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Fiction #460
(published November 12, 2009)
A Comparative Review of Two Michigan Hotels
(an unpublished and unexpurgated 2009 article from Great Lake Travel Companion, a quarterly magazine)
by Will Bernardara, Jr.
The Hampton Inn is situated in downtown Dearborn. I arrived there on March 24, 2009, and departed on March 25, 2009. The "guest room" (twin beds) ran me $105.30. I stayed in room 222.

The Drury Inn & Suites is located in Troy's business sector. I checked in on a washed-out Tuesday morning (March 31, 2009) and checked out Wednesday (April 1, 2009). My room (one queen bed) was designated "deluxe smoking" and cost $109.99. I stayed in room 424.

A brief, idiosyncratic aside (and my apologies to the reader for this perhaps unprofessional digression): There is something indistinctly sinister about the numerals 222 and 424. My journalistic skills of clarifying fail me here. They're all even numbers. Four is divisible by two. Two plus two is four. Four minus two is two.

Am I peculiar for seeing—mistakenly seeing?—some sort of sneaky, threatening code in these digits? These numbers strike me as too sure of themselves—as horribly confident as death or disease.

You'll find the Hampton Inn at 20061 Michigan Avenue. (And if you stumble upon my mind there, please return it.) The hotel looks like a toy version of a U.S. embassy. It overlooks (do hotels have eyeballs?) an uncharacteristically depopulated stretch of Michigan Ave.—nothing but road bisected by a median of boring trees. This area is a kind of nightmarish midpoint between east and west downtown Dearborn. It's a horrid locale: The guest will feel distant regardless of Wi-Fi, as if he or she was in the city and has mercilessly been plunked down in the Black Forest; faraway, like you paid to star in some lost episode of Outer Limits. There is a sense that no one will hear you scream in the Hampton. There is also a sense that knives have been used in the parking lot and behind the hotel for sadistic recreation. Hampton's brick-uterus-like quality of isolation is a pro or a con depending on whether you're a lonely hotel reviewer for a modest quarterly or a felon on the lam fishing for a secluded place to get your blade wet.

Drive down W. Big Beaver Road until you reach 575. (For the record, this number is not ominous.) You've come to the Drury Inn & Suites in Michigan's so-called "city of tomorrow." As anyone who's ever been there knows, Troy is a desolate wastescape of faceless corporate structures and soul-smashing shopping plazas. Much like the Hampton—but, paradoxically, for the opposite reason—the Drury feels detached, insular. Whereas the Hampton is remote even in the center of a city, the Drury is smack-gob in the concrete heart of busy Troy, and therefore seems dwarfed by the mess of office monoliths pointing heavenward like gun barrels aimed at God.

A stay at the Drury offers a free "HOT! QUIKSTART" breakfast. There are these contraptions that look like metal clams for making your own fresh Belgian waffles. I've not investigated this but it would appear to be a serious insurance risk (if not outright criminal) to allow guests to operate the archaic waffle-producing apparatuses without proper training. A hand could be crushed and ironed. Flesh is not pancake batter. Do you want waffle pockets cut into you? And what of shock or fire hazards? This is when I first began to suspect that the Drury wasn't a hotel at all, but some bloodthirsty playground; booby-trapped, lethal, and, most frightening of all, mindless.

The Drury boasts free wireless internet as if this hasn't become customary. Several of the hotel staff had razors for smiles and pupils that twinkled with cruelty and dementia. The guests seemed as oblivious to this as clay pigeons.

The lobby allegedly offers free popcorn and soda, though I never spotted a single kernel or carbonation bubble. I did, however, drag myself to endure the "Evening Beverage Reception," if only because I knew my editor would inquire about the quality of the hot wings. My drink ticket (free with the room) got me a rum and Coke and a Corona in a plastic cup. I used the complimentary beverages to wash down a paper boat of nachos, four 30 mg Vyvanse capsules (they were orange and white like little cartoon tigers and equally as feisty-vicious), a baked potato, two 1 mg Xanax tablets (they looked like tiny pastel-blue coffins), an egg roll, and perhaps some 50 mg tramadol and/or Vicodin ES. I ate quickly and retired to my room.

A previous guest must've forgotten his laptop in room 424. It was on the bed, open, and some exhibitionist cam-to-cam sex-chat site illuminated the screen. The laptop kept jingling its digital notes as if its purple-pink garishness were a cheery welcome from insane squirrels with robotic larynxes rooting around for giganuts in cyberwoods. A jar of what appeared to be coconut oil blocked the nightstand's alarm clock. I discovered a crumpled receipt from the Apple Store in Somerset Collection for a detachable webcam. Empty bottles of Oberon crowded the sink. The maid must've missed this room.

Night fell and the TV in room 424 buzzed and blink-flashed completely nonsensical Adult Swim episodes of color and contortion. There was the obligatory Bible in the drawer to remind the guest that he or she will need holy, apotropaic literature in order to deal with one evening in that demonic construct called Drury Inn & Suites. I looked at but did not dare touch a small white notation pad beside the TV that read Drury Inn in maroon at the top. A matching pen lay beside the pad, also branded and trademarked. Fearful of what room service might've brought, I avoided the large cream-colored phone.

Room 424 also came with one Janet Zeno. . .

. . . Room 222 at the Hampton Inn also came with a Janet Zeno. The same one. Very odd but surely the highlight of my stay. It's a bit unnerving at first—discovering a strange girl in your room's closet or corner and then realizing she comes with the room. And yet she isn't a prostitute. Janet might've not been a girl at all. She might've been a Doppelganger, some unchecked configuration of bilocation. Or an alien.

My memory has been corrupted by old age. For example, sometimes, in the snuggy-thermal bower of my recall, I remember Hampton Janet grinning and curling up on a rumpled bedspread with sleepy rust-brown eyes half-shut, contentment glowing from her cheekbones and love-bites blotting her pale neck. I remember her saying much about many things. . . and somehow, at my core, I know. . . despite memory's knack for editing the past and rendering it more cinematic and alive. . . I know that Janet Zeno never said a word during my stay at the Hampton. . .

. . . Nor did Drury's Janet Zeno mutter a single utterance. Reflecting on it now, it occurs to me that Janet Z. might've been a lifelike android prototype left behind by a Tokyo businessman. Or she might've been the personification of the static on the room's TV screen. Or a ghost.

Scratch that. Not a ghost. Janet couldn't have been a ghost because there was already a ghost and I doubt two ghosts can occupy one hotel room at the same time. There was a ghost. . .

. . . in room 222. It disrupted a framed painting—a painting bolted to the room's south wall. One of those crashing-waves-and-black/blue-sky watercolors, totally undistinguished except for its strange stormy gloominess. (Nature paintings in hotels are normally light and warming.) This wraith streaked past the painting, causing the heavy bastard to oscillate loudly, like it was sawing the wall, like some arty, meandering guillotine—swoosh, swish and all that. The grinding loudness seared my nerves. Janet either twitched and laughed or sat motionless. Finally, the painting ceased its lunatic sway and stilled, askew, at a damaged angle after sawing a smiley face into the wallpaper, one of its width-ends pointing downward at the carpet, inevitably toward Hell.

It isn't my intention to frighten off potential guests. Evidently, poltergeists only harm works of art, furniture—inanimate objects. Janet told me not to worry or maybe she didn't tell me anything. Maybe her tongue was missing. In any case, I have no agenda here except to report my experience. I do not have a grudge against the Hampton or the Drury. I'm not pushing some inane haunted-house concept to attract the outré or drum up business for the hotels either.

A true, gibbering poltergeist—a mass of creep-irritant energy grown to make knees knock. It cruised through 222 and then slept in the ice machine near the elevators.

The Drury isn't haunted. Go figure.

I carved a love song into my wrist with a utility knife in room 424. Janet Zeno might've been a maid I had a crush on. She might've been nothing but fuzzy phosphorescence. My mother had an irregular heartbeat. I stuffed some hot wings in my pocket to give to my editor. I forgot to wrap them in anything.

I'm going to write a nonfiction book about the physics of haunted houses. I'm going to title it Haunted House Physics.

I wouldn't recommend the Hampton Inn Dearborn or the Drury Inn & Suites Troy to anyone except the terminally weird.

I've checked out too many times for one life.

Will Bernardara, Jr. is a former Dearborn Times-Herald reporter and current fiction writer and underground film director. He has stayed at both the Hampton Inn Dearborn and the Drury Inn & Suites.

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