Chapter 6 - The Book of the Hotel / by Jim Lounsbury

There was a rhythmic banging coming from somewhere below him. Over and over and over. He rolled over and pulled a pillow over his head, but it only muffled the sound slightly. As his mind woke up, experience reminded him what the sound was. Jack. Playing basketball. Their father had cleared a space in what would eventually be a parking area and put up a backboard and ring for him. After several days without one his brother obviously couldn’t wait to get out there. Finnian rolled onto his side to peek from under the pillow at the old clock on the wall of their apartment. As he moved there was a sharp pain in his foot.

Six o’clock. He sighed. He wouldn’t get back to sleep now. The banging continued, the pattern changing here and there, but consistently loud enough to annoy him. He pulled his crutches from underneath the bed and pulled himself up out of bed. He was still wearing the same pants as yesterday. There weren’t many clothes that would fit over his leg cast and even these had needed to be cut off at the knee.

It probably didn’t matter whether or not he was quiet, given the racket his brother was making on the ground floor, but Finnian still moved quietly around the apartment, moving from the small room he was currently sharing with Jack, passed the bathroom and the room his parents were currently sleeping in, something that he imagined might eventually just be used for storage. They were still fast asleep, his mother in her eye-mask and ear-plugs and his father snoring a gently beehive of sound around them both. They had both been sanding walls when he had gone to sleep the night before and he imagined they had worked well into the night.

He made his way to the kitchen, a large room that was only sparsely furnished so far. There was a shiny new refrigerator next to an ancient stove. Some fresh leather barstools still in the plastic packaging surrounded a peeling and dirty kitchen island. He limped to the fridge to see what he could find. There was milk and cornflakes. That was it. Just milk and cornflakes. Both in the fridge. He sighed. He closed the door to the fridge and as he did he thought he heard a gentle knock on the door to the apartment. He stopped and tilted his head to listen. Maybe it was just the fridge door closing. There was silence.

Finnian couldn’t shake the feeling that he had definitely heard a knock. He turned and began to make his way towards the front door.

“Did you hear a knock?”

He jumped at the soft sound of his mother’s voice behind him. How could she have heard it with her ear plugs.

“I’m not sure. It wasn’t very loud.”

“Is it Jack?”

Finnian didn’t need to answer her. There was the sound of a basketball hitting the backboard and the shaking of the chain net on the hoop downstairs.

“Hmmm”, she glanced at him as she walked passed. “Let’s go see.”

The front door of the apartment a part of the main room of the suite – a huge living area that was currently filled almost to the roof with boxes, bicycles, suitcases and furniture. They shuffled between and around them to the front door. His mother opened it and peered out.

“There’s no one here.” She looked back at him and smiled sleepily. “I cannot believe I got out of bed for that. It just seemed so definite.”

Finnian looked out into the hallway himself. Just to be sure. He looked down.

“Mum.”

She looked at the floor in front of the apartment door.

“Oh. Okay.” Reaching down she picked up a large, leather bound book. She held it with both hands in front of her. “It’s heavy.” She read the words on the front of the books –“ ‘The Tvillingene’. That was the original name of the hotel.” They both looked down the long hallway again, but it was still empty. “Come back to the kitchen and let’s take a look at this. The estate agent probably dropped it off.”

Finnian was less sure of that. The book was in immaculate condition, the leather oiled and polished and the edges of the pages, while yellowed, were crisp. Everything about the book reminded him of Darius.

They sat on the kitchen stools and lay the book on the bench.

“What does Tvillingene mean?” He asked his mother.

“I think it is something to do with the stars. Let me check.” She took her phone from the kitchen bench and looked it up. “It is the Norwegian word for the star sign Gemini.”

“Oh,” Finnian was disappointed. None of that explained anything about the strangeness of the hotel.

“Did you know my family were originally from Norway? It was part of the reason I was interested in this hotel in the first place. It was built by a group of Norwegian sailors who arrived here over a hundred years ago. That is probably why they named it after a star sign – stars are very important to sailors.”

Finnian opened the cover of the book. The first page was printed and it had the name of the hotel and the date it had opened. 1898. The rest of the book was written in the same very neat hand writing, a flowing script that was difficult to read but beautiful to look at. There was a list of the hotel rules and regulations and a list of the original prices for the different rooms.

“Oh wow! I think that might be an original menu from the dining room!” His mother gasped and pointed at one page. “That’s amazing. Venison stew. Lapskaus. Lutefisk. I don’t even know what some of these are.”

Most of the pages were a detailed list of the guests of the hotel in tiny print, all with signatures alongside the information. The book ended halfway down a page in 1937 and the last few pages for the thick book were blank.

“Was that when the hotel closed? 1937?” Finnian asked his mother.

“I’m not sure. I know it was closed and then re-opened a number of times over the years. It may have been the first time. I mean, that is right in the middle of World War II and just after the Depression. It may have been hard to get enough business here with the ports closed.” She flicked to the last page. “Oh look here, it is signed by the hotel concierge – Mr. Darius Ljosalfar. Wow. That’s very interesting.”

Finnian looked at her sharply. “Why? Do you know that name? Have you met him?”

“Met him? Kiddo, this was eighty years ago. It is interesting because my grandmother used to tell me story about these elves from her home country called Ljosalfar – the light elves. There were dark elves as well but I can’t remember what they were called. It was part of the Norse mythology but I was always sure she believed in them like they were completely real.”

“So – they were the good guys?”

“Well, I’m not sure about that. I think light and dark were just different – one wasn’t better than the other. In the British stories they become the Elves and the Dwarves. The people who live above the ground and the people who live below.”

“Do you think this Darius was a light elf?”

She laughed. “No. I think he just had a really cool name.” She began to close the book. “This is such a wonderful find, I’m going to take my time reading this. Maybe we will even find the names of some of our ancestors in here. They probably visited the hotel at some point. Oh look…”

Finnian leaned in. “What is it?”

gemini.jpg

“I think it might be the symbol for the hotel – you know the big plaster sculpture from the front that is broken? This is what it used to look like. Oh – and now it makes sense. This is the symbol for the star cluster Gemini, which the hotel was named after – Tvillingene. See.”

“It looks like the number eleven. Or maybe it means two.” Finnian felt goosebumps rise across his arms and neck. “Two of what?”

“Twins. Gemini is the sign for twins. Twin stars and I think, in the case of the hotel – twin hotels because of the way the hotel has two branches reaching in different directions. Perhaps it is aligned with the stars or maybe it points home to Norway or something like that. I’ll have to do some more reading.” She got up and stretched. “For now though – coffee!”

Finnian looked at the book on the table and ran his fingers over the leather. The symbol was embossed on the front of the book as well. Twins. It had to be connected to Vali and Nari somehow. But what did it mean? Was the hotel named after them? Or were they here when the hotel opened?  

A sudden crash below them jarred the thoughts from his head. The sound of something falling, tearing, breaking and finally tinkling into silence. He and his mother looked at each other for a moment and then ran for the door, her in pyjamas and bare feet, he swinging his crutches as fast as he could.