Cool had just left home for good. And about time, too. That he waited till the day after graduating from high school, was the last thing he would indulge his parents, whom he loved fully, as a debtor his lender. They who taught him to speak, did not speak his language.
It was not much better with his colleagues at school. He had had fun with them, but when it came time to pack, he was pleased to find that no one was there to stop him.
Looking at the bus schedule, he chose the farthest destination, and upon arriving there, rode yet farther out, planning to step off when things looked right. He had not slept for the 18 hours he was on the road, but looked with unwavering eagerness at what lay before him.
The conductor, the same one from the previous bus, would chuckle now and again when glancing at Cool, which Cool felt compelled, as a matter of honor, to challenge.
“Is there something wrong?” he asked, looking at the conductor’s ID. “Bidoy?”
The question seemed to further enliven Bidoy, who said, “So you’re what? James Dean?”
Cool didn’t get the reference, but looked to his clothes, to see what could prompt such an association. “Why?”
“Badass rebel. Let me guess. You ran away from home?”
He didn’t think defending himself was worth it, merely answering, “Something like that.” He noticed the other passengers, who filled about half the bus, watching the exchange.
“I know some people,” Bidoy said, “Place to crash, with room service and all.” He searched through his back pocket, and fished out a card, creased and a little damp, which he handed to Cool.
“How far is this?” he asked, reading it.
“About four towns from here.”
Mountain’s Dream. A curious name for a town. And the room rates were pretty reasonable, being below his budget which he had intended to last for two months. “Thanks, I guess.”
Bidoy winked back. The passengers, as if on cue, turned away.
An hour later, Cool got down from the bus.
“Hope you find what you’re looking for, you sentimental romantic, you,” Bidoy said.
“What do you mean by that? Did I say anything to make you say that?”
A passenger at the back, a big man with a big voice, screamed, “Drive, driver! There are other people here!”
“Okie dokes, no worries,” Bidoy responded, before turning back to Cool. “Take care.”
“You guys too.” On an impulse, as the bus sped off, he shouted, “Fatass!” He heard the same big voice curse in garbled words. What if they stop the bus and he chases me down? Well, I’d outrun him, Cool thought. But the bus went on its way, and he felt safe once more.
He didn’t expect much from the town in terms of extravagance or cleanliness. By early evening, the streets were mostly empty, the townspeople presumably already retiring to their drab apartment buildings. But the motel, Mountain’s Fantasy, contrasted itself with its bright lights and colorful architecture. The receptionists, he concluded within a minute of meeting them, were more attractive than anybody he had known back East. It was so unreal to him that he felt unusually nonchalant about chatting them up, describing his hometown in pleasant terms without feeling the guilt of lying.
“And what would you prefer, mountain view top floor, or wall view ground floor, beside the supply room?” Shanice, the decidedly prettiest of the lot, asked.
“Top floor please,” Cool said.
“And do you want more choices, or will the three of us do?”
“Do? For what?” he asked.
“The room service. Only if you’re not too tired,” Imara, one of the other receptionists, said.
He did remember Bidoy mentioning room service, God bless the man. “I’d be more than happy with you three, of course,” Cool said. “But… How much will it be?”
The girls smiled, suppressing their laughter. “Complimentary with the room,” answered Imara.
There must be a catch, he thought, but he was overwhelmed with being a sucker for a good deal. “Okay, I’m just going to freshen up. And I could just call ‘0’ for you guys to come up?”
They laughed. They seemed to do everything in unison. Well, it occurred to him somewhere in the back of his mind, they would have some procedure in place, a program to follow, what with all the men they sleep with every single day. Silvette, the third receptionist, answered, “Or we could wait outside your room, then you can holler for us.”
“Doesn’t one of you have to be on call though?”
“Of course,” Silvette answered, pulling out a fully-grown man from under the counter. “Stan, stay.”
“Oh, cool. Come on, then, girls,” Cool said. He was not one to question his luck.
I’m such a man, he said to himself in bed, arms tucked comfortably under his head, three hours later. The girls had just left, and he was congratulating himself for deciding to leave home. This was home now. He had already requested a nontraditional wake-up call, which involved either Shanice, Imara, or Silvette — “Surprise me,” he had told them — coming into the room and giving him fellatio till he stirred.
Still naked, he walked to the full-length mirror, inspecting his body for any marked changes since the foursome. With the only light coming from the bathroom, he noticed for the first time that, at a certain angle, he could see through the glass, to reveal the camera behind it. He dove into the bathroom, only to observe the same thing in the bathroom mirrors.
“Who’s there?” he called out. While he wanted to storm down to never return — and to think, how contented he was just a minute ago — he also felt icky and in need of a shower, which took him two minutes. He then put on boxers and a shirt, and dumped the rest of his clothes and shoes into his bag, leaving the room without bothering to close the door.
“Hey Cool!” some guy he passed in the hallway called out. “What’s the rush?”
Cool looked back, without recognition, wondering what that was about, and continued on his way. Wait, he thought, why am I running? What’s the rush, indeed? I’ve already left the room. Surely I can confront reception, if not management, better, if I’m not out of breath. He slowed down to a walk.
Yet another stranger, a middle-aged woman, spoke to him. “Leaving so soon?”
“Wait, who are you?”
“Oh, just another guest.”
“How do you know me?”
“Just from what you showed upstairs. Hope to see you again!”
He was starting to understand: Everyone in the motel was crazy. “You’re a guest too?”
“Only till tomorrow. My daughter’s giving birth in the province, and while she’s not due till next month, she herself was a preemie…”
“And do we all have access to each other’s rooms through the TV? I’m sorry if I haven’t checked.”
“Oh, no,” said the woman. “Only to your room. You’re the star, and we’re just the spectators.”
Cool looked to the ceiling, trying to make sense of what he was being told. “The whole motel. Watching me have sex. Why?”
“Why did you do it? Why do we watch it? Why are some people thin? Why are some people fat? Why are we here?”
He walked on, the questions echoing in his ears, till he arrived at the ground floor. He saw Stan behind the desk. “Is Shanice around?” he asked.
“Shanice,” Stan repeated, pulling her out from under the counter. She patted her skirt free of crinkles.
“What is going on there?” He leaned over to see, and sure enough, Imara and Silvette were curled up and lifeless, tucked neatly by the corner, waiting to be switched on.
Shanice answered, “We gave you the VIP treatment. Isn’t that why you showed us the card?” she said of Bidoy’s gift bestowed on Cool.
“I didn’t know it had to do with a porn show for your guests to see. It is just the guests who watch, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but we don’t always know when they record it for their use afterwards,” Shanice answered without her trademark smile. “You’re not upset with me, are you?”
“No, no, it’s not your fault. You’re a… You do as told. But I wish someone had given me a heads-up…”
“You did sign the form. It’s in the fine print,” Shanice said.
“Oh, so now I’m supposed to read everything I sign?” He was at least glad to learn the lesson early in adulthood.
“Please stay. I kind of like you already.”
“You do. But how do you know that it’s you who’s liking me, or if you’re made to like me?”
“I don’t follow. Is there a difference?” Shanice asked.
“Maybe it is simpler than I think. No, Shanice, you’ve been a dear. It’s just that I can’t deal with…” With what? Was he just being prejudiced to these non-sentients?
“You haven’t been around these parts long, huh?” Shanice said, smiling. “I know you’re weirded out by us lifeless pieces of tin talking with nuanced expressions and all, but you really have no choice in this town. We’re everywhere. Don’t worry, I’ll help you out.”
“I would like that,” Cool said. “From what I’ve seen, your service is impeccable.”
“So I’ll just keep you checked in?”
“Yes, please, but no longer as the VIP. I’m squeamish that way.”
What tantalizing trials await our hero Cool? You can find out by getting ‘Man of the East and other stories’ on Amazon Kindle. Or asking me for a copy nicely.