HOTEL DIABLO

Randy Chandler




Trask raps his knuckles on the door of 1304 and throws it open without waiting for an answer.

He rushes into the room and Jayne Tennyson follows in his frenzied wake.

A naked window is wide open to the storm; they both squint their eyes against the blowing sand and move forward hunched over as if walking in a wind tunnel.

A slender dark-haired woman in white nightgown is standing in the tall window with her back to the hotel room. The gown flutters behind her like fledgling wings on a neophyte angel.

The wind is a shrieking chorus of banshees.

Jayne feels a sick shame, as if she is seeing something not meant to be seen. The fierce wind halts her forward progress, and she struggles mightily to keep from going backward.

Trask fights the gale for each grudging step toward the fluttering waif in the window. He moves in slow motion, bent and faltering like a lame old man.

Patches of wine-dark carpet show through the shifting sand-drifts.

The room is filling up with desert.

The banshees shriek in delirious triumph.

The skinny angel shifts her bare feet on the windowsill and turns partway around, her dark eyes meeting Jayne's. Her face is empty, a death mask of fallow flesh.

She is holding a small bundle to her bosom. A bundle of rags with plump pink legs and tiny feet. Above the screaming wind, Jayne hears the choking cry of the baby.

Trask reaches his long arms and outstretched hands for the infant.

The despondent angel turns away, unwilling to give up her infant to living hands.

"Please!" Jayne shouts into the wind. "The baby!"

Something akin to an apologetic smile flashes on the angel's face, and then she turns back into the sandstorm and steps out into it.

She hangs suspended in the dark rectangular space for a long moment, the powerful wind holding her in place, and Jayne thinks for a fraction of that moment that the girl really is an angel and that she will fly up to heaven, but then gravity overrules the wind, and the girl and the bundled infant drop silently out of sight, falling thirteen floors to the paved earth at the cloven foot of Hotel Diablo.

Trask falls to his knees before the window, resting his arms on the sill and hanging his head over it like a man, bereft of hope, praying at the altar of an absent god.

Jayne watches him reach up with both hands to slam the window shut.

She staggers forward into the sudden absence of wind and drops to her knees beside Trask.    She wants to cry but the sandblasting wind has left her without tears.

Her eyes are raw and gritty.

The desert is a brutal alkali taste on her tongue.

It is the taste of death-for-the-damned.

"This isn't really a hotel, is it?" she asks Trask. "This is where we come to suffer for our sins. I'll never get out of here."

He looks at her, then nods at the howling darkness on the other side of the windowpane.

He says, "She did."
 
 

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