From inside of my booze-fueled dreams, I manage to hear my cellphone warble. Of course I manage to hear it. For the last two years, being quick to answer the phone at odd hours has meant the difference between scoring a piece of my dealer’s fresh stock or losing out to the next guy on the call list—the guy who’ll answer on the first ring. Well, today I’m that guy.
“There’s been an unexpected cancellation,” a voice informs me.
This is definitely not my dealer.
“Would you like to book the room?” the voice says.
I glance from the last pill on my nightstand to the empty bottle of E & J on my floor. My, what a turn my life has just taken.
“I need an answer, and just know that it’s binding.”
“Yes,” I blurt. “I’ll take the room.”
“Check-in is at precisely 3:02 this afternoon.” The caller rattles off an address, then hangs up.
I scoff. But I don’t dare step foot in the lobby even a second early. As soon as the display on my phone reads 3:02, I breeze past the doorman and straight to the front desk, wheelie bag in tow. It isn’t until I notice the loud clacking of the concierge’s keyboard that I realize there’s not one soul in this lobby except the concierge, the doorman, and me. Oh, and the bellhop, who’s currently putting my luggage on his cart.
“Oh, you don’t have to…” my words trail off as he whisks the cart into a service elevator.
The concierge clears her throat and slides a gilded tray toward me. “If you’ll just deposit your phone, wallet, and keys in this receptacle.”
“Do you want to succeed or not?”
“Of course, but—”
“—Then deposit your items in the receptacle, please.”
I glare at her, but I do as I’m told. “It’s not a ‘receptacle,’” I say lamely. “It’s a tray.”
“Follow me,” she says. She presses a button to summon the main elevator, which dings open immediately.
“Wow. Is it the slow season or something?”
The concierge smiles tightly and takes me up to my accommodations. She uses a card key to open the door to room 302. I walk in, pleased with the king sized bed and the marble floors.
“You’ll receive three meals a day,” the woman says. “Thank you for choosing ReHo.”
Before I can respond, she pulls the door shut.
“Wow. Rude much?”
But I really can’t stay angry. I’ve waited so long to be a guest here, and now I finally am.
I first heard about this place at a low point in my life. The alcohol and pills had made it impossible to keep track of anything—time or my hygiene or, for that matter, traffic laws. I’d gotten fired from my job and slapped with a DUI in the same week. After one of my mandatory AA meetings, someone had given me a card. All heavy stock and rounded corners, it had only two lines of text:
Don’t call us; we’ll call you.
I’d chuckled. “They’ll call me, huh? How? They don’t have my number.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that. If you’re serious about making a change and you show true potential, they’ll be sure to contact you. Haven’t you ever heard that quote, ‘When the student is ready, the teacher will appear?’”
I’d rolled my eyes at that, but once home, I’d found myself propping the card up against my bedside lamp. Life went on. Every time I sabotaged a relationship or woke up with an unconscious stranger lying next to me, I’d look at that card and hope.
Well, I’m finally here, and this room is worth the wait. I soak in the Jacuzzi tub and enjoy the steak dinner they bring me and watch channels I never even knew existed. I’m so taken by this novel luxury that I fail to notice that there’s no landline and no windows.
Oddly, my first night without booze isn’t as hard as I thought it would be. In fact, I don’t even remember going to bed. In the morning, I wake to the smell of bacon and coffee. I stretch indulgently and decide that I won’t complain that someone opened my door while I was asleep and dropped off my breakfast. Perhaps such an occurrence isn’t so much an intrusion as it is the ultimate form of pampering. I pad toward the intoxicating aroma.
Someone dropped off my food, all right, but they also took it upon themselves to hammer heavy planks over the door. Chains and padlocks complete the shocking sight.
The food goes cold as I yell, pound on the unchained portions of the door, frantically search for a phone or a window, then return to the door for more shouting and pounding. I suddenly stop, disturbed by a question that chills me…How on earth is the door barricaded from the inside? I would’ve heard it if someone was hammering away in my room, for god’s sake. And even if I somehow didn’t, whoever put up these chains would still be in here…I yank open the closet door, look under the bed and desk, and peer into the tub and shower. There’s no one in here. At this point, I’ve got the shakes, and I have no idea if it’s because I’m so mind-fucked by this situation, or because I haven’t had a drink in almost a day.
By noon, my hands ache from assaulting the door and walls and all my screaming has reduced my voice to gravel. When I hear a scraping noise, I look down just in time to see a narrow, nearly invisible flap in the bottom of the door swing shut. So that’s how they’re getting my food in here.
“HEY!” I kick at the flap. “HEY, LEMME OUTTA HERE! YOU GUYS CAN’T KEEP ME IN HERE LIKE THIS! THIS IS NOT WHAT I SIGNED UP FOR!”
When I realize that no one’s going to offer me some bullshit reminder of why I’m here or even tell me to shut the fuck up, I completely lose it. I use my foot to brutalize my lunch and breakfast trays. Porcelain and glass shatter, silverware bangs against marble, liquids and food splash and slop.
I stand here, seething. Exhaustion slowly replaces my ire. I press my back to the ornate burgundy wallpaper and allow my body to slide downward. Cranberry juice seeps into my pant leg. I barely notice, as my clothes are already soaked with perspiration. I can tell by the sour odor that it’s not so much sweat from exertion as it is from detoxing. I fall asleep like this, a grown man leaking tears of rage and confusion.
I wake at six, when my dinner tray is fed through the flap. I immediately push the tray off to the side and press my face as close to the opening as I can.
“Hey!” I plead. “You need to give me something. Some sort of…information. Something.”
I hear the faintest sound of footsteps retreating on carpet. But I’m too weak to have another useless tantrum. I bring my tray to my bed. I might as well enjoy these beef medallions, mushrooms in wine sauce, garlic mashed potatoes, and buttery green beans. I chew slowly, eager to put some food in my belly but wary of my stomach’s condition.
Suddenly, the flat screen comes to life. Half a green bean falls from my gaping mouth and splats on my forearm. I watch, bewildered, at mildly shaky surveillance footage of…myself. Me, waking in the middle of the night, pulling tools, wood, and chains out from under the bed and affixing them over my own door. Me, sliding the tools through the flap and into the hallway. Me, getting back under the covers.
“What the fuck is this?” Disbelievingly, I jab at the TV with my fork. “What in the hell kind of CGI voodoo magic is this? I didn’t lock myself in here!”
The footage jumps to a mere fifteen minutes ago. I’m in the foyer, sweeping up glass and food with a mini broom and dustpan, depositing the debris on the trays, sliding them out through the flap, and using my own bath towels to clean up the rest.
I chuck my fork on top of my unfinished dinner and scramble into the foyer. It’s pristine. When I’d come to, I hadn’t remembered the mess I’d made, and sure as hell hadn’t remembered cleaning it up. Terror pulses through me. I’m not in control here. Not of my actions or my memories or what I do after I fall asleep.
I return to the bed and see the most baffling footage yet. It’s me--days from now. Apparently, I’m even being surveilled in the bathroom, because there I am, slithering into a jagged opening in the bathroom wall.
I run to the bathroom, hoping to find a hole big enough for me to fit through. No such luck. The wall is smooth and solid and I don’t need to break my knuckles on it to deduce that it’s not my bodily strength that’s going to crack through this surface. I check under the bed, hoping that some tools have appeared under there. I mean, it’s possible, right? Room 302 clearly abides by no rules. I find nothing. Yet I recognize that I have been given something: the something that I’d asked of the person who delivered my dinner. The surveillance footage I’ve been shown is no accident. It’s the information I requested. I take comfort in this beacon of hope, and I finish my dinner.
Afterward, I vomit. Now that I’m not busy yelling and kicking things and fretting that I’ll never get out of here, it really hits me that I feel like hell. I want a drink. I want a Percocet. No, no—a Klonopin. I shiver and moan, nausea rolling over me in cruel waves.
The next day, I manage to keep my food down for half an hour. But then the diarrhea starts. I linger on the toilet, my gaze flitting around in search of the camera that must be in here. I’m mortified by the knowledge that someone is probably watching me as I shit and shudder like a complete lunatic. I coax my thoughts away from the invisible eyes of room 302 by assuring myself that I’m not the first junkie spewing all manner of bodily fluids in this place, and I won’t be the last.
I wonder if I should start doing something, break through the wall which I’m supposed to use as an escape route not long from now (and probably could’ve escaped through yesterday if I would’ve put my god damn nose to the grindstone). But I feel like I’m on the precipice of death. I limp back to bed, the bones in my hip sockets and knee joints grinding as if in need of the lubrication that only alcohol can provide. I wrap the comforter around me, quaking against the cold that feels like it’s coming from inside me. Jesus. Is my heart pumping coolant instead of blood?
I wake the following morning slumped in the shower, cold water beating down on me. I must’ve passed out in here. God only knows how long the water’s been on. I clamber away from the freezing stream. This is the fastest I’ve moved since I’ve been in here. I pull on a bleach-white robe. I shiver and gawk at the evidence of what I was up to while I was “sleeping.” It seems that I pulled a drawer from the dresser, broke it apart for its nails, sliding mechanisms, and wood, and used those sharp bits to chip the mosaic tile from the wall and start chiseling into the structure underneath. It won’t be long now, and apparently, I need not exert a shred of conscious effort. It’s the magic of room 302 that powers my trajectory toward a clean escape from ReHo.
I dress and collect my tray from the foyer. This time it’s loaded with an asparagus mozzarella omelet, buttered rye toast, crispy hash browns, and an insulated pitcher of coffee. I eat.
I don’t vomit.
I don’t paint the toilet bowl with foul, yellow excrement.
I put my fork and knife in the bathroom in case I need them for digging purposes. I relax the rest of the day, and again, I don’t remember nodding off.
At 3:02 a.m., my eyes fly open. There’s a pulsing that’s coming from everywhere, a subtle yet influential droning that I don’t consciously understand but that I heed nonetheless. I continue the job that I started in the bathroom. When the opening is finally big enough, I don’t feel the explosion of triumph that I expected. Instead, I’m filled with a quiet sense of accomplishment and worthiness. For some reason, I get naked. I slither into the hole and tunnel through its warm, deep vibrations. Finally, I reach…my room? It’s identical to room 302, yet somehow…not. It’s still. Silent. And my luggage is open on the bedspread, filled with clothing that’s more handsome (and a size smaller) than what I remember bringing. I put the clothes on. They fit perfectly. I wheel my bag out the door, which shows no signs of ever being festooned with planks, chains, or padlocks. In the hallway, I glance at the room number. It says 303.
When I get down to the lobby, a friendly voice calls out, “Mr. Townshend. How was your stay?”
“It was excellent,” I say. “It was really, really excellent.”
“Thank you for staying at the Rebirth Hotel. I hope to never see you again.” The concierge winks and returns to her typing, which I can’t hear at all over the happy din of the hotel’s bustling guests.
Sophie Kearing loves fantastic-smelling paperbacks, hot coffee, and her fur babies. Her fiction has been picked up by Ellipsis Zine, Horror Tree, Sirens Call Publications, Pixel Heart Literary Magazine, and Spelk Fiction. She spends way too much time on Twitter and would love to connect with you: @SophieKearing.