05:32:36 pm on
Monday 11 Dec 2017

His Journey 1
AJ Robinson

The City of Mystery -- part one of a three part series

Stephen stood at the window, looked out over the incredible city spread before him and had no clue how he got there. Chewing his lip, he realized that wasn’t all. Other than his first name, he knew nothing about himself. Slowly, he turned and scanned the place. He was in a hotel room, a truly fabulous one, four-star all the way.

Why am I here? he wondered.

“Mr. Archer, will there be anything else?” a woman said.

He turned more and his chest instantly tightened. The most insanely hot woman in a classic French-maid’s uniform was standing at the door. Well, not exactly classic. Instead of a frilly skirt, hers was form fitting and barely came to mid-thigh! Stephen put his tongue between his teeth and lightly bit down on it. He needed to check to make sure it didn’t have a knot in it. Talking to attractive women had never been easy for him and this one was no exception. She had long legs, milky white skin, fine firm arms and an ample chest.

“Um, I… no, I… think I’m… okay.”

She smiled, a warm friendly smile, her moist red lips parting to reveal her perfect teeth. “Are you sure, sir? If there’s anything you need, any-thing at all, please feel free to ask me. I’m here to please you.”

His mouth instantly went dry. “I… no,” he managed to choke out.

Turning, she sauntered from the room, Stephen’s eyes were unable to tear themselves from her curvaceous figure. Finally, when she was gone, he managed to clear his mind and focus and realized he’d just learned something. His last name was Archer.

Great, so where does that get me? he thought. This is a hotel not an apartment. Am I a businessperson on a trip? Wait, my bags, maybe they’ll give me a clue!

He raced to the bedroom of the suite, looked around, scanned the entire area but found nothing. How could he check into a hotel without a bag? An idea came to him: amnesia. He moved to the bathroom and tried to check out his head in the mirror as best he could. If he’d fallen or gotten hit on the head, it would explain his lack of memories.

He didn’t find anything.

Okay, no help here, he said to himself. Ah, the front desk, maybe they can tell me something.

Stepping into the hallway, which was just as lush and stylish as his room, he zipped down the elevator to the lobby in the fastest ride he’d ever taken. No sooner did the doors close than they opened and he made his way across the vast room. It smelled of roses, his favourite and the plush carpet was soft and giving. For a fancy hotel, it wasn’t very crowded and the members of the staff he encountered were all like the maid: drop-dead gorgeous women. The manager behind the desk, her long red hair cascading across her broad shoulders, smiled at him.

“Yes, Mr. Archer, is there something I can do for you?” she said brightly.

“Um, I… checked in today, right? So I know this may sound weird, but I can’t seem to remember what city this is. Also, how long is my stay?”

Tilting her head, she smiled another warm friendly smile. “Quite all right, sir, we get that all the time. You’re free to stay here as long as you need to.”

“Ah, okay, that’s great, but… I… I seem to be a little… muddled. I can’t even remember anything about myself! Do you have any information on me, on anything about me?”

“All guest files are confidential, sir orders from ‘The Boss.’ There’s nothing to worry about, Stephen, relax, go see the city and enjoy yourself. All will become clear with time.”

He felt his blood pound in his temple. Losing his temper wasn’t something he did often, but he was close to doing it now. “Are you nuts? What is this, some sort of lunatic asylum? I want answers and I want them now or I’ll… um… ah, let’s see, what can I do?”

“Stephen, everything truly is all right and you have all the time in the univ-world. Go, go have fun and let your conscience be your only guide.”

He was rendered mute. He couldn’t believe the woman’s attitude. He felt a very real desire to punch her right in the face, but then there was that word: conscience. His sense of moral code would never allow him to do such a thing. Heaving a sigh, he hung his head and plodded from the desk and sort of made his way toward the front door. To be honest, he wasn’t quite sure and he really didn’t care. He was lost, in more ways than merely geographically and he didn’t know what to do about it.

Movement in front of him caught his eye and he raised his head as the sliding doors opened. He froze.

Hey, I just remembered something about myself, he thought. I don’t often lose my temper! Double hey, I also don’t hit women. Well, I wouldn’t have a problem with giving her a good slap, but I’d probably end up getting my face slapped or even arrested for it.

He headed out onto the sidewalk. The door lady, another beauty in a snug and lovely version of the classic doorman uniform, smiled and offered to call him a taxi. Stephen declined, it seemed as if his memories were slowly coming back and so he thought maybe a walk would further help him. He loved to walk and it would give him a chance to check out the city. Maybe that would rattle his mind a little more. As far as he was concerned, that was the mark of a truly great city: you wanted to walk around in it rather than take a taxi or subway.

His legs buckled for a moment and he almost lost his balance as waves of memories poured over his mind. London, he’d been to London back when he was in college and loved walking around to see the sights. However, he wasn’t English. No, he was born and raised in Boston, had gone to college at UMass out in Amherst and visited England his freshman year. Stephen sighed; it felt good to remember things. Now, if he could just figure out where he was and why he was here, he’d feel even better.

The city was modern, but nondescript. Nothing about it gave a hint as to its name or even location. There were few people walking around, fewer vehicles on the street and the signs were all in English. He didn’t feel hot or cold; the trees along the wide sidewalk were simple oaks and the sky was, for lack of a better word: bland. Stephen froze as he stared into the sky.

Wait a minute, I bet I know what’s going on, he thought. It’s a reality show like that movie, ah… The Truman Show. I’ve been abducted, drugged and then dropped into this weird place and now people are watching me. Wait a minute, maybe I volunteered or I’m getting paid to do it. After all, if I can’t remember how I got here, who’s to say what the deal is? Okay, she said go have fun, I’m going to do that!

He set off at a brisk pace, his eyes playing back and forth across the stores, restaurants and other businesses that lined both sides of the street. Passing a storefront, Stephen’s slowed down as he caught a glimpse of his image in the window. At the next place, an old-fashioned grocery market, he stopped and studied himself in a mirror that hung above a pile of red delicious apples. He liked what he saw: tall, lean, nice oval face with fine features and short black hair. The latter was a bit thin on top.

Oh yeah, male pattern baldness, got it from mom’s side of the family, he said to himself. Hey, another detail clicks into place!

It made him happy to remember still more aspects of his life. Yet, there was something wrong. The image smiling back at him just didn’t seem right. He chewed on the knuckle of his right thumb. It was what he did when he was confused or worried and trying to work something out.

“Can I get you something, sir?” a woman said.

He turned, quite the striking ‘Farmer’s Daughter’ was tending the market. Tall, red lips and rosy cheeks, dazzling blue eyes, golden hair and a voluptuous figure crammed into tight denim overall shorts and a red and white checked crop top blouse.

“Oh, ah, I was just… looking,” he stammered.

She smiled. “Nothing wrong with that. I have some nice melons here. Would you care for a bite of one?”

“Maybe later, I…” his voice trailed off as he searched for something to say and then his eyes fell on the theater next door. “Ah! I want to make the matinee.”

“Certainly, sir. If you need anything afterwards, please feel free.”

He smiled, nodded to her and practically sprinted to the ticket booth. Standing in line, he saw movement out of the corner of his eye and turned his head just in time to see the young lady bend over to grab something. She looked very good in her shorts! It took a full minute for him to tear his eyes away and then he bought a ticket from the lady in the little booth. He didn’t even know what the film was, but he didn’t care. Sitting quietly in the dark would give him time to think.

Moving inside, Stephen smiled, the place was one of those grand old movie palaces and it had obviously been recently restored. The lobby was huge and ornate, plush carpet under foot and crystal chandeliers above. The aroma of freshly made and buttered popcorn got his mouth watering almost instantly. He got a large serving and a drink and took a seat in the auditorium.

The place wasn’t very crowded. He figured that was due to it being a matinee. He was also struck by how large and plush the seats were. Whoever restored the place had done a great job. The lights dimmed and the previews started, which he enjoyed. He always did, but then a cartoon appeared on the screen, a classic ‘Bugs Bunny’ one at that! He hadn’t seen a theater do that in years, but he’d heard it was standard back in the days of classic cinema.

Wow, this really is a fancy old place, he thought.

As it turned out, it was one of his favourites; the one where Bugs and Elmer end up on stage in an opera. Stephen laughed so hard he almost hurt his ribs. Then came the feature: the original ‘King Kong.’ He hadn’t seen it in years, so he sat back, munched his popcorn and enjoyed himself immensely.

Later, slowly shuffling to the exit, he truly chomped on his knuckle. He was now twice as confused and concerned about what was going on. Passing the candy counter, he stopped for a moment and then stepped up to it.

“Can I be of service to you, sir?” the lovely lady behind the counter said.

“Um, I’m curious; do you know how they restored the lost footage to that movie?”

Her brow wrinkled. “I don’t know what you’re referring to, sir.”

“The scene where Kong shakes the men off the log bridge and they fall into the gorge and get eaten by the spiders and crabs.”

“Oh yes, very scary,” she said with a nod. “I cover my eyes during that part.”

“You’re not alone. That was the reaction of the audience at its world premiere. The scene was cut and the footage lost. So, I’m wondering, when was it found?”

“I have no idea, sir. Is there any-thing else you desire?”

“I… ah, no thanks,” he said swallowing hard.

Stephen dashed from the building before he said something that might get his face slapped. He immediately headed across the street and down the sidewalk in the opposite direction from the market. While it was unlikely that the ‘grocery goddess’ was still there, he didn’t want to take any chances. Stephen needed time to think. He was a film buff, had been since he was a kid and that scene had been lost for decades. Not merely lost, but lost without a trace, even a hint of a copy existing. About the only thing more sought after by movie historians was an original print of ‘Greed.’ Now here in this mystery town was there not only a theater showing one of his favourite movies, but it had somehow been fully restored.

He crossed several streets before finally running out of road, it ended at a snug little harbor. Here was something that truly gladdened his heart: the sea. The salt air tickled his nose as he took a deep cleansing breath and then sat on a park bench to enjoy the view. Sailboats sat at the docks and moored out in the water, rocked by the gentle waves, while the occasional gull lazily flapped overhead. Stephen sighed happily at the light summer breeze wafting around him. While he longed to take a boat out, almost nothing else in the world gave him greater joy, it’d been years since he was able to do that.

He sat up straight, the smile vanishing from his lips as an icy stab of fear cut through him. That’s right, it had been years since he went sailing, because he was too old to handle a boat! He positively shivered as still more memories flooded his mind. He’d lived in the Boston area most of his life, retired to Martha’s Vineyard Island after his wife passed away and lived there until…

Until what? he wondered. This is a nice little harbor, but it isn’t on the island. So, where am I and how did I get here?

“Hey there, mister,” a lovely voice said. “You look out of sorts. Why don’t you come along with us? We’re going sailing.”

He turned. A stunning blonde, brunette and redhead, decked out in Daisy Dukes, bikini tops and flip flops were standing at the start of the dock. They had a picnic basket full of food and a case of hard cider, his favourite drink and it was clear they were going on an outing. His blood boiled and he opened his mouth to tell them off, tell them in no uncertain terms that he didn’t want to go anywhere with them and that he didn’t care for the inappropriate tone in her voice.

Stephen was frankly shocked when, “Sure, why not?” came out of his mouth.

He did a classic double take, shook his head and then got up and followed them on down the dock. Three very fine and curvy bottoms swayed hypnotically before him and he followed them gladly to a nice little two-masted boat. It was a ketch; much like his dad’s old boat and he helped the girls untie it and raise the mainsail. He realized why he’d agreed to go with them. The words of the clerk at the hotel resounded in his brain, there was his frustration at not understanding what was going on and a certain degree of resignation and then there was plain old-fashioned curiosity. He wasn’t sure if these were real women, sirens, selkies or maybe even demons, but he just didn’t care.

There was one other reason he did it. Stephen plain loved to sail. The breeze rose and filled the sail. Canvas and ropes snapped, the boat heaved and rolled under them and Steve felt his stress levels drop. He still didn’t know what was going on, but he didn’t care, at least not for a while. This was the effect being out on the water had on him. Geena, the blonde, took the tiller and guided them toward the jetties that guarded the harbor’s entrance. Angelina, the redhead, moved forward to unfurl the jib in preparation for raising it and Scarlett went below to stow the food. She returned a moment later with open bottles of cider for each of them.

“He you go, Steve, enjoy,” she said with a warm smile.

He took one and clicked bottles with her. “Thanks.”

Taking a swig, he sighed happily and sat back and cast his eyes at the waters beyond the jetties. The wind grew stronger, a few whitecaps dotted the waves and they moved out into the open ocean.

“Steve, you want to take control?” Geena said, gesturing at the tiller.

“Love to,” he said with a smile.

She moved off and headed towards the bow to help Angelina and he slid to the stern. He took ahold of the tiller and instantly his stress level dropped further. The slap of the waves against the rudder vibrated into the tiller. It was his connection to the sea. The boom swung out further as the wind picked up. The squeak of the rigging told him the jib was going up. It easily caught the wind, the boat surged forward, cutting into the rolling waves and Steve felt his heart speed up.

Now he felt truly alive. On the water, in control of a boat, wind at his back and sun on his face, these were the things that gave joy to his life and had been sorely missed for a long time.

“All I ask is a tall ship,” he whispered, closing his eyes to relish the aromas of the sea.

“And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,” Scarlett said.

Steve opened his eyes. He hadn’t thought he’s spoken loud enough to be heard.

“And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,” Angelina said.

Geena smiled. “And a gray mist on the sea’s face and a gray dawn breaking.”

He looked at them, the three sat before him in the cockpit and he smiled back.

“I must go down to the seas again,” they said together.

“For the call of the running tide,” Steve said, finishing it. “You girls know poetry and that is one of my favourites. How… convenient.”

“We just wanted to share the moment with you,” Scarlett said. “Aren’t you enjoying yourself?”

“I am,” he said brightly, then heaved a sad sigh. “And I’m not. Nothing in all the world gives me greater pleasure than being out on the water and yet… I’m confused and… troubled by this place. Where am I? What is this town?”

All three smiled broader at him.

“Why should you be troubled?” Geena said. “Isn’t it a nice place?”

“Doesn’t it have all you could ever want?” Angelina added.

“You’re able to enjoy all that life has to offer,” Scarlett said. “What more could you ask for? You say being here is your greatest pleasure, are you sure there isn’t something else you’d like to do?”

Steve sighed again and turned away from them, cast his eyes out across the water and cocked his head as he saw a small island off at the horizon. “Hey, what’s that?” he said, pointing.

“Nothing!” the girls said together.

His head whipped around to glare at them. “Gotcha!”

“Wha-what do you mean?” Geena said slowly.

“You all answered far too fast. So at last I find something to rattle a few cages. Great, now maybe I’ll get some straight answers. We’re going there.”

He heaved the tiller over, the boat turned and the girls jumped to their feet.

“No, Stephen, you can’t,” Angelina said.

“Stop,” Scarlett shouted.

He ducked as the boom swung overhead. It slammed into the girls, they staggered and stumbled and pitched towards the starboard side. Steve turned harder. The boat tilted further and the girls plunged overboard. He turned to check on them as they bobbed to the surface and he ground his teeth in anger.

A dozen boats were already converging on them. One headed for the girls, but most were chasing him!

Huh, just as I thought, he said to himself. They don’t want me to learn their dirty little secret. Well fine, this is what gives life meaning: conflict! “Come and get me,” he shouted.

Spinning around, he sat, heaved the halyard in to maximize his speed and relished the feel of the boat as it knifed through the water. His eyebrows went up. Storm clouds gathered in the sky before him, the sunlight dimmed and the sea grew rough. The wind became stronger and wilder, the mast swayed about and large waves crashed against the hull. His teeth chattered and his arms trembled as the temperature dropped.

“Is that the best you’ve got?” he called into the maelstrom.

He has no idea where he was going, but he was on his way and he was determined to get some straight answers as to what was happening to him.

Click here to read The Island & Tea Party -- part two of a three part series
Click here to read The Island & Tea Party -- part three of a three part series

GrubStreet.ca

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

More by AJ Robinson:
Tell a Friend

Click above to tell a friend about this article.