Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Abandoned Hotel

Fourth of July, 1971. Margaret had convinced her distracted parents that she was babysitting all weekend. They didn’t know she was dating a college boy. They certainly didn't know she was going camping with him and his friends.

She and Joe and Ron and Rich loaded up Joe's International with hot dogs, big jugs of Gallo wine and blankets, planning to drive up to Long Shot, to build a bonfire, to sleep under the stars.

Margaret had been to Long Shot before then, of course, with her parents, when she was younger. Her father had pointed out the abandoned Long Shot Hotel, and had told stories of their ancestors, of greed and intrigue, of a cavern of wonders and a golden bear lost in the tunnels under the old hotel.

"Look!" Margaret exclaimed, as she rode through the remains of the town with Joe, Ron and Rich. "That's the Long Shot Hotel!"

It was a derelict stone building with broken windows. The door hung from its hinges. Nailed to the sagging door was a sign: "For Sale-- Price Reduced."

"Oh, it's for sale!" she exclaimed.

The boys whooped with laughter. Joe had to pull over so he wouldn't crash.

But Margaret knew: Long Shot, Colorado was a magical place. It was just a matter of looking at it the right way.

When Margaret asked Joe to go back so she could get a better look, Ron groaned and Rich said, "I'd rather get a camping spot before the good ones are gone."

They'd had a late start. He was right.

Joe, the diplomat, said, "We can check it out some other time."

So they drove onto a rough spur road and parked by a fire ring filled with ash and burned trash, with the smell of pine and the chill of high altitude in the air. There was a little creek that trickled through the grass and a view of a high peak through a gap in the trees.

They built a huge bonfire, sat on logs in their bell-bottom jeans, passing around the Gallo wine jug and philosophizing. They speared hot dogs on sticks and blistered them in the fire.

A raindrop splashed onto Margaret's head, then another. They sizzled as they landed in the fire pit.

The friends laughed and covered their heads with a blanket. Drank more wine. The tiny creek swelled and a huge puddle crept toward them, threatening to drown the fire.

"I know," said Margaret. "Let's go back to Long Shot and wait out the storm in the old hotel." And it seemed like a fine idea to the rest of them.

Laughing, they tossed their gear into the truck. They sloshed down the road, which ran with water, to the hotel.

The young men dodged up the steps to the overhanging entryway but Margaret took a moment to gather handfuls of glowing red firecracker penstemon from the clump of weeds by the front steps, to spin in the rain, letting it soak her face and run into her mouth, to squint up at the surrounding peaks.

The boys teased and chided her. When she finally came inside, soaked and shivering, Joe threw a blanket over her shoulders and drew her into a warm hug.

The four of them strolled through the echoing lobby, crunching on glass and garbage.

From the lobby, Margaret and Joe wandered back into a kitchen with marble counters and sinks like bathtubs and pantries with thick wooden doors. High in the walls, small windows were darkened with grime. Through a door to the side, a debris-covered stairway led down to ground level.

At the back of the kitchen another stairway led to the basement. Joe hung back as Margaret peered into the darkness, wishing she had a flashlight.

"There's nothing down there," said Joe.

Margaret tore her gaze away from it. "No," she said. "Everything is down there. I'll bet that's where the cave is."

Joe was about to ask what she meant when they heard a commotion above. They sprinted back to the lobby shouting, "What's wrong? Ron? Rich?"

"Hey, check this out!" Ron shouted down from the second floor, and they trooped up the wide marble staircase to the ballroom, where the light was better, coming through the windows. There was upended furniture strewn around the room. Hanging from the ceiling was a cobwebbed crystal chandelier, and at the far end of the room, an ostentatious mirrored bar, barely touched by time. Above the bar a life-sized naked woman was painted onto the plaster.

The four of them stood speechless.

"This is the grooviest thing I have ever seen," said Ron.

But it was more than groovy. It was miraculous, overwhelming.

A tear slipped down Margaret's face and she wiped it away, embarrassed. She had been waiting all her life to come to this place. Yes, Great-grandpa Gundy's golden bear, was there, somewhere, waiting for her, but it was more than that. It was destiny.

"Can you feel it?" Margaret asked at last.
Ron and Rich looked away, but she knew they could feel it, too. Joe gazed into her eyes, and it seemed like in that moment they were two eagles, talons gripped together, falling from the sky.

This is an excerpt from Down the Throat of the Mountain.