"Grazie," we call half-heartedly at the closing elevator doors.

"That was nice of her to take our bags down," I say, suppressing a yawn.

Ann shoulders her backpack, "I can't believe we have to leave this early. Venice could wait another couple of hours at least."

"Definitely." I drag my backpack off the floor as well, and we head towards the stairs.

Clasping the cool metal handle of the door, I wrench it open. A rush of frigid air sweeps past us, tangling our hair with Italian snowflakes. I gasp as the unexpected wind lashes at my bare neck and face. Looking over at Ann, I raise my eyebrows. Our circumstances are beyond comical. It is 4:30am and we are in a Holiday Inn in Lake Garda, Italy; I have just opened a door to find, not the set of warmly-lit, carpeted stairs that one would expect to find in a chain hotel, but a dark, spiraling, concrete staircase which appears to be tacked onto the building with a few bolts.

"Wow," I comment intelligently.

"Yeah." Ann replies. "Look familiar?"

"I lost count around eleven staircases like this. Narrow, lightless, and stone – nice qualities." I smile, remembering the undesirable thrill of claustrophobia.

"I expected it in the cathedral and basilicas, but this is a bit extreme isn't it?" She grins back and we move away from the door. It slides shut behind us, and we are left standing in shadows.

"Did you see any other stairs?" I ask.

Ann shakes her head. "Andiamo?"

"Yeah, sure, might as well," I shrug. Drearily we follow the spiral steps downward.

"Is it just me, or are almost all the lights burned out?" Ann comments, just as I burst out: "Is it just me, or are there fewer and fewer windows?" We laugh uneasily.

"That was the first floor door we just passed, right?" I question, just as I stumble over an uneven bit on the stairs. I squeak in surprise. I reach out for a railing, but end up grabbing Ann. I guess railings aren't required, either.

"Careful! Yeah, the sketchy Italians can't count. What's with the first floor being called the lobby, anyhow?"

"No idea," I reply, steadying myself. We continue tromping down the steps, around and around ... and around.

"Shouldn't we have gotten there yet?"

"Um, yeah ... this is too much stress on my poor tired brain." Ann hits the indiglow on her watch, 4:37am. I read over her shoulder and groan.

"I think we should go back up. I don't like the looks of this. If we're past where the lobby door should be, and there aren't anymore windows ..."

"... then we're underground!" Ann says with realization, finishing my sentence.

"Totally not cool."

"You can say that again." Ann grabs my wrist and drags me up a few steps before letting me fend for myself. We sprint round the spiral stairs, our bags bouncing wildy on our backs. When we reach the first floor door, we both grab at the handle and spill into the hallway.

"We really gotta quit watching those horror movies," I say as I catch a first glimpse of the unlit corridor, lined with tightly closed doors. "Does this make you think of The Shining?" I grin slyly, looking sideways at Ann.

"Shut up!" Ann whispers harshly, "I don't want to start imagining bloody ghosts and crazy-men with kitchen knives at the end of the corridor ... red rum, red rum."

"You shut up!" I reply, imagining the possessed boy endlessly repeating 'murder' backwards. "Ugh, now I've got the chills."

"You started it!" Ann exclaims defensively.

"Alright, alright, I'm sorry. Let's just find the elevators." Hooking arms, we walk skittishly down the hall, whipping our heads around at the slightest creak of a floorboard.

"Jeez, I shouldn't have said anything. This is really creeping me out." We reach the elevators and Ann hits the down button.

"I agree. You're evil, you know that?" Ann whispers: there is something about being in a shadowy hallway at 4:45am that made you talk quietly.

"Yeah," I whisper back. We watch the dark hotel room doors intently while Ann paces in front of the elevators. A rasping snore slips beneath the door behind us, and cringing we move away, our eyes darting nervously around the halls.

I drum my fingers on my leg. Ann twirls her hair. I fold my arms around my waist. Ann glances at the ceiling and adjusts her glasses.

"Aly, do you think we should –– " Ann starts, then the elevator door opens. Eight confused faces peer at us, while a man announces that there is, once again, "no room."

"But the stairs don't go to the lobby! We need to get downstairs!" Ann says tripping over the words.

"There's another set of stairs right over there," the man points, looking at us strangely.

"But ..!" I call. The elevator doors start closing.

"Over there," the man motions again.

"Right, thanks," I reply, not convinced.

"Grazie!" Ann says to the closed elevator doors.

"Annie? Do you really think ..."

"Yeah, I hope. Let's go look." Hoisting our backpacks over our shoulders again, we follow the corridor.

"Hey! There's the sign with little green neon guy running down the stairs!" I comment, impressed.

"You got me worried for a second there!" Ann laughs, relieved as well.

Ann reaches for the door handle this time. We brace ourselves for another blast of snowflakes, but instead we are met with a normal, Holiday Inn quality set of well-lit, straight stairs. We grin and bounce down the stairs two at a time. In less than a second we stand in the lobby, surrounded by baggage and sleepy-eyed classmates.

"What took you two so long?" Ann's boyfriend asks, suppressing a yawn. "Did you oversleep?"

"Us, oversleep? No!" I say sarcastically. "I am offended that you would even suggest that!"

"Okay, so what have you guys been doing?" Scott raises his eyebrows and looks at us expectantly.

"Well, let's just say that you cannot trust the stairs of a Holiday Inn in Italy."