Sep 04

Alternate Susan — Chapter Eight

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Chapter Eight




I doubt anyone has ever been held in a prison half as nice as La Turquesa. Gaunt Man (he wasn’t speaking either, and probably wouldn’t introduce himself if he was) led me down marbled hallways to a wing of suites. He used a key card to open one of them and pushed me in. Just after the door locked behind me, I got the strong mental image of a poor, obnoxious, feminist bitch putting on the white robe of a noviate, which she got out of the closet. The thought was clearly not my own, (I am not obnoxious) and unsettling, because when I opened the closet, several white robes hung there, just like in the image.

So, they really did learn telepathy here.

I stayed in the room only long enough to swipe the complementary toiletries (L’Occidental, and probably costing more than I spent on soap in a year) before trying the door. Locked, naturally.

My room had a splendid view of a rocky hill, dotted here and there with saguaros. From one side of the window I could even see a tiny green sliver of golf course. The window appeared to be double or triple paned (no heat came through when I placed my hand against it) and impossible to open.

Unlike every other hotel room I’d been in, this one had a luxuriously soft bed, and a generous supply of fluffy pillows. It had enough decorative beaded satin pillows that I could have made a nest and slept quite comfortably on the floor, if I had so desired. The satin covered, goose down duvet was thick enough to insulate an attic, and though it was summer, I felt I might need it because my room was kept at an expensively chilly 68 degrees. The only reason to keep your house that cold in summer was if you were part polar bear, or had more money than Bill Gates and found no other way to waste it.

Further exploration of the suite found a writing desk, but no writing implements, a laundry chute, a dumbwaiter, two oil portraits, a hand-woven carpet, and a stack of fluffy towels. MacGyver could have figured out a way to break free with those items. I couldn’t, so I lay down on the incredibly comfortable bed.

When I woke up, the sun cast reddish light over the hill and the scent of food came from the dumbwaiter. I decided to postpone my hunger strike until they sent something less yummy than artichoke bruchetta, stuffed zucchini blossoms, and a very drinkable Chianti. I would have liked a Diet Coke, but the Chianti was good enough to make up for it. No wonder Maggie hadn’t wanted to leave.

I put the dishes in the dumbwaiter when I was done, and two hours later it rumbled back up with a plate of madeleines and a hot mug of chamomile tea. I ate these, having nothing else to do, and ruminated about how much I missed television. Then, it was time for bed, because taking apart an alarm clock and organizing nine months of old receipts were the most amusements my phone-less purse could offer.

The next morning, the dumbwaiter brought me a mug of herbal tea (How about a Diet Coke!) a croissant, and three slices of star shaped fruit. The bone china plates would not dent the window pane, and the silver knife did nothing against the door.

The window became my substitute television. Jackrabbits hopped outside my window, then hid when the sun rose higher. Once a golf ball flew into the bushes, but no one retrieved it. Overhead, a hawk circled around and around in the blue. I straightened the pillows, rearranged the pillows, made a fort out of the pillows, made the bed again, and waited for lunch. And still no one came for me.

Lunch was a bowl of pumpkin bisque and roast quail stuffed with juniper berries. I’d never eaten so well in my life.

I was in love with the dumbwaiter. It was the only thing in this gilded cage that interacted with me.

It was late evening when I woke from my nap, but with nothing to do but sleep, I went right back to bed. My head ached.

There comes a point when you’ve slept too much, and the line between dozing and awake becomes blurred. Drifting so slowly from sleep to wakefulness made me remember my dreams. I dreamt of a woman, dressed in a simple calico dress, pounding at the gates of La Turquesa. She wanted to rescue someone inside, but she couldn’t figure out how to get in, and whoever was inside wasn’t saying anything. In the dream, La Turquesa was like a giant concave mirror, where everything inside got reflected back unto itself. Who would want to leave, anyway? Who would want to leave such a beautiful place, with exquisite food and furnishings, and a lovely view to go mad by?

God, how I missed television. No radio either. Did anyone have a radio? I lay still on the bed and listened. Quiet. Lights hummed, so I turned them off. Electricity still hummed in the walls, and my heart pounded slowly. I held so still that the rhythm of my pulse shook the mattress. Something… I could hear something.

I’m lying on a beach, drinking a Mai-Tai, a man approaches, looking like my ex-husband. (I don’t have an ex-husband) I tell him—

That was odd. I listened again.

Prosperity, sales are up, resurface west pool next weekend, have to tell the landscaper to fire his subcontractors on account of cigarette butts, next month getting that chef in from Vienna, is the visa in order? Don’t want the fiasco we had with the Hong Kong chef.

Images. That’s what was odd. I was hearing images. No, not hearing. Telepathing. People were sending out mental images, and I was receiving them. No wonder they had no television, no radio. No distractions.

Was Maggie here of her own free will? I closed my eyes and thought about Maggie. Christmas lights in our old apartment, peanut butter and honey sandwiches, cigarette scented hugs and lipsticked kisses on bruised knees. Holding her knees as we stood in line at the drugstore, math tests on the refrigerator. Me making Maggie, Jess, Christopher and Julie mac-and-cheese when Maggie had to work late. Maggie showing me how to plant aloe vera in a Styrofoam cup, Maggie teaching me my first spell-poem, Maggie clapping and praising Christopher when he made the image of dancing colored rabbits in the air. My first job, working at the call center with Maggie. Maggie smiling when asked if we were sisters. Maggie asking me for loans, giving me ‘enchanted’ buttons and string to relieve the debt. Maggie introducing me to our friend Ruby, so there would be love when she was gone. The nurse at the free clinic handing me as a baby to a very young Maggie.

That wasn’t my memory. Maggie? You can hear me? As soon as I thought the words, the connection vanished.

The dumbwaiter clunked. It had mint tea and three delicate vanilla wafers. I’d missed dinner. Wonder what it was? And what did a girl have to do to get some caffeine around here?

I put the pillows on the floor and tried again. Telepathy was easier when you didn’t keep falling asleep. I must have laid there for about two hours before I’d contacted Maggie again. By that time, I’d figured out how to make it easier. Thoughts got cut off whenever anyone used language. As long as you projected only pictures and images, others could hear it. I must have been getting messages in my sleep, because many people used the concave mirror analogy. There was something about this place, some way in which it was constructed that made telepathic powers easier.

And Celestine had found a way to make even pure psionics turn a profit. Other resorts had golf courses, spa treatments, and plush rooms, but no other resort had a staff of trained psychics sending feel-good vibes into the thoughts of their sleeping guests. It was brilliant, it was wonderful, it was ingenious, and it was more than a little creepy. So far, they hadn’t been directing them at me. Maybe I was in a different wing? Maybe they only directed thoughts at paying guests? What I’d been hearing was no more than an overheard conversation on CB radio; thoughts of the telepathy students as they practiced with one another.

They wanted me to learn telepathy. Why? I found Maggie again, drifting through the corridors of this stone palace.

What about Miles? Could I trust him? And Derek?

I told her about what happened with Derek and me in the Roadhouse. It was kind of like a silent play, really, exaggerating the emotions, using gestures and facial expressions to convey meaning. Maggie laughed at my solution to getting away from Bo.

Need Maggie. I telepathed. Me pulling towards the other world. Maggie comes out, escapes with me, helps me switch back with Susie.

Maggie stands at the door, shaking her head. She won’t leave.

Can’t, or won’t? Was Celestine holding her prisoner because she wanted a wish?

Nightjack stares at Celestine with folded arms and an evil smirk. Celestine walks by, oblivious.

Talking in pictures took a very long time, but eventually Maggie got her message across. Celestine didn’t know about Nightjack. Maggie’s wish had been to stay at La Turquesa for as long as she wanted without paying. She got her wish, and didn’t particularly want to leave, especially since Nightjack couldn’t get past Celestine’s wards. Celestine hated garden faeries, and sprayed a special pesticide to keep them away. Whatever it was worked on djinns as well. The seca kept out everything else. Celestine thought it was her own idea to get Maggie to stay there, and had this idea that if she didn’t have both Stillwaters at La Turquesa, they’d be stolen by her competitors. That I didn’t want to be there and she was effectively committing a felony by holding me prisoner didn’t occur to her. Then again, who’d believe they were held prisoner in this place? A room in La Turquesa for the night probably cost half Zoë’s mortgage payment for the month.

I lay back down again and reestablished the connection. She was there, waiting for me, and the link from my mind to hers felt clear and well-worn. She and Susie had done this often. Did she know I wasn’t Susie?

Maggie holding a baby, the baby was me.

She knew, then, but she didn’t care. I was still her daughter.

What now then? What was my next step? What was she afraid of, and how did I take care of it so it didn’t hurt her?

Listeners at the door, ears pressed against glasses against my skull, and hers. Maggie feared to leave. Don’t let them know of the golden-skinned man.

I broke off.

Could they hear my thoughts? Thoughts I wasn’t projecting? I knew about Nightjack, and if someone picked up on the fact that Susie had helped summon him, I could be arrested. What if they picked it out of my brain? I’d have to think of something else, something to block it out, like when I got ‘It’s a Small World’ stuck in my head and had to turn the radio up to 10 just to get it out.

Diet Coke. Think about my caffeine craving. Think about that sweet artificial taste, the joy of carbonation, that lovely brown color. An icy feel of smooth aluminum cylinder in my hand. Harsh black espresso also good, regular Coke too sweet, tea fine in a pinch. Silver can with a swirl. Hit of caffeine. Aftertaste clinging to my tongue. I cranked the image to ten, adding the jingle from the ads along with it.

And when the filet mignon and baby peas with dill-and-fennel aioli came, the dumbwaiter also brought a can of Diet Coke. Someone was listening.

I waited only until after dinner to clog the toilet. Egyptian cotton hand towels don’t flush well, and four or five tanks of water made a very satisfying lake on the floor. I didn’t actually defecate in it, that would be disgusting, but I did project the image of raw sewage pumping out onto that lovely travertine, oozing around the teakwood bedframe. I projected the image of me mopping up foul matter with one of the damask pillows, and of the scent wafting through the vents to the paying customers. I projected the image of me pounding on the door, and me leaving brown stains against the hand-plastered walls.

It took twenty minutes. They sent two men, one to escort me to another room, and one to take care of the plumbing issue. They must not have told him details, because he didn’t seem surprised to find only clean water on the floor. The other guy wasn’t a noviate; he spoke. Was he susceptible to telepathy? I mimed having to go to the bathroom, and projected the image of him leading me to the ladies’ room in the foyer. Sure, it was farther, but it really made more sense, I insisted.

He obliged.

Like the rest of the hotel, this bathroom was sumptuously hospitable. Everything was marble and granite except the huge mirror and gold-plated fixtures. A row of rolled cotton towels waited to dry my hands, and a banquet of complementary toiletries beckoned for me to attend to my hygiene. This was the crown jewel of bathrooms.

And best of all, it had a large window that opened.

I cranked it open all the way, kicked out the screen, and slid through. They must have counted on the bank of barrel cacti at the bottom to keep out trespassers. The spines gouged me several times along my leg when I fell to the ground, but I didn’t care. I’d rather be bleeding and running for my life across a golf course than cooped up and pampered in a silent prison.

As if in answer, the dry hot breath of the seca breathed across my neck.



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