Day One: The Apprentice
Why was she in a car? She looked around and saw that she didn’t have a purse. That wasn’t a good sign she thought as she looked beside her and saw her best friend still asleep. How were they going to pay for this taxi? She looked down to see that she had on a little blue dress. She usually only wore this dress on Saturday nights when she and a group of friends would pub crawl their way through the Rose Quarter. She looked outside and it was definitely not Saturday night any longer. Instead the sun was bright in the sky, or at least it was bright on the other side of the clouds. At any rate, it was definitely daylight. Where had she spent the night? Why were only her and Ashley in the taxi? She was sure that she had gone out with more people than that last night. Obviously they hadn’t made it home, though. She couldn’t remember last night at all, and she thought that she was far too young to start having memory problems, and as she was the one who drank the least out of her group of friends she did not think that she was likely to have blackouts for other reasons. Her friends relied on her good judgment to keep them from making fools of themselves, and she could not even remember the last twenty-four hours at all. It was mysterious.
Nor was that the only mysterious thing going on. She was in some kind of vehicle. It didn’t look like a regular taxi, but rather like one of those driverless Uber cars she had heard about. She had never been in one of those before, and she thought they sounded somewhat sketchy. How would a car like that avoid a car accident without some kind of driver whose panicky nerves and sense of self-preservation allowed them to mash the brakes if there was some kind of computer problem in the automated driving. Technology was always going wrong and simply could not be trusted to get people safe from party to home. Not only was this sketchy taxi without a driver, making it difficult for her to imagine how she was going to explain that she had no idea where her money was and that she was not going to be able to pay however much she was being charged, but she had no idea where she was going either. She didn’t recognize the part of town she was in. She was certain that they were not going home, but she had no idea who had told the car where to go, and she didn’t see anyone else around, or else she probably would have tried to kick out the doors. She thought of all kinds of bad scenarios about pretty women being Shanghied and drugged and raped, but at least until she had a better idea about what sort of trip they were taking she decided not to panic. It would do her no good to panic anyway. She needed her full wits about her.
At this point the car turned off the road and stopped before a closed automatic wrought iron gate. After a wait of a few seconds, the gate opened inward and the car drove inside. She looked around her. The grounds were well kept, but did not look as if many people walked on them. It had the look of a well-manicured lawn, but there was nothing in there to show warmth or intimacy. There were no patches where one could see foot marks, nor any tiki bars or used fire pits or anything that suggested people were there. There was no parking lot at all, and clearly no other vehicles present of any kind. She saw a sign, and it read “La Hotel Espero.” The sign didn’t make any sense to her. She was no cunning linguist, but she knew enough Spanish to realize that the name of the hotel had no agreement between the La and Hotel. Hotels, in Spanish, were masculine nouns, and clearly the use of the direct article and Espero signified that they were at some place where a Romance language of some kind was spoken, but it was no language that she knew. It was just one more mystery and the day was already full of them. She wondered what sort of surprises would be next, and it worried her a little. She told herself that she probably shouldn’t worry about things, but she tended to. No one else in their circle of friends had a care in the world, and someone had to be the mother hen, and so being the most anxious and nervous of them, and perhaps not surprisingly the least conventionally attractive, she did the worrying while they had fun, and because she was the sensible one, she was grudgingly respected as part of the group. That is how it had always gone, at least from what she could remember.
At least Ashley was stirring finally so she had someone to talk to and didn’t have to keep all of these anxious thoughts inside of her. “Where are we, Kate?” she heard from the bleary and sleepy young woman beside her in her own little black dress. “I haven’t the slightest idea,” she replied honestly. “We just arrived at “La Hotel Espero”” she said with air quotes, “and I don’t have any idea where we are. We’re not in Kansas anymore, or Portland for that matter.” Her friend startled and sat up rigid. “You don’t think we’re on our way to somewhere dangerous, do you?” “I don’t think so. We’re in some kind of driverless taxi, and I can’t find my purse.” “Me neither. No money, no cell phone, and just our party clothes from last night. What happened?” “I don’t know.” With that they arrived at the part of the driveway that was next to the hotel lobby, but it was unlike any hotel she could remember seeing. It looked vaguely European, like the sort of hotel one could find in a city like Tallinn or thereabouts, where people had figured out the need to build something for tourists after the darkness of Soviet rule or something equally tragic. The building looked out of place in Portland. She was sure that no matter how much she and her friend had to drink last night that it was too far to go to end up in Eastern Europe. This made no sense at all to her.
The car stopped and the back seat doors automatically opened. She looked at her friend a bit apprehensively, Ashley shrugged, and they both got out. The trunk automatically opened and two small suitcases and garment bags were inside. “I guess we have clothes,” Ashley said helpfully. “I hope they’re mine.” “I guess we’ll see. It can’t be too dangerous of a place if we have our clothes and the car lets us out.” After they closed the doors and got their bags out of the trunk and Kate closed it, the car drove off down the driveway, and then made its way through the too-manicured lawns until another gate opened, let the car leave, and then closed once again. Maybe she was just being a bit paranoid, but it seemed as if it was like a prison gate was closing and she was trapped inside. She didn’t know why she had this feeling, but she felt that way. She tried to tell herself that she was just catastrophizing, but she still felt that way.
“What do we do now?” she asked to no one in particular. “Well, Captain Obvious,” her friend replied. “We’re at a hotel and we have luggage, so why don’t we go inside? It’s not like we’re going to walk very far or fast in our shoes.” She looked down and realized she was still wearing high heels. “No, we aren’t going to be able to escape even a gouty would-be rapist in these,” she replied. No indeed. “Does any of this make sense to you?” “None of it does,” she honestly replied. “I’d like to at least know where I am. Maybe there’s some handsome guy I can flirt with.” “Who knows if that’s how we got here in the first place.” They shrugged at each other and walked towards the all glass lobby entrance with its automatic doors and the doors opened. The sound of a bell rang out along with the sound of their high heels on the tile pathway and the sound of the wheels of their luggage. “There should at least be some sort of bellhop to take our luggage at the door,” Ashley said a bit harshly. “We shouldn’t have to lug our luggage ourselves,” she continued. “I’m sure there’s some kind hired help here,” Kate replied a bit uncertain, not knowing where she was or what was going on. They passed some empty fabric red fabric seats with gold fleur-de-lis on them and turned a corner and saw a simple but elegant lobby desk with a gentleman looking at them. “I guess that’s the hired help,” Ashley said. “He doesn’t look very handsome, though.”
He wasn’t handsome, no, Kate said to herself. But he didn’t look ugly. He had that sort of plain look that one saw from Germans. He had a serious look on his face, glasses that gave him the air of a bit of a scholarly gentleman, and he had a stout frame but not one that was particularly overweight. He looked like he was about two hundred pounds and close to six feet tall, and though his general body shape was like one of a German farmer or soldier, he had freckles that suggested that he had some Celtic blood in him as well. It was the sort of mix that suggested a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant from the United States, or someone who was the result of a cross-cultural marriage in the European Union, but she would have to talk to him to know more. “Welcome to La Hotel Espero,” the bellhop said politely and somewhat haltingly, as if he was somewhat unused to using his voice. “We hope your stay here will be an enjoyable one. You ladies look tired. Would you like me to take me to your room?”
“You’re expecting us?” her friend piped up. “Well, to be honest,” he replied, as if he was seldom anything other than honest, “we were not expecting you until this morning when your reservation showed up, but I have a reservation for seven days and six nights for two ladies,” he said, giving the names, at which they looked at each other and then nodded at him. “I guess this is where I parked my car,” Ashley said, figuring that the man would be aware of the irony that wherever their car was parked it would be a long way away. “I see you are a fan of Eurotrip as well,” the gentleman said after politely nodding his head. Kate turned to him and looked at him seriously. He did not appear to be like the sort of man who trafficked in sarcasm. He had an earnest and straightforward look about him, and yet he was obviously fond of pop culture and seemed to have a taste for irony. It was rare to find someone who was clever enough to appreciate irony without being too cynical or sarcastic to be kind, but perhaps he could pull it off. She was a bit curious.”
“I would show you around,” he said with a sense of obvious regret, “but it looks like you two are exhausted from your journey here and probably want to be shown to your rooms so that you can rest up.” “It’s daytime,” her friend piped up. “And I have no interest in spending my time here suffering from jet lag. I want to know where we are and why we are here, and I suppose you should have the answers. I want to see this hotel and make sure you’re not taking us somewhere dangerous. We outnumber you, after all, and I’m not going to let my friend and I be taken advantage of by the likes of you.” He seemed a bit taken back by her friend’s ferocity. “I certainly don’t have all of the answers,” he answered warily. “But if you want I can show you around, and you can decide for yourself if this place is dangerous or if it will be exciting enough for you during your stay here. I hope you can trust that I have no plans to harm either of you, and that the thought has indeed never crossed my mind.” And with that he put their luggage on a baggage cart. Would you like to drop off your luggage first in your room and then let me show you around the place? That seemed like an excellent idea to her, and she looked at her friend, who nodded in agreement with this eminently reasonable request.