Twenty-one was the number enameled in gold on the sign next to the door, indicating that they were on the twenty-first floor before entering the stair well. They started off down the stairs at a steady pace, watching their steps to avoid careless injury. Hendrick slid his fingers across the top of a railing that followed the stairs with the same diagonal line embedded in the architecture. He noticed that Dianne held her arms tucked in one another, looking at the railing as if it were a sewer rat. She kept pace with him as she rattled off tales of her husband’s many feats of success, not only in his career but also in his personal interests. She spoke of a time when Charles decided to go sailing on a sunny Sunday afternoon only to find himself in a rabid hurricane hours later. The hurricane tried to capsize his boat by creating waves powerful enough to topple aircraft carriers, but by countering every shift of wind by adjusting his sails just as quickly, he was able to sail out of the hurricane alive. She told him of the time Charles went down to Africa with a friend to hunt elephants when a Bengal tiger that must have been over eight feet tall ambushed their jeep. Charles tried to grab for his musket but the tiger swiped it from his hands before he could reach the trigger. It held toppled the vehicle and was about to pounce on his friend when he jumped onto its back, choking the life from it with his bare hands. One summer Charles decided to travel to the Amazon to hike through the jungle with scarce supplies. On the last night in the jungle it had begun to rain heavily, flooding his campsite. He moved south in search of dry ground when he stumbled across a long forgotten Mayan temple. Museums of ancient history offered him countless thousands of dollars for his findings.
Hendrick hardly believed any of the stories to be true, instead he chose to believe that Dianne had a vivid imagination and no hobbies to distract her from them. He wondered how long they had been continuing down the stair well, how many individual steps they have walked over on their journey to the lobby. He glanced at the sign pinned next to the stair exit while they proceeded to walk, observing the number as a clear twenty. He had been sure that they passed several floors throughout the lavish tales of illusion painted by Dianne, but the sign was unwavering. They walked another flight of stairs and Hendrick noticed the radically smaller number fifteen branded next to the door. Confused, he kept walking with a strange feeling that he wasn’t the one leading, but the person being lead to a destination unknown. After four more flights with varying quantities of floor level Dianne began to complain.
“How much longer must we continue walking? I was not meant to be on my feet for this long, I feel like a common pedestrian. The lobby can’t be much further, can it?”
“If we are to stop walking, I suggest we go up a flight of stairs. This floor is only the thirteenth, but just a flight before it was the fourth floor. It seems the hotel is playing a trick on us. But if we were to just…,” he stopped in his sentence while turning towards the stairs they just came from to realize the staircase had been inverted, leaving the two of them standing on a platform with opposing staircases that lead down the stairway. It was an optical illusion that held a tangible presence in the void; it was as real as the throbbing feet of Dianne Malidor. He pushed on the doorknob for floor number thirteen, unsure of ever finding the Shining Beacon.
A piercing scream squealed through the hallway, the form of a single note that sustained its high pitch for several seconds before trembling into a tapering moan. At first the tone was unrecognizable but as it dropped in pitch it had become unmistakably male. It sounded as the long call of a trumpet declaring a brigade to advance towards the enemy; Hendrick charged down the hallway like a cavalier leading a battalion of armed men into war. The man’s lament echoed through the hallway as Hendrick chased after the voice, following the outburst of sobs to the source of distraught.
Stumbling from the ice room, a man with disheveled clothing revealed his presence, abruptly tripping on his own untied shoelace, screaming out towards Hendrick as his face smacked against the carpet. His manner was erratic as he crawled towards Hendrick, each outstretched palm pulling him closer to the savior from his nightmare. The man smelled of gin and whiskey, a deadly combination that could peel the paint off of walls if held close enough, which soaked his breath with a repulsive stench. His legs flared behind him as he flailed on the carpet, his mouth gasping for air between erratic screaming, giving him the characteristic of a fish out of water. The gold watch on his wrist was cracked, his sports jacket wrinkled, a shoe was missing from his left foot, the belt attached to his slacks had been undone; the traits of the man before Hendrick characterized a man disinterested with a favorable self-image. The drunk lifted his face from the violent struggle of his groveling, exposing a chiseled face with panic etched into its uplifted eyebrows. The man’s face was unmistakable: the face shaped with fear and hard liquor was none other than Alex Madison.
The entirety of Alex Madison’s life could be read cover to cover from tabloids and celebrity articles alike; from his childhood up to his current ripe age of thirty-four, every scandalous action was written in a dozen different magazines with his face on the cover. He was a man perpetually on the stage of pop culture, acting diligently for the vast audience under the bright spotlight worked by journalists and paparazzi. A play was fashioned in the minds of his eager audience tailored from the details of his life, including numerous acts entailing affairs with scores of women he was never seen with again, lavish parties paid for with his endless inheritance for a night of debauchery, and controversial incidents in which he was accused of hiring prostitutes. The play was well rehearsed by all actors on the stage, especially the Russian model Sasha Artemieva who had thrown Madison out of a two-story window during the night in a fitful rage. The play was given critical acclaim, drawing the attention of a wide audience that varied from the teenage girls in high school to the sarcastic executives of the business arena. What attracted them to the plight of a deprived playboy was the absurdity of Madison’s actions and the trademark grin he sported throughout every situation. Even on the night he was thrown out of a window he wore the iconic plastic grin as the paramedics lifted him into the ambulance.
Alex Madison flung himself onto Hendrick, his clammy hands clasping around the bewildered Hendrick to deliver an unwarranted hug. Madison leaned in towards Hendrick’s neck to speak, the toxic fumes crawling from heavy breathing burned the young nostrils not accustomed to the pungent smell of alcohol, and whispered in a hurried whisper, “Thank god you got here when you did or I might have been snubbed out! Listen, there was a man dressed in white that was here just a few moments ago who I swear had the intention of killing me. He was all transparent-like with this haze about him; I think he was a ghost.”
A silence spread through the hallway, except for the loud panting from Madison as he struggled to regain equilibrium, while Hendrick pondered the existence of ghosts. He imagined that it was plausible, considering the numerous hallucinations he had experienced in his brief stay at The Majestic; ghosts were just another trick from a magician’s handbook. While Hendrick reassessed the boundaries between imagination and reality, Dianne stared at Alex Madison with disbelief. She found the attention given to a lout of a man undeserved, deciding that Alex Madison was the inverse of her beloved Charles. Charles was a man who worked his way up in the world, carving his path through industry with a determination unparalleled; Alex Madison was a lazy bum who never lifted a finger for anything but his own amusement, spending thousands of unearned dollars on wasteful examples of wealth. Dianne considered Madison as an obnoxious creature with the obscene goal of spending every penny of his inherited wealth before he reached the age of forty, but hoped that no man was as lowly as the scrounger she pictured. She couldn’t stand looking at the playboy’s image posted in every newspaper for another crude display of a self-debased drunkard, yet it was his slouching figure that stood before her in the most impossible of circumstances.
Hendrick began walking towards the ice room, absently thinking of the ghost he thought he saw when he was younger. He knew a passing breeze could have easily blown the door shut in his bedroom, but he had a creeping feeling that hadn’t resurfaced until now. He walked towards the glass door left ajar by the shoe that had fallen off Madison’s foot, certain he would find a man dressed in white. Ice cubes clinked as they dropped onto a pile of ice in a metal bin underneath the ice machine, continuing to produce ice unhindered by the altered environment. Hendrick relaxed, forgetting the void outside and the ghost he was searching for. He rested his elbows on the ice machine and let his eyes lose focus while he glanced into the mountain of ice. He didn’t know what he planned on doing after returning back to the world, remembering the university he walked away from. He had no prospective job opportunities waiting for him and no love in his life.I would sit down in The Shining Beaconand have a wonderful date with that girl, he thought to himself. But he knew life wasn’t as simple as planning out every moment day by day. His future might as well have been the void surrounding the hotel, bare of any route away from the current moment in time. He looked through the glass door and watched in a daydreamer’s haze as Dianne and Madison began to argue. She raised her arms and pointed out the window with much frustration from the singular movement Madison offered as response: a careless shrug. Hendrick stared at them with a slight tingle of jealousy, slowly becoming aware of an isolation surrounding him from all sides. They had, in whatever form of context, an exchange of emotions and opinions between two complete strangers. Hendrick had few relationships left untouched by the scalpel Sarah used to sever his ties to other beings, turning the few friends he had against him with her sharp tongue that cut his protests down to defeated sighs.
The room had been shifting without Hendrick realizing the changes until the ice cubes stopped clinking behind him. His elbows were no longer resting on the ice machine, dropping to his sides upon the reaction of his skin no longer touching a solid object. He glanced over to the glass door only to have his gaze thrown across several thousand feet at the empty space now surrounding him. He stood on the only plane in the white emptiness, a long narrow pathway that hung like a jutting branch through the void. A creeping sensation tickled his skin, prodding the hairs on his forearms and forming cold beads of sweat on the back of his neck. He felt as if there was a pair of invisible eyes that observed him from high in the air, capturing every thought and sensation on a film reel to be studied. Slowly he walked up the path, believing it to be the only option forward. To him, there seemed to be a fluid, intended to be a numbing agent, had been injected into his bloodstream without his consent, slowly cutting off the feeling in his body. He thought of how he missed the image of the two human presences arguing in the hallway, a feeling of helplessness welling up like a lead balloon. At the end of the path Hendrick could see a tall black obelisk that had no shadow to offer. As he kept walking towards it with fear sticking to his face like grease, he noticed its shape twisting and disassembling rapidly like a tiny cell multiplying into an organism. It seemed the worse he felt about himself, the faster the black shape had begun to form, an observation Hendrick wasn’t proud to have noticed. The shape had the impression of a thin pyramid that had begun to sprout appendages that shot upwards boundless energy. A new sensation trickled through his bloodstream that caused him to fear for his life; it seemed to bend against everything he had felt, twisting his conception of his surroundings and wrenching an emotion not meant for a dark agenda. What he felt was an allure for the twisting black shape ahead of him, a longing to know what it has in store for him, all the while knowing that something sinister lay resting in its foundations.
A jarring voice broke through the silent void, disorienting Hendrick as it broke the enchantment on Hendrick’s mind.Hendrick, wake up. Come on champ, snap out of it. Hendrick heard the words, slightly mangled as if they were spoken through running water. The brusque voice belonged to Alex Madison, the relaxed tone different than the frantic moaning of a drunk. The pathway shook with thundering violence like an earthquake that could desecrate mountains oddly paired with the soothing voice trying to convince Hendrick to wake up. The black shape crumbled from the earthquake, fragments spilling onto the pathway and into the vast emptiness below. Hendrick found himself staring at Alex Madison as if he had never left the hallway. But he knew he didn’t imagine the vast emptiness, the overwhelming fear in his stomach, the black obelisk inviting him to his demise.I’m sure it was as real as the palm of my hand, wasn’t it? He found himself to be questioning quite a few things and wondered when he would stop asking questions of the illusive Majestic Hotel.
“Whatever you were thinking about must have been pretty captivating huh? Well I bet you haven’t seen anything like this before. I think I might have a latent ability I’ve never known about. Follow me and you’ll see what I mean.”
Madison had begun to lead Hendrick to one of the hotel rooms in the hallway, its door hanging ajar. The playboy emanated delight with each step leading up to the door, quickly pushing the door open to reveal an ordinary room. Madison smiled as Hendrick peered into the room to notice a bedside lamp that had been left on and a few sheets that had been tossed off the bed. Confused, Hendrick looked at Madison for an explanation but was only met by a superior smile. “Watch,” Madison slyly spoke as he shut the door while keeping the handle pressed down. With the air of a showman he pushed the door back open, watching Hendrick’s jaw drop in bewilderment. Madison felt proud of his new talent; he liked seeing people awed without him being thrown out of a window. The lamp that just a moment ago was brightly lit a moment ago was now dark, easily impressing Madison with child-like glee, but he was either too drunk or too oblivious to see the whole picture.
The lamp was the focal point for Madison, being the only object he cared to notice; Hendrick saw the image that was meant to be understood, he realized that there was gears working beneath the surface that made the trick possible. He noticed the lamp that failed to shine in the room, but instead of remaining fixated on the lamp as Madison had, Hendrick let his eyes wander through the room. The sheets that had been tossed aside were now neatly tucked into the mattress, a suitcase that wasn’t in the room before now sat underneath the bedframe, a dress shirt folded over a hanger lay over the bed ready to be worn. These were just the small changes that had occurred to the room behind the privacy of a closed door. Hendrick stepped back upon noticing the obscure manner the room was arranged; all of the furniture was now pressed against the opposite wall. Furthermore, the bathroom that once stood on the left side of the room was now against the right side of the room. Hendrick found the small observations to be hard to explain, but the entire architecture being altered was impossible by any standards; it appeared as if the room was the reflection of the former one. Hendrick stared at Madison with suspicion, mentally inquiring how a drunk man could pull a caper so grand that it defied the laws of nature; the vacant expression Madison displayed convinced Hendrick that shifting the room was through no ability of the man in front of him. Hendrick closed his eyes as he consciously tried to reach a conclusion with the facts before him, crafting a papier-mâché concept from discarded thoughts. The concept seemed too obscure to be spoken aloud, so he kept it safe in his head.It isn’t the same room.
It seemed so simple, but he knew it was a ludicrous idea that held no validity. It wasn’t possible, he kept saying to himself while imagining a hidden storeroom within the hotel that rotated rooms on a conveyer belt through the entire building. Still, there was a semblance of truth that rang in the statement that Hendrick couldn’t separate from the words; a part of him whole-heartedly believed the statement to be plausible. He put his hand over the handle and shut the door, inhaling a deep breath before opening it for himself. The room was now painted a bright yellow and brandished a window that had curtains parted like a young child with its hair pulled away from a blank face, the white void staring back defiantly. Hendrick spoke to Madison, not daring to look away from the room as he did. “Do you have any clue to what you’ve stumbled upon? This isn’t a trick Mr. Madison, not by a long shot. What we have in front of us is the answer we’ve been looking for all this time; this is the path to our escape.”
Dianne rushed up to them, pushing Madison aside to place herself in front of Hendrick. “Did you just say escape? But you’re standing in front of an ordinary room. Tell me what you mean this instance; I don’t care much for being messed with.”
“What I’m standing in front of is no ordinary room. Under normal circumstances this would be an average hotel room, but on this particular day it is something magical. When the door shuts, the room behind it is randomly selected to replace the room previous. I am willing to bet that with enough luck, we would be able to find any door we want.”
“So what you’re saying is that we have to stand in front of a door, slamming it open and shut an innumerable amount of time until it finally opens to our destination? Do you have any idea how menial that sounds? I am the wife of an oil tycoon and I will not use my hands for the same work of a servant.” Dianne Malidor crossed her arms and looked away, her lip stiffened with a stern defiance towards any effort expected of her.
Hendrick pursed his lips to speak up against Dianne, but was interrupted by the sweeping motion of Madison’s hands as they wrapped around the door’s handle. Hendrick released his grip and stepped back, letting Madison curl up to the door with an odd hunched posture that belonged in Notre Dame. “This is my magic door; I found it so I’m the only one who’s allowed to touch it.” Madison hissed, the repulsive stench of booze flagrantly reminding Hendrick of the man’s mental state. Madison swung the door open and shut as Hendrick stood a few feet behind him, watching for any room that would help them escape.
As he watched the door swing back and forth under Madison’s hand, Hendrick thought of how convenient it would be if the door lead him to the Shining Beacon. He imagined that the chances of the door opening to the one place he would have preferred to be were slim, considering the moments in his life where lady luck failed to grace him with kindness. Regardless, his chest filled with the fluttering feeling of butterflies floating within his rib cage, his anticipation falling as the door shut only to rise again when it opened. He blinked at the wrong second, catching sight of the room he had been hoping for just as the door rotated back to a shut position. The crack in the door began thinning while Hendrick leaped at Madison, the logo of The Shining Beacon seen written on stationary, the dirtied silver tables glinting under fluorescent lights in the kitchen, the metal doors with circular windows that lead to the interior of the restaurant; his hand caught the sleeve of Madison’s jacket as the loud click of the door locking shut echoed in the hallway.
Alex turned his head to see the disappointment in Hendrick’s face, but couldn’t understand why he was disappointed at all. He shrugged and turned back to the fascinating door before him that brought with it endless entertainment. Hendrick stood to the right of Madison, cautiously waiting for the next opportunity allowed to him. The Shining Beacon sat a foot away from him in one instance, but he let it pass unnoticed until it was too late. He felt a slight relief that the girl hadn’t seen his mistake, but the feeling quickly spoiled into a guilt that pulled his shoulders towards the ground.
The door swung open to a large room and Hendrick’s hand instinctively shot out to catch the edge of the wooden door; he looked into the room for only an instance before deciding it was their best option. Alex was reluctant to step forward, but followed behind Hendrick obediently as they both stepped through the doorway. Dianne, several feet behind them, scurried through the door with a dim motivation that compelled her to follow the others like a lemming blindly following in the wake of its pack.