3

"Meiha…" Theresa stroked her daughter's beautiful face and called her by her pet name for her. "Meiha…" Lying next to her on the sofa, Alex blinked and looked up tiredly from the sofa, her William Collins novel once flat to her chest now flipped shut by her side and falling to the floor. "Bedtime, honey…"

"What?" Alex blinked and looked around. "Where am I?"

"On the sofa…" Her father, Jerry Russo, was standing over her in a suit and tie after taking his wife out to dinner. "Have you been on this sofa since we left watching Stephen King movies?"

"Yeah…" Alex yawned and grinned quite relieved to be out of her dream. "Whoa… I had the creepiest dream that I was trapped in this huge spooky snowbound hotel by myself… It seemed so real."

"Well, dreams usually are…" Her mother kissed her cheek. "Why don't you go on to bed?" Theresa reverted from contented wife back to homemaker and picked up her daughter's two empty soda cans and bowl of cheese puffs.

"Yeah…" Alex wandered tiredly yawning toward the stairs of her New York City loft while scratching her abdomen. "I'm just so glad it was just a dream!"

"Well, it was…" Her father checked the door and locked. "And you don't need to worry about spooky hotels or creepy little girls here. Just go to bed…"

"Yeah…" Alex was half way up the stairs before she stopped and looked you her father. "Wait… How did you know there were two creepy little girls in my dream?"

"You told me."

"No, I didn't…"

"Good night, Alex…" Theresa looked up at her and started the dishwasher in the kitchen. Alex just narrowed her eyes at them curiously then forced another step up the metal staircase to the next floor. That was weird. How did her father know about those two strange girls? She was positive she hadn't mentioned them. Strolling past her room, she felt that creepy feeling coming over her as she headed to the bathroom at the end of the hall. Somehow, she felt she was still dreaming. The building seemed quiet tonight; she couldn't even hear her parents talking downstairs. The air was also cold as if she had walked into the path of the air-conditioning but this was the middle of December. Christmas was coming up and she was looking forward to the gifts, the cookies and the unique candy that only came out during this part of the year. Her breath appearing in the air in front of her face, she started unbuttoning her jeans to use the toilet and pushed the door ahead of her to enter the bathroom. The door creaked open not to her pale powder blue bathroom but to the sea green and ivory white bathroom with the dual toilets, dual sinks and support brace to the elevated bathtub in her dream. The same yellow strip separated the two colors above and below just like the bathroom in her dream. Her breath started quickening, and her eyes widened in shock. She was no longer dreaming, the hotel was real and her parents and home had been a figment of her imagination. Behind her, the exact same bedroom with the blue hexagonally shaped pattern carpet was behind her. Tears dropped down her face. She had been here for over five days.

"I was out!" She screamed. "I was out!" She screamed again clutching her head and losing her mind. "No!" She dropped to the floor in the bathroom doorway. "I was out!" Her emotions and sanity was decaying inside her. She hadn't even worn the nightgown again. She had been wearing the same white sweater and slacks since her third day here. "Nooooo…." Alex broke down crying and pleading for mercy. "I want to go home! Please, let me go home! Justin, I know you can hear me! Please let me come home!" She bawled and wept with her eyes full of tears and her lips and chin quivering with fear and sadness. "I'm sorry for everything I ever did to you! Just let me come home! I-I-I don't want to stay here!" Curled up in the fetal position by her bed, she screamed out with emotional distress exploding from her heart. "Please… let me go home…" Her breathy voice quaked and came in short bursts from her lungs. It had been five days… Five days of exploring the location, eating peanut butter sandwiches and playing games in the hotel game room for five days without seeing or talking to anther person. Someone had to know she was missing.

"I want to go home…." Alex lay curled up distraught and desperate for human contact on the carpet between the bed and bathroom. Silently weeping, she cried and moaning under her quivering breath. She barely recalled her home and what it looked like. How many steps was it from the shop up to the loft? How far was the low overhead beam over the basement steps before her father whacked his head into it? She was missing the smell of the bread from the shop, that juicy scent of the meats her father cooked for the sandwiches and the smells from the Korean Deli across the street from the balcony. It was all becoming faint memories to her. Crying and weeping, Alex realized just how much she hated the silence of this place. It was just too stinking quiet. At least from the lounge downstairs, she could hear the wind whistling, and the snow being blown around outside. In here, she could hear the AC kicking on and warming the hotel as the vents expanded and creaked from the heat.

From far beyond that sound, she finally heard something else from the floor. It sounded like distant voices, but they were getting closer and closer. She could distinguish one voice talking and then another that sounded more demure. Was it the ghosts? She'd never heard them talking before, nor had she heard anything like communication. They sounded briefly like they were right outside her room then they started getting faint again. They were leaving her. Fearing she could be losing them, Alex jumped to her feet and rushed through her suite into her foyer and in to the hallway with the presence of a bullet fired from a gun. Coming to a stop, her eyes panned around once and saw two girls near the elevators midway down the hall. The blonde was about her size, the brunette maybe a bit shorter. They were both also wearing the same complimentary hotel attire of white sweaters and white slacks and staring back at her with startled confusion. The brunette was a bit thinner; the blonde maybe a bit more athletic. Alex stood watching them unsure they were real.

"Who's that?" They were waiting for the elevator.

"I don't know." The blonde girl with the brown eyes looked a bit spooked. "Why is she looking at us like that?"

Alex suddenly charged, and the two girls screamed and raced down the hall from the opening elevator. She chased them down the hall to the front of the hotel where they rushed hurriedly down the stairs. Her feet pounding the brown, red and tan carpet under her feet, Alex heard them screaming down the hall and rushed to catch them before they got away from her. They were fast, but she thought she could catch up with them. Rushing past one entry hall, they separately found themselves in the game room where the girls grabbed the pool sticks for the billiard tables to use as weapons then turned to face Alex trying to get at them.

"Who are you?" Alex faced them over the billiard table. "How did you get in here?"

"Don't touch us!" The blonde threatened to hit her first. "I swear I'll break this over your head!"

"Are you real?!" Alex demanded to know. "Are you real?!"

"Of course, we're real!" The brunette held Alex at bay. "Who are you?! What is this place?!" She threatened to hit Alex with the cue stick, but she was genuinely surprised when Alex smiled as if letting go of an enormous weight and shaking her head in relief. She seemed thankful to be finding them. The Hispanic beauty turned to her new friend. "Maddie?"

Maddie Fitzpatrick gradually lowered her improvised weapon as Alex started crying in deep relief to not be so alone and hugged Gabriella. A few minutes ago, Maddie had wakened in this strange place from within a small suite off the back hall behind the hotel with an exterior balcony facing the mountain. Not sure how she had got here, she had dressed herself in the clothes she found in her closet and went looking for other signs of life just as Gabriella Montez had emerged from her room also looking for answers. Maddie was an employee from the Hotel Tipton in Boston, Massachusetts, and Gabriella was a math and science prodigy most recently from Albuquerque now attending Stanford University. They had never met each other before now, and yet, they both looked like someone from each other's lives. Neither of them knew why they had been brought here and left abandoned in this hotel, but they sure wanted to find out. Patting Alex on the back to comfort her tears of joy, Gabriella smelled the body odor in her clothes and winced a bit, but it was obvious she needed a friend right now.

"Who are you?" Maddie asked.

"Alex…." The de-powered sorceress answered with her voice heavy with emotion and turned to meet Maddie. "Alex Russo, New York City…" She took a deep breath and tried to apologize for scaring them. "I've been stuck in the place for five days without seeing anyone…. I was about to lose it…"

"Why didn't you call for a ride?" Gabriella asked.

"No phones…"

"You could have hitch-hiked out." Maddie responded while placing aside her cue stick.

"It's been snowing off and on since I got here." Alex looked at them expecting more answers. "There's a snowdrift five feet high against the main entrance, it's below zero outside and there is no one else in this hotel… well, except for you two so far."

"Then how did we get here?" Gabriella inquired.

"I was hoping you would have had that answer." Alex looked them both over sniffling and wiping tears from her eyes. Maddie and Gabriella looked at each other then looked to Alex with a mixture of confusion and worry.

"Let me get this straight…" Maddie seemingly took charge. "Someone abducts the three of us from three separate places, drugs us, transports us here and then just abandons us in this huge creepy hotel to fend for ourselves? That not only sounds preposterous, but it sounds incredibly unlikely. I mean, what would be the motive?"

"You got a better idea?" Alex folded her arms trying to hear the alternate theory. Maddie looked at Gabriella who almost spoke, but her scenario was not that much different.

"Why would anyone do that?" She asked.

"I don't know." Alex sighed thinking about it, but it did mean she could stop blaming her brothers for using magic on her. These girls had actually tried hitting her with cue sticks. They didn't try using spells to fight her. There was no way they could be wizards or witches so for the first time, she was unsure if magic was involved in their exile here.

"Maddie, I'm still hungry…" Gabriella spoke. "Can we talk over this while we eat?"

"Yeah… Alex, where's the…"

"Kitchen's this way…" Sniffling and blinking away her tears, Alex turned out of the room and led the way content for the first time to not be so alone. A light grin accompanied her face to find these girls here to keep her company.

"If someone did abduct us…" Gabriella was rationalizing the situation the same way she did her college studies. "Why the three of us? Why not grab three people from the same city? Why single us out from out of a million girls our age in Boston or New York City?"

"Good question…." Alex led the way to the lobby and the back employee corridor.

"It's a good question." Maddie followed Alex into the corridor. "Why were we picked, and why this place? What is it about this place? Where are we anyway? Boston, New York, Albuquerque?"

"Definitely not New Mexico…" Gabriella entered the kitchen and looked around the stainless steel surroundings of stoves and ovens. "New Mexico does not get snow storms. New York State or in-land Massachusetts, maybe. " She looked around once for the food and Alex showed them the full-stocked pantry. It was stacked ceiling high with boxes, containers, bins, sacks and shelves of dried and canned food. Every wall had something lining it. Bags of potatoes, onions, turnips and more were piled under one counter. Maddie strolled forward and realized it was slightly bigger than the pantry back home at the Hotel Tipton. Alex immediately reached up and took down a box of Hostess cupcakes she'd been eating for several days straight. There was umpteen cans of fruit and vegetables in large commercial canisters along the middle shelves, sacks of flour on pallets on the floor and baskets of smaller onions and potatoes. Numerous drink mixes filled some of the shelves. Large factory boxes of cereal and oatmeal were on the far end. It looked like a mini-general store before them. "At least, we're not going hungry…"

"No eggs?" Maddie looked at Alex.

"Cooler…" Alex pointed to five industrial refrigerators in a row outside the room. Skirting across the kitchen, Maddie opened them up to view what looked like a thousand eggs in commercial packaging layers the same that the Tipton got. There were also eight industrial five-gallon containers of milk along the bottom along with around twenty cans of soda Alex had stuck inside for drinking.

"Anyone want omelets?" She took down a cardboard tray. "Someone grab me a large frying pan…"

"It would have to be someone we know." Gabriella peeked into one of the large meat coolers and pulled out the bacon. "Whoa…" It too was also fully stocked. "Have you seen this?" She looked to Alex.

"Fifteen rib roasts, thirty ten-pound bags of hamburger, twelve turkeys, forty chickens, fifty sirloin steaks, two dozen pork roasts and twenty legs of ham." Alex quoted. "I've been trapped here for five days. I had the time." She handed Maddie the frying pan hanging from a rack off the ceiling.

"You were saying, Gabriella?" Maddie took the pan and the vegetable oil to cook the omelets.

"I'm saying it would have to be someone we all know…" The brainy beauty closed the freezer. "Someone who would have ties to this place and to us. Maddie, when we met, you said I looked like a friend of yours…"

"Corrie Willows…"

"And I said you looked like my friend, Sharpay…." Gabriella stood and posed a bit as Maddie cracked some eggs into a pan and added some grated cheese. "But how does Alex connect to us."

"Gwen!" Maddie suddenly flashed upon a face from a girl in her high school. "Gwen Alvarado! Alex, you look almost exactly like Gwen."

"Who's Gwen?" Alex inquired.

"She was this girl my friend Zack was in love with, but she instead fell for his brother, Cody." This had been annoying Maddie since she had seen Alex. Alex was taller and had more hair than Gwen, but she knew they looked like each other. "We each know someone who looks like us."

"Except me…" Alex was skeptical. "I've never met anyone who ever looked…." She suddenly froze upon looking at Maddie. Maddie looked like Samantha Danvers, the witch who nearly drowned her at the school gym at Tribeca Prep except her hair was not so bright and Maddie was thinner, not quite so curvy or busomy. "Samantha…"

"Two people who look like me?" Maddie scoffed. "Wow!"

"But that still doesn't make sense…" Alex watched as Maddie folded over the giant omelet in the pan then went to get three plates. "If someone is trapping here because we look like people we know, why isn't Sharpay, Corry, Gwen or Samantha here?" She rationalized as well, counting off the names with the fingers of her left hand. "I don't know anyone who looks like Gabriella, and besides, what kind of reason is it to abduct us? It still means someone else we all have in common has trapped us here… and even worse… could be watching us."

Maddie looked around first for hidden cameras then Gabriella. Maybe none of them were going to be showering and changing clothes in this place until they had scrutinized and searched their rooms for secret cameras.

"You had to say it." Maddie looked around after serving out the omelet she had cooked and turning off the stove. "You just had to say it."

"You think we're being watched?" Gabriella looked around trying to control her paranoia.

"I think it's possible…" Alex paused and gasped a second before speaking. She couldn't believe she was about to confess to this, but she felt the circumstances required it. "Guys, there's something else I need to tell you about me that I don't usually talk about, but it might be important. You see, I'm a…"

"Yes, people!" A raven-haired beauty with dark red to auburn hair and brown doe-like eyes entered the kitchen in their same white monogrammed attire. She was more bosomy than Alex but with not as much hair as she strided in excited and relieved not to be alone in this huge dark winter resort. "Finally… I knew if I kept following the voices I'd find you." She paused and beamed a harmless grin. "Hi, I'm Jessie Prescott…" She reached to shake Alex's hand. "Do any of you have a cell phone? I've got four kids in a penthouse that I'm responsible for, and I really got to call for a ride." She looked at their puzzled and confused faces.

"I have never seen this person before in my life!" Alex immediately confessed.