I saw the boy again tonight. I have seen him every night for the past week.
The nights are so dark the stars forget to shine and the city itself falls asleep, but I see him. He floats for me. That is what I tell myself, but I know deep inside that he floats for no one but himself. Yesterday he looked dead, but he continued to float — I never want to see him look dead again. I’m going to find him.
The nights at this hotel are so long and loud, no one ever stops talking, no one ever thinks. It’s a constant mess of money, drugs, and arrogance. Even the view of the city is ruined by the people pointing at the parts of the skyline that they own. At night the skyline disappears, and they no longer greedily stare out of the windows, but I can’t keep my eyes off him. I don’t know where he is, why no one else can see him, but that doesn’t matter because I can see him. I run up and down the floors of this hotel, jumping from staircase to staircase, and he’s always just a breath away, just a step away, just a world away.
I hear the gossip around me as these men and women in suits drown their sorrows and drink to their tomorrows, and I worry that someone else has seen him. But surely I have to be the only one who has, or else others would be running up and down the hotel like me. By now, people have stopped reacting to my constant running and though they haven’t accepted it, they’ve started ignoring it. It suits me better — no one tries to talk to me when I’m staring out the windows anymore. I raise my glass to the boy and the glint in his eyes turns my champagne into a prism; drinking it fills my mind with every colour I could and couldn’t imagine, and I get drunk on the thought of being with him. I see the boy float away, out of my field of vision, through the ground, and I turn. And I run. Faster than before.
Faster than ever.
I saw the boy again tonight. As I lay on the rotating stage for the fifth time that week, I finally noticed that he was looking at me, too. He wasn’t looking past me or around me. At me. I smiled at him when I first saw him smiling at me, but who am I kidding? He’s happy at the party, in that hotel in the ceiling where everything is so perfect. He isn’t smiling at me. Clearly, he never will. He can’t see me. Still, my heart pounds up, towards him, always towards him, even as the stage turns and the boy restlessly follows me, running from floor to floor. And I realize, finally, that he sees me, too.
I can’t help but notice that the boy is agitated tonight. He follows me with the same speed, but it looks as though he’s on edge. When he’s not looking at me, he doesn’t smile anymore. He looks sad. I wish I could make him happier. The orchestra continues playing in the background and the singers walk around the stage as my head races with the thoughts of what could be making him sad, each more tragic than the last, and by the time the curtain falls, I know what to do. I’m going to find him. I take a few steps off the stage and break into a sprint as soon as I can tell that no one is watching me.
The glances that had stopped following me notice my spur of urgency and the suits turn to follow me with their eyes. They are more interested in this newfound topic of gossip than in stopping me. I am glad. I see a waiter of the Euler Hotel walking out of the kitchen with a tray on his hand and run past him, squeezing through the door at the last moment. I look out the small window and see that everyone has gone back to their normal discussions. Behind me, the chefs are diligently preparing feast after feast for their esteemed guests, and I know that I must not let them see me.
The steam rising from the pots fogs up my glasses as I try to sneak past the chefs. I notice an empty spot to my right and walk over there, staying low with every step. A waiter enters from the front door again and I take a few steps past the kitchen island next to me. I look for the first soup ladle I can find and hang it on my belt. The waiter walks past the kitchen island and calls for one of the chefs. A customer wished to speak with them. Perfect. The chef follows the waiter as they leave through the front door, and the next kitchen island is free. As I sneak past another cook, I bump into the head chef, my glasses now oblique.
I peek past her and in the back, behind the last kitchen island, I see two doors. The ice around the doors tells me that one of them leads to the freezer, but I cannot decide which one I should take. I take off my glasses to polish them as the head chef yells at me. She wants to know where I came from, who I am, why I am here. There are too many unsatisfied guests already for them to consider adding someone to the team who they can’t trust. I tell her that I was looking for the toilet and she slaps me. She’s not that stupid, she says, grabbing me by the arm and dragging me to the two doors.
She opens the door to the right. My heart pounds so fast and so hard that the sound of the dishwasher is like an echo. I feel a breeze of warm air and see at the same time that the door leads to the lobby of the Euler Hotel. I look back up at the head chef and nod, running out of the door that she slams behind me.
I look out the front door and see the bustling city. He’s not there. I do not understand how I know but my stomach wrenches me away from the front door and back into to the pits of the hotel. I know he is somewhere deep inside this tower. I run past the information desk and through the door, calling the elevator as soon as I stand in front of it. It arrives in a few seconds and a man in a suit with an official nametag walks by. His key card is attached to his belt. I bump into him, ripping the clip off his belt as I twirl past, apologizing profoundly. I should watch where I’m going, he says. I know where I’m going, I think, a smile growing on my face, but I nod out of feigned courtesy. I jump into the lift just before the doors close and swipe the card. I look at all the buttons, but just before I can press the lowest one there is, the lights go out and the lift drops.
I clutch the handrail and close my eyes. My stomach fills with dread before lurching up as everything in the lift but me hurries in the other direction. The lights turn back on, and after an additional second of falling, I slam onto the floor of the lift. My right foot takes the full force of the landing and I collapse in pain. I open my eyes though it’s hard to see past the tears, especially now that my glasses are on the floor in a thousand pieces. I look up at the display on the elevator and see that it’s not displaying any number or letter that was an option. I blink. I wipe my tears. I blink. I look up again. I can see it more clearly but it still does not make any sense. The wall of the lift behind me opens up slightly and then gets stuck. I feel a cold breeze rush into the lift and prop myself up onto the handrails, trying not to put any pressure on my right foot.
I push the wall open and feel the rest of the lift be flooded with cold air. The lift shaft is not where it is supposed to be.
The dim light of the backstage area is still enough for me to find my way. I duck behind the props and stage elements and find myself in a much smaller room. At the other corner I spot an opening and crawl my way through. If they find me, I lose him. If they find me, I lose him. If they find me, I lose — another prop is being carried into the room and I break out of my worried spell. Hiding behind the last stage element I see in front of the door, I peek out. There’s more light and less people. Perfect. As soon as I can hear that the people who brought the last prop are gone, I crawl through the last door and see the wiring above me. There are two unmarked, almost identical hallways leading away from me and I don’t know which one to take. One goes left and up, the other goes right and down. I go left.
As I run up the steps I trip and hit my head on the pipes above. It hurts. I sit down on the last step and clutch the back of my head for a few seconds as a tear runs down my cheek. I clutch onto the railings and slowly help myself up again. I turn to face another staircase and continue running. The walls of the theatre that I thought I knew so well feel alien to me as I see the same wall ten times. The never-ending row of lights getting dimmer and brighter with every step is dizzying and I lose track of the time as I keep running. I make sure to never turn in the same direction twice in a row. My legs begin to tire and my head begins to wander.
I hear a voice echoing through the twisting labyrinth. “The theatre is closing in half an hour.” It didn’t matter to me. I was looking for the boy and he was inside the theatre. Somewhere within these thousands of walls, folding in on each other to create this hulking complex reaching deep into the ground. I could feel it. My heart keeps pounding forwards. Pulling me in the direction I run. I know I’m running towards him, with every step I tire, but with every step I’m closer. The grey backdrop painted with golden light disappears. The twisting hallways had led me to a room filled with myself. I blink. A ballet rehearsal room. No one is here, and everything is still facing the right direction. If this is where the boy was, then he wasn’t even smiling at me; he was smiling at himself. I notice a door on the wall to my left and keep running. He is not here, so there is still hope.
The door from the ballet room leads me to another hallway, though it’s noticeably different. The walls are more colourful, and the light is slightly brighter. I take a right and begin to run. From the occasional open door, I can see I am near the stage again, even though I haven’t seen this hallway before. I’m close. My legs speed up even though they barely feel like they’re attached to my body anymore. Step after step after step after step after step after step after step after step after step after step and there’s no end in sight. None of the doors I can see through look any different, and the rooms I pass all look the same. I look forward and see that I can’t see the end of the hallway because it’s too long.
I trip and scrape my knee on the floor. It starts to bleed, but I keep running. When I pass what I could swear was the same door for the fifth time, I wipe the blood off my knee with my hand and smudge it on the white surface of the door. I run again and feel how the blood continues to slowly stream down my knee. I stop in my tracks as soon as I see the print on the door. I open every door that I can until I encounter an already opened door, and look at all the rooms. None of them has a door. I wander around the rooms I see and realize I should draw a line on the floor. I think of using my blood again but notice a felt tip marker in one of the rooms. I pick it up and squiggle a line on the floor where this group of rooms ends. I turn around and see the same line a few doors back. Perfect. Still, I’m stuck.
Seeing as I couldn’t find a door, I start to look at everything else to maybe find a clue. I notice a trapdoor above me and tug. It’s locked. I tug again. Still locked. I pull open every drawer I can find until I find a key, and that key fits into the lock. I have not come this far to give up. I would tear that trap door open with my very hands if I had to, but thankfully, I don’t have to.
I pull up the chair closest to me and I stand on it. All the tiredness that my legs accumulated in the past hours rushes back, but my arms are still strong. I lift myself up through the trap door and see a sky filled with stars, and even though they’re brighter than usual, they feel so much further away than ever before.
I take a step with my left foot and limp with my right. I slowly hop forward and look around me. The stars are so much brighter than I ever imagined them to be.
I finally manage to fully push myself through the trap door.
The boy appears from the ground, looks at me, and smiles. One look at his eyes and I realize I am closer to the stars than I ever been before.
I see the boy and the massive building behind him and realizes I am blinded. The stars all around me have no effect anymore, my vision blurs everything but him. It’s too good to be true. I shake my head. It’s too good to not be true. Though my legs are tired, I slowly walk up to him.
The boy takes tired steps toward me and I limp in his direction, too.
I see the boy wince with every step. Once we get close enough, I stretch out my arms.
I embrace the boy and the pain fades. I don’t let go.