This is the second part of my fortnightly serial. If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.
Part 2: Orientation
Nobody had told Janet what to wear, so she walked in with her best idea of a hotel server outfit: pressed white blouse and black trousers. She still felt out of place among the grandeur, the immaculately dressed workers who knew exactly what they were doing, all striding back and forth with purpose.
The receptionist greeted Janet coolly and asked her to wait. The lounges were all occupied, so Janet stayed standing, watching the people go by. After about ten minutes, she cleared her throat.
The receptionist, a blonde pale woman with cold blue eyes, looked up. “Yes?”
“I’m sorry. How long do I have to wait? I mean, shouldn’t I be starting now?”
“You’ll have to excuse us, it has been very busy.”
Which was odd, Janet thought, watching the crowd. The carpark was less than half empty, so where had all these people come from? Why, why would they stay here, instead of somewhere closer to the shore? It didn’t make any sense.
“Ah, you must be Miss Ling.” Janet turned to see a tall woman, dressed all in black. “I’m so sorry to have kept you waiting. I’m afraid that since we’re in the busy period, and have had some upheavals with the staff, we are a little out of sorts at the moment. I’m Hela, by the way.”
Hela’s hair was black and tied up in a bun without a single stray hair out of place. Just looking at her made Janet feel ruffled. Hela took Janet by the arm and led her through a door to the right of the counter.
Janet fought the instinct to wrench her arm away. “Nice to meet you. Are we going to meet the manager – James?“
“You mean Mr. Smith. No, he’s very busy tonight. We’re just going to get you started with some easy duties, get you settled in.”
“So, just showing me around?”
“Not really. Wander too far and we’ll be under everyone’s feet. We’re going to the kitchens.”
Janet prided herself on having a good sense of direction and a fantastic memory, but as they walked down identical looking dusty corridors, turning corner after corner, going down steps just to go up steps again, she was sure she would never be able to find her way out.
It didn’t help that Hela walked briskly, and talked at about the same speed. “Now the ground floor has a restaurant and bar, only for hotel guests, mind, that’s in the East Wing. Then there are some function rooms and meeting rooms in the West Wing. This section here is mostly for storage and us staff, but there are a few rooms for those guests who need to be on the ground floor for whatever reason. Interestingly enough, when this place was first built it was only the ground floor, the basement and upper floors were added in later. That’s important because —“
Janet broke in. ”Are we walking in circles?”
“Of course not. What makes you think that?”
“I swear we just made four right turns.”
“Firstly, that would make a square, not a circle. Secondly, this is an old building, and it’s been renovated a few times. New walls, walls taken down, that sort of thing. It’s a bit of a maze now.”
“All right. So how far away are we from the kitchen?”
“We’re here.” Hela pushed open a set of double doors.
Janet frowned. “This is the kitchen?” It was the same size as her own kitchen at home, meaning it was tiny. There was a sink, a dishwasher, a fridge, sets of shelves, but no actual cooking equipment. The linoleum floor had an ugly pattern of black thorny vines.
“This is part of the kitchen.” Hela gestured towards the counter that jutted out of one wall. Above the counter was a flap in the wall. “The main kitchen is through there, and some of the orders will get passed out here so we can take them to guests.”
“So, the room service goes through here?”
“Special requests only. Most of the room servers will use the main kitchen entrance, which I’ll be showing you later. All the dirty glasses will come through here though.” She gestured at the sink and pulled open the dishwasher to reveal two trays of just cleaned glasses. “Really, it’s the room of dirty glasses.”
“And tonight you want me to…”
Hela passed Janet a cloth. “Stay here and polish glasses.”
“Are you disappointed?”
“No, I mean, I just thought —” Janet tried to untie the knot her tongue had made. At this rate, they’d kick her out at the end of the shift.
“Look, it’s just for tonight. We’ve had a whole bunch of new guests recently, and we’ll need to get them settled down before you can start the actual training. You’ll like it.”
“I’m sure.” Janet began wiping the glasses.
Hela showed no sign of helping with the glasses, or leaving the room. She had instead pulled out a phone. After some time, Janet decided it was time to break the silence. “So why is it so busy?”
“Holiday season.” Hela didn’t look up from her phone.
“Did they all come by taxi or something? The carpark didn’t look very full.”
“I’m afraid I didn’t quiz every guest as to their mode of transport.” Hela’s voice had turned to ice.
After that, Janet decided the silence was preferable, and turned her full attention to the glasses. It was a job that seemed it would never end. Several times someone came in with a tray of dirty glasses, or to take away the clean ones. “From the bar,” Hela explained.
“Seems inconvenient to have to wash the glasses in a separate room to the bar,” Janet remarked.
“They have a place to wash glasses there as well. We’re dealing with the overflow.” Hela’s phone made a sound, and Hela gave an exasperated sigh. She dialled a number. “Cory? We need you to take item 55 to the penthouse.”
A plate covered in a cloche was pushed through from the kitchen. “Is that a special request?” Janet asked.
“Another one,” said Hela with a grimace. Seeing Janet’s confusion, she added, “Telar, our penthouse guest, has been here for a while, and he’s been running us ragged every day he’s been here. I’m going to fill the building with blessings as soon as he walks out the door.”
In a few moments, a teenager Janet assumed was Cory came to take the covered plate. When he was gone, Janet ventured, “So you must be important, if all the special requests come through you.”
Hela raised a perfectly shaped brow. “And?”
“Well, I just wondered why you were spending the night just standing here watching me wipe glasses. Aren’t there more important things to take care of?”
“I’m training you, aren’t I?”
“Is that important?”
“Mr. Smith seems a little uncertain as to whether you’ll work out in the long run,” said Hela.
Janet cringed inwardly. That damn interview. Had she been the only candidate or something?
“I like to make up my own mind on matters like this. So I’m watching you wipe glasses.” Hela smiled. “You’d be surprised at how much you can learn from just watching someone do something repetitive.”
“Do I want to know what you’ve learnt?”
“Probably not. But I’m guessing you’ve already noticed some strange things about this place.”
“Well, I’ve never worked in a hotel before. I’m sure it’s all fine. All normal, I mean.”
“It’s not, though. Not all fine, and not at all normal.” Hela leaned back against the wall, her black eyes on Janet. “The truth is we have a secret. You may be needed for much more than just polishing. But I need to know if you can handle it.”
Janet searched Hela’s face for a trace of laughter or sarcasm, and found none. “I’m sorry, I don’t have a clue what you mean.”
“Naturally. I’m afraid —“ Hela’s phone rang and she turned away to answer. A scowl crept across her face as she listened. She jammed the phone in her pocket. “You’ll have to excuse me. There’s something that needs my immediate attention.” She opened the door. “Stay here. Stay in this room. Understand me?”
“Yes, but —” The door swung shut before Janet could finish the sentence. Not that she had any idea what she was going to say. Had Hela been joking? Hazing the new person with talk of secrets? Janet kept wiping glasses, replaying the conversation in her mind, trying to figure it out. The woman had been so serious.
Nobody returned to the room. Janet finished the tray and waited, but nobody came to switch it out for another tray. The minutes stretched. Maybe this was a test of some sort, to see how long she would stay alone in the room. No, that was stupid. She was getting carried away.
Then somebody screamed. The scream was long, and loud, and chilled Janet to the bone.
She opened the door and peeked out. The corridor was empty, but there were yells and a series of muffled thumps. It was difficult to tell how far away the sounds were. Only that whoever was making them seemed to be getting more desperate.
She’d been told to stay in the room. It would be a bad idea to go directly against orders on her first day. On the other hand, she could just run to the corner and look, and then come back if there wasn’t anyone there. Who would know? Then again, if she was greeted by some sort of disaster, exactly what could she do to help?
As if in answer, she heard a voice that seemed much closer than the other screams. “Help. Help me.” There was a sob.
“Hello?” Janet called. “Where are you?”
“I’m going to fall! Help me!”
Janet left the room at a run. She tried to keep track of the turns she made, but she wasn’t sure she’d be able to make her way back. All the corridors were the same here, and they twisted in unexpected directions. She turned right, toward the sound, only to find that the corridor curved to the left. “Where are you?”
“I’m slipping,” was the only response, but the voice was closer. Janet slowed. It seemed like the hotel was made of corridors. Every now and then there was a plain wooden door. Perhaps she should start looking behind some of the them, but that seemed like a recipe for disaster. Then again, she was probably already deep in trouble, just wandering down the halls. Would they believe her? Was she imagining the voice calling for help?
A scream ripped the air. Janet dashed straight ahead, through a set of double doors, and her feet met empty air.
A hand grabbed her jacket. She barely felt it — her eyes were fixed on the abyss before her. A great hole had opened up, and all she looked down, down, until the blackness ended in a distant red glow, who knew how far below.
The hand on her jacket dragged her back until she sat on solid ground. Janet looked up to see chandeliers. Was this the lobby?
“I thought I told you to stay where you were.” Hela let go of Janet’s jacket with a sigh. “What are we going to do with you?”
Thanks for reading! If you want to keep going, Part 3 is here.