The room was illuminated from a decorated lamp, left unattended to as if the inhabitant of the room fell asleep while reading a book, dissipating the monstrous shapes that form from ordinary objects in the dark. Thrown across the room like the remnants of a yearlong battle were luggage bags torn open, clothes pulled hallway out like the guts of a fallen soldier, articles of clothing tossed carelessly on the ground and onto furniture like blood splatter. Dirtied tin plates were left in a stack on top of the dresser, the grimy residue leaked from exquisite meats shined in the dim light. Hendrick noticed the adjacent room in the suite that served as the living room was weathered by the same filth that littered the bedroom. The glass coffee table in the living room had magazines piled high, some discussing the oil industry while others displayed the latest trends in clothing.
Hendrick’s attention snapped back to the bedroom with the soft pitch of a snore that held a tone that seemed to say, “Why bother?” His eyes followed the trace of the stranger’s body underneath thick blankets, wondering who it was that lay in the bed. The stranger had shifted their face into the pillow as Hendrick glanced up, leaving tangled black hair as their only visible trait. Hendrick took a step forward to pull the blanket off the stranger to reveal their identity but came to his senses, quickly reminding himself of the consequences for such strange behavior; if he weren’t under the odd circumstances of his current affair he could be arrested for trespassing. He rotated his body to face the living room and stepped so softly that a cat burglar would feel envy, scanning the floor as he did so for obstacles in his path. He tiptoed through the wreckage of luggage and clothing with controlled movements but, unseen due to the shadow cast outwards from the bed; he tripped over the stubborn triangular shape of a steam iron.
Hendrick fell onto the floor, biting his lip to prevent a scream of pain, while he stared at the blankets rustling in the bed. The sheets fell off the figure of the stranger like lava pouring from the mouth of a volcano; tumbling from the figure with intentionally little effort, instead letting gravity pull it towards the earth. A woman in a Victorian nightgown sat straight in the bed, her eyes barely open with a blank stupor towards the cause of her awakening. A second passed when the two sat staring at each other, Hendrick with the fear of a woodland animal at being caught, the woman with the confusion of a bear being awoken from hibernation. Her eyes snapped open in understanding and she leaned towards the dresser while she shouted, “Thief!”
Sound sparked in the dim room as the women uttered a singular string of shouting meant to usher Hendrick out of the room, but as he scurried on his back towards the living room the woman stood from bed and ran past him to block the door of the suite. Her left hand frantically swiped for the light switch to the overhead light while her other hand blindly grasped for the chain hanging from the entrance door, lashing it into a locked position with the twist of her wrist. She stood with her arms outstretched, palms pressed against the confines of the room, feet firmly planted on the carpet, in a posture suggesting that escape was impossible. Hendrick lay helpless between bedroom and living room, unable to predict the woman’s next actions against him; injury seemed imminent from the ruthless actions an animal can perform when cornered, the woman embodying the exact attributes of a trapped housecat.
The light of the living room sat in the center of the ceiling like the enormous eye of a Cyclops shut closed; wiring attached to the nerves of the eye lined the interior of the wall, giving control a giant’s eye to the minute shape of a switch. The woman pulled the switch, zapping the nerve endings of Cyclops eye until the eyelids unsheathed the iris, a blinding white light that bathed the living room with clarity. He saw the figure of the woman for the first time in the lit room, a round woman with cheeks the size of tangerines and wild black hair that swirled around her shoulders. The pearl-colored nightgown was sleeveless with black lace flowered the neckline, her stomach stretching the garment’s seams as if the pudgy belly demanded to be the center of attention. Her eyes once widened with fear now narrowed as they watched Hendrick, expecting an explanation of his presence. “What did you plan on stealing from me scoundrel? I assure you nothing I have is yours to take. I will phone the police if you intend to leave this room with any of my possessions. Just wait until my husband catches wind of a thief trying to steal from his very wife. He’ll have them give you the electric chair!”
Hendrick had his arms raised over his head in self-defense, as if he could protect himself from the words she threw at him. He opened his mouth to speak but choked on the first syllable he uttered, remaining silent while he attempted to mouth an apology. Finally he spat out a word, one that belonged in the middle of a sentence but was spoken in the hotel suite regardless. “Falling…” He blinked rapidly as if he were hit in the face by a baseball, anxious from the situation he yearned to prevent from occurring.
The woman stared at him as she would at a lunatic, with the qualities of being awestruck while hiding a thin concern for his well-being. She reached her hand out to help him up before remembering her previous prediction of his character.
“Falling… I…There was an elevator shaft. I fell down the shaft and feared for my life, but something strange happened and then I was…here; actually I landed in your closet, to be specific. I must sound crazy to you, but I assure you I’m not in your suite intentionally. I don’t want to harm you at all miss; I’ll leave right away.” He started to lift himself off the carpet, but noticed the woman continued to block the door.
Defiantly, she said, “I don’t think I believe you. That all sounds quite imaginative and inconceivable. I am willing to bet that you made that up off the top of your head so you wouldn’t get in trouble for being caught. But I’ve caught you red-handed vandal, so confess your sin and tell me the truth. I haven’t the patience to listen to any more of your gibberish.”
“It isn’t gibberish. I am speaking of the calamity that has been brought down on the Majestic Hotel. Whether you like it or not, we are both inhabitants of the same surreal nightmare.” He pauses to notice the vacant expression on her face. “Wait, you were asleep when it happened weren’t you? You don’t know about the hotel, do you?”
“What in heavens are you talking about? Of course I was asleep; you woke me from my afternoon nap. What right do you have to inquire about me, this is my interrogation criminal. You’ll answer my questions if you don’t plan on spending the rest of your life in prison. What do you mean when you refer to thecalamity?”
He walked over to the curtained window in the living room and lifted the veil with his arm. “See for yourself.”
She pushed herself against the door, unwilling to believe the vivid story of a criminal in her hotel suite, but obeyed him and walked over to the window. At first she believed it to be a trick, it could have been a blank piece of cardboard taped to the window, but upon closer inspection she saw the chunks of building missing from below her room. Her gaze followed down the building until it reached the vast emptiness of the space below. The building was floating, the thought seemed impossible but she continued to look at the evidence. She moaned as her face grew white, “This can’t be happening.”
“My initial thought exactly, but itishappening and wearea part of it. It looks like we’re in a void of sorts, one that is completely empty except for the presence of this building. I’ve noticed that gravity has an erratic effect in this abstract place; in some instances objects are left floating helplessly without weight while in others you might find yourself falling to your death. I don’t know how we got here or even why, but I’m going to find a way out.” He felt surprisingly calm while explaining the situation to her, the task of surviving in a dream world brought excitement to his sorrowful mind. With the woman now calm, relief eased his tension, allowing him to relax for the first time since the bus ride.
“You’re looking for a way out of here? I want you to take me with you, if only to repay me for intruding on a lady’s sleeping quarters. Now leave me to get dressed, I want to look presentable for when we return to the world.”
The hallway outside of the suite was a desolate stretch of silence, with the clicking of Hendrick’s shoes against each other as the only sound permitted, while he sat with his back against the wall waiting for the woman to dress. The watch on his wrist, perhaps influenced by the aura of the hotel, couldn’t move and instead rested quietly with the time one fifty-two stamped permanently onto its face. The time reminded him of what was waiting for him in the real world, the girl he had met only once but already longed for her presence the most. The small details to her complexion came rushing through his head like a watery stream; the bright auburn hair that bounced playfully when she shifted her neck, the round brown eyes that held steady the same twinkle of curiosity in their depths throughout the interaction, the way her lips tried to fight a growing smile that reappeared at points in the conversation with a radiant glow, the short nose that wrinkled when they spoke of the unsavory moments inUnder the Blinding Light, the earlobe that peeked through her hair at times. He remembered the long gray jacket that ended midway down her thigh, just barely covering the patterned brown dress that she wore underneath. Steam billowed from the smokestack of the imaginary locomotive that circled the rails of his mind, reminding Hendrick of his purpose; he gave a solemn prayer that he would find the girl before letting his mind wander.
The sound of clicking echoed from the lock of a door as metal discs wedged into place with the particular teeth of a key, allowing the woman passage through the door with her room key. She stepped through the doorway, shutting the door behind her as she did so, stopping short in front of the crouched figure of Hendrick. She wore a plum-colored blouse with an elegant frill wrapped around the buttons that kept the shirt fastened tight, covered partly by a black band that cut across the bottom of the shirt. The black band bulged from her belly, unable to hold back the impertinent stomach that the woman wore like an ugly sore that needed to be bandaged. A short pencil skirt matching the color of the blouse shot from the band to cling to her thighs, following the rounded edges with practiced precision. The pelts of several young foxes were woven together into the expensive shape of a fur coat. It looked as if she was beautiful once, but her attractive face had long since been stretched from gluttony into the resemblance of a toad with lips smeared with purple lipstick. She held her face pulled tight, her lower lip pulled stiff while her eyes looked down at Hendrick from a veiled gaze suggesting she was the superior of the two. She was poised with a confidence gleaned from a runway model on a cat walk, with the tongue of a shrewd diplomat. “I don’t think I’ve been formally announced so please allow me to introduce myself. I am Dianne Malidor, wife to the founder of Malidor Oil, Charles IV Malidor. I know the mention of my name should have been plenty of information, you simply must have heard about my husband in the papers.
“It doesn’t sound familiar,” Hendrick said as he brushed his slacks off. He turned away from her, placing his foot so it faced towards the staircase.
An odd smile carved itself into her face as she gave voice to a thought intended to be unheard, “You haven’t heard about my husband, not at all?”
Hendrick noticed the smile and found it peculiar, but disregarded it and started walking to the staircase. At the moment conversation was only a distraction from his goal, an unscheduled stop of the ceaseless train that had only one job: to continue moving forward.
“Hey, aren’t you going to wait for me? This is no way to treat a lady young man! If you were proper then you would let me lead the way while entertaining me at any length. Why if Charles were here he would give you an important lesson waiting on a lady such as myself. He would say that I should be treated like a princess, that every need of mine, no matter how trivial, should be met by the efforts of a proper man. You are quite fortunate that he...,” she paused averting her eyes briefly before continuing. “That he was called for an important meeting late at night. Charles is a punctual man who will never say no to anything, not even to a late-night phone call that drags him away from his sleeping wife.”
“We’re going to find a way out of here and when we do, I’ll listen to what your husband has to say. But if you don’t mind, I’d like to start heading towards the lobby. The staircase should take us to the bottom safely, I hope.” Hendrick gestured for Dianne to lead their expedition, but she stood firm.
“I haven’t a clue what’s down that awful stairwell so you can lead the way, I was merely stating a fact. Go on, I’ll follow behind you, but make sure you check on me every few minutes. I wouldn’t you to be oblivious to my disappearance if I get kidnapped.”