“She snapped her fingers, and, as if by some invisible force, Marcus was thrown across the room, and hit the wall. He winced in pain, but his eyes still held a malicious glint.”
We get a lot of strange folks up here, but nothing like her.
Pleased to meet you. I’m Art Walker, and I’m the night manager here at The Royal Suites hotel. Don’t let the name fool you, there is nothing royal at all about this place. It’s really run down, plus it’s in the middle of nowhere. We have a staff of one day manager, one night manager, one cook, and one housekeeper. And one boss, of course. We have about 100 rooms, but usually we only manage to fill about half. It’s not exactly my (or anyone else’s) dream job, but it pays the bills well enough. And like I said, we get a lot of strange folks up here. She was the strangest of them all.
As cliche as it sounds, it was a dark and stormy night. It was mid-October, and the wind was howling something fierce. She practically stumbled in, and her appearance suggested that she had been walking for many miles in the storm. She wore a flimsy yellow raincoat, and was dragging a black suitcase behind her. She flicked her wet hair out of her eyes, then walked over to my desk.
“How much for a room?” she asked me.
“Fifty bucks,” I said.
“That’s not too bad.”
“Yeah, well, you aren’t paying for much.”
She laughed a little. “You’re a funny guy. What are you doing in a dump like this?”
“Speak for yourself, lady.”
She laughed again. “Touche.”
I handed her the room key. Most hotels nowadays had key cards, but The Royal Suites, in all its quaintness, had never made the switch. “You’re in room 27 on the second floor,” I told her. “Don’t use the soap. It gives people rashes.”
“Good to know,” she said, and without another word, she swept out of the lobby. I could hear her boots all the way up the dingy staircase, and, not for the last time, I wondered what brought her here.
At around 9 o’clock the following night, I saw her leave the building. When she came back an hour later, she was holding two bottles of cheap wine. “Here.” She passed one to me across the desk. “Drink.”
“I can’t drink on the job,” I told her.
“Come on, how many people are there even in this hotel, ten?”
“Twelve.” It was a particularly slow week.
“Right. Drink up.”
“Can you at least tell me your name?”
She paused for a second. “Philomena.”
I unscrewed the cap and took a sip. To tell the truth, I don’t like wine too much. It burns going down my throat. I pulled out the chair next to me behind the desk, and she jumped over the desk and sat down with surprising agility.
“Wow,” I said. “How’d you do that?”
She grinned and said, “Magic.” Then she raised the bottle to her lips, and took a huge gulp of the stuff, and when she swallowed, a trickle of it ran down her chin. She wiped it away with her sleeve. Then she took another gulp.
She carried on in this fashion until half of the bottle was gone. Then she turned to me and asked, “What am I doing here?”
“You tell me,” I said. I hadn’t had that much to drink.
“I mean, I should be on top of the world. I can do things no one else can do, I’m one of the most powerful people in the world, and where am I?” She made a noise in between a laugh and a sob. “Nowhere, USA, drinking away my sorrows.”
“I’m sorry,” I told her. I had no idea what she was talking about, but I felt sorry for her. She sounded so profoundly sad.
“Don’t be,” she told me. “You’re not part of this. You just got caught in the crossfire.”
“Okay,” I said, and she resumed sucking the life out of her bottle. I took another cautious sip.
Without warning, another person busted into the hotel. A rather tall man stood in the lobby, with a long, billowing coat and prematurely gray hair. I hastily hid my bottle, but his eyes didn’t even turn to me. They were fixated on her.
“Philomena,” he spoke her name as if it were something rancid on his tongue. “Still living in the gutter, I see.”
“Marcus,” she spat his name out equally hatefully. “Still going places you have no business being.”
“Oh, come off it, sweetie. You’re dying here. Your whole operation’s dying. You’ll never bring back the old ways. It’s time you just accept it.”
Philomena stood up. “Don’t you dare call me that.”
He grinned. “Or what? What are you going to do?”
She snapped her fingers, and, as if by some invisible force, Marcus was thrown across the room, and hit the wall. He winced in pain, but his eyes still held a malicious glint.
“You can perform all the party tricks you want, sweetie. Still won’t matter. The Crucible will still come for you.”
She slammed him against the wall again. “Or how about you just tell me where The Crucible is so I can find it and destroy it?”
He laughed. “Even if I knew where it was, I’d go to my grave before I told you.” He started to pick himself up.
“I’ll see myself out,” he said. “Have fun drinking away your sorrows with your pal here.” He swept out the door.
“Ugh,” said Philomena. She took another sip of her wine.
I looked at her, questions bubbling in my mind. The first that came out was, “ Who was that guy?”
“Just a grunt,” she said. “Nothing more. Probably sent to see how much of my power I still retain. I’m proud to say they haven’t drained me of all of it yet.”
“How’d you do that?” I asked her. “How’d you slam him against the wall like that?”
“Magic,” she said.
“Okay,” I said, trying to wrap my head around the concept.
“I better get going,” she said. “Now that they know for sure I’m here, there’ll be more.” She grabbed her bottle of wine, and waved her hand in front of my face.
I blinked, confused. “What was that?” She looked at her hand. Then she waved it in front of my face again. “What are you doing? Stop,” I said.
She stomped her foot, almost like a petulant toddler.
“Goddamned Crucible – can’t even do a memory wipe. Ah well. Just try to repress what happened tonight,” she said. “You people are pretty good at that.” She started walking away.
“Were you trying to wipe my memory?” I called after her.
“Don’t take it personally,” she called back.
She was gone the next night when I came back to work. When I asked the day manager about her he said she had left at about 7:30 in the morning. I don’t know where she is now, or really anything. I’m just a night manager, who got caught in the crossfire.