A Short Story by Daniel Alexander
Published Finalist - Write Michigan Short Story Contest 2013
The hotel rarely ever saw direct sunlight. Due to the position of the buildings that surrounded it, it was in almost constant shade. Even in the city, where the flashing lights and blinking signs ensured that there was no night, the hotel seemed to remain incessantly dark, devoid of illumination. It had a solitary feel to it, despite being in the middle of a city. People going by gave it no more than a passing glance, but some could have sworn that they had seen the other buildings leaning away from the hotel.
It was not lit up or painted in shiny colors like other places were. It had instead a grand entryway that spoke of the finest degree of luxury. A gilded staircase led up to great mahogany doors with brass handles. Marble pillars stood to either side, stretching up to a spectacular sign that proclaimed in gold letters HOTEL LUSOLDO.
The young artist was not taking notice of these things as he trudged along the street. He had several large paintings tucked under one arm and struggled to hold them up. His eyes told the entire story.He was a lost soul, had been cast aside by the world. There was, however, an air of elegance about him, speaking of a time when his art had been prized. That was rapidly diminishing, though, and his expression was wistful, remembering times past.
The hotel almost drew him in, like a black hole, pulling and pulling relentlessly. The artist seemed surprised to find himself standing at the foot of such extravagance and started to step away.
The door to the hotel opened and a doorman stepped out. He was wearing a bright blue uniform with gold trim. A simple black hat sat upon his stark white hair and a silver rimmed monocle was placed in his left eye. “Welcome back, sir,” he said to the artist. “I hope you enjoyed your excursion tonight.”
“What?” the artist asked, baffled by the doorman’s words. “I’m sorry, you must have me confused with someone else. I’m not checked in here.”
“Of course not,” the doorman replied. “You do have a reservation, though, sir. If you will just come this way, we can ensure that your stay is as pleasant as can be.” Without waiting for a response, he took the artist’s arm in a firm grip. As was the natural reaction, the artist tried to pull away, but the doorman had a surprisingly strong hand. He was unable to get loose as the doorman half dragged him through the doors.
The lobby inside was, if anything, more beautiful than the entryway. It was straight out of an old movie, with a white marble floor and a smooth red carpet stretched across the center of the room. The ceiling was filled with scenes from Greek mythology, stylishly depicting the eminence of the gods’ adventures. The greatest part of the lobby, though, surpassing the mural above, was the chandelier. It was a glorious design, each of the crystals refracting in such a way that a single light provided the entire room with radiance. The artist gaped at the scene, having never seen such splendor in his entire life.
“I’ll take those, sir,” a concierge said with a precise voice. His gloved hands had removed the paintings from the artist’s grasp before he had the chance to protest. “We’ll make sure that these go directly to your rooms.”
The doorman still clutched the artist’s arm and steadily directed him to the check in desk. Behind the desk sat a man in a white suit. His hair was the same coloring, and he had a great, bushy beard, also white, but with streaks of black underneath. A plaque on the desk declared that he was the manager. “Thank you,” he said to the doorman, who nodded and released the artist. “I can take things from here.”
“I think you have me confused with someone else,” the artist repeated. “I did not make any reservation here. I wouldn’t be able to afford it.”
The manager smiled warmheartedly and stood up, revealing himself to be of extreme height, towering over the artist. “I am aware of that,” he said kindly. “To understand, you must know that the true nature of this hotel is not the usual function of hotels. No, Hotel Lusoldo is a very special hotel that serves very special guests.”
“Special how?” the artist asked.
“Gifted people that society has thrown away,” the manager said. He came out from behind the desk and leaned down so he was at eye level with the artist. “You see, the world sometimes makes the mistake of not helping its extraordinarily gifted citizens to thrive. We provide refuge for those people, people not unlike yourself. They all have reservations here at Hotel Lusoldo.”
“All that sounds very expensive,” the artist replied cautiously. “How much does it cost?”
“Nothing, of course.” The manager looked surprised, as if the idea were unheard of. “Our guests are given every comfort so they may pursue whatever their interests are. Why don’t I give you a quick tour, hmm?” He did not wait for the artist to say anything and strode off. The artist stood in place for a moment, but then hurried after him.
The manager smiled and opened a door, revealing a lavish theater. It was incredible, all marble and gold with a large velvet curtain that hung down onto a glorious stage. “Our auditorium is the finest in the world,” the manager boasted. “It is the—”
“Oh, Mr. Manager!” He was interrupted by a woman in a red dress who appeared on the stage. She spoke with a high, singsong voice. “Have you told the attendants about my rescheduling?”
“Already taken care of, Madame Giegére,” the manager replied. The woman smiled happily and sat down at a piano that had been wheeled in while the manager was talking. “Madame Giegére is a singer,” the manager whispered to the artist. “She had only one real masterpiece before the world forgot her. It was called Le Chant des Cygnes. She performs it every night for our guests. It really is a wonderful piece.”
The manager began to move again and the artist followed him up the aisles. Behind them, Madame Giegére started to rehearse for her performance. The song was a beautiful piece, full of joy and lilting bliss. As she played, a lone tear rolled down Madame Giegére’s cheek and she smiled, remembering when she had played for crowds that applauded her for nearly ten minutes after the finale. She longed for those days again. Her song continued on, and the hotel itself seemed to pulse with a sad love for the melody the world had forgotten.
The manager led the artist through hallways and antechambers and finally wound up outside a door that was inscribed H. Bellows. He opened the door and gestured for the artist to step through. Inside was a most incredible sight.
It was a library of sorts. Bookcases lined the walls of the room and staircases stretched both up and down to more levels filled with shelves. It was so splendid that it took the artist a moment to see the figure hunched over in a chair at the center of the floor. It was a man scribbling away furiously on reams of paper. His eyes were bloodshot as he continued to write, scratch out, crumble up, toss, and keep writing.
“This fellow is Hugo Bellows,” the manager told the artist. “A prodigious author, really quite a savant. He wrote one novel titled Into the Night, an intriguing horror story that I highly recommend. Sadly, not everyone could see his genius and he found his way here eventually.”
“What is he writing?” the artist asked.
“Oh, he wants to try for a sequel to his original novel. You see, here at Hotel Lusoldo, we provide our guests with whatever it is they desire. For Mr. Bellows, he has an entire library dedicated to him and as much paper as he needs to write out his ideas.”
The manager smiled again and walked away from the frantic author. The artist hurried after, but as he did, he realized that every book on the shelves was the same one: Into the Night by Hugo Bellows.
Long after the manager and the artist left, Hugo Bellows kept writing, kept working on his novel. His hands, stained with the ink of pens he had broken in his furious scribbling, dashed across pages, attempting to recapture the power of his original story. A strange energy coursed through the walls of the library and it seemed to feed his fervor, his drive to create. It spiraled around the author, whispering to him, telling him not to give up, to hold on still to the life he had once lived.
The artist had a little difficulty in following the manager as he walked in and out of dozens of rooms. Some were empty and seemed to serve no purpose at all while others were too extravagant for description. They at last stopped at a door that bore the artist’s own name. “This will be your room,” the manager said. He opened the door and guided the artist inside. He entered to see a gallery that surpassed all that he had ever seen before. It was enormous, stretching around in much the same way that the library had. Each painting bore his name, was his own work. They were displayed proudly, triumphantly. “As you can see,” the manager said, “we take care of our guests. Your work will be on display all the time. People can come and marvel at its depth, its splendor. You are properly honored here. You will always be known for who you are: one of the greatest painters of the world.”
“Incredible,” the artist breathed, very much struck by the size of the gallery.He walked to the center of the room to get a better look. Then he spun around and laughed, his paintings spiraling by him in a blur of colors. “Is there someplace I can paint?” he asked the manager excitedly.
“But of course,” responded the manager. He pointed to an easel with a blank canvas on it and paint supplies on a stool to the side. The artist was about to dash over to it, ready to create a masterpiece, ready to use his imagination when he hesitated. Then he stopped altogether. The elation on his face visibly shriveled and vanished. “Is something wrong?” asked the manager, real concern in his tone.
“When I look at that, I see a blank canvas,” the artist said, pointing to the painting setup.
“It is a blank canvas.” The manager was confused. “What is the problem?”
“No, you don’t understand,” the artist said, now frantic. “I shouldn’t see it as blank. I should see it as all that it could be, all the things I could create. Blank should just be another word for not finished. I should be able to see all of the possibilities and yet… I can’t.” Slowly, he backed away towards the door. He glanced around the gallery and a moment of fearful shock consumed him. All the paintings were repeated, over and over again. “I can’t live in this,” he said as he shook his head and gestured to the gallery. “All of this is over. I need something new.”
Everything was still for a moment. Then the hotel seemed to tremble slightly and the walls of the gallery appeared to pull in a little, as if trying to hold the artist in place. The artist took a step back and then another and then he turned and sprinted out of the room.
He lost count of how many halls and chambers he’d run through before finding his way back to the lobby. This time, he didn’t see any of the glory. There was no marble floor, but a cracked, rotting wood covering. The chandelier was, in reality, a lonely lantern that hung crookedly on a long, rusting chain. The ceiling’s patterns had peeled away, revealing a mold-covered roof. The carpet was torn and moth-eaten. From the door leading to the theater, he could hear Madame Giegére singing. It was the same song as before, but it had now become slow, mournful, not the joyful lilt it had been. The artist ran as fast as he could, knowing that he had to leave the hotel behind. The hotel moaned, its boards creaking and the lamp swinging back and forth, scraping on its chain. The flamboyant lobby weakly flickered over the reality, showing the chandelier, the marble. It was as if the hotel was trying to hold onto its illusions, hold onto its former grandeur.
The entrance had changed as well. The doorman now stood before the artist in a frayed, red outfit. His teeth were crooked and chipped and his monocle was cracked. There weren’t even any doors, just a bare archway with a steady drip of something liquid coming from the top. The stairs were rough and uneven. Where before he had seen marble pillars, there were tall, disgusting columns of decaying wood. The sign that had so proudly displayed HOTEL LUSOLDO was now battered and worn, a remnant of what was.
The artist stumbled onto the street, nearly tripping over his own feet in his hurry to get away from the hotel. He began to run away, looking over his shoulder to see if anyone was following him.
Hotel Lusoldo was gone. In its space was a vacant lot.
A week later found the artist walking among the thralls once more, new paintings held under his arm. The same feelings of despondency, of failure, that had haunted him not so long before had, unfortunately, returned. He was bumped by one of the people passing him and lost his grip on the canvases. He let them fall, let them be destroyed. Tears dripped down his face as he watched his work being demolished by uncaring feet, each step rubbing his failure in his face. When he finally cleared his eyes, he froze.
Across the street was Hotel Lusoldo.
The artist saw it for what it was, the decrepit, old building. For a moment, though, he allowed himself to see the beauty, the marble pillars, the gilded stairs, the great mahogany doors. The doorman stepped out, wearing his clean cut blue uniform and silver monocle. He raised a questioning eyebrow at the artist and extended a hand. Then he spoke, and, despite the distance and the sounds of the city, the artist heard him.
“Welcome back, sir. We’ve saved your reservation for you.”
The artist looked at him and saw through the image of the proper doorman, through to the ugly wretch that lay beneath. He knew that the hotel was nothing but a place that had rotted out long ago, a place that desperately tried to hold onto its former glory.
But when the artist looked at Hotel Lusoldo, he could see the beauty of its past. The doors were open and he caught a glimpse of the velvet carpet, the incredible chandelier, and the manager standing silently behind the desk. Madame Giegére’s music drifted slowly out and he closed his eyes, allowing himself to be lifted up by it. He felt the warmth, the appreciation, everything that Hotel Lusoldo offered. All he had to do was accept it.
The artist moved his foot forward, almost in a trance, like a sailor following the siren’s song. He opened his eyes, seeing Hotel Lusoldo in all of its glory. However, the majesty of the hotel flickered and he saw what the hotel tried so desperately to hide, why it held onto its former appearance so passionately. He caught himself and shook his head to clear it of the false promises. When he had, his eyes were no longer full of self-pity, but of sorrow for the hotel, for the people there who refused to leave behind their past. He was still full of pity, just no longer for himself. He bowed his head to the hotel and shed a single tear for it. Then the artist walked away, leaving to continue his life.
The illusion that made the hotel elegant started to flicker, cracks appearing. Then it dropped entirely, showing the truth and not what used to be. A floorboard collapsed. The chain on the lantern broke and it plowed a hole through the rotten wood. Doors fell and the great curtains of the theater, already torn, tumbled down. Madame Giegére’s piano buckled. The pillars toppled and the sign spiraled to the ground. The great bookshelves in Hugo Bellows’ library tumbled, books spilling out. Then entire walls began to fail, the roof of the hotel sagging as outside, people went on living their lives.