Originally this story was meant to sequel a previous short story called “The Cafe” and ended up going in a completely unexpected direction. Since it stands quite well on its own, I’ve edited it a little and offer it to you today as I work on Small Cuts (Yes I’m back to it, so hopefully next Friday I will have it ready).
She took the documents from him and stared at the unusual name “Zzyzx.” She asked, “How does one even pronounce it?”
“I’m not sure. No one speaks the name. I’ve only seen it in writing,” he replied. “But however you say it, the job is mine. And…” he said, leaning in to kiss her softly. “We leave at the end of the week. Everything has been arranged. All we need is to take our personal belongings. The rest of it will be shipped for us.”
“The end of the week?” she gasped. “How on earth can I manage that?”
“Darling, just pack like you were going away for a few days. The movers will take care of what’s left.”
“All right,” she said.
They finished their lunch and kissed goodbye on the sidewalk. She hurried away beneath her red umbrella while he tried futilely to hail a cab. By the time he returned to his office, he was soaked and shivering. The air conditioning did nothing to improve his comfort and by the time he finally dried, he was chilled to the bone and aching.
He spent the afternoon putting his accounts in order to hand over to his replacement. His boss and his coworkers had wanted to take him out for drinks to give him a proper goodbye but his pain, exhaustion and the continuing foul weather dampened everyone’s enthusiasm. By the end of the day, all that was left to do was shake hands, accept hugs and once again brave the rain. He turned up his collar, hunched over his box of personal belongings and began the soggy, slow walk to his apartment.
She waited for him at the door with a towel and a cup of tea, both of which he gratefully accepted. The apartment looked like it had bit hit by a hurricane.
“I see you’ve been busy,” he said.
“Yes, but I just can’t decide what I need immediately and what can wait. As result, I’m afraid I’ve made a mess of things.”
He gazed at her lovingly. Her hair looked like she’d walked through a windstorm and her nose was smudged with dust. But she was beautiful and desirable and he wanted her more than anything in the world. “Come sit with me,” he said, gesturing to the sofa.
She complied. Taking his hand, she said, “Darling, you’re freezing. And you’re shaking!” She placed her warm hands around his and began rubbing them together.
He kissed her deeply, pulling her warm body against his cold chest. She wound her arms around him and sank into the kiss. “Let me…” she murmured against his lips as she pulled his shirt from his trousers.
Later, he lay in her arms, his head resting on her belly, while she stroked his still damp hair. He began to shiver again despite her warmth. “Darling,” she whispered as she curled herself into him, her back to his chest. She pulled his arms around her and the covers over both of them. He buried his face in her hair and inhaled the scent of her shampoo. Lilies. It only took moments for him to fall asleep.
The car came for them on Saturday morning. The driver, short, stout and of indeterminate middle age, rapped briskly on the door and then mutely nodded as they directed him toward their luggage. He didn’t speak any English —that was apparent when they tried to make small talk as he loaded their bags. They exchanged a look and got into the back seat. The rain had stopped but the skies remained grey and overcast. The air inside the car smelled as moldy and oppressive as a mausoleum.
The driver drove with purpose and soon left the city streets behind them. They snuggled close in the backseat more for comfort than warmth. She rested her head on his shoulder and soon drifted off to sleep. His own eyes began to grow heavy, and no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t stay awake.
It was dark on the road now. Her steady breathing let him know she slept on. They must have been on the road for hours. How had they both managed to sleep for so long? He kissed her forehead. “Darling. There’s my girl.”
“What time is it?” she asked with a yawn.
He looked at his watch and frowned. “I don’t know. My watch has stopped.” He tapped the driver on the shoulder. “Excuse me… What time is it? Do you know?”
The driver shook his head. He tried again. “Wie spät es?”
The driver held up five fingers.
“Five?” she asked. “But that means we’ve slept for eight hours! How is that possible?”
A finger of anxiety stroked the back of his neck. Could it be that the strange musty odor overcame them? He didn’t want her to worry. “I don’t know, darling. We must have needed it.”
The road was desolate, running alongside miles of empty desert on one side and butting up against a slope on the other. If they were gaining or losing altitude he couldn’t tell. The website and the paperwork he had filled out had indicated that the resort was isolated. His expectations had not met with this reality, however. He began to lose track of the turns as they made them and it now seemed that surely they had driven in a circle once if not twice and yet the landscape was such that he couldn’t have picked out a distinguishing feature to identify even if he’d been able to see in the increasing darkness.
The pavement became dirt. The dirt became ruts and finally the car stopped at two iron gates standing open. A sign in Gothic script read “Zzyzx” on the gatepost to the left. The rutted track disappeared over a rise but a faint light from beyond gave evidence of habitation nearby. The driver unloaded the luggage from the trunk and set it down as the couple climbed from the back seat.
“Gehen,” the driver said, pointing toward the light. “Keine autos.” And he returned to the car, carefully maneuvered on the narrow path and returned the way they had come.
She shuddered. “I don’t like this.”
“It’s all right. The resort isn’t officially open yet, only the old caretakers live here. This is probably the way the construction workers come and go.” He pointed. “Look, it can’t be far. I’ll carry the big bags if you can handle the smaller ones.”
They set off toward the glow on the horizon, the only sounds the crunching of the dirt beneath their shoes. There was no breeze stirring nor animal sounds, not even the hum of insects. It felt wrong to talk so they remained silent as they walked. She kept turning around to look back at the gates until finally they were swallowed up by the night. The only thing to do was press on.
They passed the rusted hulk of an old motor vehicle. A Land Rover. He hadn’t seen one of those in years.
“It can’t be much further, now,” he said more brightly than he felt. Her beautiful eyes were wide with apprehension and she was struggling with the bags. “Here, my love.” He took one of them and tucked it under his arm.
Ahead in the half light, a structure low and squat appeared before them. Windows in the building were brightly lit. “Oh thank god,” she sighed. With signs of human habitation finally before them, they picked up the pace. They were disappointed to see that the structure was a aged mobile home. “Oh no. What is this?”
“Don’t panic, love. This might just be a construction trailer. Perhaps this is where they are waiting to take us on to the hotel.”
He stepped up to the sagging door and knocked. Within, came the sound of heels clicking on a hard surface and the door cracked open with a creak. A dignified elderly woman peeked out.
“Er, hello. I’m Angelo and this is my wife Christine. We’re…”
“The new caretakers,” she said. “Come in and meet my husband, Christopher. We’ve been waiting for you.”
As they stepped through the door, they left the desolation outside and entered the opulent foyer of The Grand Soda Springs Hotel and Resort.