3rd Place: Rebecca Gomez Farrell
Durham, North Carolina
Rebecca Gomez Farrell, a Californian with a bad case of wanderlust, migrated to the East Coast after college, thinking to improve her writing by gaining more life experiences. She presently writes, edits, and blogs from Durham, NC, and is amazed she actually placed in a contest. Under the pseudonym, The Gourmez, she writes reviews of restaurants, cocktails, and wines as well as a weekly column on her lifelong obsession, General Hospital, for Eye on Soaps. She also writes modern short fiction, creative nonfiction, and is working on a fantasy novel.
She parks her station wagon under the "No Vacancy" sign. This is the first inn she's passed since dinner at that horrible truck stop diner. Her bowl of clam chowder had been lukewarm and the waitress had the gall to try and make her pay for it. She doubts she'll be treated any better at this place, but she can feel her eyelids drooping.
"Bellboy!" she yells into the dark lot. No one comes. She sighs, then pulls out her suitcase and wheels it towards the small front office that glows with a pale green fluorescence.
"Can I help you?" grunts the middle-aged man wearing a stained gray uniform at the desk. He flips the channel on an old television set that's perched on the countertop behind him.
"I need a room," she says. "How much?"
"We're full up. No vacancy," he gestures towards the sign outside then stares at her, his mouth hanging open.
"That's ridiculous," she insists. "I have a nephew who manages a Hyatt." She waits for this to affect him but his expression does not change. She continues, unperturbed, "There are always extra rooms available, that's what he told me. Even at the Hyatt."
He sneers in response and turns back towards the television. If she weren't so tired, she'd walk back out that door and take her business somewhere else.
"If you don't give me a room," she threatens, "I'll report this cockroach shack to the health department!"
He grunts, then pulls a key ring out of a drawer and tosses it at her. "Fine, lady. Whatever floats your boat. Fifth floor, room 521. But if I were you," he leans forward and looks her in the eye, "I'd be real quiet up there. Don't want to make a ruckus tonight, ok?"
She wonders if he's some sort of imbecile as she snatches the keys and marches to the elevator. As she reaches the fifth floor, she hears a loud humming from an ice machine at the end of the hall. It's chained up and secured with a padlock—she'd have to call down for a key if she wanted ice! Unbelievable.
The room smells of moldy cigarette smoke. It's covered with a layer of dust that reminds her of the tedious visits she used to spend staring at the worthless knickknacks that littered her grandmother's house as a child. She changes into her nightgown and lies down. As she starts to fall asleep, she hears a clatter coming from the hallway that sounds like a crew of construction workers hammering at beams. It's probably an employee trying to fix the ice machine; the clanging must be coming from the chain hitting the metal siding. How inconsiderate to make a racket like that at this time of night! She resolves to tell the manager right away, even if she has to force that cretin at the front desk to call his boss at home.
She throws open the door with enough force that the rush of air ruffles her nightgown. She spots three men crowded around the machine and narrows her eyes at them. They are struggling with a large, cream-colored sack that hits the ground with a thump when she clears her throat.
"Ahem," she begins her reproach, "you people are being very rude. Your customers are trying to sleep! I'm sure your supervisor would not approve of this ruckus. I'm going to demand to speak with him." She strides confidently towards the elevator, refusing to make eye contact with such undeserving people.
Which is precisely why she fails to notice one of them come up behind her with the chain. The elevator bings just as she feels the cold links fall against her bare arms and pull tight.
"Well, ma'am," the man says and she notices too late that he is not wearing a uniform, "it's a right shame you feel that way. 'Cos you see, down there in that sack, is the, uh, su-per-vis-or. He ain't able to help you right now so we're fixin' to take care of the problem for you. Sorry 'bout how gruff we are handlin' complaints but you see, we're awful sick of grumblin'."
She doesn't go quietly, of course; that isn't her way. Her last complaint is loud enough to make the satisfied guests on the lower floors flip over and rearrange themselves before drifting back to sleep.