Her heart was racing as she pushed through the hotel lobby doors. She’d made it. No one seemed to notice her enter the hotel except for the front desk, and that was their job. Stella gave herself permission to relax only the smallest of amounts. There was a young guy working the desk and she approached him with purpose.
“Did you see me earlier today?” She realized she had no idea what time of day it was. She hadn’t been noticing the sky when she’d been walking. She hadn’t really been noticing anything but the thoughts in her head.
“No,” the guy replied. “But I saw you yesterday around this time. You’re hard to miss.” He was trying to be helpful, and cute.
Reacting to his flattery, Stella wondered how that could possibly be true with her horrible hair and ill-fitting suit. “Did you see me with anyone yesterday?”
He looked a bit confused by the question but answered anyway. “No. Just you.”
“What time was it yesterday when you saw me?”
“Hmm… I guess around 8:30 pm or so.”
“And what time is it now?” She’d begun to notice the physical presence of the man standing before her. Sometimes she was bad about that, not really looking at people. She liked the way his blue eyes sparkled at her.
“Around,” he paused and looked at the screen in front of him, “6:47 pm exactly.” He smiled broadly at her, happy to help.
“Thank you!” She was now channeling her most charming self. “I have a friend also in the hotel. If I describe him, do you think you could help me get a message to him?” She smiled brightly, enjoying the way his eyes were enjoying her.
“I’d certainly like to help. Why don’t we start with his name or room number?”
“Right. His name is Noam.” She stopped, unsure momentarily of anything else she knew about him.
“Is that a first name? Or a last?”
She didn’t know. Even though she knew.
He ploughed on, eager to help. “It doesn’t really matter, we’ll find him.” His fingers moved swiftly and a breath later he confidently reported that there was a Seamus Noam staying in room 1011. That triggered her memory to recall that she was in 1013, the room adjacent, and connected.
“Have you seen Mr. Noam today? Or perhaps yesterday?”
Studying the check-in picture of Noam on his screen, the guy paused in thought before confirming, “Sure. Yes! I saw Mr. Noam yesterday. Just after you returned, I think. I remember now because I noticed that you both looked similar. Similar clothes, hair colour, posture, things like that, not that you look like a guy. I wasn’t saying that at all. I think he came back maybe 3 minutes after you yesterday?”
“Can I ask you one more thing?” She leaned forward, reading the name on his lapel, “Jack.”
“Of course.” She could tell he liked that she said his name.
“My room is next door to Mr. Noam’s at 1013. Stella Leigh. Would you be able to open our shared doors?”
Confirming her information on his screen, he was about to respond when she decided to continue. “I’d like to leave a gift for him in his room. I’d love to do it before he gets back so it’s a big surprise. Do you think you could help me pull it off?” She moved her hand to touch his forearm and smiled.
“Normally, I shouldn’t be able to help without mutual consent from both parties but I trust you not to tell.” He winked at her and struck something on his keyboard. “Done. The door is now unlocked for you.”
She returned his favour with a huge smile and the statement that he was “the best.” With the knowledge that Noam’s room was now open for her to explore, she wondered where the key to her own room was. She felt around her body and clothes, to the enjoyment of Jack, and found no key-like object on her. Smiling again for Jack, she asked him for a new key to her room. He looked puzzled for a moment then reminded her that her thumbprint was her key.
Confused and slightly embarrassed by this seemingly obvious information, Stella was quick to leave Jack and head to the elevators with a final “Thank you.” Unsure of where they were in the lobby, she must have looked crazy or drugged as she walked unconfidently and gingerly towards where she thought they should be in the large room. She ended up near the bathrooms, not the elevators and noticed that she had to pee anyway. Not one to neglect her bladder (THIS IS NOT A TRUE STATEMENT), Stella headed towards the woman’s and appreciated the creative toilet signs the hotel had created. They used weiner dog silhouettes, and the men’s silhouette had a fedora and pipe and the female’s silhouette, a purse and long hair.
She let out a comical shriek when she saw her reflection in the bathroom’s mirrors. The haircut was truly horrible and her hair had become exponentially more frizzy from the ocean air on the walk over. She was definitely not looking her finest. Heading into a stall, she sat down to pee and in her enjoyment of the act, her mind began to wander. What was she doing here? She needed to help Noam but how was she going to? What if he didn’t come back to his room? What if he did? What was she going to do with him? What was wrong with him anyway?
Four minutes and seven seconds later, Stella found herself on the elevator heading up to the 10th floor. Her door was down at the end of the argyle-carpeted hallway, to the left of the elevators. The sight of her room door reminded her of how she’d felt after she’d answered it for Noam, stoned and barely dressed.
Opening the door to her room, she was relieved to find it looking as she sort of remembered it. Her red leather hockey bag sat on the floor near the bed, overflowing with her clothes. The nightstand held her glasses and their case, a half-drunk glass of water, a book and her journal. Could she have written in it while she was in la-la zombie land? Feeling compelled to check just in case, she was surprised to see her handwriting and an entry, once, on the 9th:
I feel so passionate about my job. I feel so important in my job. My job needs me. I am nothing without my job. Working hard makes me a valuable person. I can’t imagine my life without my work. I can’t wait for today to end so I can go back to work tomorrow.
Bizarre. Totally bizarre. She couldn’t believe that she had written such crap and had no memory of it. She definitely didn’t love that fucking job. Who could? All those people seemed to do was stare at computers and wander around their office pen. Something was very wrong if she had ever felt, even for a moment, that she loved that job. Feeling confused all over again, she wondered what the connection was between all these things. Why had Noam and her ended up out of it and in that room after meeting with the Rewriter? What did being an office zombies have to do with the Rewriter? And what did any of this really have to do with their fake desire to share a new life story? Literally holding her head from her feelings of overwhelm, Stella sat down on her bed, studying the journal for clues that weren’t there. She needed to decide what to do next, based upon whatever situation she decided she was actually in.
She knew she needed to help Noam. That felt like a given now. She couldn’t just leave him to fend for himself. Or leave him as he is, a total soulless zombie; not that it wasn’t an improvement over his normal attitude. She needed to help Noam, but the rest of the people, the ones that had supposedly chosen to become what they were, she pushed them out of her mind. She didn’t care if those people wanted to live like that and she wanted nothing to do with that whole scene ever again. She just wanted to snap Noam out of it, and then she could go home. He’d be called off the assignment after this she figured conveniently. They would never keep funding us once they learned how incompetent of leader and explorer Noam was.
Picking herself up off her bed, and noticing how exhausted she was, Stella headed to their shared door and was happy but not surprised to find the door unlocked, as Jack had promised. Stepping into Noam’s room, the first thing she noticed was the poster hanging on the wall across from his bed. It wasn’t in her room too, so she figured it had to be Noam’s own. It was a painting of our solar system, featuring each planet, and in fat white letters beneath were the words, “IT’S ALL IN YOU.” Stella had no idea what that meant but she like the way the artist had drawn Mars. She hadn’t really pegged Noam as a poster person. There was definitely a poster type, and he really didn’t seem like the kind of grown man that would walk into a shop and buy an inspirational space poster. He seemed too… serious about himself to do something like that.
Beyond the poster, which she noted was fastened to the wall not with tap or tacks but with that weird adhesive gummy stuff she’d used on her posters in high school (when she had been allowed to have something on her wall), the room looked similar to hers. Nothing much was in it beyond the standard hotel items except for the poster and a large backpack thrown in the corner of the room.
The screen by the bed read 7:03 and figuring she still had some time before Noam arrived, Stella headed back into her room and into the bathroom, leaving the shared door ajar. Her reflection continued to disappoint her. Her hair was terrible and she just couldn’t move past it. Running the water, she splashed her head with it until her hair was good and wet. Slicking it back with her fingers, she reached into her toiletry sitting on the countertop and found what she was looking for. She ran her fingers over the sharp tip and considered if it was gross to cut her hair with scissors she usually used to cut her toenails and other things on her feet. The state of her hair made it clear to her that something needed to be done. Using her hairbrush, she divided her wet hair into sections and clipped each up, leaving one free. One this free section she began her attempt at redeeming the bob she now found herself with.
Not too soon later it became obvious to Stella that she had no idea how to cut hair. Wet pieces of hair were stuck in clumps to her face, and somehow, somewhere in the process, she has given herself bangs. Posing in the mirror the way girls know how to do, she decided she looked better than she had before. The bangs were even kinda sexy. Removing the gobs of cut hair off her face, she shook her head, letting her new do fall into place. Damn girl! You look good. She gave herself a wink in the mirror, and remembered her next problem, the cheap material hugging her body.
The office zombie uniform they had put her in really was truly gross. She stripped off the pantsuit jacket and standard white dress shirt and walked freely to her clothes, her beautiful, beautiful clothes sitting in her duffel bag on the floor. She picked out a vibrant and sexy pair of underwear, and quickly removed her oversized and ill-fitting pants. Realizing she still had THEIR lingerie to remove, she felt the wave of anger rise in her, as she ripped off the sensible nude cotton undergarments that THEY had dressed her in and attempted to replace them with her own. Putting on her underwear, and finding her standard white t-shirt and her jeans first, she pulled them out of the bag. She was so happy to feel the jean on her skin that she temporarily felt less violated than she did. When she was unable to find her much loved beige bra (the one that was BEIGE, yet still pretty and sexy), she was quickly reminded again of her anger. She was digging so hard in her bag for it that she didn’t hear the door open in the adjoining room, and someone come in and sit on the bed. This bed was somewhat facing the adjoining door, and had a view of Stella digging away and muttering angrily to herself about what would happen if she didn’t find her bra. She didn’t actually notice the person that was basically in the room until she found her bra a few moments later and ripped it triumphantly from her bag with an overdramatic, “Ah hah!”. Only then did her ego sense someone was watching her soap opera worthy performance.