Thursday, March 8, 2012

49. "the night clerk"

by Horace P. Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo*

illustrated by roy dismas, rhoda penmarq and konrad kraus

*Associate Professor of Classics and Medieval Gender Studies, Olney Community College; editor of Galaxy of the Damned: 37 “Lost” Science Fiction Stories by Horace P. Sternwall; Olney Community College Press, “The Sternwall Project”.

click here for previous episode, here to begin at the beginning

Most people didn’t like to work nights, but Roland did.

Of course he would prefer not to work at all, but since he had to work, Roland preferred working nights. The Hotel St Crispian had three shifts for the front desk, 8 AM to 4 PM, 4 PM to midnight, midnight to 8 AM. Roland’s favorite shift was midnight to 8 AM, the so-called graveyard shift. But the hotel was anything but a graveyard during those eight hours after midnight. In a strange way the hotel was more alive than ever during those hours. Sure, there were fewer people coming and going, the place was quieter, but up in the rooms there was always lots of stuff going on. Maybe out in the world people were sleeping the sleep of the just or of the unjust or lying in their beds staring at the ceiling fighting off despair, but in the hotel there were plenty of people doing anything but sleeping.

Sitting behind his desk in the wee hours Roland felt that he could feel the vibrations of all those people in all those rooms above his head. They all had a story. Every single one of them. They all had a life.

His phone would ring. Somebody wanted something. Nobody would ring unless they wanted something. Roland would pick up the phone and they would tell him what they wanted. If he could, he would help them. That was his job. He was the night clerk.

When morning came he would clock out, put on his coat and leave.

It made Roland feel good to be getting off work and walking through the hordes of people crowding the sidewalks and heading to their own places of employment.

He would hit a bar, not always the same bar, he didn’t want bartenders getting used to him. He would have a couple of beers in silence, he didn’t like small talk. Then he would head out, maybe grab a hotdog and sauerkraut from a street vendor, go back to his studio apartment on Leroy Street, and sleep through the day.

Sometimes one of the other clerks would ask him to work the evening shift, and Roland would always oblige, even if like tonight it meant he had to work a double shift. He never did anything with his evenings anyway, except maybe take in a double feature. And he was saving his money. Roland had worked at the hotel for five years now, ever since getting out of the army, and he figured in ten, maybe fifteen more years and with the help of the GI Bill he would have enough money saved for a downpayment on a little motel out in the country somewhere, maybe out in Jersey, or, who knows, maybe even farther out west, Montana or South Dakota or Nevada.

A little modest motel really far out in the boondocks.

A place that people would stop in at night on their way to someplace else.

He could sit in his motel office at night and stare out the window at the moonlit desert or at the vast empty dark corn fields or the towering snow-covered mountains sticking their pale glowing peaks up into the night. Or maybe there would be a black impenetrable forest on the other side of the road, who knows? It didn’t matter anyway.

And outside his office in the motel rooms people would be sleeping or making whoopee or playing cards and getting drunk or staring up at the ceiling, each one with their own story. Each one with his or her own life.

In the morning Roland would go to bed in his own motel room. He would shut down the motel during the daytime, just put a sign up: “Closed.” How many people were going to check into a motel out in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the day anyway?

Roland had it all planned out. Ten years, fifteen years more. Maybe twenty if he just wanted to buy his motel outright.

Buy a little motel out in the middle of nowhere.

People would stop in at night on their way to someplace else, and then in the morning they would go.

Roland would grow old in his little motel out in the boondocks. He was heading to someplace else too, just like all those travelers who would stay overnight in his motel. But Roland wasn’t headed for California or Las Vegas or for New York City or Miami, Florida. Roland was headed for that final dark night.

Someone would knock on the motel office door or ring the buzzer, and, no one responding to the knock or the buzzing, they would open the door, and there would be Roland slumped over his desk or lying on the floor, finally alone in that night that never ended.

“Hey, Roland, what’s up?”

It was Jake, the bellhop who had gone missing earlier that night. He looked more disheveled than usual, and he was missing his cap.

“Oh, hello, Jake. Everyone’s been looking for you.”

“I didn’t know they cared about me.”

“I don’t think they do, really.”

“Ha ha, you think I’m in trouble?”


“I had an accident. Fell down the stairs.”

“That’s odd.”

“Life is odd, Roland.”

“That’s true, Jake.”

“I guess I better find Mr. Bernstein then and explain myself.”

“Yes, I suppose you’d better had. Try his office.”

Jake went off, in search of Mr. Bernstein.

Roland returned to his motel, out in the desert somewhere, or maybe up in the mountains. Or in the middle of some forest. A vast dark forest.

Yes, a forest.

Were there still any forests left in the United States? He would have to find out.

The Stop-Rite Inn he would call his motel. That would be a good name. The Stop-Rite Inn.

Across the lobby Olaf the doorman held the door open for a young woman who entered and then briskly approached the desk.

“May I help you, miss?”

“Flanagan’s the name, Flossie Flanagan. I believe we spoke on the phone earlier.”

“Ah, yes, Miss Flanagan. Miss Wilde said to send you right up. Just go right over to the elevator and the boy will take you up.”

“Thanks, pal. What’s your name?”


“I’ll catch you later, Roland.”

She went over to the elevator.

Yes, there was always something going on up in the rooms at night. Always something.

Or maybe he would call his motel the Dew-Drop Inn.

The Dew-Drop Inn. Way out in the boondocks in a forest somewhere. A place for people to stop overnight on their way between one place and another. And in the morning they would leave. But Roland would stay. He would be there in his office, at his motel out in the middle of nowhere, ready to greet whoever came next.

(To be continued.)

chapter 50: enter cosette

No comments: