“I really enjoy having dinner here,” Richard said, putting his napkin back down on the table. “The buffet offers a wide choice of food indeed. It’s ideal for a group like ours.”
“You’re absolutely right,” his friend Martin agreed. Their wives merely nodded, as they were still working on their desserts. Richard looked at the second table and noticed the other couples were almost ready too.
A few moments later one of the waiters approached the two tables the group was seated at and politely asked: “Have you all finished?”
“Yes, we have. Could you put the drinks on our room numbers?” Richard asked.
“No problem,” the waiter replied.
“I like this full board system,” Martin said. “It makes our stay ever so easy and relaxed.”
“We’re lucky to be at this hotel,” Abraham joined in from the other table. “It’s quite perfect for us.”
“Exactly. Well, shall we retire to our rooms?”
A power failure plunged them all in total darkness for a few moments, until the staff lit some candles.
“Well, I’m afraid this sort of thing can happen. We’ll just have to live with it.” Martin sounded resigned.
“Why don’t we go out for a walk before we retire to our rooms?” Harriet, Richard’s wife, proposed.
“An excellent idea,” Caroline, Martin’s wife, replied.
The eight of them left the dining hall but didn’t venture too far into the darkness of the night.
“We should have brought candles,” Richard murmured.
“Just look at the stars,” Abraham exclaimed. “The night sky is so peaceful.”
“What’s that red glow at our left there?” Caroline asked.
“Must be aurora borealis,” Richard replied. “Quite beautiful, wouldn’t you say so?”
“It’s pure poetry,” Harriet said, awe-stricken.
“I’m glad we can spend our old days here,” Abraham remarked. “This is what we’ve worked so hard for. It’s a dream come true.”
“I’m a bit tired,” Caroline said. “Shouldn’t we retire for a good night’s sleep, darling?”
“That’s just fine with me,” Martin answered. “Good night, and see you all at breakfast.”
Soon they had all gone to their rooms and the quiet had returned. One of the waiters cast a glance outside.
“It’s okay,” he said to the guy behind him. “They’ve all retreated to their shelters.”
“You mean their hotel rooms. They’re guests here at our hotel, remember?”
“Knock it off, man.”
“Come on, you’re the one who’s playing along with their escape fantasy. Didn’t you agree to put the drinks on their room numbers?”
“What am I supposed to tell them? The truth? That society as we knew it has collapsed, their hard-earned savings have vanished and we’re all eking out a living without much hope?”
“They’ll find out soon enough anyhow.”
“Oh no, they’re too deeply locked into their fantasy world. It’s what keeps them going. Those lousy survival rations are a lavish buffet, their shelters are hotel rooms…”
“And we are waiters serving them.”
“It was your idea to play along with their game.”
“It keeps them calm and under control. Would you prefer these old geezers ranting and raving in despair?”
“Don’t start that argument again. Let’s wrap up our work here.”
“Fine. But don’t forget to prepare our guests’ breakfast buffet. They’ll be here at the first light of day.”
“Don’t worry. They’ll have their rations.”
“We can’t complain, really. They don’t request a 24-hour-a-day room service.”
“That’s not part of a full board system.”
They both erupted in laughter.
“By the way, why did you turn off the generator before they had left?”
“I wanted to see their reaction. A power failure, they said. That happens, even at holiday resorts. I liked that one.”
“Maybe we should keep it switched off.”
“They’ll probably appreciate the hotel management’s initiative to offer romantic candle-lit dinners.”
“You got it. Let’s finish work.”
They did a tour of inspection along the fence securing the shelter, checked the gate’s locks and cast a final glance at the red glow on the horizon, a reminder of what used to be Los Angeles. Then they retired for the night as well, fearful of what tomorrow would bring.
Frank Roger was born in 1957 in Ghent, Belgium. His first story appeared in 1975. Since then his stories have appeared in an increasing number of languages in all sorts of magazines, anthologies and other venues, and since 2000, story collections have been published, also in various languages. Apart from fiction, he also produces collages and graphic work in a surrealist and satirical tradition. By now he has more than 700 short story publications (including a few short novels) to his credit in 29 languages. Critics describe his work as a blend of genres and styles: fantasy, satire, surrealism, science fiction and black humour.