I grumbled to myself as I staggered along the dirt road carrying my laptop bag and dragging my suitcase. Wheeled suitcases were not meant for unpaved roads, nor where my expensive loafers.
Stumbling yet again, I stopped walking. This was just stupid. What was I doing here? This was the ass end of nowhere, nature was everywhere you looked. Trees, plants, bugs, animals. I hated nature. I hated it with a passion.
Now that I was stopped, I noticed something. There really wasn’t nature everywhere. Sure, there were plants, and trees, but where were the bugs and animals? Not so much as a grasshopper had crossed my path. No flies or mosquitos either.
It was just as eerily silent as it had been back at the car. I held my breath and strained to hear anything other than the faint rustling of the leaves, but there was nothing.
The feeling of being watched had not eased in the least though. It felt like the forest was full of unseen lurkers, just waiting for me to fall into their evil grasp. Of course, this melodramatic mental narrative was nothing new, everything was a threat, every word an insult, every sound something terrible. It was part of the reason I had agreed to go on this trip to begin with.
I shook myself and started walking again before I could ponder my strange circumstances any further. All of this was undoubtedly a figment of my imagination; but why push my luck. Didn’t they say if you died in a dream, you died in real life?
As I stumbled along in my now ruined $200 shoes, I had a new mystery to ponder, one that kept my mind off my own discomfort for a couple of minutes. Who were “they”? And just how would they know if someone had been dreaming of their own death just before actually dying? Thoughts of strange and nefarious experiments, meant to plot the course of a person’s dreams were still running around in my head when the first sounds of life came to my ears.
I tripped tripped on a twisted tree root hidden in the dark and dropped my bag into the thick leaf bed. I was so close. I tried to breath away the well of anger and frustration. Far ahead of me I could see a light. I was once again reminded of death and looking to the bright light.
Angry at myself, angry at my circumstances, angry at the world, I grabbed my bag. I was almost there, no time for self pity. The bag did not come easily; it was tangled in tough vines, like supernatural ivy. I thought of the road and walked fast as I dared in the dark.
Once minute I was stumbling along an unlit dirt road and the next I stepped out into the resort. It looked a lot like the brochure promised. I saw a large rambling hotel, a Victorian boat house next to a shimmering lake, and pine trees everywhere.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Green woods, the smell of the lake the sounds of happy people going about their business. I smelled food cooking in the kitchens felt a moment of happiness. I was hungry, tired and ready to get to my room. After I was clean and fed I would call to see about getting my car towed.
Just before I opened my eyes, I caught another scent. Faint, almost like something passed on the road, rotten, like and animal on the pavement. Something rotten, dead.
My eyes popped open and for the first time I really looked around. Something was not quite right. The same creeping feeling I had on the road came back. I was hearing people all around him, but I saw none. There were only a few cars in the lot even. Far away I thought I could hear dogs barking.
I tried to tell myself the sounds were a recorded sound track, like the fake birds and drips in a rain-forest attraction in an amusement park as I wearily picked up my bags again and headed in the direction I assumed was the office. Surely what I was hearing was meant to make the atmosphere more appealing.
The rationalization did not ring true, but at the moment, I was too tired to think of a better one. Rationalization had always been something I had been good at, to a fault.
“Sandy!” A boy’s voice called from almost at my elbow causing me to startle. I turned to scold the child for his rude behavior, but found no one. In fact, I still saw no signs of life despite the increasing noise level.
Above me, on a balcony, I heard the unmistakable sound of a door slam and a woman crying quietly. What a strange place this was turning out to be.
I trudged through the mostly empty parking lot and up the steps of what I assumed to be the main lobby. My legs felt like lead and my back and shoulders ached almost as much as my head after that horrible walk.
From the dining room I heard the chink of plates being set out and the rattle of utensils being sorted into bins. The smell of food was stronger in here, bread, and something with garlic and some kind of fish. Underneath it all, almost imperceptible was the rotten smell from outside. Road kill, now mixed with the unmistakable smell of mildew and dust.
I quickly looked around, but only saw a clean, but dimly lit lobby. A couple of comfortable chairs near a window and a long, high, dark wood desk for customers to check in. A small silver bell sat next to a simple lined register. The wheels on myy suitcase bumped over the floor with a dull sound, as if the walls were absorbing all sounds. However I could hear sounds all around me. The unmistakable sounds of a busy resort.
I dropped my bags by the desk and leaned over to see into the office behind. I didn’t see anyone, though I heard the unmistakable sound of a phone ringing and a soft voice answering.
“Hello,” I called. “Hello, I need to check in, please.”