Once inside he looked around with amazement, but he was beginning to be not so amazed at his amazement since he had encountered so many other amazing things since he had entered this weird hotel. He tried to take stock of his surroundings.
The room in which he now found himself was huge, much bigger than any room he had thus far seen and in a completely different style. It was, he estimated, a good sixty feet wide and probably more than forty feet to the wall opposite the door. To his left at the far end of the room was a bar, but unlike the bar in the saloon downstairs this one, instead of being rustic wood, was polished stainless steel in the industrial style that was all the rage currently in California. There were more than a dozen not particularly comfortable-looking stools that ran the length of the bar, most of which were occupied. In fact, as he looked around further, the whole room seemed to be packed with people of an incredible diversity of ages, races, and ethnic persuasions. They were for the most part grouped in twos, threes, and fours around a multitude of small tables and, without counting, Gil thought they must number at least a hundred or more.
But the most curious thing was the wall opposite the door by which he had entered. It was composed of unfinished bricks as were, he noticed, the other walls of the room. This wall however contained two huge picture windows, one at either end, and the view from these windows as he stepped closer to them made him gasp with incredulity. He was looking at a landscape that he found impossible to believe was really there—huge snow-capped mountains that looked to be much more like the Swiss Alps than the much less majestic Sierras. Above these mountain peaks were a moon and stars. But they were not the same moon and stars Gil had left only about half an hour ago when he had entered the hotel. The moon was much larger and higher in the sky and gave off a sort of orangey radiance than Gil had never seen before. The stars, also, rather than being pinpoints of piercing white light, seemed to be all the colors of the rainbow—some red, some yellow, some even green or purple.
Between these two picture windows was a large expanse of brick wall. On the left was a gigantic poster decorated with arcane symbols such as the Eye of Horus, the Masonic symbol, and many others that Gil only faintly recognized but knew not the significance of. These symbols formed a border for writing that was in the form of a poem. It read thusly:
All travelers are weary
All roads are long
To begin is to know the ending
To end is to know the beginning
In the midst of the road is the end of the beginning
And also the beginning of the ending
On the road there is no success or failure
Knowing this creates clarity in one’s mind
And resolve in one’s actions.
To the right of this poster the brick wall was blank except for a rather short and cryptic message in its middle— “Watch This Space”. At the base of this wall was a raised wooden platform enclosed by a railing with three wooden steps leading up to it. Gil shook his head in confusion. Another thing that he had noticed immediately upon entering was the relative noise level in the room. He had heard nothing outside its door but when he had entered he was inundated by the excited sounds of the people at the tables laughing and talking to each other. The room itself was softly lit with some sort of indirect lighting, the source of which Gil could not locate, that cast a uniform soft pink glow over its expanse.
Doing what he always did in these situations Gil went over to the bar, found an empty stool and sat down. He was immediately joined by a huge man that he took to be the bartender. He was fully seven feet tall and clad in black T-shirt and black denim jeans. His short-cropped steely gray hair and chiseled features made Gil think of Lurch the butler on the old Addams Family television show.
Without saying a word the bartender merely looked at him inquiringly.
“Scotch on the rocks, splash of soda,” Gil requested. Within about five seconds his drink appeared before him though the bartender had not moved.
Gil looked at it rather suspiciously, then tasted it. Since it seemed all right he attempted to engage the bartender in conversation. “Say, what kind of place is this anyway?” he began. But the bartender merely looked at him impassively and walked away towards the end of the bar.
Looking around Gil spotted a man a couple of stools to his left. “Excuse me fella,” he called over to the man, “what’s with that guy anyway?” He pointed at the bartender.
In reply the man picked up his drink and moved down to sit on the stool next to Gil, who could now see that the man was undoubtedly of Indian extraction. He wore an old-fashioned brown Nehru jacket with thin cotton trousers of the same color and brown leather sandals. On his head was a white turban fastened with a large red jewel. The man was clean-shaven and of indeterminate age.
Answering Gil’s question the man said, “Oh, him? Don’t mind him. He never speaks. I don’t know if he can or not but he never does.” A slight grin turned up the corners of his mouth. “He gives good service though.” Then, raising his glass to Gil in a salute, which Gil returned, he continued, “You must be new around here. I’ve never seen you before, I don’t think. This your first time?”
Gil admitted that it was. But before he could continue the man put his glass down on the bar and extended his right hand to Gil. “Allow me to introduce myself,” he said rather formally. “I am Rajit Sanwallah. But you may call me by my American name, Roger Sanwell.” His grin became wider as he continued in what Gil took to be his impression of a country or southern accent. “Most folks just call me Rog.”
Gil grinned at that himself and said, “I’m Gil Hall. I’m staying in the hotel just downstairs. What room are you in?”
Rog gave him a blank look. “Room? Hotel?” he said feebly. “I don’t quite understand.”
Gil took a few minutes to attempt to explain who he was, what he was doing here, and then as Rog’s looks of incredulity only increased, where he was and how he had got here. “And so,” he finished, “I saw this staircase and I just came up, had a conversation with those three little guys who called themselves the Norns, and they sent me here.”
Rog looked at him for long seconds before he finally said, “Well, that’s a new one on me.” He turned and swept a hand over the room. “But everybody’s got to come from someplace I suppose. We all did.”
Then they sat drinking their drinks and conversing companionably about this and that. When they had finished their drinks Gil soon found that all they had to do was get the bartender’s attention, and new drinks appeared unasked before them.
After about his third one Gil looked at Rog in confusion. “I can’t figure out,” he said, “why I’m not getting drunk.”
At this Rog gave a slight chuckle. “You are new here, aren’t you?” He waved a hand about the room where the assembled throng was still drinking, laughing, and talking to each other excitedly as if it were one big party. “Nobody here is getting drunk,” he continued, “because this room does not exist in what you would call the real world. You entered it from a hotel, but many of us entered it from places as diverse as a large house, an office building, a store, or even a dark alley in a big city. There must be thousands of ways into this room but only two ways out.”
Seeing that Gil was watching him with openmouthed interest and curiosity Rog laughed again. “I see that you need someone to instruct you in what we might call the ground rules of this club. For instance, that watch you’re wearing.”
“Yes?” said Gil, who looked at it suspiciously, but it now said 2:45 and was apparently keeping accurate time as always. “What of it?”
“Well,” said Rog, “you brought your own time in with you. My time and the time of the rest of these people is entirely different.” Again, seeing the consternation on Gil’s face Rog continued sympathetically. “Let me tell you a bit about myself and possibly it will all become clearer. I am, or was, it’s kind of hard to tell, the manager of an Indian import company featuring imported foodstuffs, clothing, cooking utensils, et cetera. It is, or was, called the Bombay Bazaar and was located in San Francisco.” He pulled back his sleeve and showed Gil a cheap-looking Timex watch. Gil was surprised to see that the time on Rog’s watch was 5:22. “That is my time,” Rog pointed out, dropping his sleeve again, “and by my calendar it is September 1973.”
“But—but—” spluttered Gil. “That’s impossible! It’s June 1994!”
Rog registered no surprise at this. He pointed to one of the tables near to the bar and said, “Look closely at those couples.”
Gil did and was surprised to discover that they were the same two couples that had passed him on the hotel stairs earlier that evening.
Rog waved his hand at the table and called out, “Hey you guys, how’s it going?”
One of the girls looked at him and winked flirtatiously. “We’re just having a marvelous time. Why don’t you and your handsome friend join us?”
“Maybe a little later,” Rog told her. “But first tell me and my friend what year is it where you’re from.”
“Why, it’s New Year’s Eve, 1925,” one of the men replied, “and we’re just having a wonderful time.”
“Glad to hear it,” said Rog, and turned back to Gil.
But before he could continue there were loud murmurs and exclamations coming from one of the tables near the center of the room. After much urging and coaxing by her fellows, a young girl dressed in a frilly fifties party dress got up from the table and walked resolutely towards the platform that had been erected against the far wall. Without looking back at her comrades she mounted the stairs and then—Gil rubbed his eyes as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing—walked into the wall and disappeared.
Gil turned to Rog and said with a husky tremor in his voice, “Did you just see that? I mean, that girl, she—just—disappeared—”
Rog seemed unsurprised. “This happens about two or three times an hour on the average. That young lady has finally gotten her turn and taken advantage of it. She is now on what we call The Other Side.”
Gil started to protest but Rog gestured for him to be quiet. “The Other Side,” he explained, “is nowhere in particular. It has to do with who a person is and why that person is here in the first place.” He gave another chuckle. “It’s not called the Overlook Room for nothing you know. Everyone here has been rightly or wrongly and in his or her opinion been overlooked in some ways. We all feel we are, or have been, missing out on something in life. You mentioned meeting the Norns.”
“Yeah,” said Gil, “weird little guys, talked like they were watchacallit, the masters of the universe or something.”
Rog didn’t raise an eyebrow at that. “That’s probably pretty accurate,” he said, “since they apparently set this whole thing up mainly for their amusement. They do drop in every now and then and sometimes they’re in a more talkative mood than at others. So what I’ve been able to piece together is this: You see that blank wall where it says ‘Watch This Space’ where the young girl just disappeared into?” Gil nodded his head in the affirmative. “Well, here’s what happened. Every now and then that brick wall will vanish and in its place will be, I don’t know really how to describe it, a large completely black rectangle about eight feet high and four feet wide. It looks sort of like a doorway into a completely black night. This is where she went.”
“That’s impossible,” retorted Gil. “I mean, I didn’t see anything like that, did you?”
Rog shook his head. “No, but then, it’s a personal thing.”
“A personal thing?” echoed Gil.
“Right, you only see it if it’s for you.”
Gil had to think about this for a moment. He finished his drink and, even though he wasn’t getting drunk, stared at the bartender for another which as usual magically appeared perfectly prepared. He took a healthy gulp and then fixed Rog with a serious look.
“Okay,” he said, “suppose I believe all this. What happens if I see this portal or door or whatever you call it? And suppose I do go into it or through it or whatever you do? What’s in it for me?”
Rog shrugged his shoulders but answered seriously, “Nobody knows really. No one has ever returned through it, at least not to come back to this room. But what I have pieced together from conversations with the Norns is it’s supposed to give one the opportunity—and I stress the word opportunity—to realize his hopes and dreams. But he must recognize this opportunity and take advantage of it.” He chuckled again. “It’s not like you can suddenly walk into being oh, I don’t know, a billionaire or President of the United States or something. But it is supposed to give you an opportunity that you’ve never had before which, if you are able to take full advantage of it, will make you at least in theory a more satisfied and happier person than you are now.”
“Okay,” said Gil. “But suppose I decide not to go through it. Suppose I decide this is all bullshit. Some kind of crazy dream I’m having and refuse to play. What then?”
“Well, all you have to do is, when you see it, turn your head away. It will very soon vanish. Some people have done that. I don’t know whether or not they regretted it. But if you refuse to play you have then two options: One, you can wait, gather your courage and hope that the Norns will give you another chance. They often do, you know, because many people are just not brave enough to commit themselves the first time. But I warn you, don’t miss too many opportunities or the Norns will get pissed and then you’ll be here forever, without opportunity of any kind of escape.”
Gil shuddered. “That doesn’t sound too good,” he said. “What’s my second option?”
“At any time, whether your call comes or not, you can turn away and go out the door you came in. In theory you will find yourself where you were before you got here more or less, but the door to the room will have vanished and in all probability you will never see it again.”
They sat in silence for awhile, drinking their drinks as Gil tried desperately to decide whether or not this was really happening. Part of him said that he must have drunk way too much at the strip club and had imagined the rest of this in some sort of crazy passed-out dream. He hoped he wasn’t lying on the cold sidewalk somewhere. Hopefully he was snoring in his bed in the Presidential Suite.
Seeing that Gil was more or less lost in his thoughts, Rob excused himself and went down to the end of the bar and struck up a conversation with a large black man with a bald head, large gold hoop earrings, and a black leather biker’s jacket.
It was not too much later, about 3:45 by his watch, that he saw it. There it was, having suddenly appeared in the brick wall as Rog had said, a large black rectangle that looked as if it were a doorway without a door attached, which led into—what? There was no comparison by which Gil could identify the absolute blackness of the thing. Well, he said to himself, if this is just some sort of crazy dream, then it’s not going to hurt me to play. And if by some wild chance this is all real, maybe I’ll get some kind of something out of it. He chuckled to himself, Maybe I’ll find out how to fix the damn script.
And so saying he put his drink down, got up off his stool, and with a wave to Rog, who didn’t notice, and keeping his eyes on the dark portal, he resolutely walked toward the platform, mounted the wooden steps, and stepped through the blackness into nothing.