Hotel Living

“Good evening, Ms. Jones.”

It took a moment for Rebecca to recognize that the night desk clerk was speaking to her.

“Hi, Erik. You’re on again tonight?” Somewhat scrawny, he looked like he could be a teenager.

“Every night.”

Rebecca had been at the hotel for a couple of nights already and had seen him every night so far. He was a bit odd, but friendly.

“Well, I hope you don’t get bored easily.”

“Not tonight. There is a Twilight Zone marathon on.”

“That sounds . . . rather creepy for a night shift.”

“Nah. It’s just fun. It’s too old-school to be really scary. You wanna watch some with me?” As soon as the question left his mouth, Erik’s face flushed, and he looked away. “I . . . I mean . . . You can see it on the TV in your room. It’s on channel 56.”

Rebecca smiled. “No, thanks,” she said gently. “That sort of show always gives me nightmares. But thank you. I hope you enjoy the marathon. I’m going to get some sleep.”

Upon hearing her answer, he seemed equal parts relieved and disappointed. “Okay. Goodnight, Ms. Jones.”

She gave him a wave goodnight and climbed the stairs to the second floor. Her room was halfway down the hall.  Back inside and away from the world, she threw herself face first onto the bed. The bear walked over to her and patted her head. She laid there for awhile, not moving and ignoring the food she had brought back with her.

The story Sarah had told her about Marie only served to reinforce the fact that she needed to leave. If her family hadn’t known where she was before, if Peter had acted on his own, they certainly knew now. She knew Sarah had been trying to help, but all she had done was make Rebecca’s departure more urgent. Now she was in a strange town, living in a hotel, unsure of where she should go next. All she knew was that she needed to get lost again before anyone else came after her.

Eventually, she sat up and ate the now cold fast food while watching an episode of the Twilight Zone. She actually loved the show, but the lie was an attempt to avoid, in a kind way, more conversation with Erik. She really wasn’t looking to make any friends right now. The television was still on when she drifted off. Her last thoughts before sleep were about Marie. At least she was okay.

*     *     *

After only a few hours, something woke her up. There was an entity in the room with her. When she had first arrived at the hotel, she had walked around looking for spirits. With all the people that came through them every day, and any number of accidents or more sinister encounters, haunted hotels were rather common, so she always checked. This one had been empty. Either this spirit was from somewhere else, which was unlikely, or she had missed it, which also seemed unlikely.

Whatever the case, the spirit did not show any interest in her. It simply exited the room by walking through the door. Even though it didn’t seem to harbor any aggressive intent, she followed it into the hallway. The entity walked towards the center stair case that led to the lobby. As it descended, Rebecca realized it was actually taking steps and trying to hold on to the handrail. Maybe it was a new spirit, which would explain why she hadn’t noticed it before. If that were the case, however, it meant someone had died recently, and there had been no news of any deaths in the hotel.

Down the stairs, it walked over to the front desk and disappeared into the office. It hadn’t been manifesting, so Erik would not see it, but she wanted to find out where it was going. She cast a simple spell to see if the clerk were around. There were no life signs in the immediate vicinity. He must be in the bathroom or something. The office door was unlocked, so she hurried inside.

The spirit had already moved on, but Rebecca noticed another door in the back of the room that was ajar. Looking through the crack, she could see a set of stairs leading down. It was foolish, she knew, but her curiosity was in charge so she went through the door.

At the bottom of the stairs, she saw large bright room to the left. Inside were laundry machines and folding tables. In the center of the floor was a person, laying face down in a pool of blood. Something hit her from behind, and the world went black before she finished falling to the ground.

On the Run Again

Her backpack was already full. Rebecca was surprised to discover she had accumulated so much stuff in her time here; proof that she had stayed in one place too long. Peter’s appearance had been a wake-up call. It was only a matter of time before he returned, and she intended to be gone long before he did.

Frustrated at herself for getting attached to so many things, she began grabbing things out of the bag. Discarding most of the clothes, she was able to make space for a few charms and other tools. This house, these rooms, had come to feel safe. No longer. Thomas couldn’t protect her. No one could protect her. 

The only thing now was to run. David was restored to his body. There was nothing more she could do here. It was time to leave. Running was all she knew how to do. Her magic couldn’t protect her; if anything, it is what got her into this situation. She just needed to find some place where Peter couldn’t get to her, wherever that might be.

Having reduced the contents to the bag to only the most essential items, she took one more look around the room before opening the door. The stuffed bear was staring at her from the entrance to the lab. Somehow its face, which never changed, looked sad.

“I’ve got to go. It isn’t safe here anymore. Not for me.”

The bear wasn’t like David in the rabbit; it only had rudimentary abilities to communicate. In this case, confusion.

“I can’t take you with me. I don’t know where I’m going, and it will be hard enough taking care of myself.”

Why was she explaining herself to this spirit? It was just a thing; it didn’t need her. It didn’t require nutrition or anything else. With or without her, its existence would remain the same. So why did she feel guilty for walking away?

“If you come, I can’t promise to look after you. Traveling will be hard, much harder than staying here.”

The bear gave the impression that it was shrugging.

“Fine. Let’s go.”

She opened the door just before Sarah could knock on it. Sarah looked at her bag and nodded to herself.

“I get it. Peter is after you. However, before you go, we have to talk. Then you can leave, if you want to. I won’t stop you. You need to hear me out first.”

Rebecca took a step back to let Sarah in. Whatever she had to say, Rebecca felt an obligation to listen.

All He Had

Unsurprisingly, the party was a rather depressing affair. John wasn’t sure why he continued to come to these things. They were always the same: loud music, lots of drinking, and too many drunk people shout to be heard over whatever song was playing. As he left, he swore to himself that this was the last one he would attend.

After starting his car to head home, he noticed a figure standing alone in the drive way. It looked familiar, so he rolled down the passenger window.

“Kathy?”

The figure turned towards him and he could just make out her face. It was Kathy. She was wearing a coat that went past her waist and was tied closed with a belt. Her arms were folded against the chill. The expression on her face was difficult to make out.

“Oh, hi, John.” Her voice sounded a little shaky.

“Are you okay?”

She hesitated for a moment before answering. “Yeah. Just waiting for someone. Looks like they’re not coming though. You leaving already?”

“Uh huh. Just not feeling it tonight.”

“Yeah.”

John wanted to say something to keep the conversation going, but he found himself tongue-tied. He had liked Kathy since he first met her last year, but while they had a number of friends in common, they never had really had a one-on-one conversation. She shifted her weight slightly, and he feared she would walk away, so he blurted out, “Do you want a ride home?”

Again, she didn’t immediately respond. Instead she looked back to the house and then down the road. He regretted asking since it seemed to have made her uncomfortable.

“I’m sorry. You said you were waiting . . .”

Before he could finish, she walked over to the car and opened the passenger door in order to climb in. “If you don’t mind, that would be great actually. Like I said, I don’t think he’s coming.”

Once she was fully in and the door was closed, John began driving away from the party. They rode in silence for a little while, with Kathy just staring out her window.

“Why are men such jerks?” she asked out of the blue. “Present company excepted.”

“Why?”

“Why do I think they’re jerks?”

“No. Why except me? You don’t know I’m not a jerk.”

“You’re nice enough to give me a ride home, so I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt.”

“Fair enough. So who did what?”

Kathy paused for a moment. “It doesn’t matter. Just a jerk.”

“Oh. Well some people are just determined to be jerks. We look for reasons, and maybe there are some, but it’s usually not worth the effort to figure them out. Better to let them be jerks and move on.”

“Hmm. I suppose you’re right.”

Another lull in the conversation. John wanted to say something but couldn’t. He didn’t want to sound stupid or creepy, and she seemed lost in her own thoughts. So he tried to relax and just enjoy the drive. At least, he tried until he realized something.

“Silly question. Where do you live?”

Kathy looked at him and began to laugh. It was a friendly sound.

“Oh my god! I totally forgot you’ve never been to my place. And you offered to drive me home without even knowing how far I lived. That’s so sweet. See? You’re not a jerk. Don’t worry, you’re headed the right way. I live just off Alexandria Street, on Jasmine Drive.”

“Got it. I’m familiar with the area.” She lived only about ten minutes from him. It also meant  this shared time together was almost over. Kathy had gone back to looking out the window. “I know it’s not my place, but from my experience with you, you are a wonderful person. Whoever was a jerk to you doesn’t deserve you.”

The words just came crashing out. As declarations go, this one was pretty vague. And yet, he knew he’d regret it if he didn’t say anything, even if was just to try to be nice.

He could feel her looking at him as he focused all of his attention on the road. His face got hot from her gaze. Stealing a quick glance, she was smiling at him. A little sad, perhaps, but a genuine smile. Without saying anything, she shifted a little closer to him and rested her head on his shoulder.

Now his whole body felt warm. He wanted this moment to last forever, but he was already turning on to her street.

“Third house on the left. You can just pull into the driveway.”

Kathy hadn’t lifted her head to give instructions, so John tried to enjoy the last few moments. When he parked, he expected her to pull away. He didn’t, however, anticipate her kissing him on the lips.

*     *     *

The next week was another party. This time, John was looking forward to it. His work had kept him busy all week, so he hadn’t been able to see Kathy since driving her home. He hoped she would be here tonight.

It took him several minutes, but he finally found her talking with a guy in the kitchen.

Unable to contain a smile, he walked over to her. “Hi. It’s been awhile.”

Kathy gave him a look he couldn’t quite read. “Oh, John. Good to see you. Let me introduce you to my boyfriend, Chris. Chris, this is a friend of mine, John. I’m not sure if you two know each other.”

“I don’t think so. Nice to meet you, John.” Chris extended his hand.

“Likewise.” John shook his hand. Now he recognized the look on Kathy’s face. She was pleading with him not to say anything. And maybe there was a bit of an apology mixed in, but he might have imagined that.

He wanted to leave, so he gave the first excuse that occurred to him. “Well, I just wanted to say hi. I have a couple of other friends I’m supposed to meet up with.” He gave them both a half-smile and a brief wave before making his way back to the living room.

Once he was out of their sight, he headed for the front door. She had said she was waiting for someone. It had been one night; it didn’t mean anything more than that. There was no point in demanding an explanation or screwing up her relationship. Even knowing that, it still hurt. He got into his car and drove away. The memory of that night was all he had. It wasn’t all he wanted, but it was all he had.

Black Lives Matter

George Floyd’s murder at the hands of the Minneapolis police was horrifying, but all too common. George Floyd’s murder isn’t even the most recent. David McAtee was killed in his business by either the National Guard or the police. Previously, Breonna Taylor was asleep in her bed. There are too many names. Not to list, but to contemplate. Too many black lives have ended at the hands of the police. You can find a partial list based on The Washington Post’s database at https://pittsburghfoundation.org/we-will-not-be-silent.

Over one thousand black people have been killed in police shootings in the last five and a half years. This is not a new phenomenon, but George Floyd’s murder has focused attention on an issue that has gone unanswered for far too long. If we, as a society, cannot find the will to change a system that has abused black people, indigenous people, and other marginalized groups for decades and longer, then we have given up the claim that we are, in fact, a civilized society. 

This blog has, since its inception, been reserved as a creative outlet. I have run other blogs in the past that took up social commentary and other topics. With everything happening, I cannot keep my creative outlet separate from the society that is so broken. There is a cancer in our society, and we must be willing to face it and deal with it. That requires listening to and believing people of color and others when they tell us how they are treated. It requires demanding solutions and working towards them.

If those of us who are white do not recognize the police in the stories that others tell, that is one indication of our privilege. If we think, what will do without the police to protect us?, that, too, is a sign of our privilege. We can think of the police as guardians. For too many Americans, that is not the role the police play. The system needs to change. We have the luxury to ignore racism and pretend it doesn’t exist, or at least isn’t as pervasive. That is a luxury we must give up. Lives depend upon it.

Protest. Talk to your government representatives. Donate. Talk to your friends and relatives. Use your voice. And don’t forget to use your ears, too. Listen. Learn. Let those suffering lead. Don’t speak for them, but support them.

Black Lives Matter. The problem is that, in America and elsewhere, they haven’t mattered. Black lives need to matter. They need to be treated as inherently valuable and with respect. Black Lives Matter. And we need to keep saying it at least until society actually treats black lives as though they do, in fact, matter.

I will resume posting fiction and creative works. But we cannot forget that our fellow citizens, our fellow human beings need us. They need us to listen. To stand with them. To fight with them. It is an ongoing fight, and we must be willing to support them, to amplify their voices, through the long haul.

Black Lives Matter (https://blacklivesmatter.com) has resources and accepts donations.

The Cut has a list of other nonprofits that you can donate to: https://www.thecut.com/article/george-floyd-protests-how-to-help-where-to-donate.html

You can find black owned businesses to support on Black Wall Street: https://officialblackwallstreet.com/directory/

Cut and Dry

Why am I always your scapegoat?

Wait, are we assuming you’re real, or not? My answer may change accordingly.

Curious. Just for fun, let us assume I am not real.

In that case, it is to satirize believers who claim that you are the source of good things but not the bad. A sort of dramatization of the problem of evil, if you will. Mixed with a healthy dose of pointing out the absurdity of the story.

Do you think you change any minds?

Probably not, if I’m being honest.

So why do it?

Blowing off steam, I guess. Against an institution that shaped me in so many ways, many of them negative. A way of working out some old issues.

Does it help? I mean, you have been doing it for all of these years. Have you gotten anywhere?

Perhaps not.

Maybe it is time for a new tack?

Maybe.

Okay, so what if we assume I’m real?

Then it is a direct attack on you.

 That doesn’t seem wise.

I have yet to be struck by lightning.

There is, however, the matter of your immortal soul.

A lot of bad things have happened; the pain and suffering have been immeasurable. If you’re willing to put up with all of that, I suspect you can handle a little criticism that no one pays any attention to. Furthermore, I don’t want to be on the good side of someone who allows all of the things that go on here.

But is it not possible that there are reasons for . . .

Stop. I’m not interested in that sort of speculation. There is no humanly recognizable reason to allow this much misery. If there is some reason, it has nothing to do with us.

That seems . . . uncertain? . . . at best. It certainly deserves more discussion.

Nevertheless.

So which is it? Do I exist, or not?

The jury is still out, though I suspect it’s a different option altogether. You do exist, but not like so many believe you do. Thus the real you isn’t my scapegoat at all. My target is those who mischaracterize you.

That seems like a dodge.

Does it? Maybe it does. Maybe I’m just avoiding taking a side. Still, the truth is almost never so cut and dry.