Ro raced down the corridors of Hotel Tomber, the stained, red carpets flashing beneath her official looking shoes. Her breathing was shallow; and every step was labored. The rooms, all in the hundreds, wooden numbers tacked onto the doors, flashed by in a blur. She just caught a glance of her short-cropped black hair in the windows. She ran her hands against the creeping-ivy wallpaper to gather her bearings.
She hadn’t expected for her family vacation to be punctuated with a strange looking, one eyed Hotel Manager to come chasing after her. What had she done? To had kept the room clean for the one night that she had been in the Hotel; she planned to keep it neat for the next two days that she would be sleeping there. What was the issue with him? It was lucky that she was a speedy runner, because the one eyed man with a pale, sweaty forehead and torn slacks was out to get her...her only hope was to find the elevator, and escape onto another floor. But where was the blasted thing?
But then, she realized that she had seen a metal door a few paces back...
Ro suddenly stopped running as she realized that she had passed the elevator entrance entirely. Instead, she had hit a black wall, a dead end made of brick. She couldn’t go back down the hall—the Hotel Manager was coming down that way. Her heart rate quickened, and she clenched her teeth together.
He slowed to a slow gait, his weight mostly resting on his right leg.
“If you don’t get away from me, I’ll—I’ll sue you for all you have!”
“No,” he grunted, his voice shockingly smooth.
“I told you, stay away from me! I don’t want to...hurt you!”
His laugh was hardly stifled.
“Look behind you.”
“There’s a laundry chute behind you. If you don’t slide down it right now, I’ll push you,” he said, his tone threatening.
He popped his knuckles, and rolled his neck with a terrible crunching noise. He advanced towards her, and Ro was prepared to fight for her life. She couldn’t trust people, and there was a reason for that.
He was a foot away from her, and she could see the tiny bits of stubble from his sloppy shave. She quavered. He took out a red baton from his bag—a baton of all things—and pushed her towards the chute.
Ro glanced backwards, and realized that a metal slot, the perfect size for a large bag of laundry or a human, was shuddering behind her. She couldn’t see what was behind it, but it was a foreboding prospect.
“Please—my father—“
“Please, my father,” the man mocked, “What have fathers ever done for me?”
“That doesn’t mean that I don’t want mine.”
“You’re not safe here! You can’t stay in the guest suite forever, you know.”
“But I have it reserved for three days!”
She held out her arms to protest.
But it was too late. The man had lunged at her, hitting the baton into her shoulder. She toppled backwards, desperately trying to hang onto something, anything. But the walls were wide, too wide for her to jam her arms into, and the Hotel Manager had slammed the trap shut.
There was a list of things that could have gone wrong that day, but being shoved down the laundry chute was not on it.
But as she sailed down the chute, the chute that wasn’t immaculately cleaned, she felt the grime sail onto her, splattering all over her made-up face. She felt a few stray socks on her way down, which she knocked loose. Ro knew that some legal power would find the Hotel Manager for sending her down into the basement in such a way.
She found the bottom of the laundry chute, her body falling onto a stack of clothes with a resounding flump. She was covered in jeans, and sweaters, and everything in between. It was disgusting. She saw the grime on her under the light of two bear, flickering lightbulbs that hung tentatively from the stout ceiling. Wiping off the dirt, Ro tumbled out of the clothes, onto the cold, cement floor.
It was dastardly to be on such a floor in the floral shirts and tee-shirt that she was wearing. She hadn’t been prepared for the fall-out—how could she have been expected to bring weather appropriate attire? It was malicious to be at the mercy of something that she didn’t understand. Ro felt a pain in her temples, a spurt of anxiety. She was in the laundry room. Her room was four floors up. How was she going to get back?
She stroked her hair, feeling its texture against her skin, knowing that she could take anything that the Hotel could throw at her. She could get back to her hotel room, and take a warm, soothing shower. When she got home, she would sue the manager for all he had. Her father was a lawyer, and he was a partner of the best firm in town.
Suddenly, Ro heard a soft noise, crescendoing as she backed into the linen sheets again.
A voice was saying something, an utterance at first unintelligible, and then clear.
“Denouement,” a boy’s voice said, “It’s denouement.”
She turned to the corner that the voice was coming from, the right corner, and saw a young adult sitting down on a pile of papers. His face was hollow and waxy, and blue eyes that had to have been vibrant had faded to a foggy grey. His brown hair, looking nearly silver in the odd light, was greasy and unwashed. His knees were to his chest, and he was holding a raggedy pillow in his hands, drooping like a pat of butter on a warm piece of toast.
“Je suis tous les mondes,” he whispered.
“What does that mean?” Ro asked, not approaching the boy.
“I am everyone.”
Ro laughed.
“No, you’re not everyone. You’re only someone if they count you as a someone. You’re down here, no one knows who you are. You’re not even a someone, so how can you be everyone?”
“The same applies to you,” the boy said, “You’re down here with me. You’re not a someone by your own logic.”
Ro rolled her huge eyes. Of course she was a someone. Her father was looking for her. So was her mother. That made her a someone.
“Est-ce que tu a peur?”
“What does that mean?”
“Are you afraid?”
“Of you, maybe. Maybe you should help me find a way out, it looks like you haven’t left here in years. You’re as pale as a ghost; you look sick.”
“Oh, but I am. Just not like that.”
He pointed to his chest, and then his crooked head.
“I can’t help you leave. I can’t get out myself.”
“Why not?”
“Watch this.”
The boy stood up. He looked like someone who had been underweight, but had recently gotten heavier. His stomach strained against a button on his shirt. It sat just over his belt, which must have been on a smaller notch earlier.
The boy walked over to the brick wall of the laundry room, and pulled a brick out. The wall looked loose, and it would be easy for him to pull out the bricks and let her out. But he shoved the brick back into place, his eyes welling up as he did. Ro was confused.
“So you can leave. And you want to leave. So why don’t you? Don’t you have things to do in the world?”
“You try it, you’ll see. Vous allez perdre.”
Rolling her eyes, Ro realized that the poor kid was out of his mind. She could move the bricks and leave the laundry room—it was an easy task. She had a plan, and wasn’t that all a person needed?
Ro approached the bricks, easily pulling the first one out. She squealed, entirely triumphant. What was the boy’s issue? It was that simple. She began to pull the second brick out of its place.
And suddenly, it happened. A jolting sensation in her fingers. She felt the being moved back, lifting the first brick up again. She shoved it back into place, and realized that she had just been compelled to do the same thing that the boy had. Did that mean that she was sick, too?
“Do I have...the sickness that you have?”
“It’s not contagious. But it’s not really a sickness. I am everyone. And everyone has it.”
That sounded awful, for every single person to be sick. It was impossible, it was unfair!
“Will I get it?”
She had never expected to be so afraid of something that she couldn’t even put her finger on.
“You’ll get it when you get your schedule. Now, come with me. You’ll be spending a lot of time here.”
He suddenly opened a hidden door, right behind him. It swung open into a dankly lit passageway, curving so that she couldn’t see its desination. She squeaked her shiny shoes together, wondering if she could take the first step in.
“Why didn’t you open this before? Why didn’t we escape through this?” She asked.
“This isn’t an escape route,” he told her, “It’s the opposite. It will lead us right up to the Boss. That’s where each and every someone in the hotel gets their working schedule.”
“But I’m not working. I’m on vacation here!”
The boy shrugged, his shoulders moving lazily around his neck.
“When the Boss says that you gotta work, you gotta work. The Hotel Manager pushed you here, ici, so you can’t get out now!”
“Is the Hotel Manager the boss?”
“No! Not even close. The Hotel Manager is the boss of you, and no one else. But his boss, Boss, is the one who controls the Hotel. Pretty intéressant?”
Ro nodded. In truth, she was bewildered, caught off guard. Her lists would never have covered such a strange situation, and she loved her lists. So, she fell into a taciturn pause as the boy filled the silence, telling tales of nonsense, working, and he finally revealed his name. It turned out to be Levi.
As she listened to his stories, Ro became aware of the path that she was on. There were many offshoots of the passage, leading in spiraling directions.
“How do you choose a path, Levi?” She asked.
“It doesn’t matter. All the paths lead to the Boss—he was the one that made it that way.”
After his satisfactory explanation, Ro fell back into an uncomfortable silence while Levi blabbed. Some French was spoken, and he talked about everything under the sun for the millions of years that must have been spent toiling in the tunnel. It was shiveringly cold, and Ro’s goosebumps were so prominent that they were about to take off and fly away. She wrapped her arms around her chest and didn’t say a word about how she wanted to leave. Maybe Levi was right—there no way to leave. The hope of ever getting back to the hotel room was beginning to fade.
Soon, the tunnel began to get narrower, and narrower, so narrow that if she pressed a hand to each wall, the hands wouldn’t be far apart at all.
Then, she saw the most dazzlingly bright light ahead. She squinted. It was literally the light at the end of the tunnel. She didn’t walk towards it.
“What are you waiting for? You are not about to die. Tu ne mort pas. Sure, it happens to everyone, but this isn’t your time!”
“Really? It’s not heaven?”
“No. It’s really not.”
Suddenly, the light went dark again, and a face appeared behind where it had been. It was a mature, lined face, with perfect hair and a striking smile that he was using on the two of them. He was holding a bright flashlight in each hand.
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