Mountain View

I was part of an expedition that was heading up to an abandoned hotel in the mountains.  I was taken along because I had been to the hotel on vacation years ago when it was still open and I knew the layout of the hotel and I had important information crucial for the expedition.  There were switchback stairs carved into the grey, frozen face of the mountain and we used them to climb up to the hotel high above.  A few of the steps were cracked or broken or missing entirely, and we had to step carefully around the cracks or jump to clear the gaps in some places.  We inched our way up with our backs to the rock face and our breath steaming with each deep exhalation.

The hotel was literally built into the side of the mountain.  The front facade protruded directly from the rock, and there was a long porch that ran the length of the front of the hotel and hung out over the edge of the mountain side.  We all gathered on this porch, a few members of the expedition bracing themselves against the wooden railing and peering down at the grey swirl of mist and snow through which we had just ascended.  It was evening and the light was beginning to fade.  The leader of the expedition consulted with me about where to go next.  I pointed down towards the end of the porch to a set of double doors that led to the old front lobby of the hotel.

It was dark inside the lobby, and although the cold, dry air had preserved everything, there was still a sour, stale smell of abandonment and neglect that hit me as soon as I came though the door.  I remembered the woman that had been there behind the front desk.  I remembered her crooked blonde wig and her sloppy makeup and that awful way that she laughed, and I remembered how strangely uncomfortable I had felt being here then.  I crept along into the dark, wondering if this woman’s ghost was still there or if I might encounter some remnant of her shadow on the wall.  I almost turned to go right then, but the leader of the expedition grabbed me by the arm.  He waved his flashlight down a hallway, wanting me to lead them all deeper into this ruin.  He communicated with pantomimes and gestures, somehow reluctant to speak or disturb the vacant silence.  I took a deep breath and nodded and we moved on.

We came to a large dining hall where all the round tables were still covered in white table cloths and the places were all still set with dishes and silverware.  Moonlight streamed down through the skylight, illuminating the long threads of cobwebs strung from the light fixtures.  I remembered having a late dinner here, and I remembered how I had still felt uneasy and how the waiter’s strange, sly demeanor had put me on edge.  I remembered lifting the silver lid on my meal and expecting to find something alive and squirming underneath.  I snapped out of this memory and found myself in the dark dining hall holding a silver lid that I had pulled back from one of the trays on the table.  There was nothing but discarded bones left on the tray.  I studied the bones closely, looking to see what sort of animal they had once belonged to, but I couldn’t tell anything from the bones.

In the back of the dining hall there was a short flight of stairs that led to a narrow hallway.  The guest rooms were all along this hallway.  I led the expedition down the hall and I showed them the room that was just across from the room that I had stayed in.  This was what they were looking for.  This was why they had brought me.  When I had stayed here, I had been kept awake all night by the screams of a woman giving birth in the room across the hall.  I remembered tossing and turning in my bed.  I remembered clutching my pillow around my ears.  I remembered that nothing, absolutely nothing, had helped at all.

The door was unlocked and it swung inward into the dark room.  I had never actually been in the room.  I had just pictured it in my mind as I had laid there all night listening to the woman scream, and I had just assumed that it was a basic room like the one that I was staying in.  Instead, I saw now that it was a large, open shower room with white tiles.  There was a bare twin matress laid down in the middle of the floor.  There was a large, deep spot of blood down at the foot of it, and there was some blood spattered on the white tiles around the room.  There was a metal pail in the corner filled with blood that had slopped over the sides.  The leader of the expedition made his way over to this pail with his flashlight, and he was just about to start picking through it, when another member of the team called out that she had found what they were looking for.  She held up a signet ring that she had found on the edge of the drain in the middle of the room.  The flashlights all converged on this ring.  It was gold and it had an “X” carved onto the flat surface of it.

As the expedition was packing up their gear to leave the hotel, I decided to have one last look at the room that I had stayed in on that night long ago.  The room faced towards the east, as I had requested, towards the view from the front of the hotel and the face of the mountain.  The clouds had broken and the sun was just beginning to rise, casting the surrounding peaks in cool blues and breaking in hues of red and gold through the pass.  The light shone through the windows and fell on a bookshelf that was built into the wall across from the window.  I reached out to grab one of the books, but then I realized that the bookshelf wasn’t real.  It was just a design in the wallpaper.  I shook my head.  I had been fooled by that same illusion when I had been here before.


5 thoughts on “Mountain View

  1. I shall reply using words from your own comments on mine over the years.
    On Apr. 20th 2011 you said “My number one cardinal rule of writing, which I recently passed on to my daughter, is that good writing should be like good acting. If it’s done right, it shouldn’t even be noticed.

    You are practising what you preach.

    And on Sept. 6th 2014 you commented on ““The Land of Serendip” with some further wise words, too many to append here. In fact it was too long to fit in one comment, but I’ve done some stitching etc.


    1. Yes, I still ascribe to that motto, and I still try to keep that in mind. Have you ever seen that Ingmar Bergman movie Persona? There’s a scene where the one woman tells this story, and it’s just her in the dark, talking. It’s just the words. But in his Great Movies essay on the movie Roger Ebert says that many people mistakenly think that the story she tells is something actually depicted in the movie. That’s the trick. It’s like the words should create this sandcastle and then discreetly blow away in the wind. You don’t want them to see the words; you want them to see past the words.

      Of course, it’s not always easy, and may even be damn near impossible, to know if you’ve achieved that. And that’s brings in that second comment, where you can drive yourself crazy worrying about that sort of thing.

      And also, as a reader, having had this “sandcastle” experience plenty of times in my own reading, I know that it’s a collaborative thing. As a reader, you have to be willing and able to engage, to see past the words. So, as a writer, it isn’t just “Have I done it? Have I opened the door to this place?”, it’s also, “Will anyone accept the invitation?”


  2. I’m late, but I’m glad I didn’t miss this. I really enjoyed it. Very striking visuals, and I guess that’s simultaneously the beauty and the horror of illusion, isn’t it? Trying to figure out just what the hell we’re actually looking at?

    Liked by 1 person

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