Time for a story sacrifice. I'm giving this one up though I like it. It's a twist on the dangerous theme of writing about writing, see picture. It also features a dangerously common character, the soulful, aimless millennial. I have another story with the same title that may one day see daylight, but it's more of a novelette. At absolute best I may have four stories published in the next two months and this blog may actually serve its intended purpose. In the meantime have a gander at this. The picture comes from here.
These days he made do moving among lesser characters and smaller scenes. Such as:
- The Sou Chef who ran a discrete dope dealing ring. He usually met his customers in the alley out the back by the bins. His stash was somewhere in the hotel, it had to be.
- Room 23, where a combination of knocking pipes and a strange persistent draft combined to produce a haunting. It also helped that sixty years prior a rich, elderly couple died in the room, both in their sleep, seemingly of old age.
- Room 13, where the aforementioned Ukrainian businessman lived. The son of former nomenklatura, he had 'significant interests' in Donbass mining, now under Russian occupation. He directed his front of the civil war from Room 13, ordering a lot of odd food and only occasionally coming down to the bar to get drunk with fellow veterans.
So Dane's life was slowly reducing, down and down, until one day that was actually night he got a call from Room 34. Dane was alone at the reception desk. He had been working off and on for nearly 36 hours and was feeling speedy and alert but wavering anxious. Dane wasn't sure what time it was. A light flashed. He picked up the phone.
"Yeah..." the voice at the other end was hesitant, "this is, uh..." and male. "This is Room 34..." The third time this week. Dane's mind scrambled. Where was Jens?
"Excuse me, Sir, can you please hold for a moment..." Dane muted the line. He asked around. "Where's Jens?" He asked a passing footman, a cleaner, even a fellow concierge, Antonio, a new guy Dane really wasn't sure about. “Has anyone seen Jens?” He was on shift but no one had seen him for hours. Perhaps he was in his office, down in the basement, between the kitchen and the storeroom. Dane tried forwarding the call but got no response. No one knew... and the clock was ticking. Dane saw the clock across the lobby, it was... almost midnight in fact. It was staff policy not to leave a call on hold for more than two minutes. “Sorry to keep you on hold, Sir... I'm afraid the Shift Manager is not currently available. Perhaps...”
“Oh, never mind him” the Voice interrupted. “Jens is an uptight fusspot at the best of times. You should see his back story, really, it's a good job he's manager because he could start an argument in an empty room...” The Voice softly pattered.
Dane was dumbstruck. If he thought about it for a second he could have concluded that a long-term guest might know the Shift Manager's name, especially as Jens always went on about the bloody room, Room 34... though there was the matter of the back story, but, but... “But... what's going on...?”
“You're an intelligent man” said the Voice, still quiet but audibly confident now.”Perhaps you can help...?”
“I... I'm not sure I can...” Dane thought about it for a second. He felt a strange pull. “What kind of help do you need?” he said slowly.
“I can only really explain if I show you” said the Voice.
“Why don't you come down to the reception?” Dane hadn't lost all sense.
“I'm afraid not” said the Voice. “It's in my room, you see, Room 34. It's... it's not like that, Dane, if you were thinking it was... Yes, I know your name, Dane. I know a lot of things. I know that you tend to freak out in these situations but, given a moment's clear thought you'll realise what I'm saying is... serious... I need some help, Dane... I promise you, if you think about it... I will show you what's... going on...” He said the last two words deliberately. “It's up to you...” and with that he hung up.
A few minutes later Dane was on the third floor, outside Room 34. No one was around. It was quiet, late, dark. Dane was now under some kind of spell he felt, compelled he was, but he still rationalised what he was doing every step of the way. What a damn silly rule this was, do not go in Room 34. Jens was probably asleep by now, or off site. Staff shouldn't be dictated to like that, like the cleaner who, three weeks ago, blundered into the room. She was only agency, poor girl. Jens gave her such a dressing down, in his office, in the basement between the kitchen and the storeroom. His voice could be heard though the walls, over the clatter and the din. A prurient little audience gathered, not even Dane could resist. He overheard Jens saying something like:
“It's a good job you can't read because...!” mumble, mumble, mumble...
The more he thought about it the less he liked Jens and the more he wanted to look inside Room 34. He felt justified as well as compelled. Dane knocked on the door. He felt nervous. Dane waited. The door crept open. He drew breath. There was a man:
“Come in” he said, softly, smiling. The Man was older than him, though not by much. Dane looked at him for a second. He looked familiar, the Man, but Dane couldn't put his finger on how or why. He was dressed comfortably, not smartly. “Please” he said, standing aside. Dane could see the room, it looked... normal. Dane stepped forward. He went into Room 34, still looking around; bed, table, lamp, phone, wardrobe, desk and mirror, kettle, everything was still normal, just about, normal like a TV set or a stage.
“So...” said Dane, “who are you?”
The Man did not answer, merely half-shrugging, standing still for a moment. “Dane...” he began to speak but Dane interrupted.
“How long have you been here?”
“I've been busy” said the Man. He gestured toward the desk and mirror. There was a laptop lying there open. Dane had not noticed until now, or had it...? No...
“You're a writer” said Dane.
“I suppose so” said the Man.
“Anything I might have read?” asked Dane, slightly askance.
“Well...” the Man cupped his hands then rocked on his heels, thinking. “Yes” he said, “in a sense... Dane...”
“What was your degree in?” the Man asked. Dane realised. He didn't know. The Man continued: “where in Central London is this hotel?” Again Dane did not know. “What is your surname? Who is your family? Why have you never asked yourself these questions?” Dane did not know. “You're part of a story, Dane. I'm writing all of this, or I have been. Dane...” The Man stepped forward and placed a hand on Dane's shoulder. Dane did not resist this time. He looked into Dane's eyes. “I've been doing this for a long time. Jens knows all about it. The chambermaid figured some of it out, I'm sure. But the point... the point is I've been very unfair to you, to all of you...” The Man paused for a second, let go and looked down as if ashamed.
“Are you...?” Dane croaked. “Are you God?”
“No Dane,” The Man laughed wryly and shook his head. He looked up. “I'm not a god, I'm a writer. I wrote you. I wrote this bit here in fact. As we talk I'm elsewhere but I know for a fact you're agnostic, in practice an atheist.” He smiled. “Don't go changing the script now... Or...”
“What?” asked Dane.
“Well” said the Man again. “I have a little proposition for you.” A pause. “It's really very simple. I would like to get out of here for a bit. While I am out I would like you,” he gestured to the laptop, open on the desk, under the mirror, “I would like you to write a better future and a happier, more rounded past. He looked at Dane and smiled once more.
“I don't know what to say” said Dane, mouth dry, still reeling with shock.
“Wait a minute” said the Man, and he leant forward, over the laptop. He typed something.
“OK” said Dane, straightening himself up. “I'll do it” he said, summoning a dignity and sense of purpose completely new to him. Dane pulled up a chair. He scanned the script while the Man backed away carefully, watching Dane intently. “But...” said Dane suddenly. He turned round to the Man. “When will you be getting back?”
“Soon” said the Man. “I'll see you soon.”
“OK” said Dane, second thoughts now completely banished. He began writing and the Man quietly slipped through the door of Room 34, closing it behind him.