This challenge: The Hotel.
[EDIT: Mr. Wendig himself titled this piece better than I ever could. Well done, sir.]
"End of the Line"
Andy Falstead was waiting at the end of the line. He became aware of his situation uncertainly, as if waking from a dream he couldn't remember. Each of the dozen or so people standing in front of him carried a piece of luggage -- mostly suitcases, but here or there was a duffle bag or overstuffed backpack. Andy found that he, himself, was clutching a suitcase in his right hand. It was a simple, dark tan, not too worn, and not too heavy. He swung it easily at his side as the line moved forward and so, in his turn, did Andy.
The front of the line disappeared into the entranceway of a large, brick hotel. As Andy's eyes were drawn upward to the top of the building, he noticed the sky for the first time, roiling with storm clouds. There was something unnatural and vaguely mesmerizing about how the clouds moved, sped up as if through time-lapse photography. He watched for a time as they curled and swelled, ceaselessly overlapping and consuming each other.
"Young feller, ain'tcha?" said a voice behind Andy. He turned to see that, apparently without him noticing, he was no longer at the end of the line. Behind him now stood a short, elderly gentleman, dressed nattily in a charcoal flannel suit topped off with a snap-brim hat. He carried a kind of double-handled satchel that Andy had always though of as an old-timey doctor's bag, stretched and faded with use. "Car wreck?"
"What?" said Andy, unsure of what to make of the question.
The older man flicked his eyes up at Andy over a pair of quite respectable reading glasses. His face offered a friendly, welcoming kind of smile. "'Car wreck,' I said," the man replied. He gestured toward Andy with his free hand. "Not that you look it. Just figured...young feller, probably car wreck. Maybe drugs. Me, right there in the middle of Pinochle Night, can you believe it? Face-down, right on the table. Was winning, too!" he added in a jocular tone.
"I'm sorry," said Andy, "I don't quite...I'm not..." The squeal of tires, The sickening lurch. The world tipped on its side. The screaming. "Oh, God." Andy brought his left hand to his mouth while his right tightened its grip on the handle of his suitcase. "Oh, God! I...yes. Um...bus. I was on a bus. Oh, God."
"Don't worry, son, don't worry." The man reached his free hand forward and patted Andy gently on the arm. "You'll find that the worst is over. You'll wanna move forward, there." The older man guided Andy kindly forward as the next person entered the hotel and the line advanced again. "First time, son?"
"What?" said Andy, once again caught off-guard. "I mean, yes. I guess. I mean...how many times..."
"Me? Oh, I don't know. A few. You pick things up, after a while. You know. Start to remember. I mean, not there, not while you're still alive, but when you're back here, it will start to seem familiar."
"So..." Andy began. "What now?"
"Oh, you check in, you get a little rest, you think about things. Take a break. You know. Take a little vacation. Everyone needs a vacation."
"Sure," said Andy. "Sure they do."
"Don't worry," the man said again, with another of his warm smiles. "You'll be fine, young feller. Just fine."
The conversation ended, after that. The old man turned to chat with the similarly elderly woman that seemed to have joined the line behind them. Andy remained lost in his thoughts while, person by person, he got closer to the hotel entrance.
Finally, it was Andy's turn. He stood for a moment, hesitating.
"Go on, son," the old man said quietly behind him. "They'll take care of you."
Andy stepped through the door.
The hotel lobby was small and devoid of customers. The only other person Andy saw was the clerk standing behind the check-in counter, a handsome elderly woman wearing a burgundy vest over a white, collared shirt. He approached the counter. The woman smiled.
"Andrew Falstead," said the woman. It didn't seem like a question.
"Uh. Yes," said Andy. The woman nodded at him and handed Andy a key-card.
"You'll be in seven-fifteen. The elevators are to your left. Enjoy your stay."
"Thank you," said Andy, and taking the key-card, he turned to his left and walked toward the elevators. The ride to the seventh floor was brief and solitary. There was no music. The elevator didn't even making a "ding" noise when it reached Andy's floor, a detail Andy couldn't help but feel cheated by.
The room was small, which surprised Andy somewhat. After closing the door behind him, he stood for a moment to take it in. A double bed was the most noticeable item, flanked by a bedside table holding a lamp and a telephone. There was a writing desk and chair on the opposite wall. Andy took a few timid steps forward and finally sat down on the bed, setting his suitcase down beside him. He let himself fall backward, and he stared at the ceiling. It was beige. Stucco, he thought to himself. I'm dead, and I'm staring at stucco.
After a time, Andy slowly propped himself up on his elbows, and then turned to look at the suitcase. It came to him that it was not one that was familiar, or at least it wasn't one that he'd ever owned. He stared at it. He sat up and spun it around to face him. He stared at it some more. He slowly ran the zipper around the sides. He took a breath. He opened it.
It was all here -- his hopes and dreams, his desires, his regrets. His choices, good and bad. Everything important from his life. His old life. He started to unpack, laying the items out on the bed, one by one.