14

What had seemed to be a very large and inactive hotel was getting to be very active. Gabriella and Christine stayed on the transmission radio searching for a signal or trying to contact the local forestry preserve. Several of the ladies mulled around on the property going as far as they could on the property before they went running inside to get warm, and while some enjoyed their forced vacation with the game room or partying with soft drinks and champagne in the ball room, several wandered around bored and looking for alliances with the other women around them. If Rose, Jackie or Joanie had learned the true date of the calendar, they had not let on to the others. Alex and Christine had kept their realization a secret. If they got down the mountain, would they be in the present? Or would they be in the period where the daughter of William and Ally Collins was now a grown attractive young woman?

Alex stood facing the Collinwood princess in the seats of the lobby. Lainey was curled up in a seat near one of the square red pillars in the room and writing in a black and white journal she had found in the office. Her hair was pulled back tight into a ponytail behind her head, revealing her round face and large emotive eyes. Her curvy frame was clad in the hotel's white t-shirt and white sweatpants, her legs tucked under her. Hallie Parker, Lily Finnerty and Lizzie McGuire had strolled by talking openly and exuberantly to each other. Melinda Gordon had strolled by in the other direction trying to talk to the ghosts, but they were being annoyingly elusive. Each of them effervescently said hello to Lainey as they strolled by, and the vivacious brunette looked up brightly with animated features to say hello back to them then buried herself in her impromptu diary.

"Hi Lainey…" Alex stood before her.

"Nikki, what are…" The young ingénue caught herself and bashfully corrected herself. "Alex… sorry. I'm a little befuddled… You look a lot like my baby sister."

"Yeah," Alex sat across from her. "Since I've been here, five people have remarked that I look a lot like people they know. I think I must have a type or something." Lainey had courteously looked at her a few seconds then finished her thought in her book before looking back up to Alex.

"So, what are you writing?"

"Oh, just notes and messages to myself…" Lainey showed Alex her chicken scratchings in pencil in the book. "Stuff I want to do when I get home, things I want to remember like my room number… My dad's a writer so I guess I picked up a lot of stuff from him."

"You must have a big family."

"The biggest…" Lainey beamed. "Five sisters…" She reacted as if that impressed a lot of people. "Twins runs a lot in my mom's family; I've got five aunts and two uncles on my mom's side… On my dad's side, well, anyone who lives in New England possibly knows the Collinses…"

"You probably want to get back to them…"

"Yeah…" Lainey looked up demurely with the end of the pencil tipped against her chin. "I use to think I'd do anything to get away from them, but now… I really miss not seeing them, but then I see you and your friends, and… I feel as if I'm staring straight at them. Look…" She flipped her book around and revealed the names of her sisters in a column next to Alex's name and the others. "Sonny could be Tricia, you and Jessie could be Nikki and Lisa, and Maddie and Gabriella could be Maddy and Gabby… they even mirror the same names! How weird a coincidence is that?" In the book, Lainey had also matched her Aunt Sara with Cici the college student and her Aunt Amanda with Rose. There were still empty spots by her Aunt Lizzie and Aunt Carolyn's names.

"Creepy!" Alex reacted humorously and noticed Tricia Collins's counterpart coming to meet them in the form of Sonny Munroe. Clad in a violet blouse and blue jeans with red sandals taken from the attic, Sonny and Alex acknowledged each other as Alex excused herself from Lainey to catch up with Sonny.

"Did she threaten anyone else yet?"

"Not to my knowledge…" Alex looked back to Lainey writing again. "What's up?"

"Someone named Olive Doyle found balloons and helium tanks in a room at the end of the hotel." Sonny shifted her weight to her other leg. "It's the garage the hotel used to store snow mobiles, but there's nothing in there we can use. Anyway, they're going to try sending messages down the mountain in balloons."

"Well, that might work if the wind is blowing in the right direction…"

"Some of the girls are trying to get messages on the roof to try to attract a passing airplane."

"How soon can we expect someone breaking their arm or neck by rolling off of it?" Alex strolled past Lainey and the admissions desk.

"They think they'll be okay… Oh!" Sonny suddenly recalled something. "I've been carrying this around all day trying to give this to you." She whipped out Alex's wand from her back pocket. "You dropped it over a week ago in the…"

"Where'd you find that?!" Alex took her wand and stroked it over to make sure it was hers.

"You left it in the kitchen when…" Sonny started but Alex tore away from her before she could finish. Before Sonny's eyes, Alex had dashed down the employee corridor past the bathrooms, racing past Joanie , Topanga and Kelly coming down an access stairway from the second floor, entering the hallway behind the lounge area just as Hermione started wheeling out a cart with a kettle of tea and cookies to share with Rose and Prue and then tearing up the back stairs to the second floor hallway outside Room 237, the same suite where her nightmare had began. If she had any hope of getting out of here, it was where she arrived and could have the most privacy. Bursting into the room, she mentally warned the ghosts to stay away from her now.

"Transportus Immortus, Waverly Place!" She tried casting a spell to transport herself, but her wand shot out several sparks and shocked her, forcing her to drop it. "Ow!" What the heck was that? Her fingers felt numb for several seconds, but she could still move them a bit. What the heck was that? That was not supposed to happen. Whatever spell had exiled her here was too powerful for her. Could it be the hotel? Lifting her wand once more, she passed it over her eyes and enhanced her psychic senses. Through her mystical power, she could peer into the clairvoyant level and see what no one else could. The room was empty of ghosts, but the lines of the room… the patterns of the wallpaper… the shapes in the carpet… the objects in the room, they all looked as if they were conjured out of electricity. It was as if the entire place was just one huge computer generation, but that was impossible. No one had that sort of technology just short of the characters her brother watched on "Star Trek"… As she turned around, she saw the ghosts of the girls again near the fireplace and lowered her wand.

"Hello, Alex…" They looked up to her with blank stares. "Come play with us…"

"Why?" Alex faced them as if they were no difference than the ghosts she knew and experienced back home. "Why do you want me to play with you?"

"Because you're not playing the game." Sherry Grady responded.

"That's what you're here to do." Terry Grady added.

"We've been the hotel." Sherry spoke.

"We've been the band." Terry spoke.

"We've been everything in the hotel." They chorused together.

"But you're not me…" Alex replied.

"Not yet!"

Alex tore from the room as fast as she could, racing for the front of the hotel as if something was after her. She acted as if she didn't see Maddie and Gabriella and hurried past Jessie turning to talk to her. She pushed past Lily and Teddy on the stairs to the front hall, and pushed herself off the wall to keep from smacking into it. Someone called Sonny screaming that Alex was running like a bat out of hell after something with that stick in her hand, and they finally found Alex unlocking the only exterior doors not blocked by excessive snow. It was possible that it was because of the extended roof, but it was this same exterior doorway where Lily had tried racing into the snow in just her t-shirt and underwear more than a week ago and the same door she had escaped in her dream. Clad in her white sweater and slacks, Alex grabbed the broom by the doors used to sweep off the porch and stepped out into the deep snow with her feet sinking up to it up over her ankles and struggled with her body dipping into freezing levels. Her breath misting in front of her, the cold ripping through her body, her fingers felt numb just three feet out the door. Her long dark brown locks waved side to side as she tried to get further from the hotel. Sonny pushed between Gabriella and Maddie watching the spectacle. Alex was almost twenty yards out and getting further away with the broom like a deranged housekeeper.

"Alex, what are you doing?!" Sonny watched in shock. Kat, Stella, Keely and several of the other girls came to watch her breakdown.

"Saving us!" Alex marched out into the snow dragging the broom and pulled out her wand and aimed it to the sky. For the first time in her life, she recalled every spell her father had ever taught her and every possible combination. That cloudy thinking that she had possessed before had vanished with the old Alex. Looking to the descending sun, she narrowed her eyes with her lips quivering from the cold and gripped her wand tightly.

"Transportus Immortus, Waverly Place!" She ordered the sky to behave and the wind picked up, blowing snow into Maddie, Gabriella, Jessie and the girls trying to coax her back inside. Thunder cracked, and the clouds started parting, the orange sky pierced the veil with shades of blue and violet, and Sonny forced herself to look back to where Alex was. They heard thunder once again and saw a burst of lightning strike the ground before them where Alex was standing, but as they looked back up to where Alex was, they saw a large round bare area in the asphalt under the ice and snow, which had melted away to reveal the parking lot underneath, now cracked and shattered by the force of the lightning bolt. Advancing the location in the cold, Sonny, Maddie, Gabriella and the others walked around expecting to find Alex unconscious a few feet away after getting hit by the lightning, but there wasn't a trace of her.

Buffeted by the winds, trying to hard on to the broom as hard as she could, Alex was soaring down the mountain faster than she believed. Snow covered everything around her, and melting snow below her caused natural rivers to swell over their banks. Trying to ride the broom, she narrowed her eyes trying to see where she heading, but it was no use. She wasn't controlling the broom; it was controlling her, sending her weaving down and around ravines and even through the tunnel for the road cutting up to the hotel. She was shooting over the mountain roads faster than any car, dipping into valleys and ascending slopes as she charged down the mountain. Down below, a deep fog hid the bottom of the mountain from her. The thick smoke of water vapor trapped in the cold air hid everything under a certain level from her. Descending into it, Alex could feel the deep fog coming closer and closer to her, sticking to her and following her around as if it had no bottom. Everything at the bottom was hidden from view from her, and as she tried ascending to clear it, she struck something above her. Knocked from the broom, she felt herself falling deeper and deeper into the deep mist. She had seconds to spare, taking her wand she pointed to her broom and called it back to get it back and once more board it. Shooting backward, it swung downward into the mist after her, Alex crashing into it and fighting to catch it once more. She had to get out of the fog. She had to get over it. Climbing higher and higher, she ascended as far as she could but she find her way out of, but she did find what she had struck. It felt like glass. It seemed to be a huge glass cover reaching skyward. Skirting back and forth along its surface trying to get around it, she wondered what it was. There were other things in the mist with her. Strange shapes were suspended in orbit within the fog and drifting around ignoring her. From one of them, a beam of light filled with symbols beamed back the way she had come. It looked like a square flashlight sending signals, and the light was focused on a grid of boxes interlinked by glowing pathways. They looked like floating symbols, other looked like orbs of light. Others looked like tiny windows into even smaller worlds and universes. One of the boxes looked strange… it looked like it held a very tiny mountain landscape with a model of the hotel smaller than the tip of a pin.

From overhead, the skies lit up and Alex looked up to shapes passing over her. She had found the edge of the universe. It was as if she were inside a giant one-sided glass globe more than a continent wide and as thick as the width of Manhattan. It was like looking through the veil between creation and the afterlife. Over her from beyond the glass ceiling, cosmic shadows too large for her to see were talking.

"Okay, explain to me again what you did?" A distant voice spoke beyond the veil...

"Well, first thing I did was create a computer simulation of the hotel from "The Shining." The second voice explained. "And then I downloaded a character replicated from Selena Gomez's character on "Wizards Of Waverly Place" and put her into it."

"Sounds cool…"

"I add a few ghosts to follow her around, watch as she responds and then start really messing with her."

"It's like a game."

"It's kind of like "Farmville" except you're running a haunted house game with interactive female characters created from television and the movies…" The second voice explained. "Look, I got Christina Ricci from "Casper"…"

"Can you make them do anything?"

"No…" The second voice answered. "I can show them what I want them to see and alter the surroundings, but the computer keeps their characters faithful to their TV shows and movies I have downloaded. I've got almost sixty characters."

"Where's the Alex character?" The first guy looked closer to the pop-up listing the popular female characters from TV and the movies in the simulation. Each one had an on-line symbol and name enhanced in bright blue, but Alex's profile had gone off-line.

"I don't know…" A voice responded. "For some reason, she seems to have disappeared from the program…." He tried rebooting her but a pop-up just said she was off-site. "It's as if she somehow jumped to another folder…"

"When are you adding Miley Cyrus as Hannah Montana to the hotel…"

"I'm not a fan." The programmer was checking his files for Alex.

"How about Harper from "Wizards?" She's kind of hot." The first voice pulled up the window listing the characters. "Why not add her to the hotel?"

"I guess I could…." The second voice thought about it. "But I'm trying to limit them from one character from a series or franchise. I'll think about it, but I've still want to start downloading images and TV episodes tomorrow for a few more characters…" He paused. That was when Alex realized the truth. She was a fictional character from a world that didn't exist... just like the others. That explained all her look-alikes… other roles played Selena Gomez in other incarnations whose characters were incorporated together into a single world conceived by a computer. That's why all these other girls looked like her. They were all roles by one actress, each TV Series, every movie, every franchise, all of them placed in a single reality conjured by a computer program. She now understood that the hotel was an on-line game on a flash drive. She and the others were merely computer-generated players in a game not of their choosing, but the program was too good… It had all the info to bring her and the others to life too perfectly, and the hotel as well, but her creators didn't know it. She and the other girls weren't real. None of them were. They were just computer-generated images brought to life by actors on video and replicated from the details in a library of DVDS scanned and created within someone's computer drive. Tears falling down her face, she realized she had never been taken from home… she was home! She was a fictional TV character brought to life inside a computer…

"Trapped in an inevitable question…" Rod Serling narrated as Alex tried to find her way lost in the computer files and programs to get back to the hotel. "Are we real or are we imaginary beings in the mind of a dreaming god? What happens to the characters of our video games and DVD collections when we're not watching? Are they conscious of their existence or of ours? Alex Russo has found the answer and now she finds herself lost in between one world and the next, a native of both worlds and of neither. She keeps searching… she keeps searching for a way out… of the Twilight Zone."

END