The indoor gardener loved htl-esc. He loved the carpet, maze, walls, unexpected corridors, secret staircases. He loved his attic room. He loved irregularities. His phone sent him all over the hotel. His coworkers messaged him night and day with odd smells, staticky telephones, strange noises, unresponsive computers. Guests sometimes caused stains. Leaky faucets were sometimes just leaky. The indoor gardener referred them to other departments but had to investigate them just in case. He’d no time for other phone calls. He emailed only Mr. Six.
He was busiest at night. The night manager wanted nothing to do with irregularities. The day manager said htl-esc was a stepping stone for the night manager. That’s how the indoor gardener learned htl-esc belonged to a consortium. It operated hotels and escape rooms. The indoor gardener felt no loyalty to the consortium. The consortium paid his wages, but he belonged to htl-esc.
Mr. Six thought htl-esc was good for his twin. He wrote to Mr. Six about things being alive in their own ways. Things understand in their own ways. Hotels understand differently from stools, bars, humans, consortiums. htl-esc understood it was the dream of a riddle. htl-esc let people solve the riddle to varying degrees. Being htl-esc meant being lots of different things. Instructions encoded in a dessert menu. An anemone in painting after painting. A coin-sized mirror embedded in a railing opposite a bookcase.
Mr. Six said thinking that things have different ways was good for his twin because it loosened up his mind. It loosened Mr. Six’s brother’s habit of insisting on his own opinions. Mr. Six said his brother dug his heels in where he shouldn’t. He refused to listen to alternatives, got impatient, entangled, quarreled. That’s why he changed jobs often.
Mr. Six was a postgraduate student while his twin was an indoor gardener. That’s why the indoor gardener asked him what consciousness felt like to a mushroom, a door, a hotel. Mr. Six said thinking about consciousness is groping in the dark knowing something you can’t name is groping in the dark beside you. The indoor gardener said he felt like that all the time. He said htl-esc was an escape that couldn’t escape.
The indoor gardener started seeking irregularities instead of waiting to be called. Night was the best time to check the pool, spa, restaurants. He had to keep the corridors clear of diablo orchids, leaping lamps, carpethuggers, socket mushrooms, evil-eye mushrooms. htl-esc had lots of polyester plants. It had some living potted plants. The indoor gardener found a living plant with a polyester flower. A live plant with a fabric flower was an irregularity. Nobody else noticed the hybrid plant. The indoor gardener named it Robin. He put Robin in his secret garden in the attic. He told Mr. Six he never would’ve dreamed life was capable of so much living if he hadn’t found htl-esc.
Mr. Six thought his twin’s emails were playful. He used emoji to show they made him laugh. He told himself later that the indoor gardener took his responses too much to heart. Mr. Six thought it was because they were twins.
The indoor gardener visited the cellar several times a night. The hole was a hole again every time. The indoor gardener filled the hole with soil. He left and returned to find the hole back where it started.
He stopped refilling the hole. He wanted to see what would happen. The hole grew wider and deeper. It stopped widening but became too deep for him to see the bottom. He duct-taped an electric torch to a broom. He lowered the broom into the hole. Roots didn’t protrude from the soil walls. Animals weren’t tunneling in the walls. Darkness swallowed the broom-shine. Darkness devoured the bottom of the hole. The indoor gardener felt distance brushing his eyelashes. He returned with a bigger torch on a chain of extension cords. Darkness had taken root at the bottom. Darkness had grown up into a tall tree with leaves of darkness.
The indoor gardener plugged his phone into the extension cords. He started the voice recorder app. He lowered the phone into the hole. He heard air and soil brushing the phone on the recording. He listened to the hole with his own ears. He told Mr. Six he heard wind sighing, branches creaking. Mr. Six said he’d listened an imaginary forest into the hole. The indoor gardener wrote maybe the hole listened him an ancient forest. Mr. Six responded with laughing emoji. He suggested the hole was hungry. The indoor gardener wrote the hole wasn’t something growing but the opposite.
Robin made the indoor gardener not want to eat vegetables. He already wouldn’t eat animals. He wrote to Mr. Six that Robin was a lot of history. He wrote that history is Robins, vines, holes, candle snails, fevermosses, carpet dreams, mad naturalists.
Mr. Six’s story was a briar. Things snagged on the story’s thorns. The story fought to stay inside him. It fought to emerge. He said his research hit a wall when he tried to learn who’d really built the mansion. It might’ve been a wealthy madman. It might’ve been the consortium.
The indoor gardener complained of insomnia. He’d no time to sleep between discharging irregularities, listening to the hole, checking public areas, making videos of the hole, checking service areas, pouring water in the hole, making rounds of guest rooms with the housekeeping department, informing the day manager he hadn’t heard a splash, checking hidden corridors, looking after Robin, the carpethugger, his secret garden. He wrote that hotels inhabit people. People inhabit hotels but differently. He wrote he didn’t have insomnia anymore. He thought his dreams weren’t all his. He thought he was evolving into an emaneater.
The indoor gardener wrote that every chair and shelf and doorknob emanates what it will do and wants to seem and cannot bear. Napkins, cellars, bartenders, carpets, everything emanates histories and potentials. Everything’s emanations blizzard all the senses all the time on almost secret wavelengths. We ignore things’ secret wavelengths unless we can use them. They’d be too much otherwise. The indoor gardener thought he could no longer ignore emanations. htl-esc teemed with emanating things.
The indoor gardener wrote that he no longer needed sleep. htl-esc’s crackling dreams energized him. He wrote nightstands dream of forests because that’s what nightstands used to be. He wondered if the trees in nightstands dread or emanate their destroyers. He wondered if we’re just furniture’s dreams. He wondered if a tabletop’s memories of treehood were nostalgic or nightmarish.
He thought something was happening to the world’s seams. Something made him sense that seams were never where he thought they were. Something stepping forward was showing the indoor gardener that people imagine seams in the wrong places. He asked Mr. Six if we’re just nightmares of a traumatized Earth. Mr. Six said if you don’t know where the seams are between things, you don’t know whether you’re anything anywhere.
He congratulated the indoor gardener for broadening his perspectives and exercising humor. He praised the indoor gardener for not letting his mind rot. He applauded making the most of menial work that wasn’t what anybody wanted out of life. Hindsight made Mr. Six shake his head at his own words.
Mr. Six didn’t hear from his brother for a while. He assumed the indoor gardener was busy with irregularities. The indoor gardener finally wrote that htl-esc had made the hole as a sinkhole in a wound in a pit in a night in a split in a bottomless pit in a hole in an endless night. Mr. Six sent emoji that laughed till they cried. He complimented his brother on turning a janitor job into a creative self-education.
His twin didn’t reply. Mr. Six missed him. Mr. Six emailed to ask what was keeping him so busy. He asked his twin if he’d caught explorer ferns guzzling wine. The indoor gardener wrote that crushed rotten grape corpses are unpalatable to plants. He asked whether Mr. Six ever read his emails. He took offense at being called a janitor. What shocked Mr. Six the most was what the indoor gardener didn’t say.
Mr. Six shook his head like he was at a loss. The shock and shame were still fresh. They subdued his voice to whispering. He’d never doubted his belief in his twin’s impressions before. He’d never doubted because his twin’s impressions were his own. That’s why Mr. Six thought his brother had to be joking. The indoor gardener and Mr. Six were born of the same cell. They were one mind split in two. Mistaking his twin’s impressions for idle jokes was the same as mistaking his own impressions. That meant his feeling that the indoor gardener felt his own twin didn’t believe him was absurd. Thinking pink mushrooms were just a dream of the indoor gardener’s was the same as thinking he, Mr. Six, had only dreamed the bartender who was listening to him.
Mr. Six started doubting every judgment he’d ever made. He doubted that his hand was his, that his desk was a desk. He doubted his sensations. He wondered if his twin was doubting, if his disbelief had mangled his brother’s sanity. Mr. Six started disbelieving his own sanity.
The effort of summoning his story consumed Mr. Six. I watched him struggle not to disbelieve what he was saying. The story chased his voice out of whispering. The story made him wring his hands. Feeling like he’d done something awful out of stupidity made him shut his eyes like a fist was coming for him. He fell into a pause like he’d been running for his life and tripped and tumbled into silence. I knew not to look at Mr. Six while he composed himself.
Mr. Six said the long silence between himself and his brother was unprecedented. The silence was a gash in their twinship. Ignoring a gash means letting it get infected and spread out deep inside you. Mr. Six remembered falling ill with a fever.
Mandy-Suzanne Wong is a Bermudian writer of fiction and essays. Her works include the novel Drafts of a Suicide Note, a PEN Open Book Award nominee; the essay collection Listen, we all bleed, a nominee for the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction; the chapbooks Awabi and Artificial Wilderness; and the exhibition catalogue Animals Across Discipline, Time, and Space. Her work appears in Arcturus, Black Warrior Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, Entropy, Island Review, Necessary Fiction, Quail Bell, Stoneboat, and The Spectacle and has won recognition in the Best of the Net, Aeon Award, and Eyelands Flash Fiction competitions.