Thorsten Nesch

- Storyteller -

11. How to chill and relax while waiting for death – inside the Cloud Hotel

The hotel had its own level reserved solely for restaurants and food vendors. People who couldn't decide where to go, and those reading the menus on the screens clogged the main hallway. Me being one of them.

Most of the meals I had never heard of: ginger beef, steak, salmon, the list went on and on. I decided to close my eyes, turn around my axis, stop and open my eyes, and whatever I'd read first I would order.

The result was roast beef with red cabbage and potatoes at the Warzaw Inn.

I joined the stream of people filing into the restaurant. Barely inside, Chi and Mia spotted me and waved me over. They sat with three others from our shuttle at a big round table, one seat free, mine, I guessed, right next to Mia.

«What a coincidence», Chi said over the head of her daughter who smiled and clapped her hands.

«Yes», I said, «Phew, give me a second, I am starving, I first have to order something», I tried to make eye contact with a server.

«You do that here, we just did», Chi touched the glass screen awake, integrated in the tabletop in front of her.

I imitated her move and sure enough, my screen lit up.

«Do you know what you want?»

«Yes, roast beef with...»

«Just start typing.»

I tapped the letters, and after the fourth word, it auto-completed the dinner of my choice including a cherry dessert yogurt. A red number told me twelve minutes to prepare before it faded to black.

The group had the courtesy not to interrupt my order, I thanked them.

Mia asked me, «Do you want to go with me on the rollercoaster again after dinner?»

Everybody laughed, Chi apologized and explained to her daughter that nobody will go on the rollercoaster with a full tummy.

This had to be one of the bigger restaurants, I estimated two hundred people in here. The air was filled with delicious smells of various foods, the constant mumble of the crowd and the clanking of knives and forks on real porcelain. Servers in green uniforms cut through the lines of customers and swirled around the tables, bringing multiple dinner plates at the same time. Many people chewed in slow motion with their eyes closed, although their dinner plates looked like old paintings with their colourful carrots, broccoli and steaks.

The guy next to me asked, «What did you do so far?»

Mia slid in, «Rollercoaster. It was su...»

Her mom held her arm, and she fell quiet.

I gave her a thumb up, «That is true, the rollercoaster was super awesome! I also went astronauting, and played Justine, in colour!» Mentioning the gun range in front of Mia I found inappropriate, and the plank could get Chi in trouble if Mia would drill her with questions.

«Really, I didn't dare. I did the zip-line.»

«Where is that?»

«Level 8. Right across.»

Mia stood up on her tip toes trying to see the zipline.

«Hmh.» I had no idea what I would do next. Nothing could top the plank. Since Mia didn't pay attention I whispered, «I also walked the plank», and let my fingers skip over the table to take the edge off.

A reaction as if I had pointed out the elephant in the restaurant. Everybody avoided eye contact with me and was suddenly busy with their clothes or with something in their pockets. Was it taboo to talk about that? Nobody mentioned that to me, not the portier, not Jaqueline.

It was Mia who broke the silence of the adults, «How was it?»

She had to have excellent hearing.

«Mia», said Chi.

Now I was at loss, what to do, how to answer. Mia had to know the concept, she must have heard about it, otherwise she wouldn't ask directly.

Chi didn't signal me to shut up. Slowly, ready to abort my sentence upon any sign from anybody, I said, «It was wonderful», and I continued carefully, «It is everything you imagine and more.»

Mia's eyes were in danger, falling out of their sockets.

A server came with our plates, «How are you guys doing here?»

This was a welcome distraction; instantly, dinner became the main focus for everyone. Overly emphatic they answered the simple question of the server who placed the plates in front of everybody, and they stared at their well-arranged platters as if they wanted to dive into it and disappear.

Mia gave in to the hunger of a six-year-old after going on a rollercoaster.

It felt weird using a knife and a fork to eat instead of my spoon. I haven't used knife and fork in a long time. Chewing the beef triggered memories from family dinners and a world so different from now. The meat was juicy, and the potatoes tasted like nothing that came out of the tap at home. This meal was a good choice.

Between two bites, the man on my right whispered to me, «You arrived with us. Wasn't that a little bit early for the plank?!»

That's why everybody reacted the way they did.

«I came with an express package, a family emergency.»

«Respect. Good for you», the man said.

Embracing the meals and the business of using cutlery, our table fell silent. I didn't mind it, I preferred that over any awkward conversation, even the scratching and squeaking of metal over porcelain.

The dinner came with an Italian ice-cream dessert, Mia almost cried, because she had finished her main course, and there was simply no space left in her little body. Chi was talking to a server who promised to bring her dessert to the room. I excused myself.

I didn't want to let Mia down since my interest in entertainment shifted after the sun plank. There had to be more experiences like that in the hotel, not just adrenaline rush-inducing activities or distractions. For more information, I wanted to visit the reception.

After the big meals people were walking slower and talking quieter, the allover excitement level seemed to be more subdued after dinner. With many still sitting in their restaurants and possibly some taking a nap, the hallways emptied and became less hectic.

I caught myself with my hands in my pockets sauntering like a sightseeing tourist through the hotel, not necessarily out for the next adrenaline kick but more for an out-of-body experience like the sun plank, or was it possible for me to do it twice?

: : :

«No», answered Epona behind the desk at the reception.


«I am sorry. Out of respect to the other heroes, we can't make any exceptions. Although we understand the value of the experience, there is simply no time slot left, we are fully booked, well into next week.»

«I see, thank you anyway. I had to ask.»

«I understand, you are not the first. And we are currently waiting for the structural evaluation results regarding the installation of a second plank.»

«That would be fantastic.»

«Yes, we all cross our fingers.»

«And now... what else would you suggest to me?»


There seemed to be no end to her squeezing her chin and looking at the ceiling, so I asked, «What did you tell the others, any suggestions?»

«Oh, the star plank.» She smiled instantly after reading my facial expression correctly, «You have not heard of the star plank, yet?!»


«That I would do, I would do that personally anyway, I mean, the stars! Did you ever see a star?»

«No, never, how would I?»

«Exactly, it's our ace up our sleeve for people like you, who appreciate the sun plank the way you do.»

«Yes... and I... can I?»

She was already swiping over her screen and making wrinkles above her nose, «Let me see what I can do... three days from now...?»

«Sorry, I'll... leave tomorrow.»

«Whoa, it has to be tonight!?»


She glanced at me, «You arrived today.»


«That is soon. Don't you want to enjoy...»

«An emergency, my brother needs part of my brain.»

«I see, I see, I am sorry to hear that. Give me a second here, I check with the...», the end of her sentence went under in her mumble.

She swiped with the fingers of both hands, throwing all rainbow colours as reflections into her face, especially when she zoomed into the schedule. Her index finger pointed first onto her screen, then to me, «Do you have a minute?»


«Excuse me», her thumb signalled me, she'd do a call.

I nodded.

«Hello, it's me, Epona, from the reception, how are you?», she chirped, «Yes... good... yes, I saw that,... hm-hmm... so do you want to go ahead or... I understand... totally... that's what I am here for... yes... I will... and by tomorrow morning you will have your updated schedule in your room... yes, promise... hah, you're joking already, wonderful... good... get better soon, and enjoy your time... thank you, bye», she hung up and smiled at me, «Good news, this client ate too much for dinner and rescheduled his star plank appointment, which was tonight, and now it is yours, what do you say?»

«Fantastic, thank you... Epona, thank you so much.»

«You are very welcome, Arthur. Since you've been to the sun plank, you know the drill and where it is. It is the same plank, but under stars. And your time slot is 11.45 pm, just before midnight.»

My heart jumped, «Thank you, thank you so much.»

«You said that already. You can leave a performance review about me in your room.»

«I will, Epona, I will!»

«You'll see the stars tonight.»

: : :

I appreciated her help, an excellent customer service, and Epona deserved a splendid review. So I went back to my room, for the first time sitting down at my desk in the corner, typing the five-sun review. After I was done, I sent it off and leaned back.

Making other people happy, was her job. By leaving this review, I in return made her happy, and it felt good. There are jobs where you make people happy, because they need your help or you put a smile on a stranger's face. And that felt good—great, actually!

Not in the gym.

Okay, I did some good for the society, but that was a faceless, anonymous appreciation of my existence, I couldn't directly relate to, and in missing this crucial personal link to happiness, I never felt the impact as strong as with this rather tiny gesture: of a good review.

I made other people happy before! Mia, with the rollercoaster ride. And just now I felt the satisfaction that comes with making a child happy, genuinely happy. I never felt that before. Why? Why did I never pursue such an experience? I could have volunteered.

My eyes searched the corners of the room as if I could find the answer there. Over the the bed hang the Dorothy Parker quote, carved in wood:

If wild my breast and sore my pride,

I bask in dreams of suicide,

If cool my heart and high my head

I think 'How lucky are the dead.”

This was the most peaceful room I had ever been to, with no digital picture frames, no demanding notifications, merely one screen, a room oozing a serenity and tranquility only comparable to sparsely furnitured monk's residencies in monasteries, as if the room should ease the visitors in and out of the daily spectacle in the hotel, soothing before going to sleep, and gently leading into the next day, often the last one after a good night sleep before the eternal rest.

I wasn't distracted.

The answer popped into my mind like a bubble-gum bubble bursting in silence. After the rollercoaster, there was so much going on, I couldn't fully take in the positive feeling.

In that way, I might differ from other people, but I could not reflect on the moment with Mia and her happiness while being surrounded by a carnival of stroboscope lights, a barrage of screens and music beats.

Under the clouds, in Lethbridge, I found a different distraction, of course unlike the spectacle up here, a subdued all-enveloping drone of sounds and images, PSAs and notifications, the ubiquitous device constantly reminding you of events, needs, wants and games?

Even my studio used to be a nest of distraction with my digital frames and the big windows letting in the blaring giant flatscreen messages from the facades across the street, bleeding together into a visual cacophony jack hammering away on my mind every day and every night, often following me into my dreams.

A sound, maybe a sigh, left my mouth, I jumped up, turned on my heels and let me fall backward onto my bed. Staring at the ceiling, I realized I had never thought this way. Where did these thoughts come from? As if somebody had rewired my brain. Even these words. Was I going crazy—or did I start to think clearly? Was this a moment of clarity—or insanity?

What if I had a brain tumour? What if I couldn't help Berat? They would crack my skull open, take a look and the surgeon spits onto my grey sponge with a 'We can't use this, that's FUBAR'.

I sat up.

My palms landed on my thighs, and I cleared my throat.

The nerves.

Maybe this is, what Jaqueline was talking about, when you go on your journey, you could hit emotional hurdles, there was a helpline and I was grabbing for my 55, wiped it awake and—held in.

Before I would call, I'd try the hotel again, to put my mind at rest.

: : :

In one of my early childhood memories, when you still could buy sweets, I visited a candy store with my mom. Whenever I remember that day, the distinct smell of concentrated sugar wells up in my nose. The sweets all had the same colour brown, but they came in different shapes: blocks, bars, eggs, bunnies, locomotives and even cars.

I walked up and down the aisle of the store standing in front of the clear containers filled with every kid's dream, imagining the chocolate melting in my mouth. Whenever I chose one kind, I double-checked another shape and doubted my decision. The patience of my mom grew short, she urged me to tell her a bin number and she would get me 25 grams. For the love of chocolate, I couldn't decide myself. At the end it was my mom who thankfully chose the bin. I must have been overwhelmed, numbed by the sheer variety, or too excited maybe.

Now, in the hotel, walking by this circus of entertainment with its attractions, I felt the same, I could not decide. Three times I joined a small line-up but left before it was my turn, because I saw something supposedly more interesting.

Or was it? Were these adrenaline-boost-booths just perfect in itself, but not perfect for me at this very moment?

This place mirrored Lethbridge in a way; down there, the exhaustion from the gym and the constant flood of public service announcements and videos kept me from—thinking, kept me from making up my mind, about pretty much anything. No time to catch my breath, to catch a thought.

An employee must have spotted my troubles, she approached me, «Hi, how are you doing?»

«Well... I simply can't decide what to do next.»

She laughed, «You're not alone, that happens to many up here, especially on this floor. Can I try to help?»

«Thing is, I don't have that much time left.»

«Of course not.»

«No, I mean before the next attraction, just before midnight, the star plank.»

«The star plank!», she raised her eyebrows, «So, you've been already on the sun plank.»


«And it impressed you more than anything else...», she pointed with her 56er at me.

«Oh yeah.»

She scratched her black hair and spoke softely, «And it was decided, you could enjoy the stars, too.»


«Rare. Good for you though!», she checked her device, «That is a great choice, yes, let me see, what else I can do for you, well, I'd say you could squeeze in three hyper excitements or two top-tier attractions or... as plank-enthusiast... one suave level. »

«That sounds already better, structured, I like that.»

«Mh-mmh», she made in an exaggerated way, like a pre-school teacher, «Then let's take it from there. Can I ask you a question?»


«Although I probably know the answer», she said more to herself, «Anyway. What were your top three activities with us so far?»

«The sun plank», shot it out of me.

«That came straight from the heart! Did you do anything else? You must have done other things.»

«Yes, yes, astronaut training...»

«That is exciting!», her smile displayed a small gap between her front teeth.

«Yes it is! And I shot the gun range.»

«A real dare-devil. But not as good as the sun plank?»

«No, by far not!»

«I hear you», she tucked her device back into the holder on the belt, as it turns out, because she gestured a lot while talking.

I named her two more and stayed quiet about the rollercoaster.

She used her fingers as if she was counting. Her fingers bent back ninety degrees, she had small hands, thin fingers, wearing only one silver ring on the thumb, not much wider than a hair, «Correct me if I am wrong, your absolute favourite is the sun-plank, and you chose to plan the other activities around your other choice, the star-plank, that clearly makes you a suave guy, try another suave activity before the star-plank.»

«Suave. I read about it, but the approach didn't really jive with me, I mean, am I not here for an absolute excitement, but...»

«But for some it is the slow excitement, to give it another name. And from what you told me, and the way I read your feelings about the two plank experiences on your face, I am more than sure you would enjoy one nice suave activity. What do you know about that tier, besides the obvious?»

«Not much, I stopped at the description, there are so many other things to do here.»

«I fill you in.»

«Please do.»

«Suave has also subcategories, which are Water, Warmth and Body.»

«Body? I have a body, what should that be?»

She continued with the same matter-of-fact voice of somebody rattling down options and kept bending back her rubber fingers, «Body categories are Wellness, Massage or Sex», she paused shortly and kept going, «Warmth is Sauna, Steam Room and Suntanning, on a bench of course.»

«Of course.»

«And Water is Whirlpool, Swimming and Baths. All the above have further subs. Subcategories.»

Now I was the one laughing, «What... subs... do Baths have? Shower, Bathtub or a Hose?»

She mirrored my joy, «More like Hot Springs,Mineral Bath or Sole Baths.»


«Sole, salt!»


«Yes, but so much salt that you float in the pool.»

I needed a moment, «A pool of salt? I float? I do need to swim.»

«No swimming. You just lie there.»

«I'm not sinking?»

«No. Because of the high content of salt in the water. Plus: very low ambient light around you, and the water is body temperature.»

I tried to imagine that combination.

«If you can't imagine how that feels, try it! Honestly!»

Was that what I wanted?

«I can break down the other categories for you. Sex is...»

«I know what sex is. I mean sex is sex. I had sex, I know sex. I don't know salt... a salt … a sole bath, and no, I can't even imagine», I also felt I was running out of time, «I think I go with the Sole Bath.»

«Sole Bath. You won't regret it, I promise», she fished her device out of the holder on her belt, wiped it awake and turned it around, «I just let them know you are coming, there is a maximum of four allowed in the pool, usually no problem, because... well, people are not like you, everybody going for the adrenaline first, most never look back», she glanced down at her device, «Yes, you are good to go, Level 7 at the very end of the corridor, Arthur.»

«You know my name?»

«Face recognition 0.9», she wiggled her 56.

«I'm impressed.»

: : :

The corridor seemed longer than any other in the hotel, maybe because it was empty. There were doors on both sides with signs on them: Sauna, Steam Room, Roman Baths. Thick carpet covered the hallway, muffling my walk to a quiet swoosh. Even provoking heavier steps didn't work, the stomping was buffered by an elastic surface underneath the fluffy carpet.

I found the Sole Bath door at the very end of the corridor, I tried to open it but the knob didn't turn—by pressing a buzzer beside it the door opened.

Nobody awaited me. I closed the heavy door behind me, built with the solidity of a safe. The only piece of furniture in this miniature lobby was a shoe shelf to my left. One pair waited in there for its owner. I placed my shoes next to them and proceeded through the next door into the dressing room with tiny cabins for personal items. On a silver rack hung a dozen bathing trunks and suits sorted by size. The air was moist, and I smelled the salt already. Four cubbyholes waited to be used, and I also counted four cabins, plus a bench, I guessed in case somebody had to wait to get dressed or undressed.

I chose blue and yellow shorts, entered the first cabin, and got changed. The swimming trunks felt funny on my skin, not as soft as underpants. With my stack of folded clothes, I went back to one of the cubbyholes and placed them in number IV.

At that moment a jingle sounded behind me, and a holographic projection of an androgynous employee appeared.

«Welcome to the Sole Bath, Arthur, a brilliant decision you won't regret. A unique experience made to soothe your soul and fill you with calm and confidence. Just a few tips for the perfect enjoyment: please remain quiet at all times, do not whisper, hum, or, in your case, whistle, also please no splashing or hectic moves in the pool. The water is mostly salt and enriched with a variety of minerals and in total 770 times thicker than air, which makes you float on the water. Depth is 1.30 metres, you can stand everywhere if need be, and the temperature is 35.5 degrees. In case of an emergency, say loud and clear 'Help'. Now enjoy the sole bath. Have a great day, Arthur.»

The projection slowly faded out into thin air.

«Thank you», I said.

: : :

Standing with both feet on the first step in the water, I stopped and lifted my left foot and slowly let it sink back into the water. I didn't feel anything on my feet, it was like I was standing in thick air. The temperature of my skin and the pool were identical.

I proceeded with caution to take in all sensations at the same time, this was as close to physically entering a dream as it could be.

On the walls shaped like a cave, ultra slow multi-coloured projections imitated a retro lava lamp. The red didn't want to let go of the yellow while both were enveloped by blue, which drooped into them the next moment. Dominant was the smell of salt, faintly noticeable, the ambient music.

The pool itself was illuminated from the inside, the colours seemed to have dropped from the cave ceiling into the water. One person laid in the middle of the pool, spread out, merely a silhouette lying on the back, not moving, not aware of me.

Carefully, I took the last step into the pool, avoiding unnecessary waves. Instantly I felt how the water wanted to lift me, carry me. I crouched slightly, and invisible hands pushed my legs up, grabbed my arms and kept me comfortably horizontal. It worked even better when I relaxed my neck muscles and put my head straight, instead of watching my toes bobbing out of the water.

With my ears submerged, the music was clearly audible. The loudspeakers were in the pool; it sounded like an original of the great Max Wuerden.

In seconds, the new world took me over, floating on my mattress of water, music and light, I lost track of time and space, of reality and dream.

Did I move, or the projection? What genius came up with this? Soon these thoughts were drowned by memories: of my brother, of our childhood, our parents, alive and healthy, playing, then to the time when my brother showed the first symptoms, and further to the state he was in now.


Minna. Her eyes, how she looked at me, when we had the hot chocolate, her glance out of the corners of her eyes over the rim of her cup she was drinking from. I bet she would love this, a sole bath, floating on feelings, she struck me as that person. And she probably would look great in a bathing suit.

I caught myself smiling, imagining being in here together with her. My smile froze at what the consequence would mean for her. If we'd be in here together, we both would go soon on our journey. A cramp in my belly.

What was that about? Thinking she could leave the world? Or about my decision? Is this the onset of doubts?

A green streak melted into a prism of red and purple and blue. At some spots on my skin, on my back, my legs and arms, the salt caused a mild burning sensation, areas where I had minor skin irritations, scratches.

Why wasn't there a place like this in Lethbridge, accessible for everyone? Most people would appreciate it, especially after the gym.

I could not possibly be the only one who would enjoy a sole bath once a while. Why wasn't there a place like this hotel in town? Just without the journey, and the sun plank of course, a place, solely there to recalibrate, to rest and enjoy yourself?

This place wasn't impossible. If they could build all this above the clouds, this was possible in Lethbridge, maybe somewhere on the outskirts, in the West, facing the mountains, maybe between the Blackfoot Confederation and the pass, where the millions of abandoned automobiles sat and rot, that would be great. Why not?

Who doesn't like an amusement park? Sure, it would need a lot of energy, but so it does up here. Amazing that the solar roof of the hotel produced that much energy to run this entire place and most of Lethbridge! The men that had come up with the energy trickle-down effect were geniuses.

The top of my head touched the wall of the pool, I gently pushed myself away. With open eyes, I watched the ceiling doing a semi-circle. I kept floating with my arms stretched out, like Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man—with my belly button as centre you could draw a perfect circle around me, the tips of my fingers and my toes touching the ring.

An elevating thought, being part of something bigger, entering the realm of math and the universe. Leonardo da Vinci fascinated me since I heard about him in school, a man in the last millennium who combined not only many talents to perfection, but also displayed—due to his ever-curious mind—a creative, almost playful approach to life and science.

How would he perform today? He was born out of wedlock to a peasant, grew up at his mother's place over his first years. Would he now gotten the education he needed for his talents to shine? Or would he go straight to the gym, well, first the pre-school gym, then primary gym and so on. Were geniuses able to develop their strengths today? Geniuses were different from the rest of us, the average.

My fingertips touched the wall. At least that's what I thought!

When I opened my eyes, they met the eyes of the other man in the pool. He didn't care more than realizing as well that I wasn't the pool wall. With one leg I reached for the bottom and gave myself a slight push, at the same time lifting my head out of the water to check, I didn't bump into anything else. We drifted apart like two astronauts in space, and I was looking at the colourful ceiling again.

Before I rested my head completely in the water and submerged my ears into the music, I heard him say in a soft tone I could have easily overheard or ignored, «This is quite something, isn't it.»

Speaking wasn't welcomed here, but it wasn't me breaking the silence, and there were just the two of us, so I figured, we didn't disturb anybody's peace, and answered, «Yes, yes it is.»

«If I could have had that on earth, I would have enjoyed that every week.»

«Me too, absolutely. I was thinking the same.»


«Yes. On earth, nice way to put it», I said.

We still kept our voices down.

«How would you put it?», he asked back, «Where do you think we are?»

«Not in heaven.»

We laughed quietly, producing ripples on the water.

He spoke first, «No, we are not in heaven, certainly not, but we left earth. Can you agree with that?»


«Not earth, not heaven, what's in between? Do you know the term purgatory?»

«The hotel isn't purgatory, not from what I know about that concept, rather the opposite. Especially this!»

«Maybe purgatory is in us, the agony, waiting around to die, the questions, the doubts.»

Now he got my full attention, we quickly had moved beyond small talk.

I asked him, «Do you have any doubts?»

«Am I human?», he asked back, «Who are you?»

«Arthur, former gym attendee, golden lightning needle.»


«Thank you. What about you?» I kept talking towards the ceiling with my eyes open.

«What about me?»

«What did you do?»

«I kept my sanity.»

«Hah, what an answer.»

«In what a world!»

«What do you mean?», I asked. He didn't tell me his name. What kind of guy is this?

Waves hit me, I had to lift my head. He got up and waded out of the pool.

«Hey, did I say something wrong?» I asked.

«Oh no, no, my time is over.»

«We're alone, I am sure you can stay longer.»

He stopped on the stairs and turned around to me, mostly a silhouette again, with some muted colours of light wandering over him. Water dripped from him back into the pool. «No, I can't. I mean my time is over, my inner purgatory. I have my appointment now.»

«Oh. Well, then... Have a great journey.»

«Thank you, Arthur, you too.»

And with that, he continued to the door, his wet feet smacking over the tiles.

«What is your name?» I asked.

«What does it matter.»

Before I could respond to that, he had left the pool, and the door closed behind him.

It was quiet again, except from the muffled sound of the underwater music around me. I was standing in the middle of the pool, the water to my chest. The multicoloured walls and the surrounding ceiling, it looked like somebody trapped a rainbow in here, and the rainbow wanted to get out.

: : :

I pulled the door close, once again I stood on the plank, this time in darkness wearing a winter parka zipped up to my nose, no shades, the hoodie snug and tight. Teya was still working, she didn't seem to be surprised to see me a second time, and if, she hid it pretty well behind her professional facade of friendliness and inebriated boredom.

My hand slid from the doorknob, and I spun around to face the night. And the night faced me.

Brightly shone the half moon to my left, almost to good to be true, I squinted since I suspected it being a projection of some kind, but I couldn't detect any pixilation on its fringes. The ocean of clouds appeared more defined at night than during the harsh light of the day, calming, magnificent.

Slowly I motioned to the end of the plank, my head tilted back, with a million stars above following me. I paid attention to when to stop. The air was crisp and clear, a few degrees too cold, but it didn't dampen the experience. The stars sparkled like the eyes of Minna.

Where did this thought come from?

Thousands of stars formed her face, I closed my eyes and opened them again. I didn't see her anymore, but I felt a tiny electric jolt in my stomach. Yes, maybe I felt something for her, there was no denial, yet, we met too late, and even if we would have met earlier, at no point in my life was I in a position to offer anything of value to a possible partner—I have seen that with Fadila. It would have never happened anyway. She merely has a dedicated volunteer interest in me.

My neck hurt from looking up. For a moment, I inspected the plank and laid down, intending to take in the firmament in a relaxed position for the rest of my time. The very second I stretched out flat I wanted to lie there forever, sleep under the night sky, its stars and dreams and visions.

From the left a string of stars, dozens of them, crawled across the firmament, another chain appeared further north.

«Arthur, please get up!», the loudspeaker voice of the Teya sliced through the air.


«Why?», I hollered towards the two star-caravans aimlessly ambling through the night.

«Not allowed.»

«Why? I am safe.»

«Get up!»

«I am not jumping, I promise.»

«Get up now. Last warning.»

She sounded stern, and the warning rang like she would send the security. I rolled over and went into a crouched position, my arms resting on my knees, my hands holding my face. I should have brought her another drink.

Before I ended my deep breath of fresh air I heard her again, «Stand up, Arthur, all the way, now.»

I jumped up and spun around, stretching my arms out, «What? Why? Can't I just relax?»

I stared at the door as if I could look through it and into her face.

«It is the rule.»

«Who cares if I stand or sit or... ?»

«You are wasting your time.»

At this point, the indifference in her voice bothered me more than anything else. She clearly didn't care, although she should know this experience best.

«Two more minutes, Arthur.»

My arms flopped back down against my body, and I did another 180. «Not fair» I whispered to the brightest star.

One star suddenly sped up, leaving a trail of light behind and then disappeared entirely.

What was that? Was that a glitch. A glitch in a projection? Was the entire night sky an illusion, like so many things in Letbridge? Not real? Maybe they blew some cold oxygen into my face to make it feel more real.

But it felt real, the beauty, the cosmic harmony. All in my imagination? Then, what was that evaporating star about? I have seen what I've seen!

Behind me, the siren signalled me to come back.

Teya would get an ear full from me. On my way I mumbled, «I want to see your facade derail», that snob, yes, a snob she was.

The door opened from the inside, I flung back the hoodie and zipped my parka open, took a deep breath for my verbal barrage—and deflated my lungs, when I saw the two security muscles waiting on her side.

Behind me, the door shut. Wordless she took my parka. Silently the two men eyed me up.

I said nothing, neither did they, and the three let me leave without a word.

: : :

My mind was all over the place. The people in the hallways and on the stairs might have been holographs, I would have not noticed. I didn't want to meet anybody, I didn't want to talk to anybody, and the least I was interested in what they were doing, my mind was busy processing what happened to me. I wasn't in the mood for more entertainment; entertainment the way they wanted it, not the way I wanted to enjoy the star plank. What could they possibly have against lying on the plank? No imminent danger to anyone, if anything, it was safer than standing.

The agency had promised total satisfaction, and that was simply not the case, I felt cheated. Even the quality of their equipment was questionable, a star had made a funky move, then disappeared, it didn't even simply dissolve, turning itself off, no, with the trail of light it drew attention to itself and away from the allover experience.

I wonder if that counted even as a proper star plank visit. Customer satisfaction guaranteed, they promised. For customer service Teya called the wrestlers. This was complaint territory. I would file a complaint, and today I would leave a review or two about this place!

I had to break my stride in the middle of the hallway toward my room, a server elegantly blocked my path with a tray of cocktails, «Hello sir, have you tried our fantastic Jelly Chocolate Bombs with a hint of mint, or...»

«No, thank you.», I interrupted his nasal staccato voice. There was no way, he could breathe without his mouth open.

My attempt to shimmy by, he thwarted with a smile.

«Or our Hotel Craft Draft Beer, 5.8%, on the hoppy side with...»

«No, I don't want to have a drink.»

«Sir, you seem stressed. A glass of alcohol would help. Or can I offer you some edibles? Indica? May I...»

«You may go out of my way!»

For a moment his professional facade broke, the eyes gave it way, it's like somebody shuts off the lights behind the retina or like an electric outage, the darkness, a flicker of truth, and I felt I became a professional in detecting it.

«No reason to react so aggressively, sir, I merely asked you if you'd like to enjoy one of our complementaries.»

I forced myself to smile, so wide I could only hiss through my teeth, «And I merely said: no, thank you.»


«Or did I not?»


«Yes or no?»

Again that flicker of darkness.

«Of course you are right, sir, the customer is king, but let me assure you, please contact us if you like to enjoy our room service at any time.»

My back scraped over the wall while I squeezed by him and his tray, «Will do.»

: : :

«Oil, I will do», I kicked off my shoes, flung them against the wall, and plopped onto my bed.

By crossing my arms behind my head, the star plank kept my mind busy. Lying, like this, under the sun or the stars, that's how simple happiness was for me, but no, no, I couldn't have it, not in Lethbridge, not here. The agency claimed they would fulfill all my wishes. That's a pretty straightforward promise. Although there'd be rational limits to it, this wasn't one of them.

I sat up and hammered my hand into the bedding. Then I grabbed my device and moved with my back against the wall until I sat upright.

First, I wanted to write Rastan about it, vent my frustration, my anger. After I spilled my guts, I hit the send button, and an error message popped up. «You're kidding me.»

Alone picturing him reading my text comforted me while writing the words, now that feeling evaporated, too. Was it my 55 or the connection?

I could have stepped out of my room and flagged down the server, but I didn't want to speak to him again. So I called the info line displayed on a sign on the door together with the fire escape route.

The nasal voice on the other end turned out to be exactly that of my server in the hallway, «How may I help?»

Here we go. I skipped the formalities, «I wanted to write a friend, but I got an error message.»

«What level?»

«What do you mean, what level?»

«Is he on this level or...»

«No, not here in the hotel! Down in Lethbridge», I had to smile when I thought of it.

«A friend in Lethbridge?»


«That does not work. No lethnet, only hotelnet. No contact from the hotel possible.»

He confirmed my assumption, «What? Nobody told me.»

«They should. Did you ask?»

«No, why would I?»

«So you would know now.»

«I did not know, I should have asked the question! How would I come up with that question if I don't know this could be an issue! Is that at all legal?»

«You read the contract before signing?»

«No, it had to go fast, and I trusted my counselor.»

«Well, you should always read everything you sign. You signed the contract, and it specifically says so on page 37, paragraph 153, section 9, sentence 3.»


«Or maybe somebody told you and you forgot?!»

That, of course, was always a possibility.

I ended the call, immediately opening the review page on the hotel portal. There was no way I could fall asleep tonight without venting my frustration about the lack of customer service and my experiences on the star plank.

After my review disappeared four times, my statement went finally through, and as it showed up as the most recent one, I felt it reinstated some justice.

For a second, I contemplated writing another one about the server, but when it came down to it, all he did was his job, and complaining about his congested sinuses seemed inappropriate.

I laid my device on the table next to the bed, dimmed the light and listened to the hum of the air conditioner.

Tomorrow was my big day.

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