“I demand to speak to a manager this instant.”
A sixty year old woman with a bad red hair dye job and blue mascara caked above her beady little eyes towered over Rachel Ehler at the San Francisco Totally Five Star Hotel concierge desk. Hoping to be manager one day and head of the concierge desk in the much nearer future, Rachel practiced her friendliest, most sympathetic smile. “Perhaps I can be of assistance.”
The woman looked down her long, patrician nose at Rachel. Her nostrils flared as her ruby red lips thinned and her demon black eyes narrowed. “Read my lips, young woman. I don’t need you, I need the manager.”
“Yes, Ma’am. But of course.” With slightly shaky fingers Rachel phoned Barry Lambert, her manager and long time friend. She feared the dragon lady was ready to breathe enough fire any second to incinerate her. When Barry answered she asked in her sweetest voice, “Please come to the concierge desk immediately, Mr. Lambert. A guest requests your assistance.”
Barry sighed as if he was cross, and why shouldn’t he be in the midst of one of the toughest weeks ever in the hotel’s history? “I’m in the middle of a crisis here. Please handle it.”
“Sir, she is demanding to speak to you. She refuses to speak the Concierge.”
Rachel smiled at the guest even though the woman continued to shoot deadly glares at her. When a group of other furry guests passed by and jostled the woman, her glower became an open-mouthed gawk. When a cat and a griffin pantomimed having anal sex across the lobby, she paled and pointed at the pair. “That is precisely what I want to see the manager about! How can you condone such behavior in a public place?”
Rachel did her best to hold back a grimace and keep her smile in place as she watched the couple rubbing groin to ass in the lobby. The fates must be having a hearty laugh that they’d booked the Southern Coalition of Baptists convention the same week as a Furry Con.
BEYOND THE GOLDEN GATE
They gave them nothing to eat at night fall. Nothing.
Yawa would’ve given anything to have a sandwich or even the crappiest burger ever. Anything with meat she wanted right there and then. It never came. She lost interest in her doodling. Tried to escape in her dreams but her cage mates made her way too uncomfortable to truly fall asleep.
A sharp pain jerked her out of her semi state of sleep. She looked around to face the most hideous old lady she’d ever seen in her life. Yawa was prepared to lash out but everything she could possibly think of only got bundled up behind her lips as she could do nothing but stare at the old lady.
The lights at the camp didn’t make it easy to see the old woman properly. Her nose was big and fat. She must’ve been missing some teeth because of her misshaped jaw. Her hair though was stark white against her wrinkled skin. Something horrifying caught Yawa’s gaze. The old lady had a lock of her hair twisted around her bony fingers.
“Trey!” I squeezed my eyes shut tighter as I heard my mom calling me, hoping to stay in the swirling smoked-filled cave longer.
I don’t know where I am but I want to stay here.
But it slipped away. Or maybe I slipped away from it. I don’t know which but I knew what I heard wasn’t a dream. It was really my mom, and I was really bouncing around in the back of our car.
Peeking out from the slits that were my eyes, I saw sun shining through tree limbs at the top of long trunks. My eyes widened, adjusting to the brightness. I noticed the line of tall trees on each side of the car, without preparing myself for what stood at the end of the gravel drive.
My mom turned around to glance at me, making sure I was awake. I nodded at her. My sister, still bobbing and weaving to the beats pounding into her ears, gazed around the grounds.
I didn’t notice the building until my sister spoke breathlessly. “Wow. It”s nicer than the pics.”
Mom turned again and smiled at me, no doubt sizing up my reaction to the castle. But, my focus moved from her to the structure, as the car inched into a parking place somewhat above the castle’s foundation.
My eyes darted from one rooftop to another, trying to take it all in. But I couldn’t. There was just too much; too much in front of me and too much in my head. That was some dream…and one pretty girl. Sure like to meet her.
Round turrets shot into the sky from one end to another, and pointed towers; so many pointed towers. Part of it was brick and part of it stone, along with off-white stucco and wood trim painted a drab red. It looked cool…weirdly huge, but cool. It wasn’t my home, never would be, but I couldn’t deny it was cool.
It’s not visiting hours yet, but they made an exception for me. The cops are still there, two of them, posted outside my sister’s room.
Larissa’s sitting up in bed, a breakfast tray in front of her. The IV is out, the oxygen is gone, and a clean bandage covers her neck. Mrs. Desai lets me go in alone.
“Hi,” I say.
We look at each other. I think I should hug her, but we’re not that kind of sisters. Awkwardly I sit down on the edge of a chair and watch her tap a plastic spoon on a mound of red Jell-O.
“Are you okay?” I finally ask. “Like, when can you come home?”
“Home?” She looks at me like I’m nuts. “What home, Kat? You think I want to go back there?”
“Well…” I haven’t thought that far ahead, but she’s absolutely right. How can we go back and live in that house? Live there by ourselves, without Mom and Dad?
“Where are you?” she asks, still tapping that spoon. The Jell-O quivers, a bloody blob
“So, like, will that be forever?” Tap, quiver. Tap, quiver. “You think they'll adopt you?”
“Will you stop it with that spoon?”
The spoon stills.
“I saw the news last night," I tell her. "They said you know who did it.”
Larissa pushes the rolling tray away. She pulls her pillow out from behind her and hugs it to her chest. “No, I don’t.”
“They said you gave them a name.”
“Why were you watching the news? Are you sick?” She points to the TV on the wall, the dangling cord. “The nurse freaking disconnected mine. I can’t watch a thing. I just sit here and stare at the walls, and talk to cops, and…” Her voice breaks. Tears squirt. “I should’ve died, too. I wish I’d died, too.”
“No you don’t,” I say, which is a stupid thing to say because if she says that’s how she feels, it’s probably how she feels and who am I to say it’s not?
Pushing some of the larger ones into the very back of the shed, the floppy-eared puppy used his nose to gently guide them into position. Pretty soon nearly half of the stash spread in now-neat stacks on the grassy green of the lawn, but as Doodle Dog feared, the space inside the deep dark shed was now quite bright with all the pretty boxes, leaving little room for the rest that still had to find a place.
It was time to get creative, so the curious floppy-eared puppy continued to poke his nose around the smallest of crevices to figure out this puzzle in front of him. The different shaped boxes with their vibrantly-colored tags arranged just so reminded Doodle Dog of a game he’d seen the little kids playing on the computers at the library. Eyeing up an empty space, he chose another box nearby that looked like it just MIGHT fit, and rotated it this way and that way until… it… DID!
The space was now so tight that Doodle Dog had to back his way out of the shed and in the process backed right up into a wall of boxes. The wall didn’t even seem to attempt to block his path though as he backed right through it, pushing one of the lower boxes right through with him. Doodle Dog looked up and tilted his head to one side, surveying the scene. The trembling boxes on the top of the tower reminded Doodle Dog of a game he’d seen adults play on the tables in the park. It was very important that the top boxes not fall over or the game was over! Thinking of the project as a puzzle or a game would help Doodle Dog have some of his afternoon fun even earlier than expected, so the floppy-eared puppy figured out how to turn his work time into playtime and before he knew it, the job was done!