Out of Order by Sheryl: Chapter 1

Title: Out of Order
Chapter: 1 of 2
Author: Sheryl
Rating: PG-13
Excerpt: “Out of order… perfect.” Sighing, he headed back to the elevator. Figured. Well, there was always the next floor down.
By the time he’d reached the lobby, Zac began to suspect that someone was messing around with him. How could every single coke machine be out of order? There were 42 of them in the hotel. And as far as he could tell, at least 39 of them were out of order.
He hadn’t tried the top three floors yet, preferring to go as far away from germ central as he could. Scowling, he headed for the lobby.

Chapter 1

“No, Zac, just go away!!”
Zac sighed, and slunk out of the bedroom. He hadn’t meant to turn the radio up too loud. Geez. Was it his fault he couldn’t sleep? It was Ike’s fault he couldn’t sleep, all his moaning and groaning about his virus. So he didn’t feel well, did that mean he had to yell? Zac didn’t think so.
Trying to keep quiet, he wandered into the room he shared with Tay, and turned on the TV, softly, so not to wake him.
The virus ripping through the family was vicious, and Tay had it worse than Ike. If Ike had yelled at him, Tay would most likely kill him… He settled back, grinning as a familiar, cheezy, terrible movie he loved appeared before his eyes.
“Zac… c’mon, quiet down…” Taylor’s voice was rough, and almost whiny. “Can’t you just go in the other room?”
Zac sighed and his smile vanished. He guessed he’d been laughing too loudly.
“Sorry Tay, it’s just that it’s…” He broke off as Taylor’s face went white, and he grabbed for the bowl on the bedside.
Grimacing, he shook his head and left quickly. The last thing he needed was to see or hear any more of that. He was about ready to be sick himself, just from putting up with it all night.
He plopped down onto the couch in the sitting room. How did anyone expect him to sleep with all this coughing, gagging, hacking, sniffing, wheezing, puking, moaning going on? “Is it my fault I’m not sick? I don’t think so…” He rolled his eyes as Taylor’s voice croaked from the bedroom.
“Zac, thanks for shutting of the TV, really…”
“So I forgot the TV, so sue me…”
First Ike, now Tay. He knew things were no better in his mom and dad’s room, all of the little kids were down sick with this too. Everyone wanted to be left alone, and nobody seemed to care much what he did, or that it was the middle of the night and he still couldn’t sleep.
The radio was bugging them. The TV was bugging them. He was bugging them.
“Not my fault I’m still healthy… you’d think they’d at least spare a breath to speak to me… but noooo… what time is it, anyway?” Knowing he was talking to himself, not really caring, he wandered back into the bedroom, glancing at the clock. 1:00am. “God, why am I up?” He wandered the suite, knowing the answer. There was no way to sleep with all that racket going on, and did they care?
Noooo…

Feeling more than a little abused and unappreciated, he roamed his way into the hallway.
I could go get a coke… how exciting.
His steps took him to the elevator. Why get a coke on his own floor when he could kill some time invading someone else’s? He rode down a few floors, humming to himself. At least out here the air wasn’t contaminated. The doors opened and he wandered down the hall to the vending machines.
This floor, a carbon copy of his own, left little in the way of adventure.
“Out of order… perfect.” Sighing, he headed back to the elevator. Figured. Well, there was always the next floor down.
By the time he’d reached the lobby, Zac began to suspect that someone was messing around with him. How could every single coke machine be out of order? There were 42 of them in the hotel. And as far as he could tell, at least 39 of them were out of order.
He hadn’t tried the top three floors yet, preferring to go as far away from germ central as he could. Scowling, he headed for the lobby.
“Hey, excuse me… I got a question.”
The desk clerk jumped, surprised at a voice at this hour of the morning.
“Yes… yes?”
“Where can I go to get a coke? All the machines are busted…”
The clerk’s face became puzzled. “They are?”
“They are. Every single one of them. Out of order signs on ’em all.”
The young woman thought about it, and shook her head.
“I’m afraid I don’t know… if you go back to your room, you can order one room service.”
Zac shook his head. “Nah… I just wanted to get one out of the machine. Forget about it.” He headed out of the lobby, pausing suddenly, patting down his pockets.
“Oh man….” He went back to the desk. “Hey, ma’am excuse me, but… I forgot my key upstairs. Could I have another one?”
The clerk’s face became suspicious. She’d never seen this boy before. And why would he turn down room service? And a forgotten key??? Eyes narrowed, she picked up the phone. “What room are you in, young man? I’ll have to call up and make sure it’s alright to give you a key.”
Zac’s eyes went wild. “No!! God, don’t call! You’ll wake them up and they’ll kill me!!”
“Mmmhmmm… you don’t have a room here do you?”
“What??” Zac was beyond surprised. Don’t have a room? “What’re you talking about?! Of course I have a room, I’ve been here for a month!! Now can I just have a key please?! It’s 10510! Don’t have a room…” He trailed off, grumbling, eyes suddenly shadowed at the smug look on the clerk’s face.
“Well now, you see, I happen to know that that entire area has been reserved for a particular group, so there’s no way that’s your suite. Where do you live? Who are your…”
Zac’s hand slammed down on the desk, and his eyes flashed.
“Now look! I know the floor is reserved, it’s MY family that reserved it!! Now are you gonna let me into my room or what?!?!”
“Don’t shout at me. If that’s your room, we’ll just call there right now…”
Sighing, knowing there was no other way, and struggling to bite back his temper, Zac shook his head. “No, if you’re just gonna wake them up with the phone, I may as well just go up and bang on the door. Never mind.”
“HOLD IT!” The woman’s voice was sharp and firm. “You will stay right there while I call upstairs.”
Sagging, Zac sank down into the nearest chair.
All hell was going to come down around him now, he knew it.
“But mom, I…”
“Don’t you ‘but mom’ me! You know everyone is sick, you know we’ve all been up all night, and you do something stupid like this? That phone call woke up everyone in the room, now all four of them are awake again. Do you know how long it took me to get them to sleep?! Do you think I don’t need to sleep sometime tonight? What are you all gonna do if I get sick, Zac???” Her voice was rising with every word, and Zac backed away, scowling. He hadn’t meant to get locked out. He hadn’t wanted the clerk to call. None of this was his fault.
“Mom, I didn’t mean to, I just needed to get away! Ike was yelling at me, Tay was yelling at me, I couldn’t sleep, listening to them was making me sick! All I wanted to do was get a coke! God, you’d think I committed a crime!”
Diana’s face was disgusted. “You know, Zac, if you were already up, and so bored you had to be running the halls, maybe someone could have used your help! Have some compassion. Or if you can’t manage that, have some consideration!”
“Well what about consideration for me?!?! I couldn’t sleep either! Everyone was yelling at me, what was I supposed to do?! It’s not my fault you guys are all sick!”
Barely resisting the urge to slap him, his mother turned him by a shoulder, and propelled him through the connecting door to his own room.
“Zac. Go to bed. Do not watch TV. Do not turn anything on. Do not leave the room. Just go to bed. And be quiet.”
“But Tay’s in there, he’s all puking and stuff, mom I don’t want to sleep in there!”
“Zac.”
“What…”
“Go to bed. Now.” She shut the door firmly, and he heard the snick of the lock.
“Oh, this just isn’t fair…” He stretched out on the couch, looking out at the stars, through the glass wall. He didn’t understand, why was everyone so down on him? What had he done? Nothing, just a mistake, like they never made mistakes? Were they perfect or something?
Turning on his side, he pulled the folded afghan over himself, and tried to relax. Warm drowsiness had just begun to steal over him, when the light across the room suddenly flashed on, and he heard the slam of the bathroom door. Groaning, trying not to hear the sounds from the other side of the door, he pulled the pillow over his head.
I’m gonna wake up with it, I know I am… I have to get out of here.” Sneering at whichever brother was in the bathroom, and had woken him up, he pocketed his key card, and quietly unlocked the door.
He’d go sit by the pool, that was it. Get that coke and go sit by the pool and maybe catch some sleep down there. Nodding to himself, he started out of the room.
“Zac…”
He jumped, Isaac’s voice completely unexpected. Isaac. So it was Tay in the bathroom. Figured.
“You in line? Or were you just gonna puke right on the rug?”
Isaac sighed, and frowned at his brother.
“Zac, c’mon. That’s not fair. Where are you going? I just heard mom tell you to stay put.” He leaned back against the doorjamb, feeling the strength draining out of him. Why did Zac have to be such a pain, and why now? He just wasn’t up to it.
“No way.” Zac’s annoyance level had maxed out. “You’re all coughin’ on me, sneezin’ on me, pukin’ on me, every time I even think about falling asleep, the barforama starts again, and you’re all wakin’ me back up. I’d have to be nuts to stay here, the air is crawling with stuff… I’m out.” He slipped out of the room, and locked the door behind him, unmindful of the hurt expression on his brother’s face.
Behind him, Isaac sighed, and turned back to his bedroom. Zac’s words stung, but he didn’t really have the energy to spare to dwell on it. He’d worry about Zac in the morning.

Zac dragged his toes as he made his way to the vending machines. He really was tired, more than anything now, he wanted to sleep. Drink a pop, and find someplace quiet to sleep. It wasn’t right. He shouldn’t have to go to all this trouble just to find a place to sleep. And what was up with these stupid pop machines?!?!
He kicked ineffectually at the machine, proudly displaying yet another “out of order” sign.
“What is up with this, this just sucks! I’m Zac Hanson, for the love of pete, and I can’t even get a pop?! Where is everyone?” He mumbled to himself as he trudged from the room, heading to the elevator to try the next floor. “There’s always someone around, all I ever have to do is ask, how come all of a sudden Zac doesn’t exist? Is that right? I don’t think so. Everyone’s all over them, do they need anything, are they okay, well geez, just ’cause I’m not sick doesn’t mean I’m not here… you’d think I could find someone to get me a freakin’ pop….” His mutterings followed him out of the elevator, cut off as his unbelieving eyes took in yet another out of order sign.
His vague craving for the coke had suddenly become an unbearable thirst.
“Okay that’s it. I’m trying one more floor, and then I’m hitting management. This is stupid. What kind of stupid trashy place is this…”
He stepped back onto the elevator, randomly punching the keypad with his thumb, closing his eyes as he slumped against the wall. He’d almost slipped into a doze, when the doors opened.
He stepped out onto a floor he’d never seen before. Plush carpeting had given way to industrial tile, brass and gold light fixtures to utilitarian bulbs in plain glass holders, silk wallpaper to plain cream paint.
“Where the hell…” He glanced up above the elevator. “Great, I’m in the basement. That figures…”

He was about to step back on and go up, when a sign caught his eye. “Employees only… wonder what’s in there?” He wandered over, curiosity overshadowing irritation for a moment, and his face lit in a grin.
There. Perfect. The employee break room, boasting a fridge, microwave, two drink machines and a snack machine. And none of them sporting the hated “out of order” sign.
Nodding satisfaction, he stepped into the room, ignoring the fact that he was not an employee. His family was paying enough to stay here, they could spare him a staff coke. It wouldn’t ruin anybody’s life.
He dropped his change into the machine, smiling contentedly at the thunk of the can into the retrieval bin. He took his drink with great relish, and curled himself up on the small sofa in the corner, thinking for a moment that he might just have found his quiet place to sleep for the night.
His eyes wandered the room as he sipped his drink, taking in notes tacked to a bulletin board,
Anyone working Saturday 7-3, I need to switch shifts. If interested call Kate, 555-8932, or leave a message with Linda in housekeeping.
Avon orders due in Monday, so bring that cash folks!!
You are invited to…
Family and Medical Leave Act…
His eyes wandered away, lit on someone’s sweater draped over the back of a chair, a tattered deck of cards, stacks of magazines, none more recent than three months ago, Readers Digest, newspapers, coffee pot, a peg board from which hung numerous mugs, a cup of random change, bearing a taped on note. “Take what you need, leave some when you have some extra…
Hmm.
He looked over at the snack machine, and reached into his pocket. Nothing. No more money. Well, it said take what you need…
He fished a few quarters from the cup, and wandered over, eyeing the junk food inside. Nothing looked all that great, but he supposed chips would do. Reaching to plug the change into the slot, he came up short. Where was the change slot?
“Where in hell…”
He checked carefully, eyes and fingers running over the face of the machine.
Where did you put the money in?
“It’s not free is it?” He tapped the button for the bag of chips. Nothing. “Nope… not free, so where the hell is the coin slot?” Smiling, puzzled, he poked around the bottom of the thing, intrigued.
This was plain weird.
Zac’s head was starting to ache with the strain. It just shouldn’t be that hard to figure out. It was probably right in front of his nose.
“Geez louise… no coin slot, but there has to be one, I’m just missing it somehow. I’m hungry, how do I get a bag of chips?” That he could just go back upstairs, and find all the chips he wanted, in his own room, never occurred to him.
Suddenly, the only thing in his consciousness was this machine, and that bag of chips. As he stared, his brown eyes glazed over and reality drifted away.

“Ok, I put in my money, where’s my chips? All I want is a bag of chips, there’s no place to reach for them, dumb machine.”
Zac jumped, looking around wildly. Where had that voice come from? It sounded as aggravated as he felt.
“Who said that? Where are you?”
“Huh? Who are you?” The voice was young, female, distracted.
“Who am I? Who are you? Where are you? What the hell is going on?” Zac’s voice had taken on an edge. The voice seemed to be coming from behind the machine or… inside the machine? “Where the hell are you?”
The voice took on an air of scorn. “You stop the cussing, that’s not nice. I never get a chance to have chips and now that I finally can I can’t reach in and get them, if anyone should be cussing it should be me. But I have some manners.”
Zac’s eyes were huge. What was this??? The voice was definitely coming from inside the machine. He stepped around it. Nothing. Just a plug into the wall.
Stepping back, he eyed it warily. This was beyond weird.
“Okay Zac…” His own voice startled him for a moment, and he jumped. “Geez… cut it out. Don’t spook yourself. Be logical. Obviously this is a dream, and to prove it…” He gave his cheek a vicious pinch, expecting to feel nothing.
“YEOW! Oh damn that hurt!”
“Are you okay? What happened?” The voice came again, full of concern, and Zac’s fear began to fade. This was weird, but it didn’t’ feel… dangerous.
Feeling remarkably stupid, he grinned a little and answered. “I um… pinched myself.”
A giggle came from the machine. “I did that too. It hurt! I guess we’re both awake.”
“I guess we are. Hey, I’m Zac. Who, and… and where, are you??”
The voice was amazed. “I’m Tally, and I don’t understand this at all. I mean, we seem to be talking through a snack machine…”
Zac nodded, thoroughly enchanted. “I know. Kinda cool, isn’t it? I’m in NYC, where are you?”
The voice hesitate slightly. “Oh, nowhere near there. This is just wild.”
“Yeah it is…” A crackle caught Zac’s attention, and his eyes lit up. A bag of chips, the bag he’d wanted, had just fallen into the bin.
“Oh so cool…” He fished them out, and opened them, munching happily.
“What’re you eating Zac?” Tally’s voice sounded suspicious.
“Oh, well a bag of chips just fell over here, I was starving to death… I couldn’t figure out how to get the money in… I don’t know, I guess you don’t need any?”
“Oh great. Great. Chips are the one thing out of this machine I can have, and now you are eating them.”
“Huh?” He looked at the bag, and back at the machine. “Exactly how would these be your chips?”
“Well…” She stopped, then laughed. “This is weird. Okay, tell me what’s wrong with your side of the machine. ”
Zac grinned. “There’s no place to put the money.”
“Okay, there is here, but there’s this… this shelf thing blocking the bin. So my chips fell behind it, and I bet that’s them you are talking around, over there.”
He stopped eating and looked at the chips, then at the machine. There was a freaky looking kind of black thing at the back, it almost looked like it went… nowhere.
“Let me get this right, I can’t put money in, you can, you’re stuff falls down, but it falls over here.”
“I guess so, I think so, yeah…”
“Well put some more change in, and get some more chips, and I’ll see if I can hand them over that… that thing… to you.” He stuck his hand in, hesitantly, wondering if something were going to bite it. Yep, he could reach over the barrier just fine. And nothing weird happened to his hand. “Yeah, Tally, it’ll work”
“No it won’t I don’t have any more change.”
“Well can you ask someone for some?”
“Whom I gonna ask for change at 1:00am??” He sighed, and looked at the cup on the table. He could pass her through some change or… he could just share the chips.
“Tally, if you don’t mind that I ate some, you can have the rest of these, I’ll just pass them back to you.”
She giggled, and her voice took on a playful tone. “Okay, but you owe me 33 cents for your half.”
His laugh rang in the room, and he looked around guiltily. He didn’t want to get caught, not now, not when something like this was going on. He carefully folded over the top of the bag, and tentatively stretched his hand over the barricade. A moment later, he yelped as he felt something touch his hand. Yanking it back, hearing her matching cry of surprise, he stared at his hand.
“Oh my God, you touched me!”
“I know!” Her voice was as strained as his was. Slowly, not sure he really wanted to do this, he reached back through.
“Tally, touch my hand…” He waited a moment, and felt soft fingers slide around his, sending a jolt of pure electricity through him. Delight dawned in his eyes as he let his fingers explore her hand, and felt hers exploring his.
“My God…” her voice was hushed. “You’re really real… I can touch you…”
“I know…” He barely breathed the words, too caught up in the wonder of it all to react much more.

*Chapter 2*

This fictional story is hosted at The Gifted Ones,
with permission from the author, Sheryl.

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