The door to room 421 clicked softly behind the happy couple.
Octavia couldn’t help but see this as heavy-hooved cosmic symbolism. The door was closed. That door was closed. That door was closed, and Octavia didn’t have the key.
She grit her teeth and cast her gaze down to her hooves. The gaudily over-patterned carpet tugged her eyes over its surface in intricate swirls and loops, always a glimpse of some unexpected shape in the corner of her eye. Her head was swimming in moments.
Octavia closed her eyes and allowed her body to slump sideways into the wall. It was a sharp stucco that hooked into her fur, and somehow seemed to have no temperature at all. In fact, that's rather a perfect way to describe the whole experience: sharp, and yet lacking in feeling at all.
Then again, to say that Octavia felt nothing would have been a misrepresentation of her true state. She felt as if she had been grabbed by the throat, flipped upside down, and smacked on the back of the head until every last ounce of identifiable emotion had oozed out of her. Like she was nothing more than a particularly stubborn bottle of ketchup.
Strangely, the thing that bothered her the most in this moment was the hotel hall. It looked like an interior design experiment gone wrong, it smelled like unbranded cleaner and fair food, and every surface had a more maddening texture than the last. She wanted to fold into herself entirely, escaping all semblance of sensation until her body regenerated its emotional reserves.
She also wanted to be alone.
Unfortunately for Octavia, she was not alone-- though, by all rights, she should have been.
She opened her eyes lazily, still feeling like a deflated windsock, and allowed her gaze to dance across the carpeting once more. As her eyes leapt after the constantly-shifting designs, they eventually encountered the orange hooves of an unfamiliar stallion.
She was honestly surprised there was somepony else there. He’d somehow managed to disappear into the periphery of the situation entirely. Had he even spoken?
Octavia hurriedly pushed herself off the wall, embarrassed at having been observed during her moment of meditative slumping. The stallion seemed equally embarrassed at having been caught, and looked up at the ceiling with obvious guilt.
He was tall. Stocky, yet not in a way that was at all imposing. His mane was a shocking blue, one that clashed so horrifically with his coat that Octavia nearly recommended a permanent dye job right then and there. With the obvious work that went into crafting his ridiculous spiky, windswept style, a little bit of color upkeep couldn't have been a bother.
In short, he was exactly the type of stallion Octavia couldn't stand.
Octavia's face hardened to a practiced scowl. “I’m sorry, who are you?” she asked, desperately trying to regain control of the interaction. Her apology was as insincere as it was vitriolic, as if she had ownership over this stretch of hallway, and he was but an intruder.
Casually, nonchalantly, the stallion drew his eyes away from the ceiling. He focused on Octavia and did a small, yet clearly theatrical, double-take.
He held a hoof to his chest, eyebrows arched in scripted surprise. “Hm? Me?” He cleared his throat. “Flash Sentry. Uh, ma’am.”
Octavia rolled her eyes. “Don’t you have something better to be doing?”
He blinked. “Like… what?”
“I don’t know, sleeping?” Octavia suggested, bitterness in every syllable. “What are you, some kind of degenerate pervert? Watching other folks’ drama for your own entertainment?”
“Whoa, whoa!” Flash held up a hoof and chuckled. The sound had a rehearsed quality to it that made Octavia prickle. “I wasn’t-- I mean, I was just hanging out with Twilight while-- y’know, while you and…”
Octavia cocked her head, a faux curiosity barely masking her aggressive suspicion.
Flash froze for a moment, then sighed in defeat. “I dunno. I’m still confused, to be honest.”
“Well, go home,” Octavia ordered. “The show’s over. Stay confused.”
Octavia didn’t wait for a response. She turned, tossing her frizzy mane with as much grace as she could muster, and trotted off towards the elevator.
She would be lying if she said that scolding a stranger hadn’t made her feel better. In fact, she was already starting to feel the first few drops of emotion fill her up again. It may have all been various shades and degrees of anger, but anything was better than nothing, right? And, of course, the inevitable post-scolding adrenaline was giving her a bit of a boost.
Things could have been worse. But, as much as she wanted to believe that, she couldn’t exactly conjure up a worse experience than this one.
The elevator’s gentle tone was just about the only pleasing thing in this damned hallway, Octavia thought. Even the hum of the air conditioning seemed to strike a tone and pitch that set her teeth on edge-- and that’s not even to mention the overly-artificial chill it poured down on her as she waited for the elevator to arrive.
Octavia rubbed her foreleg in a vain attempt to warm up, knowing full well it wouldn’t make any difference. It simply wouldn’t be a hotel hallway if you weren’t chilled right down to the bone.
The elevator pinged softly, and the doors slid open. Octavia cast a quick and casual glance back down towards Vinyl and Twilight’s room before climbing aboard. Flash Sentry had evidently elected to abandon his post; the hallway now stood empty.
She nodded to herself, proud of her work, and entered the elevator.
Octavia was staying two floors above Twilight and Vinyl, in room 684. She pressed the button for the sixth floor, which lit up a warm yellow, and felt her stomach drop as the elevator begin to slide upwards.
The dial above the door rolled slowly over towards five. Octavia sniffled listlessly as it continued on to six.
The doors opened.
It’s funny: Octavia actually recognized that horrid piece of non-art artwork that hung outside the elevator. They were designed to be utterly forgettable, but she remembered this one very specifically because it looked quite like the tree in the backyard of her foalhood home. It had a peculiar shape to it, a certain sort of kink which made it look rather like a hind leg poised to kick. It was a funny subject for a painting, simply because it was so lopsided. Shouldn't a painting feature a better-looking tree than this?
More to the point, Octavia was certain that this painting had been on Vinyl’s floor, not hers.
Chalking it up to fatigue, the haggard mare exited the elevator and turned to her left, making her way down the long hallway towards her room.
The creeping sense of deja vu ran its way up Octavia’s spine, but she shook it off. It’s a hotel. Of course all the hallways look the same. Especially empty. Especially at night.
It wasn’t until she ran her keycard through the slot on her room, not until the light blinked red and buzzed angrily at her, that Octavia considered she may have taken a wrong turn.
She swiped the card again, a little faster.
She tried again, this time slower.
“What in the…” Octavia whispered to herself, pulling the card away from the slot and examining the strip carefully. It was pristine.
She ran it through once more, this time the other way round-- just in case.
Octavia stamped her hoof on the carpet.
Perfect. A perfect end to a no less than stellar day.
She ran the card through three, five, ten more times, each attempt earning her another scolding from the machine.
“Ugh! Really, now!” Octavia complained, rattling the doorknob viciously.
She let the handle go, and it settled back to neutral with a metallic rattle.
A sinking feeling came over her. The same painting, and now her keycard wasn’t working… Fearing the worst, she tried not to look at the number on the door, but she found herself drawn to it anyway.
Octavia jumped away from the door with a small yelp, then clapped a hoof over her mouth.
Had she forgotten to press the button for her floor?
No… she had ridden the elevator up, she’d felt it.
Octavia slowly lowered her hoof from her mouth. After a moment, that burst of fear truly kicked in, and she powered away from the room at the fastest speed she could manage quietly. Her hooves made an odd, muffled sound against that dreadfully ugly carpet.
The more distance she put between herself and the mistaken hotel room, the more Octavia found herself able to calm down. She was quite lucky the pony inside hadn’t been woken up by her frenzied attempts to open the door.
As Octavia squeezed back onto the elevator, she let out a sigh of relief. She pushed the button for the sixth floor so carefully and deliberately that an observer may have pegged her as drunk, high, or both.
The little circle lit up yellow, and the elevator once again began to rise.
The dial over the door crawled from four to five, five to six…
The doors opened, and sung their success to the exhausted mare within.
Octavia made to step over the threshold, but balked at the sight of that painting once more.
She stepped back and looked at the dial.
The needle rested on four.
Octavia stood there for a moment, her jaw set, staring up at the dial over the elevator doors. She rubbed her eyes feverishly and blinked up at the numbers once more, hopeful that she was merely overtired, but the dial remained the same.
A panic was bubbling up, sour and metallic in Octavia’s throat.
The elevator doors, having sensed that nopony stood in their way, slid shut once more.
The inside of the elevator was so quiet and sterile that it seemed to have wiped Octavia's mind of all rational thought. Or… well, of any thought at all. Anything--rational, irrational, or utter unrelated nonsense--would have been better than the blank nothing which faced Octavia.
What else could she do? She pressed the button for the sixth floor once more and watched, detached, as the cycle repeated itself.
Still, the same painting. The same floor.
She tried floor two, but to no avail. Then eight. Then five.
She tried to go down to the lobby, only to find the same hallway.
Every time, every trial, the same result: fourth floor, with that painting of the tree leaning dangerously to the right.
Octavia, now wondering if she may have fallen asleep in the elevator and was experiencing an elevator-themed nightmare, wandered out into the hallway. That painting held her gaze and carried her forward, over the threshold and back onto the sort-of-sticky-but-not-really carpet.
The doors closed behind her as she stared at the painting. She didn’t really see the apinting, though. It was just there, in front of her eyes, and they had to look at something.
Octavia pricked up an ear.
“Hey, you!” a voice called, uncertain. “Uh… I don’t know your name! You!”
Octavia drew in a long, slow breath, and turned her head to the right. She resisted the urge to roll her eyes once again at Flash Sentry, now trotting down the hallway towards her. His stupid mane bounced like gelatin shaken out of its mould.
He was panting. Heavily. As if he’d just galloped here from the other side of the city. “This might sound stupid, but… do you know how to get to the second floor?”
Octavia’s eyes narrowed. She said nothing.
“I think the stairs are, uh…” He trailed off, swallowed, and shook his head clear of his own confusion. “Broken. I think they’re broken. I dunno, I ran up and down and, like… well, they don't go anywhere?"
Flash continued his confused, disjointed ramblings about the broken staircase, breathing heavily all the while. His mane jiggled in time to his impassioned insanity.
Octavia closed her eyes. Flash's breath washed over her like hot wind dredging up the smell of low tide.
I'm going to be seeing quite a bit of this fellow, she thought. Wouldn't want to get sick of his face so soon.