She awoke suddenly, it seemed, the strange sensation of falling yanking her from sleep. But when she instinctively braced herself, she realized that she was not, in fact, falling at all. She sat up slowly, glancing around briefly. The room was narrow, blue bunk-beds crammed into the space and leaving only a small aisle for walking. Yellow light stabbed through a few spots where curtains didn’t quite cover the windows, but the sounds of snoring and heavy breathing filled the room.
As she gathered her bearings, her observations were interrupted by an unpleasant beeping. She looked toward it, and saw her alarm clock staring at her from on top of the flat radiator which came between the bed and the wall. She frowned – she couldn’t remember having set it. But she reached out quickly to silence it, and then looked back at the room. But the girls in the other beds slept the dead man’s sleep, and so she remained the only one awake.
She placed the alarm clock back on the radiator, and pushed the heavy covers back, crawling to the edge of the bed. She was on a bottom bunk, her slippers and shoes peeking out from beneath the bed. She slid her feet into the slippers and stood. The room felt chilly. She considered briefly getting back beneath the covers. But she was hungry, and there was little chance she’d fall back asleep at this point.
She walked quietly to the door, passing by the bathroom, its door open slightly. When she went out into the hall, she carefully eased the door back shut, not wishing to chance any noise again. Both the hallway and the stairwell smelled strangely of burnt rubber, but she saw nothing to indicate why. At the bottom of the stairs, she passed by a rack of brochures and coupons, advertising attractions to see and places to eat. She stopped to grab a map, ignoring the offers of exciting tours and breathtaking vistas.
She went through another door, and found herself in the lobby, the strange rubber smell replaced with a different kind of burnt smell, this one clearly coming from a toaster on the far side of the lobby. A few battered-looking tables filled most of the space between herself and the toaster, scraped benches fit tightly against them. She shivered; the air was even colder here.
In addition to the toaster, there was a coffee maker bubbling full tilt, along with some jars of jam and a few loaves of bread. On a table next to the counter stood a bottle of milk and a carton of orange juice. There were silverware, plates, and cups stacked up next to these. A pair of severely burned pieces of toast popped up as she pulled some bread from one of the loaves, and a man made a noise of disgust as he regarded them. He plucked them from the machine quickly, and tossed them into the trash, shaking his head as he turned toward the coffee maker.
It didn’t take him very long to get his coffee, and when he was walking away she brought her own bread to the toaster. She changed the settings before putting the bread in, and then grabbed a plate, a knife, and a cup. While the bread toasted, she poured herself some milk. She didn’t really like coffee.
She likewise didn’t like burnt toast, so the toast was done fairly quickly. She smeared some strawberry jam on both pieces, and then carried her plate and cup to one of the tables close by. She spread the map on the table now, and looked at it as she ate. Galway City, the fastest-growing city in Ireland. But there didn’t seem to be much to do, going by the rudimentary-looking map. She frowned.
As she ate, a few more people appeared in the lobby for breakfast. Most of them were alone, but there was a pair who were bickering already, unable to decide whether to go see the Cliffs of Connemara, or whether they should stay in the city to explore it. They were loud, especially so in the quietness of the early morning. The traffic outside the plate glass windows was barely a murmur, two or three cars at a time.
The Cliffs of Connemara. It was a possibility. She’s seen something about it on one of the things on the rack by the stairs. She folded her map in two, and started to get up, looking around to see where her dirty dishes were to go. At first, she couldn’t tell, but then she noticed a metal thing with plastic trays stacked in it. On one of the trays was the coffee cup the man who’d burned his toast had used.
After she’d weaved through the benches and put her dirty place settings on one of the trays, she headed back toward the stairwell. But the door stuck fast when she tried to use it, and when she tugged it harder it still refused to move. She saw a card reader next to the door, and reached into her sweatshirt pocket for her cardkey, only to realize she must’ve left it upstairs – all that was in her pocket was a small paper receipt. It indicated how much she’d paid for her accommodations, along with her name and room number. She sighed internally, and turned away from the door and toward the front desk.
There was a bright-eyed boy at the desk with a rather large cup of coffee steaming on front of him. He smiled widely before she was even within five steps of the desk, “How may I help you?”
She smiled in return, although it felt out of place on her own face, “I left my cardkey upstairs…”
“Ah,” He started pulling a drawer open, a stash of plastic cards spread all over its bottom, “I saw you come out of the stairwell, what’s your room number?”
She looked down at her receipt, “Um, twenty-six.”
He nodded, typed something into the computer, and then ran one of the cards through a scanning-type device a few times. He handed it to her, winking, “Better keep a close eye on that.”
She smiled again, distantly, “Thank you.”
On the other side of the lobby door, she approached the rack of brochures again. She spun it, looking for the ones she’d seen about the Cliffs of Connemara, and also hoping to find a more useful map of the city. She knew she should’ve asked the young man at the desk, but she had no desire to re-enter the lobby to ask him.
She failed in finding a better map, but there were several brochures about the Cliffs, mainly advertising tours of them. A few of these also detailed special deals as well, promising to outdo each other on pricing. She took them all, gathering them under her arm before spinning the rack around once more to ensure she’d found them all. She had.
She started up the steps, leafing through the brochures, her eyes mainly to the total price. She would have to check her wallet when she got back to her room; she wasn’t exactly sure how much she had at the moment. But she already could count a couple out for being too expensive, as they listed prices far above what the others offered. She stifled a yawn as she rounded the corner to her hall. She’d felt energetic when she got up, but now she felt strangely sleepy again, perhaps lulled by the food in her stomach.
At her door, she slipped the cardkey into the reader, and heard a satisfying click. The door opened easily, the room beyond it still dark. Inside, her eyes adjusted quickly, and she saw that none of her room-mates had awoken yet. It suited her perfectly, though, as she wanted to take her shower quickly and leave before the place got busy. She also wasn’t terribly interested in conversation with the other women and girls.
She removed her slippers before continuing across the floor; it was easier to be quiet with them off than on. At her bed, she dragged her suitcase from beneath, holding her breath when she’d brought it into view so she could listen for any stirring on the part of her room-mates. She did the same as she pulled the zipper, unsure as to whether it was more disturbing to pull the zipper quickly or slowly. In her caution, she pulled it somewhere half-way between the two, and everyone kept sleeping.
With the bag open, she grabbed a pair of shorts, a shirt, underwear, and socks at random. Even with her eyes adjusted to the dimness, she couldn’t see the contents very well, and so took little care to it. She also grabbed a bath towel out of the suitcase.
Once in the bathroom, she realized the futility of trying to be quiet, as the showerhead poured loudly and insistently regardless of how she changed the settings. She’d hung her towel on the back of the door, a stack of clean, fluffy towels having greeted her from a shelf above the toilet. She sighed as she watched the water pouring down, clattering against the porcelain surface of the tub. In for a penny, in for a pound. She stepped in.