High up in the Carpathians, on the south-western slope of a mountain dominated by snowstorms and sluggish bears, a man who called himself Jaq shoveled the remains of the previous night’s blizzard away from the hotel doors.
It was tedious work, but necessary.
At least that was what he’d been told. To him it was pointless, no vehicles coming up this way until April, no tourists in danger of slipping on the ice, but he was a disciplined man and routine could be a comforting thing.
So he dug, for forty-five minutes each day.
Digger digger digger digger digger the snow
If ya, if ya, if ya don’t want Etta to know
Depositing the last dregs of sleet on the snow at the side, he took the shovel back inside the main lobby, propped it up against one of the mauve pillars, sat down in front of his Adler 39 typewriter and started to write.
After an hour or so, he heard a noise.
It wasn’t the first time.
In fact, it was the hundred and thirty-seventh time…in two months. Which, according to his calculations, rounded out to two point one six occurrences a day. Of course, most of these noises ending up being nothing more than his kid breaking something, or his wife rehearsing her role in The Cherry Orchard…but not all.
The noise came again, from upstairs.
He took one last look at what he’d written on the page, muttered ‘bland, average’ then reclaimed the shovel and went to investigate.
According to the hotel manager, room 237 was the most auspicious spot in the entire region. VIP guests had been married in it, philosophical theories had been thought up from inside its bathtub, an indigenous Romanian tribe had fitted the pipes [before being beaten to death with other, looser pipes]…the mythology was infinite.
Three off the top of his head, but infinite.
If original sin led to secondary sin and tertiary sin and-
Da, beyond infinite.
Snugly beyond it.
Inhaling the Nietzschean horror of it all, Jaq set the shovel down against the stacked wallpaper and pushed open the door. Apart from token furniture – queen-sized bed, Rosewood desk, slightly worn Bibendum chair – the bedroom was empty, cursed with the same ‘turd brown’ wallpaper all second floor suites possessed. Nothing auspicious about this part of it, he thought, heading straight for the bathroom.
But this place…
He flicked the light switch, forgetting that it was broken, ignoring the emaciated voice somewhere in his head saying it was his job to fix it.
…this place had something.
His boots edged forward, dragging the rest of the body with them. Through the shaded darkness, he could see the half-drawn shower curtain, could hear the pipes creaking and the water…not running.
Same as the eighteen other times.
Not even a silhouette, thought Jaq, climbing into the tub, putting his forehead against the cold, tiled wall and pushing
with vice-like force, through the first atoms then the coward atoms then the-
That night, as the family sat around the dinner table, which coincidentally doubled as Jaq’s writing desk, another noise was heard, this time coming from the ballroom.
‘Is that music?’
‘Sounds like music…’
Excusing himself, Jaq grabbed the shovel again and wandered off down the hall.
It was well-lit in the corridors, depressingly so, as it revealed the hideous wallpaper and the cracks in the skirting board and the lack of any other people lurking nearby.
And the ballroom was no different.
Tables hugging the walls at the side, chairs stacked upside down on top of them, a dancefloor devoid of dancers.
He sat down on the edge of the stage, shovel limp.
If there had been a band, they were long gone.
The next few weeks, Jaq focused on writing.
Each morning, after completing his duties, he would sit down at the typewriter and write.
In the afternoon, before the sun left, he would go out onto the slope beyond the driveway and look for bear tracks. That could be the source of the noises, he thought, a bear somehow smuggling itself into the hotel, setting up camp somewhere inside.
But then…why wouldn’t it make more noise?
Or head to the kitchen and ravage the food?
Maybe it was a tactical bear…aware of the human desire for superstition…sitting up on the higher floors, making occasional noises, biding its time until-
One afternoon, just as the sun was fading, he discovered a paw print.
It wasn’t particularly close to the hotel, about five hundred yards down the front slope – he’d only gone down that far to get away from his writing – but it was definitely a bear.
A bitterly cold gust of wind swept in [was there any other kind in the Carpathians?], blowing some of the looser, more granular snow over the print.
He turned, checking the trees to the right.
A sudden image of his wife and kid mauled to pieces entered his brain, forcing him back up the slope, shovel in hand, in through the lobby, past the torture machine, past the nonsense pages next to it, down the corridors and through the open door into their quarters.
No, it was-…they were sleeping…it was okay. His wife’s arm up over her head…same awkward position she always did when she was fully out…and his kid…snoring.
There was no bear.
It was fine.
Pouring himself a drink in the ballroom bar, he attempted to work out the odds of a bear coming up to the hotel and not immediately going on a rampage, but it was no good, his mind was elsewhere.
If only there was someone around to work out the bear issue for him.
Someone to keep tabs on his family while he wrote.
Or, more accurately, while he corrected what he had written.
After all, he told himself, lips circling the edge of his glass, can’t move forward without the corrections done.
Taking a fresh bottle of Brancoveanu into the main lobby, he sat down and skimmed through all the pages he’d completed.
It wasn’t his best work…yet…but it was a start. And if you had a start then at the very least-…
His finger paused, hovering over the ‘R’ key.
From the ballroom again…
He closed his eyes, dug his chin into the top of his jacket, listened. Filtering out the whistle from the wind outside, it sounded almost like…someone playing the piano. He picked up the Brancoveanu and took a few steps towards the corridor…then stopped. A bear playing the piano? A ghost? If either were true, they’d come and find him at some point. Better to focus on the novel.
As soon as he thought it, the sound dissipated.
It was just the wind again.
breath of the puckish devil,
careening into his face at lightspeed, trying to stop him walking the full perimeter of the hotel, making him stab the shovel into all the snow that wouldn’t-…wasn’t behaving like regular snow, just so he could stay on his feet.
Was this truly just weather?
A participating force?
The slurred whims of a Thracian God, sloshed on a wrong turn?
He gripped the outside frame of what appeared to be a window, peering inside. Supposedly the hotel kitchen, but in truth a void, with those dual vermilion dots by the far wall wearing the costume of oven switches.
When he stared right at them, they acted normal
But when he turned his back…
Portal 9 leads to portal 12 leads to the psychology conference leads to…
Leads to what?
The typewriter didn’t respond.
No matter how long he glared at it…how hard he yanked out the pages…it didn’t lift a fucking key to help him. If he hadn’t already typed fourteen other novels on the same machine, he would’ve called it judgment, but this was hardly that…it was closer to apathy if anything…disappointment…that no bears were turning up.
His head dropped, almost clipping the edge of the bottle.
The bottle laughed at him.
As did the mauve pillars.
And they were right to.
No bears, no butlers.
Not hing, hiiiing, not a hing or a-
At breakfast the next morning, he tried to tell his wife about his novel, but she was too busy staring out the window. Besides, attempting to explain the middle section would only work if she’d listened to him talk about the beginning, which she hadn’t. Even the fifty word synopsis had been beyond her.
Support network? Rock of strength?
Ha, she was a rock alright, utterly vacant of feeling or interest,
for him and his novel.
Maybe if he’d written the fucking Dollhouse, she’d be more-
That night, he sat on the customer side of the bar, picking labels off the bourbon bottles.
Maybe if I show it to the kid, explain why the main character is obsessed with-
Nah, he didn’t care either
Or worse, he’d probably burn it.
Tiring of the bar and the bottles, he walked in staggered curves to the kitchen, to the pantry, to room 237, to room 238, back to room 237 where he sat with his legs hanging out of the bathtub, waiting for the bear to come, but it-
Two and something hours later, he followed the ringed pattern on the corridor carpet down to the typewriter and typed out Chapter 27.
After staring at a suspicious-looking spot just above the 7 for a while, he tried some words.
Portals and portals and portals and wigwam jelly-o
It was good, but transitory, would surely vanish soon, so he stared at a crack in the nearby wall…no, the pillar, not the wall…picturing blood and ghosts and naked women from a distance and bears and repetition and bears and bartenders with correction pens and bears and blood and shovels instead of axes and
Da da da da da da keep writing
typewriters were made for this kind of
soon become lush with
Come here, it’s urgent.
Please come, it’s urgent.
We’re shooting a film, we need you.
Good pay, good food, if you can get here in two hours, we’ll give you a bonus.
Put on the duffel coat, come.
The Crothers mask.
Axe to the titties.
In the titties.
Get in your fucking shack and come you fucking
Teasing me like this
Cos you don’t want me to finish it that’s it isn’t it
Isn’t it Jaq man?
The phone line changed tone, forcing him to put it down and try again. For a second, the tiniest of one, he couldn’t remember who he was calling, if he’d already called them, or what the word calling even meant.
Outside, the wind ranted, some of it sneaking through the cracks and into the hotel.
Breeze, gust, typhoon, gale, gusty, breezy…
He put out his tongue, tried licking it.
Tasteless. Infinitely bold. Kind of-
He tried again.
Da, just like African-Romanian actors.
Evaziv for all sea-
After waking up face down on page 89, rubbing his eyes, realising it was still dark outside, he rubbed his eyes again, stretched his arms out diagonally, struggled up out of his chair and stumbled towards his quarters. It was a familiar, tired walk…a walk lacking obstacles…but this time he sought them out, his shoulder hitting a wall, his legs bumping into one of the camelback sofas…his brain rehearsing some form of apology to his wife, criticising an imagined response then gripping the shovel and saying, actually it’s your fault, not mine, if you’d just read the synopsis then none of this would’ve happened, none of the-
By the time the bed appeared, he was too tired to do anything so he dropped the shovel and curled up next to the socket by the wall.
Sleep should’ve been inevitable but somewhere in the hotel
the piano was playing again
louder this time
and quite a jaunty tune
too jaunty to sleep through, thought Jaq, pulling himself up, leaving the shovel and wandering Merhige-like back out into the corridors and beyond
small shack, a robed figure, disembo-
once the nomads have left
used for millennia to shape, split and cut wood
my father, his father
Earth, now visibly pregnant
Improving or just-
bitch yaps too much
wouldn’t call it thoughtful
A few months later, when the snow had subsided, a car with surprisingly poor tyres pulled into the driveway of the hotel. A bull-necked man stepped out, did a cursory check of the snow then walked up the steps into the lobby.
Inside, it was freezing, which was to be expected after a winter of minimal upkeep, but what wasn’t expected was the scene that greeted…no, ambushed…him in the main lobby.
A typewriter with a stack of paper beside it, plus what looked like a woman and a small doll. As the man walked closer, fingers gripping car keys, he realised he’d been slightly mistaken.
It wasn’t one doll, it was two; the female one almost person-size.
As for the paper stack…written on the top piece was one word…if you could call it that. The man read it out loud, the sound of the word merging with a deeper rumbling coming from somewhere in the hotel.
‘Raaaaaaaaaaar,’ he repeated, confused, not seeing the glint of-
Brian Salzburg as Jaq
Brian Salzburg as Jaq
Brian Salzburg as Jaq
Brian Salzburg is Jaq
Brian is Jaq
Brian born to be-
Slogan = 口號