A It was my first day on the job… and I’ve got to say: I was unprepared.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Historic and Quirky Charm
The Mountain View Hotel and Bingo Parlour has no bingo parlour – though I’ve been assured next to no guests ask for one. It also has no mountain view, being situated on the far outskirts of a city, beside a lake, in the middle of a flat plane.
Instead, the Mountain View Hotel and Bingo Parlour boasts historic charm. Carpeting in an effluence of rich patterned red, finishings heavy on the polished brass; wood panelling and wallpaper… and the elevator has golden grilles. I’ll admit an excitement in the hotel’s atmosphere when I applied for this job. It’s not often you get to work somewhere that lets you roll the grills shut after you when you get in the elevator. That, and I was attracted to the pay, the cheaper housing in this area, and the quirky misnomer of a name.
Less thrillingly, the technology is also historic. Hidden behind a glorious polished mahogany desk was a computer from the 90s. I’d noticed that on my brief orientation. But now, at the 5am start on my first shift as Front Desk Agent, I eyed the computer with wary suspicion. The screensaver on the bulky CRT monitor was one that brought back my childhood: running vertical lines of green code on a black background.
“Competent with computers” had been one of the job requirements. Though it sounded an outdated question, I’d written a wonderful recommendation for myself there, with a focus on using booking systems and performing night audits at my previous FDA jobs.
I wiggled the mouse. The screensaver swiftly disappeared, giving me the blue-backgrounded view of a Windows 95 desktop.
I blinked. Twice. But I could do this. The only people I knew to call for help were maintenance, and “I’m confused by old technology” seemed an embarrassing reason to do that. So… all I had to do was look for the booking system icon…
The phone rang. My hand still hovering on the computer mouse, feeling very aware of how much the resolution of computer monitors had improved, I grabbed the receiver.
‘Mountain View Hotel and Bingo Parlour,’ I said in my best customer service voice, ‘Front Desk Agent Fern speaking. How may I help you?’
‘Oi, love,’ said the female voice on the other end of the line, ‘Room 227’s still upside-down.’
‘Ah – ok,’ I said, now looking more dedicatedly for which of the icons might be the booking system. ‘I’ll be happy to help. Just give me a second and I’ll pull up your reserveat…ion –’
I choked on the word. The computer screen had changed. All of its own accord. I swear I hadn’t clicked on anything – yet, all of a sudden, I was staring at a window showing the night’s booking information for Room 227.
The room was unoccupied. According to the program.
The woman on the other end of the line was chuckling.
‘You new?’ she asked me. ‘Nah, love, I’m Silvia. From housekeeping.’
‘Oh!’ I said. That put what she’d told me in a different perspective. The booking system wasn’t one I recognised, but I found the link to the following night, wanting to check when Room 227 needed to be ready by. Today, was the answer. Someone was booked into it tonight. ‘Was it not cleaned yesterday?’
Silvia chuckled again, more heartily this time.
‘Oh, Fern, hon… Ya better just come look. Second floor.’
With that, Silvia hung up. I lowered the receiver from my ear, wondering just how much of a mess this room could be, and put it away in the cradle of the likewise dated push button phone.
‘If anyone comes in,’ I called across the lavish lobby to the concierge, ‘I’ll be back in a mo!’
The concierge, who I’d greeted when I came in, didn’t respond any better this time. Short, slim, and sallow with freckles on weathered skin, he inclined his head in a small nod. I wasn’t entirely convinced he’d respond verbally to guests, but I took off for the elevator all the same.
With a little thrill, I rattled the grilles shut, latched them, and punched the button two above the “G” for ground. Beside my head, the ancient speaker narrated a bored ‘Goin’ up to the second floor’.
It did that. I’d found it amusing on my quick tour of the place a week ago. The man who’d showed me around hadn’t commented, but I’d been repressing sniggers on every floor when the bored voice would narrate the trip from the old speaker. I figured, without an old-timey elevator operator, they’d programmed something to approximate one, and whoever had been made to do the recordings hadn’t cared too much for the job.
Though there was no one waiting to get on from the first floor, the elevator stopped there, the doors opening onto a lobby with corridors on either side. ‘First floor,’ the speaker provided helpfully. Then, a solid moment later, ‘Goin’ up again.’
I waited for the doors to slide back shut. The lift trundled upward, awaking from its brief slumber with a tired creak, whir, and rumble. I was ready with the latch when it slowed again.
‘This is not your floor,’ said the speaker as the lift settled and the doors jerked open.
I’d already cracked a smile, surprised the elevator had a sense of humour. But my hand stalled on the grilles.
Rather than a generous lobby, the elevator doors had opened onto a single very long corridor, bordered on either side by closed door after closed door. And, instead of a red runner carpet over hard wood, the floor was tile. My eyes lingered on a cracked section of tile, the grout under it blackened.
Movement further down the corridor caught my gaze. I stared through the metal grilles. It was a door opening. The elevator doors had grumbled back to life, rolling towards closed in the same moment I spotted a head poke out from behind the door.
I caught sight of scraggly hair around a jovial face before the elevator doors clunked shut. I stared instead at the doors’ patterned metal insides as the lift juddered to life once again. The face had been grinning. Hugely. Right at me.
Up above the doors, the needle of the floor dial started moving. Stunned, I watched it shift from the blank section between “1” and “2”, rolling over to point more and more toward the “2”.
‘This is your floor,’ the speaker provided helpfully.
The floor the doors revealed before me consisted of a furnished lobby, with corridors off it to the right and left. As it should be.
For a long moment, I wasn’t even spooked. Not yet. What the hell was that? was what was running through my head.
Then I blinked, seeing that jovial face again in my mind’s eye. Their cheeks had creased almost grotesquely around their enormous grin. Teeth bared in a wink of white from behind thin lips. A latent shudder ricochet down my spine.
Unnerved, I glanced up at the floor dial above the elevator doors. The needle now was solidly on the “2”. Not… somewhere between. It was reassuring, but I still hesitated a moment longer before unlatching the grilles and letting myself out. In the lobby, I shuddered again, looking back behind me as the elevator doors shut and the lift dinged away.
What the hell was that? I thought again. From the outside, the hotel was a lengthy rectangle with symmetrical shallow protuberances that made it look decoratively fronted. The floors were long in the direction to the right and left of the single elevator. There wasn’t space to fit a corridor that led straight out of it.
I felt like I was awake far too early in the morning, and nothing was making sense yet. The paired windows before me showed an outside that was still dark, the second floor lobby lit by chandelier and decorative glass sconces on the walls that made the deep bronze wallpaper shine in sporadic patches.
The longer I stood there, in that fairly normal space, the more I didn’t believe what I’d seen. And the more I grew aware of the utter silence and stillness around me. There weren’t even any snores from the guests, that I could hear.
It was alienating, leaving me feeling very, weirdly alone. I shook myself, remembered why I was up here, and spotted, just above the high wooden wainscoting, a polished sign that pointed in the direction of rooms 200-248.
The corridors are windowless, decorated instead with the occasional painting and more of those glass lamps. Another sign directed me to turn right, down a new corridor, and then left at the end of it into another. There, finally, I saw indication I wasn’t alone. Up against the wall was a rickety old housekeeping trolley, the door into Room 230 open.
I poked my head in, and found a very short woman tossing sheets on the bed. Where I had a uniform, and was duly dressed in my vest and slacks, Silvia didn’t appear to. She was wearing burgundy boot-cut jeans and a ribbed t-shirt, her curly hair held out of her face with a colourful scarf used as a headband.
I didn’t need to announce myself. Not looking around at me, Silvia called, ‘Come, love –’ She gave me a brisk beckon, then pointed at the other side of the bedsheet, ‘Grab that corner, would you?’
I had a front desk to get back to, but didn’t feel I’d be able to refuse Silvia. I caught the corner and helped her pull the sheet flat and tuck it in. Not done with me yet, Silvia produced a quilt, and tossed me a corner of that as well.
‘Do you… normally do housekeeping at 5 in the morning?’ I asked her casually.
Silvia glanced at me. She had a compact but pretty face, and could be aged anywhere between thirty – my age – and fifty.
‘Only if I’m wanting a free breakfast!’ she told me, then split into a grin. With practiced efficiency, she tucked the quilt in too and went for a blanket. ‘The boss doesn’t care what time rooms are cleaned,’ she went on, ‘so long as they’re ready for guests. I’m the only one who comes in at this time, if some rooms leftover need doing.’
It sounded like a nightmare for finding ready rooms to check walk-ins into. Silvia didn’t give me time to work out how to say that. She tossed the blanket on the base of the bed, then stuck her hand into a jean pocket and pulled out a hotel master key.
‘Come on then,’ she said, leading the way out of Room 230. ‘It’s been three days!’ She tutted.
Bewildered, I followed after her. Admittedly, I wasn’t entirely sure Silvia did work here, but I stopped beside her at a door marked “227”. Silvia unlocked it and bustled in. I followed.
Perhaps I was being a bit obtuse, but my first thought was that the room was empty. As in: no furniture, except for…
I frowned at the chandelier in the middle of the floor, then jumped when Silvia poked my arm, made a displeased noise in the back of her throat, and pointed emphatically up.
Slowly, I felt my head start to nod.
‘It is upside down,’ I uttered, no less bewildered.
‘Mmhmm,’ Silvia confirmed. ‘Usually you just back out,’ she told me, ‘shut the door again, and when you open it the next time it’s right way up. Not this one. It’s stuck this way.’
My mouth had fallen open. I noticed it, but didn’t bother to shut it. Grand wooden bed, complete with perfectly smoothed sheets and pillows, the plush bench at the foot of it and both side tables with lamps; a cute circular table beside the window and its two chairs, the wardrobe, the suitcase stand – it was all perfectly arranged. Just on the ceiling.
Even the curtains were upside-down.
‘I’s a prank,’ I decided, still staring. ‘This is a prank.’
Silvia snorted. She tutted again, and waved for my attention.
‘You see the size of me?’ she said, gesturing to her diminutive form. She came up to only a few inches over my elbow. ‘How the hell am I supposed to have gotten all the furniture on that ceiling?’
She had a point. And… she’d have had to glue those bedsheets down.
‘I don’t prank the newbies,’ she said dismissively. ‘There’s enough for you to deal with in them first weeks.’ She considered me, then jerked her head, indicating I follow her again, and lead the way out the door. ‘Come, I’ll show you. There’s a few on this floor that’re bad for it at this time…’
Robotic, I followed after her, to two rooms that looked perfectly normal when Silvia pushed the doors open. They were both, thankfully, also empty of guests, as I was just assuming Silvia was such a dab hand she knew well which rooms were occupied and which weren’t.
‘252,’ she said to herself, leading me on to a third door down the corridor from 227. ‘That one’s notorious for it. Don’t let it out to people unless you have to,’ she warned me, using a finger for emphasis, before she shoved that door open. ‘Aha,’ she said, satisfied. ‘See?’
Drawn by morbid curiosity, I looked. Instead of being upside down, this room looked tipped on its side. The floor, not where it should be, was on one wall; the window, still looking out at the lake at dawn, on the floor.
‘Now,’ Silvia hustled me back, shut the door, gave it a second, then opened the door again. ‘Back to normal!’ she proclaimed.
It was. It was right back to normal: all the furniture on the floor where it should be. My head had started its nodding again.
‘Now I don’t know what we’re going to do about 227,’ Silvia went on, locking up 252. ‘I’ve been here a long time, and I’ve never known one to be stuck for so long. It may just become a dud room – and we don’t get the guests we used to, so that can be managed. You’re going to have to switch the booking tonight for another room – they can’t be expected to sleep on the ceiling.’
That… confirmed my idea Silvia knew this place, including its bookings, like the back of her hand. And simultaneously filled me with a deep and weird chill. I took a slow breath, nodded, and said, ‘Okay.’
Silvia’s face filled with humour. She had a good chuckle at me, and patted my shoulder kindly. She was still want to laugh when I headed back for the elevator.
‘Oh –‘ she called after me. ‘Fern, love – don’t get off at the in-between floors! Just stay in the lift!’
I revolved around to look back at her. It was a confirmation I hadn’t wanted.
‘So… that’s real, is it?’ I said, unenthused. ‘There are floors between the floors?’
‘You already seen one?’ Silvia asked, eyeing me concernedly.
‘The dark hours are bad for it,’ she said. ‘Just don’t get out of the lift,’ she warned me again.
It sounded a simple instruction to follow, but it didn’t make the situation any simpler. I followed the signs back to the elevator and turned right from the corridor into the lobby.
There I stopped. When I’d walked out of the elevator lobby I’d turned right into the corridor. I remembered that clearly. That meant that coming out of the same corridor… I should have turned left.
Unless I hadn’t come out of the same corridor. The brass sign on the wall beside me read “Rooms 252-296” with an arrow pointing back the way I’d come. The most obvious answer, I decided, was that the corridors were interconnecting, and I’d done a full loop of the floor.
But while I liked that answer, my body still felt like it had done the wrong thing. Like my left side was jumping with a need for me to have turned left.
And what was more: there was a suit of armour in the lobby. Up against the wall between windows, as though it had always been there. Except I don’t remember it having been there, and I’d looked straight out those two windows when I’d first stepped off the elevator.
My trip back down to the ground floor was a tense one. But though I tightened up both times the lift slowed to a stop, it didn’t open onto those “in-between” floors on the way down. The lift settled the second time with the bored announcement of ‘Ground floor,’ from the speaker.
There are four steps up in a sweeping staircase from the main lobby to the lift and corridor for the ground floor rooms. I paused at the top of them, gazing out at the main lobby, populated only by the concierge.
The ceilings in the Mountain View Hotel are high, but the main lobby’s is even higher. To one side of the front doors is a seating area, with velvet chesterfields, chintz armchairs, and beautiful coffee tables. Beside that is the door into the bar and dining area.
On the far end is the front desk, a huge and mullioned multi-paned window to one side behind it. Next to that is a large ornate clock correct to the second. To the other side of the desk is a grand portrait of a woman in a diaphanous white dress leaning on a Grecian pedestal. It seemed she, like the portrait hung opposite of a man on a rearing horse, were painted in that way that made them always seem they were looking at you.
But it wasn’t them I was focusing on. Under their stares my eyes slid from the front doors and the glass windows in them, to the window behind the front desk.
The world outside the front doors was dark as night. Behind the desk, however, it was dawn, though I knew that way pointed west. And as I watched, it was as though a cloud of darkness shifted, turning the outside beyond one of the front doors into a dawn landscape, then, slowly, the next.
The concierge had been stood before the front doors the entire time. That wasn’t a normal way to experience dawn, but he didn’t appear to have even noticed. He was the same as I’d left him, stood stock still with his chin high, as though he’d noticed nothing.
I should get back to my desk, but, on a moment’s decision, I hurried over to him. Seeing me, he inclined his head politely.
‘Erm…’ was how I began. Then, the world outside looking perfectly normal, I changed my mind. ‘You know… to check the rooms first?’ I said instead. ‘So you can… you know… check it’s the right way up before letting guests into their room?’
For me, it felt a little like a test. If the concierge treated me like a mad weirdo, I’d been seeing things, whatever Silvia said. If not…
The man’s pale lips curved into a smile that didn’t reach his likewise pale eyes. He inclined his head in another courteous nod.
Chapter 2: I Won the Bingo!
The concierge’s response had given me chills I couldn’t readily explain, and left me in a maelstrom of half-believing disbelief. I took myself back to the front desk, and returned my focus to the dated computer.
It worked to distract me. The booking system had been left open on Room 227 – thankfully, considering I still didn’t know how to find it from the desktop. What, I suppose, I should also be grateful of was that it had already updated. Room 227, now, was marked as un-booked for the night.
Though I searched the room’s page, I found no change log that might indicate who had updated the booking. I did find, however, a little link in a picture of a bingo card. Clicking on it gave me a popup that read:
Stuck upside-down. DNR.
“DNR”, I supposed, meant “do not rent”. And if I was blown out of the water by all that had already happened that morning, that put it in written official.
No one was needing me right then, so I acquainted myself with the booking system. Rooms on the main page were colour-coded as either taken, DNR, or free, and from that I deduced we were at half capacity – which didn’t sound great for what I was assuming was a nearly 500 room hotel.
Then again, neither was the hotel physically big enough for 500 rooms, nor could I find 500 rooms. From that front page, it looked more like 300, and the disparity appeared to have no answer – or at least a very hard-to-find one, seeing as the rooms were not listed in order, and every time I returned to the page they’d reordered themselves, the room at the top of the list changing from one on the fourth floor, to one on the ground floor, to the second…
Not really wanting to deal with that weirdness, I clicked through to Room 252, which was blacked out as DNR. The bingo card popup on that one said “Frequent shifter. Rent only if desperate.”
There were other reasons for rooms being blacked out. One on the third floor simply said “Locked – no entry”; one on the forth said “No longer there”; another down the corridor from that one had “Cat’s room” (which I was not feeling like questioning right then); then there was, very ominously, a room closed off because of a “Sinkhole” (which I decided was a good reason to close a room); and, on the ground floor, the very first room 01 was shut because of “Privacy”.
I stopped looking at that point. Partly because guests were coming down for breakfast, and partly because I just wasn’t sure I wanted to deal with any more. I saw Silvia come down. She stopped at the desk with a big smile for me.
‘Breakfast, love?’ she asked.
‘Er…’ I indicated the desk around me. ‘I… should probably stay here…’
Silvia tutted, and eyed me up and down. She huffed, pushed off the desk, and gave me a last look.
‘I’ll be bringing you something!’ she warned as she walked away. ‘You can’t face your first day on an empty stomach!’
I just watched after her, not finding the words to point out I’d eaten before I’d left home.
I’d gotten a six month lease on my attic flat. There were no other hotels in this area. And I had nil experience working anywhere else. It made a good argument for me having to stick around for those six months.
I found the desk chair and sunk into it. It may look unprofessional, but I needed to sit down.
Mountain View Hotel’s breakfasts were spectacular. Silvia brought me sumptuously dressed crepes, a pile of bacon, an enormous muffin “for later”, juice, and coffee.
‘… Reckon we should leave some for the guests?’ I said, seeing the spread Silvia planted on my desk.
Silvia waved her hand dismissively.
‘Where do ya think all the leftovers go?’ she said, reaching right over the desk to plonk the coffee before me. ‘Benefit of being staff – drink up! Just the way you like it!’
I like my coffee with frothed full cream milk, no sugar. And there was no reason why Silvia might know that. But I took a sip as she egged me on.
Perfect latte – just the way I like it. Silvia nodded approvingly when I told her so and shrugged when I asked her how.
‘Oh, she always knows,’ Silvia said. Not explaining who “she” was, Silvia flashed me a smile. ‘Just enjoy the nice bits,’ she advised, and, with a parting well-wish, she headed off, her own coffee in one hand.
I was pretty ready to accept Silvia’s advice on this one. I did enjoy my coffee, and, giving in, very much enjoyed the crepes too. A couple hours later I was munching on the bacon – which was still warm, even by then – between guests as they came to me to check out. When I saw the breakfast lady, plump and blonde, leave at about 11, I called a heartfelt compliment about her cooking. She smiled warmly, gave me a wave, and walked up the four steps and into a room on the ground floor.
In some ways, I have to admit, my job at the Mountain View Hotel was easier than any others I’d had before. The booking system was, though I know it sounds nuts, a mind-reader. Considering a place this size would usually have two – or more – FDAs, I quickly stopped questioning how it worked. The moment a guest stepped up to the desk, the booking system had their assigned room up on the screen. Before I even went to type in a credit card, the field was already populated with the number. If it was a cash deposit for the room: the amount, before I’d counted it, was on the reservation – and it was exact even when the guest handed me the wrong amount. If a walk-in appeared, wanting a room, the system had a free one, with no bingo warnings, up on the Windows 95 screen for them.
The room keys seemed to work the same way. They were in a long cabinet behind the desk, and it didn’t matter what number the room was, the key or hook I was looking for was always the first one my eyes landed on. And the single elevator, I noticed, was ever available. It didn’t matter if I’d just seen someone go up in it to the fourth floor: the doors would be ready to ding open the moment someone wanted it.
For a place built with such a lack of redundancy, it got around that problem in unthinkable ways. Through the rush of check-outs, and then the rush of check-ins, I started to celebrate this place. Never have I seen a hotel run so smoothly with only one FDA, and one elevator.
By four in the afternoon, I’d started to suspect the concierge was part of it too. There was only one of him, but he was always there; silent, his uniform perfectly pressed and arranged, and ever ready for a new guest. At six, I had eyes free to spot him go upstairs with two guests, the elevator doors shutting after him – only for him to appear from the doorway, with a trolley and smiling politely, for the belongings of the guest I’d just checked in (without touching the computer once).
‘You know,’ I said to the dated computer monitor, ‘You’re probably the best booking system I’ve ever worked with.’
It was nearing 10pm, by the clock on the wall above my head, and, for now, no one needed me. Sitting on the swivel desk chair, I popped a piece of the muffin-for-later in my mouth and chewed happily. It wasn’t a bad dinner – certainly better than the sandwich I’d packed.
‘And this is the best bloody muffin I’ve ever had,’ I added appreciatively, and went for another piece.
It probably wasn’t a painting technique that made the lady in the diaphanous dress appear to be looking at me. I didn’t think that effect extended to making it appear her entire head had tilted down, her eyes on me as I sat right by her knees.
‘And you’re pretty,’ I told her. ‘Really pretty – did you know that?’
Somehow I didn’t feel tired, though this was now officially the longest shift I’d ever pulled as a FDA. I’d been told the night audit took the dead hours of night, and otherwise it was just me. Snickering into the next bite of my muffin and feeling weirdly tolerant of this bizarre hotel, I wondered if the night auditor was the painting of the accountant on the other side of the lobby. Or maybe it was just the computer.
The lady in the painting above me hadn’t responded to my compliment. But, right then, she did look over toward the window. I yelped a little, not at all used to paintings moving while I was looking at them, then calmed and chewed more slowly.
I stopped chewing entirely – and lost my muffin to the floor – in the next second.
The loud RAP-RAP-RAP-RAP-RAP! of someone knocking on the window had rattled the glass. It was very dark outside, me able only to see the gnarled fist through the reflection of the room.
I stood up, stepped over, and called through the glass, ‘Someone there?’
Very slowly, the fist not disappearing, a face moved into sight, illuminated in the light from inside. It was an elderly man, his hair a thin and dishevelled mess of white and his eyes bloodshot with lower lids drooping so badly I could see the entire pink and swollen inside of them.
He gritted his teeth, showing some leftover rotting stumps, and, without a change in expression, pulled his fist back again to give another loud RAP-RAP-RAP-RAP!
‘Sir,’ I called, unnerved but keeping my voice professional, ‘the door is on that side,’ I pointed, ‘of the building. You can’t come in this way.’
I waited, then jumped as, his only response, the man began to rap again on the glass. It was more monotonous this time – constant. Thinking maybe he was hard of hearing, I raised my voice and gave him directions more clearly.
His face moved even closer to the glass and I remembered, then, that the ground on this side of the building sloped down toward the lake and gazebo. It was pretty high off the ground – definitely higher than a person.
But he was standing there, and his mouth, right up against the glass, opened.
‘Bingo!’ he croaked, making me jump. ‘I won the bingo!’
‘I’m… sorry?’ I uttered. ‘I – sir, just come around to the –‘
I stumbled aside, startled by a push on my shoulder. The concierge was there, his face looking genial as ever. He stood tall, raised a hand to the glass, and knocked back to a count of five blows. With that, the concierge gave me a nod, and walked off.
My mouth hanging open from the whole thing, I looked. I even put my forehead to the glass and shielded the light from my view. The ground, as I’d thought, was a good seven feet below the window. And no one was there.
I didn’t have long to ponder it. A ding of the desk bell had me dropping my hands and twisting around. A bald man was standing on the other side of the desk, giving me raised eyebrows.
Trying to skirt the messy remains of my fallen muffin without looking too obvious about it, I went to check him in. He put down a card for his deposit, and I bent to check the number had been added to the booking system.
‘Are you wearing heels?’
I glanced up. It wasn’t the first time I’d been asked that. I gave the bald man a smile and answered with a polite, ‘No sir.’
‘Is there a platform behind that desk?’
I looked up again, my patience thinner.
‘No,’ I said sweetly, ‘I’m just tall.’
The man’s heavy eyebrows scrunched down, as though that was impossible to understand. I went back to checking his card details had been added to Room 408.
‘How tall are you?’ the man asked.
I stood straight and eyed him.
‘Six foot,’ I answered.
‘No way,’ he said, rather aggressively. ‘You’ve got to be taller than that.’
I was sure he hoped so, seeing as I was making a vindictive judgement that he’d spent his life pretending he was six foot. Coming out of the dining room behind him was an older woman, who was headed straight for the front desk. I just smiled at the man, and went back to the booking system.
‘You’re way too tall for a woman,’ was the man’s last statement, and this one was definitely mean-spirited.
I grit my teeth, and didn’t respond. The screen of the computer in front of me changed. I watched as all of the man’s details were copied and pasted into the fields for, no longer Room 408, which has lake views, but room 276, which has street views. I bit the inside of my lip to avoid smiling, silently thanked the booking system, and found the man his key.
‘I’m sorry…’ the older woman said once he’d moved off, leaning conspiratorially close over the desk. ‘There’s…’ She gestured behind her towards the dining room. ‘There’s a woman in there sobbing in a back corner of the bar. She’s in a red dress…’
Why she was coming to me with that information, I wasn’t sure, but I thanked her and said I’d go see what was going on soon. That pacified her, though “soon” would have to wait. A family with three children had just come in through the door. The youngest, likely up way past her bedtime, was teary-eyed and clutching a teddy bear.
I hustled to check them in, not wanting to keep the tired family waiting. Though I noticed the mother looking around with a sour look on her face, she left her husband to the process, not saying anything until I was handing him the key.
‘Where’s the pool?’ the mother asked.
I’ve worked in hotels for a long time. I just about felt my buttocks clench.
‘Unfortunately,’ I told her, my best customer service face on, ‘we don’t have one.’
The woman was unsatisfied. I watched one tinted eyebrow raise. Then her nose lifted and she got haughty.
‘The website,’ she said, annunciating very deliberately, ‘said you have a pool. That’s false advertising – you can’t just pretend you have a pool when you don’t have one.’
I nodded solemnly, and went to the computer.
‘Which website is this?’ I asked, ready to punch in a URL – or let the computer do it for me. ‘You’re right, that is a big problem. If a booking site is displaying the incorrect amenities, we need to addr–‘
‘Yes – you need to address it!’ the woman just about shouted at me. Her husband’s eyes slipped shut in such a long-suffering way I actually felt sympathy for him. Behind him, late diners were leaving the restaurant. Rather than eye this woman making a scene, they were casting disturbed looks back behind them into the dining room.
‘I’d be happy to,’ I told the mother, wondering how much of a scene the other woman, in the red dress, was making. ‘If you’d tell me the booking site you used?’
‘It doesn’t matter!’ the mother yelled. Her youngest child burst back into tears and clutched her teddy bear tighter. ‘It’s THIS HOTEL’S fault if it’s showing the wrong information! We wouldn’t have paid this much if there was no pool – I’ve been telling the kids the whole way here there’s a pool!’
Sounded more like a her problem. What looked to be the eldest boy complained a petulant ‘There’s no pool?’ while the middle one stalked away, dumped himself on an armchair, and crossed his arms.
The computer screen scrolled down for me.
‘It says here you booked through HotelIt.com,’ I read off the screen. ‘Just let me check what their page says…’
‘Are you saying I’m a liar?’ the woman demanded.
‘Honey,’ the man said quietly, ‘just… leave it.’
The eldest child started laughing. Raucously. It clashed horribly with the youngest child’s crying and the middle child’s moping. Another couple came in through the front door: a man in a drab brown coat and a woman dressed far more skimpily. And, from the dining room door, a woman, her long brown hair mostly obscuring her face and dressed in a floor-length red gown, swanned into the lobby.
The knocking restarted on the glass of the window behind me, banging out a loud RAP-RAP-RAP-RAP-RAP! It made the space between my shoulder blades tingle.
After a long day of decent guests and smooth sailing… it seemed I was copping the crap all at once. Mentally itemising my to-do list here, I scrolled through HotelIt’s description.
‘Not at all,’ I said to the mother. ‘But I’m looking at the webpage now, and it lists only a pool table. Could that have been what you saw?’
The lady began her expected rant about whether I was calling her stupid, and, likewise as expected, began demanding their stay was comped on account of my rudeness and false advertising. I wasn’t listening, and only partly because I’d heard it all before. The rapping on the window behind me had gotten more insistent. I didn’t want to turn around. And, beyond the spoilt family, the lady in the red dress collapsed into a sofa.
Rather than anything I could try to say, it was the red-dress lady’s veritable bawling that finally cut the insufferable mother off. It made the middle child stop making his weird moaning noises too. The youngest and eldest, still at the front desk, turned around to stare with their parents.
The laughter of a child continued. They were downright cackling now, hysterical with amusement. I’d thought it was the eldest child who was laughing. Watching the boy stare at the lady in the red dress, his mouth shut – all three of the children in the room currently shut up… It was very evidently not any of them who were making that noise.
The laughing rang on and on, echoing from the high ceilings and adding to the din of red-dress lady’s howling and the rapping on the window. The lobby had grown very still. I stood with every hair on my body prickling.
‘I won the bingo!’ croaked the impossible elderly man through the window, and the entire room launched back into motion.
The concierge, very composed, walked over to smack the window. The entitled mum hustled to pull her middle child away from proximity with the sobbing lady. The man in the drab jacket stumbled up to the front desk.
‘Heyyy…’ he slurred, very drunk. ‘We only wanna room for… like an hour?’ he said, gesturing expansively behind him to the skimpily-dressed woman. ‘What’cha say?’ He smiled blearily at me, entreating. ‘Quick check in?’
The phone rang. I held up a finger to Drunk Guy and answered it.
‘I asked for a room with lake views!’ yelled Mr-Offended-by-Tall-Women over the phone line. ‘I’m a frequent guest – I always get lake views when I stay here!’
‘That woman’s upsetting my children!’ Entitled Mum cried, apparently very distressed, at me, as she just about yanked her stumbling middle child back to the desk.
‘Juss’an hour,’ Drunk Guy pleaded, giving me a sleazy smile. ‘How ‘bout –‘ he slapped a note on the table. ‘Give ya fiffy for it? Eh? Thas good fer an hour!’
‘You’re going to lose a regular customer!’ Offended-by-Tall-Women threatened through the receiver.
‘Is that a prostitute?’ Entitled Mum shrieked, horrified, levelling an accusatory finger at the skimpily-dressed woman. ‘What kind of people do you allow in here?’ she shrieked on at me. ‘Around children!’
The child’s laughter had quieted. It hadn’t stopped, but it sounded more distant now. What was louder was a strange rumbling noise, like thunder. Then, suddenly, the rapping, having stopped for a short time, picked back up again, rattling the window behind me. And the computer screen, having returned to showing the family’s booking, was rapidly adding to the cost of their stay. It was now three times more expensive than it had been.
I’d had this job for a day, and right then, I no longer cared about keeping it. The man on the phone had started threatening me with legal action. For his lake views. I hung up.
What I wanted to tell the drunk guy was that we rented rooms not by the hour, but what they cost us: a full night plus housekeeping. What I wanted to tell Entitled Mum was that we are a thousand times more likely to comp a stay when people don’t act like arseholes.
I didn’t get a chance. The rapping now deafening behind me. The skimpily-dressed woman shouting back at Entitled Mum. The concierge just standing there, as though oblivious. The children bawling while some phantom kid cackled in the distance. The red-dress lady choking on her howls –
The ceiling gave an ominous creak. The rumbling was louder, and, suddenly, I knew it wasn’t thunder. I looked up, seeing the moulded ceiling bowing down above my head.
It gave way –
Large copper panels smashed to the floor under an absolute deluge of water. I hopped back, but, somehow, me and the front desk didn’t take the brunt at all. The father and children had launched out of the way, the dad carting the two youngest off with amazing reflexes and an impressive skid along the floor. The skimpily-dressed woman had darted back into the doorway. The copper panels hadn’t hit anyone, but the water had absolutely soaked Entitled Mum and Drunk Guy.
The phone started ringing again.
‘Bingo! I won the bingo!’
Unabated, more and more water – that thankfully looked clean – was sluicing onto the floor, like a waterfall had opened up before me. The invisible child cackled like a crazed demon, the skimpily-dressed woman noped out of there, and, just because why not, I suppose, a fucking armadillo – that had so not been there before – trudged down the ramp from the ground floor corridor.
Chapter 3: The Armadillo and the Basement
I stared at the armadillo. It didn’t stare back. It just trudged, single-minded, toward the waterfall.
Ridiculously, my first thought was: aw shit… now I do need to comp Entitled Mum’s room.
My second thought was that I really didn’t want to deal with an armadillo getting washed away. I know nothing about them, and had no idea who’d brought it into the hotel, but it, at least, was an innocent creature.
Rounding the desk, I scooped up the armadillo, and, hanging on to it, checked the dad and his kids were okay. It was that moment that Entitled Mum noticed the old man’s face in the window. This time she didn’t screech or scream. She just pointed, her gob wide open, as water ran in rivulets down her face.
I got them out of the lobby and into the elevator by promising a free stay, free breakfasts and dinner, and a few drinks on the house. The concierge calmly escorting them up, I shooed Drunk Guy out simply by letting him know his date had run, and he should probably go stumble after her.
Armadillo not rolled up, but appearing reasonably comfortable held under my arm, I stalked over to the window, raised a palm, and smacked it five times on the glass. The old man’s face, his mouth a rotting rictus, wafted away into nothing. And so went his knocking.
There was a speed dial number on the phone for maintenance. But just as I went to grab the receiver and hit it, the phone started ringing.
My teeth had long since grit. Standing at the desk, holding an armadillo and before a cataract of water steadily soaking the entire lobby, I snatched up the receiver.
‘Sir,’ I said, in surprisingly measured tones, ‘there are no rooms with lake views left. Next time you book, please request a lake view early and we will endeavour to accommodate you.’
I huffed a silent breath. It was far more polite than I’d planned to be, but it felt good all the same.
‘Ah…’ said the voice on the other end of the line. ‘No…? We have lake views… I’m calling about a lady in a red ball gown who’s sobbing outside our room…’
I sidestepped and darted a look past the waterfall. The lady in red wasn’t there any longer. I didn’t remember seeing her while I was chivvying everyone else out either.
‘You’re in room 347?’ I asked, seeing the booking pop up on the damp but functional computer. At the affirmative, I apologised, assured the man calling that I’d handle it soon, and appreciated his call. Then I hung up, and just stood there for a second.
I’ve seen a lot of weird shit in my time as a FDA. Today took the cake.
The armadillo squirmed. I looked down at it, then repositioned it in my arms, threading a forearm under its belly in the hopes that was more comfortable for it. Also because its claws looked really sharp.
Picking up the receiver again, I hit the button for maintenance. It dialled, and rang. I waited, very calmly, if I do say so myself.
But it just rang. And rang. And continued to ring. It didn’t even do that click-over that might indicate it was connecting to a mobile phone. I drew a deep breath, waited a few more rings, then dumped the phone back in its cradle.
And noticed, right then, that the phone wasn’t plugged in.
Out of ALL of it, that small realisation gave me zinging prickles right through my body.
The landline phone, on the desk before me, wasn’t plugged in. I’d used it multiple times that day.
But it wasn’t plugged in.
I shuddered. It was a full body shudder, from head to toe.
‘Aarrgh…’ I uttered, my shoulders squeezing up. ‘No – no…’
The armadillo’s pointy face twisted around. It looked up at me. Erect little ears directed at my face.
Armadillos have fur, I learned then. Their backs are really hard, like brittle leather, but their tummies are soft, warm, and furry. The one staring up at me had chin whiskers too. Its nose twitched.
‘What in the world am I doing holding an armadillo?’ I muttered. Then I nodded to myself. It seemed fitting after today.
Barely a half hour left on my shift. Water pouring down from the ceiling. I seriously considered, right then, how much I wanted this job.
Not much, I decided. But…
Well… I couldn’t just piss of home now. Not when I was seeing nil sign of a night auditor, or anyone else who could manage the situation. Not when I didn’t even have a number for a manager – which should have seemed a red flag earlier. Who else was going to fix it? The concierge?
I looked over. The concierge was just standing by the front door, his polished shoes surrounded by water. I hadn’t seen him come back down from showing the entitled family to their room.
The hotel had in-house maintenance. I knew that from my orientation before I’d started my job here. Maintenance was housed in the basement. It was 10:30 at night. There wasn’t a huge chance maintenance was still around, but I hadn’t seen them leave, and I hadn’t much other idea what to do when a pipe burst in the lobby.
‘If anyone comes in,’ I called to the concierge, ‘I’ll be in the basement!’
At the concierge’s nod, I hurried for the elevator. It was inside it, when I went to close the grilles, that I remembered I was still holding the armadillo. Figuring it was better I hung onto it than lost it, I just shut the grilles one-handed and punched the “B” below the “G”.
‘Headed into the basement,’ the speaker said, rather ominously.
The lift juddered to life, bouncing, then grinding into a jerky descent that was very far from reassuring. I gripped the brass handrail, regretting my decision to not simply flee the hotel. The floor dial above the doors jumped with the lift. I watched that dial with eagle-eyed attention, dreading it stopping between the “G” and the “B”.
The descent into the basement seemed longer – or just slower – than the ones to the upper floors. But, jerkily, the lift passed the halfway point, and continued lower. When it rumbled into a stop, I let out a breath I hadn’t realised I’d been holding, and then promptly took a new one as the doors dinged and rolled open.
I had been hoping for utilitarian tile and fluorescent lighting. The basement of the Mountain View Hotel… didn’t deliver that. Before me was a vestibule entirely crafted out of precision-cut stone, the only passage from it through an archway, its highest reaches strung with cobwebs.
The hotel had been built in 1912. The basement looked far older than that. It was positively Victorian, if not older.
Even more ominously, the speaker didn’t announce the floor. I waited for it, not yet unlatching the grilles just… in case something came rushing at me. But the speaker said nothing.
‘Oh no…’ I breathed, deciding to talk to the armadillo for comfort. ‘I don’t like this.’
The vestibule and passageway ahead were dimly lit with, of all things, gas lamps. They shone from cast iron sconces, but the sparse light didn’t reach far into the space. I felt very much on a fool’s errand. Who was to say I’d even find maintenance down here? I’d likely end up just walking around, finding nothing, while above more and more damage was done by a burst pipe.
But, I supposed, this hotel was smart. It had secrets, but it looked after itself. To a degree. My orientation had given me no manager to call – I had very directly been told to contact maintenance, housed in the basement, if I needed them.
And the gas lamps weren’t lit with bare flickering flames. They had mantles in them, I saw. Those, if I remembered my history correctly, needed to be replaced often when they burned up and disintegrated. Someone was replacing them, and someone had left them lit.
I squared my shoulders, unlatched the grilles, and stepped out. At least I had the armadillo for companionship. And the armadillo was acting pretty chill. It wasn’t scared.
I had half a mind to call out for a maintenance person. The impulse disappeared in the same moment the elevator doors dinged then clunked shut behind me. But for its rumbling away, the basement was very silent. And dark. I didn’t really want to announce myself. I wasn’t sure what might find me.
My feet made the only noise on the flagstone floor. The passageway from the vestibule continued straight ahead of me, rather like that in-between floor’s had. It’s ceiling was curved, almost like I was in some sewer, though one that had doors irregularly spaced on either side.
If the phantom child laughed now, I would shit myself. I felt deep below ground in some place unknowable.
Even without the laughter, I felt the coiling of eeriness in my chest, my breath coming short, shallow, and as quiet as I could make it.
The first door, on the right, wasn’t labelled. I’d moved towards it before I’d decided on it, pushed the handle, and creaked it open. A store room of some sort, and one that was lit about as well as the passageway. I saw old beds, broken tables, a stacking of rusted chairs… There was nothing in it – no worktables or gear – that would make me think it was maintenance, so I shut the door and continued on.
The next two doors were no more suspicious. One appeared to be a housekeeping store room, the second a laundry, both rooms filled with modern-looking bottles of detergents and sprays. And both empty of people, unfortunately. Had I a way to contact Silvia, I thought irritably, shutting the laundry door, I probably wouldn’t be silently freaking out down here.
The placard on the next door read “Wailing Room”. I didn’t stop to open that one, my entire body tense and not in the slightest interested in finding out what wailing may be going on behind that door.
The fifth door opened into a large room filled with the hugest and most dated boiler I’d ever seen, it appearing bolted together by someone who’d once built a steam ship but here had had only steel plates too short for the task to work with. Looking up, I followed the spider-legs of copper pipes with my eyes. They, like the boiler below them, rattled worryingly.
A whistling started, and into the room a billow of steam shot suddenly from the side of the monstrosity. I froze, watching the unnerving warping of the boiler and jumping of the pipes, wondering whether it was about to explode. The rattling in the room was getting louder and louder until I was clenching my teeth and squinting, the whole place starting to look foggy.
And then it stopped. I squinted through the fog, trying to see whether any further warning signs had appeared. But the boiler looked more comfortable now, its rattling quieter.
‘Just a belch, then?’ I whispered, trying to sound light-hearted about it. ‘I can relate…’
The boiler responded with a creak, and then, a second later, an almighty CLANG – like something had been flung into its steel side. I jumped near out of my skin, and yanked the door shut.
The fog had drifted into the passageway. The long sigh I blew out set it to roiling in the air before me. I looked around. The fog was disorientating, and in that second, I realised I didn’t know which way was forward along the passageway, and which way was back.
I stared around, peering through the fog. One way led to a dead end. The other way led to a bend into another passageway off to the right. The second one was obviously not the way I’d come. But the first option was no better. There should be elevator doors at the end. Not cold hard stone.
For a long moment, I just stood there, thoughts of being permanently trapped in the bowels of an insane hotel making me, for the first time in my life, claustrophobic as hell. The rounded ceiling seemed to be getting lower, the walls shivering, seemingly nearer and nearer through the fog.
A low growling started, and I whimpered. A whimper was a sound I’d never made before. But I made it then, trapped, lost, and having an enormous silent panic in a stone basement –
With an armadillo. I looked down. The armadillo turned its pointy face up to look at me. And gave another low noise. Not so much a growl I realised. It was more like a… snuffling purr.
My cheeks puffed, and I let out a long billow of air. It left me calmer.
‘Thanks little mate,’ I said to the armadillo. ‘So which way?’
Its nose snuffled. And that was it. It gave me no direction.
Three floors above, I’d done a circuit of the second floor and come out at the elevator on the other side. I held onto that memory, took another deep breath, and headed toward the corner into another corridor. Going the more obvious way, in this place, was probably less likely to return me to the elevator. Or, at least, that was the wonky logic I’d decided to rely on.
The right turn led me to double doors. They ended the short corridor, no other doors along it. So I took a handle, yanked a door open, and stared.
Turns out the Mountain View Hotel and Bingo Parlour does have a pool. It has an underground, very Victorian pool. And I wouldn’t be telling Entitled Mum about it.
But for a puddle at the far end, the pool was drained. It sloped down away from me, the chipped and cracked render of the basin reaching the far walls, and continuing up them to where tile marked where the water level had once been. Above the tile, the same precision-cut stone of the rest of the basement took over, but the walls here were done in decorated archways, plinths holding little statues in the centres of them: one a gargoyle with its mouth open like it would work as a font; two fashioned as cherubic children holding vases. The vase of one child dripped water onto the pool floor in a steady patter.
That cherubic child was sculpted to face me. The other looking away. I averted my gaze, disturbed by their dead-eyed marble faces. There was a door to my right, and I figured I had to go through there. Trying to avoid a clang in these stone bowels, I turned around to very carefully close the door I’d come through.
The pattering of water picked up into a faster dribble, then a running splash. My heart in my throat, I rested the door in its jam, and slowly turned around. The water from the child’s vase had picked up. It ran faster and faster, becoming a spurting font that arced up over the pool.
My gaze drifted up from the vase. The cherubic child, previously stone-faced-serious, was grinning at me.
It was a grin that just got broader as I stared. The armadillo under my arm, for the first time, started to squirm. I gripped it more tightly, unable to pull my eyes away from that grin. It reminded me of another face. One I’d seen two and a half floors up, peeking out from behind a door. Thin lipped, the cheeks stretched almost grotesquely –
I ran for the door to my right, and shoved down the door handle. Behind me, just before I swung the door back shut, I heard a shuffle, then thunk, of sloppy footsteps.
The room I’d run into was bare but for a doll on the far side, a bench to my left, a portrait on the wall, and an old rocking horse in the centre, surrounded by dust.
The rocking horse was rocking. Rocking back and forth, back and forth – not just a little, like anything could have set it off, but right the way, from the end of the curved wood on one end, to the other end.
It seemed to sit under a spotlight, cast by the lit chandelier above, the rest of the room far dimmer.
But, mercifully, there was no laughing. I cast a quick look around. There were three doors leading off this room.
The armadillo was still squirming. I shifted it in my arms, trying to hold onto it, and almost skipped further into the room – wanting to get away from the pool and whatever those footsteps were. Phantom kid on a rocking horse, somehow, seemed preferable to having that right at my back.
Over the incessant creak-creak of the rocking horse, I heard the pool door shove open. Out of the list of things to be freaked out by, the thought that the sloppy footsteps were catching up with me topped it.
Searching for where to run, I looked from one door, to the next, then, past the portrait, to the third. I did a double take, my gaze darting back to the portrait, just on the other side of the rocking horse.
It was the same woman as in the painting behind the front desk upstairs. Only, here, she was sat on a garden swing in her diaphanous white dress, flowers in bloom around her.
And, just like upstairs, she was gazing straight at me.
Now fighting to hang on to the armadillo, I hurried forwards, skirting the rocking horse. Perhaps it was the desperation for a familiar face down here that made me do it, but I whispered a hurried, ‘I was looking for maintenance – can’t find the ele–‘
I didn’t finish my sentence. The beautiful woman in the portrait had given me a sharp nod. Her eyes were widening, as I stared. They darted over my shoulder, to the door behind me. And even she looked scared.
Then the woman was beckoning me frantically, jumping off her swing to point, as clearly as she could, to the door to the left of her.
And the door behind me banged open.
I ran. Not thanking the woman in the portrait, just flat out sprinting for the door she’d indicated. I banged through it, and shoved it shut behind me, losing the armadillo in the process. It landed on the floor, thankfully right way up, and didn’t pause to get its bearings – it sprinted along the corridor, me barrelling along behind it.
The elevator was up ahead. Like a glorious shrine of light and polished brass, the doors were open and inviting. I shot past door after door, only registering one had the room number “162” on it when I was jumping, with the armadillo, into the brightly lit elevator.
The elevator doors were already shutting when I clanked the grilles closed. Just like before, far down a corridor that stretched out ahead of me, I spotted the door I’d slammed shut opening.
Then the lift was whirring to life, and, with a jerk, heading up.
‘Returning to the ground floor,’ the speaker narrated, and I just about collapsed against the brass handrail, winded and – dreading anything else going wrong – staring at the floor dial. ‘It doesn’t normally go down there,’ the speaker added, and my face scrunched up. I didn’t want confirmation of anything. I just wanted to think I’d imagined an “it”. ‘Be wary,’ the speaker went on, ‘of what you see on the in-between floors.’
It was as the elevator dinged open on the ground floor, the speaker providing a ‘Safe and sound on Ground,’ that I noticed, this time, its voice hadn’t sounded bored at all.
I huffed out a breath, and looked straight at the old-fashioned speaker mounted on the wall.
‘You could have warned me to not look,’ I pointed out. ‘If you can say all this, that would have been really helpful.’
The speaker merely grunted. At my feet, the armadillo was waiting patiently at the grilles. I took another moment to unlatch them, remembering the disaster area I’d left the main lobby. Returning to that wasn’t something I was enthused by. And I hadn’t even found maintenance.
But though I expected to see a deeper pool than the puddle I’d found in the basement, that wasn’t what I found in the main lobby. I stalled at the top of the short flight of steps, and took a long look.
The main lobby was empty but for the concierge and, trundling single-mindedly down the steps before me, the armadillo.
And it was clean. There wasn’t a drop of water to be seen anywhere. The pressed copper panels were back on the ceiling, painted perfectly as though nothing had ever happened. The carpet didn’t even squelch when I stepped down onto it. It was dry and pristine.
I seriously considered, standing in that brightly lit and beautiful lobby, whether I’d walked into a parallel universe. Whether one of those doors in the basement had opened into another world.
I locked eyes with the woman in the portrait behind the desk. She pulled a small smile, and gave me a nod. I nodded back, slowly, and looked around one more time.
‘Thank you,’ I said to her, approaching the desk. ‘I really appreciate… what you did.’
Rather than seem confused, it did appear the lady in the diaphanous dress knew what I was talking about. She smiled again, very kindly, and pointed at the desk.
I rounded it, following her point. The remains of my fallen muffin, too, had been cleaned up. There wasn’t a crumb to be seen. But on the desk beside the computer was a covered dish, a note attached to it that read “A muffin makes an inadequate dinner Fern.”
I probably should have been spooked. Probably it was that I’d used up all the terror I could muster for one day. Because I wasn’t. Instead, I felt ten times more charitable towards the hotel, and a thousand times more comfortable in this bright and friendly lobby. I lifted the cover, and found a beautiful chicken roast, still steaming hot, on a plate.
Pretty near to tears and suddenly ravenous, I scooped up the cutlery beside it, dumped myself in the office chair, and dug in, thanking the portrait and the maintenance person and the dinner lady, for all the last two weren’t present.
The screensaver, I noticed between bites, had changed. Now it was lines, like snakes, that revolved on a black screen in square spirals. As I took another bite, a red line headed over the screen, took an unexpected turn, then another. I chewed as it spelled out “You are welcome” across the screen. Despite it all, I smiled into my mouthful.
‘Hey computer,’ I said, once I’d swallowed, ‘can you show me Room 162?’
It complied, the screensaver disappearing to show a window open on the room. The page scrolled down as I directed the computer, and the bingo warning opened into a popup.
“Moved to the basement. DNR.”
I nodded, glad the computer knew that too. I thanked the computer, then, as I fed small bites of chicken to the armadillo, asked to check Entitled Mum’s room and Mr-Offended-by-Tall-Women’s. Entitled Mum’s entire stay had gone from exorbitantly expensive to no cost, and Mr-Offended-by-Tall-Women was on the do-not-rent list (this one for people). I took that with an appreciative smile, glad he would never again get his lake views.
Still with no sign of a night auditor, I finished my meal, took note of the sleeping armadillo under the desk – decided it wanted to stay there – then prepped to leave for the night. Straightening up with my bag, I spotted the clock over my head. I’d been expecting it to be past midnight, accounting for all the time I’d been in the basement. Instead, it was only two minutes past eleven, my clock-off.
Chalking it all up to the hotel, I only jumped a little when a loud RAP-RAP-RAP-RAP-RAP! started up on the window.
‘Oi, mate,’ I muttered, heading over to the window and the fist knocking on it, ‘I’m going to call you Bob – because I’m hoping I’ll find you less creepy that way. You need to piss off and go to sleep.’
I gave the window five raps back, called goodnight to the computer, the lady in the portrait, the armadillo, and the concierge, and left my first – insanely eventful – day working FDA at the Mountain View Hotel and Bingo Parlour.