[This was a flash fiction challenge – 20 minutes of writing inspired by a photo – and is posted here unedited. Originally posted on my personal blog in October 2014]
Looking down at the throng of people and never-ending stream of cars, the man felt more alone than ever. He had arrived six days earlier, eager to try his hand at the slots and tables but unprepared for the crowds. Noon or midnight, it made no difference, the crowds were there. For the first couple of days, the man was too shocked to do much beyond sleepwalk through the landscape but with each day, he felt more and more pressure. By the fourth day, he was no longer leaving his hotel. By the sixth day, he was no longer leaving his room. At least in his room it was quiet.
The hotel staff tried to clean his room but he was always there, sleeping, or curled into the high-back chair, looking nervously out the window at the throngs of people below. On the ninth day, the hotel manager knocked, then entered the room. The man noticed two security guards in the hall. The manager noticed the stench of leftover room service meals and a distinct undercurrent of stale sweat. At least there was no evidence of drug or alcohol detritus this time.
The manager cleared his throat. “Sir?” he started.
The man slowly shifted his gaze from the guards in the hall to the manager. “Is there a problem with my credit card?” he asked.
“No. However, we are required, sir, to clean the rooms daily and to do that, we do need to ask you to leave the room.”
The man’s gaze turned inward as his eyes lost their focus. “Can’t,” he said, “there’s too many…”
The manager waited for the man to finish his sentence but it soon became clear that was all he was going to say. The man turned back toward the window, hugging his knees to his chest, watching.
The manager cleared his throat, “Sir, I’m sorry it’s come to this, but the hotel will be cancelling the remainder of your stay. Checkout time is 11 am tomorrow.”
The man said nothing. The manager turned, indicated to the security guards that they wouldn’t be needed for now.
At midnight, the man packed his suitcase. He put on clean clothes for the first time in a week, and wrote a note on the hotel stationery. Nights were colder, so he put on his college hoodie before he left the room. In the hotel lobby, he found the little convenience store that sold snacks, decks of cards, small souvenirs, and necessities that travelers sometimes forget to pack like razors and toothpaste. He purchased a small tube of pain medication pills and a soda to wash them down. He swallowed all twelve before leaving the hotel. He hailed a cab.
At 11 am, the manager returned to the man’s room, with security in tow once again. He was surprised to find it empty, though there was a note propped up against the television, held in place with the remote. It said simply, “I finally figured a way out.”
Annoyed, the manager looked around and saw the man’s suitcase beside the bed. He called down to the desk to ask if the man had checked out. Hearing that he hadn’t, he instructed the clerk to run the credit card and do the check out anyway. Everything cleared. He called housekeeping. He instructed them to take any belongings to lost and found but otherwise to treat it as any regular checkout. He advised them to contact maintenance to open the window fully in order to air it out before they could book the room again. He tossed the note into the recycle bin, waved off security again, and returned to his office.
After a year, the man’s belongings were sent to chairity, along with other unclaimed items from the lost and found. Two years after that, hikers found a badly decomposed body wearing a faded college hoodie, just off one of the smaller trails in Sloan Canyon park. On a rock near the body, a single word had been carved into the stone: solitude.