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The Vacation Club chose skiing, and since Dana and I had never been, we went. It only took a day to figure out we hated it. I have no balance. Dana hates the cold. The lodge has scenic views of the valley, but everything’s whitewashed in snow: a live nature painting where the artist only had two colors to work with – white and deepening gray. Four days down, three to go.
       The snow was picking up again. Dana and I sat on the overlook terrace above the dining room which had a series of enormous windows to look through. The snow meant we could only see a few dozen feet.
       “You want anything? Drink?” I asked.
       She looked up from her book with the leave me alone grin I’m too familiar with and shook her head. It’s my fault we’re here. I let my dad talk me into buying a timeshare program. You get points and can use them at resorts all over the word. It’s really a scam. All the nice places cost extra. I knew that from the start, but I got talked into it because I was drunk. A year into the timeshare, we joined the Vacation Club my parents raved about. A bunch of retired people with the same shitty timeshare package agreeing on where to go.
       “I love you,” I said, more as an apology for bringing us here.
       “Uh-huh.” Dana didn’t break from her book. The day we got here she revealed her pregnancy. Our first, probably only since the years were getting on.
       Dana stood. “I’m going to lie down.”
       “You okay?”
       She sighed. “Eyes are getting tired.”
       “They’re opening up the dance floor at five,” I said. She liked to dance. I liked to watch.
       “Not in the mood.” She put her hand on my shoulder to let me know she wasn’t annoyed. She’s always doing things like that, looking out for other people’s feelings. Something about her mother being too needy growing up. Endearing gestures can be exhausting for her.
       Like now, in a ski lodge surrounded by retirees with the storm of the decade barreling down. I’m the one who convinced her to wait out the storm—partly because I was drunk (it’s the only thing to do) and partly because I wanted to see just how much Tom would screw up.
       Tom Donnaleigh was the self-appointed Vacation Club president and a phenomenal asshole. He persuaded everyone the Gaslight Lodge would be a quaint retreat with regal views and twenty-four-hour catering service. I’m pretty sure he gets a kickback. He got upgraded to the presidential suite when we arrived. Perks of being club president, he told everyone.
       Barry, the vice president, short-stepped through the terrace. “Everyone, attention please, Tom is giving a speech in the lounge in five minutes. Everyone, come now.”
       Dana passed him by without looking at him, “No, thanks.”
       “Everyone means you, young lady.”
       “Bite me,” she said and hit the elevator up button.
       “Really, Patrick,” Barry said to me, “you must learn to control your woman.”
       The only retorts I had were insults, so I said nothing. Stretching to stand, I headed to the lounge. I wanted to hear what kind of stupid things Tom would say.
       Our group was the only one left in the lodge. The manager, a grizzled old guy named Joe with a face like Ian McKellen, was happy enough to have us. They could upcharge for everything, though Tom had convinced him to switch the pay-per-view to free since the storm kept everyone inside.
       Joe was speaking to four of the hotel staff. I wandered over, nodded a hello. “How much worse is it supposed to get?”
       “We’ll probably lose power in a few hours,” he said, gesturing for me to walk with him. He carried a handheld radio that squawked and a voice said, “Joe, coupl’a guests are asking to take the snowcat out later.”
       Joe spoke into the radio. “Absolutely not. They can come see me if they want to argue.” He gave me a quick glance. “Doppler radar says we could see another three to seven feet tonight. We should evacuate.”
       “Isn’t that your call?”
       “Officially? Yeah. It’ll end my career, though. The owners don’t want us kicking guests out. This place is barely hanging on.”
       “Is it safe to stay?”
       “Safer to leave,” he said, “but yeah. The lodge has weathered worse. Might be stuck here for three or four weeks. We’ll have to ration food. It’s been done.”
       I didn’t know how to reply.
       “Everyone, the lounge, now,” Barry said. He stood on a chair, gesturing people like a beat cop directing traffic. “That means you as well, Joe. Get all your staff together.”
       “I’m still the manager,” Joe said. He gestured for two of his staff to follow and I went along. The lounge was packed. Most of the guests were in their sixties and seventies. The bartenders were struggling to keep up.
       Tom stood on the stage. Balding, pudgy, wearing khaki shorts and a Hawaiian shirt as if he was anywhere but Colorado in January. “Spotlight! Now!” he shouted above the conversations. Barry closed the doors and ran over to the sound booth. He switched the spotlight on and aimed at Tom. It gave everything a surreal theatrical feeling.
       “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for your patience. This vacation marks the thirteenth escapade of the Vacation Club.” The room erupted in applause. “I am, as always, proud to serve as your humble leader. We’ve had the best of times these last few years.” More applause. I felt like I was at a rally for something I didn’t want to support. I spotted my parents by the bar and pushed my way through the crowd and the smell of Bengay.
       “We would like to thank the hard-working folks at the Gaslight for their, ah, hard work through these trying times.” He stopped and it took the crowd a moment to realize he meant for them to applaud. It wasn’t nearly as enthusiastic.
       “Hey,” I said to my parents as I reached them. My mom gave me half a hug; my dad put a hand on my shoulder. “Keep quiet,” he said. “Listen.”
       That pissed me off a bit. Seemed like he’d been telling me to keep quiet my whole life.
       “The storm should be tapering off,” Tom said and waited for applause, which came a bit faster as the crowd learned. “We’ll stay safe and warm inside with all our bountiful supplies generously provided by the hotel staff.”
       More applause but I heard Joe shouting at the back, “The storm is worsening!”
       “That’s not accurate,” Tom said, shaking his head. “The storm is nearly over. By tomorrow we can hit the slopes again!”
       The crowd applauded.
       I hated to point out that most of the Vacation Club hadn’t even donned skis. Half the appeal of this little jaunt was the sadistic pleasure Dana and I’d get from watching old people tumble down the hill, but hardly any had left the hotel since we arrived.
       “Yes, tomorrow will be sunny. We may even get them to clear off the patio for some shuffleboard!” That got everyone on their feet, those few who weren’t already standing. The applause was unbelievable. My parents were clapping.
       Hell, even I knew the storm was getting bad. It didn’t take a genius to look out a window. I wanted to shake them and ask how they could be so blind.  
       “I’m announcing half-price margarita pitchers for the next hour. Party on, my friends!” More applause as Tom left the stage.
       I heard the bartenders arguing with one of the guests. “We can’t give you half-priced pitchers, nobody authorized that.”
       “That’s false advertising!” someone yelled.
       “Damn shame,” my dad said. “This place will go out of business if they don’t honor their own deal.”
       “It isn’t their deal, it’s something Tom just made up!”
       “That can’t be true,” my mother said.
       My dad just gave me a disappointed look.
       There were a few more arguments at the bar. The crowd of old people was getting restless. I pushed back through the crowd and found Joe by the door. He and Tom were in mid-argument.
       “Do you know what I used to do before I came to manage this hotel?” Joe asked. “I was the director of the National Weather Service for the West Coast. I taught courses on weather at UCLA. So don’t stand there and tell me the storm is abating when it isn’t!”
       “You’re getting hysterical,” Tom said, one arm around Joe as he gently pushed him away from the crowd. “You should keep your voice down so you don’t upset your guests.” Before Joe could even respond, Tom cut in with, “And besides, the guest is always right. Always. Try and remember that.”
       Tom turned and yelled, “Who wants to start a conga line!”
       I followed Joe out as the room began to cheer. “What the fuck was that?” I asked.
       “Mass hysteria, denial, stubborn stupidity. Take your pick,” Joe said, shaking his head. He spoke into his radio. “Gus, Troy, I need you guys to get all the fuel you can manage over to the boiler room in the next two hours.”
       “What about the bay windows?” Gus asked.
       “Forget it. We’ll close off that wing for now.”
       The bay windows overlooked the dining hall. People weren’t going to be happy about dinner being served somewhere else.
       “You expecting the windows to break?”
       Joe nodded. “If the snow gets much higher.”
       I stood in the lobby and watched the flurry of activity. Hotel staff battening down, Vacation Club guests partying like nothing was wrong. I had to get Dana and get the hell out of here while we could still get down the mountain. “Can we get a shuttle to the airport?”
       “Airport’s closed,” Joe said. “I might be able to get you down to Sunbeam but you’ll be stuck. Roads are closed across the state.”
       I nodded.  I figured I’d rather be stuck in a town than up here with the crazies.
       There was no one at the front desk so I dinged the bell. A nervous girl appeared, probably in her early twenties. Her name tag said Sarah.
       “We need to check out,” I said.
       “Y…you’re with the Vacation Club?”
       “That’s right,” I said.
       “Um…” She stepped back, looking even more nervous. “That man said no one is allowed to leave.”
       She was pointing at Tom.
       “That man isn’t in charge of me.”
       “Um.” She looked at her feet. “The club guests are all on the same account.”
       I said, “That shouldn’t matter. Split out the charges or something.” I felt the hand on my shoulder.
       “Checking out?” Tom said loudly. “Don’t be foolish. The festivities are just getting started!”
       “I don’t care,” I said. “Dana and I are leaving.”
       “You would open these doors,” Tom said, louder still and gesturing to the entrance doors, which were rattling from the wind, “and let the cold in? You would risk all our lives just for yourself?”
       A crowd began to gather, shouts of “What gives you the right,” and “Stupid young people.”
       “You just said the storm is slowing,” I countered.
       “I said no such thing,” Tom said, trying to steer me away from the desk.
       I smacked his hand away.
       “Such violence!” Tom yelled.
       The crowd pressed in. Everyone was shouting. Someone called for my arrest. Someone else punched me in the gut. I doubled over, felt more hands pulling and pushing. I wanted to start swinging when a gentle hand pulled my chin up. It was my mother. “Really now, I’m so disappointed in you.”
       “For what? I just want to get out of here.”
       My father’s heavy hand was on my shoulder. “Son, enough. You need to listen to Tom. He’s a great man.” I can’t really explain why the fight drained out of me. I probably should have struggled more but I lacked the courage. I didn’t understand what was happening, why everyone was listening to Tom, the one person who kept lying, kept denying the storm even existed.
       I headed to the empty dance lounge and bought a stiff drink.
       I chased it with a few more.
Dana woke me, her face wrinkled in worry. I must’ve made my way back to our room last night.
       “You okay?” I asked, my head pounding.
       She was shoving clothes into her suitcase. “The storm is worsening. If we don’t leave now, we’ll be stuck here for weeks. Joe’s going to shut the lodge down.”
       “I tried to check out last night,” I yawned, rolling out of bed.
       “Nobody’s keeping us here,” she said.
       Mornings were not my thing. A hangover wasn’t helping. “Okay. Do I have time to shower?”
       She stopped, held my face in her hands, and spoke slowly. “The power is out and we have no time.” We locked eyes for a long moment. Her hands were trembling.
       My phone, which had no signal, said it was quarter after eleven.
       “How bad is it supposed to get?”
       “Radio says this is the storm of the century. Some places could see near twenty feet.”
       “Jesus.” My heart started racing. It only took me five minutes to pack. Turns out you can cram a lot of things in a suitcase if you don’t care how they go in. Pretty sure my toothbrush ended up near some dirty underwear and socks.
       We headed to the lobby.
       There was a massive roar as glass shattered. I followed the crowd to the dining room. One of the bay windows had imploded. Snow drifts were filling the room. The staff had piled all the chairs and tables on the opposite wall, covered them with a blue tarp. Still, the sight of glass and snowbound wind through a shattered window was shocking. The other windows were creaking. I saw white cracks starting on one.
       “Everyone out,” Joe said. “Luckily no one was in there.”
       “We need to go,” I said.
       Joe nodded. He turned to a young girl in a hotel uniform. “Laura, make an announcement, we need all guests to pack for evacuation in ten minutes.”
       I ran to get Dana. She was still in the lobby, arguing with the same girl I saw yesterday. “She won’t let us check out.”
       “I…I’m sorry,” Sarah said. “Tom made it very clear that no guests can leave.”
       Dana said, “Tom doesn’t manage the hotel.”
       She was crying, shaking. “He…made it very clear.”
       “Fuck it,” Dana said. “Here’s our room key, we’ll dispute any further charges. Good‑bye.”
       I followed her across the lobby. Barry ran ahead of us, stood at the doors with his arms outstretched. “No one leaves! Tom said!”
       A crowd of people was gathering behind us.
       “Bullshit.” Dana started to push him.
       It was all happening so quickly.
       Tom shouted, “You see!” He led the rest of the vacationers into the lobby. “These cowards are trying to open the doors and let the storm in. They’ll kill us all!”
       “We’re leaving!” I yelled but nobody seemed to be listening above the boos and jeers.
       Tom grabbed Dana by the arm. “These people are what make this hotel unsafe. Selfish cowards…” She yanked her arm away and shoved him. “See! Nothing but violence.”
       I pushed him away and stood in front of her. “We’re getting out.”
       “No one is opening these doors,” Tom said loudly. “You want us all to die?”
       The crowd booed us.
       “Yesterday you said the storm would be over!”
       “I never said such a thing,” Tom said, hands on his hips.
       It was like arguing with a toddler.
       “You guys want to stay through this, that’s great,” I said. “Dana and I are leaving.”
       I pushed past Barry, had my hand on the door.
       “Assault!” the idiot screamed. I had barely touched him, and I certainly hadn’t assaulted him. The crowd roared, I was pulled back, someone punched me in the side of the head. I heard Dana screaming.
       The world went black.
My hands were tied, and I couldn’t figure out why. My head throbbed.
       “You really need to control your temper,” my mother said.
       I rolled over. I was in the dance lounge, but it was mostly empty and dark. I was on my side near the bar. “Why am I tied up?”
       “Because you’re hysterical and you were scaring people,” she said.
       “Where’s Dana?”
       “She’s safe,” my mother said. “Did you know she’s pregnant? Really, you two. You should know better.”
       “What the hell does that mean? We’re married, that’s what married people do.” I struggled to sit up and face her. “Can you untie me, please?”
       “So what, you can put the rest of us in danger again?”
       “What are you talking about?”
       “Tom says you knew this storm would get bad. You and Joe and the rest of the hotel staff.”
       “Everyone said the storm was worsening! Do you even hear yourself? This is insane. You tied up your son.”
       “We’re leaving,” she said. “We’re heading out before this storm kills us. I hope you can think about what you’ve done. We’re so disappointed in you,” she said.
       “Funny how the storm is whatever Tom wants it to be so he can get his way.”
       My mother slapped me. It stung me deeply, more than just my face. “You’re spoiled. You don’t know how to obey your betters.”
       I honestly couldn’t find the words to reply. My heart sank, my head throbbed. I wanted to see Dana, I wanted to be untied, but most of all, I just wanted to understand what was happening.
       “Can you just let us go?”
       She gave me the same disappointed look she’d give when I’d gotten bad grades or tracked mud across the carpet. “Tom says you’re dangerous.”
       “Mom, seriously. Tom is the guy who said the storm would be gone and it isn’t. He said we’d be fine and we aren’t. Power is out. We’re stuck because of him.
       “No, it’s Joe’s fault. He’s incompetent.”
       “Joe is a fucking meteorologist! He told Tom this would happen!”
       “Don’t curse. You’re getting hysterical again. Tom is right. We should take Dana away.”
       “What?” My heart thudded. The rope around my wrist dug into flesh. “Mom, please.” I got on my knees. “Please, where is Dana?”
       “She’s safe,” my mother said. “We’re leaving and taking her with us.”
       “Mom, no, no, you can’t go out now. The storm has gotten worse.”
       “Tom says it’s fine, just snow drift. We can make it down the mountain.”
       I felt my eyes sting. “Please, you have to listen. This is a record blizzard. People are going to die out there.”
       “No.” She shook her head. “Tom said you’d refute him.”
       “Jesus, listen to reason, please.”
       “Reason? Where’s your reason!” She stood. “I’m so disappointed in you.”
       She left.
       “Mom!” I screamed for her. Screamed my throat raw. I could hear commotion outside, scuffling maybe. Arguing. I tried to loosen the rope on my wrist, but I’d been moving so much it burned. I didn’t care. I needed to know where they’d taken Dana. The more I struggled, the tighter it seemed to get.
I don’t know how long I lay there crying, pathetic. A group of hotel staff found me, untied me. A flashlight was on my face. “You okay?” Joe asked.
       “Yeah,” I said, rubbing my wrists. They were red and raw. “Where is everyone?” I stood.
       Most of the staff had gathered around. “They packed up as much food as old people can carry and left.”
       “In the snow?”
       Joe held up his hands. “I warned them. Tom wouldn’t have it.”
       “Didn’t anyone try to stop them?”
       “They started throwing punches and chairs. Someone rammed Troy’s face with a broken bottle. He’ll need stitches.”
       I stood. “My wife is with them. I have to go.”
       Joe nodded. “We’ll go with you.”
       I shook my head. I couldn’t have anyone else risk themselves for this. I wanted to break something. I wanted to break myself. I wanted to break everything. I didn’t know how this happened, how it all fell apart so fast. But I had to go out, I had to find Dana.
       “They took the snowcat. You’ll have to go on foot.”
       I didn’t care. I had to stop this madness.

© 2020 Jack King

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