Last Friday I attempted a short piece for Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge, but I wasn’t able to post it before his deadline. This week I decided to start a little earlier, so yesterday I managed to write my 1000 word short based on his new challenge. I think I like this one better than the last one. I hope you do too.
THE OLD HOTEL
by Scott Steele
Bernie had been driving for hours. He had left home before dawn and the static from the radio was starting to blend into the droning hum of his tires on the road. The small town ahead was a welcome sight in the fading daylight. The sign said Welcome to Harvey, and was covered with all the logos of the standard municipal organizations. He had to stop for the night. He wasn’t a young man anymore and there was no way he was going to be able to keep his eyes open much longer.
The streets were quiet. No other cars were on the road, and he only saw a few people on the sidewalks. They moved slowly past the dingy storefronts, slumped down as if the lowering clouds were pressing on their spines. The signs in the windows were faded and clumps of litter spotted the gutters like mushrooms on a log. The town suddenly didn’t see quite so welcoming, but Bernie had no choice. It could be another fifty miles to the next town and there was no way he could stay awake that long.
He kept driving, looking for somewhere to stop. Buildings got taller and closer together, looming darkly over the street. He was getting closer to the center of town. A large brick building formed a wall along most of the block, an ancient sign spelling “HOTEL” on the roof. The sign was dark, but a light burned in the lobby, as well as one of the rooms on the second floor.
Bernie parked his old Buick in front of the building and sat for a moment listening to the engine cool. He pushed the car door open and pried his stiff legs out onto the pavement. Standing, he stretched his arms to the sky, trying to work out the kinks from hours behind the wheel. He reached back into the car to retrieve his worn blue backpack from the passenger seat and slung it over one shoulder. He hit the lock and closed the door, trying the handle to make sure it was locked.
He stepped around the car to the sidewalk, staggering as he relearned how to walk. His legs felt like dead wood, and his mind wasn’t much better. He couldn’t wait to collapse into bed.
The entrance to the hotel was a frosted glass door at the top of three wide steps. Apparently the place hadn’t heard of making accommodations for people with disabilities. Bernie was so stiff he wouldn’t turn down a wheelchair if one were offered.
He forced himself up the steps and pushed open the door, stepping into a lobby that should have been in a museum. Golden yellow walls accented with dark walnut columns ascended the full three-story height of the building to an intricately carved ceiling. A large skylight in the center shone with a rosy glow from the last rays of the sunset. Plush couches and overstuffed chairs promised a relaxing stay. They looked so comfortable that Bernie was tempted to skip the room and see if he could just stay in the lobby.
He hitched his backpack higher on his shoulder and stumbled over to the reception counter. A scarecrow of a man stood behind the counter, the creases on his suit sharp as knives. “Welcome to the Harvey Hotel,” he said, his voice sharp, like the points on his thin mustache.
Bernie set his backpack on the floor with a sigh of relief. “I would like a room please.”
“Certainly sir.” He pulled out a registration form from behind the counter and set it down delicately in front of Bernie. “Are you on your own tonight sir?”
“Yes I am.” Bernie quickly filled in the blanks with his vital statistics and pushed it back.
The manager gave it a little spin to turn it around and quickly skimmed over it, making sure it was complete. “Everything seems to be in order,” he said, as if Bernie had just passed a test. The form was replaced with a key, presented with a flourish. “Room 215, up the stairs and to the right.” He gestured to a small door at the far side of the lobby labeled stairs. It was next to an old-fashioned cage elevator decorated with a large sign telling everyone that it was “Out of Order.”
Bernie took the key gratefully and picked up his bag. He pushed open the door to the stairway. It was a simple concrete affair, but tastefully decorated as it was obviously the only way to get to the upper floors. He climbed wearily up to the next floor and stepped out of the stairwell, turning to the right as instructed.
The second floor hallway was dimly lit with wall sconces placed at the midway point between each door, providing just enough light to see the numbers on the doors. Room 215 was the third one down the silent hallway. Bernie unlocked the door and stepped in. He flicked on the lights, revealing a small yet tasteful room, furnished with a double bed, a small desk and two chairs. A dresser across from the foot of the bed held a small television. A mediocre oil painting hung on the wall above the bed. A tiny closet to the left of the door offered hangers for his clothes, and a tiny bathroom on the right provided a place to take care of his other essential needs.
Bernie threw the deadbolt and stepped over to the bed. He tossed the backpack onto one of the chairs with a thud and sat heavily on the end of the bed. He pried off his shoes and socks, tossing them carelessly onto the floor. He fell backward onto the mattress, too tired to bother with removing the rest of his clothes.
In his exhausted state, the relief of sleep came quickly. Tomorrow he would find the man who had sent him the bag full of money, and he would kill him.