Written by Scott D. Harris
Night 1 / Chapter 1: "Checking In"
He liked the rain. There was something about this natural race to soak the Earth that energised his thought processes, and after all those hours surrounded by countless people in harsh perfume and glistening clothes, he appreciated the time alone. Quentin had offered him a ride home, but he declined because he was too tired for more socialising. He also liked trains, especially at this late hour because so few people used them. He could sit on them for hours and hours and watch the landscape pass by, illuminated by the moon above. Wondrous. It made him feel so relaxed. Not tonight though, something felt missing. He took the award out of his suitcase and set it on the little table affixed to the wall. He had been pleased as punch to win the BAFTA for his latest production, which he had both written and directed. It was only his second film, the first had done well, but this had outdone it by miles. He had been the only one of his class to make it this far. As the four years passed between entering university and graduating with his Master of Arts, he had been the first raindrop, the one to outrace the crowd and reach the goal, break apart and spread his influence. There was so much enjoyment in the learning and the growing, but now two films down the line, something felt wrong, left of centre. One reviewer had called him a, "maker of evil films." Hilarious, those critics, one rung above tiny parasites on the evolutionary ladder with the smug sense of superiority that made them fit perfectly into the jigsaw puzzle that was showbiz. Only a few were really knowledgeable to appreciate the hard work that went into producing a work of art…why did he feel agitated? He distinctly remembered taking that one for a compliment. He cleaned his glasses, another habit he had developed during the nerve-wracking production of his first. He then rested his chin on his crossed arms and stared into the trophy's eyes.
How long had he been asleep? He checked for his wristwatch, then remembered he had left it to be repaired before he set out for the award show. Well, he did not recognise the scenery outside the window, so the only sensible conclusion would be to get off and grab the first train to go in the opposite direction. Not that he minded too much. The train pulled to a stop and he quickly stowed the BAFTA back in his briefcase. The platform was devoid of life and the only sounds were the moaning wind and the hum of the train's systems. Looking around, he saw that there was no station on the opposite side of the tracks. Whoever heard of a one-way train? Ridiculous. He sighed and turned to the station building itself. It was dark now. There had to be civilisation near. He would find shelter. Frankly he did not care if he drifted about forever. Famous people had been known to disappear off the face of the planet before, why not join them? Maybe they never turned up because wherever they went was so much better. The walk felt like forever. There was just one grey dirt road leading straight from the station and through a dark, dead wasteland. The trees were black and reached up to claw at the Madman's Moon like dying hands riddled with arthritis. The grass was fragile and crack-a-racked under his shoes. Damn it, where on Earth was he? Even the station and the tracks had vanished over the horizon, and he was feeling weary. So he sat down at the side of the road to contemplate his situation. As if on cue, there was the honk! honk! of an approaching car. He looked up to see a bright yellow cab rumble up beside him. It was blocky in build and utterly unlike any cab he had ever seen before. The license plate read, 'Do you remember me?'
"'Ey, buddy!" a nasally voice chirped from inside the cab, "ya need a ride?"
Did he? Well he had nothing else to do.
"Yeah, all right," he stood up and reached to open the door of the cab, but it popped open of its own volition. He paused, then thought nothing of it and climbed in. There was a screen separating the front and back seats with a small hatch over a tray for both communication and payment.
"Where ya goin'?" asked the nasally voice.
"Are there any hotels around here?" he replied.
"Sure, I know a good one. Nobody ever complains," said the voice. "'Ey, I seen you before. You famous, buddy?"
"Sort of," he muttered. The voice of the driver hmm'd.
"You a game show host?"
"Okay, uh…yer a pro figure skater, right?"
"Ha!" he snorted. "No."
"…Traeh si tuohtiw nam a rey."
"Nothin', buddy. Okay, here we are." He reached for his wallet, but the voice interrupted, "Don't worry 'bout it, this one's on me."
"Don't mention it, buddy."
He picked up his briefcase and climbed out of the cab. As it drove away, honking its horn, he turned around, and there it stood. A two-storey building of brown brick, with a roof of black tiles, and above the heavy wooden double-doors was the establishment's name in foot-high gold letters.
The doors swung apart as if to welcome him and a thin blanket of smoke poured across the stone steps and out into the night, washing over his feet. The entry looked like the hungry mouth of a cat looming over its prey. He stiffened his resolve, and walked inside.
The lobby was at least warmer than the biting, breezeless cold outside. The ankle-deep purple carpet and pale green walls were in need of a clean, but the mahogany counter was well polished. The lamp in the ceiling was dim, casting a weak, flickering glow about the room. He set down his briefcase and tapped the bell on the counter. After a couple more tries of this, an aged voice spoke.
"Good evening, my friend," it said, "do you need a room for the night?"
"Oh!" he twirled round to see the owner of the voice. It was a mouse as tall as him, with wispy, dirty white hair over his grey fur and large eyes. He was quite sure one was glass, for no matter where the left one looked, the white one continued staring off idly into the abyss. The mouse wore a faded pink cardigan over a Christmas-striped jumper and he carried a candlestick. "Y-Yes, just for the night."
"Well, we'll say about that," the old mouse tittered, "you're welcome to stay as long as you deem necessary. Oh! Pardon me, I forget my manners. I am Gregory, the manager of this hotel, and you would be?"
He was surprised. Somebody who did not recognise him? Well, that was all right. It meant no need to sign autographs or talk business, and he had not had a good holiday in quite a while.
"Henry," he said, "Henry Cricket."
"A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr Cricket," said Gregory. He hobbled behind the counter and opened the red guest book resting on it and handed the new quest a pen. Henry scribbled his name and checked the clock on the wall for his checking in time. "There's no specific check out time," Gregory explained, "we run a fairly…a-hem…liberal system, you could say." He gave a creaking chuckle like an old door. "Well, that's that, now, why don't you come with me and I'll show you your room, sonny. You look tired from your trip." As the old mouse started to walk away from the counter, he disappeared downward with a yelp.
"Holy…!" Henry looked over to see a hole had opened up in the floor. "Are…are you all right? Are you hurt?"
"Oh, I'm fine," was the reply. Henry turned, wide-eyed, to see Gregory standing there with a large wooden spike stabbed right through his stomach. Henry felt a sick. His lips quivered but no sound came out.
"Oh, this?" asked Gregory, patting the spike. "Don't you fret about that, we also have a very good health plan here at the hotel, this is nothing to our on-site expert. Now why don't we go to your room? I'm afraid you missed dinner, but if you want I can whip you up a sandwich or some soup."
"Oh, uh, thank you," said Henry, watching the trail of blood the manager left in the carpet as they walked together. Even when the blood stopped flowing, he did not seem hindered in the slightest, and soon they reached Room 101.
"Here you go, my friend," said Gregory, handing Henry an iron key. "I'll be back soon. In the meantime, you make yourself comfortable, all right?" He beamed widely and walked away, fading into the shadows. Henry scratched the side of his head. Didn't he have a spike rammed through him a few moments ago? He must have been hallucinating. The mouse was right, he was probably just tired. He slotted the key into the lock and opened the door. The room was small and simple, but that was all right. There was a single bed up against one wall with a framed picture of a proud-looking housecat above it, a dressing table with a mirror, a single shuttered window and a wardrobe. He opened this last object to find a set of empty hangers, just enough on which to hang his jacket and bow-tie. He set his briefcase down on the wardrobe's floor and put his shoes on top of that. He collapsed on the bed, but rather than go to sleep, despite how fatigued he was, his mind simply wandered.
Wonderful work…you'll knock their socks off at the BAFTAs…you're a strange man, aren't you?…evil, that's what your work is, absolutely evil, but I love it…hope to work with you in the future…
He groaned and pulled the top pillow over his head.
Honey, how did filming go? …I don't want to talk about it…well, if you say so, I have wonderful news myself about the book…tell me more…
A knock at the door caught his attention. Sitting up, he went to the door and pulled it open to see Gregory standing there with a wooden tray. There was a plate of sandwiches and a cup of a rather sweet-smelling tea.
"Ah, good to see you're settling well, my friend," he smiled, "my cooking skills aren't really up to much, but I can make a mighty fine cheese sandwich. The tea is my good friend Catherine's special blend. She told me to let you know she really hopes you enjoy it. Her love and her…heh-heh…blood went into making it just right."
"Thank you very much," Henry smiled, accepting the tray.
"Right, I'll leave you to it, then," the mouse nodded, "so you know, breakfast is served between 7 and 9, lunch between 12 and 1 and dinner between 6 and 8, after which the bar will be open until 3 a.m., but don't be afraid to drop by the kitchen if you fancy a little something between meals. Good night, now." He chuckled again as he wandered off for the second time. Henry closed the door and looked at the tray, suddenly feeling ravenous. He sat down on the bed and wolfed down the sandwiches, then knocked back the tea. It scolded his throat and the fragrant scent filled his senses. He did all this without taking a single breath, and took several deep inhalations and exhalations when he was finished. He looked into the cup, there was just a small pool of the pinkish tea left and his reflection rippled on its surface…right? No, everything was rippling. The cup! The bed! His hands! Henry dropped the cup and it bounced on the wooden floor, spilling its scant contents in all directions. He put his hands to his head and struggled to maintain his balance, but his bones seemed to have gone as he flopped uselessly downward with a sickly 'thud!' Everything was becoming a mosaic blur, and the last sound he heard was heeled footsteps outside his door.