Well, it was fun to have three back-to-back serials. I thought I would write a standalone short story this week just to prove I could. This story is a bit strange, but for those of you that share my daytime profession, it might make you smile and cringe at the same time.
For now, please enjoy the short story, Another Day in Paradise
What a party. Sid Abernathy woke up at 4:15 AM in the bed of his Pasadena hotel room with an alternating feeling of needing to vomit and needing to urinate. The project was a success and the partner had taken the team out for a celebration. The alcohol had flowed freely and Sid drank an uncharacteristically large number of gin and tonics.
All he could remember was a few large Uber SUVs being ordered and the feeling of being poured into the backseat and guided to his room. The rest seemed self-explanatory. He was on top of the duvet still in his jacket, tie and shoes. He couldn’t remember being this drunk in years…maybe decades. He was older than most of his team by at least 15 years. He could keep up with them when it came to the work, but these young people seemed to have the capacity to stay out drinking and socializing until 1 or 2 AM and then show up for work the next morning looking relatively human.
Sid remembered the days of being able to do this, but it wasn’t necessarily a fond memory. Now, here he was laying face down on the hotel bed with a pond of drool on the pillow near the left corner of his mouth. His need to urinate and/or vomit were far outweighed by his need to stay still. He knew his body would rebel if he tried to lift it off the bed. He just needed to sleep this off for another hour or six.
He drifted back into his alcohol induced sleep for what seemed like 30 seconds. Suddenly, he was awakened by violet tremors all over his body. He had done it now, he was having a seizure. Way to go, Sid old boy. You literally drank yourself to death. He had resigned himself to the fact that he was seriously ill when he finally came to the realization that the entire room was shaking, not just his body. A picture fell from it’s hook on the wall and the floor lamp over by the sofa tipped over. This was no alcohol induced tremor, it was an earthquake, a substantial one from the feel of it.
The shaking seemed to go on forever but finally subsided. He could hear car alarms and sirens coming from the exterior of the hotel. He looked over at the clock radio but its amber readout had died. As he struggled to sit up and slowly walk to the window of his room, he also realized that the external lights were out. The world outside was in total darkness except for the millions of stars visible over the silhouette of the mountains. Now that the world had apparently settled down, the urgency to relieve himself of toxic bodily matter resurfaced. He walked as quickly as he could, in the dark and in his condition, to the restroom and vomited enthusiastically. He felt miserable as the expulsion was in progress and fully expected to see undigested gum that he had swallowed in elementary school among the debris.
When the first, second and third waves were over, he felt better. He was sweating and realized the air conditioning was not functioning. He was intimidated by the utter silence throughout the hotel. Beyond the absent electrical hum and HVAC whoosh, there was total silence. He would have expected the sound of guests being evacuated and and hotel personnel checking rooms, but instead there was only silence. He poked his head out of his door, careful not to let the electronically locked door closed behind him, and there was total blackness and silence in the hallway. This struck him as strange as well. Weren’t hotels supposed to have emergency lighting? One would think that, in a state prone to so many natural disasters, the maintenance of emergency equipment would be a priority. Apparently not.
Sid went back into the room and sat on the bed. He contemplated what to do next. He picked up the phone and, unsurprisingly, it was dead. He wondered if he should get dressed and get out of the hotel. He was on the eighth floor, however, making the prospect of heading down eight flights of hot concrete stairs in the dark was not appealing to him. He lay back on the bed even though he knew there might be structural damage to the hotel that would necessitate evacuation. FOr right now, the calm and quiet was calming his stomach and easing his headache.
As he tried to drift off with his eyes closed, he sensed some type of light trying to penetrate his eyelids. As he opened them, he expected to see some kind of external emergency lighting, but what he saw surprised him.
The television had flickered to life. The screen was pure white for about 10 seconds and then a message appeared. He took it for some kind of emergency alert system, but was confused when he saw the content of the message.
WE ARE GLAD TO SEE THAT YOU ARE AWAKE.
A SERIOUS EVENT HAS OCCURRED.
PLEASE TAKE A SHOWER (IT WILL MAKE YOU FEEL MUCH BETTER), GET DRESSED AND JOIN THE GROUP IN THE CLOUD 9 CONFERENCE ROOM ON THE FIRST FLOOR. TAKE ELEVATOR H AND TURN RIGHT AS YOU EXIT.
WE ARE LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING YOU.
Sid read the message again to make sure that he wasn’t hallucinating or dreaming. It was still there. The interesting part of it was the lack of electricity anywhere else in or near the hotel. Apparently, there was some kind of dedicated circuit for the television. Sid had been involved in emergency management projects before, but never saw a system like this. Leave it to California to use a show business medium to get one’s attention in a disaster.
Now that he thought about it, a shower might just make him feel better. He padded to the bathroom and discovered that there was a light source, although he couldn’t find its origin, that would allow him to see as he showered. He turned on the faucet expecting the pressure to be low and the water to be cold, but found neither. Warm water surged from the shower head and steam began to rise. He stepped into the shower and immediately felt better as the hot water coursed over his body. He reached for the hotel sample-sized shampoo and found full-sized bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash. As he worked the shampoo into his scalp, he couldn’t believe the quality. Maybe the hotel had switched brands since yesterday. He found the same to be true of the conditioner and body wash.
He could have stayed in the shower much longer, but he felt much better and was eager to find out what was going on. He stepped out of the shower and reached for a bath towel. As he dried his hair, he could swear the towel felt softer and thicker than the one he used the day before. He was also surprised to see an expensive silk robe hanging from the back of the bathroom door. He put it on and opened the closet door. Luckily he brought jeans on this trip. He didn’t want to put on a suit again and the one he brought likely smelled like a distillery from the previous night’s festivities.
His jeans were nowhere to be found, however. Instead, there was a soft cotton pair of white pants and a pullover collared shirt. He didn’t remember seeing this before, but the clothes looked comfortable and the right size. He put them on along with the high-end white canvas shoes that were on the closet floor. He intended to grab his phone and room key, not that they would do any good, but couldn’t seem to locate them in the darkened room. Suddenly, the white glow of the television appeared once again with a new message.
YOU LOOK LIKE FEEL MUCH BETTER, SID
PLEASE PROCEED TO THE CLOUD 9 CONFERENCE ROOM
DO NOT WORRY ABOUT YOUR PERSONAL BELONGINGS
The new message confirmed his suspicions that there must be some kind of surveillance camera in the room. Perhaps there were people watching him right now. He had some questions and decided that going to the conference room might lead him to some answers.
He exited his room and there was a sign right in front of him indicating that Elevator ‘H’ was to the right. As he approached the end of the darkened hallway, he could see an open elevator that was completely lit. Again, this was counterintuitive to his emergency management background, but he entered the elevator anyway. It immediately closed and opened again after only ten seconds.
Somehow, as the elevator door eased open, signage indicated that he was on the first floor. He turned and found the Cloud 9 Conference Room. It was a large room occupied by about 50 people. There was a buzz in the well-lit room. Television screens were affixed to the wall around the room and were broadcasting news feeds from, it appeared, around the globe. The chatter in the room stopped abruptly as Sid entered.
“Mr. Abernathy. Welcome,” the speaker at the front of the room said from behind a podium. “We’ve been waiting for you.”
Sid was confused.
“Who are you and how do you know my name?”
“We’ve been watching you for some time. We’re glad you are finally going able to join our efforts.”
“Watching me? What efforts? I have a job. I don’t even know what you do, so how can you assume I’m going to join you?”
The man behind the podium snickered.
“Let’s just say it’s an offer you can’t refuse.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Maybe if you direct your attention to display number 13, you’ll understand a bit more.”
Sid looked at the screen. A reporting crew was standing in front of a crater filled with rubble. It looked familiar to him somehow. Suddenly, the audio filled the room as the attractive female reporter was mid sentence.
“…in Old Pasadena was destroyed, along with several other buildings, by the quake. The hotel, built in 1937, seemed to take the brunt of the damage. All eight floors, along with the parking garage, collapsed into the basement. The hotel was nearly filled with business travelers and, because of the hour and the way the building collapsed, it is feared that there are no survivors.
The audio faded.
“Did this happen near this hotel?” Sid asked.
Laughter erupted in the room.
Sid was confused.
“You could say it was very close to your hotel,” the man behind the podium quipped.
“And I survived?” Sid asked.
“In a way.”
“I’m totally confused here,” Sid said.
“All of the team was at first. I think when you see the work we’re doing, it will fit right in with what you did when you were…before…in your previous life.”
“So, am I dead?” Sid asked vocalizing the question that had been bubbling up since the television came on.
“It’s not black and white,” the podium man said. You’ve been given an opportunity to problem solve and assist others during their transitional phase. That’s what this team does.”
“So what are we, guardian angels?”
More laughter filled the room.
“Not exactly. What were you in your previous job, Sid?”
“I was a consultant for the past 35 years specializing in emergency management.”
“Well, this will not be that different. Look at the screens around the room. Each one of them has news coverage of life disasters taking place around the Earth. Our job is to ease people that meet the proper criteria into our existence. This team adjusts the criteria based on ever-changing standards. You’ll be a key member of the team that formulates and maintains the standards.”
“How long does this project last?” Sid asked.
“That’s an interesting question. That depends on your usefulness. One of our early directors in the group, Karl, has been here for 135 years. Our senior partner, J. Iscariot has been here for over 2,000. As long as you’re vibrant, you’ll remain on the team. As soon as you start to fade, you’ll become a burnout.”
Sid began to feel that he didn’t have a choice. He wasn’t sure he liked where this was ending up, but decided that it wasn’t the first consulting team that seemed intimidating.
“Okay, where would you like me to start Mr. …?”
“My friend, Mr. Ailles will get you oriented. The rest is up to you. As for name, it’s up here on the white-board. You can call me Mr. Tan.”
Sid looked up to the front of the room at the gigantic whiteboard. There, in red letters, was the name of his new boss:
Sid had long suspected it, but now new it to be true. Consulting is Hell.