(written for the [Fiction] Friday prompt on March 13, 2009, which was to write about a businessman who finds a voodoo doll in his hotel room on the third night of his stay.)

“May I help you, sir?” asked the young woman dressed in the neatly pressed hotel uniform and standing behind the desk.

“Uh, yeah,” said Stewart hesitantly.  “I think someone delivered a, uh, package to my room today and it was not for me.”

“Oh, sir, I am very sorry for the inconvenience,” said the woman whose nametag implied that her name was Melody.  “What is your room number?  I’ll have someone come up and get the package and we’ll see if it can be delivered properly.”

“Oh, um, three thirteen,” said Stewart quietly.  “But there’s no need to send anyone up, I brought it with me.” 

“Oh, why thank you Mr. Stanley,” said Melody, clearly having typed his room number into the computer to get his name.

“See?” said Stewart, placing an object on the desk after looking around him to ensure that the other hotel patrons in line were far enough away that he felt his privacy was being respected.  “It’s this weird doll.  I’m certain that it was not meant for me.  There’s probably some kid who was looking forward to getting this doll and is very disappointed right now.  I just want to make sure that it gets to -”

“Sir,” interrupted the woman behind the desk, shifting slightly as she looked at the line that was growing longer behind Stewart.  “I am certain that there is no mistake.  Look at the tag – it is clearly addressed to Mister Stewart Stanley in room 313.”

Stewart picked up the doll.  It was a well-crafted yarn doll with intricate features.  There were clearly ten fingers and toes, each one individually sewn.  Each arm and leg had joints in the right places for ankles and wrists and knees and elbows.  The hair was fine and well brushed and seemed like real human hair, except for the fact that it shimmered in such a way as to look blond when held at one angle, light brown at another, black at another and even red when held at still another angle.  The doll had been naked when Stewart had found it, lying on his pillow where the nightly chocolate mint was usually left.  One side of the doll was male and the other side was female.  Both sides of the naked doll were anatomically correct, a fact which forced  Stewart to wrap a handkerchief around the doll like a toga in an effort to not be parading around the hotel with an indecent doll like some kind of creep.

“Sir,” said the woman, Melody, behind the desk.  “Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“I still don’t understand how this could be for me,” said Stewart.  “I am simply here on a business trip for a sales seminar.  Don’t Blame Management If You’re Not Making Quota in Rough Economic Times – Blame the Government.  You know, being held downtown.  Fascinating topics, really about alternate sales strategies and ways to take your luxury product that no one needs and make it sell like a necessity.  Ways to stimulate sales, you know?  I find it very interesting that the seminars are being held in breakout rooms that are little huts and tents in the village; makes it feel really kind of earthy and natural, you know, though the smells are sometimes a little overwhelming.  But anyway, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with this or where it came from.  If you could look into it and see who delivered it or what it is, I would appreciate it.”

“Yes, sir,” said Melody in a disconnected way.  “If I discover anything about your little doll, I will get a message straight to you.  In the meantime, there is contact information on the tag; you may wish to see if there is a phone number there where you can find out more information.  Have a nice night, sir.  Can I help the next person in line, please?”

Dismissed, Stewart stepped away from the desk.  He walked slowly away and back toward the elevator that would take him to his room.  He felt angry that he was not really helped but felt also kind of silly for asking for help about a doll in the first place.  He had taken Melody’s business card from the little holder on the front desk so that he could lodge a complaint, but he knew that he would just stick the card into his briefcase and never look at it again.  That’s what he always did.

Stewart returned to his room and dropped the doll on the little table in the suite’s kitchenette, right next to the remnants of the muffin and yogurt from his continental breakfasts of the past three mornings.  “Three days down, two more to go,” he said to himself.  Kicking off his shoes, he sprawled out on the bed to watch a little television, cursing at the default volume of the hotel’s in-room movie-purchase system as it rattled the windows, shouting about how he could easily purchase the right to watch the finest in action, romance, comedy or adult entertainment right there from the comfort of his room.  Finally, mercifully, he found the mute button and applied it liberally to the television.  He flipped through the channels mindlessly, searching to see if there was anything on the sports networks besides Championship Poker.  At least the programming seemed normal this evening.

The prior two nights had been two of the strangest hotel nights in his life.  He had gotten into the hotel room in the late afternoon after the first day of the seminar.  He was tired and hungry so he ordered a veggie burger from room service and flipped on the television to find that every channel was showing a special about witchcraft.  The sports networks were showing a special about how you could use witchcraft to cheat at sports such as Championship Poker; the Food network was showing how to prepare fancy dishes such as Eye of Newt a la Mode; the history channels were showing docudramas about the Salem Witch Trials; the learning channels were showing how to make useful potions in your standard, everyday cauldron using only common household ingredients such as dust bunnies, cobwebs and, of course, soybeans.  Stewart did not understand how the programming was so bizarrely similar across all of the channels but he could not figure out the remote control’s buttons well enough to turn the television off so he settled on the learning channel and drifted off to sleep.  The next morning, all programming was back to normal and the large Off button on the remote was visible to him so that he could turn the television off.

On the second night of his stay, Stewart returned to the hotel to find that the room had been overrun by bats.  The bats were flying around the room, banging into things and making a general mess of the room.  Stewart dove for the bed, ducking so that the enraged bats did not attack him.  He grabbed the phone as he dove to the bed, nearly knocking the desk lamp over as he tripped on a rope on the floor.  He called the front desk to report the bats, needing to repeat himself several times before the person at the front desk understood that the bats had nothing to do with baseball.  Suddenly, Stewart noticed that the bats were not coming anywhere near the bed and he noted that the area around the bed had been surrounded by a woven rope of garlic, lemon slices and soybeans which, it seemed, was what was keeping the bats at bay.  He thanked the person at the front desk and told them that everything was under control.  Hanging up the phone, he flipped on the television and climbed under the blankets, falling to sleep rather quickly.  In the morning, he found that the bats had turned into butterflies overnight and next to the rope of garlic, lemon slices and soybeans was a nice, large umbrella, which he was grateful to have given the rain that had blown in overnight.

Now, on the third night of his stay, he had come back to the room to find the strange doll on his pillow.  He tried to do what he felt was right and bring it to the front desk, but clearly Melody had not shared his concern for the little child who was probably missing this doll.  Sighing and feeling that the fate of the world was not at risk due to a missing doll, Stewart settled in for his night’s rest in front of the television, assuming that he could find something to watch that would meet his needs.  He was in no mood for reality television or screaming game shows or the next round of full-contact Championship Poker, so he was flipping through the channels for quite some time.  Suddenly, a loud knock at the door interrupted his searching and he flipped the television off. 

Stewart walked slowly over to the door and peered through the little peephole.  He did not recognize the person, a man in a dark suit, on the other side of the door, but Stewart opened it anyway.

“Stewart Stanley?” asked the man in a deep, gravelly voice.

“Who are you?” asked Stewart.

“Are you Stewart Stanley?” asked the man again.

“It depends on who’s asking,” replied Stewart suspiciously.  “If you are looking to buy some nice shoes or some fresh fish, then I am your man.”

“Stewart Stanley,” repeated the man.  “Or do you prefer Voodoo Stew?”

“What?” asked Stewart.  “No, I think you must be mistaken.  I’m a vegetarian.”

“Voodoo Stew, vegetarian,” said the man.  “I am Mortimer K. Stenso.  You will let me in.”

“I am sorry, Mister Stenso,” replied Stewart.  “I don’t know who you are, so I’m not going to let you in.”

“It’s okay,” replied Mortimer in a calm, reassuring voice.  “I’m with the government. You can trust me.”

“Oh,” said Stewart.  “In that case, be my guest.”  Stewart opened the door the rest of the way and allowed the man to enter.

The man entered the room and looked around at the mess of food on the little table, the pile of dirty laundry next to the closet door and the unmade bed.  “Housekeeping has not been in here?” Mortimer asked.

“I request that they do not come to my room during my stay,” replied Stewart.

“Aha!” shouted the man.

“Aha?” repeated Stewart.

“So you admit to committing felony acts of supernatural activities in this room,” stated Mortimer.

“I, uh…” started Stewart.  “What?”

“Clearly, you do not want housekeeping in here to see your mystical garlic, lemon and soybean rope, strangely glowing umbrellas or your butterflies that you allow to fly around the room like this.”  Eyeing the doll on the table, he continued, “Or your voodoo doll.”

“Voodoo doll?” asked Stewart.  “Oh, you mean that doll.  Well, that’s not mine, it was delivered here by mistake.  The staff left it on my pillow while I was out. Other than that, I know nothing about it.”

“By mistake,” said Mortimer.  “Uh-huh.  And you know nothing about it.  Right.  Mister Stanley, in my line of work, I hear that phrase far too often.  There was no mistake, Mister Stanley, you received that voodoo doll for a reason that only you know.”

“Why would I want a voodoo doll, Mister Stenso?” asked Stewart.  “I am just a salesman.  I sell shoes and fish for Marty’s Fish and Shoe Mart.  I’m in town for a seminar about how to sell in these rough economic times.”

“That’s a good cover story Mister Stanley.  May I call you Voodoo Stew?  That’s the name me and the boys have given you.”

“You and the boys?” asked Stewart.

“We’re watching you, Voodoo Stew,” said Mortimer in his most threatening voice.  “Always watching. And now you are going to have to show me how this works.”  Mortimer picked up the doll from the table.  “Nice toga,” he said.

“I made it myself,” said Stewart.  “Don’t worry, the handkerchief was clean.”

“I have an immune system and I’m not afraid to use it,” said Mortimer.  “Clean, dirty… it’s all the same to me. Now, tell me about this doll.”

“I know nothing about this doll,” said Stewart in an exasperated tone of voice.  “Frankly, I know nothing about you either, so even if I did know something about the doll, I’d be unlikely to tell you anything.”

“Voodoo Stew, as I said, I work for the government, so you can trust me,” said Mortimer.

“In my line of work,” said Stewart, “I’ve heard that line from government folks a lot.”

“I am with the Department of Mystical Security, Voodoo Division,” said Mortimer, pulling out his business card and handing it to Stewart.  “Here is my business card to make it all the more legitimate.  We have noticed the paranormal activity in this room since you have been here and we could not help but notice that you tried to distribute voodoo paraphernalia to the hotel staff this evening.  Luckily, Miss Melody at the front desk was stronger than you and was able to resist your attempts to turn her to the dark art of Voodoo.”

“My attempts to…”  started Stewart.  “Mister Stenso, I am going to ask you to leave now because this is simply ridiculous.”

“Did you read the tag?” asked Mortimer.

“No, of course not,” said Stewart.  “The doll is not for me.”

“Read it,” commanded Mortimer.

Stewart took the doll from the table and sighed loudly.  “Ahem,” he began.  “For more information about the use of this doll, contact the hotel’s Shaman Services.”

“Did you contact Shaman Services, Mister Stanley?” asked Mortimer.

“Uh, no,” replied Stewart.  “How would I go about doing that?  Do you have a toy phone for me to use to call a made up hotel department?”

“Humor me,” said Mortimer, tossing the hotel’s services book to Stewart.

Stewart opened the book and started looking through the alphabetical list of hotel services. Sure enough, there it was. Shaman Services.  Right below ‘Room Service’ and above ‘Signature Dry Cleaning.’ 

“Call them,” said Mortimer.

Stewart, mind spinning, walked to the phone and picked it up.  Looking at the number in the book he recited the number as he dialed.  “Thirteen, thirteen, thirteen.”  The phone let out a horrific sound of a fast busy signal.  “It doesn’t work,” said Stewart, slamming the phone down.  “It is clearly a joke and not a real number.”

“You did not do what the listing said,” said Mortimer.  “It says, ‘dial thirteen, spin around twice in place , step over a rope of garlic, lemon and soybeans while dropping a spoonful of day-old yogurt into a cauldron.  Repeat three times.”

“That’s ridiculous,” said Stewart.  “How would the digital phone lines in this hotel know if I did all of that or not?”

“Humor me,” said Mortimer, producing a cauldron from somewhere and directing Stewart to collect the yogurt cups from the table.  The rope of garlic, lemon and soybeans was still lying conveniently on the floor near the phone, though Stewart was certain he had picked it up earlier.

“This is stupid,” said Stewart.

“Do it,” said Mortimer.  “I am with the government and so you must do as I say.”

“Fine,” said Stewart, picking up the phone.  He dialed the number one and the number three, then spun around twice in place before stepping over the rope on the floor.  He picked up a spoonful of black cherry yogurt from the prior day’s yogurt cup and dropped it with a splat into the cauldron as he stepped back over the rope to the phone.  He repeated this two more times. 

As he stepped over the rope for the last time, the room darkened.  The phone in his hand became very hot and started to glow red, causing Stewart to let out a little yelp of surprised pain before hanging up the phone.  Once the phone was back on its cradle, the room shook and a door appeared where the television had been.

“See?” said Mortimer.  “You are commanding mystical powers here, Mister Voodoo Stew.  You are, therefore, a person of interest. Now let’s go into that door.  Take the doll, the cauldron and the rope with you.”

Stewart was operating in a stunned state, not even positive of what he was doing as he picked up the doll, the cauldron and the strange rope.  Hands full, he waited for Mortimer to open the door that had appeared, but Mortimer simply gestured at it and said “After you, Voodoo Stew.”  Stewart adjusted the materials in his hands such that he could grab the door to open it.

The door opened with the sound of a breaking vacuum seal.  Immediately, Stewart was overwhelmed by the strong smell of garlic and incense, so strong that it made his head spin even more.  The door opened to a long, dark passageway, lit by torches.  As if on command, the butterflies that had been flying all around the room formed a line and flew straight into the room as if leading Stewart and Mortimer, flapping their wings in a way that commanded them to follow.  The passageway seemed to be made of bricks but the bricks were spongy and damp to the touch.  Stewart crossed the door’s threshold and began to walk into the dimly lit passageway, hearing the door slam shut behind them with a dull, echoing slam.

The pair walked in silence for quite some time, the only sound being the sounds of their feet shuffling on the stone-like passageway.  After what felt like an hour or more, they came to a chamber at the end of the passageway with a single desk in the middle and several doors off to the sides.  A woman, dressed in a neatly pressed uniform smiled as she said, “How may I help you gentlemen?”

Stewart’s head swam again as he read the nametag.  “Hello, my name is Melody” it said.  “You were at the hotel’s front desk,” he said. 

“And you were the man with the voodoo doll at the hotel’s front desk,” she said, smiling.  “So what?”

Mortimer stepped forward.  “We need to see the Shaman about this doll,” he said.  “I am with the government, so this is serious business.”

“Well, of course,” said Melody. “If you’re with the government…”

“So, you don’t need me anymore,” said Stewart, trying to hand everything to Mortimer.  “I’ll just be heading back to my room to try to sleep.”

“You are the key, Voodoo Stew,” said Mortimer.  “You will not be going anywhere until we get to the bottom of this conspiracy that may bring down society as we know it.”

Stewart sighed loudly as he and Mortimer were led to one of the rooms off to the side.  The smell of garlic and incense was even stronger here, causing Stewart’s eyes to water.  A funny looking little man wearing a multi-colored, beaded robe appeared to dissolve into the room molecule by molecule right before their eyes.  “Ahh, yes, yes,” he whispered.  “Do not let those tears go to waste, catch them!”  The little man handed Stewart a bottle and directed Stewart’s hand up to the drops that were running from his eyes, collecting the tears into the bottle.  “Very good, very good,” said the little man.

“Who are you?” asked Stewart.

“I am Shaman Amanamanan,” said Shaman Amanamanan.  “And you are Stewart Stanley, mild mannered shoe and fish salesman seeking new and better ways to sell.  You are the key, the missing peace in the puzzle of worldly harmony.  And you,” said Shaman Amanamanan as he turned to Mortimer, “should not be here.”

“It’s okay,” said Stewart.  “He’s with the government.”

“I am investigating your activities, Mister Shaman,” said Mortimer.  “Your activities are of great interest to the government.”

“I can see that,” whispered Shaman Amanamanan. 

“Can you tell me what this doll is,” asked Stewart.

“Ahh, that is a very special doll,” said Shaman Amanamanan.  “It will help you sell and to make the world a better place.  You must know that the ancient rites of Voodoo can be used both for good as well as for evil.”

“I thought you could only do Voodoo to get back at someone,” said Stewart.

“Oh, no,” said Shaman Amanamanan.  “Voodoo like that is frowned upon, only used by evil people.”

“So, why do I have this doll?” asked Stewart.

“You can use it to convince people to buy your product,” said Shaman Amanamanan.  “By rewarding them with better health and relief from pain.”

“I don’t understand,” said Stewart.

“We are all human,” said Shaman Amanamanan.  “We all have pain.  It might be arthritis. It might be sore muscles from working out too hard at the gym.  It might be a stomach ache from eating too much sushi.  If you can use voodoo to relieve that pain when the prospective customer buys your shoes or your fish, that is a way to guarantee a happy customer.  You are important Stewart Stanley and this is why you have received such a gift.  All you need to do is to touch something of the customer’s to the doll and then place the special pins into the area of their body that hurts.  So, if they have arthritis in their shoulder, place the pin in the shoulder and their pain will disappear once they buy your shoes.  It is as simple as this.”

“What if the person doesn’t buy the shoes?” asked Mortimer.  “Can pain be reintroduced?”

Shaman Amanamanan looked at Mortimer.  “Pain can, in fact, be induced through this doll,” he said.

“That’s good enough for me,” said Mortimer, grabbing the doll from Stewart’s hand.  He quickly pulled out a business card from his pocket and touched it to the female side of the doll.  He then grabbed one of the pins and jammed it into the stomach of the doll.  “Take that, evil Barista!  And that!”

“What are you doing?” asked Stewart and Shaman Amanamanan at the same time.  “You are going to really hurt someone!”

“She got my coffee order wrong today,” said Mortimer.  “She deserves this.  I am with the government, I deserve better treatment than that.”

A video display appeared on the wall and showed a young woman in a coffee shop, doubled over in pain. “It’s working!” shouted Mortimer.  “It’s working!  I will get promoted for this!  I will be honored for bringing such a weapon into our arsenal.  We shall rule the world!”

Mortimer jammed the pin into the doll’s stomach several more times, causing the woman on the video display to collapse to the ground.  The people around her were in a panic.  Mortimer simply was dancing around the chamber, happily singing about how his coffee order would never be wrong again.

“Come,” whispered Shaman Amanamanan to Stewart.  “Quickly.  Bring the rope and the cauldron.”

Stewart did as he was commanded and the two walked to a door off to the side of the chamber.  Opening the door, they stepped through it and entered the coffee shop where the woman was writhing in agony on the floor. “What are you doing?” demanded Mortimer, running through the door after them.

“We are righting this wrong,” said Shaman Amanamanan. 

“Oh no you will not,” said Mortimer, grabbing the Shaman’s business card he had picked up from the desk in the chamber and rubbing it against the male side of the doll. Taking a pin, he jammed it into the head of the doll.  Shaman Amanamanan stopped in his tracks and turned to look at Mortimer. 

“One of the deep rules of magic,” whispered Shaman Amanamanan, “is that spells cannot be cast upon the teacher.  You will find that your head will start to ache now.”

Mortimer dropped to his knees and held his head.  “How… why?” he stammered as he tried to remove the pin from the doll’s head.  Doing so, the pain subsided and he stood up, woozy, and walked over to the barista that was still on the floor.  Standing over her, Mortimer shouted, “You will never, ever, get my coffee order wrong again!  You do not mess with a man’s coffee!”  He took the pin and began to pierce the female side of the doll’s head, causing a small cry to escape from the woman as she moved her hands from her stomach to her head.

Stewart’s hand grabbed Mortimer’s wrist before the pin could fully pierce the doll’s head.  Stewart held Mortimer’s wrist tightly. “I don’t know if it is the incense or the garlic, but one thing I know is that another deep rule of magic is that you never, ever, mess with the Maker of the Coffee.  Never.  There are some things that are sacred because we decide they are sacred; there are other things that are sacred because they are divine in nature.  Coffee and the people who make it are simply divine.”

Stewart took the rope of garlic, lemon and soybeans and wrapped it around Mortimer’s wrist.  He took the cauldron that had several spoonfuls of day-old yogurt and dipped his finger in it.  Using the yogurt on his finger, he painted circles on Mortimer’s cheeks.  The yogurt immediately evaporated, leaving a burned, red mark on Mortimer’s cheeks and causing Mortimer to cry out in pain, dropping the doll.  With his free hand, Stewart caught the doll before it hit the ground. 

He took the business card he had received from Mortimer and rubbed it against the male side of the doll and then inserted a pin through the free end of the rope and into the doll’s arm.  The rope instantly began to burn and Mortimer stopped fighting, sitting on the floor and staring forward.

“Mortimer K. Stenso” proclaimed Shaman Amanamanan.  “For your evil, vicious attack on this innocent barista, you are hereby sentenced to forever watch coffee being brewed and enjoyed but you shall never be able to partake of the divine, heavenly brew.  You will only be able to partake of un-natural coffee replacements.  The garlic, lemon and soybean rope shall forever bind you to this establishment and shall prevent your hand from bringing coffee to your lips for all eternity.”

The crowd that had gathered around them let out a cheer.  Stewart knelt down next to the barista and whispered that he would make everything alright.  Looking at her nametag, he saw that it was Melody from the hotel.  As he pulled out her business card, he whispered to her that he would provide her with a nice new set of shoes and a fantastic fish meal that would make her feel better.  She protested but as Stewart placed the pins gently into the areas of the doll where the barista was experiencing pain, she smiled as the pain was relieved.

“Thank you,” she said as she stood up.  “May I get you a coffee?”

Shaman Amanamanan said, “I would love to have a double-mocha garlic latte with soymilk, please.”

“Make that two,” said Stewart.

“Coming right up,” proclaimed the barista as she happily headed behind the counter.

Shaman Amanamanan looked at Stewart and said, “The doll in your hands is a very powerful tool, young man.  Use it wisely and the world will be a better place.”

“I will, Shaman Amanamanan,” said Stewart.  “I will.  And to begin, I will use it to spread the joy of freshly brewed coffee throughout the world.”

“A noble and divine plan,” said Shaman Amanamanan as he sipped his fresh garlic latte and headed back to the shimmering door that would lead him back to his mystical chamber.  “Always remember to take care of your barista,” he said as he closed the door behind him.

Stewart turned toward Mortimer, sitting quietly at a table and trying to bring one of the thirteen different coffee cups to his lips.  Shaking his head slowly, Stewart said, “You government types think you can get away with anything and push us little people around.  Change is coming, Mister Stenso.  And to show you that change, here is a cup of decaf coffee.  Since decaf coffee is as evil as you are, you may drink it as it is not the natural, divine state of coffee.”

“No!” shouted Mortimer.  “Give me regular or give me death!”

“Today is not a good day to die, Mister Stenso,” said Stewart.  “Maybe tomorrow.  For now, enjoy your decaf.  I have shoes and fish to sell along with my new coffee-based stimulus package.  Good day.”

Stewart Stanley walked out of the coffee shop to find that the rain had stopped and the sun was shining brightly on the brand new day.  He sang a happy song which infected everyone he met and soon the whole world was happy.  And it was all due to a weird doll that had appeared in his hotel room one night. 

And coffee.  Coffee always made things seem brighter.