Short stories, drabbles, and samples
Out of Time
As a part of the #WFGC Hotel Anthology Blog Hop (not the official name), my first (public) short story, “Out of Time” will be posted here! A little on the later side of things, but better late than never. More shorts can be found here.
Summary: Two former lovers are on the run from the henchmen of an oppressive, mystical force after the biggest heist they’ve ever pulled…and their last as a team. They seek refuge in hotel teeming with the extraordinary. With nothing but time to kill as they wait out their pursuers, they find more than they expect during their stay.
Out of Time
We shuffled into the hotel, weary, wet, and more than a little paranoid. We’d lost our tail hours ago, but paranoia had won out against our desire for food, shelter, and sleep. More than any of those things, I wanted to be properly dry and warm again. After we ditched our first ride and then our second, we ran through the woods. Thanks to some advances in medical technology we were no longer detectable via locator spell, but they knew what we looked like. And so we ran.
Beckett insisted there was some sort of hotel on the other side of the forest, a hold-over from the old days, before our fantasy and scifi stories became real in the worst ways. It was likely abandoned at this point, so we’d have our pick of dilapidated rooms. Our chasers were bound by the laws of their kind to never seek shelter outside of a traditional home (with some loophole for what was, effectively, camping), so they couldn’t follow us in, nor could they risk exposure by blowing up the building. While they had magic, we had numbers, especially in this region—and they knew it. If they somehow managed to find us here they could lie in wait, but we would be safe for tonight. Beckett knew this area pretty well, and I was tired so I didn’t argue. The faster we got gone, the faster this would all be over and I could go home. Alone.
Running through the woods at night in the rain went about as well as you’d expect. Despite Beckett’s deep knowledge of the area and the ample moonlight when we began our trek, the sudden storm and subsequent soaking we got made everything more difficult. The soft forest floor quickly turned to sticky muck as we ran, and every stumble and scrape only served to drive my anger.
We were running because of him. I was running because of him. One last job, a grand finale before our ever intertwined paths finally diverged, and he fucks it up. I was so mad, but mostly at myself for believing him, trusting him again.
I saw the light streaming out of the windows of the hotel once we got closer to the tree line, warm yellow spilling out, giving the structure a warmth only heightened by the cold desolation of the wet forest in late fall. I held up my hand and motioned to Beckett to stop. We paused at the edge of the trees and waited. Listened. Looked. Nothing. We shared a brief glance and nodded to one another and took off together, side by side at a hard sprint, our feet barely touching the sodden grass as we flew. We had always worked well like this—the silent moments; body language never got in our way.
The front desk clerk didn’t even look surprised at the state of us, panting and soaked, covered in mud and bits of forest, and likely some blood too, whatever the rain hadn’t washed away. She simply looked up from her knitting and smiled that warm smile perfected by grandmothers and certain serial killers, and welcomed us to the hotel. I tried to keep its name in my head, but as soon as she said it it was gone.
“Oh, a couple! Cute! Is this your first time staying with us?” she asked kindly. I shook my head and gave her the noncommittal response I keep on hand to get people to stop talking, while Beckett kept up his watch of the door and said nothing. Nosy McKnits-a-lot typed something into her computer and frowned. “One room, I assume?” she asked.
I shook my head again. “Two, and adjoining if you have any available,” I replied. Her frown deepened.
“Well, I’m sorry to tell you this, but it looks like we’ve had a few rooms blocked off, and there’s only one room open in the hotel for right now. We might have a second open up tomorrow night if you’re here for that long, but not tonight I’m afraid.”
I felt Beckett become very, very still behind me.
“One room?” he asked.
She nodded. “It’s a King, but there should be a roll-away tucked into the closet, if that’s an issue.”
I released a breath I didn’t realize I had been holding.
She looked me dead in the eye as she handed me the room keys and winked. “Sixth floor, room 68. Low number, I know, but it’s one of our oldest rooms, and it just didn’t fit into our renumbering scheme when we renovated. Don’t you worry, it’s got all the upgrades. It’s a wonderfully special room. Enjoy!” And with that, she turned and disappeared through a door I hadn’t noticed before.
Too weary to care about the weirdness that was this hotel and its staff, Beckett and I headed off to find our “wonderfully special room.” I hoped there was a minibar. And that some semblance of outdated chivalry existed and Beckett would give me the bed and take the roll-away.
I took point and unlocked and opened the door quietly, Beckett’s back to mine to watch the hall. I stashed the key and drew a knife I’d stashed in one of my many pockets for just such an occasion, and stepped silently into the darkened room. The moonlight flooded in through the massive wall of windows opposite us, the curtains opened wide to let in the stunning view of the nearby mountain range. The night sky was unburdened by light pollution, and the sight of the stars and moon glowing so profoundly was a kind of beauty I simply didn’t have the time or will to appreciate. The illumination was enough to see that no one was hiding in some dark corner ready to pounce, so I called out “Clear!” and switched on a light.
It was fucking stunning. Everything was new and beautiful—there were amenities EVERYWHERE. And the bed—I sat on it and sunk into such softness as I hadn’t felt in so long…and I was immediately suspicious. How did something so gorgeous survive the apocalypse? I was being facetious, but my world, and that of many others, had effectively come to an end. Life as we knew it was irrevocably changed, and yet, here was this room. This place, this hotel, in the middle of nowhere, untouched by violence, unmarred by our current conflict.
I guess Beckett was right, though I would never admit it out loud, let alone to his face; that some places were still ok. Some places were more than ok. This was part of the reason I was running, why I had to leave. To seek out places like this, and find out how they did it, and where there were more. To see how they were connected, if they were….and try to bring them together if they weren’t. Maybe help build a patchwork of people together, a network. Our people were so scattered by one battle after another, facing crisis after crisis. Sitting still was no longer an option for me.
“I’m going to find us some food and a change of clothes while you wash up,” was all Beckett said before ditching his pack on the floor and holding his hand out expectantly. I dropped a keycard into his waiting palm, just as dirty as mine was. He left without another word.
I barely finished looking over the bedroom before I ran into the enormous bathroom tiled in the most beautiful shades of grey, and beheld the giant soaking tub and the separate standing shower. I turned on the water in the tub to let it fill, then turned the water on in the shower and shed my clothing and got in. It. Was. Hot. Immediately. I hadn’t experienced a hot shower in years, but all I could think about was the tub, so I scrubbed myself from head to tow as quickly as possible. The tub wasn’t done filling yet so I grabbed a bottle of bubble bath and squeezed far too much into the tub. The bubbles were many and surreal before my eyes. I got in and yelped as the hot water scalded my skin. I turned the knob on the cold to even it out and slowly worked my way in, letting the soothing heat rush over me.
I didn’t want to think about how this place existed, or how Beckett knew about it. None of it felt quite right, but I didn’t care. I had the warmth of the water and smell of the soap as it bubbled around me.
I luxuriated in that tub as long as I could stand before drying off and using the barest bit of lotion. And it was the good hotel lotion, not the cheap, watery, over-fragranced hotel lotion I recalled from the few vacations my family took in my childhood. Something inside me screamed at me to save it, don’t use all of it. Savor it. Ration it. Because you don’t know when you’ll get it again.
Twenty minutes later I was swathed in the coziest hotel robe and rummaging through my pack looking for anything resembling clean underwear when Beckett returned. I looked up to see his hands full of three paper carryout bags, two paper cups with straws, and a wolfish grin on his dirty face. The smell of curry and hamburgers mingled in the air and even though it didn’t mesh, my stomach start churning out angry protests for sustenance.
Beckett made for the small table just to the side of a set of sliding glass doors that led out onto an impressive balcony, and dumped the bags on it triumphantly. I trotted over eagerly, my stomach waiting impatiently for confirmation from my eyes that the feast I smelled was real. I opened each bag and peeked in and damn near cried at the sight.
I gently rested the back of my hand against his side, a gesture so old and ingrained but unvisited in us for many years that it took a minute for me to remember why it was wrong. Why we didn’t touch like that anymore. We had barely even spoken throughout the mission, only when absolutely necessary, mostly when we realized we’d made our presence known. Touching was reserved for mission-based actions only, and in that moment I realized just how far out of our way we had gone to avoid it. I avoided his gaze as I withdrew my hand, and folded the bags closed instead and took a breath.
Pretense, and something to lighten the mood, I thought.
I pivoted to face him. “You are amazing. But also super gross. Go get yourself cleaned up, and when you’re done we will gorge ourselves.”
Something shuttered behind his eyes, but he pushed out a light laugh and rubbed the back of his scruffy, dark hair. “Hey, you were way worse; that’s why I let you go first.”
“Fair enough,” I said and smirked.
He lowered his hand and paused, his eyes catching mine as he did. Waiting for him to speak almost felt like pain. I shoved it down.
He cleared his throat.
“You, uh, don’t have to wait for me,” he finally got out. A feeling of dreadful lightness permeated my entire body and I swore I could hear my blood rushing through my veins.
“What?” I asked.
This is where we left off before it got bad and we stopped talking and I left, this—
“To eat. You don’t have to wait for me to eat,” he clarified.
“Oh, right. Yeah, no, it’s ok, I can wait, I don’t mind,” I said in one breath. “Unless there are fries—” I cut myself off to reopen the burger bag and lo-and-behold. Fries. Golden, crispy, salty nuggets of deep fried, starchy goodness. I groaned involuntarily. The stomach rumblings turned to painful cramps, and I heard Beckett chuckling faintly as he continued to the bathroom. The sounds of damp clothing hitting the floor and the shower starting up were pieces of meaningless white noise behind me as I tasted my first french fry in years. I closed my eyes, sank into the chair beside me, and let my other senses play. These were like the fast food fries of my childhood, but better. Fresher, crispier on the outside, softer on the inside. Perfect amount of salt. Whatever oil they used was so light, it added only flavor and crunch, but no greasy heaviness.
I didn’t savor the rest.
I left Beckett his portion, and was gazing lazily around the room, contented, when the illuminated bedside alarm clock caught my eye, telling all who could see it that it was 7:04 pm in glowing white. It had felt like so much later in the evening than 7:04 pm, but autumn’s sudden departure into night while fleeing for one’s life could do that to you.
Beckett was out of the bathroom, towel wrapped low around his waist, and I suddenly realized what was in the third bag. I averted my gaze and busied myself with searching through the third paper bag crowding the small table, and felt rather than saw him approach. I tamped down the heat growing inside me at the familiar sight of his muscular torso and concentrated extra hard at fishing out what looked like—
“Medical scrubs?” I asked, pulling out a periwinkle blue pair marked Large and handing it to him, careful to only look at his face, which was clean, properly clean, for the first time in ages. His dark eyes bored into mine for only the briefest moment before he reached for the scrubs.
“They seem to house a medical office somewhere in here. I only hit the laundry and the kitchens, but this place is enormous,” he said as he dressed. I turned away and pulled out a pair of small eggplant scrubs. There was nothing else in the bag.
“No underwear? I guess that’s for the best,” I said, answering myself. I chanced a glance over to Beckett who was mercifully fully clothed, his head cocked.
“Anonymous underwear…no thanks,” I said by way of explanation.
“Fair enough,” he said, and grinned. I was so glad he was wearing clothes when he did that, or I would have been knocked out. I mentally chided myself for the thought.
I was comfortable in my robe, so I saved the scrubs for later. I had thought we would just collapse after all our running, that all I would want, once I was clean and fed, was sleep. I felt energy coursing through me, sparking so much restlessness. It must have been obvious. Beckett said as much, but I just said something about a second wind, post-adrenaline something-something. He dug into the bag and grabbed the burger. “Splitsies?” he asked, and winked.
I squared my jaw, indignant. “I only said that once, and I was fifteen, how dare you—”
“It was cute! And that was barely ten years ago! And, look, I’m giving you half of my burger—” he cut in laughing.
“Oh wow, half, and it’s your burger because you only grabbed one? No I think that makes it our burger, hand over my half, buddy,” I said, reaching for it.
He stuck his tongue out at me and I laughed as he ripped the burger in half.
“And without spilling anything on what looks to be brand new carpet, which, how…?” he said.
I shook my head. “I know, I’ve been marveling at that myself,” I replied and took a healthy bite of meat and bun and cheese and veg.
I couldn’t help the exclamation, nor the mangling of it’s expression through layers of delicious burger goodness. Once more I closed my eyes and was filled with warmth and comfort and the unexpected joy and pain of hundreds of happy memories of an easier time flooded through my mind. I almost missed the chair as I sank into it again.
I opened my eyes expecting to find Beckett laughing, or struggling to control a spit-take, but he was just as wrapped up in his joy as I was. We knew what comfort food was. We knew what survival sustenance was. We knew the difference, and had experienced both together.
It was gone too quickly, and I wanted more. It had been so long since I’d had anything so tasty, but I knew I had to take it slow. Beckett seemed to be thinking the same thing.
“Save the curry for later?” he asked. I nodded and he found a fridge to keep it safe, tucked away into a wardrobe. I reached for one of the forgotten cups and took a sip from it to find the soda far more sickly sweet than I remembered, but took a few more sips anyway. The other appeared to have a clear liquid inside and I was relieved to find it to be full of clean, cold water, and gulped that instead while Beckett rummaged in the front hall closet.
I looked up to see what had drawn his ire. The roll out bed was before him. Broken. Useless. It was clearly unfolded and flattened as far as it could go, but pieces were missing and the small metal frame was bent in strange places. What had happened to it and why anyone would have chosen to keep it, I couldn’t fathom. Why they hadn’t scrapped it for parts or melted down the metal for something else…but that this hotel seemed to exist out of the agony of our reality was mind boggling enough.
I shook my head as if to clear it and focused on the scene before me. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Beckett’s eyes were wide and one hand was in his hair, the other outstretched before him, frozen; a form fully in disbelief. Had we not just run for days? Had we not slept in far, far worse conditions?
“It’s ok, you big baby. I can take the floor,” I said, standing up to get ready for bed. “We can even share—it’s a king size bed, it’s not exactly close quarters.” I came up next to him and laid a hand on his hard-muscled shoulder. “If it makes you feel better, you can take first watch,” I said, and give him the most sarcastic pat I could manage before sauntering off to the bathroom.
When I returned Beckett was hanging up the phone in disgust. I didn’t even have to ask. He launched into it without preamble.
“They’ll pick up the fucking roll-away but they don’t have anything to replace it with. They say this place is all booked up.”
I rolled my eyes. “It’s not that big a deal. We can share this bed. I promise I won’t get handsy if you won’t.”
His eyes met mine and I was devastated. I had not seen Beckett show this much emotion in…ever. Not in the years our relationship lasted, and the months when it turned sour. At least, not like this; something like hate and despair and desire competing for space amongst his beautiful features.
I couldn’t read through it to understand what it meant, or maybe I just didn’t want to. All I know is the next thing that came out of my mouth wasn’t planned.
“I didn’t realize sleeping beside me was such a hardship for you,” I said quietly, turning away on that last word, beyond ready for this day, this trip, this mission to be over.
It was supposed to be an easy job. Get in, grab a few hard disks of data, get out. Then Beckett got cocky. I let him get cocky, because it stirred up old feelings for me that I didn’t realize I’d been aching for. Because we had time, because I wanted—no, needed—fun. I got distracted, and we nearly got killed. Then we nearly got caught.
“Leave the roll away outside, set charges by the door.” The “charges” weren’t explosives, but I called them by their cover name out of habit. They wouldn’t burst into flame or blow the door to bits if someone tripped wire. But if someone with magic—the natural kind possessed by our pursuers from birth, not the store-bought variety packed into the charges—were to get within a customizable range, an alarm would go off. This one’s alarm was set to Lou Bega’s “Mambo Number 5” for some reason.
I got into bed facing the windows, and turned off the light, leaving only the moonlight and entry light for Beckett to do his work. There was a deep quiet in him that became so tangible I could feel it from across the room, but I refused to look at him. It had been awhile since I had cried about much, and I wasn’t about to start up again over him.
I heard him unlock the door, open it, push the roll-away into the hall and close and lock the door. There was a ruffling as he rummaged through his pack and started setting small charges at the door in case anyone made it past the locks. As much as the pain of old wounds being opened had my attention, a small part of me noticed how quiet everything was—no neighbors, no noisy children running in the halls. No other desperate rebels looking for an escape in this surreal oasis, and no one chasing them.
I tried everything I could think of to get myself to fall asleep, but the crush just wouldn’t come. I’d gotten to the point where I could drop off by sheer will whenever necessary, but tonight…tonight I managed to find safety and comfort, then delved right into a part of my heart that I thought I’d long since covered over in scars.
I felt the bed dip as he got in, carefully staying to his side of the bed, moving gently so the mattress wouldn’t bounce.
I woke hours later, unsure of when sleep had claimed more or for how long. We’d left the curtains open last night with only the sheers closed for some semblance of privacy. The sun filtered through them, filling the room with its warm glow, and it took me a minute to realize where I was. The events of the night before came flooding back and the hand around my heart resumed its gentle, persistent squeezing.
The sound of the bathroom faucet running had me up and moving. I checked my face and saw a slightly less tired version of the same mess I usually saw whenever I looked in a reflective surface. The mirror was above the chair I dumped my clothes on from yesterday and as I looked down I cringed at the thought of what nastiness they must have left on the pristine dove grey upholstery, and found my clothes stacked and neatly folded. Had Beckett…?
I lifted the piece on the top of the pile—the black, long-sleeved shirt that had been soaked and covered in mud and loam only hours ago—was clean. I held it in front of me in disbelief, which is how Beckett found me when he walked into the room. He stopped so close I could feel the heat of him against my side, even though we weren’t touching.
“But wasn’t it…?”
I just shook my head. “I dunno…check the charges.” The words were hardly out of my mouth before Beckett made for the door.
I sniffed the shirt. Fabric softener?
“Clear,” Beckett called. “No indication of malfunction.”
“This…” I trailed off and dropped the shirt back on its pile. I took a breath. “This is something else. This is something else we haven’t prepared for.” I looked around the room as if some clue to what was going on would suddenly choose now to make itself known. “This isn’t them.”
The alarm clock caught my eye again. Its white numerals still read out 7:04. I stared and stared until it turned 7:05 and released a breath. Then it flipped back to 7:04. I don’t know what my face was doing at this point, but it was enough to worry Beckett.
“What is it? Gia? Gia?”
“Something is wrong,” I began. “Or—maybe not wrong. But off. Definitely off.”
“Why are you staring at the clock?”
I waited a beat to answer.
“Because it’s 7:04,” I said. I felt something rise in me, something like fear and adrenaline and annoyance all mixed together.
“Crazy random thought here,” I said, looking in Beckett’s direction. Eye contact wasn’t something I was ready for, not yet. Too intimate. “Try to open the door.”
“Just do it.”
I felt Beckett staring at me, but after a moment he did as I asked and tried the door. After much pulling and rattling and swearing we both determined the door was unlocked but would not open for us. We tried asking it politely, apologizing for swearing at it, and even tried a few phrases in other languages, but nothing happened. We tried for what felt like hours, but according to the bedside alarm clock, was no time at all.
“This hotel was your idea,” I said. “How did you know it was here?”
“I used to pass it on the freeway, and don’t think I didn’t hear the blame you just tried to cover there,” he replied.
I shrugged. “Credit where it’s due,” I replied, and received Beckett’s raised brows as my reward.
“Wow. Ok. So we’re doing this now? Fine. This whole mission was your idea; it’s the reason we’re out here in the first place,” Beckett said, his voice rising in pitch and volume with every other word.
“It wasn’t my idea!” I was almost yelling. Non-confrontational, slip in, steal stuff, leave with no one the wiser, Gia was almost yelling. “We knew this, ALL of this was going to happen. Ok, not this specifically, us in this hotel room, but the change, the riots, the coup…all of that. There was data, hard evidence that backed it up that we had warning, that maybe some of this was even planned. Someone had to go in and get it—why not us?” I searched his eyes and found only a wall.
“There is no us,” Beckett said, his voice cold. “You made sure of that.” And just like that, all the air was sucked out of the room. I felt like I couldn’t breath. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t untrue, but it wasn’t fair, and he knew it. Beckett got up off the bed and tried the door again.
When did we sit down? I wondered. I let him try for awhile, but I knew it wouldn’t work.
“I didn’t…I left because we were growing apart,” I began. The door handle rattling quieted. “I left because you and I weren’t right for each other any more. I left because I knew if I didn’t…if I didn’t, you would.”
Beckett turned around. He looked like he’d been slapped.
“What do you mean, you ‘knew?’” he asked slowly.
I stiffened my resolve and looked him in the eye. “I saw the way you were looking at other women. Other women, but not me. We spent less and less time together, you started volunteering for more missions…” I trailed off, the knowledge that stating the truth had possibly made a bad situation worse sinking in, the feeling creeping up my spine. That maybe my take wasn’t fully formed.
“We were drifting apart, but you got scared and ran,” Beckett said. He was calm again, but so determined. “You. Not me. You.”
The barbs went back and forth for awhile, coupled with a lot of swearing and pacing. I tried to pry the door handle off the door and failed spectacularly, falling flat on my ass before remembering that there was a minbar. It was quickly raided at 7:04 pm repeatedly until we were finally laughing, collapsed on the bed, limbs entangled.
“Ok, ok,” I said, feeling a bit tipsy, several steps down from the full-on drunk of earlier. “So I think we’ve established that I fucked up by leaving, but that I left because I was scared,” I started.
“And I was freaked out because of how serious things were getting, and did my best to subconsciously drive you away,” finished Beckett. He wasn’t slurring his words anymore either.
“And we’re both sorry,” I added, punctuating my conclusion by jabbing a finger in the air in triumph.
Beckett turned on his side to face me. “Are you?”
I mirrored him. “Am I what?”
“Sorry,” he said.
I thought about it for a moment, my eyes flicking back and forth between Beckett’s deep blue ones.
“Yes,” I said. “And no.” I rushed a little to explain before the pain filtered back into his eyes. “I learned a lot about myself when I was on my own, things I could have never learned if I wasn’t. I’m sorry for the pain I caused you, and for the pain I’ve caused myself, but I’m not sorry for the good things that have come from it.”
Saying it out loud made me feel braver, even as my head cleared and my tipsy feeling turned into plain old tired. And sober.
“What about you?” I was a little nervous to hear his answer.
“I have a few regrets,” Beckett said. “I regret not talking to you about it…about any of it. I was young and stupid. I am still mostly young and a little stupid,” he admitted. He reached up and ran a lock of my hair between his fingertips, playing with it as he gently tucked it behind my ear just like in those romantic comedies I watched as a kid.
“But I will never regret our time together, or the time this last mission has given us,” he said soberly.
His face was so close to mine I could see every one of his long, dark lashes, and then his lips met mine.
We never heard the door unlock, but later, much later, when we tried the door again…this time, it opened.