The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

(Chapter XIII)

Posted by Matt on February 3, 2011

Previously

The two spent the night in a shaded area just north of Aia’s usual spot on the beach, by the massive cliff side that held the park aloft. Aia was glad the noisy thing in the water didn’t make an appearance that night. She had enough to deal with without it.

They set off the next day, quickly moving up the road all the way to the rusted box, the farthest Aia had been. Beyond that point was a mystery to both of them. The flying things circled above, shrieking. Aia was so familiarized with the sound she was able to ignore it, but Pearl couldn’t. She stared at the formation of black shapes above, filled with equal measures of wonder and fear.

As Aia expected, the uncharted area of the road consisted of…more buildings, more rotting structures, just more of what she already seen. There were more forking paths along the way, with every route consisting of a labyrinth of stone ruin, essentially indistinguishable from each other. Hours and hours spent seeing the same sort of thing made them feel like they had been walking in circles. At one point, Aia was convinced they were, and looked for familiar signs to prove it. However, there was nothing familiar to look for.

They saw more of the rusted boxes lined up on one side of the road, with the odd one overturned and spread across the pavement, forming a foreboding barrier. Aia made a mental note of them; if worse comes to worse and there is nowhere else to go, they could make a decent enough place to stay, if only temporarily. All the stone and metal they saw in the ruins made her long for the beach, a place of some colour, some beauty. It was odd; it some ways, the ruins were similar to the park, her home for most of her life. The buildings, the signs, the ways all these things were aligned…this should be familiar to her, more so than the beach. But there was something off about it. Was she was disturbed by how it seemed like a massive stone corpse, a long-dead monster made of concrete and steel that had long lost contact with its creators? Was it the lack of any signs of life, aside from the omnipresent noise projected by the flying things? Was it that the beach offered her a new kind of environment, a space that felt real and alive, and made these constructed worlds of her past and present so barren by comparison? Maybe the stone and steel and glass and artificial lights were always this oppressive, but she couldn’t imagine an alternative? She couldn’t decide. And besides, she had better things to think about, like how Pearl and her were going to survive, which became a more pressing issue the more nothing they came across.

“Did they make this place too?” Pearl asked as they scoured the rubble.
“Who?”
“The Poster People”
“I think so”
“This place is so ugly”
“That’s because no one lives here anymore”
“Where did they all go?”
“I don’t know”
“Why aren’t there any other people here?”
“I don’t know”
“I thought they said they sent other people outside, too. Why haven’t we seen them?”
“I think they…”
“Big Sister! Look!”

Aia saw her stare excitedly out into the horizon. She turned to see what could possibly be so awe-inspiring. It was a tall building. A very tall building. One that towered above the rest of the world. And it was not very far from where they were. She wondered how they could have missed it for so long. It stood as prominently as the sun itself.

The structure was a humongous block right in the center of the ruin, joined together with one or two thinner towers, and with large colourful signs plastered on all visible sides, painted a slightly faded green with ornate white symbols spread across them. The buildings were dotted with perfectly aligned windows, what looked like thousands of them. They could see large decks jutting out from their sides, with stone railings and covered with a striped tarp. There were few signs of damage, as if this titan stood invulnerable why the world crumbled around it. It was an untouched beacon of stateliness among a savage wasteland. And this all from the top half visible to them as they looked over the roofs (or, in many cases, where the roof would normally be) of the dwarfed corpse buildings. They ran towards it, hoping that the rest of it would prove to be as undamaged and complete as the top half. They had no idea what kind of building it was, what purpose this giant served…but it was something. Something was good enough for them, especially Aia, who was desperate to find anything to house her Little Sister.

As the rest of the building slowly revealed the rest of itself, they saw that they were definitely in luck. While they approached the thing itself, entering an asphalt square with torn down trees and lights much like the one that sat in front of the park, they could see that it appeared to be intact. Aia couldn’t shake how odd this felt, finding every other building torn to pieces while this one appeared to be in pristine condition. What did it mean? Did it matter? Here it was, a place that had a roof, all its walls, and plenty of space for them. She ceased asking probing questions about it. Why squander good fortune with such nitpicking?

From the asphalt, they could see that at the base of the building was a clean red carpet which led to a grouping of crystalline glass doors, not a spot between them. They couldn’t clearly make out what was inside, but they could see light. A good sign. The closer they got, they more they could make out within the doorway of the massive thing: the floor was a dark red (much like the carpet), there were thin, leaf-rich trees in little pots, and there looked to be a large staircase further in. These little details were not important, though; they were happy to see that it was not another ruined mess inside. They could certainly stay there.

Then, just as they stepped on the red carpet, they noticed something else: there was someone standing by the door. Not like the Poster People or the creatures, but someone like them. He stood in profile inside the glass doors, motionlessly. Waiting. His head was very round, and covered in jet black hair, like a cotton ball. He wore a red vest and bow tie over a white shirt, with black pants and shoes that seemed to be meticulously polished to perfection. These clothes seemed different. Like they weren’t made for him. They reminded Aia of the kinds of things the Poster People wore.

As they approached, the man at the door spotted them out of the corner of his eye, swivelled towards them at lightning speed, revealed he was wearing dark glasses, flashed a salesman’s grin, and opened the door. Then came his opening pitch:

“Welcome, friends! Come inside! Make yourself at home! We’re open to everyone! Go to the front desk and check in! We’re always happy to see new faces here!”

They did as he said. The lobby of the building was as massive as the outside suggested: The ceiling looked almost as high as the one in the park, and from it dangled several beautiful chandeliers that lit the maroon-hued space. Just off to the side were two large staircases leading to an upper level, where they saw a long hallway plastered with patterned wallpaper and with dozens of doors on each side. The place was filled with people, an extraordinary number considering it was in the middle of nowhere. Many were talking, some carried around shining silvery plates and cloths, and some were even performing tricks for the amusement of others. It seemed to be a thriving community, but where did all they come from? They couldn’t all be crazy or criminal, could they?

They walked over to the front desk, not far from the doors. Behind it stood another person in the same Poster People get-up as the doorman, but this one had a green face covered in metallic-looking protrusions, which was a tad intimidating at first. As they stood in front of the desk, Pearl rung the bell, for no other reason than it was there. Thus is the way of Pearl. The man at the desk was ready for them, his hands interlocked and his polished grin aimed. Despite his less-than-friendly appearance, the spiky-faced clerk had the same desperate-to-please demeanour as the cotton ball doorman.

“New visitors, I presume?” he asked.

“Yes” Aia stated for the both of them.

He immediately stuck out his arm and dropped a key with a strange symbol on it in front of her.

“Room two-hundred fifty six, on the second floor. Enjoy your stay!”

Aia took the key. She guessed the symbol must be the room number. She had seen symbols like these before, but it was always on Poster People artifacts. She now knew what they were. Strange how unimportant it all seemed.
Before she could do anything else, Pearl piped up.

“What is this place? Who are all these people? Where did they come from?” she asked the clerk.
Aia wanted to know all these things as well. She was relieved that it was Pearl who asked about it; such questions sound so much better coming from a sense of childish curiosity.

“Yes, an important question! Believe me, everyone asks us about this when they first check in. As they should!
This building is a hotel, a place built by the founders of this land for the sole purpose of housing travellers, such of yourselves. It’s a marvellous place, isn’t it? Thankfully, even though the founders have long since left, we who remained behind have been able to keep everything up and running and intact through ingenuity and hard work. It’s as high-quality as when it was first opened!”

“What are the founders?” Pearl interrupted.

“Why, they are the people who built everything you see here! The buildings outside, the amusement park, the trolleys you saw in the streets, and of course, the hotel. You may have seen pictures of them on walls. They may have even created us!”

“So they’re the Poster People?”

“Yes, that’s what those who come from the park call them, but here we like to call them the founders instead. It is a name more indicative of their importance, don’t you think?
But, to answer your other questions: all the people who come here to the hotel, including those like me who work here, come from the park. Some were sent away for various reasons, but we do not judge someone for prior actions. However, you’d be surprised how many people simply choose to leave there, seeking a new life. And they are certainly able to find it here!”

“But they told us outside was bad. Why would anyone want to go here?”

For a moment, Aia glared at Pearl while she wasn’t looking. Oh sweet Pearl, why indeed?

“Oh, everyone gets that misconception pounded into their head at some point. Some seek the truth of the matter. Some don’t care. Some are willing to do anything just to get away from their old mundane lives. The point is, most people are here by their own volition. And we do our best to make this place everything they want and more! But don’t take my word for it, go ask some of our guests yourselves!”

This was an idea Pearl couldn’t resist, immediately running into the lobby towards the crowds of mingling patrons, full of questions. Aia smiled, nodded, and took the key. Room two-hundred fifty six, second floor. Their new home. Maybe things would work out after all. That was certainly something she didn’t expect.

The two eventually conquered the two flights of red-carpeted stairs and made their way to Room two-hundred fifty six. Along the way, they saw more people, including more red-vested employees of the hotel performing a number of different tasks. There seemed to be quite a few of them; Aia wondered if they were pulled from among the guests, and started to think of the possibility of joining them. She still had some desire to start working again. She tucked that desire away when they got to the door, whose big black insignia read the same as the label on the key: 256. She unlocked the door and they stepped inside; they found themselves in a fairly sizable room, comparable to the size of their flat, but much fancier, with soft carpeting, two large beds with freshly laundered blankets, another separate room off to the side with a sink and a shower (“A shower in a home!”, Aia thought, “Never in the my wildest dreams…”), a number of medium-sized appliances whose purpose were utterly mysterious to them, and the most impressive thing: a balcony, looking over the devastated land below. Sure, there wasn’t much to see, but the view was grand, and it was the thought that counts.

Truly, this was Aia ‘s dream come true, but not for her. She could enjoy luxuries like these, but she never felt worthy of them, or even that they were necessary: she made do with what she had. However, she always wanted the best, or at least better than what she had, for Pearl. She wanted to give her everything she thought she deserved, being the special light in her life. And here it all was, sprawled in one room that they got for nothing but a few hours worth of walking. If only she had known it would be this easy before…

The two settled in quickly. They claimed their beds and lay motionless, taking in the alien level of comfort with relish.

“Big Sister?”
“Yes?”
“I like this place.”
“Me too.”

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