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Everything in its Place

horror by Aaron Polson

The mail boxes were labeled wrong.

That was the first hint that Lucey should have canceled her reservation at El Hotel de la Trampa. She wasn’t too fond of other aspects of the lobby, either: — cheap candy in gaudy foil wrappers sat in a glass fish bowl on the counter, the strange man on the sofa who kept looking at her.

“Can I help you?”

Lucey’s attention shifted to the clerk.

“Oh. Sorry … I was …” Lucey forced a smile. “I need to check in.”

The man opened the guest book and pushed a pen across the counter.

“Reservation?”

“Yes. Harrison. Lucey Harrison.”

He turned to the mailboxes, but looked over his shoulder.

“What is it you do, Señora?”

“Oh … I’m not married. Why do you …” Lucey’s eyebrows knit together. “Well, I work with books.”

The clerk’s brown eyes burned into hers. “A teacher?” His hand slid into one of the boxes, fishing for the key.

“No. A librarian. Only an assistant, really.”

His hand stopped, crept out of the box, and plunged into another labeled with a ‘G’. “Si.” He moved to the counter and dropped a heavy brass-colored key.

“Your room. Second floor.” With a nod to her bags, he asked, “Would you like some help?”

Lucey took the key and shook her head. Her peripheral vision caught the face of the man on the lobby sofa. Was he watching her?

“Señorita?”

“No, I’m fine. Second floor?”

The clerk smiled, showing a mouth of teeth mismatched and yellow.

Maybe next time I won’t travel on the cheap, Lucey thought.

#

Lucey avoided the elevator and took the stairs. As she opened the door to the second floor hallway, a shadow moved at the end of the hall, perhaps someone entering their room. Goosebumps crawled up her arms. She read the key, simply labeled G, and felt the grooves of the embossed letter.

The first door on the right was labeled ‘H’. On the left she found the letter ‘A’. She walked further, dragging her suitcase across the worn carpet. Room designations descended on the left in alphabetically order, but ‘G’ came directly after ‘E’. Lucey felt the blood in her face.

“Disorder and chaos. Not very helpful at all,” she mumbled.

Her key slid into the lock, but would not open the door.

“Wait a second …”

The door was clearly labeled with a ‘G’ — a brass letter screwed to the center of the door. She touched it, and then tried the key again. Nothing.

Lucey shook her head at the thought of asking the clerk for help. The door was scratched around the brass letter. Maybe a prank, she thought. From the left side of the hall, Lucey counted seven doors. She was at the sixth.

With a soft click, the key slid into the lock of the seventh door. Lucey turned the knob, and pushed inside. The air was cool and clean. She worried about moldy smells or the lingering odor of tobacco after seeing the state of the lobby, but all seemed in order. Good.

Her folding screwdriver set — the miniature kit for repairing eyeglasses — was in the front pouch of her suitcase. Lucey Harrison wanted rest, but she also needed her room letter set right. It wouldn’t do to have some stranger try to enter in the night. Whoever played the prank could not be allowed to let chaos seep in to a logical world.

Worse than the books at work, she thought. She slipped her key in one pocket, and began unscrewing her letter ‘G’. Only three letters were out of place overall, and she fixed them. It was quick work really, as only one screw held each letter in place. Quick work and proper order.

Her job done, Lucey tried her own door — ‘G’ — again. The key would not work. She glanced down the hall and counted again. Seven. The key still would not work.

But my bag is inside, she thought. Lucey Harrison’s stomach began to knot, a prickly, unpleasant feeling.

She hurried down the stairs to the lobby — something I should have done immediately, she self-chastised. The first sign of things gone wrong sat in the fish bowl on the counter. Instead of the brightly wrapped candies, the bowl was now teeming with small snails — too many, really, for such a small container.

Her eyes swept the rest of the room, noting the now-alphabetized mail boxes behind the counter, the artificial palm tree where once stood a display of vacation brochures. The old man still sat with his paper, but now the sofa was a deep burgundy.

“May I help you?”

The clerk was wrong, too. He smiled, and his teeth were too white. Perfect. His once-brown eyes had lost all color, and now reflected her startled image in their grey irises. Lucey looked at the key in her hand, but staggered a few steps away.

“You … you’re not …”

Lucey jumped as a hand patted her on the shoulder.

“Come with me,” the man with a newspaper said.

The clerk’s grey eyes sent a frost into Lucey’s chest. She allowed the newspaper man to pull her aside, close to the main entrance.

“Is this a joke?” she asked, her voice shaking.

“I wish.” The man smiled; not a warm smile, but one of knowing. “How’d they get you?”

Lucey frowned.

“Can I see your key?” the man asked.

She hesitated, but held it out.

“Oh. Second floor.” He pushed a hand into his pocket and produced his own key. “Me, it was numbers. See.” His hand opened to reveal a silver key with the number five.

Lucey’s hands began to tremble. “I—I don’t understand … where am I?”

“I don’t know, really. But wherever it is you want to be … well, you can’t get there from here.”

Lucey blinked. “I’ll fix things. I’ll change the doors again.” She backed toward the stairs.

“Good luck.” The man crossed his arms. “I’ll be waiting in the lobby.”

Copyright 2009 by Aaron Polson

Aaron Polson lives in Kansas. He blogs about writing at The Other Aaron.

[Return to the July 2009 stories]

6 Responses

  1. […] Everything In Its Place […]

  2. Clever! I love the way her antipathy towards disorder is used against her.

  3. Good stuff, Aaron. It has a “Twilight Zone” feel to it.

  4. Oh, I just hate that trapped feeling.

  5. Creepy and good.

    –dj

  6. Cheers, everyone. Thanks for the read.

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