This week’s Free Fiction Friday story from UnWrecked Press is “A Feast at the Manor.”
UPDATE: Now that the free week is over, you can read the rest of this story by downloading an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords. Then you can read it on your laptop, desktop, Kindle, iPad, Nook, iPhone, or whatever device you use to read ebooks.
I wrote this story after a very strange and otherworldly trip to California — LA, of course. What a place. “Feast” was first published at NeverWorlds, February 2002, and it was an Honorable Mention story in the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror vol. 16.
No bugs were harmed in the writing of this story.
A Feast at the Manor
Outside the Manorhouse Hotel, Rob Heying and his big, beautiful wife tried to catch their breath in the desert air. He felt like his lungs were melting into so much taffy, while Melinda simply moaned with each exhalation. The airport taxi motored off, pushing hot air onto them with a foul whiff of exhaust, a cruel imitation of a breeze. The driver of the taxi hadn’t stopped yammering on and on about the Barringer Meteorite Crater–“It’s only ten miles from here!” he’d shouted back at them over the blasting radio and how they had to visit it before they left. Rob just hoped his heart wouldn’t give out and leave his body floundering on the hot sidewalk of the hotel next to his wheezing wife. There wouldn’t be time for sightseeing on this trip.
He looked up at the bright white Manorhouse stretching out in front of him. The ten-story hotel stood in harsh contrast to the flat expanse of desert that surrounded it. Row upon row of double-paned windows looked down at him and his wife, each rectangle of glass boasting its own windowbox filled with cactus and purplish blue desert flowers. Double doors awaited them at the top of ten curved steps.
“You’d think there’d at least be someone here to greet us,” Melinda said, a whine growing in her voice. Rob made himself turn to her with a smile, but she stepped away from him. “There better be AC. We pay all this money, and they can’t even treat us like we matter.”
Rob bent for his bags, filled to bursting with two new pairs of cross-trainers, snacks, workout clothes, and books. He watched his wife make her way up the front stairs of the Manor. His dark-haired love since the day they met at South Dakota State, he still found Melinda and her curves arousing, despite the padding that had been added after ten years and three children. When they’d married, she’d been a size six. Now she cried every time they left Lane Bryant or the plus sections of regular clothing stores. As the years passed, Rob had thought he was helping–in a misery-loves-company kind of way–by gobbling up his meals and clamoring for seconds. He’d let his own weight slip from two-thirty to five pounds shy of the big three double zero.
The thing was, unlike his wife, Rob didn’t mind being big. Big, not fat. He hated that word. As long as there were pants with elastic waists and adjustable seatbelts and floppy shirts that didn’t need to be tucked in, Rob Heying was okay with being big.
Melinda stood wiping sweat from her forehead at the top of the ten stone stairs in front of their home away from home for the next two weeks, waiting for him. He could still feel the stupid grin he’d created for her hanging on his face like paint left out in the sun too long. Inhaling a deep breath of hot Arizona air, he made his way up to the front double doors of the hotel just as a black limousine pulled up behind him.
“Don’t gawk,” he muttered breathlessly to Melinda when he reached her side. He’d seen the California license plates of the limo, and Rob knew of only one person who would drive all this way. The man had such a fear of airplanes that he demanded a limo take him everywhere.
“It’s got to be him,” Melinda said, her puffy hands unconsciously pulling at her shirt and adjusting her hair. “He always comes here before he starts a new movie. He’s such a sweetie when he’s on Rosie.”
“Weren’t you the one dying for the air conditioning two seconds ago?” Rob said. He grabbed at the ornate wooden door, surprised at its heft. “Let’s go on inside, Mindy.”
Cool air streamed onto Rob as reward for pulling open the big door. Inside the hotel, he saw a bustling of concierges, bellhops, and maids, flowing around an occasional slow-moving, oversized guest. A tinkling of piano music carried over the voices and footsteps on the worn marble floor. Before turning back to his starstruck wife, Rob thought he could smell a hint of something sour, like rotting carpet or mildew. He hoped there weren’t any bugs. He got enough of them at work (the software kind) and in his basement at home (the creepy crawling kind).
It’s an old hotel, he thought, remembering the pamphlet he’d read almost a year ago now, before he’d saved up the thirty grand for their two-week “vacation” here. Of course it’s going to smell old. Most of the Manor, the pamphlet said, had been built in southern California just after the turn of the century, then it had been dismantled and moved–in over a hundred large pieces–to southeastern Arizona. The endeavor had taken close to two years. Why they had even wanted to do such a thing, the pamphlet hadn’t explained.
Rob reached behind him for his wife’s thick upper arm.
“He’s coming this way,” she said, her voice growing whiny again. “I’m so embarrassed to be here for this, with someone important like him.”
Here it comes, Rob thought.
Melinda’s voice was equal parts self-pity and disgust. “I’m so fat.”
“Melinda,” he began. He’d stopped telling her she wasn’t fat long ago, after she’d had such a hard time bouncing back after Bobbie was born. She’d argue with him that she was, indeed, very fat. Sure, she wasn’t the slender girl he’d married, but he still loved her. Though it rarely helped his cause to remind her of that at times like these.
Rob grinned with sudden inspiration. “You should feel good that a movie star like him has trouble with his weight, too. Maybe we’ll get to know him better in the next two weeks.”
Melinda didn’t look convinced. “Let’s just check in, okay? Before he sees me. Okay?”
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