Twilight Zone Check-in

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

After a late-night arrival, a tired traveler regrets what happens at a hotel check-in counter. His wish to replay the scene strangely plays out over the next 24 hours.

June 21, 2021 – Louisville, Kentucky, USA

The dim lighting and drab furniture in the hotel’s lobby did nothing to brighten Peter Janowick’s mood.  It was his first time in Louisville, and he had arrived on a late flight, packed with passengers.

Peter knew he was there on a kind of suicide mission.  He had only been with Envyzyn Software for a month and his boss was sending him out to convince clients not to cancel their contracts.  Envyzyn’s digital modeling programs were now more expensive than their competitors and with fewer features.  Peter was supposed to convince clients that Envyzyn had something more important to offer, but he was not yet sure what that was.  He was probably going to talk about customer service and brand loyalty.  These kinds of visits were not part of his job description.  He had been hired for his technical brilliance and did not want to be thought of as a salesman, sent to deal with customer complaints.  That was especially true when he was set up to take the blame when a client could not be saved.

As Peter trudged through the hotel lobby, Lynell Jackson was standing behind the front desk.  She was alone and had worked four hours more than her scheduled shift.  One of the new employees hired by the hotel had called in sick and the other had simply not shown up.  Lynell was stuck watching the lobby and handling an air-conditioning crisis affecting the rooms on an entire floor.

“I’ve got a reservation under Janowick,” said Peter, as he approached the front desk.

Lynell typed on the computer keyboard in front of her.  “I’m not seeing anything.  You spell it J A N O I C?”

“No.  J A N O W I C K.”

“Huh.  I still don’t see anything.”

Peter pulled a piece of paper out of his bag which listed his itinerary, including the address for the hotel.  “Somebody from my office made the reservation.  I doubt they could screw up something that simple.”

The phone rang.  “Hold on just a second.  I gotta take this.  It’s about the air conditioning,” said Lynell.  She picked up the phone and immediately launched into a heated conversation about how repairs had to be made that night and not the next morning.

“Now where were we?” Lynell asked Peter, after hanging up the phone.

“I’m still exhausted and waiting for my room.”

“If the reservation came up, this wouldn’t be a problem,” replied Lynell, tapping on the keyboard.  “But either no one called, or the computer lost it.”

“Computers don’t just lose things.  I should know.  I program systems a lot more complicated than what you’re using.  I bet somebody on your end didn’t put it in right.”

“If someone called me, trust me, I’d put it in the system.  Maybe one of the new kids messed it up.”

“I don’t care who messed it up, but this is a hotel, isn’t it?  Just find me a room, okay?”

“I’ll check, but I can’t guarantee anything without a reservation,” Lynell said sharply.

Peter remembered how much he would rather be home.  He had practically begged for anyone else to make the trip, but it was like his boss wanted to prove he had the power to make Peter suffer.  As Peter watched Lynell type, he wanted to strike back at someone.  “Sorry to put you out,” Peter replied to her sarcastically.  “I don’t want to interrupt your solitaire game or whatever it is you’ve got going on.”

“With that kind of attitude, maybe you’ll end up on the street,” Lynell replied, narrowing her eyes.

“Hey, I don’t want to be here in the first place.  Just do your job and find me a room.”

“I don’t want to be here either,” replied Lynell.  As she continued tapping, under her breath she said, “Maybe I will and maybe I won’t find you a room.”

Peter felt hopeless, frustrated, and insulted.  “You know, I’m not just some idiot walking in off the street.  I’m a director for a hundred-million-dollar company.”

“I’m sure you’re very important.  But sometimes you’ve got to deal with unimportant little people like me and it can come back to haunt you.  So, I’d watch what you say.”

“I’ll take my chances.  I’d like to speak to your manager.”

“I’d like to speak with him too.  He was supposed to take over for me.  Here, I’ll dial his number if you think it’ll do any good.”
“Yeah, sure, get him on the phone.”

Lynell abruptly picked up the receiver on the landline telephone and shoved it toward Peter.  As she was dialing the manager’s number, he walked in.

“Where have you been?” cried Lynell.  “I was supposed to be home four hours ago.”

“I know, I know,” said the manager.  “I got held up.”

“Well, this guy wants to talk to you,” said Lynell, gesturing toward Peter.  “He doesn’t have a reservation but he’s really important.”

“All I want is a room, but all she’s been giving me is attitude,” Peter said to the manager.

“Is that true, Lynell?” demanded the manager.

“I don’t know and I’m too tired to care.  Maybe I’ll go home and never come back like all the rest of the kids you hired.”

“Maybe you should.”

Lynell put up her hands and walked away.

“Hey, don’t walk off like that.  I need to talk to you.  If you keep walking, that’s it.  You won’t be back!” cried the manager.

Lynell disappeared.

“I’m sorry about that, sir,” the manager said to Peter, trying to compose himself.  “Let’s see about getting you a room.”

“I was supposed to have a reservation,” said Peter.  “It’s not like I walked in off the street expecting to be accommodated.”

“Not a problem,” said the manager.

A few minutes later, Peter held a room key in his hand as he was walked down a hallway, looking for his number on a door.  When he got inside his room, he dropped his bag and flopped onto the bed.  He reached for his pounding head.  How had the confrontation with Lynell gone so badly?  He was not the type to claim he was important or call for the manager.  He solved problems logically and fairly.  Usually, he showed appreciation for other people, especially strangers.

It was late, but Peter turned on the TV anyway and watched the flashing screen.  It was meant to distract him from worrying about the suffering he had in store the next day.  He removed his contact lenses and hoped to drift off to sleep to the noise of a sports channel.  His thoughts kept returning to Lynell.  He did not mean to get her in trouble.  Could she have been serious about quitting?  He was still awake at 2:00 am.  It was as if his body had missed a sleep cycle and was running on adrenaline.

When Peter finally took a shower in the morning, he decided he must have slept at least a few hours.  His upcoming day was going to be brutal, but he had to push through.  He left his key in this room and hurried to the front of the hotel.  An Uber driver was waiting to take him to his client’s headquarters.

As soon as Peter walked into the customer’s building and was greeted by a senior design engineer, he realized just how little hope there was in salvaging the account for Envyzyn.  The engineer was elusive and would not look Peter in the eye.  He was not interested in sharing anything about his personal life.

“How about I share a presentation and some new features we’re developing?” suggested Peter.

“I’ve probably already seen any slides you’ve got,” said the engineer.  “Why don’t I have you sit down with some of my team and maybe the business managers?”

Peter spent the rest of the day bouncing between offices and conference rooms.  Everyone he met acted like he was a child they had been asked to babysit.

“I don’t think we’d go back to Envyzyn even if you cut your price in half,” said a younger employee who was particularly honest.

Peter offered to treat anyone who was available to lunch.  Everyone in the building claimed to have pre-existing commitments, so Peter walked alone to a nearby sandwich shop.  As he watched passersby through the shop’s window, he though back to Lynell.  Was his reception at the client all the fault of Envyzyn’s product or was it some kind of karma?  Could people see in his eyes both his exhaustion and the fact that he had been a jerk at the hotel?

On his walk back to his client’s building, Peter wished he had a magical rewind button.  With a second chance to walk up to the reception desk, he would not feel so miserable.

The rest of Peter’s afternoon was much like the morning.  He concluded that the account was lost for Envyzyn and left the client’s office sooner than originally scheduled.  An Uber driver took him straight to the Louisville airport where he ate an early dinner in one of the restaurants.

While Peter would have liked to be headed home, his hopeless mission had another stop.  Next up was a client in Memphis, another city Peter had never visited.  His flight did not leave until 8:00 pm, but when he wandered over to the gate, the fight was already delayed by an hour.  Peter mindlessly watched a basketball game on his phone as the gate agent made announcements about more delays and mechanical difficulties.

Peter cursed under his breath about another late night as he and the rest of the passengers boarded the commuter jet at 10:30 pm.  When he reached his seat, Peter instantly felt any remaining energy drain from his body.  His eyes shut and his chin fell to his chest.

“I’m right next to you,” said a man in a checkered shirt, tapping on Peter’s shoulder.

Peter jerked awake and stood so the man could reach the window seat.

“Going to Memphis, huh?” asked the man.

“Uh yeah,” mumbled Peter.

“You live there or just visiting?”


“What for?  You know, I’ve lived in Memphis all my life.  Not really Memphis.  Out by Collierville on the east side.  What is it you do for a living?”

“Hey listen.  I’ve had a horrible day.  I’m too tired to talk with anybody so please just ignore me and let me sleep.”

Peter realized he had addressed his seatmate louder than intended.  The passengers seated around him glanced his way, but Peter was too drained to care.  He popped out his contact lenses and put them in a plastic case.  He did not want his eyes feeling gummy when he fell asleep.  Less than three minutes later, he was unconscious and did not feel the jolt when the jet finally pushed back from the gate.

The Memphis flight was making a late start and the pilots were determined to get going as soon as possible.  As they taxied toward the runway, a landing gear warning light turned on.  It was the same issue that had kept the plane grounded in the first place.  The captain groaned and rolled to a stop.

“Folks, this is the captain speaking.  Sorry to say we’re going to need to return to the gate to have an issue looked at.  We’ll try to get this figured out as soon as possible.”

The jet sat outside the airport as a crew of technicians examined the wheels and undercarriage.  After another hour, the captain got back on the radio.

“Folks, I’m sorry to tell you we’re going to need to change planes.  We’ll pull back up to the loading ramp and then I want you all to make your way over to gate A5 as quickly as possible.  They’ve got another plane waiting for us.”

The jet rolled forward and jerked to a stop.  A bell rang to indicate it was safe to unbuckle seatbelts and stand up.  During the commotion, Peter tumbled out of his deep sleep and his whole body flinched.  After a quick look around, he stood up and grabbed his bag.  The side pocket which should have held his glasses was empty.  Peter was too tired to think about where his glasses might be.  His vision was blurry, but he knew that he could squint his way out of the airport if he needed to.  The boarding door opened and passengers quickly fled down the aisles.  No one around Peter, including his checkered-shirt seatmate, said anything about the new boarding gate.

Peter was still groggy when he reached the wide-open space inside the airport.  He wanted to get to his hotel as soon as possible so he squinted toward the sign that read Ground Transportation and used long strides to get there.  He did not notice that his fellow passengers were headed in a different direction, toward gate 5A.

Peter squinted his way to the pickup area outside the airport.  He realized he had not called for an Uber ride, but a taxi was parked right in front of him with its door open.  Peter got inside.

“Where to?” asked the taxi driver.

Peter pulled out the piece of paper containing his itinerary and hotel addresses.  He passed it to the driver.  “Do you know that place?”

The taxi driver saw the Louisville address at the top of the paper and said, “Yes sir.”

Peter leaned his head back as the car began to move.  He fell in and out of sleep as they drove through the dark streets.

“Here you go sir,” called the taxi driver when they reached the destination.

Peter paid the fare and got out without a second thought.  He was halfway through the lobby before he was hit by a strange sensation.  He had not been to Memphis before, but he knew this place.  Was he in a dream?  Was he floating or were his legs actually moving?  Something was definitely not right.  He shook his head hard and squinted.  The place was arranged exactly like the Louisville hotel.  The front desk even had the same brochures.  How could that be?  Was this a trick?  Was he losing his mind?

Peter’s heart raced as he regained full consciousness.  He quickly transitioned from confusion to despair and then anger.  He was supposed to be on his way to Memphis but there was no denying that he was back in the nightmare Louisville hotel.  It was after midnight.  He had no idea how it had happened, but somehow he was being punished.

From out of a little room behind the front desk, a familiar figure emerged.  Lynell.  She took one look at Peter and her jaw dropped in confusion.

“You again.  Mr. Important.  Shall I go ahead and call the manager?”

Peter’s brain instantly filled with a hundred different responses.  He stayed quiet as he sorted through them.  Then he dropped his bag to the floor and said quietly, “Please, I need your help.”


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Submitted: May 14, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Aaron Hawkins. All rights reserved.

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