But these stairs, he quickly discovered, were completely different from those of the main staircase in the rest of the hotel. In addition to their somewhat shimmery appearance they were considerably narrower—only about two feet wide or just wide enough for a single person at a time to mount them. Also, at least as far as he could see, the stairs led straight up instead of curving around as the other staircase did. Furthermore, as he stepped onto the stairs and began to ascend them he noticed that, although they seemed in no danger of breaking or giving way, they seemed soft to him. The effect was as if he were walking on a series of thick soft sponges attached to steel plates.
He marveled at this but his apprehension was not strong enough to prevent his inebriated boldness from pushing him on up until, after about a dozen steps or so, he finally reached the top.
The fifth floor, or so he assumed it to be, was unlike anything he had ever seen outside of a fantasy set on a sound stage in Hollywood. The hall to which he ascended was straight and normal enough, and on his side it looked like a normal hotel setting—four doors set side by side along the corridor but containing no room numbers or any other designations on them whatsoever. They were all closed and he took little notice of them because across the hall on the other side was a different scene altogether. Here there were jagged strips of wood curving out into the night sky above, through which he could plainly see the same moon and stars which he had just left upon entering the hotel a few minutes ago. The effect was like looking up through the stripped ribs of a beached whale. Whether this area was in the process of construction or destruction he couldn’t tell. The other strange thing was that, even though there was no apparent roof on this side of the hall, it was nonetheless a comfortable room temperature with not even the barest hint of a breeze.
He had little time to marvel at this, however, because in a scant few seconds after he had ascended the stairs and looked around he noticed coming from the end of the hall to his right the figure of a young woman dressed in a filmy revealing nightgown. Her hair was black as the night sky above but her face and bare arms were a ghostly white, almost translucent. Her large eyes were staring at him in something akin to alarm, or maybe surprise, and she advanced toward him with a strange sort of gliding motion, her slippered feet barely touching the floor of the hall. Her arms were outstretched toward him and Gil could not tell whether she was attempting to welcome him or ward him off.
Then something clicked in his mind. My God, he thought, it’s her. The woman in the picture I saw in the saloon. The one they call Winnie Remington.
The bewilderment must have shown on his face for she halted a few steps before reaching him and then said abruptly, “Who are you? What the hell are you doing here? This is my dream.”
Gil didn’t know what to say but some automatic response from his mind made him answer, “I’m Gil Hall. I’m a Hollywood film director and I’m a guest at this hotel. In fact, my room is just below here on the fourth floor.”
She put her hands on her hips and replied with a snort of amusement, “That’s impossible. No one in this hotel from your time could possibly even see me or find his way up here, for that matter.” Then she swiveled her head all around as if looking for advice from some source as yet unseen. “What the hell is going on around here?” She put two fingers to the corners of her mouth and emitted a shrill whistle. “Boys!” she commanded. “Get yourselves out here!”
The urgency in her voice made Gil turn around and look in the direction she was facing. As if in answer to her plea three odd-looking figures came waddling towards them from the opposite end of the hall. Once again Gil could hardly believe his eyes. He had seen some strange, weird, and totally inexplicable things since he had entered this hotel only about seven or eight hours ago. But this was totally beyond his comprehension.
As the three figures neared he could see clearly that they appeared to be male, about three and a half feet in height and of an age it was impossible for him to determine. They looked for all the world like animated Cabbage Patch Kids, as if they were stuffed figures with faces that were painted on but nonetheless animated and expressive. They wore cute little workmen’s overalls and boots and around their waists were tiny little tool belts containing what looked like an assortment of hammers, wrenches, et cetera, also in miniature, as if taken from a child’s Playskool workbench. On their heads were cute little white painters’ caps made of paper and mesh with cardboard bills.
When they had advanced to within normal speaking range one of them called out, “What’s the matter here, Winnie?”
“This—this person,” she spluttered. “He’s not supposed to be here.” She fixed them with an angry glare. “I know it and you know it.”
The one who had spoken seemed unperturbed by her outburst and responded calmly, “Oh, him? Take no notice of him. He’s just a sensitive. We felt it the minute he came in this afternoon.” He made a shooing motion with his hand. “So go on, Winnie, don’t concern yourself. He’s got no business here with you. Just happens to be here in the same place right now, that’s all. He’ll soon be gone.”
Winnie softened her gaze and relented. “Well,” she replied uncertainly, “if you boys think it’s okay.”
“Sure, don’t worry about a thing. Go back to your party and have fun.”
Seemingly mollified she turned on her heel and, without further comment glided or perhaps floated—Gil couldn’t tell which—back down the hall from whence she had come. As she reached the end of the hall she went through a door.
Gil rubbed his eyes and blinked several times as he realized that she had gone through the door without actually opening it. From behind that door he thought he could hear the faint sounds of faraway laughter and the ghost of a tinkling piano.
As the three little men, boys, or whatever they were stood motionless staring at him Gil turned uncertainly to face them. He looked at them for long moments as they stood there silently, seemingly awaiting some cue from him.
Finally he said, “Since she mentioned it, that’s a good question. What is going on around here? And what am I doing here?”
“Good question,” returned the little man who had thus far done the speaking for the three. “But first let us introduce ourselves. My name is Warren Norn.” He gestured with his hand to indicate his two companions. “And this is my brother Loren Norn and this my other brother Soren Norn.” The two brothers tipped their caps politely to Gil in greeting. He then gave a comic little shake of his shoulders and his hips that Gil could swear was an imitation of someone he had seen before, as Warren continued, “We are three wild and crazy Norns!”
Gil literally scratched his head while he sought to recall that course in mythology he had taken long ago in college. “Norns?” he said finally. “I seem to recall that the Norns were old women that according to legend wove the fates of mankind on their looms or whatever.”
“Phooey,” exclaimed Warren. “Looms. Weaving. By hand yet. Who does that anymore? No, they decided long ago that it was time for them to retire so they turned the franchise over to us. We like to build.”
“And unbuild,” added Loren.
“And rebuild,” concluded Soren.
Gil couldn’t believe he was having this conversation. He seemed to be sobering up fast and didn’t particularly like it. “So you’re trying to tell me,” he said, an incredulous note in his voice, “that you guys are in control of the whole thing now? Life, the universe, and everything?”
“Yup,” said Warren.
“Okay,” replied Gil, not sure why he was letting himself in for this. “Let’s say I believe you. So tell me, what are you guys doing here in an old-fashioned hotel in a small mountain town in California?”
In answer, Warren looked at his brothers, who nodded their heads briskly as if in agreement with something unspoken. “Well,” Warren said in reply, “it’s as good a place as any, isn’t it?” Then he continued as if confidentially, with lowered voice. “After all, when you control time and space and everything else you get to be somewhere, anywhere, everywhere, or nowhere, whenever you want.”
“Oh,” said Gil playing along, “sort of like God, you mean.”
Warren scratched his head. “God?” He turned and looked at his brothers as if conferring with them mentally. “We heard He was retired. Seems things got a little too much for Him. We haven’t heard from the old guy in, what—? I don’t know, must be hundreds of years now.”
“Okay,” said Gil. “Again, let’s say I accept all that. Let’s say I even believe it. Then answer me this. What am I doing here?”
“Since you’re a sensitive,” began Warren, “and you’re here—”
“—even though you’re not supposed to be— said Loren.
“—you must be—” Warren added.
“—one of the Troubled Ones—” continued Loren.
“—and here to be fixed again,” concluded Soren.
Gil now thought that this was one of the most elaborate and imaginative dreams he’d ever had, and certainly the longest. He knew now with a certainty borne of desperation that he had stumbled up the stairs and was now in his Presidential Suite bedroom sleeping it off. He chuckled a little to himself at the preposterousness of the situation. “Okay,” he said, grinning like an idiot. “Come on boys, fix me then.”
Warren seemed prepared for that. “All you have to do,” he told Gil reasonably, “is to walk down the hall in the direction from which we just came. At the end of the hall you will find a door. Go through it.”
“Sure,” said Gil, playing along. “Got you so far. What then?”
Warren grinned at his brothers who grinned back at him. Then they turned towards Gil and, still grinning, Warren said, “You’ll—”
“—find—,” said Loren.
“—out,” said Soren.
And then without warning, noise, or anything Gil could put his finger on, they were suddenly just not there. He rubbed his eyes again and blinked several times. He didn’t feel drunk now, but neither did he feel quite sober. It was as if he were sleepwalking while wide awake. Dreamily he looked back at the stairs which he had ascended not too many minutes ago by his reckoning. They were still there sort of, but now shimmering more than ever in and out of his direct sight and giving off a ghostly radiance. Almost automatically he turned back, looked down toward the end of the hall that the Norns had indicated, and began walking.
As promised, when he reached the end of the hall he saw a single door. Like the other doors on the left side or finished side of the hall this door was without lock or latch. But unlike the other doors it had a large wooden plaque bolted to its surface. The plaque read as follows:
The Overlook Room
A Private Club Operated
By The Hotel Remington
For Its Honored Guests
Hours 12AM to 6AM Daily
Below this in quotes was the saying,
Since you’ve come this far, pard,
why not come in, have a drink,
and set a spell?
Still insisting to himself that this was some long and crazy alcoholic dream, Gil pressed experimentally against the door. Surprisingly it opened easily, and Gil felt he had no choice but to enter.