The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

(Chapter XIV)

Posted by Matt on February 5, 2011

Previously

They both fell asleep at about the same time on their wondrous new beds. It was the first good sleep Aia had in…she didn’t even know. The discovery of the hotel made all of her worries melt away. Everything was taken care of, finally, and she could move on, go back to the way things were. Except it’ll be even better now; she was sure of it.

They were both awoken by a knock on the door. Aia got up to answer, opening the door to find one of the red-vested employees, with the same over-the-top grin as his compatriots. Everything about his stance at the door; his hands pressed together, his professional posture, his energetic stare; told her that he had spent every second between the knock and the opening rehearsing for this moment. Like the others, he existed to impress.

“Just a reminder: dinner will be served in exactly one hour in the dining room on the main floor! Third door on the right of the executive hallway!”

This reminded her of something very important she had forgotten in light of recent events: what would she eat now that she had to be civilized again? Would the hotel serve the same things that were available in the park? Would the pangs return? She started to worry. She didn’t want these things to start up again.

To kill time, Aia and Pearl walked up and down the hallway of their floor, seeing if they could meet and chat with any of their new neighbours. Both of them were curious to see what they could learn about them, to possible see if the desk clerk was telling the truth about the hotel’s visitors. They met a few as they went in and out of their rooms, and in the introductory small talk heard their stories. One man said he left because his house was destroyed by the flood waters and was tired of waiting for the Council to build him a new one. A tall woman told them she had chronically stolen things from all the people she visited as part of her job as a census taker, and decided to run with some of the spoils before she was caught. There was another duo of sisters whose story was very similar to their own, but the Big Sister had left voluntarily because she had lost her job and could think of nothing else to do; the Little Sister, of course, followed her out without her knowledge (“Just like me!” Pearl said excitedly. She was overjoyed to find a kindred spirit).

Then there was the old man. All the others they talked to told them that they should visit the old man, who was fixture of the second floor, consulted by people from all over the hotel. They said he claims he’s so old, he was around when the founders were still here. He was full of stories about the way of the whole world during that time; and, even if they aren’t true, they’re still fairly entertaining. He was in Room 222, and rarely left.

So they did as they were told and went to the room to visit him. He opened the door as soon as they knocked and showed them in; he told them he has visitors all the time, so he has no reason to ever keep anyone waiting. They were introduced, and they told him about the people who told them to talk to him.

“I guess I have a name around here, now? Explains all the visitors” he said.
“Is it true you were around with the Poster People?” Pearl asked him.
“Yep. There ain’t a whole lot of us who remember that time anymore. There’s a reason for that, of course, and I’ll have to remember to get to that. You remind me, alright?”
“Okay!”

The old man was a strange figure. He was small, maybe only half as tall as Pearl, and covered in shaggy grey hair. His face appeared squashed inwards, with dark eyes, a tiny black nose, and a set of pointed teeth that stuck out even when his mouth was closed. He had triangular little flaps standing atop his head, apparently his ears. He walked on all fours, but did it a lot more confidently than Aia ever could in her many years of mindlessly doing so at time. Despite his size, though, he spoke with a weathered, gruff manner, a voice that honestly sounded as old they said he really was. They both thought it was quite something to hear a proud, at times booming voice coming from such a diminutive person. It seemed incongruous, like someone else was talking for him.

“There’s a reason for that, too” he told them when Pearl brought it up (as she was wont to do with anything she found odd or confusing) “You’ll have to remind me to tell that story as well. I’ve got so many, I have a hard remembering which one I was supposed to be doing that moment. Ah, the years’ll do that to ya’”

After that conversation, they went downstairs to the dining hall. It was located in a hallway tucked underneath one of the mountainous staircases. Like the lobby, the room was very large and very fancy: there were maybe a hundred evenly aligned tables spread into neat orders throughout the room, each one covered with a clean white table cloth. Everything in the room was polished to shining perfection, from the walls to each individual table. All the brightness and cleanness seemed to bathe every room in angelic light. It was quite unlike anything Aia had ever imagined. “The promised land”, she thought; finally, they found it.

They took their seats at one of the tables closer to the door. There were surprisingly few people in the room with them; some people just choose to eat their meals at different times, or would rather have room service deliver stuff directly to them, they learned. Aia preferred going to the dining room; the communal aspect was important to her. They waited for a few minutes before one of the red-vested employees came before them and announced what they were having: a collection of things neither of them had ever heard of. Pearl told them she was okay, and didn’t need anything. This was one of the strange things about her that Aia had come to forget over the years: she never seemed to be hungry. Sometimes in the park she would eat the tablets or the cakes with her, but it always seemed more out of a desire to share an activity with her than any need. For a long time, Aia had simply thought she just had a small appetite, but now she wasn’t so sure. Maybe this was another special thing she was granted? It would certainly save her from experiencing the same pains her Big Sister did.

In about fifteen minutes, the food was served, and as the mysterious names suggested, the stuff was completely new to both of them. When Aia tasted some of it, including little round green things, the first thing she noticed was that is was not very sweet. Almost everything she had to eat in her life was sweet (well, except for some more recent examples), so this came as surprise. It was warm and moist, things the food in the park almost never was. There was nothing powdery about it, it didn’t immediately overtake all your senses with its exploding saccharine. At first, she had no idea what to think of it; but she ultimately came to prefer it. She felt somewhat guilty about this when she tried one of the other offerings on her plate, little white strips that seemed to have the same texture and taste as the flying things, but she was ultimately able to disassociate the two in her mind. It wasn’t alive, what did she have to feel bad about?

She was relieved to find that the food at the hotel was truly filling. She did not experience the pangs while she was there. She would wonder what it was about the food there that made it that much more satisfying than the stuff at the park, but since she had long learned the possibility of negative things coming from pondering such questions, she stopped. She had no reason to ruin the good experiences she was having with such thoughts. There were no problems that she needed to address, so why bother?

It wasn’t long before Aia had found a new routine. When Pearl and her woke up, they went over to the window and viewed the landscape, seeing what the weather was like and staring at what little of the endless water was visible over the horizon. Pearl said she liked seeing where the rain came from, and Aia agreed. After that, they would take a walk over a strict route through the hall of the second floor, down one of the staircases, weaving through the lobby, and then up the other staircase to go back to the second floor. The only variation allowed was which of the two staircases to the lobby they would take. Along the way, they would talk to any and all of the people they saw. They got to intimately know many of their neighbours, more than ever did back home. There was something more personal about finding them out here than there in the dank and crowded streets; and they were assured that all of them were friendly people experiencing many of the same things they were. It was much easier to be friendly to people who lived pretty much the same lives they did. Nothing to hide, nothing to fear, no judgement. They even got to know several of the hotel employees, who were constantly running back and forth between rooms, picking up laundry, delivering food, and making sure everyone was satisfied with their current situation. Aia thought they must be very satisfied with their lives; after all, they were making people happy, and they themselves always looked like they enjoyed what they were doing (even if the smiles they always greeted her with seemed very artificial). They appeared to be the ultimate examples of Brother Sal’s work ethic, like the kinds of impossible standard-setters tales of courage and heroism were about. But here they were, very much real.

After the walk, they would go back to their room and rest for a while. By the time they were ready to move again, it was usually time to head to the dining hall again. Sometimes they would go down immediately and talk to some of the other people who went there, and sometimes they would instead visit Room 222 and see what the old man was up to. It was generally uneventful, but Aia preferred it that way: breaks in her routine were what sent her outside in the first place. Which was both bad and good, she admitted. She wouldn’t be here if she didn’t commit that one atrocity…

One of the few major events that took place in the initial part of their stay was meeting the so-called ‘leader’ of the hotel. He wore odd clothes like his underlings, but instead of the red vest, he wore a black jacket. His head was balloon-like, and seemed to bob up and down like it was floating. His facial features seemed almost drawn on, and rarely changed. He always seemed to be in a good mood, but it never felt like he was trying to sell something like the rest of the hotel staff did, which made it very easy for Aia to have faith that they were in good hands. He didn’t say much to them when he saw them, just a simple ‘Hello, how’s your day going? Everything going all right?’. They would bring up some minor things, mention how nice the weather was, and compliment him about the service; he gave them only very simple replies, ‘Oh, yeah, I think so too’, ‘Thanks a lot, we really appreciate that’, ‘Okay, I’ll let them know about it and we’ll get on it as soon as possible’. Aia chalked this up to him being very busy and not having the time or energy to think up more meaningful replies; he was running the whole place, after all. She appreciated that he at least took the time to talk to them, no matter how brief his answers. This was far more than the Council ever did for her.

It would take a lot of negativity to sour Aia on the hotel. From the moment they walked in, it was good to her. She had spent so much time trying to make a good life possible for Pearl, and she was finally able to find it. She couldn’t think of a single thing that could go wrong. Not that she wanted to find something that could possibly go wrong. They tended to happen when she acknowledged them.

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