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  • Writer's pictureMichael James

The Hotel at the End of Time - Chapter 1 Sample

Updated: Mar 14, 2021

Chapter 1 Vain attempts to rob a bank. What worried Vain most about robbing a bank wasn’t the danger, or the cops, or getting caught. No, it was that it might not work, and then she’d need to consider Roman’s insane and unworkable plan to get normal jobs. But jobs, even temporary ones, meant staying in one place. Talking to other people. Trapping yourself. Pass, pass, and pass.

Was it her first bank robbery? No way to tell. She had no memory of anything before the Hotel, so possibly, she’d been an expert. Maybe that had been her past life; going from town to town, robbing banks, making her getaway while clutching dollar-sign inscribed sacks to her chest.

Probably not. More likely this was her first, and something cool to cross off her bucket list. Item number one on her bucket list was to create a bucket list. A problem for later.

Her original plan included dressing up like cowboys and talking in a western drawl because western bank robberies ruled, but Roman pointed out that while entertaining, it would draw more attention. She reluctantly agreed but insisted on wearing a cowboy hat, which made him laugh. Their lives didn’t hold enough joy, and the risk was worth it to make him smile.

“It’s nearly six.” The enormous cowboy hat fell over her eyes and she pushed it back. “Bank-robbing time, y’all.”

“I’m not sure an ATM counts as a bank,” Roman said. “And stop talking in that horrible accent.”

“See here, little lady. An ATM machine counts as a bank.”

“I’m not a lady, and ATM stands for ‘Automated Teller Machine’, so you don’t need to add the ‘machine’ at the end.”

“After we rob this ATM machine,” she said, emphasizing the last word, “we should have enough cash to keep us going for a while. Yeehaw.”

Going where, though? She had no idea, although she’d never admit that to Roman. He counted on her to keep them moving and invent plans to keep them safe. Deal with today and make it to tomorrow. Life, since the Hotel, came in heartbeats.

From their vantage across the street, Vain scouted the ATM nestled into the building’s brick exterior. Cars and pedestrians made it easy for them to hide in the open. Downtown Denver buzzed with crowds this time of night and no one paid attention to them, rad cowboy hat notwithstanding. Even if anyone looked, all they’d see is a mild-faced, brown-haired man and a girl with huge eyes and angular features wearing an absurd ten-gallon hat. Two people out for a stroll, staring intently at a bank, talking in cowboy lingo. Standard, everyday stuff.

Vain cracked her knuckles, impatient to get started. The best plans were like wrestling matches; not a detailed list of moves, but rather a series of big spots that led to a finish. Lock up, do a table spot, nail a suplex, done.

“A good plan is a lot like wrestling,” she said to Roman so he’d have a chance to acknowledge her clever comparison.

“I’ve told you before,” Roman said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “A good plan is exactly unlike wrestling. A table spot? Like when a wrestler gets thrown through a table? What’s the analogous ‘table spot’ in this specific plan?”

“Shush.” She waggled her finger at him. “Should be showtime soon. Y’all.”

They had been scoping out that ATM for a few days. Every night at six o’clock, the bank guy came, opened the door, and refilled the money with stacks of bills from his giant money truck. That would be their moment to strike.

“If this were a movie, I’d say something like ‘Roman, let’s go over the plan one last time’ and dump a bunch of exposition.” She liked movies.

“Yeah, movies are great. Screenwriters are hacks. The guy is coming. Are you ready?”

“Yes.” She pulled a sliver of energy from him. It filled her up; inflated her. He trembled, almost imperceptibly, but she noticed. No matter how he tried to hide his discomfort from her, she always saw. Screw the Hotel for making them like this.

The bank guy opened the ATM and Vain got to work. She concentrated the energy into a circular shape, no bigger than a plum. To anyone watching, it would appear like a girl in a cowboy hat was having a staring contest with a wall. She guided the invisible energy ball past the man’s shoulder and into the opening of the machine. It was hard to see that far across the street, but she didn’t need to be precise. She only needed to wedge it into the compartment of the ATM.

“Got it.” She pushed the ball into place.

“Okay,” Roman said. Sweat glistened on his forehead despite the cool night air. “Anchor it.”

They’d never tried anything like that, but they were almost out of money and entirely out of options. Roman didn’t like stealing, but Vain reminded him that banks weren’t people, they were things, and it didn’t technically count as stealing. She likened it to removing lint dust

from a vacuum cleaner, another kick-ass analogy he seemed to find deeply unsatisfying.

“Come on.” She plucked his sleeve. “Time to go.”

A tree-filled park across the street provided plenty of nooks and alcoves to hide in. They’d picked out their spot already, a couple yards inside the tall gates and off to the side. A dirt path branched off the main paved strip and led to a wooden bench behind some broad bushes. The bank was no longer visible, but they were close enough for Vain to control the energy ball. No one would bug them.

Eventually, the ATM-guy would finish his work and close up the machine with her invisible energy ball inside. All they needed to do was wait for dark and then she’d detonate it, breaking the door and giving them access to all that sweet, sweet guilt-free money. Money that Roman believed would be destroyed along with the door, but he didn’t have any better ideas.

She played with her fingers while she waited and Roman rested his head on his jacket. He closed his eyes, his breath coming out in shallow puffs. Was he greyer? Maybe. Maintaining the energy ball meant pulling from him constantly. Only a little, but it took its toll.

She loved Roman. He was her best and only friend in the entire world. It bothered her when he suffered, even a little, and she wished her ideas didn’t require her to suck energy from his body like some kind of horrible leech. For the hundredth time, she promised herself that one day they wouldn’t need to do this anymore. She’d stop the Hotel. Somehow.

Plans and strategies whirling through her head, she hardly noticed when someone entered the alcove and sat on the bench between them. Roman groaned and opened his eyes.

Vain bristled, ready to tell this new person to scram when she caught a better look at him.

She gasped and her heart did cartwheels. Tall dude. Suspicious eyes and light brown hair.

Permanent frown. Cauliflower ears.

A Wyatt.

He’d found them.

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