It took less than half an hour for Tom to make it down to the lobby, looking for breakfast. Against the wall, he found some carafes of coffee and poured himself a cup. Starbucks—not Folgers—and piping hot. Not bad.
He took a brief glance around the room. There were several groupings of big, comfy chairs in muted colors, the two next to the massive, grey tiled fire place looked the most inviting, but what Tom really wanted was food. He wandered around the lobby briefly before remembering that the Kestrel, as well as being a brewery, was the hotel restaurant.
Outside, the sky had lightened enough to show the incoming rain clouds continuing several miles out to sea. The rain was coming down quietly, seeming to muffle and subdue all other sounds, and Tom watched and listened for a while in sullen resignation. What happened to storm watching? At least some sturm und drang would be more interesting than this blah weather. He took a breath, left off sulking, and refilled his cup before returning to his room for his coat.
The Kestrel was much quieter than it had been the last night, only a few people had made it down from the hotel thus far for breakfast. Tom took a table by the windows and ordered an omelet and more coffee. Outside, the tide was out, the waves crashing a good two hundred feet from the tide line. It was a long, flat sandy stretch, and Tom was surprised to see surfers in wetsuits out amongst the waves around the huge hump of a rock. It must have been ten stories high. To the north, the beach ended in towering sand dunes that continued away from the sea and behind the hotel.
Tom watched the surfers and the few beachcombers walking on the wet sand. Pacific City was certainly atmospheric. He still had most of the morning before his seminar, and he’d brought his laptop, and his room had a fireplace and view. With a steady supply of coffee, maybe some bourbon…He could feel something at the back of his mind, something gothic, atmospheric. A little Washington Irving, maybe a dash of Kesey…Maybe he didn’t need to rely on the favors of former students and colleagues. Maybe he could write his way back into a career. Tom took a sip of the dark coffee, grabbed a napkin and a pen, and started to play.
A supernatural tale, a haunting? Maybe a missing person—who goes crazy beforehand. On the Oregon coast. Someone comes to find him, an estranged sibling/cousin or something. One or both loners; eccentric locals: an aging hippy—no, libertarian, some witchcraft, maybe as a red herring. Some pot growers with guns and conspiracy theories.
Weird sounds/dreams/hallucinations. He arrives in the pouring rain, the only place he can find to stay is in a dumpy hotel—once nice, lots of history, past its glor
“Hello, Tom. You’re an early riser,” Lila Bloom said at his elbow.
Tom jumped in surprise. He had been so enjoyed creating this world he had not noticed her come up to his table. He looked up and smiled.
“Good morning, Lila,” he said, and then remembered that he’d agreed to meet her this morning. “Would you like to join me?”
Lila smiled at him and took the seat across from him. She was dressed in jeans and a windbreaker today, her hair pulled back in a low ponytail. Tom thought about his awkwardness the night before and tried to think of something to say that would sound welcoming.
“Coffee’s good.” He caught the eye of the waiter.
“Oh yeah, I know,” she said. The waiter came by and she took a brief moment to order some French toast with the coffee. When the waiter had gone, she turned her eyes back to him.
“Did you sleep alright?” she asked. Her tone was mild, but Tom wondered if her eyes were. He thought about his dream of running on the beach in the storm.
“Um, yeah,” He said, and smiled. “Gotta talk to them about housekeeping, though. There was sand all over my carpet.”
“Really,” Lila said, her brow knitting as she accepted her coffee. “That’s not acceptable. My room was fine, though, I wonder what happened? Have you been to the beach yet? Maybe you tracked it in and simply didn’t notice it.”
“In this weather?” Tom asked, “No way. Maybe when it stops raining.”
“Oh, I just got back,” she said, “Don’t let a little rain stop you. Oregon beaches are so dramatic.”
“No kidding.” He took a bite of omelet and hoped it would hide his lack of enthusiasm.
“What’s that?” Lila asked. Her eyes were on Tom’s napkin. He snatched it up and tucked it in his coat pocket. “Are you writing a story?” Her face broke into a silly grin that belied her forty-eight years.
“Um, probably not, maybe a shor—”
“Oh, how exciting. Do you think this could be your follow up to A Piece of Time?”
“I-I don’t know,” he stammered, “I hadn’t thought about it.” Though, once the idea was in his mind, he could see how he could connect the two, not as a sequel per se, but maybe in the same world…wherever it came from…
“Oh, how exciting!” She clapped her hands in enthusiasm. He couldn’t believe it, the only woman he’d ever seen do that was Amy. Now that he really looked at her, he realized Lila was quite pretty. Her eyes crinkled sweetly with pleasure, “Think of the excitement, the press would go crazy …”
“You think?” he said, catching her excitement, “It’s been so long, do you think anyone would even—”
“Are you kidding me? Forty-two weeks at the top of the bestseller list, it was a phenomenon!” Tom smiled, a flicker of hope he almost dared not entertain flickering into life. He’d thought of Lila as merely a boss to be appeased, but her vision, her enthusiasm showed him how dynamic she could be. She could be like Gala Dalí, a visionary, an ally, a muse.
Her French toast arrived and she cut a bite, saying, “Think of the publicity, what it would do for the retreat!” She popped the piece in her mouth, followed by a sip of coffee and a small moan of contentment.
She was a vampire, a succubus, but Tom did not allow the spark of hope that had come alive to go out. He would protect it from her. He would find his rebirth, he would write his story, and he would protect it from her predations. Maybe, just maybe, he’d found his way back to the place where he wrote that strange bestseller, that seemed to write itself.
If she noticed his change in affect, she did not show it, but she did change the subject.
“So, after lunch, you’re going to have individual appointments with each of the attendees for fifteen minutes, to answer any questions they have and give them any advice that’s pertinent. The schedule is in the materials you got at check-in, and should take you to about four thirty or five. Any questions?” She took another bite of her breakfast and looked at him expectantly. No, appraisingly.
He looked out the window for something else to focus on, but all that offered him was rain, sand, and sea.
“No, it seems pretty straight forward.”
“Good,” she said, giving him an approving smile, “Then there’s only one more thing to clear up.”
“Oh?” He searched for surfers, but found none. Where had they gone?
“I talked to Heidi Marquitz, the head of your department.” she said, and his eyes snapped back to hers. “You failed to mention that you were no longer employed there.” He waited, but she didn’t say anything more.
“What did she say?” He asked, though he already knew. He should’ve gotten up and left when she started talking about the retreat, when everything was good.
“What do you think?” Lila retorted, her eyes going steely, and suddenly Tom knew why she was the director of Liminal Language, and not just a staff writer. “In the middle of a department meeting, you start yelling at her and then storm out of the office.”
“She’s a man-eating predatory bitch who dresses like a fifties sex kitten,” Tom blurted out.
“I see,” Lila said, finishing her coffee without taking her eyes from his face. They were still hard, unreadable. “In that case, why did she fire you, you were still an asset, an excellent teacher and editor. Why would she let you go when you served her purposes so well?”
He looked at her, sitting there, waiting, her face neutral. He did not know what the right answer to this question was. There was no right answer, so Tom did the only thing he could think of. He left. Left Lila, left the Kestrel. Slinging his coat on as he stepped into the parking lot, he was surprised that he didn’t hear her calling after him, and wondered what it meant.
No matter. He had the rest of the morning, a great idea, and it was too late for her to replace him now. This wouldn’t be just a gig, it would be his retreat, too. He’d play around with this idea and come out three weeks later with fifty pages for his agent and a new career. Maybe they’ll have vacuumed up all that sand in the carpet by now.
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Portland Fiction Project
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