Another day, another dollar/dollar-and-a-half, depending on where you live, and we arrive, breathless and just a tad giddy, at the cusp of yet another glorious possibility of a weekend.
And as we have in the past, we look to my iPod and its shuffled-song predictions for the future.
Because everyone knows that the songs played during Friday morning’s commute have bearing on the upcoming weekend.
Banana Pudding by Southern Culture on the Skids
Ziggy Stardust by David Bowie
Hem of Your Garment by Cake
The Fear by Lily Allen
Sharks by Morphine
I Feel for You by Chaka Khan
Pala Tute by Gogol Bordello
What’s it all mean? It means welcome, my pretties, to Friday. Please take the hand of the artist closest to you and press it to your cheek – no! the other one! – and be thankful.
And without further ado, we bring you to Scary Story Three in our Scary Story Trilogy.
Scary Story One: I take direction.
Scary Story Two: My mother gives direction.
Today? Scary Story Three: Direction becomes meaningless.
Philadelphia, PA. Why not go? A couple days, just as a lark, just me and Willie. Nine 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, I am no longer in our room.
I am upright, walking, when I gain consciousness. I stop. There is an elusive, slippery aspect to thought that I’ve not experienced before. I am more confused than I have ever been. I can’t make sense of my surroundings. Scarier yet, I can’t make sense of myself. Why am I walking? Where am I walking? Why am I cold?
And I am abruptly, horrifyingly aware that I am naked.
I have nothing: no clothes, no purse, no keys, no glasses. I stare at my bare feet as the questions throw themselves against the inside of my skull: Where are my clothes? Where have I been? What have I been doing? Where is Willie?
Where is Willie?
The hall is absolutely silent; and, without my glasses, unreal in its lack of focus.
“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 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 a 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 am sure of it. I will call Willie. 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”, followed by “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.
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?