Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Writing Prompt: All Expenses Paid

Winning an all expenses paid vacation sounds wonderful. You don't have to worry about plane tickets, meals, hotels, or anything. You can just go and enjoy yourself.
But when you get there after flying squished in a seat in coach and drag your bags up to a dingy hotel, you realize that just because everything is paid for doesn't mean it's going to be nice.
Stephanie stood there, looking at the least impressive hotel she'd ever seen (because they'd passed the more impressive ones on the corn chip-scented van ride from the airport), and did not look forward to her stay. If the travel and accommodations were any indication, all she'd be getting to eat would be some of those stale corn chips off the floor of the van.
The attendant at the front desk seemed excited to see her. She wondered if she was the only one staying there. After making her way to her room, she dumped her bags on the floor and flopped down on the bed. The bed wasn’t terribly comfortable, but it was better than she’d expected.
When she opened her eyes again, it was dark. She glanced around the room for a clock, but there wasn’t one. She padded into the bathroom, turned on the lights, and tested the sink. The water worked, at least.
Staring into the mirror, she relived the conversation when her sister had encouraged her to enter the contest.
“Why don’t you enter?” she’d asked.
“It’s not like I could go,” her sister replied, “I’ve got too much to do at work. You’ll be at the end of a project, and you could use a vacation. And if it’s paid for, even better!”
She’d never needed much convincing. She shrugged and mailed in the contest paperwork. Her sister was more excited than she was when she won. And now she was here for two weeks, in this tiny hotel.
Her stomach growled and she wondered where she was supposed to go to have dinner. Did the hotel have a restaurant? At a place like this, it didn’t seem likely. Even if there was, she didn’t know if she wanted to eat there.
She sighed and slopped water on her face. So this was how they got you. Tempt you in with the “all expenses paid” part but make sure everything was below enjoyable standards so that people who won couldn’t help spending their own money. Feeling duped, she stared at herself in the mirror. “Everyone who entered that contest probably won, Stephanie,” she told herself.
She ordered room service, hung up her clothes in the closet, and turned on the TV. After all, that’s what she would have done if she’d been at home. Only the couch would have been more comfortable than trying to figure out how to arrange the pillows on the bed so that she could recline the way she wanted to.
The room service wasn’t horrible, and watching a strange soap opera distracted her disappointment. This was the first step to enjoying herself, she decided. First, forget that everything is terrible, then remember that you’re on vacation, and finally, enjoy yourself.
The soap opera became Gilligan’s Island, which became I Love Lucy, which became The Honeymooners. She fell asleep sometime in between the Skipper berating Gilligan and Lucy whining at Ricky.
Sometime around four in the morning (though she wasn’t sure because she didn’t have a clock), Stephanie woke to a low bass rhythm booming somewhere. In a haze of sleep, she fumbled for the remote control and turned off the television.
Sun peeked through the curtains the next morning, and she pushed them aside, gazing down at the ocean glistening in the light of the rising sun. Grabbing her suit, a towel, and sandals, she rushed down to the beach, stopping at the front desk to ask for a bedside clock along the way.
It was a beautiful day, and the air did not smell like corn chips. She spent the morning swimming, sunbathing, and people watching, and returned to the hotel to have lunch and rest after a morning in the sun.
The hotel, it turned out, did have a little restaurant. It wasn’t the fanciest thing in the world, but it did have outdoor tables, each with its own big friendly umbrella for shade. Stephanie picked one of these, gave her order to the waiter, and enjoyed the tropical breeze. She was enjoying her lunch when a teenager with one tiny, bright pink braid standing out against her long, black, artistically mussed hair sat down at a table nearby, her younger brother following close behind.
“Ugh, I’m so bored,” the teenager announced, putting her feet up on the table and producing a smartphone out of nowhere. She flipped her hair out of her eyes and began to play with it, sighing, “nothing ever happens here during the day.”
“Then why do you ask to come here every year?” her brother asked, trying to look over her shoulder at the game she was playing.
“Shut up,” she said, shoving his head away.
“I’m telling Mom!” he protested.
“Try it!” she replied with a threatening gesture. He ran away, wailing displeasure. Then, noticing she was being watched, the teenager addressed her eavesdropper directly. “You’re in Room 104?”
“What?” Stephanie almost dropped her fork in surprise. “Yes, I… how did you know?”
“Then you’ll know what I mean about it being boring during the day here,” the teenager continued, ignoring the question. The baffled look on Stephanie’s face must have been answer enough for her. “Or maybe not. Yet. You’ll see.” She got up and wandered away.
Despite the well known fact that teenagers are weird, Stephanie still didn’t know what to make of her lunch encounter. She returned to her room to find that housekeeping had been in to make the bed and leave a digital alarm clock sitting on the dresser, unplugged. She sighed, plugged it in behind the bedside table, and set it to match her watch, East Coast time. If it wasn’t actually the right time, it didn’t really matter; it’s not like she had any place to be.
She hung her wet swimsuit up in the shower, scrubbed her hair dry after rinsing it out, and flopped down on the bed as she had the day before.
Stephanie hadn’t dreamed the day before. She’d been too tired from traveling and being frustrated about disappointed hopes. Her REM cycle treated her to fireworks displays, an evening stroll down a street fair, and a modified scene from Sleepless in Seattle. It must have been her subconscious wondering what that teenager had been talking about.
It was dark when she woke. Inspired by the dramatic scenes in her head, Stephanie determined that she would go out for dinner, whether she had to pay for it herself or not. She grabbed the fancy dress that her sister insisted she take along and slithered into it, going back to the closet for her fancy shoes.
When she opened the door of her closet, she heard a familiar noise and remembered that she’d woken early that morning to the low rumbling beat of a techno song, which was now floating up from somewhere below. She reached for her shoes as her head bobbed along to the beat, and she wondered where the music could be coming from.
It was when she finished fastening the strap on her left shoe that she saw it.
Why was there a secret door in the back of her closet? Why had it just opened? Stephanie leaned forward, slipping her right shoe on and gazing through the closet to see what could be on the other side of the mysterious door. The music got louder. She wondered why, and quickly secured her shoe so that she could find out what could possibly be down the steps that had appeared inside her closet.
Writing Prompt #743
The bass rhythm grew louder and more oppressive as she descended. The stairs were lit by recess lighting built into the wall below the hand rail, but they were so dim it was hard to see. By the time Stephanie reached the first landing, she could hear voices. Talking and laughing people who were having a good time, by the sound of it.
One final landing revealed the source of the noise: an underground nightclub. Stephanie descended the last few steps and stood on a balcony above the dance floor. The room was packed, and she spotted a tiny, bright pink braid bobbing among the dancers.
She navigated the balcony and found more stairs down to the bar on the other side of the room. As she reached it, two bar stools nearby were vacated by some patrons, and she took one, while the other was taken by her new friend.
“You found it!” the teenager declared, sipping on a drink the bartender offered her which was same color as her eye shadow. “Isn’t it great?”
Stephanie looked around. “It’s… definitely more exciting than sitting on the beach,” she admitted.
“I’m Moira,” the teenager informed her. “We stayed in Room 104 the first time we came here. My mom won some contest. But this place is why I make my parents come back here every year. Come on, I’ll introduce you to the DJ!” Abandoning her drink, she grabbed Stephanie’s wrist and hauled her across the dance floor.
“Aren’t you going to pay for that?” Stephanie shouted through the din.
But Moira shouted, “It’s all expenses paid!”

“How was your trip?” her sister asked her. “Did you have a good time? Did you meet anyone?”
“It was fun,” Stephanie replied. “I’m thinking of going back next year.”

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