Rain on glass was the first sound he heard. The drops beat an unsteady rhythm, pushed gently by soft gusts of wind. He woke slowly, stretching out in the bed. He unfurled his legs from the foetal position and rolled from his side onto his back. His hands moved apart and out, his arms untangled, fingers stretched apart. He yawned heavily and blinked his eyes open. His mouth tasted strange. The room was in darkness, a pale light attempted to squeeze around the curtains. The man sat up in bed. His mind was empty. He did not know who he was.
His heartbeat quickened. His breathing accelerated. His mind was a sphere of swirling gas. He made a sound from his gaping mouth. A whimper. His jaw moved up and down, the tongue wagged and the breath came, but no words. He scanned the room, but saw only walls.
He threw the covers aside and leapt out of bed. He did not notice he was naked. The carpet was thick and plush. It sprang between his toes as he took the two steps to the window. He gripped the curtains and tore them apart. Daylight screamed into the room, the sky white and blinding, the sun a massive burst of pain as it burned through the rain clouds. He yelped and covered his eyes as the light stabbed into them. A roaring headache erupted in his skull.
The man swayed as he gradually opened his eyes and they adjusted to the light. The room was bathed in a warm glow. Below him, many storeys down, lay a city. A city of green parks and trees, and low narrow streets with buildings of red brick and grey roofs. He did not recognise it. He looked for a building to remind him of where he was. He found nothing. He did not know it.
He turned and looked at the room. He felt the warmth of the new sun on his back through the glass. The rain had stopped. The water on the glass projected tiny fragments of rainbow colour onto the mirror facing the window. The man stood with the light behind him, looking at his reflection. His dark hair was surrounded by a halo, his face was in shadow. His body was a silhouette.
The man walked around the end of the bed toward the mirror. He did not take his eyes off his reflection as his body and face came into focus. He looked at himself. He saw his face but he had no recollection of it. A stranger’s face. He touched his skin and rubbed his eyes before looking again, peering closely, examining the features of this face in front of him.
The eyes were blue, the eyebrows thick above them. The face was solid, not narrow or fat, but strong. The chin was peppered with dark stubble. The nose was short, and had been broken at some point. The man touched the tiny scar at the bridge of the nose. The movement felt familiar. The nose had been re-set expertly after the break before much damage had settled. He smiled at this vague thought. The smile was a surprise, lopsided and a little too wide, revealing strong teeth that had been worked on before. Straightened and capped.
The man’s adam’s apple bobbed as he tried to swallow. His throat, dry and closed, called for water. The air-conditioner unit clicked on and pumped recycled air into the room. The man realised he was in a hotel room. The colour scheme was a jaunty blue and red. The bed was wide, with fine sheets and plump pillows. The walls held paintings of bucolic scenes, calming vistas and delicate meadows. A single armchair sulked in a corner, more for aesthetic reasons than for use. The man looked around but could see no telephone, no television, no media screen, no radio unit. Despite its simple austerity, the sunlight made the room seem warm and cosy. Moving away from his reflection in the mirror, the man padded across the carpet into the bathroom, flicking on the light.
The water was cold and refreshing as he bathed his face and neck. He gulped the water down, feeling it chill and cleanse his dry throat. He looked up at the mirror above the sink and studied his body. It was a toned, lean body, with a thick sheen of solid and well used muscle. He turned slightly and glimpsed scar tissue on his right bicep. It looked like a burn or a scald. The man noticed his torso was covered with other smaller blemishes and marks. The left of his ribcage was speckled with small, round and pale scars. There was a thick pale stripe of puckered scar tissue that stretched six inches across his right hip, the crude stitch marks clearly visible. A welt of hardened scar tissue crept across his right pectoral. The man ran the fingertips of his left hand along it. His stomach fluttered and the muscles of his abdomen tensed. He almost recalled something, fleeting and loud, a flash of light and a starburst of pain…but it fluttered away into nothing.
Looking back into the bedroom, the man glimpsed a small holdall by the side of the bed. He stared at it for a second before lunging out and seizing it. Turning it upside down, he shook its meagre contents onto the bed. He scrambled through the pile of shirts, underwear and socks, emptying the wash-bag and examining all the items. Nothing gave him any hint of memory, no possibility of recall.
He stood in silence. There was a knock at the door.
The man froze. He held his breath. Then he called, in a croaking dry voice: “Who is it?” There was silence. Then a voice, muffled by the door, offered a reply in French.
“Room Service!” it said. The man heard a familiar tone in the voice but he could not identify it.
“What? What Room Service?” He cried in French, suddenly shocked at the loud and deep sonority of his voice.
“Breakfast, Sir” came the response, “As you ordered.”
The man’s mind was a fire of questions and fear. He shouted again:
“Just leave it outside! Thanks!” and he waited. There was no further response. The man dressed rapidly in jeans and a t-shirt from the pile of clothes on the bed. He went to the door and looked through the spy hole that shone a tiny circle of light at him. He saw only a pale corridor on the other side. The owner of the voice had gone. He reached down and turned the handle of the door, and the lock sprang open. He opened the heavy door slowly, and looked down.
Below him, on the carpet, was a tray of food. A fried breakfast of eggs and bacon, toast and coffee. He lifted the tray and, having closed the door, locked it again. He placed the tray on the table by the window and smelt the food. He was not hungry, but he tasted the coffee. The hot liquid soaked his taste-buds and he felt a moment’s rush of pleasure as he swallowed.
The man looked to the side of the tray and saw a travel wallet on the table, lying next to an empty ashtray. Grasping the red leather, the man quickly opened the wallet to reveal money, in several denominations of Pan-American Dollars and Offworld-Euros. And there was a passport. A Canadian Plus-passport. The man sat on the bed, staring at the words on the passport’s cover. Gently he opened the passport and turned to the picture at the rear. There was his face, a sour expression upon it, gazing back at him. The man read the name out loud, his voice soft yet loud in the near silent room. The air conditioning hummed around him.
“My name is Adam Vrayment” he said, and he realised as he spoke that he had added an accent to the surname. Adam stood and walked to the window again. The air-conditioner raised its volume and the air cooled slightly in the room. Adam looked down to the green city far below and his head began to spin; his vision swam and the carpet undulated beneath his feet. Adam’s eyes rolled upwards as his knees buckled and the passport slipped from his fingers. The light cascaded through the window and diffused into yellow and orange as he slumped down to the thick carpet, the deep pile opening like a wet mouth to swallow him whole.
Adam awoke in bed. His mouth tasted of salt and acid. The curtains were closed. He felt across his body and found he was naked. He sprang out of bed and lurched to the window, ripping the flimsy curtains apart. Blazing sunlight sang into the room and danced around him. His eyes stayed open as his pupils shrank.
A parade of huge skyscrapers, hotels and offices marched across the skyline, a metropolis of gigantic glass growth and decadent, thrusting architecture. Heli-Cars buzzed between the towers, Skytrains hurtled on their maglev rails at great speeds taking people across the cityscape. Adam looked down far below to see a maze of tiny streets choked with traffic, people teeming in their millions, Road-Cars and Road-Trucks jostling in the lanes and weaving together in a frenzied rush hour dance.
Adam thrust both hands out, slapped his palms against the glass and his body shook. He banged the thick pane until his palms screamed in protest, but the glass did not move or shake. A wave of sickness rose in his stomach as his legs quivered. The air conditioner behind him clicked on and started its breathing. As Adam lifted his hands from the glass, his fingertips left smeared marks. The swirls and loops of his fingerprints remained on the pane. The light shone through the residue of his touch, illuminating the smears as if they were jumbled hieroglyphs that spoke of his presence in the room.
His heart pounding, Adam whirled around and looked at the hotel room. It had not changed. The leather holdall was there. The pile of clothes was on the floor. The travel wallet was on the table. Adam shivered suddenly as the temperature fell, and he grabbed the travel wallet. The money was there, only it had been joined by English Pounds/Offworld-Sterling and Neo-Malaysian currency. Adam leafed through the money until he found a passport. It was blue. An Australian Plus-passport. Adam turned to the picture identifying the holder. There was his face, clean shaven, with a head of unruly blonde hair, a tanned face, smiling cheekily. Adam read the name next to the picture, then turned and ran to the mirror facing the window. He looked at his hair, blonde and sun-bleached, cut shorter and spiky. His stubble was longer, dark against his blonde hair. He gasped in air and sat on the bed. He faced himself.
“My name is John Porter” he whispered, and closed his eyes. There was a knock at the door. John opened his eyes and his body tensed; he crouched lower. A voice called in Japanese if anyone was awake. John answered in rapid Japanese, asking what they wanted.
“Room Service!” came the reply, in the most formal and polite fashion.
John told the voice to leave it outside and that he was most grateful for the food. The voice called out an appreciative thank-you and was silent. John found and dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, pulled a pair of shoes onto his feet, and took the money and Plus-passport. Stuffing them into the back pocket of the trousers, he looked through the tiny peephole in the door. A blank corridor looked back at him. He turned the handle of the door and the lock sprang open. Easing the door open, John looked down and saw a tray of cereal, green tea and fruit had been placed by the threshold. He stepped over it and eased the door shut behind him.
John looked left and right. The corridor stretched away from him. He looked at the door he had just closed and saw the number upon it. Number nine hundred and eleven. John knew he was a long way up, too far to climb down if he could get outside, so it had to be the stairs or the elevator. He turned left, paused to listen but heard nothing, and walked slowly away from his hotel room. He padded down the hall, past doors identical to his own, with numbers corresponding to each other. At the end of the corridor, John had to take a right turn, past more identical doors. The carpet was a deep blue, the walls were a creamy white and without the adornment of art or windows.
John looked for the door to the stairs or the elevator but could not see any way out. He reached the corridor’s end and turned right again, walking past more sequentially numbered doors. John increased his speed, jogging lightly down the corridor, looking for the elevator, yet unable to see anything except doors with numbers. Concealed lights overhead seemed to fly towards and over him as John hurried onwards. He turned the corner and ran to the next corner, turning right again. Then he slowed down and walked to his hotel door. He looked at the number. Nine hundred and eleven. John sighed and tried the handle. He opened the door and went inside, pausing to reach down and take the tray inside with him. The tea steamed gently as it swilled in the ceramic teapot.
John lay on the bed as the sunlight poured through the window. The fractured light from the glass of the buildings across the skyline made colourful patterns on the walls and mirror of the hotel room. John’s heart slowed and he breathed gently. The air conditioning clicked and hummed a lullaby of dry air. John felt the warmth of the sunlight on his body as he drifted into unconsciousness. The bed enveloped him, cocooning him in security and comfort. The purring of the air vent was like a steel cat on the edge of his sleep.
John could hear someone crying. There was a soft sobbing, a deep breathing in of air and an exhalation of tears and sorrow. He listened for what seemed like forever in his half-asleep state, then awoke with a jolt. He felt the tears on his face, his mouth wide open, the air rushing into his lungs. He had heard himself crying, yet he felt no emotion, and his heart was light and empty. The cause of tears was forgotten and unknown. He felt reborn as the veil of sadness lifted. His crying echoed away into the silence.
John felt the sheets were tight across his body as he lay on his back. His arms were outstretched from his sides and his legs were straight. He realised he was naked within the cool sheets. The light squirmed its way into the darkened room around the closed curtains. John breathed in and out and lay still as his heart began to race once more. He rose from the bed slowly, pulling the covers aside. He stood up, stretched his weary body up and out, hearing the shoulders pop, and the elbows click themselves awake. He grasped the flimsy curtains and slowly pulled them apart.
John squinted into the sunlight as it bounced up like a million needles from the sea far below him. The harbour was full of tiny yachts and huge pleasure cruisers, the buildings high and low, orange and white. A Heli-Car swooped down to a landing pad by the marina; it bumped down onto its tyres and scooted away, its rotors folding back and down to lie flush with the roof. A motor launch purred out across the pure blue sea towards a gigantic ocean liner as it wallowed lazily in the bay. In the deep azure sky, light clouds could not obscure the two crescent moons that were clearly visible despite the powerful sunshine. John closed his eyes, pressed his fingers into the bridge of his nose, feeling the tiny bump of bone beneath the scar. He turned to the table. Opening his eyes he reached down and picked up the travel wallet. Inside, the Pan-American Dollars had been replaced by Offworld-Yen, and the Euros had increased – there was a thick wad of high denomination purple notes, their plastic surfaces warm to the touch. There was also a Plus-passport. A red one.
John sat on the bed and looked at the passport. As his fingers opened and flicked through it, he saw the holo-stamps and glistening plastic visas that filled its pages. He looked at the picture on the identification page and saw himself looking back. He smiled at the severe expression, the lips clamped shut, the frown, and he saw the name and date of birth.
He breathed in and said: “My name is…” and there was a knock at the door.
A voice called out a good morning to him in Italian. His body tensed, his muscles contracted. The air conditioner rattled a song to itself.
“Who is it?” He asked, his voice sounding soft and lyrical in the Italian tongue.
“Room Service” the voice replied.
Outside the window, the sea sparkled. The man sat on the bed, naked and shivering. The air conditioner eased the temperature down and purified the air in the hotel room. The man looked at himself in the mirror and saw his eyes were bloodshot and tired. The scars on his body were pale in the light that bathed the room. The distinguishing marks on his skin, the colour of his hair, his eyes, all were reflected back at him. The sky beyond the glass was a violent, passionate blue. He closed his eyes and sighed. The passport in his fingers felt as heavy as stone.
by Dan Parker