,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,<em>AN: (General CW for the entire VN: body horror, hallucinatory drug use, lots of sex, bad language, discussion of suicide methods, basically, a lot)</em>
There's that strange lurching feeling, when you step off the ferry or any other sort of rocking, rolling vehicle, of transitioning from steady movement to absolute steadiness. The real ground, stillness. It always makes my guts spin. But after collecting myself I gave a competent wave back towards the ferry driver; there was obviously no one looking to board or even approaching the docks so he began pulling away almost immediately. I paused, letting the few others who had disembarked go on ahead, trying to pin down my first impression of the place.
This island, thought to contain noting of particular value or note for years, had recently been discovered to have rich layerings of the monastic tradition, celtic warriors, and mysterious prehistoric cultures that worked in inscrutable rock carvings and megalithic circles. Now there was officially a small hotel set up on the island, some cleared and marked hiking trails, and a modest, emerging main street. In essence, it was gearing up to become a very organized enterprise for extracting the feeling of happening across something both trendy and new, mysterious, historical, authentic, magical...
It's late September; just starting to get a bit damp and cold, the evenings becoming a tossup between crisp and depressing. It's not a time many people are on holiday. It's firmly in, what they call in the business, the off-season. That's because this holiday was somewhat forced on me.
My editor, well, not really mine, but as a freelancer one of the doors I find I can reliably knock on to find an obliging assignment... I feel like they felt bad that I'd completely worked through the holidays last year, cranking out pieces about the hot gifts of the season for the people who were relaxing at home, and, of course, feeling bored and restless at having got the wrong gifts. I needed the money! And I wasn't too attached to any particular seasonal celebration. But still, I could tell this editor emailed me each subsequent list of £20 article concepts to hammer out a bit cringingly.
Well, you were sending me the emails too! What were YOU up to, Mx Just-Take-a-Break-Please? I made a note to call them and ask this once I made it to the hotel. They had slid this assignment to me across the table, write a lifestyle review article of the new hotel on THIS island and the surrounding sights. For the things to do I'd have to use my imagination and take the owner's word for it, since almost all of the forthcoming restaurants and amenities were closed or in the process of being built.
It paid better than my usual assignments. A lot better, since it required more time and travel, but it also meant I couldn't work on anything else for the entire week... Of course the hotel wasn't hooked up with Wi-Fi yet. Maybe that was also deliberate on my editor's part.
I picked up my overstuffed overnight bag and began dragging it up the gravel path, towards the largest building on the horizon, which was, of course, the hotel.
[[ENTER THE HOTEL]]The lobby of the hotel (no sign bedecks its front entrance yet, creating either a sense of homliness or a sense that you're not supposed to be there; you decide.) immediately gave me the impression of the random books, bought by the yard to simply occupy eye-space in a Cafe Nero, meaningless, arbitrary and fake in their appearance despite being actual books because of the way they were brought together, out of context and yet to create context. I pushed at one of the already-peeling spines in the "Honor Bookshelf" (take a book, leave a book!) thinking that even in the outer reaches of boredom (which I had steeled myself for, fully expecting the very real possibility of encountering it on this trip) even as a writer myself, I would never read a single one of the texts neatly stacked there.
Ah! If this all sounds like a contrivance to get me alone on a remote island that only gets ferry service twice a week to torture and murder me with no hope of the body ever being found, never fear! When I entered the hotel, fully expecting it to be empty, there were two other guests milling about the untouched generic homeliness of the place. There was also the owner, who I immediately recognized from her icon that had been cc'd into the initial email arrangements.
She was leaning heavily on the dark hardwood counter that I presumed was intended to indicate an old-timey front desk; it looked like she had stolen away half of a pool table and was trying to bluff her way through it. Her hair was exactly as it appeared in her icon, wavy, dark, and alternately pinned up or tumbling down one shoulder in a glamorously disheveled way. She was wearing dark lipstick, and a similarly odd-for-a-hotel-manager dress with a corset and loose neckline.
The first guest was a tall, blonde woman, paradoxically still clinging to a tan and wearing above-the-knee cutoff shorts in September. She was wearing a pastel-colored windbreaker and a similarly twee, overstuffed kanken bag with neon-pink shoulder pads slung over both shoulders. The low lighing of the hotel caught on the small hairs running down her legs, which plunged into some quirky knit socks and scuffed hiking boots. She had her head cocked sideways, scanning the titles of the books with rapt interest, unlike me, even though it seemed like she wouldn't be the type to do any reading here.
The second guest, a man with salt and pepper hair, was sunk deeply in one of those artificially aged armchairs, his fingers laced across the front of a frayed, dark green sweater, either deep in thought or napping. He let his legs jut out at a wide angle but they still crossed back together at the ankles. He must have gotten here much earlier, as there wasnt any of his luggage in sight.
The other compelling details of the lobby are a phone, with an old-fashioned privacy booth around it, and a wide staircase presumably leading to the rooms.
[[TALK TO HIM]]
[[TALK TO HER]]
[[CALL YOUR EDITOR]]
After you have done all four things:
[[GO TO YOUR ROOM]]I approached the desk, the hotelier watching me the entire way and smirking. Not maliciously, just the kind of ironic service smile that makes someone seem actually friendly, rather than bullshitting it. Against the wall and tucked halfway under the counter was a bulky machine with a monitor on the front.
"Hi, I'm the freelancer from the magazine."
"Hello! You got here alright?"
"Yeah, the ferry was fine."
"Good, it is a pretty straightforward walk from the dock to here. So, you're staying five nights, correct?"
"Yeah, that's right."
"Ok, you'll be in room four, that's all the way down the hall after you go up the first set of stairs... I was going to put you in five, that's the up-upstairs suite, but it wasn't quite done yet."
"Well that's fine, I can make the framing the more relatable "holiday on a budget" or "ladies are doing it for themselves" kinda thing."
"Of course! Brilliant, you're coming up with ideas already. Let me know if you have any questions or want more of a tour. I go in and make the beds from 11 AM so it's helpful if you're out of bed by then. There'll be a breakfast nook in here. Dinner orders start at 5 PM, karaoke is at 8 PM."
She slid a small gold key attached to a large square of plastic across the hardwood at me. "Well, we need something to do, don't we?"
[["I... I see.|ENTER THE HOTEL]]You walk over to the man who appears to be dozing with his hands folded across his chest. Resting in his lap is a slim, off-white chapbook with a single abstract symbol on the front.
"I'm thinking you didn't get that from the honor bookshelf."
"There was one worthwhile book there, but I took it before either of you got here."
"That seems pretty dishonorable." I squatted into the chair opposite him as he sat up, tossing the chapbook onto a side table and pushing his glasses up his nose.
"It's just not going to work..."
"Me being here, my next collection, you name it."
"What brings you here, anyways?"
"I always book time off in an unpopular destination at an unpopular hotel in the off season when I'm starting a new body of work. The boredom and isolation is parylizing until I have a breakthrough and then... it's perfect."
"Oh? That's crazy. What do you do? I'm here to do some writing as well."
"I'm a poet." He reached to pick up the chapbook again. "This is my work."
I took it with the wincing awkwardness of a family member handing me a new baby. I stared into the symbol on the cover and could not extract a single impression from it. And I was scared to actually open it.
"Oh! How nice! I mean... I don't really ever read poetry so I wouldn't even be able to tell if it's good or bad. It's never really done anything for me, you know."
"Most people would at least try to be polite..." He laughed a bit bitterly, snatching the book back. "So what do you write?"
"Oh, just articles. About culture and stuff... I doing a reveiw of the hotel."
"But that kind of thing is just to pay the bills, right? You have other projects, or an actual practice--"
"No, really! Writing's just the only thing anyone's ever told me I was good at. Since I was really little. Made an impact, huh. Probably the worst thing to say to a kid."
"I see. Hmm, well. I wonder how I'll work with a rival in the house now."
"You've been here a while?"
"Yeah, I came on the previous ferry, three days ago."
"So, how is it?"
He looked like he was suppressing an ominous grin. "Oh, it's an interesting enough place. I mean, it's fine. Not even the spookiest off season empty hotel expeirence I've had."
"A ringing endorsement. Can I use that as a pull quote?"
"You'll have to pay royalties." I must have rolled my eyes too obviously, and it made him laugh again. "I was kidding, obviously." He shifted back and forth in the chair while I sat silently for a moment, creating a horrible squeaking sound of stiff leather on leather. "That girl with the backpack came in and started talking about how excited she was to take a walk down to the abbey before dinner. It made me realize I hadn't seen any of the sights of this place yet so I might go along."
"Yeah? Maybe I will too."
"Maybe I'll overhear some thousand year old hymns on the wind... Their poetry was so different, so I guess I can rip it off and hardly anyone will notice in a pinch."
[["Ha, ha."|ENTER THE HOTEL]]"Anything good?"
"Hmmm?" She cocks her head back upright and looks at me, squinting a bit. "No, of course not... it's a hotel bookshelf. But hello, I'm Erin!"
She holds out her hand and I take it, trying not to be too weird.
"I'm XXXX. So, what brings you here?"
"Oh, I'm just mad about megaliths... Saying it that way really does make me sound a bit crazy though. But I guess I am. I mean, I was so excited and followed the whole drama about how the sites on this island were discovered... or well, re-discovered. So as soon as there was ferry service to the island I was ready to go. I was even ready to camp but... well, it's always nice to not have to lug the whole tent out here."
"I see... Well I'm just here to reveiw the hotel for a website so... Polar opposite, I guess. I'm a dielletante."
"It's such a fascinating story though. The initial discovery was made by a married couple back in the late 1800s. They traveled to the island by themselves and documented the ruins of the abbey as well as some neolithic stone rings. And, they realized an island of this description had appeared before in Viking legend as well, but most scholars assumed it was fictional."
"But then why is it being framed as a new discovery now?"
"Well, shortly after they came back, they destroyed all their findings on the sites, as well as where to find them. It wasn't ever a confirmed discovery outside of ther two of them. Isn't that kind of romantic, though?"
"It sounds kind of ominous."
Erin chuckled. She was obviously the type of person to think I worried too much.
"Oh, I don't know. They were also wrapped up in emerging mysticism of the time, so maybe they thought what they had found was more consequential than it actually was."
"And yet you wanted to be first in line to get here."
"Well I think..." She cocked her head to the side again. "I think most people nowadays believe that consciousness itself offers enough. They could have had a magical experience but it wasn't magic."
"Anyways, we were going to go down to take a walk through the Abbey before the sun went down. You're welcome to come along after you check in."
She tilted her head towards the guy still sunk into the armchair.
[[Ok, I'll think about it|ENTER THE HOTEL]]I slid my phone out of my pocket and unlocked it. No Service. I held it in the palm of my hand, concentrating, as if that would draw some stray radio waves towards the device. Of course not. I click the phone off and investigate the phone booth. There's no coin slot, and when I pick it up there's a sonorous dial tone that feels like the most real thing I've encountered in the hotel so far.
Their number is the only one I know by heart by now. Not even my own mother's. It takes me a moment to figure out the dial (how quaint!) but it's easy enough to transpose.
I practice the thing I was planning to say over and over as the ring goes on, two, three, four times...
"Hello?" Their tone is more formal and guarded than usual. Well of course, my number didn't show up on the caller ID this time. I feel sneaky, and consider letting them hang for a few seconds but realize they would probably instantly hang up on me.
"Alright, I'm here, Mx why don't you take a break yourself, don't you?"
My over-wroght attempt at a joke naturally came out completely incomprehensible.
"What? XXXX? So you made it to the hotel."
"Yeah. And it made me remember, y'know, when you were feeling bad about sending me the emails over Christmas break--"
"I'm sorry XXXX, I'll try to give you less of a load this year..."
My mind flashes towards January's rent. And then February is always so short too, like who came up with that one?
"No no no no! It's fine I mean. You kind of sent me here as an apology, right? an enforced break."
"XXXX... It's an assignment."
"I was just thinking... when do you take a break, huh?"
"Don't worry about me. How is it out there?"
"Hmm.. I mean, the boat ride was fine. I've just gotten to the hotel... It seems... Hotel-y. At least the owner is the woman from the gmail account that sent you the email in the first place."
"Right, I assume it's a small operation, especially in the off season. I think what you write in the piece will guide what they decide to end up doing, weirdly enough. So use your imagination, in a sense."
"See not the hotel that is, but the hotel of my dreams..."
"Yeah yeah, but the piece has to come off as at least slightly objective." I imagine them leaning back in their chair and flicking a pen back and forth in their hand, their usual tic for both thinking and running out of things to say. It was true, I didn't have much of an update to make, I had just been milling in the lobby essentially. But I still wanted to talk to them a bit more.
"Well, ok, let me know if anything's off or if you get any weird vibes, you know. I worry a bit, shipping you out to the edges of civilization."
"I'll be fine. Seriously, I'll probably just be super bored and drive myself insane coming up with a hundred adjectives to describe wallpaper."
"Alright, well, I'll make a note of every time you call me anyways. Don't want to lose track of you."
"Aww, that's kind of sweet!"
"Yeah, yeah, geez. It's the least I can do when you're entrusting me to put the invoice through for a week of your life. Goodbye."
[[BACK|ENTER THE HOTEL]]
There wasn't much reason left to continue lingering awkwardly in the lobby. I hefted my overnight bag's strap over my shoulder and turned the key over in my hand. The carpet on the wide staircase leading up to the rooms was thick, and it felt like my footsteps went totally silent as I made my way up. Turning down the hallway, I went past three identical, evenly spaced doors, before arriving at the one whose only distinguishing feature was being labeled "4". The key slid into the lock easily, not stiff at all, like it was well worn in. A pleasant first impression. I turned the key in the lock and prepared to take in my first impression of the room.
First of all, the door squeaked loudly when I opened it. That could either be very bad, or, I tried to remain open minded, it could be homely! The room was dim, not on a side of the building that received a lot of light after noon. Well that's not terribly good for getting work done... but it's restful, I suppose. Though that contrasts with the squeaky doors, ugh.
I stepped into the room past a small slatted-door closet and further door which I presumed would lead to the bathroom. I groped for the lightswitch and, when a dim lamp on the table in the corner unimpressivley flickered on, I sighed, threw my bag onto the bed, and prepared to rifle through it for my notebook, so I could begin listing out and making sense of my notes so far. I opened the zipper carefully because the pull was known to come off, and started feeling around in the ouroborous of sweaters, socks, underwear and skinny jeans that my notebook and pen had somehow sunk deep into.
It was only after I had seriously considered that I must have touched every article of clothing that I brought with me several times without finding it, and let myself feel the aching and increasingly feasible dread that I had failed to bring a literal notebook and pen with me on a remote writing assignment did my fingers scrape across the rough tagboard of the notebook's cover.
I opened it and wrote out [[some cursory observations]].
<em>Long ferry trip - like stepping into another world!
Hotel very obvious on horizon line... imposing yet conveniently placed!
Does not have an actual name/sign yet (homey detail but also ask manager about this)
Lobby unfortunately epitomizes some of the worst conventions of the form
Mysterious/Mystical history of the island - you don't need to believe in magic to have a magical experience
Isolation is productive/inspiring? (Guess we'll find out) Get work done here? Room: bed seems very well broken in and soft, thick duvet, noisy door, small window. Not quite a hostel/dorm but not quite luxurious either. Maybe I really like it.</em>
and then I made a final note, which I underlined several times
[[That'll do.]]I close the notebook and also toss it on the bed. I hear the door next to mine swing open, creak, and slam shut before swinging open and shut again. That must have been Erin dropping off her bags, which meant she was probably hiking out to the abbey soon. I pulled my pale blue raincoat out of my bag and pulled it on, it had seemed threatening all afternoon. Yes, why not walk down to the monastery. Dinner orders didn't even start for the next two hours, so I decided to follow Erin.
Back downstairs, she and XXXX were chatting in the library, and the manager was still standing behind the desk, watching us all with a sidelong glance as she traced lines in the woodgrain of the counter with a long finger.
"Heading down to the abbey?"
"Enjoy, it's really beautiful... Maybe even moreso when it's just pissing down a bit like this."
Ellen had changed into an impressively huge black plastic poncho, and XXXX was hugging a fussy tweed overcoat around himself. We looked like a highly improbable and unbalanced group of people to be going on a walk together. In a way, something operating at a level below fate, the pure random recombinatorial impulse that only sometimes surfaces in everyday life, was what brought us together. All three of us, despite the awkward introductions, seemed tenatively excited to head off, as if it was a class trip of some kind.
"Let me draw you a map. The official brochures are still at the printers' back on the mainland."
She pulled a small pad of post-its from under the desk and scribbled an approximate path, follow the road a bit, split off at the futute coffee shop, and follow that trail for a leisurely walk up a cliff overlooking the opposite shoreline... 45 minutes there, 45 minutes back, giving us around 30 minutes at the site itself if we wanted to be back in time for dinner.
"Great." I said. She pulled the post it off the pad and stuck it to my hand.
Outside, I realized what the manager said was true. It was the perfect type of rain for visiting the forlorn ruins of a long forgotten cloistered abbey. Not oppressively pitching down, but enough that the damp clung to you, and was like walking through especially thick mist. XXXX struggled, squinting to see through his glasses that were consistently either fogging up or becoming clouded with droplets, while Erin strode confidently ahead at the front of the group. Her posture was so studied, even walking on fairly level ground and a rather well-defined path, that it just seemed like her legs were vigorously shifting under a rustling ball of plastic.
<em>(AN: From here I'm about three glasses of wine in bc November 3rd so sorry for more typos)</em>
The rain was beading up on the shoulders and sleeves of my own jacket and running off easily as I moved. I could tell XXX was sulkily watching me in his own thick but obviously non-waterproofed coat, the situation had cornered him into counting down the seconds until he'd feel his sweater and then his own back getting wet. With Erin leading the way and the both of us lagging awkwardly behind I didn't feel particularly compelled to talk to either of them. As we made it higher along the slope up to the shoreline cliffs, the sound of the sea crashing against the rocks below us became more prominent. The strange vertical lines of a gutted stone structure stood before us.
"Oh, creepy! Electrifying!" Erin proclaimed.
"Hmm" I said.
"It's interesting." Erin went on. "Because the features of this island were so poorly documented until the modern age, there's only vague records that imply the existence of this convent, nothing absolute or concrete. By the time modern archaeologists made it here, it was basically in this state."
"How morbid. What an end." XXXX commented.
"I don't know, there's also something kind of noble about that level of isolation." I offered.
"That's right, I mean, I think it's beautiful." Erin said. I wasn't sure if I meant that. "The whole lives that could have passed without note... And yet for the women living them it was the richest thing--"
"Like I said, it's a bit disturbing."
"I don't know, a life like that, maybe you could go off the rails a bit. Did you know historians generally agree that historical testimonies of nuns having sex must be authentic, because there was so little general knowledge of lesbian sex at the time that it's less likely they could have made it up?"
"Oh!" I said. What else was I meant to say. It was surprising, and, I assumed, a fact.
"Are we going to go inside or just turn around?" XXX asked.
"It looks like the cloister around the courtyard is the only part still totally intact. Makes sense," Erin said, finding this to be a much more relatable observation than either of us did. "The high roofs are always the first to go in places like this..."
[[ENTER THE CLOISTER]]
We walked down a gentle, innocently sloping hill to reach the pair of low stone steps that led into the cloister. It wasn't quite evening yet, but the sun was beginning to cast long shadows, and the stone tunnel was, of course, completely dark on the inside, except where entrances to the courtyard let in a steep column of light. Erin poked her head in.
"It's fine! A bit slipery, but fine."
XXXX hesitated, and I fumbled for my phone in my pocket before following. Erin had her sturdy hiking boots but I had stupidly stuck with my lazy slip-on flats for footwear for the trip, so my feet were already feeling a little damp. I wanted to at least be able to see my own footing, even if I wouldn't be able to get a grip on it. I flicked on the light and followed Erin, and after a moment I heard what must be XXXX coming after as well. As we got deeper into the cloister, the sounds of our echoing footsteps began to blend, and the sound of dripping and trickling water also became prominent. The stones that made up the floor were slick and uneven. One of my feet slid, because of course, and I ran a hand down the wall to steady myself. It was thick with what felt like slimy moss. I could tell some bits were still clinging to my hand, and that it had gotten quite wet in the process, I didn't want to investigate until we were out in the open.
XXXX's arm caught the crook of my elbow, but rather than being dashing he seemed more put-upon.
"Geez, I almost ran straight into you. Are you alright?"
Going around the corner and getting to the entrance to the courtyard seemed to take an eternity. I had forgotten how anxious cramped and dark places made me. When I saw Erin standing with her hands excitedly propped up on her hips in the light coming from the courtyard, I paused, and checked behind me for XXX.
"Woah, look up," he said.
I was about to flick my phone's light off, but I did a sweep of the arched roof of the cloister. I heard Erin's gasp as the light illuminated a thick forest of bright orange lichen. extending down from the ceiling in tendrily almost-clouds.
"That's amazing..." she said. A fat drop of water fell from one of the tendrils and dripped resonantly onto a puddle on the floor. "And... kind of gross."
I held out my own hand in the dim natural light from the doorway. It still felt damp, and streaks of orange and green bits were spread along it.
"Think they're poisonous?" I asked.
"Hmm... probably not. Could be a unique species to the area by this point though. Christ. Ok, what else is out here?" XXXX sighed and hugged his coat closer.
Erin shrugged and casually stepped through the doorway.
XXXX looked at me.
"Ladies first." When his offer didn't go over well, he was quick to backtrack. "Just joking."
[[ENTER THE COURTYARD]]Replaying the moment in my mind, I feel like I followed almost exactly after XXXX, and yet the precise mechanations of true randomness made it so that a drop of water from the lichen-covered ceiling fell precisely into my left eye, far more precisely than any time I'd tried applying eyedrops before.
I stood in the arch, rubbing my eyes, but it already felt like the single drop had thoroughly suffused my eyeball. It wasn't stinging or painful, but there was a definite tingling, and a weird sort of fullness and wetness that felt different from, for example, a raindrop or splash of water from the sink doing the same sort of thing. But maybe it was just a shockingly direct hit.
My head felt a little light. I could see fine. I stepped out into the open air of the courtyard where I could hear the sea again, and the shower of rain. Erin and XXXX were walking around the open courtyard, staring up at the worn carvings and collapsed tower. Even though I'd only barely spent an hour with them, cumulatively, I felt a sense of warmth towards them. Well, what the fuck?
I could kind of see what Erin meant, though. In the courtyard, none of us spoke, none of us had to. There was the sense that every crashing wave or lash of rain could transform into the voices of the women who whispered, chanted, sang here, before vanishing somehow, into the land or the sea. They never did, but...
We gathered back at the entranceway and smirked at eachother with quiet impressiveness, like we were holding back a shared secret. In the dark of the tunnel I naughtily linked my arm with Erin's, and then with XXXX's. I don't think either of them would have been able to see. When we left the abbey it had started to bucket down, and we had to careen down the gravel path back to the hotel at a jog. Somehow, it was perfect.
[[RETURN TO THE HOTEL|Lobby2]]
"You're still fifteen minutes too early for dinner orders," the manager said flatly as we returned to the hotel, surely looking like any sort of animal unceremoniously pulled from a lake.
We split up and returned to our rooms to dry off before gathering again to make our dinner orders. When I went to my room, an extra pile of thick, white towels were placed on the end of my bed. Of course, the reveiw writer aspect of my role had to concede that this was thoughtful, and good customer service. It seemed like the manager was thinking about us, even when we were gone, which I guess was her job, but also creeped me out a bit. I toweled off and used the weak, permanently plugged in hair dryer mounted in the bathroom, and changed into a different sweater. I checked my phone briefly, still no signal, and still 3 minutes until 5 PM. I laid back on the bed and ran my hands through my limp hair for a few minutes, trying to avoid the awkwardness of being the first one to return to the lobby.
The walk up to the abbey and back had taken a bit out of me, my legs still felt well stretched, maybe even a bit worn out. I hoped the dinner options were good, I could see myself eating a lot. I sighed, leaning a bit from side to side to feel out the softness of the bed. I felt that dry, hollow feeling in my nose that was always a bit nostalgic; the manager had turned the heat up. My eyelids fluttered shut for what felt like a moment, but I started awake and my room had gone almost completely dark, only dim light barely making it through the small window. I looked at my phone again. 7:35! I'd fallen asleep and it was now 25 minutes until dinner orders ended and karaoke began.
Sulkily, like a cat who had knocked over a carefully-placed shelf of knicknacks, I made my way back to the lobby. I anxiously avoided meeting eyes with the manager as I walked in-- I still had 20 minutes, after all!-- and walked over towards the leather armchairs where XXXXX and Erin were both sitting. She was writing vigorously in a pristinely maintained bullet journal, while XXXX was reading anopther book. This time, the cover actually featured and legible title and authoer name, so I could tell it wasn't one of his own.
"So did you both already have dinner?" I asked.
"Hmmmm..." Erin said, vaguely affirmative. XXXX pushed his glasses up and deliberately focused his gaze deeper into the book.
"Do you... have any reccomendations?"
"I think you should just go order." Erin said with a slight smirk, after a moment's pause.
So I went up to the front counter. Of course the manager was still standing there, but now acting like she wasn't watching me directly.
"Excuse me. Sorry I fell asleep in my room, but I'd like to see the dinner menu."
She looked up, pleasant as always.
"Oh, no trouble, you're here in plenty of time. I should be completely honest though."
She slid a sheet of paper across the counter at me. Listed on it were basic entrees, like "Macaroni Cheese - £7" and "Hamburger Steak - £8." Pretty reasonable, though I wouldn't be paying for it myself. It was playing a little fast and loose with my physical integrity already but I just couldn't resist the temptation.
"I'll have the Macaroni Cheese. Who cooks the food, by the way?"
"I said I should be honest with you. It's just frozen Tesco dinners. Locally sourced from the one next to the ferry stop on the mainland. I heat them up in a microwave in the back room."
"What?" I looked at the prices on the menu again, suddenly feeling rather put-upon. "This is quite a markup, then."
"It's for my time and labor put into it. You wouldn't take that from me, would you?"
"I don't want to think about how much I'm getting paid by the minute if I broke down spending a week here that way."
The manager swept the menu back across the counter with her hands, and, ducking into the back room, there was predictably the sound of crinkling plastic and a microwave. She came back out as the appliance hummed on.
"I mean, I won't argue with you there. It's something to think about."
"I can't tell, are you rubbing it in that you've taken advantage of the way freelance rates work to rent out my life for a week, or tossing in a mercy session of career counseling?"
"I do feel like I have you on the hook a bit, sure. So tell me anything I can do to make you reasonably more comfortable."
"Does having something on the dinner menu other than tescos food count as a reasonable request?"
"Not until the next ferry gets here and back."
She went to the back room again, the sound of her scraping the food out of the plastic tray and onto a plate hardly disguised at all. She handed me the plate and fork.
"Sorry it's not an ideal situation, but it's the off season. It's not even our first on-season. I'm just doing my best in a job too."
I stood there at the counter, morosely looking at the macaroni cheese that would give me some degree of gastric distress, and for what? Little to nothing.
"Let me do something for you, then." The manager said. "Get some of the food on your fork."
"I mean, I was planning to."
"Yeah, now close your eyes."
I felt self-conscious. Weren't XXX and Erin sitting right there? But it was like nothing was behind me when the manager had me cornered, her arms boldly propping her up against the counter, leaning towards me. Ok.
"I'll describe the food I'd make for you if I had a proper kitchen, alright? You've just cut into a rich, gorgeous slice or roast. It's almost peeling apart, almost falling off the fork. And at the same time you can smell the herbs coming off the vegetables I roasted along with it. You can feel the weight of the cranberry sauce clinging to the meat, about to fall off in a thick glob. And your fork is so heavy, it's fine silver. The plate is glitering and would ring out if you struck a fingernail against it. And the only other vessel on the table is a crystal glass of a rich red malbec."
"Yeah," Even though it obviously wasn't real, that such a scenario couldn't be further from what I was about to put in my mouth, I could feel some saliva pooling in the bottom of my mouth.
Her cool fingers pushed my other hand up to hover under where I was holding the fork.
"Now, you're going to take the first bite into your mouth. But because it's so dripping with the sauce, and because the tablecloth is so fine, you cup your hand underneath it for just a second."
I slip the fork in my mouth. I don't know what I expected. In a moment the trance disappeared and it was undoubtedly a mediocre microwaved macaroni cheese.
"Alright, very funny. You can make all that for me if you invite me back during the actual peak season."
"Maybe someday." The manager smirked and pulled away my empty plate. "Oh, sorry, are you done?"
I took the fork in my hand and rested it on the edge of the empty plate. This did not bode well.
She dropped the plate and fork off in the back room and then immediately began hauling the karaoke machine behind the desk around to the seating area. Erin was chewing the end of her pen, and XXXXX was clasping his brow, now apparently not pretending at his level of investment in the book.
"Okay, it's karaoke time!"
Because I walked over with her, the impression seemed to be that I had requested, or even mandated, that the karaoke go forward on schedule. Both of the other guests stared at me, obviously unsure what was going to happen, despite almost certainly having a grasp on the concept of karaoke.
The manager busied herself over plugging in and setting up the machine, before standing up, mic in hand, alongside a blast of feedback.
"XXXX, I assume," XXX said immediately.
"Yeah, I have a bit of a frog in my throat from getting stuck in the rain," Erin added. "But XXX, feel free!"
The manager handed the mic to me. I didn't care by then if she had put some substance that would make me more suggestible into whatever food she'd made me eat.
Erin's face read disbelief, XXXX's almost open disgust. I laughed, scrolling through the list of available songs.
[[YOU HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO DO KARAOKE]]I want to open myself up to these people, I want to be memorable and charming, draw their eyes and thoughts and attention. It almost makes me misty. The room feels warm and glowing. Now that I think about it, I've been feeling a little strange since we saw those weird lichens at the abbey, and the water from the cloister fell in my eye.
Maybe a crisis of confidence about my so-called "career," this hotel is very obviously, quickly, exceeding any sort of normal reveiw format, has made me philosophical, or sensitive. I was becoming wrapped up in being essentially stranded in a highly remote location with these two other people, in a formalized but strangely intimate scenario. In a few hours we'd all be asleep in a row with just a single wall separating us, and know it. It felt like losing my head in a way I hadn't in years, the same way that getting five minutes alone with someone you had a crush on in high school seemed monumentously consequential. Of course, all of these stolen moments were ultimately foiled, for me, but now--! Here--!! Maybe!!!
So, after waffling on song choice for a moment, I of course select:
[[KATE BUSH: WUTHERING HEIGHTS|sing1]]
[[DEPECHE MODE: STRIPPED|sing1]]
[[ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN: THE KILLING MOON|sing1]]
[[BJORK: BIG TIME SENSUALITY|sing1]]I always start karaoke in the right frame of mind. I pay attention to the words on the screen and put conscious energy into singing "well." But at a certain point the theatrics of the song kick in. Selecting a song was always a way for me to express something about my emotional state that was too raw to say directly, even if it was just putting on some music at home. I'd always been like that. I can write anything but some things just were, and are, unspeakable.
Past a certain point I begin to make a fool of myself, I want to be seen as I am and performing someone else's song is the quickest way to get there. Passion, absorbtion, makes actually hitting the notes a secondary concern. But it feels perfect. It always bothered me, when I would go out with a group of interchangable work colleagues who would all wince and chuckle as we went by a bar where someone inside was singing Karaoke alone.
The song wound down and, coming back to the room, I held out the mic towards XXXX, who simply raised his eyebrows anxiously, and then Erin who said "Oh, I'm good."
"Alright well..." I awkwardly placed the mic on top of the machine, generating a few clunks of feedback. "If you ever get the urge, throughout the rest of the night..." I trailed off and sat down in one of the lobby chairs, pulling out my phone and pretending it was possible to be doing something interesting on it, like reading a news article that spoke to my inellectual calibur or messaging my very cool, very interesting friends.
"So is this going to become a nightly occasion?" XXXX asked after a moment, sticking a bookmark in the book he had gone back to reading.
"We'll see. Depends on how I feel."
[[GO TO BED|Bed1]]I sat flicking between the weather app, straining and failing to load any data for tomorrow's forecast, old photos, and random, inscrutable bits I had written in the notes app, trying to connect them to specific memories as if this could produce an interesting effect or at least clarify my line of thought. After I had swallowed half an hour this way, and XXXX and Erin still seemed absorbed in their own reading and writing, respectively, I decided to get up and try to at least lie down in my bed, even though the unexpected nap I'd taken earlier probably would tip my sleep schedule off kilter for the rest of the week. I did feel kind of strange, after all. I got up and left the lobby without a word, without acknolwedgement besides the manager saying "goodnight," squarely at the middle of my back one I'd gotten halfway up the stairs.
I padded across the carpet, opened the door to my room with its typical creak and tried to close it with at least a bit of dignity. Arguable if I was successful at all. I sighed, finally alone to be as petulant as I cared to be. Turning on the lights really emphasized how inadequate the single dim desk lamp was for the entire room. I took off my clothes and left them unceremoniously in a pile in the corner, then rummaged through my entire bag to get out an old t-shirt and a set of PJ pants. I didn't bother brushing my teeth or even washing my face, I'd fully go through my bag in the morning. I noticed my notebook still sitting on the bed, and though I wasn't feeling particularly keen on it, wrote down some notes. I squinted at the barely-illuminated page, [[writing around my feelings, of course.]]<em>The abbey - long walk but worth it.
going through the intact cloister (? check w/ erin that's the right term) and coming out into the courtyard is amazing, highly reccomended, like stepping into a separate pocket dimension (ok find a less sci-fi way to say this)
rains a lot -- but find a way to pitch this as mysterious and glamorous
weird lichens in cloister, cool or gross detail? (may reveal me to be the kind of person who likes gross things?)
imaginary dinner service exemplary
karaoke, on reflection, humiliating
the excruciating unknowableness of other human beings</em>
[[Alright.|bed1-1]]I switched off the desk lamp, not that it made a ton of difference, and laid on my back in the centre of the bed, stacking all of the two sets of pillows under my head. I tried to think myself into tiredness, then considered that this was a good opportunity to evaluate and take notes on my impression of the quality of the bed, but I was too lazy to get out and find my notebook again. I tried to avoid ruminating on an endless litany of past and present social errors, and then eventually decided that jacking off would probably make the strange, tense feeling in my head subside, take my mind off things, and maybe even make me tired. I slid my hand underneath the elastic of the PJ pants, rummaging a bit aimlessly in the hair and panties before sticking the fingers of my other hand in my mouth and letting my eyes flutter half-shut, getting to work.
For me, it was always better to try and clear your mind almost entirely, get off on how good it felt. I didn't usually imagine myself with someone else, or someone else doing something to me. WHich I guess makes it kind of less romantic, in the realm of pure bodily function now, but hey, if it works it works, it's better than piling on antihistamines to try and knock yourself out.
I moved my hand under my shirt to play with my boobs a little, and spread my legs wider. Fuck! The smug way Erin acted like a know it all about the island flashed in my mind, then the way XXXX looked down his nose at me when I told him what my job was. No, I can't get off thinking about this. I opened my eyes and sighed, resting both my hands on my forehead.
The ceiling looked different than it did when I started jacking off. Not significantly, just like there was some gentle source of glowing light in the room somewhere. I pulled myself up to check to see if my phone had suddenly connected to a stray data signal and was lighting up for some reason, but it seemed to be coming from the far corner, by the door. My phone wouldn't be there. Oh fuck, I thought, did I leave the door open while jacking off in a hotel room like some ultra-sicko? I craned my neck and what I saw was, unfortunately, even more disturbing. The dim light was coming from two vague figures standing around the entrance to the room. I mean that, the door wasn't open behind them, they were glowing.
I yelped, covered my mouth. "Oh, fuck, I'm dreaming," I said out loud, mainly to test the hypothesis. In dreams, my voice usually doesn't sound like my voice, but like thinking. Also when I masturbate in dreams I usually wake up with my hand somewhere around my bellybutton. But my voice, embarassingly, was undoubtedly in the realm of real sounds, and the fingers of the hand clasped to my face were damp.
The figures moved around to the foot of the bed. I thought: I am going to get abducted or probed or some shit with one hand covered in drool and the other covered in pussy. As they came closer to me, they leaned forward in space, and were floating over the bed. This was worse than standing over me ominously, in my opinion.
As they came closer I could see, despite the darkness, that they were distinctly transparent. They also began to look more human-like. I could discern that they were a man and a woman, dressed in clothes I could only vaguely mentally file as "old-timey." Fucking ghosts? Really? I tried to breathe, tried to evaluate how they were looking at me, but really, the worst part of any inexplicable, horrific vision is coping with the fact that it's looking back at you. I felt cold. I could tell my armpits were breaking out in a horrible, clammy sweat.
Then an idea struck me. They didn't quite look like ghosts. Or, well. They didn't look like how I imagined I would "see" ghosts, if such a thing ever happened to me in my life. They weren't like transluscent people with volume, taking up non-space, but flattened and intermitently see-through, like something in your blind spot. I squeezed my right eye shut. They were clearly there. I squeezed my left eye shut and opened my right eye. They were gone. What exactly was up with whatever was dripping off those lichens out in the ruins?
I'm fucked up or something. That's one explanation. Or there's something about it that lets me see a separate "layer" of what's going on.
"Okay, fine." I said aloud again, after for several minutes they just seemed to be looking at me with amusement and confusion. "I was trying to... you know. And then sleep. So do you mind."
Did the woman roll her eyes at me?
The man stepped up through space, now standing halfway through the ceiling in the upper corner of the room. He crouched on top of the closet, and extended his hand to the woman, who took it and was pulled there with him. They curled up together like a married couple in bed, and the gentle glow from the top of the wardrobe went dim to the intensity of a night light.
I guess they say something about fear and arousal. Even though I had a sense of being watched, now, it wasn't <em>not</em> easy to get back into it. I squeezed one of my boobs and thought "you filthy shithead with some kind of paranormal exhibitionism fetish." I moved my legs apart again and turned my face pointedly in the opposite direction of the wardrobe, maybe so I wouldn't know when they were watching, or so that they wouldn't feel like I was.
[[Thank god it knocked me out.|Day2]]
I awoke, blearily, the next morning. I had slept a deep, dead sleep that made me have to reorient myself. I propped myself up on my elbows and squinted at the trapezoid of light streaking across my torso. Day 2 of vacation... ish.
I hadn't unpacked anything last night, and I resented the careless girl I was so long ago who had left this unpleasant task for the morning. There wasn't even a shitty little coffee machine or kettle in the room; I guess I was supposed to feel more "intimate" and "friendly" with the other guests when we all ate in whatever the "breakfast nook" was. I let myself groan as I bent at the knees to rummage through my bag, still left open at the foot of the bad. I felt around for some solid objects, and managed to find my toothbrush, toothpaste, facewash and moistureizer.
I felt like I wasn't a super demanding person when it came to bathrooms, so maybe my reveiw would be sub-par in that area. Then again, did I really have much of a specific on beds or food or things to do by comparison? I always figured the point of my writing was to somehow spin the content of life into a sort of coherency, and sometimes that involved a value judgement, but facing down a whole week of basically nothing but having to consider my own feelings and value judgements perhaps was the reason why (in addition to the pay, anyways) I was having a crisis of faith about my work, and looking for any distraction.
The bathroom was small, clearly cramped with the intent that only one person would ever be in it at a time, but comfortable. It had a solid-feeling and clean porcelian sink with an illuminated mirror and small shelf, a toilet and a full-sized bathtub. There was also a towel rack made of dark, twisted iron. Two generous towels, folded several times over themselves were hung over it, and a variety of small soap bottles were bundled in a hand towel propped on top of it. There didn't seem to be a shower and I decided not to run a full bath right now.
Instead I just brushed my teeth and washed my face with steaming hot water that, fortunately, came eagerly out of the taps. They also squeaked loudly, and seemed to be made out of antiqued metal. It was strange to me, I knew the hotel had to be a new build since the island was previously not inhabited, and yet undeniably a lot of the fixtures had been brought in to present "genuine old-ness." It felt schizophrenic sometimes, like the structure of the building was existing on two different timescales.
I rubbed the facewash in with my fingertips, remembering what I'd seen last night. Maybe it was. Of course, I thought to myself, it may have been just regular ghosts, whatever that meant, or, more likely, a hallucination from some type of previously undiscovered psychoactive lichen I had the misfortune of getting in my eye. I rubbed the warm washcloth across my face, and then splashed it with some cold water from the other tap and sighed. I felt fine. Normal. Maybe a bit queasy, but I'd have a nice, regular breakfast and then get some writing done.
I changed into my clothes and pulled on my flats and a light jacket before heading out into the lobby for [[breakfast|Day2-2]].
In the lobby, Erin and XXXX were already eating at a slim wooden table that had been folded out in front of the counter. On the counter was a large coffee pot with a small butane flame under it, as well as a plate of wrapped pastries, a few types of jams and spreads, some small boxes of cereal and a large jug of milk. It wasn't the most luxurious breakfast, but as included with the room, it wasn't bad. I grabbed one of the bowls in the stack, and made myself a novelty-sized bowl of frosted flakes, then filled a mug to the brim with coffee before haing to exceedingly carefully add two packets of sugar. Erin had a bowl of cereal and a very milky coffee, as well as several croissants, unwrapped and stuffed with jam and butter. XXXXX seemed to just be having a cup of black coffee and a single bready, pre-packaged cake from the pile of pastries. They were sat on opposite sides of the table, so I akwardly pulled one of the chairs around to the head of the table. It felt weird to move closer to either one of them.
"Morning," I said softly.
"Morning," XXXX replied, without any particular interest. He had a book spread out next to the half-wrapped cake. Erin nodded, since I had caught her with a mouthful of croissant.
"How'd you sleep?" I asked XXXX tenativley.
"Sorry, I'm trying to get some work done."
"Oh, of course." I sighed, hoping Erin would offer a response when she finished chewing her croissant, but she immediately went for another bite. We sized each other up with sidelong glances as we alternated bites of breakfast, waiting for one of us to make a move. XXXX was studiously invested in his book, or at least making himself not look up.
"How about you, Erin? Sleep well?"
"Like a rock. And I'm going to go on an even longer hike today."
"How about you?"
"Me?" I said. Part of me couldn't resist, since she had taken so long to catch on.
"You just seemed to be very pointedly asking how we slept to see if we'd bring up a problem or something. So I assume something happened to you."
"Hmm, yeah. Have you seen the manager?"
"No," Erin said immediately. "And I didn't hear anything last night either."
"Erin... I'd like you to approach the question I'm about to ask you in a spirit of seriousness."
"Oh my god."
This was enough to catch XXXX's attention as well. He looked up briefly and slid a folded, empty pastry wrapper into his spot in the book.
"Does this island have any like... ghost activity connected to it?"
"I mean..." She trailed off, frowning. XXXX was waiting for her answer, but his hand was still on the improvised bookmark. "Not explicitly of course. And I think it's for two main reasons."
"For one, we have very few first hand testimonies of living on the island. If someone had thought they had seen a ghost at some point while living here we just don't have the written history."
"That makes sense. And two?"
"Two is... because ghosts aren't real."
XXXX snorted into his coffee.
"Erin, you're a mystery to me," I said after a moment. "It seems like you have almost a spiritual connection to this island, or a curiosity about it bordering on the mystical, and yet you're a complete realist about matters of, y'know, potentially supernatural consequence."
"It's like I said yesterday. I think consciousness on its own is interesting enough, and that means anything percieved to be unexplainable, is actually explainable as a phenomenon of your own consciousness."
"And that means..."
"I met you yesterday afternoon. Not even 24 hours ago. I don't know what psychological conditions could be lying in wait, if you're praticularly suggestible, if being alone makes you anxious, if you try taking too many antihistamines when you can't fall asleep, whatever. I can't diagnose why you're suddenly thinking there's ghosts on the island or something."
Admittedly, any one of the reasons she cited was remarkably spot-on.
"Aren't you even curious about what I saw, though?"
"I don't know. Fine. Tell me."
"Well, there were two of them. A man and a woman, and they were wearing, you know, like old timey victorian type clothes. They seemed like husband and wife almost, like the archaeologists you told me about yesterday."
Erin looked confused for a moment, but immediately flipped back to annoyance, like someone who sensed they were being wound up.
"That's ridiculous. They didn't even die on this island so trying to make me think you saw their ghosts doesn't even make sense." She picked up her plate and quickly downed what was left inside her mug. "I have to go get ready anyways, I'm planning on a long hike today."
"Right, see you." She got up and placed her plates on the far end of the breakfast nook, and sulked back up the stairs to her room without further acknowledging me.
"You really shouldn't wind her up like that." XXXX gently closed the book with the pastry wrapper inside and picked up his mug, taking a sip. "She's someone who's very invested in principles."
"I wasn't even messing with her. I didn't make that up, it is what I think I saw last night."
"That's interesting. So you do believe in ghosts?"
"I mean... not particularly. I only bring it up because I saw something that was definitely, uh, ghost-like." I thought for a moment, reveiwing the incident in my mind. "What room are you in?"
"Alright, so you share a wall with me and Erin doesn't. Did you hear anything last night? I may have uhh... made a bit of noise when I noticed them. And I think I even tried saying something to them."
"Hm... maybe. I don't really try to keep a catalogue of sounds I could have potentially heard through a hotel's wall though. You could have been practicing for another round of Karaoke tonight, and I'd respect your privacy."
I felt my cheeks go red.
"Yeah, alright. I get it."
Erin came back into the lobby, still in a bit of a huff but now wearing her heavy duty hiking boots along with the poncho and a well-stocked backpack. XXX turned back to the book he was reading, tracing a passage with his finger and underlining it. I thought about going back to sitting in my room, trying to squeeze out more words and observations about the hotel. Torture. It seemed like I had two real choices in this situation.
[[GO ON A HIKE WITH ERIN]] [[STAY IN THE LOBBY WITH XXXX]]I decided to follow Erin this time. We seemed to annoy each other in a sort of ambiguous way that frustrated her. Personally, I was used to being treated with a bit of exasperation, but the blow up about potentially having seen a ghost made me realize she was a person who was usually treated rather seriously. I considered this for a moment, what her life must be like compared to mine, the chasm of difference there.
"Wait wait Erin, can I tag along?" She paused, not responding immediately. "Let me run back to my room to get a coat.
"Do you have other shoes?"
"Those aren't going to work."
"They're the only ones I have... They're sturdier than they look."
She stared at me dubiously. "Ok, fine. We can just do some hillwalking rather than going out to the cliffs so you can tumble down a hillside rather than fall to your death."
"Thanks!" I dashed back to my room and snagged my raincoat, and then met up with her in the lobby again. As we crunched down the gravel path leading away from the hotel, I felt the need to begin by apologizing to her outright.
"I didn't mean to wind you up with the ghost thing, seriously. I did feel like I saw something last night, for what it's worth."
"Hmm, I know," she said, still sounding rather irritated. "I never said you didn't, just that immediately classing it as ghosts was, like, wrong."
"Ok, fair." Erin was a good half-foot taller than me, and, I felt, purposely taking slightly long strides, so I was padding along in her blind spot like a small dog. "You know, I was feeling kind of strange before that though. I slipped in the cloister when we went down to the abbey just before and got a ton of slime from those weird lichens growing on the wall on my hands."
"Yeah, well... Don't you think a lichen could be hallucinogenic? Maybe that was it."
"Yeah, and that explains the karaoke too."
"I mean... they're like some sort of fungus thing so sure. If they're really a new, isolated type of lichen that's been growing alone on this island for ages, I guess it has the same chances of being hallucinogenic as any fungus. I really don't know, XXXX! I'm not an expert."
"Well, that's what I'm thinking for now."
"I just didn't want there to be any hard feelings, you know? We both still have to live here for the better part of a week."
"Yes, of course."
The ground beneath us branched off from the main gravel path that would become the main street of the island, and to a gently divoted path through thick grass. The grass was still damp with dew and made my legs start to feel clammy as the moisture seeped through my jeans.
"Where are we headed, then?"
"There's a burial mound at the top of the hill on the far side of this mountain, very old. And it has a great example of a stone circle as well."
"Oh amazing! Do they know whose it was?" I asked.
"It's never been formally excavated, just mapped out by that couple of archaeologists I told you about."
"Oh yeah, my friends," I joked, but Erin did not find it amusing.
"Anyways, Dorothea, the wife, referred to it as the burial place of a queen of the celts, her husband was a bit more conservative in his descriptions of it. It may have been some element of the mysticism or even just a personal bias, but I also wonder if I'll get the impression when I see it myself."
"That's really interesting!"
"Yeah, it is probably the most significant archaeological find here, even if the abbey is the most intact and visually striking."
"Shouldn't it be protected or something, though? Like why aren't there archaeologists working on it now if it's been so recently discovered?"
Erin looked over her shoulder at me and shrugged. "In an ideal world someone would be there as soon as possible... In our world the hotels and tourist ferry service get built first. There's a lack of money in it until suitable a suitable tourist market emerges to justify its protection. I've been to places like that all over."
"That's pretty sad."
"It just shows how people's values are fucked nowadays. I mean, you're here to reveiw the hotel, right? But it's kind of a speculative thing... you're supposed to pretend what it'll be like in the on season, when the amenities are all actually here, and the weather is nice, and the hotel actually has a kitchen. Even for like, a shallow, consumerist thing, you can't just write about the actual experience, but put it all in this whole false apparatus of meaning."
The path had ramped up underneath us, becoming gradually more taxing. The grass also, having been undisturbed for centuries if not thousands of years, had a deep spring to it that required the extra effort of walking on sand, while simultaneously moving uphill. Erin seemed unbothered by this. I puffed out "Yeah... so... you got some kinda... great job?"
"I do data entry for a company that decides when to start sending harrassing phone calls to people with credit card debt." She rounded on me as I leaned over to catch my breath and give my burning calves a rest. "Well? Do you hear that and think, thank god my job is at least a bit more creative and free than <em>that</em>?"
"We've barely gotten started. What do you even do in your spare time..."
"WHAT spare time? It's not like I have a full time position, I have to be constantly chasing the next thing." I huffed, spat a glob of spit building up in my mouth. It hung obscenely between two stalks of grass. "I wish I felt like I could do anything else, believe me." My knees were shaking, and the clammy feeling had spread to my arms. "Fuck!"
I looked up, and Erin was standing over me with an expression that had changed from irritation to bemused interest.
"Come on, we're not even to the hard part yet."
As we hit the part of the slope that seemed, to my legs, to be going up at approximately a 45 degree angle, Erin turned around occasionally and started coaching me. This slowed her pace a bit, so I could keep up, but also made me feel like I was about to puke with frustration and embarassment. I couldn't remember feeling less attractive, more awkward, more humiliated, as I dragged myself up that increasingly windy, damp and steep hillside. Every so often, I began to get a glimpse of a strange, unnaturally uniform mound that seemed to have grown out of the hill itself, but most of the time I was staring at grass and dirt, just trying to keep myself moving forward. It felt like I was eye-level with Erin's downy blonde-haired calves, which moved like a well oiled machine. When she turned on me yet again in the middle of me staring at them, I discovered with no delight that I was still capable of blushing.
"We're almost there, come on!"
She was shouting, clapping her hands.
"Come on! Come on! You wanted this!"
I wrestled myself out of my coat and threw it onto the hillside, hardly missing a step, panting with every breath.
"When I saw you-- back in lobby... I thought you-- looked like kind of a bitch!"
"And I thought you looked like a member of Hanson who'd gotten into the Manic Panic an put on thirty pounds."
"So I was-- fucking right... How long were you-- sitting-- on that one huh."
"It just came to mind. You're so fucking inspiring!"
I took another step, and it felt like the world slipped out from under me. I stumbled, landing on both of my knees with a painful jolt. I saw Erin's slightly muddy hiking boots standing on level ground in front of me.
"We're at the top." She said.
I rolled over onto my ass and could see out over the whole island, the whole winding path back to the hotel and the docks behind me. The spots of mists and rain passing over the landscape. I felt like I had breifly transcended a world that would try to take this from me, or at the very least say I couldn't do it.
"God! I hate this fucking world!!"
Erin laughed. Even though it was a genuinely unguarded moment the way she laughed struck me as so elegant.
"Come on," She reached down to hoist me up, not just clasping my one hand, but slipping the other down to brace against my arm. My head spun as I was suddenly on my feet again. "That isn't even the way you're supposed to be facing."
We turned together towards the burial mound and stone circle that stood at the top of the hill. It was enormous and imposing, and taking it in sent a jittering shiver up my entire body. The mound was circled regularly with a set of boulders set up on their short ends. They were not carved or decorated, but by virtue of their placement alone they felt profoundly deliberate.
"Well, come on. You caught your breath." Erin took a few steps forward herself then turned back, waiting for me. "Come on."
I stepped forward with her, and we broke the perimeter of the stone circle at the same time.
[[ENTER THE STONE CIRCLE]]Erin left to go on her hike alone. The manager was also nowhere to be seen, which meant I was alone with XXXX for the first time. He acted like he was in his own world, carefully underlining passages and deeply absorbed in the reading. The only reason he could find to reach through the veil to our dimension was to take a drink from, or refill his coffee mug. Finally, he had exhausted the large coffee pot to an inadequate drip.
"What are you reading?" I took the moment to ask.
"Oh, uh... Some novel..." He shrugged, looking at the covery blankly. "I dunno, it's fine. I have to come up with something to say about it. Someone I went to school with years ago asked me to blurb it if I could. I guess I'm one of the few working writers from that class."
"You're putting a lot of effort into 'just blurbing,' most people barely glance at it if that's all you ask."
"Yeah, I'm preparing to be the last bastion of credibility in the publishing industry, if it comes to that. Or maybe I just compulsively take notes on anything I read."
"That's kind of analytical. I wouldn't expect a poet to do that."
"Yeah well..." He looked slightly annoyed at me. "Don't you have your own writing to do?"
"You're just as serious-minded as Erin, you're just a bit ironic about it."
"Oh come on... She's crazy."
"So you think I'm easier to deal with."
"I definitely didn't say that." I had finally got him to completely close the book, pen marking the page he was on, and push it aside. "She's not the type who would ask someone a question like that."
"Wow, you're so quiet, reading all the time, but you're really just observing us... making assumptions... Kind of a bastard."
"You got me there."
"Is this why people staying in hotels normally never talk to each other? It just gets unpleasant way too fast?"
Roland laughed. "You're here to reveiw the hotel, right? It's... basically preposterous to think you'd have anything resembling a normal experience under these circumstances."
"The life of a freelancer. Pretty much everything is experienced under highly contrived situations where I'm desperately trying to feel anything that could be a pull quote."
"Not everyone's disinterested contemplation is deemed sufficiently interesting."
"What are you actually interested in then?"
This was an interesting question, and naturally, not one with a clear answer.
"Well, I'm interested in this island. I'm interested in what's here and why I guess."
"It's not work-related at all! I've hardly written or even thought anything salvageable, it's going to be really hard. This is an interesting experience in a way entirely unsuited to some travle vertical reveiw."
"So, if you're worried about me being too work-absorbed..."
He crossed his legs under the table and examined his empty coffee mug as if he thought it could spontaneously fill with coffee again.
"Tell me about yourself."
"Age: 35, occupation: poet, sign: capricorn."
"Ok. What kind of poetry, and why?"
"I literally handed you a book of my work, and you didn't even open it."
"Of course I don't want to read it. I can find out what you think you're doing by just asking."
"I sang for you! Let me see some of yourself."
He pulled a cloth out of his pocket and carefully polished his glasses, procrastinatinating.
"I hate this part. I'm at the part of my career where my agent writes this for me."
"Ooh! His agent!"
"Alright, ok..." He folded his hands on the table in front of him, straightening himself up as if he was about to give a TV interview. "I like being alone, or at least being in a place where I'm totally anonymous to write, because I think it is fundamentally about capturing how language works in the brain, with as little pretensions, as little social context, as little translation as possible."
"Oh, ok, I know what you mean now. I can imagine it. Because, like when I stub my toe, I just think FUUUUCK! and then in the same second, I also just say FUUUCK!"
"I'm not making fun of you. Ok, just a little. But I kind of get it. It's an interesting process." I sighed, feeling a bit restless. The conversation was running out of gas with hours to fill before Erin would be back or dinner would be available. Days to go, and I was already trying to portion out my time into sections built around the next available non-boredom. "Erin seems really curious about the nature of consciousness too."
Roland scoffed, and I was surprised by the violence of his reaction. "More like utterly uncurious. I thought the way she was talking to you was ridiculous."
"About the uh, ghost thing?"
"Yes, it was unbelievable. The idea that anything unexplained is reducible to a quirk of consciousness..."
"I mean, to an extent consciousness is all we have though, right?"
"Yes but it's not a discrete, static thing, like, stimuli in response out." Roland distractedly knocked his mug to the side waving his hands, and then picked it back up. "God, I wish there was more coffee. It's like the infinite series of nested boxes, you know? Flann O'Brien?"
"I have no idea."
"God. Not like there's a bookstore on this island, forget it. Basically, you can go deeper and deeper and deeper into it. You can say a stimulus leads to a response, but then you can also say, well I could have chosen these other responses, you can train yourself to give the other responses, and so on. So there's not a natural consciousness that all inputs and outputs flow into the same."
"But it's also something that can extend outward, socially. When something is observed, that changes what it becomes. So what you saw that night was an enormous mesh of cumulative elements making up your personal history, internal and external. And the word that came out of your brain was "ghosts"."
"I kind of get where Erin was coming from, though. This is a lot less satisfying than just saying I was high or something."
"If everything could be explained... If I thought everything was explained, I'd despair. I don't know what's wrong with her."
"And she probably doesn't even think of you."
"What makes you say that?"
"Just a hunch. I have a healthy curiosity about you though."
He paused, then reached across the table for his book.
"I should get back to work." His fingers were tented on top of the novel, but he didn't make a move to open it.
"Right," I said. "I have to go get my notebook out of my room. The ghost room! The room next to yours. Want to see it?"
"Well, I couldn't leave my work out here unattended, so I'd better take the book back to my room. Want to see it? For your work, of course."
[[HIS ROOM]]When all three of us regrouped in the lobby to make our dinner orders, I felt a distinct sense of furtive glee. Of course, now, in public, we'd act like we had the same arm's-length social relationship as before. We were just guests who happened to be in the same hotel, a meaningless grouping on its face. But something had shifted. At five o clock on the dot, myself, Erin and XXXX were all back in the lobby, where the wooden table for meals had been set up again. But the manager wasn't there, and hadn't been there at breakfast either.
The three of us milled about, feigning interest in the bookshelf, in the overstuffed leather chairs, in each other. It wasa standoff to see who would be so gouache as to complain about what would, again, be microwaved dinners, arriving late. But at the same time the manager's absence was unnerving.
"This is making me a bit anxious," I said. Just as I'd said it, the front door rattled open, making me jump.
"Sorry, sorry! My duties took me elsewhere this afternoon!" The manager charged in, looking slightly damp, and with grey dust clinging to her dark skirt in multiple places. "The lovely people setting up the tours for mausoleum near the abbey wanted me to go in and sketch a map for the brochure since it has to go to print this week, for some reason."
"Well, glad you made it back alright," Roland said.
"I'll put even more effort than usual into pressing the microwave buttons," she joked. "Ok, what do you want?"
"Hamburger steak," Erin sighed.
"Macaroni cheese." Roland made his choice in utter resignation as well.
"I forget..." I said, after a pregnant pause where the manager was looking at me expectantly. "Is there some sort of pizza option?"
"We do, indeed, have "Supreme French Bread Pizza Slice.""
"Oh, thank god."
The manager vanished into the back room as the three of us sat around the table in silence. I went from trying to catch either of their's attention to scrupulously avoiding it by trying to make the weather forecast on my phone update, an exercise in pure futility. The microwave faintly beeped, the distinctive sound of the door springing open and slamming shut seemed to occur at unusual intervals. Finally, after around fifteen minutes, she came out with the obviously microwaved dinners carefully arranged on three plates.
"Ok, it was a little tricky," she said as she placed each plate in front of us. "It took a bit of temporal creativity, but I think I've managed to get each of you a hot meal at the same time. Hold on." She thought for a moment, and then swapped Roland's macaroni cheese, which was placed in front of me, with the slice of pizza.
"Isn't it nice to all eat together almost like we're family? Well, enjoy." She brightly walked back to the back room, leaving us with the underwhelming meals and me wondering what the implications of the afternoon's events were for this understanding of "family." No one really wanted to talk to each other now, of course, there was an implicit in-group of two and an outgroup of one. There was no way of knowing what exactly had conspired, thank goodness, because we were well separated, but there was naturally an implication that something had... some people were friends, and someone was the loner. On the one hand, we didn't want to rub it in by referencing our togetherness, and the other person probably was only bitterly curious about it.
I should have known that having a spontaneous affair on the job would make everyone unhappy, even relative strangers. Erin only ate about half of her food and left, returning to her room immediately. Roland finished his food but almost as if he had to force himself a bit, and then made a brief call in the phone booth, which I noticed was completely soundproof from the outside. He gave me a slight, embarassed nod before returning to his own room.
I thought about my editor. If I told them, would they be disappointed in me too? And then I thought, I should call them, regardless. There were just over two hours of isolation waiting for me otherwise, before the manager mysteriously appeared with the karaoke machine again. I sat completely still for a few minutes, making sure no one else was coming back to the lobby. I felt shy, or maybe a little bit ashamed.
[[CALL YOUR EDITOR|CALL2]]The pretense of gathering in the lobby for dinner, again, had at least become a routine comfort. Sitting at an angle to both Erin and Roland, I felt like an element of the friction and awkwardness from the day before had gone away now. I had, now, gotten fucked by both of them, the balance had been tentatively restored. They had not, however, personally, gotten the sense that this was true <em>about</em> both of them, so both of them were now acting symetrically aloof to me and to each other, the same dynamic flowed all around. This.. this I could manage.
"All together again!" The manager said excitedly, coming in from a rainshower and shaking out her umbrella. This time it was five minutes before 5PM, she was fastidiously going above and beyond punctuality on a professional level. We all smiled at this wholesome and obvious observation.
"Yes!" Unison. Could we be more of a little, abbreviated Von Trapp family?
We each put in our orders and the manager again worked her chronological wizardry to deliver three hot microwaved meals to us at a time. The atmosphere was jovial, though we seemed to have once again simply rotated who ordered the hamburger steak, who ordered the pizza slice, and who ordered the macaroni cheese. Roland took the plated pizza like he was receiving the turkey at a Thanksgiving dinner and cooed that the manager had the equivalent poise and adaptability serving up these meals as an entire squad of flight attendants. Erin also took the plat of macaroni cheese with both hands and said, ravenously, that she had been waiting for this, all day. I found myself saying something like "Oh, looks amazing" as I was handed what, again, was obviously a microwaved hamburger steak with a blop of mashed potato, as if it came with a bottle of a fine vintage or something.
The general atmposphere was the light aspirative drunkenness of a group who had pregamed before heading out on a long pub crawl. Of course, all of the evidence up to this point indicated the islnd was likely, currently, a completely dry venue. There was no pub to crawl to unless we had equipment for traversing the sea floor. This felt a little crazy, and made me feel a bit disturbed. Even airplanes, floating cans above even satellite communications maintain access to shopping, alcohol, crappy films, etc, as banal manifestations of our everyday grounded life, so that the few hours of unreachableness in the sky didn't make any of us feel too unmoored in close quarters. For a moment I felt like a specimen in a lab experiment to provoke the exact opposite effect. I forced myself to smile down at my food and ate. I felt better.
The conversation over dinner was lively. Erin was praising the island for its stark beauty and profound archaeological significance, that will surely be realized in just a few years, and that we, yes, us at this very table, would be able to say we had gotten there first. This I could partially speak to, from my own experience. Roland chimed in about how the atmosphere and isolation of the hotel was really changing his mindset, like his relationship to his own thoughts even, more than any other place he'd stayed. I, too, felt like i could say a lot about this. Every so often during the conversation, one or the other of them would glance at me with genunine affection that flustered me. Luckily these glances never landed on me at the same time, but I had the sense that maintaining this was unsustainable. If either of them asked I would have gone to bed with them without question, but not if they asked in front of the other.
Each of us cleaned our plates quickly, and sat around looking satisfied as the conversation died down.
"I have to go write," Roland said excitedly, excusing himself. "This was great."
"Yeah," Erin said, standing up. "I'm gonna go stretch before the leg cramps set in. But I'll be back out here later, you know?"
"Hmm?" I asked.
"Oh yeah," Roland said.
"I was busy last night but there's the karaoke at 8PM right?"
"Wouldn't miss it, right Anne?"
My face glowed.
"I have to make a phone call."
[[CALL YOUR EDITOR|Call3]]The rain, falling from the low clouds sweeping over the rest of the island, the rustling of the wind, it felt like it was muffled, coming from somewhere far behind us. The burial mound seemed to grow impossibly more massive the closer we got to it, and each boulder was almost as tall as I was, and twice as wide. How they got up here, so long ago, and how they stayed up here seemed like it must have happened in another world. Erin ran her hand down one of the boulders and gasped.
Each of the stones was also set on four small, carefully selected stones that held it in place slightly abive the gorund.
"This is insane."
In the center, the base of the mound had grass and moss growing up the side of it, but the top was exposed to the air. the entire mound was made of carefully placed rocks, ranging from pebbles, to the size of my fist, to the size of a brick.
"She's still in there," Erin said with absolute certainty.
"It's bizzare... I feel a little strange." I said after a moment. It really does feel like something else is on this island now.
"Something..." Erin trailed off. "I know what she meant. Her gut feeling that it was a woman here. It must be some kind of subliminal contextual hint from the way this is laid out or whatever, but it is like she's still--"
"So you know how I felt now?"
"There's some explanation. I don't feel exactly how you felt."
"A magical experience without it being magic... or something. Whatever you tell yourself."
Erin stared at me, and then sunk her hand into the thick moss covering the burial mound. It seemed like an extreme, vulgar, inappropriate thing to do, even though, fundamentally, it was just moss growing on a pile of stones.
"Whatever, whatever...." I saw her fingers flex deep inside the moss and it was like they were digging through my guts. "I feel strange now too. I didn't expect this. To encounter something so... unnatural-feeling." She lurched her hand back, pulling a cushion of moss and some of the stones loose with it. She chuckled.
"What the fuck! Don't do that!" I said, worried the entire mound would be disrupted and lurch towards us like an avalanche, but just a few stones clattered down to rest on the soft grass.
"To inter your body somewhere, means to be there forever... but alternately, I can take a place with me forever as well. It's a completely normal natural process." She picked up a small stone that had fallen from the mound and placed it in her mouth like it was an expensive bon bon. She tentativley rolled it across her tongue, and sucked lightly on it. "Oh, it's salty. Like the mist from the sea. And salt goes right to your neurotransmitters.." She stood over me, reveling in her height for a moment. She was too close, I could feel her breasts intermittently rubbing against mine through her ridiculous poncho, and had to turn away from her as my face started burning. But she tilted my chin up and, pressing her open mouth to mine, gently passed the stone into my mouth. She held my head still as I played with it on my tongue, waiting for my verdict.
It was surprisingly salty. Not in an overpowering way, just in an "I didn't really think a small grey stone would taste of much of anything" way. But that no longer seemed terribly important. Since I had felt her lips on mine, my senses had reoriented, slower, more intense. It felt like my heart was throbbing in my chest, but at an unnervingly slow pace. I pursed my lips and slid my tongue out slowly, holding the pebble on the tip of it. She smiled, and plucked it off with her dirty fingers. She tossed it back on the mound.
"And now your spit enters the water cycle."
"You're so overwhelmingly pragmatic," I said dryly.
"Are you still annoyed at me over the ghost thing?"
"I think you're still being a bit of a smart-ass about it. But I only know from my own lifetime of being irritating and pedantic."
"Oh, shut up. Get on your knees if you're going to keep looking up at me like that."
I lowered my knees to sink into the springy grass, as Erin plucked a small, slightly dirty clump off the moss she had pulled out of the mound. She twisted it between her fingers a bit before sticking it in her mouth,swishing it around a bit, chewing, swallowing.
"What the fuck."
It felt like a thought but came out like sound. Erin looked down at me.
I opened my mouth, and she placed a similar clump of moss in my mouth. It tasted strange, gritty, tough, grassy, moist, bitter. I tried to think about the manager describing it to me as a fancy salad, and like Erin, I chewed and swallowed the whole thing.
"Maybe there is something about this island..."
"You said you started feeling strange after touching those lichens..."
"Mmhm..." Erin kneeled in front of me where she stood and started running her mouth down my neck, hunching her back to pull at where my jeans were buttoned. "Or maybe it was just being in the Abbey itself."
"Just being in a place can't do that."
"Prove it then."
"I can't prove a negative, idiot. But if this moss does something..."
"It's already making me feel pretty strange. Or maybe you are."
After a concentrated bit of fumbling Erin finally managed to unbutton my jeans and slide a cold, damp hand down the front of my underwear. I shiverred and leaned my face into her shoulder, already drooling onto the slick plastic of her poncho. The plastic blew around me like a flimsy tent as the wind picked up, and I clung to her chest.
"It would be almost insane if it was real," she said, hooking her middle finger inside of me over and over. This didn't feel real. I peered over her shoulder down the hillside and saw the blue of my raincoat where I had discarded it, a banal material detail. "A monastery is built on this island for cloistered life, but all the nuns are high out of their minds, having religious visions and fucking eachother."
"F-fine by me," I panted. She moved her hand up to the center of my chest and pushed me back onto the grass which gave underneath me like a bed. She was on top of me, wrangling my sweater up above my head and tossing it aside, hoisting my shoulders up to unclasp my bra. Part of me felt like a doll being vigorously undressed by someone ten times my size. she ran her hand between my breasts, and then from my shoulders down my arms before pinching at my nipples. I gasped, squirming myself deeper into the damp grass.
"I feel like I want to shove handfuls of dirt into my mouth. I want to take this entire island into my body." She sighed with vigor, staring down at me. "This is why... consciousness on its own is capable of..."
"Yeah... Can you put your fingers in my mouth?" I asked.
She obliged, and with the fingers came bits of grass, bits of dirt, dew from the moss. With her other hand she yanked violently at alternating sides of my pants until I was fully exposed and could feel blades of grass across my asscheeks. Then she dipped her head between my legs, while using the other hand to grasp my breast hard.
I wanted to shove handfuls of dirt into my mouth too, like a reverse scream, like being stuffed. Maybe I remember some of it, both of us running around on the hilltop, howling, taking mouthfuls of earth, rolling down it.
I awoke drowsily in my bed. The hotel bed, I mean. I was laying on top of covers that had been neatly folded down. I was still in my sweater and jeans, and my flats also still clung to my feet, which were dangling over the edge of my bed.
The whole thing could have been a very weird sex dream. It certainly had the character of one.
But my sweater still felt damp, and had stiff bits of grass stuck through it. My shoes and socks were also slightly damp and, rather than being hung up neatly my discarded raincoat had just been tossed in the corner, a true act of laziness that convinced me I must have not only been outside but carried myself back somehow.
My body felt heavy. I felt the warm exhaustion of having fucked for hours. To be fair, you could feel like that from other things, maybe hillwalking... It had been my first time after all...
I dragged myself to the bathroom to go over my face with warm water, then changed into a less incriminating-looking sweater, dry socks, and left my shoes near the radiator to better dry out. I brushed my hair, which looked wild, and then checked my phone, where I had left it on the bedside table.
I was alone with my thoughts, just before dinner.
[[So I write.]]
<em>Turndown service, nice touch. The room is undoubtedly better than most alternatives to wake up in after unexpectedly experiencing lost time. Amazing hillwalking trails nearby and pleasant and exciting even for a beginner! <del>(relatable joke along the lines of, believe me, I'm the most out of shape person ever... but can you believe I just got laid? like I got fucked on a weird haunted hill by a girl who will get mad at me if I describe it as haunted even though we both started acting fucking insane as soon as or potentially even before we got there?)</del> How do you talk to someone if you're not sure that any of that just happened, and also like, how often they do a thing like that and what it meant to them (if anything) (spin this off into a relationships column? wishful thinking?)</em>
[[I did this on day 2|Day2Evening]]
[[I did this on day 3|Day3Evening]]
I padded up the stairs behind Roland, and waited, conscientiously looking to the side for some nonsensical reason as he slid his own key into the lock of Room 2 and it clicked. He opened it and awkwardly pushed it through. Completely silent. I couldn't believe it.
The room inside was a strange mirror image of my own, but still essenitally the same. Still it was a bit disorienting that the bathroom was on the other side of the door, the bed faced the opposite way. Roland seemed to have a pyramid of around 20 books on the desk, and several fat, worn writing notebooks as well as a bulky old laptop that was, at this point, only good for word processing.
I felt like a dilettante, both at writing and managing a face-to-face encounter with empty time. Roland was a professional. He was the Leon of being alone with his thoughts. But here I was.
He laid the book he was holding on the desk, and turned around to face me. "Well, this is it." I became a bit insecure as I looked around. I noticed his suitcase was pushed neatly under the bed and anything he had brought with him besides the books and notebooks on the desk had been carefully packed away in the wardrobe and dresser. He was also the kind of person who was good at staying in hotels, who didn't leave everything sprawled out on the floor or crumpled inside a travel bag, the exact type of person the current state of my room betrayed me to be. Where we were likely going next.
"It's basically the same as mine. And you haven't heard or seen anything strange the whole time you've been here?"
"I mean, I hear things I have to assume are gulls, but that's about it."
"What about the manager, did she ever say or do anything weird?"
"She's been satisfactorily hands-off... So wait, what's going on here?"
"You invited me back to your room, it kind of has certain implications."
"We're in your room, where you invited me."
"Well I thought it would be more comfortable this way."
He coughed, turning a bit red. "Fuck. Forget it."
"I'm pulling your leg, idiot."
He sighed, resting a hand onthe desk and leaning his weight into it, letting his eyes close. "For a second you really had me thinking that maybe you really did just want to see my room for work purposes, and were perhaps the most sexually oblivious person I'd ever encountered."
"Yeah, yeah. But what's wrong with my room? Is it because it has ghosts in it?"
"No, I just had the impression that your room would be a mess."
"Okay, fuck you." I grabbed one of his knobbly wrists and pinned it against the wall behind him. To get at his mouth I had to lean forward and go up on my tip-toes, like I was trying to start climbing a tree. After a moment, I let go of his hands to see what he would do with them. He slid them down around my waist, hugging it tight, but the kiss grew a bit tepid.
"Well now I'm thinking about your room..."
"God... men only want one thing, and it's disgusting..."
"I've been to so many different hotels and only seen one room in each of them, isn't that weird?"
"Jesus, shut up." I thought for a moment, then turned to leave the room. "So long as you don't complain..."
"So it is messy..."
[[MY ROOM, THEN]]
Out in the hallway, Roland stuck his hand into mine and clasped it for a moment. Though I did realize I did something similar in the dark of the cloister tunnel at the abbey, and to both him and Erin, I was sensitive to the fact that Erin, or the manager even, could be walking down the hall and see us inexplicably in the ten feet or so between our the doors to our rooms. It felt more aggressive, demanding, so I wrenched my hand away a bit to pull the key out of my pocket. The door creaked loudly of course, and Roland did that kind of annoying muffled chuckle he'd done at a lot of things so far. Entering the room in front of him, I did my best to kick the open bag and clothes on the floor out of the way. My writing notebook was still sitting on the uninhabited half of the double bed and I didn't hae a chance to nab it. He walked in after me, suddenly newly unsure what to do with his hands. I flopped back on the bed luxuriantly and dangled a shoe off one of my feet, trying to be sexy, but it immediately fell to the floor with a clunk.
"Well don't get nervous now," I sprawled myself out, reaching to push the notebook off the bed and onto the floor where it'd be a non-object. Instead, the clatter of it falling to the floor seemed to draw his attention more. I needed to say something even more grabbing. "Wait, don't tell me, are you married or something?" He immediately looked at me, seeming quite distressed, so that strategy had worked to a certain extent, though I was afraid it was a move which reflected on me as kind of uncool in the long run.
"What? I'm not married."
"No? I bet you think you're hot shit, getting young female writers throwing themselves at you while the old ball and chain takes care of the kids at home..."
"You're not even that much younger than me..." He paused for a second, squinting. "Are you?"
"So you're not--"
"No, wait! I'm 29! My youthful outlook towards life makes it hard to remember my birthday was three months ago."
"You're not much younger than me at all!"
"Ok, well that's one more hang-up taken care of, hopefully."
"What do you mean?"
"You keep getting distracted. Don't want to go in my room because it's a mess but don't want to do it in your own either--"
"You're the one who asked if I was married for some reason!"
I looked over at the wall as if the tiny window there offered a particularly interesting view. It did not.
"Okay, well... I dunno. How often do you do a thing like this?"
"Never, really. I'm very much a girlfriend guy. You?"
"I don't really want to say."
He rolled his eyes, but wasn't bothered enough to protest "then why ask me?" or something similar. Instead he stepped closer to the bed, and started awkwardly stroking my side until he worked up the nerve to slip a hand under my sweater.
He was a bit tentative, it was easy to believe he didn't do this often, but his hand still felt nice, and I folded my own over it, following the paths he was tracing. He rolled me over onto my stomach and started running both hands up and down my back, sliding under and fiddling with my bra strap.
"Oh, that's nice, we can just do this," I sighed after a bit. After a few attempts, his will to do it smoothly and casually depleting each time he tried, Roland managed to undo the clasp in the middle of my back and slide his hands around to cup my breasts. After feeling me up for a bit he rolled me back over and pulled my sweater above my head, taking the bra with it. I started to undo my pants as he continued stroking the length of my torso.
"Alright," I said, kicking my jeans off my feet and onto the floor. "Give me something."
"Hmm.." He started unbuttoning his own dress shirt but stopped, running a finger down from my belly button to pull on the waistband of my underwear.
"Trying to find something?"
"Nothing in particular. Enormous bush though."
"Nothing... just making a note."
"Write a poem about it if you like, I won't read it."
"Thanks, I'll try to get a good reveiw."
I laughed. That one took me off guard. "You're disgusting." I let out a breath slowly as he ran his fingers up and down only a few times before sliding one inside me, and I squirmed under his rapt attention. After a few moments I heard him fiddling with his belt.
"This is strange. Really strange. Entrancing. I mean it when I said I never do this type of thing, usually I keep myself busy the enitre time--"
"Oh please. I'm just so irresistible?"
"I feel so far away from the world. When I walked out and saw the abbey, when you sang so badly and didn't give a shit... I realized we really were the only people out here, for days at a time." He grinned, pressing against me. His fingers were curling inside me and I could feel my breath already getting warmer.
"Ohh, god. Come on..."
"Maybe it's activating some sort of primal anxiety thing. Maybe it's making me nervous. All the other hotels I stayed in were just so interchangeable, so banal..."
"I can't work like this." He pulled his hand further out and wedged two more fingers into me. I bit the back of one of my knuckles.
"Yeah, I'm basically having an existential crisis. Do you have any condoms?"
"Of course not, I'm here for work!"
"I was here to work too!" He sighed, moving between where my legs hung over the edge of the bed and rubbing himself through his boxers. He seemed to be thinking for a moment, changing up how he was touching me and gauging my reactions. "It's fine, I can just watch you."
It felt like my whole body broke out in red splotches like my face did when I was embarassed. It was petrifyingly intimate and seemed like an enormous amount of pressure on the one hand, on the other this made it pretty exciting. I was distracted by something moving over his shoulder and yelped.
"What? Shit, I'm sorry."
"No, no, you're fine... Fuck...!"
"Is it good or bad?"
"It's good, it's good! I'm just... seeing the ghosts again."
"Oh, they're... watching?" I felt my cheeks and shoulders go even hotter as each transluscent, gently gowing face peered over each of his shoulders, watching me get fingerbanged over the edge of a hotel bed.
"Yeah but, I mean..." I squeezed my eyes shut, wishing I hadn't said anything. "I'm pretty sure they watched me jack off last night too so, I dunno. You can keep going."
He looked at me in disbelief for a second, but kept his hand mostly inside me. "You really are strange." He was considering it. "Alright. Whatever. I can work with this." I moaned appreciateively as he picked up the pace again.
I woke up later, neatly tucked into bed with my sweater pulled back over my head. Roland must have made a quick exit, not really one for cuddling, and certainly not under non-girlfriend situations. My body still felt heavy and relaxed, satisfied at doing something perverse and thrilling. I found my phone in my discarded pants, still half an hour until dinner. I felt around blindly over the side of the bed for where I had shoved my notebook, and when I found it again I [[began to write]]:
<em>I've become the type of person who has spontaneous sex in hotel rooms, apparently. Though nothing about the experience really had to do with the room, it does seem the remote location makes people horny in a sort of coming-face-to-face-with-my-frail-mortality and contemplating the regrets of my life kind of way. really don't think this is an angle I can use....
I've also become the type of person who troubles room service by having sex in my room and then sleeping from noon onwards. But they're unobtrusive and respectful, I imagine when I check the bathroom the TP will be folded into a triangle with no other words said. Professionalism.
I am really doing this wrong aren't I...
Time to imagine another dinner. </em>
[[I did this on day 2|Day2Evening]]
[[I did this on day 3|Day3Evening]]Slipping into the phone booth made me feel like I was inside some sort of shell. It was comfortable, and seemed designed to accomodate my body. I held the heavy, old fashioned receiver in my hand and pecked out my Editor's number from memory again. It was slightly out of hours, but they were always working now.
Three hollow rings. And then their voice.
"XXXX! How did you know it was me?"
"You called me from this number last time, remember."
"Yes, but you already saved it to your caller ID?"
"Yes... Why wouldn't I do that?"
"Oh, it just makes me feel a little special I guess!"
"I just connect a name with most of the numbers that call my phone the first time they call. It keeps people who try to get tricky on their toes."
"God, you're so hardcore." I found myself twisting the receiver cord around my fingers like a teen girl with a crush.
"So, I'm not having to chase you up this time, that's good. Tell me how it is. You have an angle yet?"
"Hmm..." I procrastinated, pushing myself to sit up straighter on the bench. "Oh, it's like 6 PM there and you're still in the office... make sure you've eaten."
"So you don't have an angle."
"I was thinking back over my notes! But seriously, make sure to take a break..."
"Don't worry about me, worry about your work." I could see them sitting back in their office chair, thinking, frowning, the way they always did when they were worried about me getting done on time or turning in garbage. Which I had never done, to be clear, but they still worried about it sometimes. It was just my vibrant and unpredicatble personality. "Like, okay. How's the food."
"Miserable, actually. They don't keep the cook around during the off season so the manager literally microwaves tesco dinners for us in the back room."
"Oh." They sounded surprised, and a bit indignant on my behalf.
"Was that in the email, or something? I just skimmed it." I admitted this hesitantly. Usually I just wrote without reading the brief too closely and people ended up impressed.
"No, I wouldn't have agreed to it if... shit."
"I feel responsible, I can reserve a ferry ticket back for you tomorrow if it's unacceptable."
"XXX! It's fine, I've eaten worse. For weeks at a time."
"Are you sure? Call me if anything comes up." They sighed heavily. "At least tell me there's some good sights or something."
"Oh, it's really beautiful and strange. And the hotel room is great, the manager is really friendly. Honestly I think I would reccomend it, I just have to like, imagine around the parts that aren't here yet."
"Ok well, sounds good. Keep at it." They sounded unsure even in their reassurance. "There's other guests there, right?"
I felt my face get red, wondered if the heat transferred from where my cheek was touching the phone. "Yeah, yeah of course. Only like two... or three maybe? I dunno. Haven't seen much of them because it's it's off season and all that."
XXX didn't respond right away, I could feel a pit forming in my stomach as I heard their gears clicking, analyzing the tone and implications of my over-adorned answer like a supercomputer.
"What kind of people are they like, I wonder? I guess they have very specific reasons to be there."
"I'm mostly keeping to myself, I wouldn't know."
"What are you doing, then? Not socializing, hardly have any notes... I can see you hiking a little, I suppose, but really..."
"Yeah yeah, alright. There's two of them. A insufferable gloomy poet type who comes to hotels in the off season to get work done and an absolute maniac who's horny for stone circles."
"Oh, so you do know a lot about them."
"I really, really wouldn't say that," I responded dryly.
"Ok, well, keep up the good work. Remember to call."
"Yeah." I hung onto the receiver to see if they'd say anything else, but the clunk of XXX slamming down their desk phone came too soon. I wondered what they were having for dinner. I wished I'd asked, and this tipped me over to a weird, agitated sorrow internally.
"I feel like I've fucked everything up." I said it aloud to myself inside the phone booth because I knew it was soundproof. I untangled my fingers from the cord and looked out through the glass divider into the lobby. It had gotten dark now. There was only one light still on, in the seating area. The manager was standing under it very dramatically, sitting on the karaoke machine.
I resignedly walked over and took the microphone she held out to me.
"Rough day?" the manager asked.
"Interesting day," I said, sounding unbelieveably grim.
"Of course, let me know if there's anything you need."
I perused the karaoke menu automatically, with intent. And of course, I selected:
[[ORANGE JUICE: RIP IT UP|Bed2]]
[[DEVO: GATES OF STEEL|Bed2]]
[[SHERYL CROW: IF IT MAKES YOU HAPPY|Bed2]]
[[BLOODHOUND GANG: THE BAD TOUCH|Bed2]]By the time I finished, I felt on the verge of tears.
"You know... you don't have to do it, just because I get the machine out." The manager seemed slightly concerned, or at least perplexed by why I kept doing this.
"It's fine, I mean, it helps me work stuff out. I enjoy doing it."
"Well, that was interesting."
"Yeah, when it's just you around I guess I let myself feel completely alone."
"I'm glad. The room's comfortable?"
When I got back to my room, I threw my clothes on the floor and fumbled around for my pajamas wherever they had ended up. I pulled up my hair and examined my body for incriminating marks on my neck, but there were none. If there were, I thought, things would be more interesting.
I wrapped myself snug in the bed and placed my phone face down on the unused part. I didn't set an alarm. I also didn't bother writing anything, what was there to update on? I was in a foul mood, at being ignored at dinner and so emotionally penetrated over the phone by my editor. And of course it was my fault, for creating an awkward social situation I would have to live with in close quarters for the rest of the week.
"I'm miserable, for your information," I said aloud to the room. "So please no aparitions." Then I rolled over and tried to conjure oblivion until it came.
[[And then I woke up|Day3]]Nothing haunted or otherwise disturbed me during the night, and when I woke up, there was unusually cheery sunlight beaming in through the room's window. I tried not to think of the weirdness of yesterday, an element of which I would soon encounter again upon arriving in the lobby for breakfast, and instead thoroughly wash my face, and change into one of the nicer sweaters I'd brought with me, and the same pair of jeans I'd worn the day before.
Erin and Roland had picked out similar breakfasts to the day before. This time I decided to also grab some of the pre-wrapped cakes from the pile, and filled the small provided mug with coffee. It seemed like such an irritatingly paltry amount I reached across the table to get a second.
"Good morning," Erin said to me, once I appeared to have all of my breakfast supplies together. "Sleep any better?"
"Hmm.." I said after a moment. "I guess I slept fine. I asked them to leave me alone."
She scoffed. "Well, whatever works."
Roland was still carefully reading the same book he had the day before. He had made surprisingly little progress on it.
I looked at Erin. "So did you get some rest? Another hike today or what?"
"Well, yeah," she said rather plainly. "Whole reason I came out here, after all."
"Mm.. And I don't need to ask what Roland will be doing." He didn't even look up, as if my statement had sailed over his head, until a few seconds later when he reached up to grab his coffee mug and noticed we were both still looking at him.
"Oh, yeah. Just around, you know?"
"I guess the Manager has stuff to do in the morning, I haven't seen her during breakfast at all... everything's always out when I get here."
"You're always the first one up?" I asked Erin
"Well yeah, you only seem to sleep a little bit longer than Roland though."
"Oh, well great. How early do you get up?"
"Like seven or so, since I'm on vacation."
I idly kickd my feet under the table. Of course! Seven! But only when you're on vacation!
Erin finished her cereal and got up to return to her room and, presumably, pick up the rest of her hiking supplies, leaving me alone with Roland.
"Who were you calling last night?" I asked.
"My editor." His statement struck me as an immediate and proficient lie, which I found kind of impressive. Of course, I was also waiting to call my editor.
"Oh. Just wondering. I mean, I had to call my editor too."
"Did you actually write anything?" He teased.
"I've taken a large number of notes, thank you very much."
"Counting in terms of ideas, words, or letters?"
I really did want to write, but where to even begin, in that case? I wasn't alone with the affective qualities of the hotel. Everything seemed bent on distracting me from evaluating them, on the other hand. I never felt so scattered with a specific assignment or new book or stupid gadget in front of me to make material out of. Maybe the thing I was butting my head against was making material of my own life. That became wrestling with my physical isolation (on an island with little personal or technological recourse) as well as my mental isolation, the inherent barrier of translation that involved any relationship with others. It was making me very moody, very volatile, thoughts I did not want to be alone with and focusing them onto paper.
Erin strode back into the lobby, again in the ridiculous poncho and with the backpack slung over her back. It seemed like my option for spending the afternoon was clear:
(honor system I haven't incorporated variables yet just do the one you haven't done)
[[GO ON A HIKE WITH ERIN]] [[STAY IN THE LOBBY WITH XXXX]]I called XXX's number. There was no sentimentality or novelty about enclosing myself in the phone booth anymore.
"I'm going a bit stir-crazy, I think."
"That boring? You're calling a lot..."
I sighed and sank into the seat of the phone booth. How to even talk about this?
"It's not boring at all.. I mean, I've been doing a lot, taking notes."
"So what's the problem?"
"Hey, you're being a bit short with me. Have you eaten?"
"I ordered something."
"That usually means you thought about ordering something an hour ago, opened a JustEat tab, and forgot about it." A long silence on their end. It was rare, but satisfying. Gottem.
"Okay, <em>now</em> I've ordered something."
"Good..." I paused for a bit, trying to think through what I wanted to say, or at least felt like I needed to. "I feel kind of alone, actually. Disconnected. Like anything could be going on in the real world and I'm stuck in this bubble."
"Well, you can always talk to the other people there. And, sorry I snapped at you earlier, you can call me too."
"Thanks, I know... And everyone seems to be getting along pretty well, it's weird."
"Oh, have you been talking to them?"
I pulled the door of the phone booth closed extra tightly.
"I had sex with both of them." This earned me another long silence.
"Oh! ... At the same time?"
"No, XXXX! That's so discriminatory of you..." I sighed. "Separately. One yesterday and one today. They don't know."
"Anne... I don't think poorly of you, but I am surprised." They sighed. I could tell they were thinking at least a little poorly of me. "I mean, if this spins out into some entertaining relationships or confessional essay thing that's fine, but please at least pull some coherent details about the hotel together, you know?"
"How long do you think it takes me to have sex?"
"Very funny. Honestly I think it's because being far out here has me thinking about morbid shit all the time. Or, even more often than I imagine dying under random and horrible circumstances usually. Calling you is the only tether back to my life I have out here, you know?"
They sounded slightly put off by this. "Anne, I'm your assigning editor. Call your mom."
Call my mom. Yes, under these circumstances, I could have a productive conversation--
"Sorry, that was a bit cruel."
"It's ok." I sighed, shifting my weight on the seat in the booth. Through the glass I caught the manager looking at me, obviously slouching morosely, and quickly straightened myself back up. "You know you're the only outside person I've really contacted so far, right? So don't even joke about cutting me off like that."
"Anne... You're right. I did say I feel a little responsible."
"I thought you said you felt responsible, period!"
"Well I would have bought you a ticket home if you'd take it... shit!"
"I have a bad feeling about it now, is all."
"It's fine! Come on, it's nothing. It's just me putting myself in a socially awkward situation."
"Ok, are you sure you're alright?" The manager was still milling around in the lobby, so I pushed the door of the phone booth open a crack with my foot.
"Yes, I'm fine! Don't worry."
"Don't hesitate to call me. Ok. My food's here."
I hung up the phone pointedly and exited the booth. The manager was looking at me curiously.
"I was calling my editor..." I said.
"Oh, of course. Everything's fine? Really, let me know if you need anything."
"Everything's really fine."
Into the awkward silence, Roland and Erin came down the steps, chattering excitedly to each other as if they were long-parted best friends. Of course, two people who did not really get along and mildly annoyed each other would mutually act this way towards eachother if each one thought they were getting something over on the other. So they were now best friends, and I was the body that their new back and forth was hinged on, was orbiting around.
"Anne! Is it almost time?" Erin giggled and seemed about to scoop up one of my hands; though it'd probably register as harmless girl stuff to an absolutely heterosexual man like Roland I still fidgeted slightly out of her reach.
"You know, to sing!"
"Ohh, I'm too embarassed." I made sure to smile at her then Roland in turn, trying to look appropriately shy and deferential.
"Don't worry, everyone's going to do it this time!"
I wasn't sure how I felt about this. Sure, I had wilfully done what was probably very over the top and embarrassing karaoke the last two nights, but becoming an expected participant put an extra weight on it. It couldn't be expressive this way.
"That's right," Roland said. "So what, are there any good three-way songs?"
Erin snorted at the innuendo, glancing at me.
"That's very atypical," the manager said, scrolling through the menu. "The machine only has two mics on it, too. You could always just all sing the same song."
"Yes, that sounds good," I interjected, not wanting to have to negotiate the awkwardness of meteing out and sorting through parts in real time.
"Oh, I've got the perfect one," The manager said ominously. She handed the mics over to Roland and Erin, forcing me into the middle. An unmistakeable haunting synth riff had started to emnante from the machine. "Roland, you'll have to go down an octave for this one."
"Of course, I was in chior--"
There's no time to negotiate. The two others singing were poised on either side of me, tilting their mics at least partially towards me. The beat kicks in, and I almost start singing a measure early.
[[Sing ABBA: LAY ALL YOUR LOVE ON ME|Sing3]]
"I wasn't jealous before we met, now every woman I see is a potential threat--"
In the first phrase I got a sense of what we were working with. I could believe Roland had been in chior as a boy. He was physically kind of pathetic in the way you had to be for that to emerge as an acceptable extracirricular, and he was surprisingly able to stay in tune. He didn't even trip over the slightly gender-incongruous lyrics, a surprising and unintentionally incisive read on the situation for his part, but the extremely low register he had decided to try and sing in didn't really suit the song. Erin hovered awkwardly between the lead vocal and harmonization, she couldn't sing on her own but had a sense for how to blend in. Me? I had sung ABBA thousands of timse.
In sum, it was a mess, and already falling apart fast. By the time we soared through the chorus, (despite everything, still cathartic and exhillirating) and reached the second verse ("it was like shooting a sitting duck, a little small talk, and baby I was stuck") the quality of the singing had degraded to a sort of rapid monotone chant to keep up with the lyrics, fine. We were all flat, and tired, but at least wanted to stay together.
As the song faded out, Roland and Erin leaned in closer to me from either side, both mics now more in front of my mouth than theirs. I felt like I was in the middle of a gangbang of sentiment. I wanted to be loved, I wanted to be the center of attention, I got my wish. When the music ended, they were both chummy and beaming, the manager was delighted.
"I knew I kept that thing around for some reason!"
I felt tired. I cut into the harmony, excusing myself.
"Well, I had a really long call with my editor just before so..."
"Workaholic!" Roland said.
"I'm not writing, I'm going to... sleep." I hesitated just a bit longer than was natural, thinking to avoid the phrasing of "my room" or "bed." Erin looked at me as if she was about to very tenderly ask me if I was feeling ok. "I'm fine," I said.
[[GO TO BED|Bed3]]
When I got to my room, I tried to open the door as quietly as possible. Everyone else, on the island, that I knew of, was sitting within earshot, was probably feeling awkward about me suddenly excusing myself. Who knows what they'd say when they knew there was a solid door between us. Of course, it creaked loudly open and close.
I clicked on my desk lamp and tried to write at least a few notes, but the words seemed to ripple on the page, and my thoughts scattered like marbles dropped on a stone floor. I only managed to get down one sentence -- <em>some things are elevated by being done together.</em> I sighed heavily and threw my clothes into the corner, changing into a plain tshirt and pajama pants again. I switched off the light, and when I turned to get into bed, I noticed the familliar light glow suffusing the room. The pair of apparitions were lurking slightly above the floor again. I edged around them, walking directly through was a bit too unsettling, and let myself into the bed. Both of them were looking at me expectantly.
"What? I'm not in the mood." This was kind of a lie. I still felt an element of exhiliration and vague horniness from being around both Erin and Roland in a context where they seemed to be getting along. It was exciting to think about how Erin had opened herself so suddenly and drastically to me, and under such strange conditions that it felt like a dream. The first time I had fooled around with Roland was much more banal, he seemed squeamish and anxious about kissing me at all but still dutifully absorbed and fascinated with pleasing me... That I already thought of both of these encounters as "first times" obviously indicated that I found them exciting and wanted to do them again. But I didn't feel like putting on a show for the ghosts.
"He who dares, wins," I said to no one in particular, and then rolled over to sleep.
[[WAKE UP|Day4]]I woke up with a jolt, not the the sound of my phone alarm but to a weird clattering outside in the hall. Even though I was just in my pajamas, it was a strange and loud enough noise, and we were far enough removed from any sort of help, that I felt like I should immediately investigate.
The manager's voice in the hall. She was standing in front of the disused staircase that led up to what was going to eventually be the deluxe guest suite. It looked like she had dropped some sort of large potted plant down the stairs while trying to move it, and dirt was splayed all in front of my door.
"Are you alright?" I asked.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine!" She seemed preoccupied with getting the plant back upright and seeing if its planter was still intact. "Just moving things around upstairs to get ready for the official opening, you know."
"Well, hm... Let me know if you end up needing any help moving something."
"I just slipped, I promise! And besides, I couldn't ask a guest to do this... even a special guest is not allowed to see the upstairs before it's ready." She smiled at me. "It's 5AM Anne, go back to sleep."
I nodded, and sleepily went back into my room. Of course, any attempt to get the last few hours of sleep I wanted was foiled by the manager having to do a large amount of vaccuuming right outside my door...
[[At some point I drifted off though|Day4-2]]
When I woke up again, I was just clinging to the very tail end of breakfast availability. I quickly washed my face again, now feeling a bit more grimy for being unable to shower, and put on some sweatpants and a long sleeved shirt that was sufficient for just grabbing some food.
In the lobby, two sets of abandoned dishes indicated to me that Erin and Roland had already eaten their breakfast and likely returned to their rooms. It was pouring out, for once. I got myself a cup of coffee and a bowl of corn flakes which I piled high and sat squarely in the middle of the table, zoning out. It seemed like I blinked at one point and then the manager was seated in front of me, steadily arranging Erin and Roland's dishes into a neat stack.
"So, how is it so far?" She asked. "Am I allowed to ask?"
"And spoil the surprise," I said flatly.
"Okay, I know it's not the ideal vacation scenario, but it's my job too, you know?"
"So someone will like, get mad at you if the reveiw is bad?" I said. "I kind of thought you were in charge."
"Sorry I woke you up this morning."
"It's fine," I lied, trying to hide both the bags I felt forming under my eyes and my irritation. "So are you just finishing up the suite upstairs or...?"
"Well, it won't be done for a bit more, but maybe you'll get to see it."
"You still seem annoyed at me, I'm sorry."
"No, it's not you. The whole situation has just got me feeling a little irritated. Stuck, you know."
"Well, try to relax and accept a degree of suspension. I think that's part of what people look for in staying in hotels. And let me know if you need anything."
"Yeah, of course. Though at this point that seems pretty limited."
"You are very understanding." At this, she got up and disappeared into the back room with the dirty dishes.
I sat by myself on the bench, resting my head on my hands. What the fuck would I even do today. I heard quick footsteps behind me, it was Roland, without a book for once and well-wrapped in his fancy, tailored coat.
"You going out?" I said.
"A walk," he said, hesitantly slowing down. "You don't sound so good, Anne."
"Is that a 'fuck off' or..."
"I mean, it's the outdoors, I can't really stop you from coming with me, I just think you seem really exhausted."
[[I go with Roland]] [[I wait for Erin]]"I will come with you, actually," I said, getting up abruptly. I ran back to my room to pick up my raincoat and back to the lobby. He hadn't waited for me. I ran out the door and he had only gotten about 20 steps down the path so I caught up with him soon enough.
"What's wrong with you, I said I was coming!"
He blew me off, not answering. I followed him down the barely-traceable path he was following, it was a winding road that was much more flat than the path Erin and I had followed, and the grass was less lush and springy. We curved around near the abbey, and kept going, almost walking the perimeter of the island around the hills. After a while we reached a gently sloping hill, nothing like the one the stone circle was on, and there was a small ridge that seemed to be made by someone sitting there over several days.
"Look," He pointed out over the line of sight from the slight indentation in the land and it was, essentially, a perfect strategic view of the dock area.
"The docks?" I asked.
"Yeah. I came out here to watch it." Roland carefully lowered himself into the grass, his long legs tenting up his coat in front of him. "It's scheduled to come today."
"So you're testing to see if it does come? Or if someone gets on or off?"
"I don't think it's coming, but I don't want to go down there, or like ask the manager directly about it and give her a chance to make up an excuse."
I realized then that Roland was having some of the same dubious vibes about this whole endeavour that I was having.
"You're thinking I seem paranoid," he said into my hesitation.
"No," I also carefully sat down in the ridge and stared over the hillside leading down to where the island met the water. "I've felt kind of strange here too."
"Who were you calling last night, then?" He said it bitterly, strangely. Maybe he was just being paranoid. I looked at him, obviously coming across a bit put upon.
"My editor. I told you."
"Hmm," he said, sulkily.
"You don't suspect me of something, do you? What, like I planned trapping you here or something?" I leaned in closer. "How about you, Mr. 'Calling my editor,' That was a lie, wasn't it?"
"How is it so unbelieveable?" He asked, staring out over the water, forcing himself not to make a face.
"You just said what I was also doing so I couldn't challenge you on it. It was really clever, but you're the kind of guy who comes out here for isolation and to work seriously. You wouldn't be making out of hours calls to an editor back home in the middle of things."
"You think so highly of me. And you still won't even touch any of my books," He joked, seeming rather sad about it.
"So who were you actually calling?"
"My girlfriend." He gave up on the self-pity and evaisiveness, saying it with only a mild tinge of resignation. Even though I had my suspicions my cheeks went red and my stomach sank with the shame of being a homewrecker.
"You asked if I was married!"
"Well I think there's like... an implicit side to that."
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you then. It wasn't serious, we'd just been seeing each other a few months, but she decided to break it off. I can't really blame her."
"Apologize to her, you made a huge mistake."
"I mean, I did. I'm not going to fight super hard on this."
"No, you made a huge mistake doing anything with me," I said, laughing a bit and trying to lighten the mood with a bit of self-deprecation. He looked at me with uncharacteristic seriousness, even for him.
"Anne, I feel like something very strange is going on here. It's not making me act sensible. It's making me do things I'd only do on the presumption that I was either going to be trapped here forever or die." He winced as a hard gust of wind yanked at the collar of his coat and rustled the grass all around us. "I'm not making any progress on my work!"
"Oh god forbid. How do you think I feel?"
"To be honest you seem like the type of person that doesn't really make serious progress until the last minute anyways." He said. He hugged his arms to his body and kept watching the dock. "What do we do if no one comes? I thought about it on the first day and kind of laughed to myself, but now I'm thinking about it constantly."
"I don't know," I said. "What do you think is going on?"
"I don't know, beyond the ferry probably not coming I don't really know what to make of it."
"The manager strikes me as kind of strange," I offered.
"Well of course. In what sense exactly, though?"
"Well, she's very friendly, but also very relaxed about the obviously inadequate elements of the hotel. It's weird. She doesn't seem to worry about there being very few food options, the whole upstairs not being done yet, no wifi, all the various weird issues with the place, when she talks with me. Even though, presumably, I'm supposed to be writing a fairly consequential reveiw of the hotel, so much so that she'd comp my food and my stay."
"Maybe she's just very laid back?"
I sighed, stretching myself back on the grass. "Yeah, that could be as true as anything. Maybe I am more convinced that there's something strange about the island itself."
"Hmm..." I pulled a strand of grass from the ground and began crushing it between my fingers. "Well ok. I started seeing things... those ghosts or whatever, after we all went to the abbey together. I felt really strange afterwards too, like being in the courtyard was somehow... putting me where I would have been back when it was in use, you know?"
"Strictly speaking that's true though, that's the definition of a historical site."
"Yeah but it seemed like the history was there, at the same time, you know?"
"Not... personally. But I can conceptualize it."
"Fine, good enough. Jesus. All that sitting around thinking about consciousness and writing poems about it--"
"Anyways, go on."
"But basically, while we were going through the tunnel I got some weird slime from those lichens on me. You know, the orange things hanging from the ceiling. And then that evening I saw the ghosts."
"Right." He thought for a moment. "So there's like some kind of strong, hallucinatory chemical in the lichens."
"Yeah, and other plant matter as well. Like when Erin and I went for that hike together, we went up to the burial mound on the far hill up there and... I..." I paused, feeling slightly embarassed. There was not really a good way to quickly come up with a strategy for quickly and sufficiently describing what had happened on the hill while maintaining my propriety. But I felt like Roland had also just confessed to a recent case of scumminess, so I had one over on him. "She was, you know, kind of ordering me around and then... I dunno. She got the weird idea to eat some of the moss that was growing on the stones."
"It was, you know, heat of the moment. We were arguing about the ghosts and stuff and..." I was babbling, could feel myself going red like an idiot.
"So you were trying to get high, all the way out there."
"Yeah," I relaxed a bit, feeling like I had been left off the hook.
"So was this like some kind of sex thing?"
I blanched. On the hook again. Roland studied my face closely, a situation in which I absolutely could not even pretend to lie.
"I mean, yeah. We got high and had weird sex inside an ancient stone circle. What kind of thing did you think she was into?"
I could tell he was disappointed by this admission. He made the kind of faces someone who had never had to hide their disappointment made sometimes. It was irritating that people like that existed, to me, but it was also a quality that occasionally made him kind of cute. In this moment, I was regretting ever enjoying it.
"Please don't act broken up about that, of all things." I said.
"It's hard to feel <em>good</em> about it."
"You don't have to feel any sort of way about it. Fucks sake, I never said I was your girlfriend or anything, did I? I didn't tell you to break up with your girlfriend."
"I am a fucking idiot."
"Yeah, well, I told you you made a mistake."
Roland didn't say anything, but stared out over the water again like he was willing the ferry to appear. Every second it didn't appear made him look more desperate and depressed.
"Do you want me to leave?" I asked. "I can walk back by myself."
"Do you think it's pointless for me to be waiting out here?"
"I'm just saying, it looks like it's about to rain and you'd rather be alone." I moved to get up, but Roland leaned closer, and then turned to the side and rested his head in my lap. Almost instinctively, I brushed my hand along the side of his face, tucking a tuft of his hair behind his ear.
"I'm sorry. I'd really rather not be alone."
"Ok." I sat for a moment, trying to settle into the ground without squirming. I thought to myself "Do I like Roland?" Visually, he was the type of guy I tended to like as much as Erin was the type of girl I ended up liking. He was sometimes irritating, but in a sort of entertaining way, this was why I felt drawn to Erin as well. He was sometimes funny, interesting to talk to. But all of these elements also didn't really matter. We were all alone, we were all togehter, here.
It started to rain, the sort of persistent, fine mist that felt like nothing but slowly soaked you to your bones. Built up droplets started running down my arms across the waterproof surface of my raincoat, and they all seemed to flow towards, and sink into, Roland, like some idiotic Pieta.
"We should go."
"I have to stay until the boat comes... or dark... or dinner." He sounded like he hadn't fully made up his mind about when would be the most judicious time to leave.
"You're going to make yourself sick. You're coat's just going to be like being wrapped in a wet carpet after too long."
He sighed, with it came the sound of harder rain falling far away, sweeping towards us.
"Come on." Nothing. "Don't make me push you off... rolling you onto your face in the dirt, it'd be too pathetic for me ever to take seriously." I began to push him lightly, hoping he'd get the message and do the rest. I saw that the long blade of grass I had pulled up was still resting on my lap just next to his head, so I picked it up and stuck the tufted end in his ear. He jolted away, sliding a few feet down the hillside on the wet grass. He had to scratch at the ground like a cartoon character to slow himself down. For a moment I was scared, then found this funny, but the whole way through this manifested as laughter. He was lying there, facedown, sprawled out, hands sunk into the grass. I'm sure he was too embarassed to move. I hoisted myself up to stand and shout something at him, like "oh my god, it's the boat!" but the island sensed my cruelty and made the flimsy soles of my flats also slip on the wet grass. I skidded down towards him, clinging to the hillside. One of my feet may have conncetd with he head.
He grunted. Still facedown, he moaned. "The boat's not coming. The boat was never coming."
"You're paniking." I replied.
"I can just tell." He rolled over. I couldn't see his expression well from the droplets of water and smears of dirt across his glasses. "God your feet reek. Didn't you bring any proper shoes and socks?"
"Sorry I'm not the ultimate outdoorsman like Erin."
"Maybe it's for the best... When I think about being stuck here with her... well it really reinforces the inherent unknowableness of another consciousness."
"But you feel like you know me?" I asked.
He took off his glasses, unbuttoned his coat to pull a cloth from his pants pocket, wiping them clean. When he put them back on, they sat on his face a little crooked.
"It's still the same opaque wall as anyone else, from you, but it at least feels like you'd invite me in."
"That's paradoxical." I spread my legs down the hillside and he squirmed himself up to rest his head in my lap again.
"If the boat never comes, it'll be all that's left. I'll have to bash my head against it all day. I only have so many books."
"But there's the honor library..."
We both scoffed, and a long silence followed.
"It really would be just the three of us."
"Don't think about it. When were you scheduled to leave? Still a few days? I'm sure the ferry will actually run that day. Maybe they only run it if people have booked tickets."
"That's a convenient excuse, it still feels so odd."
"And besides, the manager would be here too."
"She doesn't count."
"Geez, Mr. World Famous Poet just sees the staff as furniture, then..."
"I mean, you joke around, but she is different, isn't she?"
His tone made me feel serious too.
"Yeah, I do get that feeling."
"Well, maybe it's something, maybe it's nothing. Maybe we'll all get on the ferry as scheduled and laugh about how stupid we were for getting wigged out over this."
"I hope so," I said.
"Even so, despite that... I broke up with her for nothing, then, I guess."
"Oh, so you've totally returned to your senses."
"Well, what's done is done. Is that why you seemed so weird about kissing me?"
"It was a weird situation for multiple reasons."
"How weird would it have to be for you to kiss me more," I asked.
"Is this just you being bored, procrastinating?" I shrugged.
"It just seems to be how I deal with the existential fear, for now." I crushed the tufted tip of the blade of grass between my fingers, hard, and smelled the slight green pulp that clung to my skin. Grassy, but also strangely bitter, medicinal. I rolled it between my fingers. "Let's try something."
"I started seeing ghosts from the lichens, and Erin and I ate the moss, what about the grass?"
"What can I even say at this point?" He let his mouth hang open only a sliver. My thumb padded flat against his front teeth as I pushed the clump of grass through. I let my fingers linger on his lips as he slowly swallowed, then felt my fingertips with the tip of his tongue. I leaned down and the collected raindrops on my hood fell across his face with a splatter that made him flinch. His glasses were beginning to cloud up with droplets again, and I became aware of a cool stream of mucus running from my left nostril to the top of my lips. I leaned into his mouth the way I tried to sleep on the folding tray in airplanes.
His breath and tongue were hot, almost feverish feeling against the clammy cold that had taken root in most of our skin. Instead of the slight, almost chaste kisses he had pulled away from the last time, he was open-mouthed, tongue lolling, letting me have my way with him.
I loved this kind of kissing, so deep and concentrated, the kind you didn't dare open your eyes during. The cold and damp wasn't bothering me any more, the whole of my sensory perception and bodily movement seemed focused on carefully navigating my lips and tongue against his. I even would let my teeth bump against his occasionally, an element of the satisfaction of being in this deep was that you could get away with it.
His arms clasped desperately around my shoulders, and then started moving down my body. He felt for the zipper of my raincoat, and, shaking even more water free, unzipped it and ran his hands along my breasts. I pulled up, abruptly. Enough fooling around. I climbed square on top of him so we were both lying down the slope of the hill, blood rushing to our heads. I pressed myself against his hips and he pulled me in close again, setting his mouth against my lips so roughly they began to feel slightly swollen and numb. I jolted away with a shudder as his hands slid under my sweater, teasing my nipples through my bra, but he quickly moved his hands down to my hips, pulling me against him hard. I opened my eyes, hoping to get a look at his face, vulnerable, horny, lost inside itself. But instead I captured the moment that he caught something in the corner of his eye.
"Oh fuck," he said, throwing his head back so fast I almost got smacked in the eye by his chin. I looked up to follow his own eyeline, running down the hillside towards the dock. I wanted to see what he was seeing, upside-down.
"Oh, god," I panted. I could feel drool collecting at the sides of my mouth. My breath was steam in the air. "There's your boat, Roland."
"Not our boat," he said.
He was right. The boat pulling into the dock was instead a beaten-up looking historical longboat, shadowy figures huddled on its deck.
"The question is," I paused, peering more closely at the form of the boat, that seemed translusent, flickering in and out of perceptibility like when you tried to look at an illusion too hard...
[["When is it arriving?"]]I nod, and Roland keeps going on his way. I can't tell if he's relieved; does he see me as some weird literary groupie girl who will always be trying to talk to him now, or if he's simply resigned to an afternoon apart from the rest of us, for better and/or worse. I sat by myself, looking at the ring of gritty coffee left in the bottom of my mug. I entered a state of mind that wasn't exactly sleeping, but a sort of stillness where your thoughts flowed like dream-logic but you couldn't grab on to any of them.
I would write something about this. The matter of the review would be entirely separate.
I hear soft footsteps padding down the main stairway and look up. Erin is wearing a huge, floppy sweatshirt and socks. I assume she isn't planning on going anywhere today. She seems pleased to see me as well.
"Anne, lovely Anne." She sat across the table from me and looked at me with slightly reserved affection. "Sleeping any better now?"
"I was sleeping fine, but woken up prematurely," I said, trying not to sound too whiny about it. "You?"
"Slept like a stone, no interruptions." She said. "Same as always." She looked at me a bit closer. "You do look a little rough though."
"It's fine, I'm having a low-key day." She gave me a look that I was supposed to recognize as this being a relatably kind of naughty thing, as if I didn't spend most "work" days hardly leaving my room or even changing out of my pajamas. "My legs are killing me for some reason, and the weather report's not great for today..."
"Oh, hm," I entertained myself with the idea of Roland wandering out to the opposite end of the island and getting drenched. Erin got up and started digging around in the cabinet below the honor bookshelf.
"You know what I noticed they had in here?" She said, pulling something out and quickly tucking it under her sweatshirt.
"What?" I smiled at her. It was cute to see another side of her, usually so serious and intense, trying to be a bit silly. I should have treasured my innocence in this moment, because her answer was that one truly terrifying concept which shook my soul to its core.
"Boardgames!" She pulled an imposingly large box out from under her sweater and placed it proudly in the center of the table. Before I could make sense of the front of the box, to get any idea of what I was in for, she scooped up the lid revealing a baffling assortment of multicolored tokens, hexagonal tiles and several decks of cards each with apparently different uses.
"Oh!" I tried to say pleasantly. However, at least a bit of my true meaning must have crept through.
"Don't worry, once you start playing it, it comes quite naturally. Now, we each start with six of these..." She handed me six of the hexagonal tiles. "Keep them face down, you can look at them but don't let me see what they are, ok? This marker is you." She handed me a squidgy, vaguely human shaped piece of plastic. I was apparently orange. She took a green one for herself. Then she counted out six wooden cubes and lined them up each above the hexagons. "These are the resource tokens, and they're used for expansion. The goal is to get all six of your plots of land in a contiguous, connected area."
"The cunning game of early European statescraft!"
"Sure. So I pick a card?"
"Yeah, from the red deck."
"Okay." I pull the first card from the deck.
FAMINE, remove all resource tokens from one area in play.
"What the fuck... shouldn't we shuffle these?"
"It's fine, you don't have any yet so it's my turn." Erin drew a red card. "Ah, okay. I get to place one plot of land, because I have developed a new approach to cultivating grain."
"How come you get to do that?" I whined. Erin, of course, took it quite literally.
"Because I drew that card. I will move to this location and place one resource block there. Your turn."
Turn over turn, she was trouncing me, of course. I hated boardgames and could never keep the rules straight in my mind, which then precluded any sort of productive strategizing. Her fortified and well-connected nation steadily increased in size while the thin scraps of land I could pull together were consistently under-resourced and falling to peasant rebellions or challengers to the throne. The game reached a head when Erin surprised me by utilizing a rule that had probably slipped my mind at some point, by claiming one of the middle sections of my pathetically awkwardly-shaped country with a land dispute she could both secure her sixth plot of land and halve my resource networks.
"Ok so, in this case, I have this orange card that denotes a case of religious credibility that gives me a two point advantage on you, but we'll have to see who draws a higher value green card for the claim to an existing area to work. Of course the number you draw will have to be at least two higher--"
"Just take it, you win."
"No, come on, you still have a chance--"
"This just feels like merciless late game Monopoly." I drew a green card. "Five of cups."
She turned over her own green card. "Two of cups. So I fail. Your turn."
"Hmm..." I had truly mentally given up after Erin's previous move, so had no idea what would be a good way to continue. I wanted to bluff my way out of a war of contrition, and also talk to Erin seriously, without the mediation of mideval fiefdoms. "You're very strict with me, you know."
"I'm just disciplined. Besides, you obviously ended up enjoying the hillwalking we did, right?" A smirk.
"Well, yeah. In that particular context... But seriously, I was wondering if we could like, actually talk about the stuff I saw. Like, ok, we don't have to say they're ghosts, per se, but you were out there, uh, with the moss and stuff."
"So did you see anything?"
"Of course. The biological compounds of this island are extremely bonkers in terms of psychoactive properties."
"A-and that's your scientific conclusion?"
"I mean, yeah. We both experienced it firsthand, didn't we?"
"Yeah..." I chuckled anxiously, in part because after I had eaten several clumps of the weird moss and also gotten fucked several ways out on a windy hillside, I couldn't exactly remember everything that went down. Whatever I saw, it wasn't as clear and discrete as the ghosts in my room. "So what did you see?"
"Whatever comes out of that thing is just purely subjective stuff, you know, it doesn't really make much sense to ask someone else." She smartly avoided the question, and began neatly packing the boardgame away as the conversation intensified.
"Right, it's like asking someone about their dreams, expecting to learn something about yourself."
"And dreams can be recurring, but they're not really consistent or cumulative over time."
"Right, it's just something your mind produces situationally."
"So it's like... an actual phenomena if they recur in a specific and predictable way. Or at least something different."
Erin frowned at me, shutting the lid of the box. "Not necessarily."
"Because I keep seeing them, the same way, and only in my room."
Erin rolled her eyes. "Is this some kind of indirect game to get me into your room? Because if you're thinking fondly of our last excursion I think I'd rather take you right here."
"Let that drab old poet walk in on something that would really surprise him."
My face felt like it was radiating heat, like a buffet lamp. "Oh, he would be surprised."
"You like when I domineer you a little bit."
I felt a goofy smile turning up the edges of my mouth.
"This is 'a little bit,' to you?"
"We're two girls, all by ourselves, on an island miles away from any other human settlement... I think we're participating in a great historical tradition if we have a bit of risky fun." She grabbed my hand across the table and pulled it towards her, as if she was beckoning me up on to the table.
"Hang on, I feel a bit... exposed. And also everyone eats dinner here so..." I thought about how the manager had disappeared into the backroom. Was she still there, had she left to go out or upstairs while I was zoning out? "I'm sorry, I'm not really in the mindset to enjoy this," I said, laughing nervously.
"Alright." She got up and tucked the game box back into the cabinet that held the honor system library. Then she came back and rested her hands on the table. I reached across to touch one, curling one hand around it and gently pressing it towards my other hand like a cat rolling a ball between its paws.
"Now that you had your fun trouncing me," I said softly.
"You didn't let me finish," she said with a smirk. "On both counts."
"Well it's nice to be wanted," I said, sighing. "Can we like, talk about it rather than playing games about it, though?"
"Sure, I mean..." Erin gave my hand a squeeze. "If you're enjoying it we don't really have to make plans beyond the end of this week."
"Th... thanks. I appreciate it. I mean, you seem like a pretty guarded person, so I was surprised..."
"Well, you know, it just felt right... the combativeness coming to a head at an ancient woman warrior's grave..." she ran her fingers down the inside of my wrist teasingly. "And all.."
"But like... even just the experience of you being so certain that's what the place was, wasn't that a strange experience."
"Anne..." She sighed, really frowning at me for the first time that afternoon. "Just because I don't accept a supernatural explanation for something doesn't mean that I'm unequipped to explain something strange... accepting that conscious experience is a strange and fluid thing would make you more equipped for that, even."
I sighed, though I kept my hand in hers. Reasoning with Anne was its own kind of occultism.
"So in essence, the visions, all that..."
"Well," she said surprisingly detachedly, "It seems like most plant matter on the island has surprisingly hallucinogenic properties. It may even impact the water supply."
"I guess that's it." I paused, thinking, what a preposterous response. "But like, ok, this is totally the point in the hypothetical documentary about all of this just before they say we all killed each other or died of hypothermia for stripping naked and sleeping outside, or something."
For once, Erin let herself look a little anxious, vulnerable. "I know what you mean, it's a bad feeling. Like I was only supposed to come here for a week and after just a few days it's hard for me to think of my life beyond, you know, getting on the ferry and going back home."
"So usually you'd be trying to wife me, is what you're saying?"
"Oh please, you're cute and fun to push around, but you definitely don't seem like the type of person who even puts their clothes in a hamper."
"What the fuck! Have you been sneaking into my room while I'm asleep?"
"Just a feeling." She laughed. "Thanks for confirming it though."
"What are we going to do?" I asked. With all this boredom, with all this space between us, with all the strangeness of this place... It was a hypothetical question and I wanted to see how she would take it.
"I don't know. Enjoy ourselves and try to stay sane until the boat gets here?"
"You aren't curious...?"
"I feel like I kind of already understand it."
"And if the boat doesn't show up?"
"I mean, there's no evidence it won't--" She frowned again.
"Hmm..." I sighed and put my head down. "I feel like I always go in circles with you."
"Okay, I'll humor you... I guess I would be a little afraid... I'd make a fuss with the manager. It would be very suspicious."
"Yes, so what's the thing that ties it all together.. the ghosts, the abbey and the burial ground, this strange hotel, the encroaching feeling of doom..."
"You and your ghosts. I mean, thematically they're all things that kind of require us to think about death, even in a kind of deferred or abstract way. Isolation, disconnection, abandonment..."
"Death is kind of the one inevitable fact of conscious experience, isn't it?" She said this with a grin that made my stomach flip. I wished I could be as confident as her about anything. "But we don't like to think about it. But it's also hiding behind everything."
"Make it a bit less philosophical for me."
"The weirdness of a new build hotel in the off season on a barely-explored island that's been abandoned for centuries essentially just rubs our nose in it. So we get horny, or short with each other, or paranoid. It's a sort of grief." She stroked my hand with her thumb, a surprisingly tender gesture. "Does that help?"
"As much as anything but literally getting on a boat out of here could, I guess."
She leaned across the table and kissed my cheek, smoothed my hair. "Plenty of time for ego death funeral sex until then."
I laughed at that. "I thought you were taking a lazy day."
"From hiking, I'm always up for playing around with convenient psychological glitches."
"Okay, fine." I took her hand and led her to [[my room.|Erin2-2]]
I wandered out into the lobby, even though it was late. I padded down the stairs wearing only my socks, and got a chill from the darkness and stillness of the lobby with no people, and no lights on, beyond what moonlight from the outside came in through the windows. Reagrdless, Erin and Roland and the Manager must have had dinner together, and maybe even sang a few rounds of karaoke together, since the table, with a few abandoned dishes on it, and the karaoke machine were both still out.
I briefly entertained a nightmare where the three of them became friends, bonded even closer by my imposition in their lives being a shared annoyance elevated to the level of shared trauma in its ability to bring people together. I would be reviled, and cast into the sea, in this new world order. Of course that wouldn't happen, of course... but I still felt a slight tremble as I carefully crossed the room to the phone booth without disturbing anything.
I dialed XXX's number. It rang for longer than usual and the horror in my mind continuied unfolding. <em>They called your editor and told them that not only were you slagging off the assignment and irritating everyone at the hotel that you were supposed to be writing about, but you're also like, bad at sex and don't unpack your clothes but just leave them on a heap in your room--"</em>
"Yes, hello? What's up?"
"You sound different..." I strained my ears to make out what sounded like multiple voices in the background. At the office? "What's that sound in the background?"
XXXX laughed. "Anne, it's the TV. I'm at home."
I tried not to sigh directly into the receiver, attempting to come back from falling into my most paranoid delusions. "Oh? Not at the office still for once, huh?"
"It's like 10 PM here... I'm always home by 8 at least." I could tell from the pause and the slight sounds echoing down the receiver that they were rearranging the pillows on the couch, and flipping channels a few times before going on. "So... this is the first time you've called me this, out of hours..."
"I know, I'm sorry."
"Well, depends on what it's for if you have to apologize or not. Is this for business inquiries or just to extend a friendly interest in my life?"
I could tell they were teasing me a bit, but I was genuinely curious about what they were like outside of work, and hoped they would at least entertain finding me a good friend, or even considering me a "colleague."
"That's right, I haven't written shit today, so I'm contacting you purely on the basis of friendship," I said. I was anxiously clutching the receiver to the side of my face like a high schooler confessing a crush.
"This really is a new one then! What were you doing earlier though?"
"Hmm... sleeping." I said, deciding to be honest. As if I really was back in high school again, I decided to try to append it with something impressive. "After getting laid again."
XXXX chuckled on the other end of the line in a more unrestrained way than I was used to, even when I said something accidentally incriminating over our work calls.
"You're insatiable, huh? You really didn't seem the type at all."
"I dunno, it's weird." Thinking about the emotions surrounding why I always seemed to end up in bed with anyone I spent more than a few minutes with while on this island, when my day-to-day sexual existence was subdued at the best of times, sobered me out. "I think everyone's going a little stir crazy. I mean, yeah, you can go out hiking, but it's not a huge island. All there really is is the three of us and the manager. Like, a common topic of conversation is whether we even think the boat is going to show up at the end of the week."
"Anne... Of course it is."
"That's right, and we always say that, but it still comes up."
"Seems like a gloomy environment to be getting your rocks off in."
"It kind of makes sense though, doesn't it? Boredom, and a bit of fear, I guess..."
"You okay? Like I said, I can bump your ticket home up sooner."
"I mean, I've hardly written anything so that would be stupid," I said, laughing dismissively.
"You're not calling in a work capacity, though. I'd do that for someone as a friend too, you know."
"Oh..." I swallowed, deciding to give it a shot. "Well if you're so worried about me you can always take me out for dinner somewhere nice when I get back, you know, to make sure I'm still fully intact."
"Based on what you've told me I think I already know you're not fully intact, in the traditional sense."
"Oh, shut up! You know what I mean, asshole."
"Oh Anne... this is behavior that could be construed as highly unprofessional." Their voice was hypnotizing, playful. I knew they wouldn't for a moment seriously try to pull rank on me.
"Oh, don't worry, I'm a big strong independent contractor who doesn't even need a healthcare plan," I cooed into the receiver. "No liability. You couldn't abuse your power over me if you tried."
"Hmm... well. That's inideal. How long has it been since you've been to a dentist?"
"XXX, oh my god."
"I'm kidding. So what do you really want, I have the Antiques Roadshow on over here."
"What do I want?"
I felt like I was about to cry, and also like there was an electric wire jolting me from my crotch to my stomach. I reached over and pulled on the handle to the phone booth's door to make doubly sure it was closed, and tried to dig up the most pressing concern on my list of demands.
"I was just checking that the line didn't disconnect, you're really thinking about this one huh."
I tried to come up with an answer but it only made my brain feel like more of a hamster wheel. I covered my face with my free hand, mortified at what I was letting slip away for lack of inspiration.
"I just..." I croaked into the receiver, my voice cracking. "I just want you to do whatever you want to me."
"Hmmm..." A long silence. "That's such a typical non-answer from you."
"What!" I shouted into the receiver, indignant. "I seriously couldn't think of anything. What the hell do you want?"
"You're always such a people pleaser on other assignments, this is the first time I felt like you were actually blowing work off." They sounded amused by this, not like they were berating me. "I mean, that's why I sent you after all, you did almost the entire electronics start-up guide section when you should have been zonked out on turkey sandwiches."
"Yeah, so you owe me, then." I replied. They must have sensed the exasperation in my voice.
"That's what I like to hear. So, what'll it be then?"
"Hmm... I want to put my hands in your hair. It's always so long and smooth and soft."
"Hmm, well..." They paused for a second, like my answer had genuinely caught them off guard, and flustered them a bit. "Okay, I guess I'll let you have that one."
"And I want to know how you kiss. You're so calm and professional all of the time, it's like I can't imagine it."
Their voice was close to the receiver now, and felt like it was right against my ear. "Well, I can't speak objectively, but I feel like I do take a different approach from person to person."
"And what's your bed like? I bet you have a nicer apartment than me... I bet it looks like an Ikea ad on the inside. And you can just toss me right in the center of your stupid minimalist monochrome duvet or whatever."
They were chuckling under their breath. The sound in the background of the call had gone away and I assumed it meant they had turned off the TV.
"So are you the type that takes your own clothes off, or likes to be stripped down?"
"What do you think? You're going to be the one doing the work here."
"Fair enough. First order of business would be peeling off those awful skinny jeans you wear all the time."
"Oh come on! My legs are my one good feature."
"And so little of them. Anyways, with that out of the way... Do you shave your legs?"
"A razor has not touched my body since my last breakup three years ago," I said with gravitas.
"An even more informative answer than I expected."
"You'd better be into that, I'm not going back for anyone."
"It feels like we keep going off the rails of the whole phone sex thing, but no, I'm not opposed to it."
I laughed. "Okay, fine. At this juncture you're going to eat my pussy--"
"Clearly. But it's more important how you do it." By now I could feel that I was wearing a full on shit eating grin. I had let myself slide down on the narrow bench in the phone booth, and had one leg propped up against the other wall so my legs were slightly spread. I rocked the receiver into my shoulder and ran my hands down my stomach, undoing my fly. There wasn't a ton I could reach, at such an awkward angle and with my pants still mostly on, but I was already so excited that it would easily be enough to get the job done.
"I bet you're the type of girl who likes getting her asscheeks squeezed while I'm going to town on her. All the better to get a good angle on you too."
"Oh my god, fuck off--" I groaned. I could faintly hear some type of fabric rustling on their end of the line. "You'd better be getting off to this too."
"I'm doing this for you, aren't I?" They were being coy, but I could tell, even though their voice still had the same intonation as when they were going over a round of edits with me, I could tell their breath was a bit more agitated. In its subtlety it was even more arousing to tiptoe around the mechanical play-by-play of phone sex than to lean into it. "Who's asking?"
"Come on, that's part of the deal." I wanted to say, about you, that's what really gets me off, but I let the implication hang.
"Fine," they laughed breathily. "It's nice to think of... seeing you totally vulnerable, letting me twist every bit of you around. I wanna see how you scrunch your eyes up, whether you groan the same way as when a source is giving you a hard time..."
"Uuughh, come on!"
"Yeah, exactly like that."
"God, I'm drooling."
They laughed again. "Gross." A long pause punctuated by a soft moan that made me shove a knuckle from my free hand between my teeth to keep from producing something far more theatrical. "But hot."
We panted at each other across the wires for a few seconds. I sat there in warm disbelief, shivers still clenching my skin into patches of goosebumps.
"Lick off your fingers and tell me what you taste like."
"Oh shut up!" I almost slammed the receiver back onto the phone, but realized the ambiguity about our professional relationship would eat through my guts all night if I ended the conversation now. "That's dating-tier information."
"Alright, I get it. Sleep well, Anne."
"Call me tomorrow. And actually write something, for god's sake."
"I know." I hung up without waiting, then licked my fingers off and wiped them dry on the side of my jeans.
[[Exit the phone booth]]
I was in the same situation as the previous night, and not eager to repeat the strange encounter in the lobby. I sat on my bed and thought: couldn't I try communicating with the ghosts?
For the first time since I had gotten here, I unpacked my suitcase and laid out all of the contents. Half of the clothes I hadn't worn, the other half I had probably worn a bit too much. I forgot that I had half-heartedly tossed a copy of Christine de Pizan's Book of the City of Ladies into my bag as well, hoping it would get me into a historical mood. Clearly it had only sunk to the bottom of the bag and remained there. My notebook, my pens, my spare pens, and my sparse set of toiletries had to be gathered from around the room to line up next to the clothes. I guess I was hoping that something would present itself to me as ouija-board-like, immediately useful in a spark of inspiration for spiritual contact. Instead, I couldn't come up with anything. Standing over the bed, I noticed a steady pulsing glow out of the corner of my eye. My phone, plugged in on the bedside table, where I almost always left it because its use value had been reduced to an extremely sophisticated clock on the island, was pulsing to life at regular intervals. If I favored my left eye to look at it, I could also see the thin, luminescent form of the woman ghost. She was extending a long finger down towards the screen, then yanking it back whenever it came to life.
"Oh my god! Sure." I said aloud. Ghosts would be made of electrostatic something or other. Why the hell not. I smiled at her nervously, holding out my hand the same way I did when approaching a large dog. Her finger passed through my hand as I reached over to the phone to unlock it. I pressed the calendar app function, and looked at her, nodding, before pointing to the date.
She raised her eyebrows as if it was a particularly interesting series of numbers.
"This," I prodded my finger at the year again, and then pointed at myself, mouthing the words clearly. "is my time." I dragged my finger up and down across the screen a few times to show her how it could go forward or back in time. "When are you from?"
She ran her finger across the surface of the phone, back and forth a few times, then with more purpose. My heart began to pound as she kept going, back, back. It started to feel like my stomach was sinking down through the bottom of my body. I didn't know before, for obvious reasons, but the calendar app starts to fall apart around the 1850s, with years not rendering and chunks of the weeks going missing. She was fascinatedly rummaging around in these dates, trying to excavate her own, of course, it was her own archaeological curiosity. I only knew I had to scream.
[[Scream.]]I come to sitting at the dinner table, my damp hair laying limp over my shoulders and a grassy taste in my mouth. It's dark outside, fairly dark inside the hotel as well.
"Hello?" I tenatively venture saying aloud. No one.
I go back to my room, to check my phone on the bedside table. 8:45 PM. So I had either totally missed dinner and karaoke, or had floated through them on autopilot in the midst of a hallucinogenic grass fueled fugue. Neither option felt good. I rummaged for my notebook, hoping i had maybe written something down in my altered state, but there were only the paltry notes I explicitly remembered taking.
I suddenly felt very irresponsible, very disoriented, and very bad at my job. I grabbed for the ball point pen and [[desperately scrawled some notes]].<em>-most if not all plant matter on the island seems psychoactive.
-either that or just really strange things are happening all the time
-everyone is scared/weirded out and feels convinced that our connections to "the rest of the world" are fake or absent for some reason
-we were waiting for the ferry and I saw a fucking longboat</em>
[[stop writing]]I tried to come up with more, but couldn't. And these were all objectively useless notes for my assigned task, anyways. But it was true. I thought of what Roland said waiting for the boat to come in, that it felt like none of that mattered, that all of that was impossibly far away as to be a laughable concern right now.
I wanted to sulk over to his room and knock on his door, curl into bed next to him. But part of me sensed it would be awkward, that I'd regret it. This was a purely contingent arrangement, I couldn't fall into his state of mind. Regardless, my room increasingly felt like a tiny box, with only some moonlight leaking in through the window.
I can't sleep, at least, not here and not in my present mindset.
[[I look for something to do|Evening4]] (I did this on day 4)
[[I look for something to do|Evening5]] (I did this on day 5)
I shut the door behind me, double checking the lock. I could tell Erin was already looking down at my clothes strewn on the floor.
"Get over it, okay," I said, pulling off my sweater and laying back, trying to look appealing on the bed. However, what happened the last time I'd done this inevitably came to mind, and my eyes were more nervously scanning the perimeter of the room than "bedroom."
"What's wrong?" Erin asked, pulling her own shirt over her head. Her shoulders and chest were broad, and evenly lightly tanned just like the rest of her. I realized it was the first time I had seen under her clothes, and my eyes went straight to her breasts. She still had a small, basically immaterial bra on underneath, but I could see her small, firm breasts with hard, dark nipples through its thin fabric. She crawled on top of me, sliding a thigh between my legs, and getting to work on my fly.
"Oh, haha," I was flustered, going as helpless and malleable as I had the first time she decided she wanted me. "It's just... I hope they don't show up again?"
"What, your ghosts? Didn't they just show up while you were jacking off or something?"
"I saw them again, and Roland---" I paused, my face feeling like it was burning and turning in on itself. I caught about one second of Erin's irritated expression before I threw my forearm over my eyes.
"Oh my god. Don't tell me that's why he was acting like a little puppy around you!"
"You were too, to be fair," I groaned. I took a deep breath. Erin wasn't getting dressed or storming straight out of the room, she seemed to be considering what to do. "It wasn't like, sex-sex anyways."
"I'm sorry, so what did we do? We can't have "sex-sex" either so you're going to have to start working with a more broad-minded definition of sex--"
"Come on, Erin, you were just talking about how you weren't about to marry me or anything."
"Yeah but when it comes to spontaneously hooking up with strangers in a remote hotel you kind of want to be specially chosen..." She pouted a bit. "So how was your haunted ghost sex?"
"What? God... don't do this to yourself if you're going to get jealous."
"I'm not, I swear, I'm just curious."
"I mean, it was fine. I find him handsome, it was exciting..."
"Well, you know, it's your first time with someone, it's not perfect."
"What about ours?"
"We were like... blasted out of our minds on hallucinogenic moss. I mean, it was quite an experience but it was a little different."
"Fine then. How about this time, nothing but the existential fear?"
"Hope so," I said.
Erin grinned, undoing my fly and pulling my jeans down with both hands. Without teasing, she slid two fingers up inside me, and ran her other hand around my breast and up under my chin. She slowly began working the hand inside me, pulling down my bra straps with the other. Then she petted along the sides of my face, twirling strands of my hair. I strained impatiently under her, feeling constrained by the bra hanging around my ribs.
"It's fun to see you squirm," she said, her voice going low. "You shouldn't have given me so much motivation." As my breath started to get heavy, she pulled her hand out of me and flipped me over onto my stomach, I figured to undo my bra. I heard her shuffle out of her own pants behind me, and then felt a firm slap across my ass. I gasped, and twisted around to look back at her. She had slipped her hands beneath her own underwear as she looked down at me. She lifted her fingers to her face, sucking on them, before she leaned over me again. She pressed my face into the bed with one hand, and undid my bra, then clawed deep into my back with the other.
I hissed through my teeth, then yelped as she flipped me over again.
"Yeah, go for it," I said.
She undid her own bra and lowered her chest towards me as she climbed onto the bed, on top of me. I impulsively threw an arm around her, still looped with my bra, and pressed down, rubbing my face into them. She laughed, quickly grabbing my arm and pinning it, then pressing our hips together as she straddled my leg. One of her hands was enough to hold my wrists together and pin them above my head, though, in the circumstances, I wasn't fighting too much. Her other hand teased gently across my body, though as she ground her body against mine with increasing concentration, she started grabbing me more roughly. Her chest was heaving, and starting to flush pink, and it excited me.
"Erin," I moaned. She exhaled sharply and began laughing to herself. Yes, we were dancing on a grave. "Oh my god... I-- already-- fuck!"
"Yeah, you better," Erin drolled. Seeing her looking down on me, panting and grinning, her low voice purring to me, it was enough and then some. My fingers dug into where her hand was holding me firm, and I was lost in her moving against me.
"Lovely Anne," she said at last, as I began to catch my breath again. She released my hands, though I didn't move them at all, just let my body sink into the heavy duvet fabric. She pushed up my nose with her thumb. "Good one."
"Good one, but not wife level, huh?" I reached up at her face, pulling the corners of her mouth into a grimace. She laughed, and then looked at me with a strange abundance of affection. She squished my cheeks together.
"It matters that we're here, together, now." She untangled herself from my legs, and we wiggled under the covers; for once my room's double bed was in full use. She curled up around me like a shell.
"This is nice." I said. "I could almost be happy here."
Erin began stroking my hair again. "That's the death drive speaking."
"Right." I said it aloud as if I was casting a spell. "The boat will show up as planned, we'll all step off this island back to our normal lives, and go our separate ways."
"Exactly. It was always going to happen that way."
With her arms around me, I [[drift off to sleep]].When I wake up, light is only dimly leaking through the window in my room. It cast a long rectangle across the bed, the opposite side from me was rumpled, but abandoned. Of course, Erin was the type to matter-of-fact-ly move on to whatever she had her mind set on doing next rather than lie around in zonked out bliss after getting laid. I felt tired, but in a good way, like a dense bruise that was strangely satisfying to poke.
Still, being alone made me vulnerable to the clawing isolation, the panic. I grabbed my phone from the bedside table, hoping there was still time to maybe grab dinner, or failing that subject everyone to another regrettable round of karaoke. But it read 8:45 PM.
I have got to stop taking naps in the middle of the day. I groaned and laid back in the bed, wondering, first of all, what I would do with this empty time, and second, of course, how I would keep myself from getting too freaked out during.
Well what the fuck. I was well and probably hopelessly behind on my writing, but should [[try to make an effort,]] at least for show, anyways.
<em>And if it's a rainy day, don't worry, there's a charming selection of utterly incomprehensible boardgames available. Or just fuck whoever happens to be around.</em>
I decide to stop while I'm so far ahead, ha ha.
I'm not tired, having just awoken naturally from hours of restful sleep placed precisely at the wrong time of day. I had done nothing I could commit to print that day, and it was past time for any of the scheduled activites, scheduled, as they had to be, in a sparsely-populated barely-settlement miles from actual civilization which could support a late night run to the pub or even a 24 hour tescos.
It was eerie, it was unnatural! I was beginning to freak myself out thinking about how, at one point, most humans lived like this.
[[I look for something to do|Evening4]] (I did this on day 4)
[[I look for something to do|Evening5]] (I did this on day 5)As I stepped out of the phone booth and quietly closed the partition behind me, I felt a prickle along the back of my neck, my whole body going cold.
"Anne, you missed karaoke tonight!"
It was the manager, sounding, of course, oblivious and over-friendly. I was suddenly very aware of my pit sweat. I turned around slowly, prepared to offer an excuse, (I was, really, calling my editor after all!) but immediately noticed that something was strange about her silhouette in the dim room. She was hunched over, half of her face completely concealed by her mass of wavy hair, and strange shapes like extra appendages seemed to be making her dress jut out at odd angles.
"Oh, um... Yeah, I just took a nap, you know. And then got back to writing... Always writing, you know." I laughed like a total psycho, hoping it would wake up Erin or Roland. Please, god, come out here chomping at the bit to tell me to shut up. I felt like my body was reacting the same way a rabbit's did when it heard heavy footsteps.
"That's good... that's good." In a stray beam of moonlight falling across her face, I saw that it appeared partially split down the middle, opening into a wound that looked slick and black. the halves split apart and fell back together like breath, and she had to work her words into the small gaps when she could speak again. "Strange to be all alone... on this island, isn't it?... Imagine how I felt... Before any of you got here..." She turned her face away, looking back out through the hotel's front door. "The cellar at the abbey... that's the lonliest place, I think... It doesn't even get the companionship of the birds or the weather."
I didn't know it had a cellar. I thought it, but she seemed to sense this.
"So, you know... Don't go there."
It took an enormous amount of concentration and physical will, but I finally made myself let out a sharp scream and run blindly for my room. I was gasping like a fish as I pulled the key out of my pocket, jammed it into the door, and bolted it behind me.
I felt sick. I felt like I was losing my mind. I threw myself on the bed and cried until my body was too tired to move. The last thing I remembered thinking before the lights went out was: Erin and Roland sure are heavy sleepers.
[[Wake up|Day5]]I woke up with a jolt, still feeling queasy and mentally bruised.
It had to be some kind of dream, or hallucination, right? My brain's immediate order of business upon regaining consciousness was to file away what had happened into some explicable framework. Maybe Erin's pragmatism really was rubbing off on me.
It didn't hae the character of my other hallucinations, which my brain immediately classified as ghostly. It felt real, but also the situation was remarkably dreamlike. Certainly, having phone sex with my editor lent creedence to that theory. But at the same time, there wasn't any obvioust illogic or physical impossibilities, or even contradictory physical evidence in my room or on my person that went against what part of me thought had really happened. But it was impossible, right?
I rolled over in bed and checked where my phone was on my nightstand, still plugged in. It was a little earlier than I usually woke up and dragged myself to breakfast, so I decided to take a bit more time in the shower, carefully scrubbing myself, letting the hot water ease my muscles and numb my skin, essentially feeling myself back into myself. I wrapped myself in one of the thick towels, only now thinking about how it was a sort of paltry luxury this hotel still managed to have.
I laid back on the bed.
It was a dream. I would go out to breakfast and the manager would be fine. Erin and Roland would be there too.
It would be the same day as always, again, extending modularly and indefinitely in one direction. At least until I would get back on the ferry.
[[Go to the Lobby|Day5-2]]Apparently Erin and Roland both heard me and ran to my door this time, apparently Roland had totally freaked out and kicked in the locked door and Erin had, in a panic, encouraged him to do it. When they found me, fainted beside the bed, temporarily unconscious but otherwise healthy and unharmed, the percieved stakes of the situation began to go down. I came to around the time that I had missed out on the moments of pure, concerned, mutual doting; instead they were both looking at me kind of anxiously but more in a put-upon sort of way.
They had carefully laid me out on the bed, which was nice, though I was placed kind of indelicately on top of all of my spread-out clothes. Roland was sat on the bedside table, his ass unceremoniously crushing my phone for who knows how long, and as I tilted my head up I saw Erin seated at the end of the bed.
"Oh my god," I laughed nervously. "Oh, I woke you up, I'm sorry."
"It's ok," Erin said, not looking any less anxious even while I was sitting up, awake and talking coherently. I felt a little disrespected by this.
"Yeah," Roland said, leaning closer to me, but still keeping his distance near Erin. "Do you remember anything? We just found you on the floor."
I thought about what I remembered. And I did not really want to talk about it.
"I don't know, god, I probably saw a spider or something." Neither of them joined in on my self-deprecating chuckle at this, their faces remained painfully, statically concerned. "What?" I said.
"Are you feeling alright Anne, really?" Roland said after an awkward silence.
"Well, I'm feeling quite spoiled from all the attention... What is this, intervention?"
"You haven't been at dinner for the past two nights... Have you been eating? You've been sleeping a lot too--" I cut Erin off as she seemed to begin ripping into a list of ways I was weirding her out, and also being a total buzzkill.
"I'm fine," I said. "Big breakfast." I didn't bring up that it felt a little contradictory that both of them had also had sex with me over the same period, while they were apparently also worried about my mental or physical state.
"Are you sure," Roland said at last, more of a statement than a question.
For some reason I wanted to reach across the bed and slap him. What the fuck were you doing sitting on my bedside table, motherfucker! #
"I mean, what they fuck would you do if there was something wrong with me, anyways? Are any of you a doctor? The best you could do is maybe call the boat that might not even be coming."
"Anne, you're being paranoid." Erin said. She thrust a cold hand onto my forehead, pushing me around as much as she was checking to see if I was feverish.
"Fuck off," I said, batting her hand away. "I didn't ask either of you to come in here, go back to sleep."
"You're the one who screamed and was passed out on the floor!" Roland grabbed the hand I had used to push Erin's away indignantly, and I ripped it away from him. We were all on edge, not wanting to touch each other. It was three in the morning. I didn't know what I wanted. If one of them left, would the other prove their true commitment? If they both left would I be, maybe finally, actually alone? I craved to close my eyes and only have to worry about the inside of my own skull now.
"Please, just let me go to bed." I shoved my clothes off the side of the bed I was laid on, and rolled myself over and then under the covers, pulling them up to my chin. "Please," I said again. And I closed my eyes and committed to not peeking at who left first.
[[Wake up|Day6]]The next morning had the clinging, miserable feeling of a long sleepless night. I woke up in the same bed, the same slant of light cast over me, feeling exhausted and ashamed. I pulled the duvet tighter around me, not wanting to move. I tried to fall back asleep, thinking maybe I would just wake up on the day I would get to leave. I had begun to feel so resigned and dazed about the daily routine that I was hoping the manager would be the one to tell me when I had to get out, I wasn't even sure myself anymore. Maybe it wasn't today. Was it tomorrow? I thought, at least I could call my editor about it, but then, maybe it would make me look stupid and needy. But at the same time, I would also never get to get actually laid with them if I never made it off this island, either.
I sunk my head deeper into the pillows. Just sleep. Just sleep. Sleep through breakfast, sleep through dinner. The human body can fast for a surprisingly long time. Just skip it all. I checked my phone. 8:36 AM. I laid there with my eyes closed, trying to empty my mind and drift off. It felt like an age passed and from moment to moment this goal was equally futile. I couldn't bear it anymore, and looked at my phone's clock again.
I groaned. I felt like the crust around my eyes was especially grimy and thick this morning, and so got out of bed and went to the bathroom. I ran the water in the sink until it was so hot it produced clouds of steam, and then shoved one of the hand towels into it, letting the hot water turn my skin pink. I lifted the still-dripping, still-steaming cloth to my face and let it sit on my skin, then began rubbing it more roughly. I rubbed until it stung a little, and when I pulled the towel away my cheeks were embarassingly pink.
I sighed. I felt light headed and weak, the way you feel when a cold is just about to properly settle in. I had barely eaten over the past few days, and slept a lot but without ever feeling rested. Something was wrong, Erin and Roland were right to worry about me. ANd part of me did also want to be spoiled and doted on by both of them, of course! I rested my chapped hands on the cool stone of the countertop and closed my eyes to think. It was my relationship to isolation, my inability to not be afraid, in this circumstance, of not being able to get enough space, or, alternately, of somehow screwing up the delicate balance of the relationships I did have access to. I would do it, and do it again. And then space wouldn't be a problem. It'd be nothing but void.
These contradictions whirled around in my head. Part of me wanted to do what i could to please Erin and Roland both, even though there were parts of them that I felt were irritating or pathetic. Even though I often felt misunderstood by them. I felt invested in these relationships, even though they were some of the most contingent ones to occur in day to day life, people at the same hotel as you. Wehn either of them looked at me, with desire, with annoyance, with affection, it was like the world shrank to our immediate surroudnings. At least for me. I knew from past experience it was never the case for them. This seemed like a volatile aspect of my brain that caused me a lot of misery and offered no potential evolutionary or survival benefit. I felt like that was how Erin would evaluate me.
I looked at myself in the mirror. My cheeks were still unnaturally flushed, I had bags under my eyes, and my chin was breaking out. I looked unhealthy and frazzled.
I left the bathroom, and rifled through the pile of clothes on the floor, looking for something that seemed more clean and less wrinkled than the majority of what I had packed. It didn't look so good, but there was one maroon sweatshirt and a pair of more relaxed-cut jeans that I hadn't worn yet, so I put them on. It was a kind of schlubby, not leaving the house type outfit, but it was also the sort of think I usually wore when I was on a writing bender. I would drink a lot of coffee at breakfast, and then I'd lock myself in my room and just fucking write my review. I'd finish it. I'd get on the boat tomorrow. Or whenever it was coming. I wouldn't have to worry about anything hanging over my head anymore, I'd be dropped back into my normal life and never have to think about my weird proximity to any of these people ever again.
Yes! I went back to the bathrom, ran my hands under the cold water, and slapped my cheeks, exhaling hard. My cheeks still looked awful.
[[Go to Breakfast|Day6-2]]Seeing Erin and Roland already sat in their usual places when I arrived for breakfast was a strange comfort even though it also sharpened the sense of futile repitition, of only having a set of the same proscribed and trivial options every day.
"Good morning!" I forced myself to say it with some enthusiasm. The Manager was also standing at the counter, leafing through a large notebook and occasionally making notes with a pen. My stomach contracted, I suddenly lost what was, until that point, an enormous apetite. I stared until she had to have sensed my eyes on her, and tilted her chin up for a moment so I could see the whole length of her face, intact and without even a mark. So I had dreamt it, but then, my brain didn't really want to believe it, despite that accepting it would be a releif at this point.
"Hi Anne, you alright?" Roland said. He didn't have his nose buried in a book, for once, so he noticed that I was staring uncomfortably at the manager, as she seemed to just be going about her work.
"Yeah, sorry. Just zoning out, thinking about what I want to eat," I joked. At this point, though, it did take some degree of conscious effort to assemble a set of foods that made a sensible breakfast and that I could force myself to eat, my guts still felt on edge. I stuck with stacking up three or four of the bland pre-wrapped croissants on a plate, and pouring myself some coffee mixed with a lot of milk and sugar. "No book today?" I asked, as I sat across from him, next to Erin.
"It's the weekend... um... I think?"
"Hmm." Erin said, as if she knew the answer but found his uncertainty interesting to maintain.
"I don't really know either," I admitted. "I guess it doesn't make much of a difference."
"Hardcore nihilist," Roland commented.
"No, I mean, I'm supposed to be enjoying this as if I'm on a vacation, right? Even though I'm getting paid for it. So I treat every day like a Sunday." I tried to sound upbeat as I unwrapped one of the croissants, but when I took a bite of it it was dry and chewy in my mouth. I felt like Roland was watching me across the table, studying my reaction again as I tried to convincingly chew and swallow the bit of croissant. I took a long gulp of the coffee afterwards, which seemed to curdle in my stomach.
"Sunday Girl, huh." It seemed like something Roland said for his own benefit, so I ignored it, and eventually he got up and went back to his room.
"How about you?" I asked Erin. She was, again, quite concentratedly eating a large bowl of cornflakes.
"I'm taking it easy today, really." She said, setting her spoon down for a moment. "Can't imagine him doing that though, with or without a book."
"Yeah, well, I guess we'll see."
Erin finished eating her cereal and deposited the dirty dish on the tray before draining her own coffee mug.
"Stick around, that's my advice," she said. "Horrible weather out today." As if this warning was self-evident, she returned to her own room as well.
I sat in the lobby by myself for a little, trying to coax myself into finishing the croisants I had taken. I kept watching the manager out of the corner of my eye as she gradually underlined and checked things off in the notebook, surely just preparing the further things that had to be purchased to renovate the upstairs area, the usual stuff. I had made it halfway through the second croissant, my stomach seeming to fight at every juncture, when I ran out of coffee. I reached over to the large silver coffee pot and poured the last trickle from it, then mixed in a gratuitous amount of milk and sugar again. Hearing me clattering around with the coffee set, the manager looked up, really acknowledging me for the first time that day.
"Oh, Anne, sorry for startling you last night!" She said with a smile.
"Haha, it's fine!" I felt a chill all over my body, like I was about to wretch. Obviously it was not fine. I pinched another piece of the croissant between my fingers and slowly raised it to my lips, hoping the desire to open my mouth and put it in would spontaneously overtake me. It did not. The manager closed the notebook she was poring over with an air of extreme satisfaction, tucked it behind the counter, and went into the backroom, going about her day, surely, as if nothing was strange at all.
I put the third, still-wrapped croissant back on the plate of wrapped pastries. No point in acting like I can stomach it and wasting what may be our limited set of rations. I place the pinched clump of croissant back on the plate and try taking a sip of the extremely dilute, lukewarm coffee. It's tolerable. Roland walks into the lobby, again wrapped up in his wool coat, walking with purpose.
"Going out again?" I ask. He slows down, only hesitantly.
"Yeah... so what?"
"Hmm." I said.
(Again: honor system I haven't incorporated variables yet just do the one you haven't done)
[[I go with Roland]] [[I wait for Erin]]When I arrived in the lobby, Erin and Roland were both eating their usual breakfasts. I had seen them eat breakfast so many times now that I had a sense for what their "usual" breakfast was, and "usual" diversions or variations from this. Roland was back to burying himself in a book, though this time it was a thin volume of poetry, presumably his own, that he was vigorously marking up with a pen. He looked rather haggard. Erin was attending to her cereal, but didn't greet me as I entered. For someone who always looked so athletic and effortless, she also seemed unusually tired and zoned out of her surroundings. I filled a mug with black coffee and picked up a plastic packet of three mini muffins. I would see if I could get this down before taking more to eat.
As I carefully pulled the muffins out of the plastic sleeve and arranged them in an equidistant triangle on the plate, the manager strolled in, coming down the steps from upstairs. She always had an air of disheveled glamourousness, but was looking particularly fresh today, a brutal contrast to the exhausted and emotionally battered mood around the breakfast table.
"Ohh, good morning! How's the coffee?"
I drank some of my own tepid, grimy feeling coffee. The pot must have been filled hours ago, before any of us were up.
"It's fine." I said.
"Perfect," she said, very pleased.
Roland suddenly looked up from his book, blinking anxiously as he adjusted his glasses.
"Excuse me, um, what time does the boat come today? Also what time is checkout?"
She tilted her head cutely at him, a tic that made me feel extremely angry.
"Oh, that's tomorrow! You've got the dates mixed up."
"I'm... I'm sure I was checking out today."
"Well no, even if you did, there'd be no one to take you back to the mainland, so I'm sure it must be tomorrow."
"Oh... well... of course." Roland looked like he was going pale, and I looked across the table at Erin, who was trying to suppress a queasy frown.
"What's wrong, are you all feeling alright? Is something up?" The manager asked. Let me know if you want me to turn up the heat or anything, I'm much more used to the damp weather here... Or anything else really.
"We're fine," Erin said in uncharaceristic monotone. "Anne just woke everyone up in the middle of the night last night, so maybe we're all a bit on edge."
I sunk my head down, because obviously my cheeks couldn't go any redder.
"Is that so? I didn't hear anything." The manager looked at me, with a sweet, open face.
"I... I had a nightmare, and fainted." I wanted to disappear. What a pathetic lie.
"We found her passed out," Erin said more matter-of-factly, and I shot her a glare. "Roland had to break the door in, so the lock on her room is broken now."
I frowned, remembering that it had been rather pointless to lock my room's door behind me.
"I'll pay for it, you can send me the bill after I check out," I said, sinking into myself. I didn't know if I could pay for it, they shouldn't have done it anyways, I would have been fine, I would have just woken up on the floor.
"Are you sure you're ok then, Anne? Are you feeling well?" The manager asked. She began rummaging behind the counter. "I'm sure we had a first aid kit with some different types of medicine in it back here somewhere."
"I'm fine," I said firmly. "I feel as normal as I think I can, given the circumstances."
"Alright," The manager didn't say anything else as she stopped searching through the items behind the counter. The mood around breakfast had become abysmal and desperate. I tried to catch eye contact with either Erin or Roland, but they were scrupulously off in their own world.
We had to get out of here, out of the hotel at least. Its oppressive modularity and seemingly boundless ability to enclose boredom made it easy to slide into routines we didn't want and couldn't resist. It increasingly felt like a machine that was proccessing us down to bland, unified human consciousness slurry. I felt a profound antagnonism to it. I didn't want to write a word about it, but that seemed like a small problem now.
"Erin, Roland!" I said, trying to feign some excitement and spontanaiety, even if faking it was extremely incongruous to the mood. "Why don't we head out to the Abbey again?"
"What?" Erin looked at me with fairly standard shock but Roland's face read absolute disgust, which I admit, was slightly entertaining.
"Well, we were only up there for a little bit earlier this week, and it was so lovely. I think we should see it again." I wanted to get out of the hotel, where ghosts and the manager always seemed to be ready to burst in, to maybe be able to collectively gauge just how wigged out and/or hopeless we were all feeling. I also wanted to see if there really was a door to a crypt or cellar or something. I didn't think I would go in, of course, but maybe seeing it would give me some idea to the level of reality, or what level of reality that strange encounter with what appeared to be the manager had occured. "Come on," I said, hoping either of them would catch on.
Erin did. "Oh right, it was so beautiful but we hardly got to spend any time there... because of the rain. Remember, Roland?"
Roland did not get it. He sulked, leaning himself unnaturally low over the book. "Whatever, I have work to do."
"I really think you should come," Erin said firmly. Roland looked at me to gauge my reaction. I nodded.
"Isn't it nice, to just do one thing all together again before you have to go your separate ways," The manager chimed in. "That sounds lovely."
I couldn't tell if she was being sincere, or subtly taunting... go, see, you won't find anything, or not anything you can do anything about, anyways... but at the same time, I didn't want to hang around to find out.
"Come on," I said, making a show of playfully grabbing and tugging on Roland's sleeve. It flustered him a bit of course, to be hit with a bit of playful, girlfriend-like affection in front of, really, everyone in about a 30 mile radius.
"Okay, okay, fine! Fuck's sake. Let me grab my coat." He closed his book rather pointedly and sulked back to his room. Erin also went back to get on her hiking boots. I went back to retrieve my rain jacket (and yes, when I twisted the handle of the "locked" door it opened without resistance, though the physical shock had fixed the annoying squeak). I ended up being the first to return to the lobby, where the manager was standing by herself behind the counter, seeming to do nothing in particular.
"How nice," she said. "Have a really nice time."
I didn't respond, instead leaning anxiously from foot to foot as I waited for Erin and Roland. Erin was ready first, looking a bit anxious but maintaining the chipper front that was always eager to go for a hike, while Roland sulked out just a few moments later, again wrapped in his thick wool coat and looking like a rolled up carpet.
[[We left.]]We exited the hotel and walked out along the provisional path leading to it in a staggered line. No one spoke until the hotel had vanished over the horizon behind a low hill. The mood was unpleasant. The air was thick with teh feeling of appraoching rain that never seemed to let up, either clearing or finally consolidating itself into a shower. The sky was a single dull greyish blanket. We walked around the perimeter of the island, hearing the waves crash below us and looking out to a horizon that stretched towards nothing.
"What the fuck is going on," Roland asked, after a while. "What the fuck was that."
"I don't know what's going on," I said.
"So you're just marching us out to the middle of nowhere?"
"Well I don't want to be in that fucking hotel right now." I stopped walking and turned on him. "And that's rich, coming from someone who spends his afternoons waiting out by the docks for the fucking boat."
"Well I actually thought I was going to get some work done today--"
"You thought you were going to check out!"
Roland shoved his hands deeper into his coat pockets, brooding into the massive thing. "I must have just gotten the dates mixed up."
"Erin, what do you think?" I said after a few moments of Roland's sulking.
"I think we are all freaking out a bit right now. I think we're getting paranoid."
"Paranoid." I repeated. "I don't know. It is a state of altered or unreliable perceptions--"
"Yes--" she cut in "I'm sure if we calmed down and found some actual evidence explaining anything strange--"
"But aren't there sometimes actual things to be afraid of?" I asked.
"I mean, it's not the fucking stone age. It's not like we're going to get eaten by wolves."
"This is a nightmare," Roland groaned.
"That's exactly it, you're freaking yourself out," Erin responded immediately.
"Ok, fine, give me your fucking mindfulness seminar. How do I center myself, what's the radical acceptance protocol for being stranded on a fucking island."
"Will you shut the fuck up? Oh, I don't know what's going on, poor me. Please, just shut up."
Everything was falling apart in front of me.
"We aren't even there yet," I said, raising my voice. Not screaming, but loud enough to make them both quiet down, for a second at least.
"Why are we even going there?" Erin asked.
"Well," I tried to keep my voice even, though explicitly recalling these events to my mind still made me feel the same sinking fear as I did when it happened. "I saw the manager a few nights ago, really late at night. And she was different. And she told me... not to look in some sort of room below the abbey."
"What?" Roland said. "What was different about her?"
"I don't know, I couldn't see clearly." I swallowed hard. It felt stupid to say something that was so unbelieveable and that I didn't have a real explanation for myself. "It was like... her face was a mask that had split open."
"So you were dreaming." Roland said.
"No, I don't think so. I ran back to my room--!"
"Is that what you screamed about last night?"
"No, this was the night before that. And both of you were apparently sleeping like a rock when it happened..."
"Why didn't you tell us, then?" Erin asked.
"You're really going to ask me that? Obviously, it was so bizarre, and I had no concrete proof, plus you both already think I'm weird."
This last statement did not earn any resistance from either of them.
"Come on, we're halfway there. When there's not even any sort of cellar, or crypt, or trapdoor or whatever, you can just safely go back to assuming I've lost my mind."
"Wait... but then--"
"What?" I turned around at Roland again.
"What was it last night, then?"
"Even if I told you, you wouldn't believe me." It was petty, ungenerous, but also based on experience and my own frustration.
I continued up the [[road towards the abbey,]] and Erin and Roland followed behind me.We approached the abbey from the same vantage point, arriving at the same narrow entrance to the cloister as before. I felt a sort of bitter, purely negative nostalgia. This is the passage I had stood before the first evening I was here, deciding that a part of me wanted to love both of these people. Maybe, if the vulgar implications could still be elevated to the level of "making love," I had on a technical level accomplished this. For now, I couldn't stand them, them as a unit, them as not-me. I charged into the cloister myself, not waiting to see if either of them decided to follow me, or how quickly.
I steadied myself on the slippery, damp floor by spreading my arms and running the tips of my fingers along the walls. I could feel the fibrous slime of the lichens building up around my fingertips. It didn't matter to me. Let things get as weird as they were going to. Purely on my own two feet, I made it to the center of the abbey, in the open air of the courtyard.
The air felt clearer, brighter once I made it out. I realized we had mostly strayed only as far as the center of the courtyard the last time we were here, the chapel, with its roof long fallen in, stood on the far end, the doorway to its interior still intact.
For a moment I felt like I was there by myself, there was still a possibility that Erin and Roland had opted not to follow me into the cloister and instead were still waiting outside. But soon I heard their footsteps coming up behind me. That moment of clam isolation had calmed me down a bit. I could feel the heady buzz of the lichens kicking in though, no mistaking it, this was altered experience. It was the same way I had felt last time.
I felt compelled to share this.
"You know," I began, as I heard the footsteps come closer, behind me. "It feels the same as it did before, crossing over into another world, like it did the first time we were all together in here." I turned to look at the both of them, hushed by the place, as if expecting something monumentous or holy to begin to happen. "I don't know what exactly we're experiencing here, but it does feel consequential that I've experienced it with the two of you. Even if we never talk again after whatever it is this is."
"Anne, you sound high." Erin cut in. Roland stood there silently, burying his chin into the collar of his coat. He seemed to be deep in thought.
"I'm just saying," I went on. "We know each other in a way no one else ever will. Even if it doesn't matter that much."
"I guess it would be nice to have this revelation in a less nightmare-inducing way," Roland muttered.
"I don't think it works that way," Erin replied.
I stepped across the courtyard, trying to feel everything, the moisture in the air, the light streaming through the clouds and hitting my skin, the slight breeze, the strange colors that leapt out where moss or lichen emerged from the rock. The world was starting to have that jittery, heightened, hyper-real feeling. As I reached the passage leading into the main chapel, I spread my arms and braced myself on either side of the doorway. Solid as stone. I didn't know what I thought would happen. Maybe with the roof fallen in I'd thought the walls would shift and topple over line dominoes with any provocation, but they were still solidly leaned into eachother, and didn't budge.
I pushed my head through the door way and peered around the walls. The floor was mostly covered in rubble, naturally, but a path down the middle of the chapel seemed to be pushed aside. The floor beneath it seemed clean, like it had been regularly trod for a long time, and some of the rocky remains of the roof that had been pushed aside looked wetherred from the rain and had tufts of moss beginning to grow on them
"So, someone's been here," I said, pulling my head back through the doorway and turning around to evaluate Erin and Roland's reaction to this.
"Well yeah," Erin said. "It's probably one of the highest priority things to restore on the island right now. I'm not surprised they'd at least have taken a look."
"Well, I can't tell if there's a door or steps going down or not from all the way on this end."
"Hmm..." Roland felt the edge of his chin through his coat. "Well does it seem safe to walk through to the other end?"
I stuck my head in again, and looked up. Light came from above in an almost dauntingly perfect rectangle. There was nothing to fall in on me.
"Should be fine," I said.
"Then go ahead," he replied.
"You're not coming with me?" I paused, looking at Erin. "Neither of you? Really?"
"It may be cramped, there might be something dangerous, we don't all need to go down there," Erin said rather sensibly.
"I mean, if there is something I could just totally lie about it. Or misinterpret it. Don't you want to see it yourself?"
"You're the only one who said anything would be out here to begin with!"
"I mean, maybe... probably not!" I sighed and began walking the length of the chapel. Even though the ceiling was open it still felt like there was a slight echo on my footsteps, in addition to the sound of water dripping and trickling all around. I followed the area that was cleared, that appeared to have been traversed many times before. It led to a worn, partially destroyed altar, with a winding, vine-like carving around the figures etched into the front. But they were all vague, worn or chipped away by the roof collapse and the subsequent years.
The path pressed a bit further beyond the altar, curving around to its left and turning behind it. It was back there, in the dark back corner of the, I saw what was unmistakably a spiral staircase descending below the floor of the abbey. My blood ran cold.
I backtracked to the chapel entrance. "There's stairs there" I said immediately, and both Erin and Roland looked at me like, Yeah, so? You expected stairs, didn't you? I had to admit at least part of me did. Or rather, I had gone there to prove that the stairs wouldn't exist for my own peace of mind, and instead this was entirely not resolved. It become more complex, I could feel the claws of the full implications of what I had seen scraping around my ankles, sinking playfully into soft parts of my flesh, but not snatching me away, not yet.
I took a deep breath before speaking again.
"Will at least one of you come with me please?"
This would be the kind of choice which would have ended up being definitive, in terms of me permanently deciding I liked one over the other. So of course, after an irritating extent of hesitation, both of them simultaneously stepped forward.
I walked through the chapel again, purposefully, as I heard them treading lightly and casually behind me. When I looked over my shoulder I could see both of them craning their necks around with delight, taking in the stoic stone walls and broken up remains of the decorative carvings that had once made the chapel a place for deep mysticism and contemplation.
Erin stopped in front of the altar, which, despite its condition, was still quite striking.
"Oh, amazing," She fumbled in her raincoat pocket for her phone and took several images of it from different angles. "This wasn't in the original papers about the island... They said that the chapel was too full of rubble from the collapse for them to safely move it out and explore it."
"Well, someone has, since then," Roland commented, crouching and squinting to study the figures closely.
"Do you recognize them?" I asked.
"Not at all," he said. "My family never went to church."
"Well, being a poet and all I thought you'd have some idea... you know, the great characters of the Western Canon or whatever."
"I dunno, I've never felt the need to."
"So if this altar could have given us any hint about what is surely waiting to maim, kill or curse us down below, we are all completely inequipped to tell." I said.
We stared at the carvings together for a bit longer before I theatrically moved over to the spiral staircase, gesturing towards it with a flourish.
"You're not proving anything," Erin said. "You were already saying you were pretty sure it didn't exist, so if anything--"
"Whatever! Come on, someone grab my hand when I'm going down, the stone is fucking slippery."
[[Enter the Crypt]]It was dark, and I felt intensely vulnerable as I made my way down the narrow, slippery stone steps, despite having a warm body on either side of me. This was how we had decided to do it: Erin, wearing the heavy-treaded hiking boots most fit for purpose would descend first, and I would hold myself steady with a hand on her shoulder. My other hand would be clasped with Roland's, who would yank me upright if I did start to slip so that I wouldn't knock Erin's feet out from under her. I would also shine my phone's flashlight between Erin's legs so she could see where she was walking. This was how we gradually descended the staircase with a minimum of incident.
After a few tense moves, Erin went still in front of me and tenatively stuck out her foot, tapping it across the ground. I pointed the light at the spot where the sound of her foot tapping seemed to be coming from, and could see a flat surface of rounded-off cobblestones.
"Ok, it's flat here," Erin said.
She took a few steps ahead and I was also able to carefully make my way to the flat ground and spread out a bit. Roland also followed, caefully ducking his head and then slowly raising himself to full height, feeling the air just above his head the whole way.
I turned the light off to test something. Erin immediately shrieked.
"It's fine, I'll turn it back on in a second, jesus."
I looked up, and all around. The only light was coming from a wedge at the top of the staircase that managed to make it the whole way down. I flicked the light back on. In front of me were just grey, damp cobblestones.
I took a step to the side, hoping to swing the light up and get a wider view of the whole room, instead, my foot sank into something that felt organic and rotten. I screamed, and the light from my phone scampered around the room as I waved my arms around for balance, and to try to pull myself away.
"Jesus, Anne!" Erin hissed.
"I stepped in something!" I groaned. I scuffed my shoe on the floor, still feeling some of its grime clinging to me. My foot felt damp, like something had brushed directly against it. "It felt disgusting."
"Well, anything organic that got down here over the past however many centuries was probably just left to rot," Roland said. I stopped scraping my foot on the stones and pointed the light from the phone approximately where I thought my foot had sunk into something.
It was impossible to get a good look at them. They were strange, bulbous clumps of material that seemed to be torn, or disperse into rippled egdes like certain types of fungus, at random locations. More carefully, I prodded them with the toe of my shoe. They sank with a sort of internal, fibrous feeling, like a very, very rotten piece of wood. Yet they were more smooth, not bearing any of the obvious rings or knots that occured in wood, and certainly the wrong shape.
"Ewww" was all I really had to say about it.
Roland tenatively stuck his spendy-looking tassled loafer into one of the clumps as well. It gave under his foot and tore a bit. It almost had the consistencey of a mushroom, but less uniform, almost papery. It was a bit entertaining to me that the person with the shoes most suited for prodding at a strange surface, Erin's hiking boots, was hanging back, safely in the centre of the cleared area that was only slightly damp stone.
"Hmm," Roland said, after testing leaning a bit more weight into the lumps several times. "Could it be like.... Years and years of leaves blowing in here and rotting, or something?"
"Or another weird fungus," I offered.
"Right, so, an enormous growth of some unidentified strange rotting plant matter or fungus or whatever is probably why the manager told us not to come down here."
I huffed. "You're not wrong but--"
But what? I didn't know the hypothetical alternative to what was literally lying on the floor in front of us that made me feel so strongly that I had to object. Finding this, finding the cellar but nothing, or, nothing obviously bad, seemed to completely deflate the air of paranoia that we had left the hotel and embarked on this walk for. This was, on its face, a good thing! Nothing was strange! There was no bizarre cosmic force or evil plot at work and thenext day we would check out and board the ferry enitrely as planned. But still I felt agitated.
"But what?" Erin said.
I began to feel the slow, deep thudding of my heart, the way things appeared sharp and yet like they were happening somewhere else. It was the sensation of the stange organic reaction particualr to this island kicking in, though stronger and more suddenly than I had previously experienced. Well, I had scraped my hands along it. I swayed on my feet, and the light went with me. I could feel Erin and Roland sighing and shifting in the dark, trying to adjust to where the light went. I pointed it at the walls, which seemed to be moving.
Or rather, something was crawling across them. tendrils branching out like roots into hundreds of delicate strands were spread across the stone walls, getting thicker and thicker as they approached the far end of the cellar. I followed it slowly with the light from my phone. The effect was strange, almost like a cast shadow trick in an old movie or magic trick, to make it look like something was moving or there when it wasn't.
"...What's going on?" Erin said slowly.
"You don't see it?" I said.
"Oh great," Roland chimed in. I ignored him.
The tendrils all seemed to be coming out of a massive, central shadow that had the shape of a twisted tree trunk, but always shifting. there were tendrils that seemed to emerge from it with more purpose as well, thicker, straighter, more like limbs. The way they scuttled, rapping along the walls, exploring the space, was insect-like. I kept stepping forward, closer to the trunk, oblivious to my feet sinking deep into the strange, decaying organic matter or any objections Erin and Roland could be shouting behind me.
I got closer and closer to the trunk when, finally, something reflective bounced a streak of light from my phone back towards me. It shined in the darkness. I leaned forward and squinted until I could make out something. In a crook of the strange outgrowth, a human eye peered out at me, regarding me. It's corners curled down as if the rest of the hidden face was grinning in delight.
"You really don't see it?" I said at last.
"There's just the shit on the floor," Roland said. "There's nothing in here, so unless someone is brave enough to pinch a sample I think we can conclude--"
"Yeah, it's just gross." Erin said.
"Hmm." I stepped back slowly, wobbling on my feet a little. The eye blinked shut. "I don't know what to think."
"I think we're all thinking about this way too hard. This all started with me confusing what day it is," Roland said. I couldn't help it, maybe my self restraint was depleted from the drug-like effects of the lichens or my exhausted legs but I looked at him utterly beeseechingly. That was not how it started. Come on, you know.
"Yes, let's head back and try to make the best of the rest of the trip." Erin said. "Anne, why don't you give me the light." She spoke to me like I was a particularly stubborn or stupid 9 year old, nothing like the heated, combative conversations we'd throw ourselves into, usually just before throwing ourselves into each other's arms.
Erin held out her hand as I carefully stepped closer to them. I looked between the two of them, smirking. I knew what was going on. This sense of rightness, of everything being "normal" was only possible to maintain around others, in a group of three or more, when there was the threat of the others ganging up on you as "strange" if they didn't share your fears or feel comfortable voicing them. It was what they were doing to me.
"Fine." I laid my phone flat in Erin's palm.
"Thank you," she said. she grabbed my hand in a business-like manner and started leading me up the steps. "Roland, stay behind her in case she trips."
"I'm fine," I insisted, but I sighed pleasantly as I felt Roland's hands on my hips.
Erin scoffed next to me. "You're ridiculous." She said.
"I am completely normal. I am responding to this situation in the most normal manner of anyone here."
[[Exit the crypt]]At the top of the stairs, I pulled away from Erin and Roland abruptly as soon as I could. The choulds had cleared up some, and the light streaming in through the collapsed roof of the chapel stung our eyes.
"So we're just going back, after all that?" I said.
"All that what?" Roland asked.
"Look who went and got high off the lichens again," Erin said, and then began striding out of the chapel. Roland followed, and I had to work my way up to a light, unsteady jog to catch up with them.
The walk back to the hotel was mostly uneventful, except for the point where we made it over the gentle hill that allowed us to see the enitre road streatching back to the hotel. It was unusually clear and peaceful, only partially cloudy for once. It felt like the kind of view you would snap with the satisfaction that it would be the most-liked photo in your vacation brag-posting. And yet it also felt ominous. I got a sense that going back into the hotel now might make it even harder to leave.
But still, I did. What was I going to do, sit out there on that hill as a matter of principle, alone?
When we got back to the Hotel it was the mid-afternoon. The lobby was empty, but I could tell we all had the shared keen awareness that the manager could emerge from the back room at any time crawling under our skin. The game for me now was to get alone with one of them, or each of them at a time. It seemed like the only way I could make progress with them on a person-to-person level. Erin went back to her room and Roland seemed to eitehr want to read or take a nap in one of the overstuffed leather chairs in the lobby. I wished I could flip a coin perfectly in my mind. But what was randomness except deciding what was the least sensible and least personally appealing thing to do at that time? I decided I'd go back to my room and write out some notes, and then casually appraoch one or the other about something else, while trying to better feel out their actual fears of what was going on here.
The door into my room, of course, gave away weakly without a lock. Despite this, my notebook and pen were sitting undisturbed on the desk. Who would be able to steal them, and what would even be the point? I sat down, and opened the book. I read over my paltry notes, which were mostly about my own insecurities, getting laid, and how weird and off-putting the island itself was. Less than a sentence was extractable as material for a write up, probably. But that problem also felt intensely unreal.
I turned the page, and [[began writing with a flourish.]]<em>What is happening here? There are three possibilities. One, I am crazy and high on these weird psychoactive lichens, and everything is normal. In this case, there is no truth to any of my hallucinations, or rather any of the unreal things I've seen.
Two, these things are occuring in literal reality. Even though they are visually strange they are occuring in my present, physical space. Though, since this is space I am presumably sharing with both Erin and Roland (see other entries).
Three, which seems like the most likely and yet least possible, given how these unreal objects seem to at least partially respond sensibly, show awareness of, influence, etc our shared space, yet also are not straightforwardly materially present, they are somewhere between hallucination and real, they are, sort of, intermittently reaching, passing through.
Based on consuming a great deal of trashy science fiction, the causes for this type of interaction seem to be a temporal or dimensional distortion, or some kind of crossover from the world of the dead. Of course, within explainable phenomenon these are on the same level as a hallucination.</em>
[[I frowned, chewing the end of my pen]]None of these seemed like especially good options, so far as my fate and my sanity were concerned. I waited a few moments, to see if I could hear Erin or Roland moving around. They seemed to still be settled where they were when I'd went to go write, which, fair enough, I hadn't spent very long doing it.
I decided to start with Roland. He was in the lobby and less of an awkward appraoch. I even took my notebook with me, so I could be pretending to try to work, just like him. I thought up the excuses as I left my room and walked towards the lobby, "Oh, you know, the rooms are so claustrophobic, and the desk lights are poor," but this turned out to be unnecessary; he didn't even look up from his book when I sat in the leather chair directly opposite him.
Roland was sitting with his ankles hooked together and knees hanging apart, the book fanned apart on one of the arm rests, forcing the binding to near-creaking as he pressed down to underline passages in pen. I couldn't see any hints as to what the book he was so vigorously consulting was. I wondered if it was still the one he agreed to reveiw for a friend or if he had moved on to another. It was kind of sweet that he paid such close attention to what he read, I assumed it would make him interesting to talk to if we were in the context of a more formalized, long-term, relationship. As of now our conversations didn't really turn towards any intellectual topics, though. I looked at him fondly, also thinking of the face he made when he came, touching himself through his boxers, with lidded eyes staring down at me and his fingers in me up to the third knuckle--
He sighed, flipped the book upside-down so the arm of the chair was holding open the page he'd stopped on, and slid his glasses up onto his forehead. He leaned back in the chair, sighing, and rested his hands over his eyes.
"Anne, I don't know why I'm doing this." He said.
"Yeah, I told you, most people don't put half of that effort into a back of the book blurb. It seems like you're being even more thorough than I am writing a whole book reveiw, but I'm sure that's working in a more low-brow retinue..."
"It's not that," he said, tinged with true despair. "I feel like I'm reading my friend's book so intensely because if I try to think about it too hard it's like everything about them, what I knew them from, how it fits with the rest of their work, all the discussions we've had about these things... the more I try to hold it the more it slips away. It's getting that way with everything. That's why I feel like I can't write, here, I feel like I can't access the rest of my life."
"Hmm," I said, a bit taken aback by how well my plan had actually panned out. I laid my palm flat on the notebook, as if I was reading the contents with my mind. "It's strange, right."
"It's hard to say around other people. In certain contexts I want to be sensible and realistic. People already expect me to be kind of woo-woo, if I say I'm a poet... This whole island being a sort of hell, playing with our perceptions in a way that we can't even discern or escape, it's too obviously a speculative philosophical scenario."
So that's how Roland was reading the situation. Like some hyper-advanced allegory of the cave, we were being held in a situation that completely delineated our senses, detatched from anything other than shadows of the "real." But kind of moreso in a sense that this was an extra layer of unreality thrown over the unreliability of regular consciousness.
"Sure, it's a bit philosophical, a bit pat, maybe. But there's also something kind of true about it, right?"
"Yeah, that we have the awareness that what we perceive can be manipulated is what allows us to wonder about it."
"Oh go write a poem about it," I teased.
He smiled, but a grim sort of smile. Barely dark humor.
"But really," he said. "If, at some point, there was some kind of large scale illusion, or drugging, or whatever, ok, a combination of the two... If this island was an entirely constructed experience, cut off from the rest of the world, how would we test it?"
"I don't know." I said. "I'm not good at puzzles.
"Great." Roland said.
"I've been thinking about this too, you know. There's not really many explanations that make sense." I tented my fingers on the notebook. "Like you said, there's the possibility that there is nothing really "real" to this experience, it's paranoia, or drugs, or some kind of trick--"
"I'd say that's a measure of difference from the other two. The second implies someone controlling the whole scenario, while the other two could be, you know, incidentally provoked by another person but not fully controlled."
"Hm... maybe at the practical level you're right, but if you think about it--"
"As long as we're here I'm going to be working on a purely practical level, because I want to get the fuck out of here."
"Well, my other two theories are a bit less practical."
"Ok, let's hear it."
"Well, alright. So the opposite of everything being some delusion or trick is all of it being literally real, right? But we don't have any conclusive evidence for that due to the nature of things we've encountered. They're always fleeting visions, or the only "evidence" is an absence. Like the boat not appearing, and no other people being on the island."
"So, what if they are real, but like, somewhere else?" The more I thought about it, even though it was audacious, the more comfortable I felt saying it. "Like what if, theoretically, there was some interference that was letting another point in time, or dimension, or even a sort of afterlife be glimpsed by us, here."
"Anne, you're stressing me out." He sat back in the chair and folded his arms, looking quite put-upon.
"I mean, what can we even do with that knowlegde, if it's the case? Nothing like that has ever been scientifically observed at like, a level percepitble to humans. Even if this was the first case of that, how do you get out? It's no better than, I dunno, the manager locking us in a dungeon somewhere. It's the same practical outcome."
"We're stuck here forever..."
"Yes! And I'd prefer to avoid having to act on that premise as long as possible!" His voice cracked with a desperate edge.
"I mean, what if we were?"
"I'd kill myself."
It was a profoundly logical conclusion, from his perspective. Why prolong a futile struggle with no apparent options for progress or escape? part of me would like to think that we would band together, make a weird sort of life for ourselves, though this was obviously a bizarre fantasy born of my own fear of death.
"So that's it?" I said.
"Hope that boat comes tomorrow." He said, picking up his book again.
"You're unbelieveable. You don't even have a girlfriend to go back to."
"Anne, don't start."
"Well it's hard not to take it personally when you're like, yeah, I'd rather kill myself than try to figure it out with you."
"You're the one who told me not to think of it that way!"
"Like you were gonna be my girlfriend or something." He tossed the book onto the table between us in frustration, and anxiously glanced towards the back of the room. "This... This is a fucking undignified conversation."
"Like you have so much fucking dignity to salvage!"
"Yeah, you made sure to torpedo the last of it, huh?" He picked up the book from the table and strode back to his room, being sure to scowl at me. It was such a simultaneously aggressive and pathetic gesture I wanted to laugh at him, loud enough that he'd hear it coming from behind him, but instead I just scoffed to myself and hugged my arms around me in the chair. I didn't like how arguing with people made me feel, like my whole body went cold.
"I was trying to help, I thought we could help each other," I said aloud to no one in particular, maybe hoping that the context would make some hypothetical unseen observer come down on my side, or at least judge me less harshly.
I felt miserable and self pitying, and I knew Erin would either smugly, magnanimously comfort me or ride me and call me the pathetic worm that I was. It was my inevitable and necessary second stop. I lifted myself out of the chair, and walked across the lobby. Each step felt slightly heavy and deliberate. Maybe it was the anxiety and tension, but it seemed like things were more physically taxing, like the world was a chugging computer and I was pushing through a few frames of lag.
I stopped in front of Erin's door. I had to will myself to lift my hand and knock. She still made me so nervous, sometimes in an exciting and unpredictable sexy way, and other times she made me feel the same sort of anxiety I felt when I had to interact with a popular girl back in high school. They could give off this sort of beaming pleasantness while at the same time jabbing you with just enough barbs to remind you that you'd never be on their level.
I knock softly. I don't hear anything so I pull my fist back to knock harder but the door opens.
"Anne." She says my name in an inscrutable flat sort of way.
"Hi Erin," I say back.
"What do you want." It comes out more as an accusation of wanting something than as a question.
"I dunno, I just wanted to check in on you, I guess?"
"Check in on me how? I'm fine."
"Well, things got kind of weird at the abbey so I was just going to make sure you were alright--"
"I'm alright?" She said, raising her eyebrows. "If there's anyone to be worried about it's you. Are you coming down from that bad trip yet?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine." The truth was, given I had my first truly extra-normal experience on the island late in the evening of the day we first visited the abbey, and had been exposed to far less, I was trying to emotionally prepare myself for things to get weird at any moment. "Come on, do we have to stand out in the hallway like this?" I asked.
Erin kept her hand on the doorknob. "Why? You were just asking if I was fine, for some reason, and I'm fine."
"Don't play dumb. Can I please talk to you?"
She frowned, but swung the door open, letting me walk in. I sat down on her bed, anxiously pressing my knees together like I was trying not to take up too much space. I glanced around the room, her clothes were still neatly packed away and her folded bag was tucked under the desk. Erin hoisted herself up onto the desk to sit and stared back at me, waiting for me to speak.
"Why do you always act like you're mad at me?" I said.
"I'm not--" She cut herself off, realizing she was already sounding cross. "Listen, it's just frustrating to feel like, on the one hand, you like me, we're interested in each other. Yeah. But on the other hand every time you feel like something is "weird" you insist on dragging me down into your bizarre delusions..."
"It doens't make sense," I said, aware that I was already taking on a pouty tone. "You were there on the hike with me, you felt it."
"I said I could understand why you think you felt it."
"How is that any different? If you understand that why do you always talk down to me?" I could feel the conversation rapidly disrailing from my attempt to somehow win her over. The tension, from her inability to acknowledge what she knew I was experiencing. "Is it because you're scared to admit you really don't know what's going on here?"
I looked up, expecting her to be peering down at me in slight bemuseument or pity as always. Instead, for once she looked genuinely upset, sympathetic even. I thought to myself, surprised, is this evidence of the virtues of the exhortation to "be yourself??" my various plots to try and corner her sympathy or reason with her had been bounced back like a raquetball.
"Of course I'm fucking scared!"
I sat on the bed, watching her. She wouldn't make eye contact with me now, pretending she was looking out the tiny box window. I knew the view from it couldn't be so different as the view from my room. There wasn't that much to see.
"Erin, I already talked to Roland about it. What are you willing to do if the boat doesn't show up tomorrow."
"I don't know," She said, narrowing her eyes and still refusing to meet mine. "What did you two decide you'd do?"
"We didn't decide on anything. I want to know what you'd do."
"You're fucking with me," she said, turning to look at me. She pushed herself off the desk and stood directly in front of me, and I again got a sense of just how much taller she was than me. "You're all just doing this to drive me insane!"
"Erin, if I said that you would tell me I was being paranoid."
She glared like she wanted to slap me right across the mouth, feel my lips blow out to the side and everything.
"I swear," I tried again. "I swear, I am just trying to figure out what's going on."
"What's going on? What's going on?" She was raising her voice, and I was afraid, even with the door closed, it would be detectible in the lobby. "What is going on, Anne? How about you tell me? Because it feels like nothing in particular. I'm just trying to enjoy a week somewhere that fucking interests me but I'm stuck here with a bunch of insane people, trying to convince me something's wrong."
"But doesn't it all feel wrong?" I pleaded. "And it's not even a bunch of people. It's two. Or, technically three."
"Anne, please, just leave me alone. Leave me out of it!"
"You're scared," I said. "I'm not rubbing it in, I'm just saying, I am too. Part of you knows--"
"Part of me knows that I don't have a fucking clue." She said. "Are you fucking satisfied, now?"
"If you didn't try to be so guarded around us all the time this wouldn't feel like something i was trying to extract from you, you know! Because it isn't."
"Ok, fine. What's the point? You're going to have another crackpot theory, like ghosts, or time travel, or that we're all already dead, or whatever. And I can either say there's literally no evidence of that shit being physically possible, and hurt your feelings, or I can say, very interesting Anne, but if that's true, I don't think we can even fucking do anything about it!"
I sighed and folded my arms, hugging the notebook to my chest. While not exact, she had gotten the basic thrust of most of my theories. It felt pointless to press her on it further. I felt defeated, annoyed.
"Ok, you get to be right," I said, standing up to leave. "Isn't that nice. Stranded on an island."
"Oh fuck off."
I walked out into the hallway, dragging my feet with each step. Erin walked right behind me, shutting her door with a deliberate thud as soon as I passed the threshold, and turning the lock from the inside. I went down the overly-grand staircase back to the lobby, where Roland had left without a trace, and I hated to admit it, all I felt was relief we hadn't met in the hallway. I felt like I had just struck out marvelously, torpedoed any intimacy or even friendship I had built up with either Erin or Roland over the course of the week.
I regarded the telephone booth with a sense of dread. It took three to make a strike, right? I didn't really want to call my editor for a multitude of reasons. It was always awkward to be the one initiating casual contact after a sexual encounter, for one, and I was kind of forced into this position by, well, my own, yes, it strains credulity, successful attempt to have phone sex with my editor. Secondly, I still had not done much writing of any value for my assignment, though it also seemed insane that I still thought about it; this experience had become unsuitable to write about, not just as a standard hotel reveiw or even a funny "holiday from hell" piece. Thirdly, the last time I used the phone seemed to be a sort of rupture point, where things really started getting strange. I wanted a break. It still felt like there was a chance, though vanishingly small now, that I could go to bed without incident, sleep easily, wake up the next morning, eat a hotel breakfast, check out, board the ferry. Back to life, back to the world.
I felt a lump in my throat, like gagging and sobbing in one.
[[I opened the door to the telephone booth.]]
I closed it behind me, and groaned aloud in the soundproof capsule, feeling sick. Of course, my fingers remembered their number intuitively. I watched myself dial them with dread and shame.
One, two, three, four hollow rings, and then--
"Anne, is that you?"
"Yes, of course it's me!" I said, pathetically close to weeping.
"What's wrong? Did something happen?"
"I don't know what's happening, that's the fucking problem!" There was a long silence on the other end of the line. I could feel my throat swelling again, tears budding up uncomfortably at the corners of my eyes.
"Anne... I'm really sorry if this feels weird. We can talk about it as soon as you get back."
"I don't know if I'll ever get back!" I groaned.
"Anne, what's going on?"
"I feel weird and I've been seeing crazy things, I think we're trapped in some sort of... I don't know. I don't think the boat will come."
"Whare are you talking about... did something just happen?"
"It's just been everything that's been hapenining," I hated the sound of my own distressed voice the same way I hated how ugly I was when I cried. I had always been bad at talking on the phone, it would be doubly impossible to explain what I had seen, and the purely theorietical possibilities I had extrapolated from it, when I had just whiffed on conveying it to two people who had partially shared the experience so hard. "No, no. Never mind. It's stupid."
"No, I obviously made a mistake. Listen, don't worry about the piece. You're stressed out, and I pushed you too far thinking this would be like a break for you. Forget it, and I'll work out something with the owner."
"No," I croaked. "It's not... I can bullshit it. It's--"
"Anne, I'm sorry. I treated you in an entirely inappropriate way because I thought I had a sort of personal understanding of you..."
"XXXXX, don't do this--"
"I think it's better if I take a step back. Get on the next boat tomorrow, I'll take care of the ticket. Please, just try to relax and take care of yourself, and maybe we can talk about things after you've had a few days--"
"I'm not trying to be your girlfriend or anything, I'm--"
"I'm sorry Anne, I really feel like it's not good to keep you on the line. I don't want to do this over the phone."
"Oh, shut up would you!"
"I'm hanging up, Anne. I will call you once you're back though. Please just forget about things for a while."
The crunch of their phone hanging up hit my skull like chipping a tooth. I immediately dialed again but the phone only rang, on and on. They weren't picking up.
"Fuck!" I groaned. Shaking, I tried a third time, but then realized how pathetic I was being and hung up before the third ring. In the soundproofed booth I let myself whine "fuck" through my teeth one more time. I really just wanted to go to my room and cry and.or sleep, but that seemed like a frivolous, stupid indulgence. My body wanted to panic. I exited the phone booth and sat at the table, still unfolded, the remains of breakfast unattended to even though it was getting to be the mid afternoon.
Because I had pushed everyone away, the lobby felt like an actual private place. People were less likely to find me there than my door that had no lock on it. I sat at the table and wept, feeling stupid and sorry for myself and working myself up at the idea of someone walking in and seeing me just to elongate it. I let myself sob, and wimper pathetically, retch and drool. And the world regarded me with complete, cold indifference. It was all I wanted.
I rested my forehead on varnished wood of the counter, which felt cool to my flushed face now. I felt like I was crashing, like being awake for 4 or 5 hours was the equivalent to a two-day bender. My eyes fluttered shut, I was gone for a moment, and then when I lifted my head, feeling disoriented, Erin and Roland were also seated on either side of me, a tight fit on this narrow bench, and across from us, the manager.
"Well, you know what time it is," She said to me, as if she was a doctor handing me a cup to piss in.
"I... don't?" I said after a moment.
"5 PM. Dinner orders starting now."
I looked to either side of myself. Erin and Roland were sitting with no particular excitement or discomfort at this preposition.
"Mac and cheese," Erin intoned.
"Macaroni cheese," Roland said.
I thought briefly about saying Hamburger Steak instead. I wondered if I had bags under my eyes, then re-evaluated that thought to wondering how bad they were. The muscle of conformity clenched around me, even though I knew I would hate it.
"Anne? You should eat," The manager said with concern.
"Macaroni cheese" I said.
"Great, I can all put them in the microwave at the same time, then!"
As she closed the room to the back door behind her, I folded in on myself, trying not to even brush against the thighs on either side of me. We were all silent. The occasional sounds of breathing or shifting in their seat grated against my ears, held tension. She came back exactly 5 minutes later with the three different plates of macaroni cheese all held between her sprawled hands, vibrating against eachother.
She placed one down in front of each of us. I picked up the fork balanced on the edge of my plate and sunk it into the middle of the food. I lifted it to my mouth. The top of the clump I had skewered with my fork was slightly warm, the center stone cold.
"You're probably wondering what's going on," the manager said, returning to her seat in front of us.
No! Absolutely not! I thought. I did not want to know anymore.
"You've probably been feeling kind of strange and tired, maybe seeing things."
I tried to sense without looking what Erin and Roland were doing. They were, so far as I could tell, just going on eating their food. Maybe theirs had been on either side of mine, and so had gotten properly warmed. I scowled and dropped my fork on the plate. The manager glanced at me.
"Anne, you really should eat, you don't look well."
"No, the food isn't cooked all the way through, obviously."
She frowned at me a bit, the first case I could remember of her true customer service mask slipping, but she also slipped right back into it. She stood, gracefully scooping up the tray.
"Oh, I'm so sorry. I will fix it for you right away." She went back into the back room and I heard the microwave begin to hum before I said anything.
"So, what is going on?" I asked frantically, looking left, then right. Both of my fellow guests were continuing to eat their grim meal, looking exhausted. "Are you guys ok?"
"I'm just sick of this shit," Roland said. "Obviously."
"I don't want to talk about it, I just want to get through the rest of the day," Erin agreed.
I sighed, and sat until the plate was placed in front of me again, this time, the cheese was still bubbling and browned at some points.
"Sufficient?" The manager asked, taking her seat again.
"I mean, probably," I said.
"May I go on?"
None of us said anything.
"Alright, so, the long and short of it is, the boat's not coming tomorrow."
I felt sick. Someone's fork clattered onto their plate and bounced onto the floor.
"Don't worry about it! I mean, you've had a feeling something was wrong, right?"
We were all stunned, that the strange feelings we'd been questioning, arguing abaout, even falling out with each other over, were so blithely confirmed in front of us, over dinner.
"That's because it's still technically Monday. So don't worry!"
"What!!" I yelped, standing up and pushing myself violently back from the table. Of course, with two people who were larger than me on either side of me, the bench didn't move back but instead became a fulcrum that I painfully tumbled over, landing on my back on the floor of the lobby. In the midst of this distress breaking out, both Erin and roland turned to look at me with sudden concern, even tenderness. They both stood up, moving the bench aside, and stood over me.
"Are you alright?" Erin asked, her voice trembling. She crouched down and put a hand on my shoulder.
"No, I'm not hurt," I said. "Just looking stupid. Fuck!" I groaned.
Roland extended his hand to me and helped pull me up, and with a grunt pulled me back up. His hand still squeezed mine firmly, and after pulling herself up from her crouched position kept a hand protectively on my shoulder.
"What's going on," Roland said, trying to approach the situation with an even, neutrally curious voice.
"Shortly after you all arrived on the island, I activated a time well system. In essence, as it goes deeper, actual time slows, but time as experienced remains approximately the same. But this is already common knowledge in your society."
"Is it." I said.
"So, in essence, we've started to hit the deep time now, about 12 hours in."
"Oh my god," I murmured. The implications of how much I was calling my editor were the first thing to sink in. The second was that this ostensibly proved one of my theories, at least, that we were in a scenario where we were moving in time but not space. Perhaps the biggest issue then was who was the manager, how had she done this, but also why, this was the hardest to wrestle with, so I tried to focus on what she was saying.
"But it's weird! Maybe it's because I'm a first timer and all, or, I dunno. You are a particularly expressive species. Your experience should be fairly seamless of actual time, but in essence just living the same day over and over again..." She paused, thinking as if she was trying to phrase something in the most sensitive way possible.
"What!" Roland said, his voice cracking again. Erin was silent, but her hand was clenching into my shoulder as she listened.
"Well, you're physically effected a bit. You're tired, sleeping at random throughout the day, either experiencing loss of apetite or a strange hunger. I mean basically, you should just wake up on the other end of the seven days having this condensed experience, but--"
"Condensed so... we're experienceing time normally, but it's actually going very slow." Roland reasoned out gradually.
"Yes, relative to your origin time."
"So how much time are we going to experience?" I asked.
"Well, I dunno," she said. The full observation period is usually around 30,000 years but if I turn the process aroudn now we can shorten it to like, 2,000 since things seem to be going a bit wonky. I dunno if you'll physically hold out the whole week."
Roland and I were dumbstruck. But Erin said what we were thinking.
"Are you fucking serious?" She shrieked.
The manager gave a casual shrug that made my blood run cold. "Like I said, usually you wouldn't sense anything different."
Roland cut in. "I'm pretty sure I'd start to realize I was here for, what, 30,000 years? What?"
"Maybe this is a weird effect of observing a species that contemplates its own mortality. You shouldn't worry about it so much."
"Oh for fuck's sake..."
"For the love of god." We groaned, awed, leaning against eachother, feeling frail and transient like an autumn leaf. 2000 years suddenly felt like a very real death sentence.
"We just didn't consider..." the manager trailed off.
"Anyways, whenever we get out of this, you'll only be seven days aheaf in your own time, just as planned, so--" She paused, looking us over. "That's all I had to say really, you know. Mind the turbuluence and all." None of us responded. "Well, I'll let you be." The manager returned to the back room, leaving us with the now cooled and solidified plates of mac and cheese.
I grabbed the corner of the bench and dragged it so it was back along the side of the dinner table, and sat, propping my chin up in my elbows.
"It's a joke, right? She's fucking with us?" Roland said quietly.
"Just don't think about your mortality so much and it will be fine," Erin snarked. I pushed the plate of macaroni cheese straight out in front of me and rested my head on the table again.
"We have to try to establish some sort of communication with someone outside. This is unreal," Roland said. "Can't you call your editor?" He asked me.
"Can't you call your ex?" I responded. Erin gasped softly from behind me.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Roland asked.
"God! We're fucked!" I groaned.
"It's just a prank or something," Erin said, just to break the strange silence. "I'm sure the boat will be there to pick us all up tomorrow morning."
"Right," I said. "So it's fine. The next 20 hours are probably going to be the most anxiety-inducing of my life either way."
We rearranged ourselves, sitting around the table as we had before rather than all along one side. I was able to look more clearly into Erin and Roland's faces.
"We have to figure out something," Erin said.
"What is there to figure out though," I said. "It's proving absences, that we can't call other people, that the boat won't come, that the rest of the world isn't there--"
"Well she said, hypothetically, it would effect our bodies, right?"
"Hmm," I said, feeling an awful, sinking anxiety at this fact.
"So we can examine each other, is what you're saying?" Roland filled in.
There was a long pause as we glanced between ourselves.
"Ok, I'll... I'll feel your pulse, Anne," Erin said to me. "That's like the clock of the body, right?"
"I don't know, ugh," I said. "I usually assume it's just doing it's job."
She pivoted slightly on the bench, angling her knees at me, and slid a hand under my chin. It was intimate, and I could feel Roland anxiously adjusting himself to be looking just off the the side, as if there was something really interesting about the honor bookshelf all of a sudden.
I exhaled, trying to regulate how anxious I felt. I knew my heart rate always came out high when I went to the doctor's because the idea of the doctor finding out that something was wrong, (surely, something must be wrong with me, I'd always think before getting a clean bill of health) filled me with a sort of dread that took the form of increasingly rapid calculation. What would I do if whatever was wrong with me meant I had a year left? three months? if I could drop dead at any moment? if I would eventually not be able to walk, or see?
Now there was too much to calculate to even know where to begin. Erin pressed gently on the side of my neck, counting under her breath. She frowned.
"No, it doesn't feel too much different than I'd expect. "
"So my body really is going at whatever pace this world is, relatively speaking." This was fine. When the mystery was reduced to a sort of mechanical problem it no longer became raw potential. I thought through how the manager had explained it. "But even if I physically don't age, wouldn't that mean my body will have gone through the physical strain of however long she said it'd be?"
Erin frowned, thinking and moving her hands to feel my pulse at my wrist. "From the way she responded I don't think it could mean anything good."
"Not to mention the psychological strain of experiencing years and years of time and then getting dropped back into the same week we left."
"Thanks Roland, I was just thinking that would be a cakewalk," I said. Instead of scowling, he smiled at me, looking fond. "What?"
"I dunno, maybe I just feel like I can finally relax."
I studied his face carefully.
"Are you just going to kill yourself now?" I asked.
"Well, I'll see if there's the boat tomorrow."
"Roland!" Erin protested.
"I'm joking, but on the other hand, what's there to lose? I may even wake up in my bed the day before I got on the ferry in the first place and have time to cancel..."
"You're not funny." Erin said.
Our food had gone stone cold on the table.
"I feel like I should feel more stuck," I offered. "It still feels real, in a sense." When you're slowly slipped into it, like putting a baby into a bath, there wasn't a strict moment of breaking with reality that I could point to, that would make me scream out. So when the possibility arose, and our speculations were confirmed, that we were in a sort of dislodged, spatio-temporal mirage, it was impossible to figure out where we should even begin looking for the seams. Roland's strategy, proposed in the type of jest that's placed in front of actual relief, made as much sense as any other given what we knew.
After the brief respite, the attitude in the lobby started to get worse, we got subtly more irritated and distant with each other as it became apparent the situation would offer no other answers, that we would be stuck with each other in this agitated state for another long, drawn-out evening. Roland even picked at the edge of his cold macaroni, an especially desperate and depressing gesture for someone who was entertaining the
"Fuck it," I said aloud, standing up with force that made the bench screech backwards. I walked towards the back room, the mysterious threshold where the manager spent the majority of her time, scheming how to fuck with us? balancing the books? or maintaining some elaborate science fiction device that really was holding us in a bubble, but off from our time.
"What are you doing," Erin said, fearful, with the tone of someone who just wanted me to stop whatever I was doing.
I rapped on the door hard with my knuckles.
"Hello!" No response. I kept knocking, in the most irritating, rapid-fire pattern I could muster. "Hello, I need something!"
There was a shuffling behind the door. A thump. The manager opened the door, false smile carved into her face.
"I know it's only 7:30, but can we please get the karaoke machine out?"
I had to sing. Poorly, self-indulgently, maybe. But I wasn't going to deny or put off this instance of pleasure and self-expression, given the circumstances. I had decided it, watching Roland try put a congealed macaroni cheese noodle in his mouth simply to survive.
"Of course. It's irregular but I'll do it." When the manager turned her back to rummage for the machine in the back room, I craned my neck to see the interior. It was nothing shocking. a small room, paper and cardboard box covered desk, a large fridge, stacks of cereal and pastry boxes, cans of coffee. A dingy microwave was near the door, and there was a sink with a small dishrack next to it. Nothing incriminating. Nothing sci-fi. I leaned back quickly as she righted herself, toting the cube-shaped machine behind her.
"Excuse me," she said pleasantly, trying to press by me. I folded myself back against the door, and watched her walk across the lobby to the lobby to the area where the karaoke machine had always been set up.
"I am confusing time, in my own sense," I thought to myself. Erin looked at me.
I blushed, not realizing I had said it out loud.
"Nothing," I said quickly. "Just a line from a movie or something."
My heart began to pound as I appraoched the karaoke machine, in the midst of the perversion of insisting on doing it 30 minutes early. My palms began to sweat, and I could see the intense unreality, the shimmering foregroundedness of random details and the way objects seemed to become flat or transluscent, the sensation that I realized by that point was not particular to whether we were touching the weird lichens or eating the grass or dirt of this island at all, but the moments of folding and distortion making up the envelope, the limitations. It was seeing the horizon of disatisfaction, dysphoria, peering over the edge of the fixity of the world--
The mic was shoved into my hand, again. Consulting the karaoke menu, I selected--
[[AVENGED SEVENFOLD: NIGHTMARE|sing4]]
[[TEARS FOR FEARS: WATCH ME BLEED|sing4]]
[[SAD SONG: SAD SONG|sing4]]
[[SAD SONG: SAD SONG|sing4]]I sang my throat raw and raspy, I screamed until the muscles on the sides of my jaw were exhausted. The song seemed to go on and on. It was cathartic to scream and yet at the same time I found myself uncomfortably buried in the back of my mind, wondering when it would be over.
God, if you think this is an age, try 1000 years. or two. or 30. I understood why Roland wanted to die, and understood, looking at his face, that I wasn't offering him any of the sensual pleasures of consciousness that would convince him of anything.
Erin looked distracted. I assumed this was fertile experimental ground for her, someone so obsessed with the limits and distortions of consciousness. Well, now you will literally pass an age of man within a week, or think you did. Though I thought she would be too high-strung to enjoy it for more than a few days, knowing it was a glass dome over her and not a stone circle eneterd of her own volition.
And what did I think? I didn't want to die, not right away anyways. And while I had sympathy for and interest in Erin's position, I also felt attached to the context of being in The World as I knew it. Goodbye mom, goodbye dad, goodbye XXXXX and goodbye Greggs Festive Bake season. There had to be a way to get back, though. I imagined myself valiantly tossing myself into the ocean and swimming until I came upon other shores, but I knew my actual physical capabilities, though it would be nice to imagine, with the alternative being death, that my body would produce a vigorous final struggle that would prevail, would get me about 15 feet.
I groaned into the mic, and rested it on top of the machine. A bit of the slightly off midi synthesizer version of the song was still playing. It wound down, and then we were all seated in the lobby in silence.
"I want to sleep," I said at last. I could feel the distortions ebbing and flowing around my body; that couldn't be healthy. Tomorrow, we would see wether this was all a dream. It was enough of a directive that erin and roland also lifted themselves to their feet, looking tired as well. The manager waited around, winding up the cord of the microphone before setting it back on the karaoke machines, watching our backs as we went up the stairs. I could feel her eyes on me in my body's heightened awareness.
We each stood in front of our room doors, hesitating before heading in for the night.
"Well, goodnight. See you all at breakfast tomorrow," Erin said at last, turning her key in the lock.
"Judgement day," Roland responded, making a grim joke.
I wanted to say something but it was too weighty to come up with anything meaningful enough on the spot. We should have all been comforting eachother, regrouping, coping, but instead we prickled at each other and treated ourselves like time bombs. I turned my own handle, and given no resistance, entered the room.
I flicked on the desk lamp and got out my notebook. [[I would write something to leave behind.]] <em>I am writing this on the evening of the sixth day. If the boat doesn't come tomorrow, I am going to check out the cellar under the abbey again, in the afternoon when we never see the manager. If I'm not here, and you're looking for me, for better or worse that's where I probably am.</em>
[[I closed the pen inside that page of the notebook.]]Then I slid out of my clothes, pulled on a light pair of pajamas, and pulled the covers aside, crawling into bed and laying on my back. My eyes searched for the light green shimmers that prefigured the ghostly distortions arriving. I held my hands out in the dark, and looked at my fingers, feeling only hazily connected to their movements but extremely observant of their surfaces. The light shifted, out from the walls the ghosts stepped in front of me. The woman placed her hand in mine.
"I'm trying" I said. "I'm so tired but I'm trying."
They seemed to kneel on my legs, pinning me to the bed, though they were no more substantial in my time than air. They were looking at me, and I suck the tips of my fingers through their chests, tried to caress their faces. Another time was observing me, curious to see what I'd do.
[[I fell asleep.|Day7]]We met in the lobby in the morning with our bags, all solemn nods. Skipping breakfast with the perverse looming dread of a kid on Christmas morning, excited for the gift-wrapped summation of their greatest desires but haunted by the possibility of the right object not appearing. We wanted nothing more than to be able to get on that boat.
Of course, it didn't show. It wasn't like a catastrophe; there had been no sudden disaster, no single moment that had made everything different, but a gradual unfolding, a disintegration. None of us had seriously expected the boat to appear, which would seem unreasonable and paranoid from an outside perspective. On the inside, it was inevitable, and foregone conclusion we had all felt around Wednesday.
The weather was spitefully pleasant as we walked back to the hotel. I loathed the sunshine on the rolling green hills, the billowing cumulus clouds, the smell of the sea on the air, every cliche about the beauty of a remote island. A beautiful cage.
The manager was still watching over us, she didn't seem to take our antagonism personally, or at the very least, she was understanding of it. Even though it was noon by the time we returned to the hotel, the coffee pot and customary pile of packaged pastries was waiting for us with threee meticulously cleaned mugs and plates on the table.
"Like we're a dog coming home from getting our nuts chopped off..." Roland said.
Erin took a mug and poured herself a cup of coffee, sniffed it, sipped.
"It's still warm."
Roland and I both poured our own cups of coffee and joined Erin sitting at the table. No reason to begrudge ourselves some warmth and caffeine. But all too soon we had finished our drinks, and no one seemed particularly covetous of anything on the pastry tray.
"What now?" Roland asked, tipping his mug from side to side between his fingers.
"Weren't you going to kill yourself or something?" Erin asked.
"That's right. Though I guess I have all the time in the world to ponder the method." He tipped the cup over, and a grimy trail of coffee dregs ran from the rim. "Of course, fellow travelers are always welcome."
"Ha-ha," Erin said, in a high, sing-songy way that meant she didn't want to think about it. I sighed. and put my head down. I didn't feel like making plans, taking action. I wanted to go for the walk down the to abbey, so see if there was anything even to find out, but I had to be sure the manager had truly left the premises, and would be there.
"Okay, enough of this," Roland said, getting up. He went to the door behind the counter, where the manager so often disappeared, and wrenched it open, using force that implied he expected it would be an especially powerful door. Of course it was a regular, unlocked one.
"What are you doing?" Erin said. I lifted my head to see her entering the room behind Roland, and I scrambled to catch up with them.
The room was empty. The manager wasn't there. Roland peered into an empty box that used to hold the breakfast pastries and threw it across the room, then began digging through the ramshackle of random supplies in and around the desk. Erin poked around too, but seemed more interested in reading the documents on the desktop.
"Nothing outright suspicious," she said, over the growing sound of Roland's excavation of the desk drawers. I guess he was operating on the heady freedom of this being a mess he would not have to clean up. "Just looks like order forms and reservations sheets."
"Hmm," I said, still standing in the doorway. There was a heavy scooting sound as Roland unearthed something heavy below the desk, and he gave a delighted, winded sigh.
"Oh my god, it's a portable stove."
"For what?" Erin asked. "Like in case the electricity goes out? Jesus. Great. Good to know that's a possibility."\
"This thing is like the cadillac of offing yourself," Roland went on. "Oh god, AND there's a bag of charcoal chips?"
"You're gonna carbon monoxide poison yourself?" I asked.
"Apparently you just feel really tired and fall asleep before it starts to work," He said. "Of all the things we could find, it's the least messy, least likely to go wrong..." He trailed off, hoping we could fill in the rest, as he stood there, smiling vacantly at the portable stove in his hands.
"Okay," Erin said. I could tell she was tentatively waiting to see how this plan would play out. "What do we do next then?"
"We just need a small, airtight space." Roland replied. He furrowed his brow.
[[Naturally, I suggested checking out the attic.]]I moved the heavy fake potted plants that had been placed at the base of the stairwell to the attic, and we all ascended the long stairway that went up into the dark. When we reached the attic space, through another small door, dim light diffused through pieces of tyvek taped over the windows silouetted a single naked bulb in the middle of the tiny, low ceilinged space. I pulled on its string.
"Perfect, oh perfect." Roalnd said.
The story about the attic space being made into some sort of deluxe suite was obviously a lie. A mattress tucked away into a corner and some generic empty boxes of food lying around made it seem more likely that this was where the manager slept.
There were no more people coming. There was no plan. This was a coffin for the three of us.
"All we have to do is find some of the duct tape to seal off the door, and it should work."
"We?" I said. Erin was still wantering around, investigating the perimeter of the room.
"Do you want to listen to a last song during?" Roland continuied. "It'd be tough but we could carry the karaoke machine up here. It'd be the shitty midi version but--"
He was asking no one in particular. I wasn't paying attention, instead thinking about how, well, if the manager was, by observation, neither in the back room nor the attic, then she was probably--
"Don't kill yourselves until I get back," I said. Both erin and Roland turned to look at me. They didn't know what to say. "And, uh, if I don't come back any time soon, look at the notebook, in my room, alright? But just the page the pen is in." I opened the door behind me and backed towards the steps, turning around and leaving when they simply went back to fussing around in the attic.
[[I left for the Abbey]]The air was brisk. The cloying sunshine from the morning had left and it felt like a heavy rain was building up. Soon blankets of grey clouds would build all alround on the horizon, closing in on us, or maybe I was just feeling a bit morose.
I could follow the waves of slightly indented parts in the grass that would lead me to the abbey easily. Presumably they had just been trod by the manager herself, presumably this was why they existed in the first place. I willed myself on, walking steadily, even as I felt jittery and on edge. Part of me wanted to drag my feet, just go back and die. I didn't blame either of them for looking to cosy up that attic.
I stood at the entryway, this time alone, or maybe closer to anyone else on the island than either of us expected. I moved through the cloister carefully, my fully inadequate shoes that seemed like they had seen weeks of battle by this point, still struggling to get a foothold on some of the slimy rocks. My eyes adjusted to the dim pathway as I made my way, taking more time in the dim light than ever before. It seemed like the lichens, growing thick on the interior walls, were faintly glowing and rustling in the dark, a low crawling sound.
I plunged into the light of the courtyard, but it was not climactic this time. I knew the open air was just a transient space before entering the stony dark again. Reaching the second doorway, I looked down the pathway cleared through the rubble in the bottom of the chapel. There was a light, damp streak of moisture running down the centre of the path, as if a body had been dragged across it. I held my breath as I walked to the back of the chapel, imagining if I wasn't as still as possible, the nonexistent roof would fall in on me.
I was at the top of the descending stairs. I lowered myself to an almost seated position, awkwardly making my way down them in a way that had seemed to me like it would make me less likely to slip and tumble to the bottom, giving myself a broken bone or brain damage. I felt a wide arc with my foot to ensure I was at the bottom, and then, ice cold and shivering, I pulled my phone from my pocket with violently shaking hands.
So close to the ultimate answer, and still I was dragging my feet. As I flicked the light on, I heard rustling in the dark that made me flinch, but I kept the light close to me, angling it down to the floor immediately around me at first. There were still the strange clumps of organic matter spread around after a certain distance, but I could see that there was, again, a sort of trail dragged through the objects, that seemed to mash and tear through them. I swallowed, and slowly moved the phone light up along the path, until the light shone on what was standing against the back wall of the cellar.
The manager appeared hunched over, hanging by roots from the wall digging into her back. Though I realized the form, with its head bowed and the wavy hair hanging completely over her face. The form of the manager, as I knew it, was not fully her, not alive or inhabited in the way I perceived people ususally. But it also was not a corpse. The slumped body animated, the head jerking up as the light from my phone continued to shine on her. I saw the branches moving, crawling in the dark. Her face was split open again, and this time she had not been caught in the the middle of politely folding her mandibles into it.
As she looked up at me, the black beads beneath her false eyes twitching, the breathy sounds of antennae twitching in the dark, one of her arms detatched and fell into the soft piles at her feet, revealing a long arm of a different sort, black but shiny with efficiency in the dark, fringed with slight golden hairs.
"Oh, Anne. I told you not to come here." There was a long pause. Some rustling. "Well, out of all of you, you're like the hub, right? The locus of everyone's feelings. So maybe it's best that it's you."
Her voice had become strange, like it was coming through a cheap microphone, the sound catching and popping and blowing against all sorts of things on its way to the open. By this point, I was flat on my ass in the middle of the cleared, damp stone floor at the base of the stairwell. My legs felt like dead weight. I had finally put it together in my head what that strange rotting matter, scattered all over the floor was. It felt like a rotting log, like wood pulp... They were her worn out disguises.
I moved like I was in a dream, clumsy and inexact, each movement requiring deliberate focus and will, but I eventually got my legs under me and stood up. I felt like I could approach the manager, and the manager's body, without too much fear. On the one hand, if she was determined to not let me live after witnessing this, I didn't have many options. On the other, it was evident she was keeping us alive here for some purpose, and pettily dispatching me due to annoyance or pride was probably too great a sacrifice, in whatever this long con was.
The light from my phone traced the edges of her slick black carapace, gleams shooting around like speeding taillights in the dark. She was grandiose, beautiful like a chandelier of legs and exoskeleton.
"What is this?" I asked.
She said, "Me, between the form I take to observe you and my actual form."
I came closer, entranced by her beauty, the gold fuzz at her seams lightly swaying with her breath. She opened her mouth, and a long, thin appendage spilled out limply. Her half-made lips were heaving almost eroitcally with the effort of processing organic matter into a fresh self. Something rustled near my feet.
"What's going on?" I managed to ask.
"We've been across the universe, observing all the complex consciousnesses which occur... to make contact and..." She paused and thought for a moment. "I'm thinking of a metaphor you'd understand. Consciousnesses are the colors on the palette of the universe. Or something like that. Mixing them lets us understand more, do more, be more resilient--"
"That's the tricky part," The manager mused. "Your species is so individualized, you spend so much time misunderstanding each other, poorly communicating, contemplating your own death in fear..."
"But that's it, that's all we ever really have, isn't it?"
"Is it?" She asked. "Everyone manages to mix eventually, some species are already doing it to an extent. You being so cut off is not the norm."
"Like I said, I wouldn't know."
"Stubborn," she said.
"Do you like watching us?" I asked. I laughed, worried saying this was making me seem perverted.
"It's interesting," she said. "So many ways of being together and yet still remaining apart." I thought, yes, that about sums it up. "It's not typical, but maybe I have to give you a push..."
There was a shooting pain in my left ankle that surprised me, it felt like a combination of a hard scraping and the current from a toaster running through my flesh. I looked down, and one of her arms was clasped around my leg, the sliver of it exposed between my jeans and my shoes. something coming out of the end of her arm was sliding inside me. I could feel her crawling up my legs, caressing my inner thigh, cutting through my crotch with a strange heat and crawling up the curve of my stomach.
I gasped, squirmed, felt my knees wobble, but whatever she had put inside me was also holding me upright in a way I could slouch my body into. I heard myself moaning, the vibration against the stone walls, and my cheeks went red.
Fuck. I tried to concentrate. She was crawling up my chest, running like harsh, jolting fingers beetween my breasts. I heard her voices, a hundred voices, starting me on easy mode, trying to get me to blend with them.
"So you're like, The Thing but for emotions, or something," I managed to hiss.
I heard her own voice, clear now, in my mind. "The Thing?"
"Forget it. There's no fucking DVD store on this island..."
"Why don't you want this?" They all asked again.
"I don't know. Maybe I think my wilfulness is good. Maybe I'm wrong. But I want to live with it."
"What do you want?"
It felt like something was lightly displacing my trachea. A warm fluid started spurting down my face, I worried that she had clumsily ruptured one of the more important veins in my head. I tried to concentrate, just saying "I want to leave, please. Please. Please."
She pulled back, withdrawing from me with a force that made me gasp and fall to my knees, scraping them on the stone floor. I pulled myself to my feet, a stinging pain still radiating up my leg from my ankle, and scrambled up the stone stairs. Every second, I imagined tripping and falling and bashing my teeth in on the corner of a stair, the tension of this wince kept me upright until I reached the top of the stairwell. I looked back down into the cellar, I could see a single column of light extended from my abandoned phone, but no movement. She wasn't pursuing me.
I set out, jogging across the abbey courtlard, through the cloister, over the hills, [[back to the hotel.]]I felt my feet pounding up the stairs, pain shooting up my leg on every other one as I dashed up to the attic. With the sound of ripping packaging tape, I tore open the door, and, not even taking a moment to evaluate the scene waiting for me inside, screamed:
"Don't fucking kill yourselves!"
Roland was crouched over the portable stove in the middle of the room, preparing to light it. He was looking at me with more annoyance than shock initially, because I had unceremoniously torn through he carefully-laid tape. Erin was slouched on the matteress in the corner, looking bored, though she quickly leapt to her feet and covered her mouth when she saw me. Not a great sign.
Roland was now also looking at me with similar fear and concern. His eyes kept drifting down to my nose and mouth; I must have an awful looking, crusty nosebleed there by now. Still, he hovered there with the lit match still primed to light the portable stove. I strode across the room and defiantly kicked the stove over.
"Anne, what the fuck happened?" Erin asked. Roland stood up as well, reaching out a hand to hold my shoulder.
"You're freezing," he said.
I felt spoiled, doted on at last as Erin came over and grabbed one of my hands, I was able to hold the both of them at once again. I thought, I need to lie down and make love to them. Not <em>that</em> way. There were so many types of love we had words for, for family, for lovers, for friends, but I couldn't remember if there was one, not even for the altruistic or idealized love of mankind, but just the raw impulse that led us to throw ourselves on the sword of trying to connect, to reach across the chasm, again and again. For moments when we might feel fingertips.
We laid down and held each other's hands, circled around the portable stove that never had a chance to burn. [[And then it was like the roof blew off the place.|Day7-2]] The sun went backwards, it was morning again. The light streaming in through the lobby windows was golden. The manager wasn't there, but she had prepared the big silver pot of coffee for our journey. It was hot, with three clean mugs next to it. Our bags were there, and we were seated around the table, checked out, I presumed.
We were all scrupulously avoiding each other's eye lines. Roland was writing, for once, occasionally and a few words at a time in a small notebook with a slim silver pen, Erin was gazing out one of the windows, and consistently alternating the way she was warming her hands on the coffee mug. Eventually, they both got up, leaving their mugs where they sat. They returned to the positions I had first encountered them in.
[[Talk to Erin]]
[[Talk to Roland]]"Anything in the honor library?" I asked.
"I would say of course not, but all of these books are so forgettable I could have looked at a totally different set the first day and not known."
"Hmm," I said, smiling, and tilting my head to the side, mirroring how she was examining the spines. Of course, she was right. "Are you excited to leave?"
"I am, part of me worries someone else will be moved into my flat when I get back, though."
"Will I see you again?" I asked.
She also laughed at this.
"I don't know, it might be a little scary... To have to revisit everything, as fondly as I do feel for some parts."
"I get it." I said.
"If you do ever think of me, just climb a hill and scream to the warrior queens of history," She said.
[[Talk to Roland]]
[[I've talked to both of them.]]I sat in the chair across from Roland, who had stopped writing in his notebook. He looked up at me, smiling a bit despite trying to mute his reaction.
"Actually writing something, huh?"
"Whenever I take these trips I always put off actually writing anything until I'm on my way back."
"And what's back home?"
He laughed, sliding the notebook and pen into his back pocket as he adjusted himself on the chair.
"Sweet isolation, except for a ton of annoying emails, I'm sure."
"Anne..." He leaned forward, working his face into a contrived, serious expression. "You're a really lovely person and I don't regret anything, but--"
"You don't need to do that," I said. "God, what a dork."
"Well I mean it. I just need space, I think."
"Yeah," I agreed.
"It's nothing about you--" I looked up at him with a smirk. "If we're fated to cross paths, it'll happen."
"That's nice to think of," I said.
[[Talk to Erin]]
[[I've talked to both of them.]]When it was a quarter to noon, we picked up our bags and carried them in an awkward, clumsy parade down the gravel path to the docks. The atmosphere was of pleasant anticipation, rather than dread. We got sprayed by one last intermittent shower while we waited, the mist shimmering in the strange sunlight.
No one yelled for the ferry when it appeared on the horizon, but I did, when I noticed a figure in a smartly tailored black coat standing at the helm.
"Oh my god, it's you!"
I locked eyes with my editor, the last person I was ever expecting to see again. As the ferry lurched to a stop next to the dock they called down to me, their voice brazen and triumphant.
"Anne! I came as soon as I could!"
THE END :)