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 urban fantasy — futurism, no expectations, just jump in!
Lar
 Posted: Jul 22 2015, 06:51 PM
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If he'd been born yesterday, maybe Keaton would have come to the city with sparkling skyscraper dreams. There's that spark of futurism buried in his soul, the little boy who marvels at the amtrack when it rumbles through town and pictures glassy malls where the old houses stand. In another world he could've been a visionary—but instead he's a bum down on his luck, watching the last of the suburbs whiz by the windows.

When he splashes down in the city lights, it's like outer space. Every overpass is an observatory where the stars are fluorescent and neon, where the constellations move. Every surface is cold and hard—train station tiles and cement sidewalks. The people are cold and hard. Keaton is too; mostly cold. The winter nips through his hoodie and chaps his hands.

There is no welcoming committee, unless he counts the rack of tourist pamphlets in the train station. So he wanders down wide avenues, carrying his every worldly possession over his shoulder—and when the roads narrow and crack, where the potholes nearly touch each other, he finds a Roadway Inn. It looks like shit, like it would be an old man with a cane and an alcohol problem. It looks like Keaton will in twenty years, if he makes it there.

There is a bell on the door and a cluster of people in the lobby—residents, he guesses. Prostitutes and meth heads, probably. Of course there's no one behind the desk to check people in, just a little service bell. Keaton doubts it'll make a difference, but all the same he cuts the line to tap the bell a few more times.
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abbey
 Posted: Jul 23 2015, 07:52 AM
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The Rodeway Inn is where you go when you're hungry. Or tired, or A and then B. The blue lit-up sign on the highway is like a familiar doormat: lay your key here, wipe your feet, come in. You don't go for the sparkles, the revelations, for smudge-free windows and perfectly see-through glass, or for walls painted anything other than buttery yellow on the outside and white on the inside.

The lobby is small, but the two or three temporary guests (not including Keaton) make it look bigger. Front desk is empty. A guestbook is open on a mostly blank page; someone has scrawled a number (emergency?) in the bottom-right corner.

HOW WOULD YOU RATE YOUR STAY? asks the guestbook, with Wingdings smiley faces numbered 1 to 5. The last face is the happiest, but it doesn't look as happy as a five.

Surprisingly, the bell works fine. A bright li'l ding! inflates the air, and a nodding guest sits up from sagging into his windbreaker.

It takes a few seconds before Atlas is summoned from the backroom. Suddenly the front desk isn't so empty. He steps up to it, leaning on it with his palms over the edges, the muscle bunching casually in his tattooed forearms. A yellow (matches the walls) flannel shirt is open over his wifebeater, and the white cotton deepens the Caribbean brown of his skin. Clothes that look recently slept-in. The first thing is, the guy is fucking huge. The second is he owns the place. He looks at Keaton with all the interest of an uninvolved third party, but what he says is nice enough.

"How can I help?"
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Lar
 Posted: Jul 23 2015, 07:02 PM
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Atlas is a big man, who gives Keaton the impression of a little candle flame sputtering in the darkness: warm, but only for those closest; a brightness so overwhelmed as to be insignificant. And real, less artificial than the machinations of the city, the carefully encapsulated 'personality' of the Rodeway Inn.

"A room, please. Cheapest you've got." Keaton's voice is as gruff as his face, but musical in the way of a taught guitar string. "Less information you need from me the better, get it?"

From his back pocket he produces a wallet, whose papery leather all but flakes away when he touches it. Keaton thumbs free a dog-eared fifty and pins it on the counter beneath one yellowed fingertip.

"For you, if you've never seen me before, eh?"
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abbey
 Posted: Jul 24 2015, 12:08 AM
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Atlas is flesh and blood, if that needs saying. He's built of something solid, unlike the cheap wood of the desk, which creaks under his weight. He is colourful, a watercolour bleeding at the edges. The tattoos aren't black, but blue ink. They kaleidoscope over his knuckles, his wrists and up his arms, until they disappear into rolled-up sleeves. One side of his dark hair is shorn closer to the skull, as if for surgery; the blue pervades there too. He doesn't look like the owner of an inn. Doesn't fit in with the décor.

But he is, and he takes Keaton's money just as happily. The fifty is slid between his fingers and pocketed. He doesn't give any change. "Sixty-five'll get you room service." No hint of a joke in his voice.

The other guests blink and stir at Keaton's request, like a school of disturbed fish in the presence of a fin. Then they all pretend in unison not to have heard. It's either courtesy or caution.

The cheapest is a corner room on the third storey of the three-storey building. It looks out onto the highway, which is busy enough at night that the lights of passing cars shine through the slats of the blinds. There is a dizzying quality to the room, although it's not that high up. It seems to slant. The concrete stairs up to the door feel like they might blink into nothingness. Standing in the room makes the feeling abate.

"Ain't afraid of heights?" Atlas leans in the doorway. Bad habit, that. He holds out the room key.
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Lar
 Posted: Jul 24 2015, 03:06 AM
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For a second, Keaton traces the blue-ink tattoos with his eyes, following where they weave in and out of clothes. It is a small hypnosis, a waking trance, and he takes a moment to come back to himself—when he does, he smiles ruefully, which brightens his face enormously. Maybe there is light in Keaton after all.

"Nice ink," he mutters, thumbing out another twenty from his wallet.

And then the smile is lost and forgotten like a hundred yesterdays, and the hard edge comes back to his eye.

"Room service any good, or are you fleecing me?" Keaton's eyes meet Atlas', measuring; warning. All the same he lays the twenty out on the desk and gestures that the other man should keep the change. What's five dollars against enormous debts—what's a spark of life in the river Styx?

The room Atlas leads him to is dizzying in a way that some of the clients probably prefer. Keaton would do drugs in here and watch the walls warp and breathe, if he were the type. A bed is a bed though, and the room is comparatively clean for its kind, so he plops his backpack onto the bed and turns back to Atlas, reaching for the outstretched key.

"Not afraid of much," he says pointedly. "Bring me whatever's good to eat. I'm starved."
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abbey
 Posted: Jul 24 2015, 08:10 AM
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It's good when Keaton smiles, good to know he isn't all sleeplessness and hate under his skin. Even if it is a fallow smile.

"Thanks." The twenty is pocketed too, but Atlas does reach for change that time, raising a split and scarred eyebrow when Keaton indicates he shouldn't bother. His hands still, and the muscle goes tight in one, like he might hit Keaton right here in the lobby for the extra kindness, or maybe the question about room service. "It's good," he says.

There is no sign of staff upstairs, other than a locked supply closet in the corridor. Atlas has the key to it, along with a few others on the keyring on his belt. Those are silver, room keys are bronze. He drops the right key into Keaton's palm (#63), turns, and leaves with a quasi-annoyed grunt. Inside, the room is quiet. A ceiling fan has gathered a week's worth of dust, so pulling the cord is less inviting. The window is shut behind the blinds. The sheets on the bed are new, white, nondescript. Someone hasn't returned the room's copy of the Holy Bible to its drawer. It sits open by a lampshade.

Atlas comes back with whatever's good to eat. A hot bowl of it, steaming on a plastic tray, sending scent-plumes of orange and spice spiralling up towards the ceiling. "It's gumbo. I make it myself." The meat in the gumbo is assorted, a mystery. If the bread is store-bought, it has a pretty good, brown crust on it. Keaton gets his choice of water and black tea. Those are the positives.
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Lar
 Posted: Jul 26 2015, 12:23 PM
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Keaton pockets the bronze key, surprised by the real weight of metal in his palm. Nearly everywhere has the plastic keycards these days, the ones that remind you that you are merely purchasing hospitality when you run them through the reader in the door; the ones that make Keaton acutely aware that he is not home.

He is never home.

Room #63—he finds that he doesn't like the number any more than he likes the unsteady journey up the stairs—is exactly what Keaton is accustomed to, and for a moment he is irked that the bronze key is only a bronze key. In the time Atlas is gone, Keaton throws open the window so the passing rumble of traffic fills the small room, and takes advantage of the tiny yellowing bathroom. His bag is still packed when the other man returns with food, the scent of which colors the air. Again there is a smile that flickers so briefly over Keaton's face.

"'its good," he remarks, perched hawklike on the edge of the bed, mouth full of gumbo. The flimsy chair at the flimsy desk sits empty, almost a welcome for Atlas to sit a while if he'd care to.

"You get a lot of people passing through here?"
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abbey
 Posted: Jul 26 2015, 08:50 PM
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There is magic in the real. More and more, with how fake the world has gotten. To say that illusion is the real magic is like saying that mutton is still a sheep: one lives, while the other is a dead thing.

Sitting in the chair would be presumptuous, just like asking questions when Keaton has tipped him not to. So Atlas stands, having retreated to the doorway, one shoulder wedged against the frame and his arms folded across his chest. He nods when his cooking is complimented. Yes, it's good. He said it was.

"Comers and goers." He shrugs. "People who aren't sure where they're getting to, only that they want to be gone. You know where you're going?"
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Lar
 Posted: Aug 2 2015, 07:05 PM
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Keaton hums noncommittally, acknowledging. Comers and goers are better than the lingerers and loiterers with whom he's shared many a motel in these past several weeks. The community that blooms in places like this is akin to mold: colorful, toxic.

"Don't we all want to be gone?" he asks. "Man is made to wander."

There is a primal urge to go and to seek and to find, even now that the secrets of the world are scarcer—when science has cast the bones of the world to display in museums, to toy with how they see fit.

"Except you, I'd guess," Keaton remarks ruefully, and this time a smile blooms for real on his face, stiff and little-used. "You've got something here to hold onto anyway." However little a thing it is—the motel or the gumbo or the family he presumes Atlas has—something must keep him here, day in and day out. Keaton can't imagine that stability anymore.

As it is, he doesn't know where the path leads next, nor when he'll leave the Rodeway.

"Not sure. Y'have a computer here? I've gotta look some things up."
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abbey
 Posted: Aug 5 2015, 04:40 AM
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They say if you love something let it go, and if it comes back to you it's yours to keep. It seems to be that way with Keaton's smile. Keeps coming back in spite of itself.

"Man is," Atlas says. He nods again. It could be that he's just agreeing with Keaton. Is there some kind of emphasis on man? Probably not. It's late, and man is prone to imagining.

The Rodeway doesn't get too many philosophers. Atlas shifts in the doorway, and it's unclear if he isn't comfortable being philosophical or if there is no one to cover for him at front desk. "I don't always stay in one place, if that's what you mean." He shrugs, by way of explanation. The flannel peels back for a moment and the tattoos move viciously over one shoulder. "You sleep, you wake up, and everything's different. The world ain't what you remember sleeping on. That's why you come here."

He looks harder at Keaton. "To motels," he clarifies.

"Only computer's downstairs. Wi-fi upstairs. You want the password?"
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Lar
 Posted: Aug 17 2015, 06:19 PM
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If he hears the emphasis on 'man', Keaton only attributes it to being a slight against women—maybe one he agrees with, since he hums faintly in agreement. Keaton has known women; women have known him. All the same, he travels on his own and they stand like signposts marking the cities where he's been. Human nature, he suspects.

Keaton makes a rough sound, maybe a laugh lost in the last spoonful of gumbo.

"Not the motels I've been to," he says. "They're all the same."

Then, eyes travelling up and down the length of Atlas' broad frame, he adds, "Most of 'em, anyway."

He sets his bowl aside and stands, small in the other man's presence. The front desk needs tending and Atlas itches to go, but Keaton steps out into the hallway alongside him and locks the door. That little key in his hand still niggles at him until he tucks it away in the pocket of his hoodie.

"Better let you get back to work, yeah?" he mutters. "Password would be great."

And then, as if it's a word in a foreign language:

"Thanks."
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abbey
 Posted: Aug 21 2015, 09:06 AM
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"You're welcome."

Gratitude is the same language. Atlas wears it easily, like just another soft flannel shirt dug up from the black depths of a drawer and smoothed to be mostly wrinkle-free. He pays attention to how Keaton looks at him. The lingering up-and-down is interesting. What's Keaton really grateful for?

As it turns out, the wi-fi password is: Rodeway99.

Atlas gives it to him on a curled slip of yellow notepaper, lined and torn straight from some greater notepad or book, no bigger than the space required for the letters. That's the last filled request before they part ways for the night, with Atlas off to tend the front desk and Keaton possibly disposing of one or more bodies in the trunk of his car.

Hey, Atlas doesn't ask questions. Shifty people and shifty places have a habit of... shifting.

For example, when Keaton goes to sleep in the Rodeway Inn, he wakes up himself. But different. The sheets are crisper. The yellowing walls are less yellowing and they're also painted white brick, where before they were drywall.

Even the view has changed. Outside, the hills are green and rolling.
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Lar
 Posted: Aug 21 2015, 10:10 AM
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Keaton is grateful for the hospitality: the little yellow slip of paper that marks his future like the slip from a fortune-telling machine; the bronze key; the gumbo. He hasn't known these things in who-can-say-how-long. The reality of the years would warp minds.

He spends a little time at the ancient computer, pecking at the keys, and then retires to his room where he showers and hand-washes his clothes and goes to bed in a ragged tee.

-

When he awakens, the rough blankets are a bit softer, the room smells a bit fresher. Birds chirp gaily outside, accompanied by the rasp of cicadas, and a grass-scented breeze winds in through the open window. In the daze of morning, buried as he is beneath the blankets, it is a while before Keaton notices the change.

His hands find the white-painted brick, the white-painted windowsill; he blinks blearily out at the landscape, hills rolling off into the distance, green and gold under the dazzling sun.

Keaton swears.

-

His jeans are still damp when he arrives at the counter and slams his hand on the little bell at the counter—in a lobby that is now quiet as the grave and nicely wallpapered.
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abbey
 Posted: Sep 5 2015, 09:20 AM
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Keaton's room smells like fresh linen. Downstairs—down glorious brick stairs that are bracketed in the side of an old-fashioned inn, and in no danger of falling down, with the moors tearing away in all directions and the sheep baaing sedately—the lobby smells of potpourri.

The bell is unchanged. Brass, small, dinging brightly.

A cross-stitching on the wall shouts in bassinet pink, daffodil yellow, and robin's egg blue thread: HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS. Next to it, a pair of ducks are painted floating on a pond.

Atlas emerges from the backroom, ducking his head to avoid hitting it on the new brick archway. He's in a knitted sweater and a collared shirt. The collar peeking up over the knit is flannel. Yellow, the same shirt from last night. His expression says nothing is out of the ordinary.

"Good morning," he says.
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Lar
 Posted: Sep 7 2015, 05:12 PM
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"Where the hell are we?"

No good morning, no fleeting smile—only Keaton leaning over the counter, hands turning white from the pressure. Atlas is unperturbed by the sudden change, the lack of cold modernity. Keaton is all the more angry for it.

"You knew this—" he gestures at the lobby, at the view outside, "was going to happen? I have places I need to be, you—"

Son of a bitch, Keaton thinks, but he remembers last night's gumbo and bites his tongue. He turns to pace the lobby like a caged tiger, grinding his teeth the whole way.

"Where—" he demands, and then bites his tongue a second more. On the third attempt, Keaton's voice comes out more level.

"Where are we? And why? And how?"
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