They stood behind the front desk as Jonathan entered the lobby, still and smiling, like they were mannequins and his entrance was the switch that brought them to life. They were both prototypical Swedish Barbie dolls: tanned skin, blonde hair, blue eyes, attractive and fit. There teeth were so white they seemed a light source unto themselves. Despite the summer season, they were dressed as if they were about to go skiing in a bad 70s porn: light blue turtlenecks, insulated white vests, dark blue pants, and big furry boots.
The lobby was ultra-modern in design, like if IKEA had a “winter lodge” section. Bananarama’s ‘Curel Summer’ played quietly over the lobby sound system.
“Hello, I am Maklolm!” said the male, and waved.
“Malcom?” asked Steven, sitting his bags down near the front desk.
“I’m sorry I’m still hearing Malcom.”
Maklolm grabbed a small piece of paper and a pen, scribbled something down and slid it across the counter. Jonathan picked it up. It read simply MaklJlm.
The female waved as well. “I’m Malin! You are staying here?”
“Just for a short time. I actually have a friend that is currently staying here. Nicole? Nicole Brothers?”
She nodded. “Oh yes! She is currently our only guest!”
“You only have one guest? This place is huge.”
Maklom smiled (or smiled more, if that was possible). “We like to give a very personal experience. You like dancing?”
“Dancing? I mean, I guess.”
“Oh good you come with us!”
“Don’t we have like check-in stuff to do?”
Malin took Jonathan’s hand. “We can take care of that later.”
They led him through a few large, well-furnished and decorated rooms. The further back into the facility they went, the louder Bananarama’s ‘Cruel Summer’ sounded. Finally they entered the entertainment room, the source of the music. Some of the furniture had been cleared to the side for a make-shift dance floor. In the center danced Nicole, wearing an outfit similar to that of Maklolm and Malin, her brunette hair pulled back into a ponytail. She smiled when she saw him.
She ran to him and gave him a hug. This Nicole Brothers was much different from the one he had last seen in California, crying on the floor of her apartment, high on who knows what and screaming that she just wanted it all to end. Some of Jonathan’s initial doubt faded. Maybe the Swedish Instutitute for Rehabilition and Other Endeavors was all the internet promised it would be. She looked like a completely different person. Even physically, she looked slimmer, toner, healthier. He could have sworn her hair was a few shades brighter than when he had last seen her.
“Wow. You look great.”
“I feel great! This place is amazing! You were totally right. Coming here was the right move.”
He opened his mouth the say something but Maklolm cut him short. “No more talking! Dancing!”
Something didn’t sit right to Jonathan. Maklolm and Malin stared at him, smiling, urging him to dance. He wasn’t sure they ever blinked.
“Dance!” said Maklolm. “Dance until your souls have departed from your body!”
Nicole grabbed his hands and he danced. He had forgotten how much he liked this song, it was kind of hypnotic.
Eventually they went up to their rooms to get ready for dinner. Malin led Jonathan to his room. Upon arrival, he found that none of his luggage has made it to the room. He opened the door back into the hallway to go grab his luggage, only to find Maklolm and Malin whispering to each other serious-faced in the hallway. They stopped as soon as they saw him and quickly regained their smiles.
“Is there something we can help you with?” they asked in unison.
“Uhhh, I didn’t see my luggage in the room.”
Both their faces showed concern, but it was Maklolm who spoke. “Oh, we are so sorry. There was a terrible accident and all your luggage was lost.”
“Yes, we are so sorry. We definitely did not lose it on purpose as part of some scheme. We will replace everything, but for now there are some clothes you can wear in the closet of your room.”
“Yes,” said Malin. “You should wear the clothes in your closet to dinner.”
They smiled and stared at him as he shut the door. He waited a moment, then opened the door again. They stood in the place, still smiling and staring. He closed the door again, more slowly this time.
Inside his closet hung an outfit like Maklolm, Malin, and Nicole wore. He debated with himself for a moment, but decided it would be best if he went along with it for now. The outfit was a bit tight for his liking, so he was still adjusting it when he met Nicole in the hallway before dinner.
She smiled when she saw him. “You look great! Isn’t it great here?”
“You just said great twice in row. I don’t know if anything is good enough to deserve that.”
Her smile was playful. “Don’t be such a fuddy-duddy.”
“Since when do you use terms like ‘fuddy-duddy’?” She shrugged. “Doesn’t this place seem kinda…weird to you?”
For a second the smile faded from her face, and she looked confused. But it only last for that second. Her smile returned. “No, it’s great!”
He opened his mouth to respond, but once again he was cut off.
“Monathan! You found your clothes, I see. They look good, ya?” Maklolm patted him on the back.
“Did you say ‘Monathan’? Like with an ‘M’?”
“Of course not, that would be weird. Let’s have dinner!”
Swedish dishes of all kinds covered the dining room table. The smell hit Jonathan’s nose, and his stomach grumbled. He was hungrier than he realized. They took their seats and piled food onto their plates.
“Oh I know what’s missing,” said Malin. “A little mood music.” She pulled a small, white remote out of her pocket and pressed play. ‘Cruel Summer’ poured out of the speakers. Jonathan was about to ask if they knew any other songs, but found himself nodding his head instead. He plucked a meatball with his fork. There was a lot of food at the table. Too much food.
“Did you guys make all of this food? This is a lot of food for two people to make, and we were only apart for like 20 minutes.” He sat his fork down.
“It doesn’t matter, just eat up,” said Malin.
“Yes, eat the food, and let the effects take hold.”
“Who cares?” asked Nicole. “This food is great!”
“THAT IS TOO MANY ‘GREATS’ FOR ONE NIGHT.”
Still smiling, Maklolm cocked an eyebrow. “Listen to Micole. Just eat up, it’s not like the food has secret, evil ingredients in it that will slowly transform you mentally and physically.”
Jonathan stood. “Okay, that was clearly an ‘m’ at the beginning of her name. I think I know what’s going on here. The two of you are trying to brainwash us for some reason and transform us into copies of you!”
The smiles disappeared from both of Maklolm and Malin’s faces. “How dare you. We try to help your friend in her time of greatest need, and this is how we are treated? We will not stand for this. We must ask that you both leave. Immediately.”
In a moment of doubt about his suspicions, Jonathan actually did feel a little guilty. He didn’t want to deny Nicole the help she needed.
Nicole put up a protest, and actually cried a little as they gathered their things and called a taxi. Jonathan ushered Nicole into the backseat, and as they drove away she stared back at the institute, weakly waving goodbye.
Maklolm and Malin watched them go.
“That was close. I guess we’ll just have to lure another male and female here to slowly transform them into our replacements so that the curse passes to them and we achieve the sweet release of death, which at this point is a smiling hell.”
Malin smiled. “Yeah.”