Friday, 23 April 2010
2.03 CHECK-IN By Chuck Heintzelman
"It's only 1:30, you're not scheduled for check-in until 2:03am."
Martin gaped, slack-jawed at the woman, a petite blond. He didn't understand her meaning. A large, marble countertop separated him from the woman. On it, a brass bell with a little plaque, "Ring for Service."
Aware his mouth hung open, he closed it.
The woman spoke in a monotone, but Martin detected annoyance in her voice. "I cannot process you for another thirty-three minutes."
Hundreds of silver keys dangled from hooks on the pegboard behind her.
"Sir, if you could wait in the lobby."
Martin didn't respond. His mind reeled. Why am I at a hotel? How did I get here? Did I have a blackout or something? This isn't amnesia, I know who I am, but why can't I remember how I got here?
"The lobby is over there." She pointed past him.
Martin looked where she indicated: sofas and chairs arranged in a rectangle, surrounded by large potted plants, and an elevator off to one side. The place was almost empty. An elderly man and a sickly looking woman were the only occupants. He looked back at the check-in woman and for an instant he thought he saw flames. Orange and yellow, flickering and then gone.
He blinked. No flames, just the blond woman standing there. She still pointed with one arm, the other arm on the countertop, fingertips clicking impatiently against the marble surface.
"Uh, thanks." He started towards the lobby and his neck prickled. He glanced back at the woman. She rolled her eyes. He shuddered and continued to the lobby.
Maybe this is what it's like to have a blackout. You find yourself in a situation with no clue how you got there. His last clear memory was the Sullivan Mansion.
Martin collided with an old woman using a walker. She crashed to the lobby floor. Her walker perched over her like a giant aluminum spider.
"Sorry," he said, helping her up.
"Thought you'd take me for a tumble, eh?" Her toothless grin widened as she said this.
"God no. Sorry. You okay?"
The woman raised and lowered her eyebrows several times.
She's flirting with me. Creepy. He turned away, headed across the lobby and slumped into a chair. The woman with the walker hobbled off around a corner. Martin looked back at the check-in area. Large brass letters above the counter spelled "Welcome to Lettum Island."
This makes no sense. How the hell did I get here? I've never even heard of Lettum Island.
On the couch across from Martin sat the old man. He had two piles of luggage stacked high on either side of him. Several seats away from the man a frail-looking woman sat with her legs pulled up and arms around them. She rocked back and forth, panting like a dog.
Martin's head throbbed with a burgeoning headache. He rubbed his forehead. I'm losing it.
His watch read 1:40am. Another 23 minutes. Someone's gotta know something. He stood and walked over to the woman.
"Excuse me," Martin said. "I'm a bit confused. Where exactly am I?"
The woman stopped rocking. Her sunken eyes widened as she stared at him. She didn't utter a word but instead hummed a song which Martin recognized as Hotel California.
He backed away from the woman and decided to try the old man instead.
"Excuse me, sir, but where are we?"
"End of the line, bub," said the man. He cackled and then said "Ding. Last stop."
Is everyone here crazy?
What happened? I was at the Sullivan Mansion. I remember worrying about the alarm code, but Gary gave me the correct code ... for a change. I went to the den. The safe was behind the portrait of the fat lady. I worked on the safe. And then ... Shit, that's all. Next, I'm here at hotel loony tunes.
Martin consulted his watch. There's no time gap. Twenty minutes ago I was cracking the safe, and now I'm here.
He needed some air and left the lobby, heading out the hotel's entrance. Outside, he shielded his eyes from the sun's blaze and looked around. A sign at hotel's entrance read "Lettum Inn."
Wait a second. He checked his watch again: 1:43am. It should be dark outside.
He staggered--vertigo--barely staying on his feet.
Calm down. There's a rational explanation for this. But what? And why a 2:03am check-in? It seems peculiarly arbitrary.
Ocean waves lapped at the beach thirty yards away from him. A dock, with no boats tied to it, extended into the ocean for as far as the eye could see. No streets. No cars. Just a small sandy beach separating the hotel from the ocean.
Martin jogged to the dock and turned to look at the hotel.
Damn, this is a tiny island. Just barely large enough for the hotel. And the hotel's tiny. It's--shit, it's only one story high. Where's the guest rooms?
Martin took several steps backwards on the dock.
It's too small. Only big enough for the lobby and check-in counter.
He turned and sprinted down the dock, away from the hotel. His shoes made rhythmic sounds as he ran, almost like a heartbeat. Slap-slap. Slap-slap.
No rooms? You can't have a hotel without any rooms. It makes no sense. Why all those keys?
He glanced behind him as he ran. The hotel grew smaller in the distance.
2:03am check-in my ass. I'm not checking into no hotel that doesn't even have rooms. Wow, can I run. It's like I'm not even tired. Adrenaline's great.
Out in the distance, Martin could see something. An island with a building. He ran on, each step carrying him closer to the building.
Sweat stung his eyes. Without breaking his stride, he wiped them. His hands came away bloody.
What the ...?
Martin came to a full stop and used the front of his shirt to wipe the moisture from his face. It was blood.
His knees buckled. What the hell is happening?
He put his hands on his head, gripping his hair, and felt something strange--a hole. He touched it gingerly with a finger.
Memories flooded back to him. He remembered working the safe at the Sullivan Mansion when the lights came on. He had turned and discovered a man in a bathrobe holding a revolver on him. The pistol wavered in the man's shaky hands. Martin turned to flee and ... and the next thing he remembered was the check-in counter.
This can't be.
He recognized the building in the distance in front of him--the same hotel on the same island he had ran from. How did it get in front of me? No way I turned around.
Even though Martin had stopped running, he kept moving towards the hotel, sliding on his knees, pulled forward by an unseen force. He slid along the dock, onto the sandy beach and to the hotel entrance. The doors opened automatically. He slid across the hotel floor, stopping at the check-in counter.
The check-in woman looked down at him. "It's 2:03am, sir, I'll check you in now."
Chuck Heintzelman calls himself an "Amateur of Words," a phrase he freely admits he warped from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Each day he juggles his passion of writing with his love of computer programming, a full-time job as a software engineer, his school-age children, and the inevitable curve ball life likes to throw. He lives north of Spokane, WA. You can find out more information about Chuck at http://chuckheintzelman.com/