Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/877100-The-Stair-that-Wasnt-There
Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Horror/Scary · #877100
Miranda's New Orleans hotel has some unusual restrictions--and for a good reason.
         "Thank you for choosing Le Reve Hotel, and please try not to wander the halls at night."
         "Excuse me? When?" Miranda was only half-listening—she was too busy juggling shoulderbags and suitcases and all the other effluvia of a long trip—but it sounded like the woman at the desk had said...
         "At night, ma'am; we advise our guests not to explore the building or the grounds at night." The woman looked uncomfortable, but her voice was firm.
         "And why is that?" Miranda asked, accepting her room key with something like wonder. A real key, with a number on it. 219.
         "Because it isn't safe. Turn left out of the elevator, and keep making lefts until the hallway dead-ends at a window. Your suite will be the last one on the right. Can I ring for someone to help you with your bags?"
         "No, thank you." Miranda waved the suggestion off, puzzled by the clerk's quick shifts of subject. "I think I can manage."

         Three days later:
         "So you're staying at Le Reve, huh?" the young man asked her, shouting to make himself heard over the music. It seemed to Miranda that there was no escaping music down here, at least not at night. She yelled back that she was, and the man made his face solemn.
         "Brave woman."
         "I said—wait. You wanna get out of here? Go someplace where we can have a conversation?"
         "That sounds like a plan." Miranda linked her arm through his, and they fled The Loud Bar (that's what it was actually called) with their drinks.
         "What were you saying?" Miranda asked, when the music had faded to a faint pulse behind them.
         "I called you a brave woman. And I'm Jack, by the way."
         "Miranda." They shook hands, and proceeded down Esplanade Avenue together. "How come I'm brave?"
         "Because Le Reve is supposed to be the most haunted hotel in New Orleans."
         "It didn't say anything about ghosts in the guidebook."
         "That’s why it’s not in there as ‘haunted,’ probably. It isn't ghosts, per se. I mean, there aren't any ghosts. Well, there might be, who knows, but that's not why the place is famous. Infamous."
         "What's it got, then, cooties?"
         "'Yesterday upon the stair, I saw a man who wasn't there,'" Jack chanted, and Miranda shivered. That poem had always weirded her out, Ogden Nash or not. "In this case, it would be the stair that wasn't there."
         "Come again?" Miranda asked, eyebrows raised.
         "It's got extra rooms—it sprouts them, like. Now you see it, now you don't."
         Miranda laughed. "I'm still not getting you."
         "Okay." Jack stopped, and held up his hands. "It's hard for me to explain this when I’m sober, and it's even harder when I’m trying to navigate uneven cobblestone streets while intoxicated. Let's sit."
         "Where?" Miranda scanned the street, looking for a bar that might actually be quiet.
         "Here's good," Jack said, and plonked himself down on the curb.
         "Dirt washes off. We'll be able to hear each other, and we won't spill our drinks."
         "What happens when we run out?"
         Jack pointed across the street at a 24 hour convenience store. "We'll get more."
         "Fair enough." Miranda sat beside him, trying not to think of what might have happened to—or on—the curb earlier in the day. "Tell me about the stair that wasn't there."

         "It's not just the stairs, it happens all over the hotel. Guests tell the hotel employees how much they love the bowling alley, the movie theater, the ballroom..."
         "Wait, I didn't know Le Reve had a ballroom," Miranda interrupted.
         "Oh, it doesn't," Jack said. "That's the thing. People really see this stuff, all these rooms, and they're not even there. Then think the staff's fucking with them when they say "I'm terribly sorry, madam, but we don't have a ballroom," and they keep on thinking that until they go looking for the ballroom, and it's gone. What was a doorway is now a wall. The window with the pretty view is really a linen closet. Or they realize that what they thought was the billiard room is actually the empty air fifteen feet above the swimming pool. The stair isn't there, so to speak."
         "Have you ever seen anything there?"
         Jack snorted. "I have an apartment. Why would I be in a hotel?"
         "Then how the hell do you know if it's true?"
         "I don’t know if it's true—I guess you could never be sure about something like that unless you saw it for yourself, but I've met enough people like you—“
         "People like me?"
         "Tour-ists." He tapped the syllables out on her forehead for emphasis. "I've heard enough stories from tourists to write a damn book about the things in Le Reve that don't exist."
         "Ah." She tipped her go-cup to her lips and found it empty. "Shit."
         "Have no fear." Jack stood up, stretched, and started across the street to the convenience store. "I'll be the bar-wench. Back in two shakes of a lamb's ass."
         While he was gone, Miranda turned the things she'd been told over in her mind, examining them like stubborn boxes that didn't want to open.

         Jack returned, bearing spiced rum and cold soda. "Ta-da!"
         Miranda held up her cup. "The lady at the hotel—ahem—advised me not to wander the halls at night," she told him as he poured. "What, is she afraid I'll find one of those rooms, and it'll unhinge me somehow?" She laughed. "I'm a trooper. I think my mind could handle it."
         "It isn't your mind they're worried about, Mir. The people that see the un-rooms and tell the tale are the lucky ones—Le Reve has also got a high occurrence of guest disappearances. The stories say the missing ones find the rooms...and they never leave them."
         "Is that true?" Miranda asked in a small voice, and it was Jack's turn to laugh.
         "How would I know? How would anyone know?" The only ones who would..." he shrugged. "They're gone."
         "Huh." Miranda drained her cup, and wiggled it at Jack. "Garçon?"
         "Am I getting tipped for this?" he grumbled, splashing rum into the cup.
         "I don't know..." She giggled, and looked at him sideways with one eye closed. "Yeah, why not. You're cute enough."
         Jack smiled, but his face was serious. "Let me give you a tip. If the front desk told you not to wander at night, then don't. Even if the whole story's just a crock of shit, remember where you are. It's not safe to be alone anywhere at night down here, unless you're locked up safe in your own room with Do Not Disturb hanging from the doorknob."
         "Yeah, yeah, yeah." Miranda clinked her styrofoam cup against Jack's. "To the company of informative strangers. Care to see a lady home?"

         Jack walked her back to Le Reve, and they stopped at the front door. "Thanks for the stories, and for walking me back. For your company."
         "It was my pleasure." He touched her hand. "Can I see you again, while you're here?"
         "I'd like that." She bit her lip, thinking. "I'm going on a ghost-and-vampire walking tour tomorrow night. We could meet up afterwards," she suggested.
         "How about I go with you? That way I can tell you all the things they got wrong afterwards."
         Miranda laughed. "That sounds even better. I'll call the tour guide tomorrow and let her know you're coming, so you can wear a geeky nametag like the rest of us tourists."
         "Oh, rapture," he said sourly.
         "It'll be fun, and you know it. The Royal Cafe, 6 o'clock."
         "AM or PM?"
         "Ha. Like anyone in this lazy-assed city wakes up that early."
         "I did, once, and I'll never do it again." He shuddered. "I saw the sun rise!"
         "Yeah, that's what happens in the morning." She looked at her watch. "Speaking of which, technically, it is morning. I'd better get some shut-eye—I’m too drunk and tired to stay on my feet."
         "Let me come up with you, then," Jack joked. "I promise I'll keep you off your feet."
         "Is that any way to talk to a lady?" Miranda asked, mock-horrified.
         "Absolutely not." He bowed a little and then kissed her cheek, making her blush. "See you tomorrow?"
         "Six o'clock."

         Once inside, Miranda realized how drunk she really was. It was often that way with her—once external stimulation was removed, the symptoms of intoxication increased tenfold.
         She somehow managed to get her room key from the lady at the desk. It was a different one this time, but this one was just as adamant about the whole "straight to your room" thing.
         "Sure, okay. Have a nice night." Miranda crossed to the elevators and called the car to the lobby, tensing herself for the spring—the doors were lightning quick.
         The opposite was true about the car itself, and the trip to the second floor seemed to take hours. She drummed her fingers impatiently on the brass handrail until the car came to a stop.
         After the heavy doors thumped shut behind her, Miranda padded down the hallway towards her room, trailing her fingers along the rose moiré wallpaper between doors. 201, 203, 205, 207, turn, 209, 211, 213, 215, turn. The suites. 217, 219. Stop.
         Yawning, she fumbled the key out of her pocket, looking as she always did to her left at the big window that opened onto the gallerie—and was astonished to see that the window wasn't there. There was a painting where it should have been, showing a pair of Victorian children fretting over an overturned flowerpot. Beside it, where the corridor was supposed to end, there was another left turn, leading to another hallway and more doors.
         "No shit!" Miranda squealed, her heart knocking against her ribs. She took a step towards the hall-that-wasn't-there, and then she stopped. Both desk clerks had warned against wandering. Jack had warned her. But still...
         "When will I ever get the chance to see something like this again?" she whispered, and put her room key back in her pocket.

         Cafe Royal, 5:45 PM. A cluster of sweaty tourists milled around in the tiny coffee shop, senselessly drinking hot cafe au lait and making themselves even sweatier.
         A bell over the door jingled, and Jack entered the shop. He looked around expectantly, his eager smile eventually fading into an expression of wary disappointment.
         He located the tour-operator by her specially marked orange badge. No, they didn't have him on the list. They had a Miranda, but no Jack. No, sorry; nobody had called in to add him to the list.
         At six-fifteen, the tour guide pressed Miranda's name tag into Jack's hand. "I've got to start this thing up," she said. "Give that to Miranda if you see her, will you? She can keep it as a souvenir. Tell her we're sorry she missed the tour."
         "I'll tell her," Jack said. "If I see her."
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