Sam hesitated only for a second before walking past his family. He excused himself, saying he wanted some air. The truth was that he wanted to avoid Jess’ gaze.
He had betrayed her; betrayed her trust; his promise to her that same day. And he couldn’t stand there and watch her watching him. Or what would come next.
He didn’t know where he wanted to go but he knew where he didn’t want to be.
It was unfortunate that she and his entire family should walk-in just at that very moment. Well, there were worst moments that they could have possibly walk-in on but still…
Sam stepped up to the elevator, never turning back towards his family, and pressed the button to open the doors.
There wasn’t much of a wait, as the elevator was already up. But still the few seconds it took for the doors to slide apart felt like years to him. All the time he could feel his family’s eyes on his back.
As he stepped into the elevator and the doors started to close, Sam felt a sense of relief. The feelings that boiled inside of him didn’t go away. But it was good to be finally free from the gazes.
However, his relief was short lived.
“Good evening,” said that all too familiar voice.
He spun around and found himself face to face with their blue-eyed hostess. Maybe it was his state of mind, but he could swear her eyes were little darker than the light blue eyes he remembered that she had before.
“How…” he started but couldn’t find the right words to finish.
“How are you enjoying our accommodations?” she asked with that same cheery tone. “I hope everything is up to your requirements. That they help you forget your troubles and worries.”
“Yeah, everything is Dandy,” Sam said as he turned away from her.
“Good! Here at Elysium Falls Hotel, we seek to be an oasis from all your worldly troubles; a haven from the storms of life.” She said with a smile and Sam found himself staring at her with disbelief:
‘Had she just quoted Dean?’
“Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“Urgh no! Thank you. I just need some time to myself that’s all” he said recovering.
“Oh that’s not possible”
“You can’t be on your own. Elysium Falls Hotel is all about immersing yourself with other people. Finding comfort and release from being with others around you. That is why we cater to group entertainment…of all kinds.”
“Fine,” he said turning towards the elevator panel “I’ll just immerse myself with my neighbours,” he said as he tried to find the floor buttons.
“I am afraid you misunderstand me. When I meant people, I meant people you came herewith. Your family, your loved ones. Not strangers; one should always be careful who one spends time with.”
She was right. As Sam scanned the elevator panel he found no other buttons on it than for their suite and the lobby.
“So I can’t talk with anyone else?”
“You can. You can talk with Jess, your mom, your dad, even Lisa and Ben!”
“But no other guests?”
“We try to give all our guests equal opportunity to enjoy their stay here. To get the full benefits of their time spent in the hotel. It would not do to have their minds troubled by problems of other people. Or have their stay tainted by wild stories” she said as she stared at him.
Sam didn’t say anything after that. Just pressed the button for the lobby and waited for the elevator to take them there.
All was quiet in the elevator all the way down.
As the doors opened he found himself again in the lobby, brightly lit by the sun that should be on its way out.
The lobby, as it was before, was almost still and quiet. He found very few people around.
As he stepped out of the elevator, he took a quick glance back at their hostess, who was still standing inside the elevator. Her eyes seemed even darker than before.
However, he didn’t give it much thought. Instead, he walked around the lobby. He tried to talk to a few of the guests but they continued on as if he wasn’t even there. In fact, no one he found seemed to even notice him or hear him as he tried to make conversation.
He took a seat on one of the group of couches that lined the centre of the lobby. To talk to a small family. But everyone in the family ignored him. Even the bored looking kid who he tried desperately to entertain.
“Hi” suddenly a voice said and he found himself rising from his seat as he turned.
As he turned he almost expected to find himself glancing at the bright blues of their hostess. But instead, Sam found himself staring at two deep brown eyes. That he almost froze at the sight. Not just because he found those eyes beautiful and captivating. But because he was actually surprised to find a stranger coming up to him and talking to him.
She had a wide and pretty smile just like the girl with the blonde locks, and just like with blue-eyes, the new girl’s brown’s also glowed when she smiled. But in those brown, there was sincere joy and life that was not present in the blue. He found himself smiling back with honest gladness.
“I am sorry to intrude into your conversation,” she said with that same smile “but I could not help notice you were actually trying to communicate!” she continued and he laughed.
“Yes, I was having quite the riveting conversation with the…” he said and stopped and turned towards the family “with whoever they are” he finished and the girl laughed. It was such a happy laugh and infectious.
“You got to excuse them. They are not used to people being social.”
“I am Sam by the way,” he said extending his hand towards her. Her hand were soft and her shake was gentle that Sam was afraid he might break her if he gripped too hard.
“I am Alice”
“You mind explaining,” she said, squinting her eyes and Sam found himself laughing again.
“Alice in Wonderland!”
“Ah! Well, Mr White Rabbit, you mind following Alice for a change?”
“Depends on where we’re going”
“Where is the fun in that?” she asked as she turned and walked away.
She only looked back once, before making towards a door in-between the arched windows of the lobby. He hadn’t noticed that door before. He didn’t hesitate long before he followed her out.
There was a gravel path that led out from the glass doors. But Alice didn’t take it. Instead, she kept to the grass; which made sense, since Sam noticed that her feet were bare.
Sam was intrigued by the girl and, as he followed her willingly to wherever it was that she was taking him, he found himself unable to turn away from her.
She was nothing like their hostess. She was tall, not tall because she was supermodel lean, like the blue-eyed girl; she was slender, not thin. Alice was actually tall; her browns almost reached his eyes.
Her hair fell down in dark waves on to her slender shoulders, unlike the turbulent gold curls of their hostess. But in the sunlight, those beautiful strands shined brown like the barks of the trees around him.
It was her hair that made him realize that they had left the open green lawns of the hotel and stepped into a forest. But if he had expected it to be dark and gloomy he was wrong, instead, he found the forest bright and cheery like Alice. The trees, while close together, created a sense of warm embrace rather than being foreboding. He felt like he had walked into a magical land and almost expected to see dancing fairies, unicorns and other things at any moment. It would sure make a welcome change to all that he had seen so far in life.
Nevertheless, everything remained still around them. And if not for the crunching of leaves underneath his feet, it was also quiet.
However, he soon found himself turning back towards Alice, who had managed somehow to take quite the lead. He was surprised at the speed at which she walked. But then, the grace with which her slender legs carried her, it almost seemed as if she floated through the air.
Suddenly she stopped and turned around to face him. She stood smiling as he tried to catch up with her. She had stopped underneath one of the many pockets of light that fell down. The falling sunlight was like fairy dust, dropped from some unseen hand high above the canopy. In that light, she looked more beautiful than before.
Before, he saw her beauty as being just natural; like the girl next door. Unlike the commercial beauty of blue-eyes. It was the vibrancy and innocence that she gave out that made her shine. But now, standing in the light, she looked like a fairy herself. Her soft brown skin seemed to radiate. In the short pastel blue summer dress she wore, she seemed at home in the forest.
He found himself lost in her beauty until she spoke, and it was like angels calling. Well, the angels of cartoons and TV shows and lore, not the real ones.
“Mr White Rabbit, you are going to have to hurry up a little bit more. I do not want you to get lost and be all afraid,” she said and he laughed again.
When he was close again she turned and started walking once more.
He didn’t know where he was being led when he left with her. But now he knew. The sound of thunder he heard in the distance was unmistakable.
He had barely stepped out of the forest when the full brunt of the image hit him.
He found something else that day that was breathtakingly beautiful.
Elysium falls was a sight that was second to none.
A massive half-moon that encircled the view before them. It towered so high above them that it almost hid the sky from their view. The sound it made was loud, even from the distance they were standing, but also strangely soothing. Like a mother’s lullaby.
He stopped staring at the waterfall when he realized that Alice was watching him. He turned to where he thought she was and found her again smiling. Her hazel browns were glowing brighter than usual.
“Come on, we are not done yet,” she said, gesturing towards him.
Then she turned and walked towards the lake that flowed from the waterfall. Actually, it was more like a sea, even with small waves created by the falls. She didn’t stop or hesitate as she stepped from stepping stone to stepping stone until she reached one that was large enough to form a little island several feet from the bank. She gently eased her way around it and sat down, smoothening the skirt of her dress.
The way the rock was made, it seemed to form two continuous seats, like thrones. To sit and watch the waterfall with comfort and convenience.
She turned towards him and smiled: “Come on scaredy cat” she said.
Sam looked down at the water. It was clear like glass. He could see right to the bottom; which in itself looked quite clean. He could see fish of varied sizes and colours swimming about.
Sam turned towards the stepping stones that jutted out from out of the water. Tops of little mountains of the seabed that peeked out. They were well rounded but they also looked slippery.
He then knelt down and undid his laces. Removed his shoes and then rolled up his trouser legs. Leaving his shoes on the bank, he slowly put one foot into the water. Strange enough there was no current, and the water itself was soothingly chilly. Fish swam past completely oblivious to the strange thing with them. Some even brushed against his skin, sending sensations up to his head. He then stepped completely into the water and again felt Alice staring at him.
He looked up at her and she was smiling still.
“Silly Mr White Rabbit, you could have used the rocks and avoided getting your feet wet.”
“Well, Mistress Alice, I rather get my feet wet than walk back to the hotel dripping wet!”
“You are such a girl,” she said and laughed again, throwing her head back as she did.
Sam stopped in the middle of the lake and watched her laugh.
Soon he was sitting next to her, on the wet and slimy rock. But he didn’t mind. He wouldn’t have cared any form of discomfort at that moment. He could feel nothing but her.
She then turned to him and edged closer; brushing up against him. She was so close that Sam could smell the sweet fragrance of hair and body. It was not perfume or shampoo, it was natural. Like the trees and flowers, he had walked through. He liked it.
“Don’t tell anyone,” she said, and then looked around her as if expecting someone to be watching. It made him look too. But then there was no one anywhere remotely close; or at least close enough to hear her whisper; the sound of which felt like the wind.
“For all its comforts, the hotel makes me feel like I am in a posh sanitarium,” she said and he smiled. He agreed.
“This place on the other hand. Feels…it feels like home” she said staring at him. She then pushed a few strands of her hair away from her face and behind her ear; looking shyly away. Then she turned away from him completely and back towards the waterfall. The smile was gone but her face still glowed and her eyes still were filled with that same joy. “I feel like I am in the embrace of my mom and dad” she continued.
Strange enough he understood what she meant. The warm rays of the sun and the gentle vapour of the waterfall created a strange sensation of warmth and humidity that felt like love.
And in that embrace they sat, next to each other, staring at the falling water.
“Sam,” Alice suddenly said, breaking the silence.
“I know you feel like this place would drive you mad if you stayed long enough. Sometimes, it may even make you feel like you are living in a prison,” she said and he turned to find her looking at him. There was no smile on her face. Instead, the expression on her face was serious.
“The reason is that ‘this is a prison’, Sam,” she said, and he found his heart stop for a second.
‘What was she trying to say?’
“But it is not a prison made by someone else. It is a prison made by the people who come here. It is the prison of their own making. At one time it was meant to be something better. A haven! But then over the years, it absorbed the feelings of the people who resided between its walls and morphed so many times that it became a prison. Because that is what they wanted” she continued.
There were so many questions that were running through his mind, so many things that troubled him about what she said. Yet he kept his silence and listened to her every word with interest.
“You have to understand that the people who come here. They do not come here looking for heaven, they come here looking for security and safety. They have seen so much, done so much that they want to get away from all that. So a little piece of heaven is created for them and they lose themselves in it.”
“As much as you may want to associate with them, they do not want to associate with you. Not because they do not like you or because they are antisocial. But because they are afraid. So afraid they cling on to the thing they know best and discard everything else. Unfortunately, this place caters just for that. We got so used to giving them what they want that they forget what they were supposed to give.”
“Instead of giving them security, safety, and a piece of heaven, they get a hole to hide in and while away their time.” She said and again turned away towards the waterfall.
She didn’t say anything after that. She just stared at the waterfall in silence.
So Sam followed suit; not at the waterfall but into the distance away from it.
He wanted so much to ask her something but in the end, he decided against it. There was no way he could tell if she even knew that demons were also here, or if she even believed in them. He didn’t want to unnecessarily scare her if she didn’t.
Sam was also curious as to her own reasons for being here. Curious about her own demons. But then she never asked about his and, maybe just like the other guests, she didn’t want anyone to know hers. So he let it slide.
When they reached the forest again, night had already taken over the world. But still, there was beauty among the trees.
Alice had taken him to a place where they could lie down and just stare at the stars through the canopy. They had laid next to each other staring at the sky, silently. He had to admit that since waking up in this world this was the best time he had spent; maybe even the best time he had spent with anyone since he remembered.
They had walked together, shoulder to shoulder, back to the hotel. He felt sad to part her company at the elevator, but then it was time to get back to his own world; his own part of heaven.
The strange thing was, for all the feelings that filled him when he was with her, they only increased the love he felt for Jess. Alice never found a place in his heart, and when he stepped out of the elevator, it was as if he had already forgotten her; left only with the effects of her company.
Jess was about to say something but she never got the chance, because the minute he was within reach of her he hugged her. Then he kissed her and took her to their room, much to the surprise and confusion of everyone.
The truth was Alice was right.
Everything about everything he had seen was about isolation. It was not about creating a perfect world to live in, it was about creating a perfect world to hide in. And that was what was wrong with it. It tried too hard. To his jaded heart that meant it was wrong; in every possible way. He wanted to fight it because he could never accept it.
Strange that, of all the people, Dean was the one who was able to accept it.
Jess didn’t protest when he took her away from everyone, or when he led her to their bed. She didn’t even need to be told what was to come next; which was fortunate because he didn’t have the time to explain himself. He wanted to act before his mind had the time to get around the stupor that Alice had left him in.
The images were real; the feelings poignant.
He heard the screams that shattered the air; piercing it like a knife.
He heard Dean scream his name and then he felt something tormenting, something warm flowing down across his skin, and then something liberatingly peaceful.
However, as when the morphine wears thin the pain grows, so did he find himself waking in the middle of the night screaming in pain. The feelings Alice had created having waned.
Sweat covered his body and his heart beat hard against his chest.
Nevertheless, it was when he opened his eyes that he saw real terror.
For filling his sight was the burnt corpse of Jess, staring down at him from the ceiling with dead eyes.