After the irritatingly officious little man had left, closing behind him the door to the suite of rooms that had been her home for nearly three-quarters of a century, Winnie Remington lay back on her bed and plumped up the pillows, deep in thought with furrowed brow. This latest disappearance did not really trouble her that much—there had been maybe half a dozen other such occurrences in the slightly more than twenty years since she had first encountered the Norns and nothing had ever really come of them. She wondered vaguely what had happened to the nice young man she had seen in her dream the previous night but trusted that the Norns would take proper care of him as they had done for all of what they called The Troubled Ones.
This in fact was how she had met the Norns, for they had come to her in the early seventies, apparently attracted by her grief and subsequent depression over losing her husband. She had become increasingly despondent over the death of her longtime husband Larry nearly a decade previously. They had been together for nearly forty-five years and his loss had left a gulf in her entire being that she felt could never again be filled. As her condition had worsened over the next several years she had become a virtual recluse in her suite, her only companions the team of doctors and nurses that her vast accumulated wealth kept at her beck and call.
Then miraculously out of nowhere, just as she was on the point of seriously considering suicide, the Norns had appeared and though she didn’t understand exactly how they had done it, they had managed somehow to take from her memory one of the happiest occasions of her life and create, or perhaps recreate, from that memory a fantasy world that exists on the hotel’s imaginary fifth floor which she could visit only in her dreams.
She had no idea really why all this had happened or even how, but over the last twenty years Warren Norn, who seemed to be the senior brother and their spokesman, had occasionally in some of his rare talkative moods tried to explain it to her, but she had been unable to comprehend anything more than that The Troubled Ones, which included her, were of particular value to the Norns, and though maybe only one human in ten thousand was sensitive enough to feel the Norns’ presence, let alone see them, their very presence in the Norns’ realm demanded that something be done to, as Warren put it, “improve their lives”. For, as he had further explained, the Norns, being masters of space and time, were easily bored. They liked to build things to unbuild things to rebuild things, and this apparently included human lives every now and then.
She lay back on her pillows and reached automatically for the sleeping pills and the morphine solution that her team of nurses always kept by her bedside and replenished whenever necessary. She and the century were of about the same age and each bore the marks of the wear and tear and the long strife that had marked the twentieth century. Her body, once lithe and strong, was now crippled with arthritis and she rarely left her bed except to eat a small meal every now and then in the increasingly few moments when she felt anything like hunger. This was accomplished by calling the hotel kitchen on her direct line, upon which her request would be delivered within five minutes or so.
Now that the little man had finally stopped questioning her and had left, Winnie was once again free to re-enter her perfect Norn-created dream world. Over the past several years, as the arthritic pain had made her conscious life more and more a misery, she had found herself frequenting this dream world, sometimes as much as eighteen hours a day. She accomplished this by alternating morphine with sleeping pills until she reached the exact balance of reduced pain and sleepiness that would release her from her current state of conscious reality.
She popped four sleeping pills into her mouth and washed them down with healthy gulps of the morphine elixir. Soon, she thought, as that pleasantly muzzy numb feeling began to steal over her, she would be back in the world she increasingly thought of as the real one. In this dream world it was always New Year’s Eve, 1925. She and her husband Larry were hosting a gala well-attended party in the hotel they had owned at that time for only five short years. In attendance, milling about, laughing and talking and swilling champagne, were a number of luminaries and celebrities of the day including that dashing Doug Fairbanks and cute Rudy Valentino. Even sour old Cal Coolidge seemed to be enjoying himself. The guests numbered in the hundreds and they were all being entertained by that marvelous Negro piano player whose name she could never remember (Danny? Dooey? Something like that) and their faithful Edison gramophone with a stack of 78s.
Winnie Remington lay back on her pillows, closed her eyes, and waited not for oblivion but for the perpetual party to start.