologize in advance. These events transpired sometime in the mid-90s if memory serves, and as time has certainly taken a toll on these memories, some things I can never forget.
In my young adult years, I had a job at one of those “Adult Superstores". If you’re a traveler with a keen eye, then you’ve probably seen weathered billboards along the highway for similar places. Or perhaps, if you live in a densely populated region, you may have a local store not far from your home.
Most of these places are basically the same in terms of retail: lewd sex paraphernalia is the theme here. I won’t get into specifics, but you can imagine as you will. Let’s just say…don’t bring the kiddies. That is why they call them Adult Superstores after all…
With this tasteless assortment of obscenities, you can only envision the types of people the cat dragged in. Not exactly the best clienteles, but the place certainly had its market. They weren’t all bad. Some of them were a bit kinky, sure, but not bad people, per se. My parents would tell me to avoid the weirdos altogether and told me to never work at the pitiful store. I dismissed their requests, and for once did something of my own accord. Besides, not all of the customers were freaks of nature…
For example, one day in-walks this newlywed couple. They couldn’t’ve been older than 23. Admittedly, I was a bit jealous of the happy pair, being myself but a voyeur of their bliss. It was a cute sight to behold though, and it attracted the attention of our regulars: a bunch of 25-year-old self-denying virgins (you can assume what kind of purchases they were making). The young lovers were sweet. They bought some lingerie for their honeymoon (the bride, that is) and some condoms and were on their way. That was one of the few times we ever saw both halves of the couple in the store at the same time. You’d be surprised, most of the time we get husbands getting a “special gift” for their wives, which in turn was actually a gift for themselves. I didn’t mind ever, of course, I got my five bucks an hour (this is 1994 money we’re talking, here).
Sometimes it was a weirdo with a neckbeard asking for a sex doll. Thankfully, we had six different types in four different complexions. Sometimes it was an elderly couple looking to “spice up” the relationship. Don’t worry, I usually didn’t suggest anything too extreme. Sometimes even, it was a family on a road trip thinking we sold toys for their young ones. While we did offer toys, I don’t think junior wanted anything we offered. Apparently, it’s my fault that mom and dad were too lazy to read the word Adult plastered all over the signage.
And sometimes, in-walks something that changes your life forever.
When it happened, it was just like any ordinary day. I had stocked all the shelves in the morning, and the place was dead quiet, probably because it was a Sunday, and everyone was asking for forgiveness concerning their purchases from prior in the week. I remember it was a Sunday because I checked the inbox and slapped my own forehead when I realized there was nothing inside.
I must’ve been standing behind the register for a solid hour, doing nothing but chewing the same piece of gum. Just like my life, I had sucked all the flavor from it, and the only thing left to gnaw on was the tastelessness. That’s probably why I was working in an adult superstore in the first place.
Then this guy walks in. He was probably in his early-30s with long, black hair. And while his appearance nor presence really matters in this story, what he had does…
“Real cute, man. Let’s save the Jesus stuff for Sunday school” he said, sliding a VHS across the countertop.
“What’s wrong with it?” I asked.
“You tell me. I can’t get off to this- “ he said, leaning down and grabbing a nude-y magazine off the rack. “Here- “ he said, “I’ll pay the difference.”
I apologized to the man as he nodded and took his magazine to do whatever unspeakable things with it. I took a glance down at the tape entitled XXX and took the VHS out of the sleeve.
Back in the mid-90s, there were no streaming services. You probably have vague memories of Blockbuster video, and the back room of the store I worked at was essentially a pornographic version of it: customers would come in and rent an “adult film” and return it within three days. It was a pretty novel concept and it was my job to rewind and clean the VHS sleeves, though I hardly ever did it (I was making five dollars an hour, remember).
And when I say “clean” I do mean clean: some of the sleeves had some “wear-and-tear” to put it gently. Odors and the occasional stickiness were inevitable, which is why I usually didn’t touch the things and risk contracting an STD.
However, this newfound tape was an exception. I took a glance around the empty store and snuck into the “employee’s room”, which must’ve been an overhauled janitor’s closet judging by the size of it. Inside the room were a chair and one of those ancient box TVs. I took “XXX” and popped it inside the player.
It took a solid minute to boot up. Clearly, we employees hadn’t used the TV in some time. When it eventually flashed on, the VHS immediately began playing. I reversed it until the screen was black and hit play.
It started rather abruptly, and immediately I knew something was off. I’ve seen a lot of pornographic videos, but rarely, especially in those days, do you find one animated; crudely animated, at best.
The animation was of a smiling sheep. It had wide eyes and bleach-white teeth. It bopped up and down for a moment with whimsical, chipper music. Then, its smile melted into a frown as it shook its head in disapproval.
“Uh oh- it seems you’ve found a naughty film. Does the Lord like naughty films? Hmmm? Deep within your heart, you know the truth. You know what’s bad and what’s good. Listen to the good, stay far away from the bad.”
Then the image faded out, and I assume it was at this point when the man ejected the tape. Because, only moments after, another image faded in from the blackness. It was that of a man in an elegant, black suit. He smiled, almost embarrassed-like, at the camera. He gulped in a breath, then spoke:
“If you’re like me, you grew up with this nonsense all the time: stop your sinning, repent, don’t have sex, don’t do drugs. You know what I hear? Don’t be free: free from religion, and free from God, Himself. Sheep eat it up like pig feed, I spit it out for the hogwash it is. Maybe you share in my persuasions. Perhaps, you aren’t as sheepish as they make you out to be. Perhaps, all you need is a chance…”
The screen flashed to an image of a group of people, smiling at the camera, standing in front of a large, pink building: a hotel of some kind. Text flashed onscreen in unison with the group’s unified voice:
“The Hotel of Pleasure: A Place to Be Free!”
The text and image faded out, and an address appeared onscreen. I paused the tape. What was strange, though, is that the address was listed as a set of coordinates: 25.058 latitude and -80.435 longitude.
You have to remember, there was no “Google Maps” in those days. We had to use an Atlas for this kind of thing. And from what I could gather, there was no 25.058 latitude and -80.435 longitude. What I mean is, the coordinates led to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, just south of Key Largo, Florida. There was a small island out in the water, a Rodriguez Key, but those exact coordinates led to, well, nothing.
I un-paused the tape, and after the coordinates rested onscreen for several minutes, the image cut to black again. Then, from the blackness, faded in a video.
Keep in mind, I’ve watched this video dozens of times. While I won’t go into the gritty specifics, you’ll quickly catch on as to why I turned the tape into the police.
The video opens inside a modest hotel room. There’s a queen-sized bed center-frame, surrounded by four pillars on the corners of the mattress. Tied to the bottom-leftmost pillar by a rope stands a small, black goat. The goat looks around, somewhat dazed, before it focuses its attention on a door (I assume the connecting door between hotel rooms). Then, from the other room, walks in another, larger, black goat; this one clearly a buck, judging by the large horns protruding from its head. The buck walks over to (what I assume to be) the doe, and stands on its hind legs, mounting her.
I’ll spare you the details, but you can imagine the disgust smeared across my face as I pressed “fast forward” on the TV. After several long minutes of goat sex, the image fades to black. Then, another video begins to play.
This is where, if you’re faint of heart, I advise you to stop reading. Granted, if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably not going to stop now, are you?
I kept “fast forward” on. But don’t worry, I saw plenty. The video fades in, and there’s a dozen-or-so people in the same room. The goat is still mounted on the doe, and surrounding the animals, on the bed, the floors, and along the walls, are naked men and women taking part in what can only be described as a mass orgy.
Now here’s the thing: I’ve seen videos of this nature before. I do work at an adult novelty store, after all. However, what I then noticed made me sick to my stomach: some of the people in the room were far…younger than I first realized. I couldn’t tell you their specific ages, but they clearly looked too young to be in that room. Then, in the background of the video, I could also make out several people engaging with animals, though I couldn’t tell if they were more goats or something more domesticated like dogs.
At this point I didn’t really care, I pulled the TV’s cord from the socket and lowered my head, physically sick to my stomach. I, of course, dialed 911 and told the operator everything I could about the tape. Within half an hour, an officer arrived and retrieved it. I only had to play the first forty seconds before the officer asked me to eject it. I did, and he sealed it inside of a plastic baggie. He told me to expect a phone call the following day, and I obliged.
Let me just say the following day was extremely unsettling, not because of anything I saw or heard, but rather what I didn’t. I never did receive a phone call from the authorities. In fact, to this day there is no case. I’ve called dozens of times, but to no avail. It simply doesn’t exist. And the officer, along with the tape, have never come forward. For all I know, I imagined the whole thing. What makes this all-the-worse is that what little information I had, the coordinates and name of the hotel, all lead to nowhere.
For five days straight I called the local police department. I never got any answers. I pleaded for someone to investigate the coordinates, but all records showed the location was a mere blip in the North Atlantic.
After many sleepless nights, I decided that I would go and see if the place even existed. If for nothing else, I needed to determine whether or not I imagined the whole ordeal…whether or not I was insane, or just was being lied to.
Somehow, I managed to drive nine hours to the southernmost point of the continental United States despite my depravity of sleep. I had to convince my shift manager to let me off for the weekend, and the only thing I told him was that I was taking a little vacation to ease my mind due to the events that had transpired.
At a certain point, the Overseas Highway along the Keys offers an unmarked, and unnamed exit. It’s so hidden, in fact, that my Atlas at the time didn’t even make note of its existence. I took it and found my way down a long, one-lane, road. The road was seemingly unfinished, to the point where I had to slow down and use my bright beams because the road had no streetlights of any kind.
After a twenty-or-so minute detour, the road led to a small port of some kind. I parked my car in the desolate lot and peered through the darkness of the night. The area was completely still, aside from the silhouette of a boat swaying on the rocky waters. I made my way toward the harbor, following the tapping sound the boat made against a wooden dock.
“Good evening, sir!” a voice said. I jumped from the mere sound of the man’s voice, not expecting to see another soul out here in the middle of nowhere.
“Hello?” I said, my voice more so asking than stating my word.
“Johnson.” I lied.
“Mr. Johnson- “the voice said, “-is it freedom that you seek here tonight?”
“Y-yes?” I said, once again asking more so than stating my response. From within the boat, I could make out the figure of a man. He tugged the boat toward the dock and extended a hand toward me. I approached, inching my way through the darkness until he hoisted me onto the vessel.
“Thank you” I muttered.
“It’s my pleasure, Mr. Johnson,” he said, unfastening the rope and turning the wheel of the ship.
“Where is it that we’re going?” I asked.
“Don’t be coy- “ the man said in a jesting manner, “-save your games for your stay. We’re just shy of ten minutes from DuPont Key, home of the infamous Hotel de Pleasure.”
“DuPont Key?” I asked, holding up the trembling Atlas in my hands, scanning the bayside for the name in the dark.
“Oh, you won’t find it on there- “ the man said, “-Monsieur DuPont loved his secrecy. Get in with the right crowd and see what kinds of secrets you can hide.”
“Secrets?” I asked.
“You seem like a man with many questions,” the man said, “Hotel de Pleasure was a gift of DuPont’s to his late wife, you see? The DuPont’s were wealthy landowners in Brittany. They had quite a few estates in France, as a matter of fact. But money cannot buy freedom. And for the DuPont’s, freedom was hard to come by “
“What kind of freedom?” I asked.
“Monsieur and Madame DuPont were swingers, you see? They felt it freeing to engage with whomever they pleased. Though, at that time, what they were doing was strictly taboo. The local church, and the community at large, condemned the DuPont’s and forced them into exile, sending them here to the Keys, where they founded this island: DuPont Key. You won’t find it on any U.S. map because it’s not a part of the States, it’s its own territory...its own, sovereign, territory.”
Glancing over my shoulder, I could make out the shape of a large structure in the distance, standing erect in the middle of the black waters.
“Hotel de Pleasure has always been a source of freedom for those who seek refuge within its walls. The DuPont’s lifestyle was not welcomed in their generation, but today that kind of thing happens all the time, and no one bats an eye. Our puritanical forefathers were wrong in their convictions, Mr. Johnson, but this great hotel has never been. As much as we've been bonded by the choices of yesterday, imagine the freedoms we’ll have tomorrow.”
The boat nestled into a dock, as the man stood and tied off the rocking ship. In the moonlight, I could see the man’s face: the man from the video. He smiled and gestured for me to watch my step.
“Follow the path to the front doors of the hotel. Once you go inside, you’ll find one of our keys, granting you access, the freedom, to any room in the hotel.”
“What about the other guests?”
“They’re welcome to go, as they see fit. Or stay. It’s entirely their pleasure” the man said, leaning in as he cleared his throat. “There are no laws on DuPont Key and, therefore, in Hotel de Pleasure. We have no legislation here. We are, truly, as free as it gets.”
“What about murder?” I quickly asked. “What about-?”
“To each their own pleasure” the man slowly nodded.
I was taken aback. I don't think I hid my surprise well.
“Please enjoy your stay, Darius. We hope you find it…pleasurable.”
With that, the man bowed slightly, turning back to the boat, hopping in, and sailing into the darkness.
I still have no idea as to how the man knew my actual name. I take it has something to do with what he said about those “hidden secrets” within the right crowd. I wanted to turn back at this point...but seeing that my only exit off of the island was the occupied boat, now somewhere in the darkness, I was trapped for the time being. So much for “freedom” …
I followed a winding path, every now and again glancing around me, just in case. The closer I got, the more of the hotel I could make out. It was tall and pointy, almost like a church steeple. It was pink and accented with white along the windows and door frames. The front doors were large and elegant, yet something about the place felt quite sinister, despite its inviting outward appearance.
As I reached the front doors, pulling them open, I was greeted with a wall of musk. The odor was unlike anything I’ve smelt before. My face puckered at the stench, but it was quickly masked by the lobby’s fragrance of fresh linens and the faint hint of wine.
The lobby, despite being quite large, was empty, aside from a drunk man sitting against the wall in the corner, laughing to himself. He barely had a semblance of clothes, except for a gimp mask strapped tightly around his head, and every time he tried to stand, he fell.
From somewhere beyond the lobby, I could hear the echoing of music, muffled by the walls surrounding me. I scanned each of them, my eyes surveying the faded wallpaper until I came across a painting. It was that of a young girl and a man, both completely naked. My eyes continued, and all around me were paintings depicting obscenities: some similar to the acts I witness in the tape, some even more horrible. Some displayed scenes of bloody couples locked in a passionate kiss. Other depicted romantic scenes with corpses. For a moment, I felt as if I was back at work…but not even our store had this kind of vulgarity.
“You’re not gonna touch this!” the drunken man snapped, waving his empty glass above his head with a burp, muffled by the bondage mask.
“N-no, I’m not,” I said. The man started cackling.
“I knew I liked you from the minute you stepped in here- “
I nodded and walked past him, approaching a desk with a rack of keys atop it. Each one looked identical to the last. I grabbed one and approached an elevator. I had no idea as to where I was going, but there was only one button.
As I waited for the chime, I took one last glance around the lobby, noticing something I hadn’t before: next to the desk, perched atop a monument-like podium, was the black goat from the video. It had been stuffed, standing on its hind legs. One of its hooves was raised into the air, as the other pointed to the ground. Despite already being a strange sight, what made the taxidermized buck weirder, was that it was anatomically correct. Not for a goat, though, but for a human. Both female, and male.
The elevator chime snapped my attention from the beast, the door moving aside to reveal a homosexual couple kissing passionately. Clearly, my face couldn’t hide my shock, because one of the men turned to me and gave me a dirty look. The couple pushed past me and continued into the lobby. You have to remember, at this time, homosexuality was far more closeted than it exists today. Most people then didn’t display their passions to me as these two men did.
I took the elevator to the third floor. I didn’t have any rhyme or reason for choosing any particular floor, I just kind of pressed a button, perhaps hoping for answers hidden on one of the levels. The doors opened to a lengthy, carpeted hallway. I walked past them just as they shut, and that’s when I heard it: the moaning. It was coming from all around me. The intensity was like crickets on a quiet night, except it was far louder, only muffled by the wooden, white doors and stained walls.
What perhaps unnerved me the most about the moaning is that I couldn’t tell if it was of pleasure, or of pain, or something of both. Some of the gasps sounded erotic, but quickly turned to whimpers, whereas others started as painful wailing, and faded into groans of pleasure.
I had the key. I could’ve opened any one of those doors. But I didn’t. All I could do was walk and listen. I could hear the occasional pounding against walls, against floors, screaming, laughing, and far more…animal-like noises, whether, from actual animals, or just people awakening something within themselves, I’ll never know.
I stopped walking because, to my left, I couldn’t hear much of anything coming from one of the rooms. I put the key in the door and turned the handle, poking my head inside to confirm the place was empty: it was. I scurried inside and shut the door. There was no use in locking it.
The room looked as if it were hit by a tornado. Either I beat housekeeping, or this place simply didn’t have it. I suppose the latter of those is true. The bed was messy and riddled with stains. The pillows were tossed across the floor, and the bathroom tile was wet. Somehow, I could tell that one of these rooms was the one from the video: same carpet, same-sized bed, same pillars...
I sat in a chair in the corner of the room that looked, mostly, clean. I bit my lip, unsure of what to do now. I had made it this far with no real plan. Hell, I didn’t even think this place existed, and I wished it hadn’t.
Then from the hallway, I heard screaming and the slamming of a door. I stood and glanced through the keyhole. There were, maybe, six or so men pulling on a young woman. One of them, frustrated, lifted the girl onto his shoulder as they began laughing, walking down the hall.
As the woman frantically fought, lifting her head, I noticed a face all-too-familiar. Then it dawned on me: it was the newlywed bride I had met at work. Her dripping mascara almost left her unrecognizable, but I could tell it was her. She was even wearing the same lingerie I had sold her. Her husband was nowhere to be seen, and none of the men in the group resembled the meek young man.
I grabbed the door's handle, ready to rush out, but stopped myself. What in hell was I going to do? I couldn’t fight those guys off, and even if I could, how was I going to make it back to land with the woman? In fear, I stood there as the men boarded the elevator and went to some unseen place.
When the coast was clear, I bolted for the staircase next to the elevator. As I rushed down the steps, I couldn’t help but shed a tear for the wholesome couple, wherever they were now.
I pushed open the door that led to the lobby. I made it halfway across the room before a familiar voice rang out to me.
“Leaving so soon?” the man from the boat said, stepping in front of the stuffed goat and wooden desk.
“W-what kind of place is this?” I muttered.
“I already told you, Darius. This is freedom.”
“No- “ I said, shaking my head, “-these people aren’t free! They didn’t consent to any of this!”
“Yes, they did- “ the man said, stepping forward, “-they know the price of freedom. It always requires sacrifice. Some of our guests have given up their bodies for the benefit of others, and I can’t think of a more beautiful thing.”
The man turned to face the stuffed goat, lifting his head with a smile.
“Our little friend here symbolizes harmony: harmony between man and animal, male and female, good and evil. But what is man? What is animal? Who defines what male and female are? What makes something good…or evil? We have the freedom to choose, Darius.”
The elevator chimed. And, as the doors opened, I couldn’t believe my eyes.
There was a group of women, scantily dressed, peering seductively at me through the open doors, waving at me, winking at me. I couldn’t resist looking.
“But you haven’t felt free in your entire life, have you, Darius? Always a slave to appearances. Always a slave to fear. Always a slave…to God Himself” he said, gesturing with one hand toward the open elevator.
“Every day, you help people find their pleasure. It's your job. Why not find your own pleasure, Darius? Be true to yourself, even if just for one stay.”
My look of concern slowly faded...as if the man told me something I wanted to hear. Maybe...I had overreacted this entire time. Maybe the man’s pleas were genuine. I was, after all, trembling still: a slave to fear, as he called it. I had been leading a life of submissiveness, stripped of passion and pleasure. All I ever did was watch other people’s euphoria, never experiencing it for myself.
I had always left my choices up to my parents, my bosses, whomever...and for whatever reason this stranger was offering me a chance to freely choose for myself.
That night was the best night of my life. I feel no shame, no guilt, no remorse for what transpired. I’ve learned to let those emotions go. For the first time, I had been free. And since that night, I live differently. I’m not subjected to the rule of “right” or “wrong”, “good” or “evil”. They don’t exist. All that matters is the self. My self: Darius, and how I feel, how I’m pleased.
Maybe you, too, are tired of denying yourself. I might be talking to one of those 25-year-old virgins I met so long ago, but you still haven’t changed, have you? Maybe your lover, spouse, or significant other isn’t pleasing enough. Maybe you’re into some taboo stuff.
Maybe…you just need a place to be free, even if just for one stay…
Written by MakRalston