Cherry Bank, Part I
"Hello, welcome to Quality Inn, Victoria. How can I help you?"
"Hi, we just arrived tonight and need a room. Do you still have any available?"
"See that couple? They just took my last one."
"I know. Marathon tomorrow morning. Everything is booked up. You might try the Hilton — I spoke to them not too long ago, and they still had some rooms."
"Okay, thanks. Do you know about how much their rates run?"
"About a hundred twenty dollars, if I remember correctly. Pretty close to that."
"Hm. I don't guess you know if there's anything for a little less? Still within walking distance."
"Well. Um. I don't know much else. Oh, then there's the Cherry Bank."
"The Cherry Bank."
"Yes. Up this road here, and then take a left at that next corner, and about half a block. Across from the law courts. An old place. You'll see it. No televisions or telephones. And, well, it's an old place, like I said. But their rates are sixty dollars or so, if that's what you're looking for. . . ."
We looked at each other and sized up the information. "Sounds like that may work. Thanks so much for your help!"
"No problem. Have a good night. Good luck."
We walked out of the Quality Inn, got our bearings based on the woman's directions, and began walking the direction she indicated. "You weren't planning on watching any TV anyway, right?"
"Why would I come to Victoria to watch TV?"
We rounded the corner up what was an unusually dark street. There was no sign of a hotel so far, but we kept walking, and soon enough, we could see the glow of red neon. HOTEL CHERRY BANK. We walked toward it, and more signs became visible, affixed to a building which looked to be sunk down into the flesh of an uneven black tar parking lot. PRIME RIB HOUSE. BETTING ROOM. ENTRANCE HOTEL & RESTAURANT.
"I guess this our place."
We descended some steps into a recessed area where a glass door led into the building. We threaded our bags through the door and into a hallway spangled with horse-racing paraphernalia. The hallway made a sharp turn to the right. A trophy case ran along the right wall here, terminating in a poorly light bar populated by an old bartender and a couple of quiet patrons. A longer hallway branched off to our left, which we deduced to be the way to the hotel desk.
As we followed this hallway, seemingly deep underground, we were met by the occasional step up or down, or zigzag to one side or the other, along with doorways into dark dining areas filled with century-old photographs and taxidermied creatures.
"This place is. . . ."
After following this hallway for what seemed to be an unnatural distance for what could have been predicted from an outside view of the building, we reached an area where some dark steps led up to a parlour containing some black leather benches and windows whose view was nearly completely blocked by thick foliage. To our left was a little mirrored window, with a doorbell button and a handwritten note. RING BELL FOR SERVICE.
We eyed each other warily.
She pushed the button.
Shuffling sounds emanated from somewhere off to the distant left. The window slid open with a pop.
"Hi, we were just down the street, and were told you might have some rooms available."
"Yes. Only two left. No private bathroom. Yours would be room ten."
I looked at the man, waiting for more explanation.
"Sixty one a night. Today's rate. Perhaps you'd like to look at the room first?"
We looked at each other and nodded. The man handed a key through the window.
"Room ten. Walk toward the parlour. To the left you will see a stairway. Go up it. Follow the signs. Room ten."
"Great, thanks. We'll take a look, and will be right back down."
About the time our feet hit the steps into the parlour, a voice echoed behind us, "No! Stairway to the left! Behind you!"
We turned around to see a glass door tucked into an almost invisible corner behind us. "Thanks," she said, meekly. We stepped through the door into a precariously steep staircase. Thick scarlet carpet. Scarlet painted walls. Black and white lace-patterned wallpaper. Weak yellow incandescent lamps overhead.
"Uh. . . ."
Reaching the top of the stairway, and what we thought would be the bulk of the rooms, we instead found ourselves in a tiny misshapen nook, with doorways to two rooms, a tiny staircase to another room door with another stairway continuing up, and a last door with a sign reading ROOMS 3 TO 12 + 24 AND 25.
"Have you ever seen so much red in your life?"
"Damn this place is creepy."
"Where do all these stairs go? We could see over the building, practically, when we came in the door in the first place."
"Oh well, that looks like our door?"
We opened the door quietly, and continued down a long, dark, doorless hallway, turned a corner, and were met with another strange view, a little sitting room, with a couch and some plants, more red carpeting, more red walls, a red on red tapestry over the couch, and a single room, with a bold black number 4 on the door. A small brass sign next to the door read ROOMS 3 – 12 & 24 – 25, with an arrow pointing to the right.
"How big is this place?"
To the right was another even more dark and narrow hallway, terminating in another cluster of rooms and an almost lightless stairway heading farther upward. Next to the stairs a narrow sign read 10 AND 11.
"Up we go."
Having stopped on a little landing near the top of this stairway, we found ourselves in an attic area with a skylight, two little doors marked 10 and 11, and an indication that we'd been taking the white ceilings for granted, because everything here, the floor, the walls, the ceiling, were all saturated in a deep red colour. Only the wooden doors and banisters were white.
"This place definitely has . . . character."
". . ."
"Let's see this room I guess."
Seeing the room proved difficult, as efforts to turn on any kind of light consumed at least three or four minutes, and the eeriness of the place, amplified by the silent darkness in which we now stood, became almost too much to bear. Finally, with a pop, the light behind me clicked on, and we blinked and took in our surroundings: two small twin beds, one tucked into a dormer window, and the other in the corner by the door.
A couple of small sitting chairs and a table with a digital alarm clock on it. Sloped walls and ceiling. An odd array of little pictures along the one straight wall, two of which were hidden behind the mirror on a dresser, one being completely obscured. And then there was the door — a diminutive blue and white wooden door near the radiator at the foot of the bed.
"What is that?" We both looked at the door and looked at each other.
"A closet maybe?"
"Perhaps. I guess the sloped roof makes it too tight for a regular one."
"Want to open it?"
"Only if you're offering to open it yourself. I'll stay over here."
The door opened into a small, oddly shaped dark space, with one end which had been roughly patched over with some black-painted plywood.
"Wonder what's in there?"
"You are not going in there."
"No way I'd go in there. Are you kidding?"
"So, uh, what do you think of this place?"
". . ."
". . ."
"Well, honestly, it freaks me out. But at the same time this is really cool. Personality. Something. Maybe we try it?"
"I know. It's pretty creepy, but at the same time pretty cool. Okay, let's put our stuff down and go tell the guy."