Ted and I traveled halfway across the state before sleep won. He drove like a man possessed, speeding past everyone in his recreated red Stingray. Once I woke up he had forced me to interview a homeless person like we were on a big talk show. The man got twenty bucks and I got a lecture on all the things that needed improvement.
We sat on a curb outside the car, because Ted couldn’t let us eat junk food in his precious vehicle made of dirt. I ate slowly while eyeing the horizon for flying bat monkeys. You know, in case another traumatic bit of storytelling drama wanted to attack me.
"Overall, not bad for a first time. But next time you should correct him. It's for all intents and purposes," he said each word with a crisp click. It was hard to picture him as a school teacher but Ted pulled off the image well.
"It isn’t intensive purposes?" I asked. The interviewee said intensive purposes at least three times. Nevermind that Ted wanted me to correct a vagabond who had been waxing on about the best places to sleep at night.
"No. Don't be ridiculous. Intense purposes makes no sense. Very powerful reasons doesn't match the rest of his drivel. Didn't school teach you anything?" Ted shook his head.
I’d explained it to you before, right? School didn’t work. Actual graduation had been impossible once my 'powers' developed. Senior year had been a nightmare. I should have been playing confusing courtship games with females or ditching homework and hanging out with friends.
I had been, then the first super fight had broken out while on a field trip. Twice more the same week back at our actual school. Then my home. It didn't take long to establish the common denominator, me. I was somehow a beacon for these terrible events. At first my family had tried moving, tried keeping me inside the house to home school me for two months.
My head shook. "No. My school's course on archaic sayings didn't get that far."
“Archaic? God save me from fools.” His head shook. “Well look into some online courses or something kid,” Ted said with a western twang. His voices were growing more inconsistent. Either that or his clothing switching had something to do with the accent used.
Somewhere during the slowly ramping up chaos the occurrences drug in my family. My younger sister would never walk again. I'd been chased out of the hospital before ever making it up to her room. My first inter-dimensional kidnapping occurred on the way home.
Two weeks later I'd tried to find my family and come up empty. They'd moved on without me. There had been a card in the mail that said ‘Happy Eighteenth Birthday’ in excited letters, below that was a message scrawled in hasty writing. ‘Don’t look for us’, it said.
The past was past. I had to focus on making it through the 'now'. Ted and I got back in the car and drove another four hour before my stomach started to feel uneasy. There was an entire shopping mall worth of shoes out there waiting to drop. I could smell their fresh stale scent from half a state away. It might have been our recent meal coming back up but that didn't seem likely.
“We should stop for the night soon,” I said abruptly.
Ted’s hands stayed calmly on the wheel and his foot upon the pedal. He asked, “Any reason?”
“I’m missing my shows,” I deflected his question then looked out at the passing countryside. Eastern Oregon was as boring as every other state. “Tonight's Monday. That means the new season of Doug’s Closest is starting.”
Thick silence filled the space between our seats. I stared at the horizon and tried not to think about stupidity which poured from my mouth. Two weeks into Speech class then bam explosions of powered events all over the place. I could have been more eloquent.
“You watch that show?”
My shoulders tucked together and foot banged against the floorboard. “I watch every show when I find time.”
Something ugly loomed on the horizon and I didn’t know what it was. It made my stomach wiggle uneasily and head swim. Fingers tightened on the doorframe.
“Your taste in entertainment leaves something to be desired as well.”
“It’s okay, my screening process is very high. We’re still hanging out aren’t we?” I said while squinting.
“There is a wide array of useful television out there and you spent it watch drivel like, Dan’s Corset.” Ted glanced over but otherwise kept right on driving towards a growing layer of dust in the distance.
“I’ll refine my palate once televisions stop blowing up around me,” my words came out dry.
“I know a man who might be able to fix that.”
My lips pursed together then nose wiggled. That cloud on the horizon kept growing taller and larger in size, but still looked to be a long ways away. I turned down the radio, ignored the resulting glare then stood up in the car. Ted took a hint but barely slowed down.
A cheek tightened on one side. “Is that a swarm, or dust?” I muttered.
No, the light brown wall moved slowly. It was still an undefined something that looked almost like a solid wall of fog. Ambiguous somethings normally meant annoying. Not that any moment in my life had an degree of certainty.
Oddly Ted felt like the most stable thing in recent days, but he wasn’t the first person to stick with me for some time either. There had been this one girl, a psychic who felt other people’s losses. She had spent almost five days near me trying to solve my woes. Her name sat on the list with all my others.
“What are you talking about?” Ted asked. “The wall of brown up there? It’s just a dust cloud. Those happen occasionally.”
“I’m sure it’s just that-” I wasn’t any such thing “-but a wise man would pull off the highway and find a place to talk cover. We need lockable doors. You do, anyway,” I told Ted. He was ignoring me then started humming happily.
My gut told me that our oncoming dust cloud wasn’t simply dirt. The wall looked thick, nearly solid. There were no obvious bugs either. Swarms usually had bugs at the leading edge that would have been visible by now, plus they plagued the Texas area more than Oregan.
“We should avoid whatever that is,” I pointed. Wind made it hard to keep my arm straight. Ted’s foot pressed down upon the gas ringing us closer towards a layer of doom.
You would think Ted might know this, but he probably hadn’t lived through as much nonsense as myself. To be fair, only some really long-lived person in the middle of every major event for the last four hundred years might be capable of measuring up.
“Avoid? Nonsense! We go forward to find a story!” Ted shouted happily as we plowed into a thick layer. “Yeeee-haw!”
I still didn’t understand Ted’s personality. There was a high chance he’d been hit on the head one too many times. Maybe he loved the accents or enjoyed playing whatever madcap role pulled at his mind. Either way, as we entered the cloud that had rushed upon us abnormally quick, all I could do was blink furiously.
The car went forward for five seconds, then ten. Our wheels hit dirt and trees whooshed by at high speeds. Ted spoke but his words were muffled by the thick fog. My suicidal boss’s voice could barely be heard. I ducked down and put my head between my knees.
Then Ted’s cherished Stingray dipped forward. We slid then tumbled over. Metal crunched rapidly with rubber streaking. I slammed into the glass then screamed. Rocks tore into one shoulder and the car and I parted ways again.
Car went one way, my tumbling body another. Face, poor clothes, and missing sanity tore in equal measure. I struggled to keep hands and legs in a ball until the tumbling stopped. Motion halted with a final few tumbles.
A long huff of air blew out one side of my mouth while legs and side reported back-numbing pain. Muscles clenched and lungs refused work without shaking. I looked up and saw thick tan fog. The world tilted to the side once more as the monotone world made me dizzier. My head fell down then stayed there.
I attempted counting to ten and repeating names. Toes curled slowly with minimal pain. Teeth tingled from pain while taste buds reported copper.
“Monday?” I questioned air. It made perfect sense, I swear.
No one answered, which also felt typical. I hadn’t heard Ted’s car crash into additional objects. My own well practiced and stylish scream of terror might have drowned out further metal on metal noises.
It took a few minutes for legs to work. I braced myself against a tree then checked out the damage. All that tumbling resulted in surface wounds, biting my own tongue, and a kink neck muscles. One pinky toe reported shooting pains along with tiny bits of rock under muscles on my palm.
“Hello? Ted? TeleGraph?” I stumbled towards where the wreckage should be.
Two trees badly growing on top of each other stood calmly without damage. Red metal from the Stingray was nowhere in sight.
“Hello?” I tried again. Hobbling forward made me hiss with pain.
I walked forward slowly. Trees came and went, only gaining definition as I grew close, then fading into obscurity immediately after moving on. My feet kept going.
You might ask how many circles I went in. The answer is, a lot, and then some. The alternative of sitting still occured me. Others might blame the car crash for addling my thoughts. I certainly wasn’t worried about Ted, regardless of what you might think. He constantly proved himself to be beyond any form of reasoning.
At some point, I realized the same tree had gone by me a dozen times. My legs wobbled and head throbbed with pain. I had seen some weird crap over the years, but this one was mostly new. The coloring mostly, going in circles didn’t rank as special.
“Ted? If you can hear me, we’re in an illusion or something. Try to shut out everything then stumble out,” I said but held no hope.
I closed my eyes, plugged my nose, then touched shoulder to ear and stumbled forward without looking. Sensory deprivation worked once, two years ago. Hunger drove me to that bit of desperate experimentation.
Tree met face and I fell. Fresh pain made both eyes water. They stayed closed as I managed to fumble my way upright. Ground slanted upwards while I walked slower with one hand out. The sound of music could be heard through the uncovered ear.
There was no point. Ted might as well be a corpse from the car crash. Why people thought they could survive reckless events without a super power was beyond me. Even my dumb leg knew better than to expect escape from a car crash to go smoothly. Let this be a lesson folks, real life hurts.
“This time, on Adam’s life ruins everything, we’re live but blinded by the tanness,” I started narrating. “Probably talking to myself, but let's assume we’re not!”
I still didn’t have a good name or catch phrase. Ted had insisted they were both important. If I really wanted to be a news anchor then we needed to put on a show worth watching. It couldn’t be simply my madcap life swinging from one fuck up to the next.
There was the rub, what really did I have to offer anyone? Maybe you out there figured out a few ideas. Ted believed he could have me videotape the living chaos of my life with interviews, but that sounded hollow and pointless. I needed more than that, and god help me if I would become some sort of superhero reality television show. Those were always terrible.
Alternatives were few. My life looked like shit and the only bright point belonged to a psychotic sort of girlfriend who was probably drugged out or only existed in a fantasy world. TOo many events of trauma had numbed me to caring about very much.
Blindly my feet stumbled forward, one after the other, in an unseen landscape. Attempting to deafen myself wasn’t enough. Half a blaring car horn could be heard, it faded under the sounds of a dragon’s roar. That too gave way to a waterfall. I stumbled forward, secure in my own vague immunity from long lasting harm.
The noises slowly dropped away entirely. My balance tipped forward and eyes opened in a panic as the ground hit an abrupt cliff. I rolled end over end. Bouncing jarred my bones. Teeth rattled and the copper taste resurfaced.
“God dammit.” I kept my neck straight and refused to move. Even the sky looked depressingly tan.
I hated being alone.
I hated being around people that could only end up dead because of me.
“Where was I? Oh, right, contemplating how useless my efforts would be to work with,” I trailed off. Fuck me, I couldn’t even remember the name of Ted’s business or website. My head spun and legs felt like lead.
“Maybe we could poll the audience,” I said to no one. “Maybe people can have me tell asshole villains exactly what they want. It’s not like it would kill me, right? Or they could dare me to do stunts.”
Talking myself happened when no one was around. The lingering pain everywhere couldn’t detract me from the need for background noise. I filled the world around me with noise and sarcasm, which didn’t sound like the best news to me.
Laying flopped out on the onto the ground didn’t trigger any events. My eyelids kept slipping downward. I dozed in and out for an unknown amount of time. Eventually, my body felt less pain and more soreness. Then the time came to hobble onward.
I tried stopped trying to plug my senses. Clearly, it did no good and only caused me more pain.
“Ted!” I shouted, growing more desperate.
Nothing. God dammit nothing. Just endless god damn thick fog that didn’t fit into my normal zany lifestyle. It was just dull. I tried to spice up my surroundings by changing to a wilderness survival show. Maybe that would be something useful.
Then I found something that hadn’t been there a minute before. Ted’s stupid red floating camera sat there hovering quietly. The stupid device pointed into the distance until m footsteps stumbled closer.
“Have you seen Ted?” I asked it.
The machine anchored on me then started circling slowly. It said nothing and made no effort to respond to the question. Instead it treated me like a sideshow attraction to get footage of. Maybe that was a good a description as any.
I walked then shrugged. Ted had me practicing with the recording device before. It was lightweight and maybe five pounds of floating camera. It probably was no bigger than my cupped hands might be. Ted had suggested giving into the madness, so I did.
“So, welcome everyone, to another round of Adams daily struggle. Today’s episode, being trapped in a boring fog.” I gestured with a hand to nothing. The camera actually stopped then panned across the surroundings as if there really were items of interest.
My leg buckled and I slid against the same tree from before. The floating device locked onto my face then sunk down to match my new slumped position. I nodded then kept talking with halting words.
“Here on the road, sometimes, the unexpected happens. If I were to try and guess, this event is probably magical in nature. We passed through a huge wall to get here, so it probably covers hundreds of miles. I think we were in eastern Oregon. This is probably a newer regional impact.”
I managed to get upright again then walked off while talking. Eventually, the camera and I ended up at the same tree.
“To, briefly recap,” my face winced at the wording, “my week, this all started with being kidnapped. Afterward a perfectly sane person throws me off a freeway overpass then framed me for murder. Then we ended up in Wonderland with a psychotic but charmingly sweet woman named Alice. Then we drove off and arrived in this endless boring fog that keeps rewinding us in a circle for no reason.”
I kept walking while shaking my head. My monologuing to an empty forest meant nothing. The camera would probably turn into dirt soon knowing my luck. Only vague hope that its existence meant Ted’s survival kept me going. The floating machine didn’t offer to take me to my lost future business partner.
“Anyway, I’ve tried drowning out my sense of smell, hearing, and sight to see if that helped. Sometimes that works. The last three I ran into were very short range and as soon as I blocked out a key sense, the exit became obvious.” I closed my eyes and nodded. Talking to the camera beat talking to no one. Real life people recording their wilderness survival videoes had to be the same way. They, and now we, weren’t talking to ourselves, but to people later on that might view the video.
It helped immensely. My back felt a bit looser and shoulders less bunched. I kept talking, probably more than any sane person would. That blipping red light and constantly shifting camera were the only companionship that existed out here. I dreaded the moment some space meteor came out of nowhere then smashed into the device.
At some point my attempted explanations, as if I were hosting one of those documentaries I liked to watch, faded into mumbles then went silent all together. Feet still went forward but eyelids were no longer open. My body was mostly mortal, despite having a power. I only survived and attracted disasters.
My foot dove hit something solid followed by my face. Both arms came up to ward of the incoming damage and were obstructed by a wall. One eye cracked open to get a feel for what happened this time.
A sign board, huge and carved from wood, sat in my way. To the left a wide gravel trail stretched out. I blinked and wondered why the ground wasn’t tan like everything else in this repetitive nightmare.
I opened the other eye then stared blankly. Behind the sign, down the road sat a huge mansion, or maybe a monster’s hotel of some sort. The windows were closed and unbroken. Their front stoop had been swept recently, but the lighting of dull tan darkening behind the building gave off a disturbing vibe.
Maybe the large chicken coop on one side, without a single bird, added to the creepy factor. Whatever, a change meant life was moving forward. Now I was no longer bumbling around in the light brown haze going insane and talking to myself. I stood in front of an out of place building.
“Sometimes, if you get through the first layer of craziness, a second one appears, like this. I hope everyone else out there is seeing what’s going on,” I told the machine while gazing at the building.
Life had tossed me an abandoned house. Dear god above, I thought, even if you screw me on everything else in the universe, please let me have some television in this hell hole. Anything to remind me that life is shitty for other people out there besides me.
I looked upstairs, then downstairs, and finally towards the disturbingly spacious front room. This place was probably haunted.
“It’s best to be upfront about who you are, and your needs, or else you might get shot. Here’s an example,” I said then cupped hands around my mouth to shout, “hey, inevitable creepy ghost! I just want a bed and tee-vee!”
There was champagne on ice to one side of the doorway. Two silent looking statues stood with hands pressed over their chests in a half bow. Fingers carefully poked the left one to see if it would move. It didn’t, but the little red camera floated far away, I assume as a result of some self preservation instinct.
“Hello?” I said. “See, for those of you needing a recap, maze forest outside, and now I’m at a building. I’m right to expect ghosts, cultists, or even some weird superhero training ground.”
“Mister Millard?” a woman spoke up from a room the top railing. She looked very composed in far too many layers of clothing from the wrong era. Her hands were clasped together and frills were apparently extra important.
“Hello.” I waved with one hand then looked at the camera again. “When arriving in a new location, it’s important to be polite.”
“Who are you talking to?”
Probably her. Probably no one. Nothing even went exactly as predicted even with a ton of experience.
“This place is creepy,” I said. “And it’s bad outside.”
“You’re rude,” she responded with barely a blink.
“It’s nothing personal. Do you have a phone? I can wire you some money for a place to stay, and clothes, and a television. If you have one.” This place looked a few decades behind cable television.
“No, this is great. I’m great. Please just let me pass out to the television. I”m so far behind-” my mouth opened in a yawn “-everything.” My head nodded and hand reached to cover my mouth too late. “I’m so tired, ma’am. I’m so very tired.”
The woman stepped down the stairs towards me without a smile or any other expression. Her eyes looked dead and cheeks barely moved.
I closed my eyes and kept nodded as if my earlier words were the only one’s that mattered. It was endless days, weeks, and months of back to back shit wearing down on me. At least this week no one had died in my arms, that counted for something.
“Well, despite your, attitude,” she nodded her head slowly in my direction “ you’ve come to a place that might help. We specialize in taking people's minds off their troubles.”
It sounded ominous and blissful at the same time.
I looked around the room again and noticed a man who hadn’t been there before. He lay back in a chair with a stupidly happy grin on his face and rubber surgical tubing tied around one arm. I shook my head then tried not to think about what kind of place this was. He looked to be sitting in a downstairs lounge or something similar.
“We can fit you into one of the guest rooms in the west wing.”
I nodded then turned to the floating camera. It bobbled then focused on me instead of scanning the area. These devices made no sense to me, but tearing out the red orb and leaving a pile of dirt behind sounded like a bad idea.
“Well, there you have it,” I said then tried to smile. My face barely lifted. “Guest reporter Adam Millard, signing off due to sheer exhaustion and rambling incompetence. I’ll be back tomorrow, same confusing time, same confusing channel.”
The device’s red light dimmed a bit then it seemed to go into a standby of sorts. It’s lens stopped whining and the machine took less interest in everything nearby. The hostess, whose name I didn’t know, stared at me for at least ten awkward seconds. Her face finally dipped to one side in a slight frown. “This way Mister Millard,” she waved towards me with a gentle hand.
We walked into one of the hallway doors then came out in a new room. In that room sat the same man with a stupid looking grin. His face bulged oddly where it hadn’t before.
“Right,” I said. “I don’t even care what’s happening to that guy.”
He gave me a slow moving thumbs up. Once again it occurred to me how far my entire view of life had skewed. The hostess, her hotel, and a man whose face changed each time we passed through a door that teleporting us all registered as standard.
The woman guiding me to a room said nothing but kept on walking across the hallway. We passed through a door that looked exactly the same as the one before then arrived in the man’s lounge again. The man's face twisted even further. It hung open in a scream as a scene of horror played out that only he could see. We passed by twice more, and each time the man, or creature, transformed into an even more grotesque caricature of itself.
I ignored it. There were no good options for a man like me at this stage. On the final pass he ended up looking like a horned dog with it’s tongue hanging out in the wind. I couldn’t tell if that was good, or bad.
Finally we ended up in a hallway, the rounded four corners that looked exactly the same. My body felt heavy and legs were nearly numb. These clothes were a mess. I needed a bath and new shirt as well.
She pulled out an old key from one of her layers of clothing and slid it into a door that looked like every other one in the hall. The door clicked open to reveal a quiet looking room with a dresser and television. Her room inside matched any standard hotel I had ever been in over the years. Clean, modern, with a bed that looked worn but functional. Most importantly, it had a television on one side.
“Your room Mister Millard.” She backed out of the door and gestured inward. I stumbled forward with both hands up in praise.
“It’s perfect, too good to be true.” It probably was. I didn’t care and pulled off the remains of my road weary shirt off then flopped forward. “Remind me in the morning to give you my lawyers information. She can take care of the bill.”
“That won’t be necessary for you Mister Millard. The first night is always free,” she said.
“Great,” I mumbled into the mattress.
As the frill decorated woman moved towards the exit but paused at the doorway to glance backward. One of her eyes looked like a dark pit of emptiness compared to the other. I ignored it then kicked off shoes and socks. My pants followed after and the hostess didn’t even clear her throat to remind of me of proper manners.
“Did you want me to leave the hall light on? It’ll peek a little under the door. Sometimes guests find it comforting.” she asked in a voice that lingered.
“No, I sleep like the dead,” I pulled the pile of blankets up over my chin and mumbled.
I just didn’t care. Sleep meant more to me than facing off against some freakshow horror. Ted could deal with it if he showed up. Hopefully he wouldn’t. There had been no sign of his body or any blood at the site of the crash. It wouldn’t surprise me if this place wasn’t real. Sometimes I got lucky then ended up in a place to rest and recover my sanity, what little remained.
“You don’t need to worry about the outside world here Mister Millard,” she said. “We’re in the business of not bothering our guests unless they deserve it. By my reckoning you carry enough ghosts. Just stay out of the hallway at night, and you’ll be able to avoid some of our less fortunate guests.”
You might think me a callous person, and to an extent that’d be true. The flip side is that there’s only so much shit a single person can be thrown into before the ability to give a damn breaks. Honestly, I’m surprised I even cared about anything at all. During the commercials I worried if Ted was alright.
Winding down for the night brought the same series of thoughts. I desperately needed a bath to scrub myself clean. Maybe if I lingered under the water long enough then whatever event was coming next might pass me by. At the very least the memory of two small children sobbing in my arms might be blocked out. That was part of the other thoughts which plagued me at night.
“Lauren Todd and Caleb Todd. They died in a cave in. Their father was Eddy Todd, he died twenty minutes before when the bracing gave way.” I started reminding myself of the names sleepily while shaking gripped my stomach. “Their eyes were so blue. Don’t forget. Don’t forget.”
I didn’t realize it at the time, but the camera still floated nearby, and even in standby it had recorded enough to expose all the lies I told myself.
|Oddity Study Highlights|
Translated from Technobabble by Captain Longhall, the sucker currently in charge of Area Fifty One
There are things in this world that confuse me even after decades. First is how I’m still working this job and haven’t eighty-sixed myself. Maybe I have and someone threw my body into one of the vats downstairs. I probably wouldn’t notice the difference between an original me and a cloned copy.
Second, it’s places like this. Hotel California isn’t even restricted to California. Some idiot named it that after a drug den he had visited once, turned it into a song, and from then on any idiot landing in this ever moving location reports the exact same details.
Here’s the part I don’t get about it - this place actually breaks people of their addictions by over indulging and refusing to let them die. Isn’t that shit weird? Anyone stumbling in basically gets subjected to every single vice they could ever want, to the point of sheer excess, then eventually they lose all passion for it. Like they’re being bled of any enjoyment tied to the act.
There are actual government sponsored programs trying to find a way to tie this hotel to one location so they can throw in junkies and pedophiles in large batches. Then when they come out we have people who don’t have an interest in little boys or getting their next fix. I’m not sure, we’ve got another vat downstairs that simply removes people, and I think there’s a box that’ll actually take people out of the timestream all together hidden in one of the improbable static chambers.
Hell. Give those useless wastes of space to me, and I’m sure the people on my crew would actually do their jobs just for a chance to remove scum from the planet. Productivity would be up! The higher ups keep saying no, claiming as security breach, but if you’re interested I’ve stored the proposal under the To-Do list you’ll inherit.
Fuck it. The Hotel isn’t even a bad place, it’s just something we have a board for in one of the rooms. I normally make that conehead Jensen keep track of the reports. You’ll get something from the state about traffic diversions. Just put up a pen, and when the yearly request for a ‘pattern’ comes in from one of the analysts, tell them there’s ‘Still no discernible pattern’. Both of you can move on to important things.