Ass Clues

by T. Sean Steele

Twenty-four days later we were still in the association. Devon and I had given up on finding an exit. We spent most of our time in the hotel-looking hallways. When people exited their rooms we would slip inside before the door closed. None of these rooms had beds or couches or anywhere to sit but it was relaxing to be out of the hall. Maybe. It was at least something to do.

We slipped into a new room. Like all the others this one had a swimming pool, a pool table, and red carpet flooring.

“This carpet looks familiar,” I said. “I think it’s the same carpet that was in my childhood bathroom.”

“Stop pulling clues out of your ass,” Devon said. “You’ll save energy and sanity.”

Devon pulled up their hoodie and went to take a nap on the pool table. Instead they flopped into the pool. A pool and a pool table: which was which? The question had become a huge point of confusion for us.

“Subconsciously it is probably why I’m focusing instead on the carpet,” I said, helping Devon out of the pool. “I haven’t fallen into the pool for the past couple of rooms.”

Devon repeated my words back to me, but not in a mocking way. My words were like the ladder Devon was using to get out of the pool. Whenever we needed to climb out of a feeling of frustration or panic, we discovered it was useful to repeat what the other had said. Usually it was only one or the other of us who was panicked, and if you repeated the other’s words you could siphon a bit of their calm. The danger was getting caught in a feedback loop of the same words, over and over. When that happened, we usually left for another room ASAP; if we got caught in a loop, neither of us could remember who had said the words originally, and not knowing the difference like that was exactly what got us in trouble with the pool and pool table.

“I haven’t fallen into the pool for the past couple of rooms.”

“I haven’t fallen into the pool for the past couple of rooms.”

“I haven’t fallen into the pool for the past couple of rooms.”

“I haven’t fallen into the pool for the past couple of rooms.”

Back to the hall, but it was too late. I was the one in the soaking wet black hoodie.

*

Much later, we were in a familiar hallway. Even Devon, who didn’t like clues, had to admit it was familiar.

“Look at the floor,” I said. “It’s the red carpet of my childhood bathroom again, I’m telling you.” I sat down and rubbed my hands all over it, feeling good.

“But why would that be familiar to me?” Devon said.

“Sit, sit,” I said, and made Devon rub their hands on the floor with me.

The carpet came up easily in our hands. We made a pile of the scruff then looked at the bare floor. It looked like a bald head dotted with hair follicles.

Two men approached. They were not in uniforms, or even similar clothes, but we knew they worked here. They were the first people we had seen come from around a corner rather than from a door.

The two men nodded at the pile of scruff, like it was a bell we had rung to send for them.

“Would you like to be shown to your rooms?”

“Rooms, separate?” Devon said.

“Correct.”

“I don’t know about that,” Devon said.

The two men shook their heads. “No, no. You don’t understand. The rooms are separate for your benefit. You need separate rooms. To decompress. And then to expand. Your brains and personalities need it. People are smarter when they’re alone. It’s good for you. You’re smarter alone than together.”

“That’s not necessarily the most important thing to us,” I said. “Plus, we kind of have our run of the rooms here. We go in whichever rooms we want.”

We had been here for twenty-four days. We knew by now, after twenty-four days, that there was no need to play games. It was OK to say we had been sneaking into rooms. There was no consequence. We had met people like these two men before, and we’d meet more like them again.

The two men scowled. “Most guests like their separate rooms.”

“Let me ask you something,” Devon said. “Do you guys have any food?”

The two men grumbled but said yes and told us to follow them, which we did, far enough behind to have our own conversation without them listening.

“What if we’re stuck in here forever?” I said.

“Nothing lasts forever,” Devon said, then called ahead to the two men. “Hey, is this food going to be vegan? I’m going to need it to be vegan.”

They stopped walking. It was not going to be vegan.

“That’s cool. I’ll just have some water.”

*

They brought us to a kitchen door. The kitchen was packed with people. In fact, you couldn’t find a way inside. The door was blocked by their backs, which were wide and smashed shoulder-to-shoulder.

“This is a professional-grade kitchen and it is very busy,” the two men said. “We’ll explain how to get inside by demonstrating.”

One man went inside, then the other man. They did so by sliding a hand between two of the backs. The two backs then worked together like a sideways mouth to pull in the rest of the arm, then the shoulder, then the chest, then the entire body. Soon both men had been fully sucked into the kitchen.

“Let’s not follow them,” Devon said.

“OK,” I said.

We kept walking.

“Remember what you had been saying about how nothing lasts forever?” I said.

“Sure.”

“What if nothing lasts forever in the sense that if it didn’t start at the beginning of time it can’t count as forever? Like, we could be stuck in here for the rest of our lives, but that still wouldn’t count as forever, because we weren’t always stuck in here? So saying nothing lasts forever really almost means nothing at all.”

“What do you want me to say? Then take heart in knowing we haven’t always been in here.”

Luckily that conversation did not end up mattering at all, because later we found the exit. There was the street, and a sidewalk, and outdoor air, and a massive thunderstorm. We stood under the awning at the exit waiting for it to stop.

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