Thursday, 17 March 2011

Terrible Minds flashfiction challenge: L'esprit de l'escalier

Another week, another challenge from Terrible Minds. For the non-Francophones out there please don't let the title throw you off, it's the only part that's in French. For those who do speak la belle langue, please don't hold the pun against me.

                        L'esprit De L'escalier

    "It's going to rain again," he said as he looked up at the dark grey sky.
    Below the clouds was the HOTEL sign, not yet dark enough to emit its red glare. He swallowed, his body tense, muscle memory kicking into action. He moved into the building and past the empty reception, his footsteps echoing through the downstairs lobby. He reached the elevator and hit the button for the seventh floor, stretched his arms out in front of him. He felt like an athlete getting ready for an important game. His thoughts rolled and rotated around, a familiar phrase from college spinning into the forefront of his mind.
    "Once more into the breach dear friends, once more."
    God, he hadn't done Shakespeare in years. He must really be nervous. He knew it was bad when he realized that he'd been spinning his wedding ring on his finger, round and round. The elevator seemed to sync with his anxiety, the ping of each floor reached matched up with each rotation of the band.
    His breath came out in a rush when the elevator doors opened finally, and he emerged onto the floor. He walked down the hallway with the red spiral patterned carpets. Before he knew it the room was upon him. Room 708.
    He paused for only a few seconds before he knocked on the door.
    "Yes," came her reply softly through the door.
    This was the moment he'd been waiting for, the moment he'd rehearsed for what seemed like a thousand times.
    "It's Jack," he said. "Can we talk?"
    There was a pause and then the door opened a crack. She looked out at him with angel's eyes like two endless orbs of emerald green.
    "I don't think we should..."she started.
    "Please, Janet just hear me out,"he said. "Just give me two minutes.
    She looked at him and didn't close the door in his face. That was a good sign he figured. He exhaled. This was it, he reckoned. Whatever he said now would make or break his future.
    "I've given everything that's happened, everything that's happened between us, a lot of thought. I know I screwed up, I know what I'm like, but I know that above all I love you. I love you more than life itself and I don't know what I'm going to do without you or how I'm going to change it all but I know that I love you and that's what matters in this world, isn't it?"
    "Jack,"she said and bit her lip. Her voice was filled with longing and regret. "It's just not that easy anymore, not after what you did. Not after what you put me through. I can't be hurt like that again."
    "I can change, please let me change for you,"he told her.
    "I'm sorry but you've said that too many times and I've believed it too many times. You can't change Jack, not with me in your life. Because I'm part of the problem and you just can't see that." Her eyes welled up with tears that she quickly  wiped away. "You need to go now. You can't be here."
    The door closed before he could answer her. He knew her well enough that no amount of yelling or pleading or pounding on the door would get her back again at this point. She wouldn't yield, she wouldn't take him back.
    His body turned around and he felt himself walking away from the room. He passed the elevator without a second thought, and headed to the stairs. It would be a long walk down but he felt like he needed that right now. He needed the repetition the steps would give him, the staircase spirals that would take him down into a winding abyss. His mind was blank on the way down, numb to everything that had happened.
    He almost didn't notice the black haired girl on the 3rd floor landing but when he did see her he tripped backwards onto the stairs. She looked at him with cold dark eyes, eyes that spoke of ancient dreams best left forgotten. If she had a name it was lost long ago in the cycles of time. As far as anyone was concerned she had always been on this staircase, and always would be here.
    Her voice was old and young at the same time and definitely not that of a small child's.
    "You've lost something precious and you won't get it back,"she asked.
    He swallowed, weakly, and nodded.
    "I can help you to do it over again, if you want. I can give you another chance to get her back."
    Somewhere in the back of his brain, in that same irrational part that inspired his ancestors to dress up as animals and dance circles in sacred groves under the light of the moon, he knew that somehow she could do exactly what she said she could.
    "Do you want this chance,"she asked.
    "What's the price then? What do I have to do?"
    "The price is trying to get what you've lost, and the task is simple. Walk through the front doors of this hotel and forget all that you have done here. When you have done that look up at the sky and speak of what you see."
    "That's it?"he asked.
    She nodded.
    "Okay, I can do that,"he said and got to his feet.
    "How will I know that you've..."he started, but she was gone then, not even a shadow to mark her passing. He shivered then walked the rest of the way downstairs and through the deserted lobby. When he got outside he got that feeling he sometimes got when he knew he was forgetting. He shook his head, figured that he'd remember it eventually if it was important. Right now though he had to see someone very special on the seventh floor of the hotel.
    He looked up at the sky, at the perpetually oncoming storm and said, "It's going to rain again..."


  1. I really like this. It has a charming and touching quality, while also having a somewhat sinister air about it. At what cost to him was this 'deal' he just made? Did he actually get another chance and perhaps it would work this time, or is he now destined to keep going to that floor, being rejected, going back down the stairs, running into the girl... This reminded me of the Dark Tower where events loop around and around. Well done.

  2. Thanks for the kind words and I'm glad you liked it. I was really trying to imply in the story that he was stuck in a loop, doing the same thing over and over again, and that this wasn't his first go at this.

  3. Ha! I like loops in stories. Poetic repetition.