Another week gone by and another free book Friday. I have decided that I will post the first 5 chapters of the book I gave away the previous week, if only to give those who failed to get a copy a little taste of what they missed out on. This past week’s offering was a tale of mystery and mysticism in a small Northern California town. I wrote this one years ago and rediscovered it recently. I dusted it off and have since put it out for the world to read. As I went through the manuscript, I began to see how the story and characters nearly reflected current situations in the world today in concern with the economy and employment. I think it gives clear voice to my own personal struggles with unemployment, and maybe someone out there may see this as well. At any rate, enjoy.
Carson was alone in the elevator. He could feel a slight, chilled jet of air coming down from above. He felt the lift of the car beneath his feet as it began rising through the shaft up to the twenty-fifth floor. As it approached the twentieth floor, it began to slow and his stomach began to lurch up. As the elevator eased itself to a stop, he had the same roller coaster feeling he got before the first big drop.
The doors opened slowly and he stepped out into the hall. It seemed endless, stretching out to infinity. Bright, white lights lined the walls and created a ghostly glow. He slid on his sunglasses and began to walk. The only sound he could hear was a dull thud with every step he took. He looked down at his watch. It wasn’t even noon, but it felt to him like it was the dead of night. As he passed by each door, he tried to listen for any sounds behind them but they were all silent, although he could hear the television in a few of them. He finally stopped at suite 2576. He slid his card key through the lock and opened the door. The cool air of his room shot out at him like a gust of new life. The unmistakable smell of nothing filled his senses. The beds had been made and all the little niceties had been returned to their original state as if by magic. Even the pens on the nightstand were positioned exactly as they had been when he first checked in at the beginning of the week. The pen caps were turned to face the north end of the room and the name of the hotel printed on the body of the pen was clearly visible.
He laid down on the bed and his head fell down upon the firm, freshly dressed pillow. He reached for the remote but as he was about to turn on the power, he suddenly was overtaken with his own fatigue. His eyes became heavy and the previous night’s events began to catch up with him. He dropped the controller and soon was adrift in his eyes.
The phone’s ringing shocked him back to life. He bolted up and soon got his bearings. He looked down to his watch and saw that nearly two and a half hours had passed. He was still tired beyond all reason, despite that.
“Hello?” Carson asked as he picked up the phone.
“Are you still asleep? Check out is in fifteen minutes!” Errol whined over the connection. Carson fell back upon the pillow.
“Don’t remind me.”
“I’m sorry, bud, but the real world beckons. The sad reality is vacations do end.”
“I know. Just one more day?”
“No. We were stretching it by staying the week.”
“I got lucky last night. I won almost a thousand dollars in Blackjack.”
“I drove and I need to get back to my life.”
“You don’t have a life! You’ve got an aquarium full of fish you got at Wal-Mart!”
“Hey! They are still quality pets. I need to get back to them. I don’t like leaving them to Trish’s mercy.”
“She’s taking great care of them. One more day.”
“No, I just would feel better if I was back with them. Besides, I have to be back at work Monday.”
“It’s Saturday! We could leave tomorrow morning.”
“No! I need at least a solid twenty four hours to decompress before I go back to work.”
Carson threw his head about in a fit as he realized he was fighting a losing battle. He had been surprised Errol hadn’t petitioned to leave earlier.
“Fine. I’ll meet you in the lobby.” Carson said through gritted teeth.
A few minutes later, Carson trudged down to the lobby. He carried only a small leather bag that contained a few shirts, his toothbrush and toothpaste and a few select thongs he had liberated from some exotic dancers earlier that week. He saw Errol standing amidst a sea of people. He stuck out quite plainly as he stood among his large, bulky suitcases wearing a rather gaudy Las Vegas t-shirt with his clunky camera slung over his neck. Carson walked over to him; half hoping he would just become invisible before anyone drew the connection between them.
“Ready?” Errol asked.
“Barely.” Carson adjusted his sunglasses. Errol grabbed his bags and began to lead the way to the exit. Carson followed along at least two full yards behind him. He was beginning to actually look forward to the trip home. It was dawning on him as they weaved and bobbed through wave after wave of people that he couldn’t spend the rest of his life in Vegas, as much as he wished he could. Reality was calling and it had to be heeded.
The crowd became less an obstacle when they reached the parking structure. Errol zeroed in on the car almost instantly. Carson stood by as he watched Errol carefully load his bags into the trunk. He had barely been able to fit them all in when they left and somehow it seemed as though the trunk had shrunk. There didn’t look to be enough room for even a rag much less Carson’s modest bag. Errol examined his configuration carefully and his brain began to pulsate.
“It’s okay,” Carson said, knowing full well how long it would take Errol to figure out a perfect arrangement. “I’ll just toss it in the back seat.” Errol agreed with a shrug and walked over to the driver’s side and opened up the car. Carson threw his bag into the empty back seat and then settled into the passenger side seat. Errol had his seatbelt adjusted and was sifting through his CD collection in the arm rest compartment between them. Carson would have suggested something to play but Errol only had classical and new age CDs. He needed to put himself in a Zen-like state when he drove long distances. He soon settled upon a disc and popped it in. He twisted the key in the ignition and the car hummed to life. Carson’s eyes had closed before they even hit the street outside. He could hear some piece of classical music that he thought any self-respecting college graduate would be able to identify by composer and year, along with Errol’s humming to accompany it.
Carson’s eyes opened. The music didn’t sound like it had changed, although he knew it was a different song. Errol had stopped humming though. Carson looked down to his watch. It was nearly six and it seemed they were driving through a large stretch of desert. He looked out the window at the passing scenery. Cacti and brush whizzing past his tired eyes in a blur before a perfect blue sky that stretched out as far as the eyes could see. He kept trying to get back to sleep but his eyes wouldn’t cooperate.
“You okay?” Errol asked. Carson sat up and looked over to him. His glasses were steadied on the tip of his nose as he looked intensely through the windshield to the horizon before them.
“Yeah. I’m fine.”
“You’re kind of quiet.”
“Sorry. Just tired.”
“Look, I understand why you aren’t exactly happy to be going back. It’s not easy I know. Unemployment never is.”
“It’s been a month. I’ve already burned through my severance pay. I don’t even know what I’m going to do about rent.”
“You said you won a thousand dollars.”
“I did, but I’ve got bills to pay. It won’t take the whole thousand, but it’s not going to leave much.”
“Well, you know if you need any money, I….” Errol began.
“No. I’m not borrowing any money. I learned a long time ago; never let money enter into a personal relationship.”
“It’s not a problem. I’ll give you the money. Don’t even worry about paying it back.”
“You say that now, but what about later? No. I can’t do it.”
“Fine, but if you change your mind…”
“I won’t. I’m no one’s charity case.” Carson said in a rare glint of self-righteousness. He slumped back over to his window. The scenery hadn’t changed much. Still miles of desert and lots of dried out dead plants. He looked down and saw the asphalt below.
“What is with you?” Carson sat back up and shot a hard glare at Errol that nearly bore a hole into his head.
“When we get back home, you go back to your job and your nice condo. I go back to unemployment and my crappy apartment complete with annoying roommate,” Carson barked. “Not much to look forward to.” Carson settled back into his slump.
“I’m sorry.” Errol’s tone was timid.
“No. I’m sorry. I’m being an ass and I’m sorry. I appreciate you taking me on this trip. I really do. I’m just not in a good state of mind right now.”
“It’s okay. I realize this isn’t a good time for you. I just thought this trip would kind of get your mind off everything.”
“It did. Going home is kind of ruining it though.”
Carson heard a small chuckle escape Errol’s lips.
“This is one of those bumps in life that turns into a good memory eventually.”
“You’re a good guy, Errol,” Carson said. “You’re full of shit, but you’re a good guy.”