Monday, April 23, 2012

Tesla Still Looking - Flash Fiction by Julia Madeleine...

Times Square
Times Square (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Hotel

By Julia Madeleine

Room 3327. I knew something was wrong as soon as I stepped inside. It was in the very structure of the room. Something about it felt odd. A jagged sensation like a low volt of electricity passed through me for a brief moment. I hoisted my luggage onto the bed. I went to the window and pushed open the blinds. It had turned dark outside, ominous clouds swallowing the sun. Thirty-three floors below, yellow taxis crawled the streets like shiny beetles. I cracked open  the window, let some warmth into the air-conditioned chill, the sounds of New York city, and the smell of rain.

Behind me, someone cleared his throat. I spun around to see a tall man standing in front of the bed with a gaunt pasty face. Hair the colour of ashes. He gazed at me with wet eyes like an old dog. And yet there was a smile in them.

“You might enjoy feeding the pigeons while you’re here, Miss,” he said, his voice as dry as dead leaves blowing in the wind. “There’s plenty of them in the park.”

“Thanks,” I said. I hadn’t seen him when I checked in. He hadn’t helped me with my bags. He stood there expectantly in a black suit that hung limp on his spindly body, as if waiting for a tip. Who the hell was this guy?

“Have a pleasant stay.” He bowed, actually bowed. Then he turned and left. I crossed the room, locked the door behind him.

I was tired and had an early day in the morning with numerous homeland security officials. So I had a bath, watched some TV, read for a few minutes and then turned out the lights. I fell into a deep sleep only to be woken up shortly after by a dull thumping. Was someone at the door? I turned on the lamp and stepped out of bed. I looked through the peephole. The hall was empty. I went back to bed, turned out the light. Drifting on the edge of sleep, disconnected images and thoughts flashing in my mind. Then a voice. A man’s voice. Yelling from far away it seemed.

“My papers! I can’t find my papers! They’ve stolen them!”

Was I dreaming? I heard the door slam. My door. I turned on the light and stumbled out of bed, sleep pulling at my limbs. The deadbolt was locked. There was a strange ringing in my ears. My vision narrowed. A charged feeling cut through me. I turned the lock and swung open the door. There at the end of the hallway. The man in his black suit, turning around a corner. What the hell was happening?

The next day, I spent the afternoon in meetings, fighting jetlag, a migraine and a sense of foreboding that hovered over my shoulder like a shadow. I navigated my way around unfamiliar streets and made it back to the hotel by dusk. An old woman with black eyes, magnified by cat-eye glasses,  turned to gawk at me in the lobby. She sat in a chair, a wooden cane propped up next to her. The rest of the lobby seemed to be abandoned.

“Have a pleasant stay,” she said to me in a shaky voice as I passed, her words echoing across the lobby. That was the same thing the old man said to me yesterday. I thought of that voice, waking me from sleep, screaming at me.

“He check out in 1943, you know?” the old bat said.

“What? Who do you mean?” I asked, turning to her.

“The man who lived in your room,” she said, a lopsided grin stretching across her wrinkled face. Her eyes behind her glasses didn’t at look me. They looked in two different directions. I wonder how she could even see. She looked half mad. “He was here for ten years.”

“What are you talking about? What man?” I took a step toward her, studying those crazy eyes.

“He made a death ray machine.”

Now I knew she was loony tunes. She was probably some homeless crazy they let hang around once in a while out of pity. Maybe gave her the odd cup of coffee and a sandwich. She  looked harmless enough.

“They stole his papers. After he died. The plans for the death ray. They were stolen.”

I felt my jaw drop open as I gazed at her, the echo of the man’s voice waking me from sleep. “My papers! I can’t find my papers! They’ve stolen them!” It was then I noticed what was in her lap. A fat gray pigeon. She was stroking it like a cat.

“There’s a plaque right on the door. Did you not look at it?”

I sighed and scanned the lobby. Where the hell was everyone? Earlier the place was crackling with life, Ethel Merman playing from the speakers above. Now it was like a morgue. The hairs on my arms prickled. I turned and hurried toward the elevators. Static electricity zapped my finger as I hit the button.

I took deep breaths as the elevator lifted me, it’s mechanisms whirring and bumping inside the walls. It made a soft ding and the doors parted on the 33rd floor. I dragged myself down the carpeted hall, thinking a hot bath might take the tension out of my muscles. I took the key from my pocket and looked at the plaque on the door of room 3327 for the first time. There was a picture of him on the plaque. A younger picture. But it  was the same man. The same smile in his eyes. The man who’d yelled at me during the night about his stolen papers. Nikola Tesla.
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