Welcome, my pretties, to Friday.
Yes, I know it's Thursday; but as a result of a limp, nay flaccid economy, I am not working on nor am I being paid for Fridays; and so -- stay with me! -- Thursday is now Friday, Friday is still Friday, Saturday is still Saturday, too, but even more special than it was when it was just a regular Saturday, and Sunday is the same as it ever was.
I have it all written down somewhere. I can show you, if you like.
But never mind that! What's the iPod say about it?
Once again, we consult the morning commute's play list in the misguided and somewhat sacrilegious notion that what plays will somehow determine the direction of the weekend.
Jerry Was a Race Car Driver by Primus
Turkish Song of the Damned by The Pogues
Hypnotize by The White Stripes
AFK by Pinback
Frank’s Wild Years by Tom Waits
Magic Bus by The Who
Well you'll get no argument from me. The Pogues and Tom Waits? What do you think? A good story coming my way this weekend?
But on to the culmination of the Scary Story Trilogy: Scary Story Three.
Scary Story One: I take direction.
Scary Story Two: My mother gives direction.
Today? Scary Story Three: Direction becomes meaningless.
Philadelphia. Why not? A couple days, just as a lark, just me and Willie. Eight years ago it was. We ate a Philly cheesesteak, got drunk one afternoon with a bunch of new friends in a small pub where Willie turned over the “Galaga” machine. We went to the zoo.
And one night, we went out. We went out for dinner, shared a taxi to a bar with live music with people we met at the restaurant. We went to bed that night a little after 1:30, me chattering away as we lay in the dark.
“Shhh,” Willie said, his fingertips on my eyelids. “Go to sleep.”
And when I next notice that I am conscious, I am on the fifth floor of the hotel. I don’t know how I know it is the fifth floor.
I am walking when I gain consciousness; and I stop. I am not aware that I have lost my glasses, and I am only dimly aware that I have misplaced my clothes. Mostly, I am confused. More confused than I have ever been. These moments are like trying to remember an old movie, seen late, late at night. I can’t make sense of my surroundings. Scarier yet, I can’t make sense of myself. Where am I?
No, let’s go back. Where I am is not, surprisingly enough, the most pressing issue. I am abruptly, horrifyingly, and painfully aware that I am naked. I have nothing on: no clothes, no glasses. I’m not even wearing lipstick. I am staring down at my bare feet as the questions throw themselves against the inside of my skull with Richter-scale intensity: Where are my clothes? Where have I been? What have I been doing? Where is Willie?
Where is Willie?
“Home,” my head says. “Go home now.”
I bolt down the hallway in the direction of the elevator.
I press the button, flatten myself against the wall. The world has been reduced to the maze-like, brick-walled halls of floors five through eight of the Clarion Hotel.
The elevator doors open. No one comes out. I dash into the elevator, my head swimming, cloudy. Press 8. My eyes are glued to the door, unblinking. I am breathing through my mouth. How did I get here? Why am I here? My heart pounds. Panic, a concept I had only truly known through books, builds in my blood. I can taste it. Panic tastes like copper.
I swallow hard.
My room is 822.
822 is the farthest room from the elevator at the end of a twisting hallway. I am forcing myself through the elevator door as it opens; and by the time I reach the hotel room door, panic’s war on my grip on reality has firm footholds.
My fists reach the door first.
I rap, long and hard, and then stop, panting. I am in the hallway outside a hotel room in Philadelphia. I am naked. Am I dreaming? My head is swimming, off-balance.
“Willie!” I pound the door. There is no answer. The hallway seems to narrow and then to tilt. I am dizzy, bright spots in front of my eyes.
Where am I? Am I here? Am I real? How did I get out here? Why isn’t Willie answering the door?
Panic seizes my chest. I have to get to Willie. I have to ask him. He’ll know. He’ll know why I’m out here.
I need a phone.
The elevator. They have phones in elevators, don’t they?
The panic swimming in my blood grabs on to the thought of the telephone in the elevator, propels me forward; and I am half-way down the hall when I hear a bell and the sound of the elevator doors opening. I hear two women laughing, talking. At a full run, I spin on my heels, spin away from the elevators and back to 822.
I am pounding on the door seconds later.
“Willie! Willie!” I cry. “I’m outside and I don’t know where I am!” I swallow panicked tears and crouch against the door.
The voices of the women, drunk, laughing, increase in volume as they get closer. I cover my breasts with one arm, my groin with the other and bury my face in the door jamb.
“Willie,” I sob, whispering into the door jamb. “Open the door! I’m afraid.”
Just around the corner, a woman says, “… and then he told me yes, he was still married, but she was in a coma!” They both laugh. Keys jingle. There is a failed attempt and then a successful opening of the door. The door shuts and the laughing women are gone.
I am alone.
I jump up and bolt for the elevator. I am sure there is a phone in the elevator. I will call Willie, and he will tell me why I’m alone.
The green of the carpeted floor seems to leap up. The walls are askew, tilted. My heart is pounding as I reach the elevator.
I press the button only to be terrified, suddenly, that it will open. I press myself against the wall next to the elevator. I have no clear idea of what I will do if the elevator is occupied.
The doors open. No one comes out. I step in, the muscles of my arms jumping, legs trembling.
There is no phone.
My mind stops.
There is no phone. I had been so sure... My mind drifts off, just for a moment, and I am snapped back into reality, if that's what this is, as the doors of the elevator close. The elevator begins to descend.
Floor! What floor?!
From the mirrored walls of the elevator I watch the image of a naked woman frantically pressing “Door Open”, then, stupidly, “8”, then “7”. Her frightened face bounces from one mirrored wall to another, a fun house of desperation.
The doors open to no one on the 7th floor.
Relieved, I step out. The doors close, and I begin to walk away.
But where am I going? I stop. There aren’t phones in hotel hallways.
The phones are in the rooms.
Or in the lobby.
New fear grips me as I turn back to the elevator. I cannot go to the lobby, and I cannot roam the hallways looking for help. I have to go back to 822.
I press the button. I wait, heart pounding in my chest, in my ears. Again, it is empty. I step inside: the naked woman in the mirrors works hard to avoid her own reflection.
I step onto the 8th floor without incident and then run, on tiptoes, to the room, the last room around the last corner on the top floor.
I throw myself at the door, knock long and hard. “Willie! Willie! It’s me! Am I dreaming?” Nothing happens. I hammer the door with my fists. I kick the door, hard, twice, and leap back in pain, my toes screaming. I see stars again.
Is this real? How can this be real? The panic in my blood wins and my imagination leaps off a bridge and takes me with it.
“Willie! Oh my God, Willie! Am I dead?”
I put my hands over my face and fall to the ground.
The door opens.
“Oh my God. Pearl.” Willie’s voice is the sound of utter disbelief, and he pulls me up, pulls me into the room, and holds me tight.
“Where have you been? What are you doing? Where are your clothes? Why were you out there?"
He pushes me out to arm's length and stares at me. "Good God, you are ice cold!”
I look up, sobbing. “I’m naked.”
It is 3:28.
At what point did I leave the room?
How long had I been wandering before I “came to” – and where was I during that time?
Why did it take so long for Willie to wake up?
Is there surveillance video at the Clarion?
Do I really want the answers to any of these questions?
3 hours ago