“Hey James, can you go up to the old place and have a look around? The security guy called and said a door, or window, or something was open.” The call came at 445 in the afternoon. I had just walked in the door from work, and the phone was ringing when I opened the door.
“Yeah…I’m going up there now.” I sighed and slumped my already tired shoulders. “I’ll give you a call and let you know what’s up, if anything.” I hung up the phone and pulled my thick coat back on. It was bitter cold this day, the deep dark grey clouds covered the sky in a confederate riding cloak that fore warned of snow. A cold wind blew in from the north-west, the Potomac River valley funneling it into a howling gust as it raged down the river. The last fading light of day was fading, quickly turning the grey day into a very very dark night. I fished in my pocket for the flashlight I kept there, just to make sure it was indeed there. Since the hotel closed, the end of Ridge street is dark. I studied the decaying façade as I approached. Boarded windows now stood in silent watch where once glowed warmly lit rooms, rented by people out for the holidays. Countless panes of broken glass that once held guard against the cold wind that whipped down the river valley, now stood aside and let the frost and cold in, unfettered. The doors, long since entombed behind slabs of plywood, were unmolested. The hotel, or what remains of it, was quiet and still. I felt the cold bite through my heavy winter coat, and I pulled my wool hat down to cover my ears.
As I rounded the front of the hotel, I saw the three sheets of plywood that had covered the front door were lying in front of it. The wind caught it from underneath and made it hover, momentarily, a few centimeters above the cracked remnants of the front porch. I sighed. Not because it looked like it had been broken into again, that had become such a occurence (before the private security was hired) that I had given up trying to stop it. I sighed because now I had to go inside and check to make sure no one was in there before I closed it back up. I knew this place, stone and stick. The hotel an I have an intimate history…now I dread having to go inside. The once bright halls, alive with life are silent and dead now. This time of year, the halls would be filled with the smells of cinnamon and spiced apple, now it is so choked with dust and particles that it will choke you. I went to the garage in back and grabbed a dust mask and a large 5 cell maglight. Shaking my head I pulled on my work gloves, flicked the large flashlight on and went inside the maw of the dead hotel. Debris cluttered the corner where the Christmas tree once sparkled and illuminated the lobby with an array of color. Broken things, pieces of ceiling, debris cluttered the floor and turned it into a ghostly post apocalyptic nightmarescape. I passed the destroyed shell of what was once my mother’s office, the warmth of it replaced with mangled paper, crude graffiti and stale, dead air. The wind and cold were the only thing I encountered as I searched the ground level of the hotel for any intruders. The only living thing I found were a few mice scampering away from the alien light of my Maglite and what I hoped was the skittering of a squirrel as it darted into the shadows of what was once the bar. I poked my head in the ruined room. Ghosts of memory wafted in front of my eyes. Parties, family gatherings celebrations and laments of all kinds were held in this room. Now only small piled of dried leaves danced in the cold wind where once my sister danced on her wedding day. The huge picture windows that gave the wonderous vista of the valley beyond it were now broken and jagged. The panes long since shattered by vandals in search of whatever they thought they could find in the decrepid building. The first flakes of snow blew in on the icy wind that forced me from memory and back to the task at hand. My breath warmed in front of me beyond the mask that helped (but in no way stopped) the dust from clogging my sinuses and made my allergies go berserk. I turned and let the flashlight break the darkness that blocked my path down the hall back to the lobby.
I felt the spirit if Christmases long past wash through me as the snow picked up outside and blew through the open doorways and widows of the ground level. I missed seeing the huge, gaudy red ribbons that entwined the bannister (long ago pulled out and who knows what done with it) of the grand front staircase. I heard the doors upstairs creaking eerily on rusted and aged hinges…I couldn’t attach any paranormal meaning to it, this place was so open to the elements now, it would have been more eerie had it been quiet…and i walked up the ruined carpeted stairs with careful steps. The wood was rotted and corrupted and one wrongly placed step could send me plummeting. It stank in the hallway, the odor of mold and decaying paper seeped through the dust mask I wore. I let the bittersweet memories of my youth play out in the beam of the flashlight in my hand. There wasn’t anything in this place now but memories.
I turned and walked back downstairs feeling the aged boards give a little under my weight. I called my friend as I stepped out into the cold, and now snowing steadily, night. “Hey, there’s no one in there man, the wind must have blown it off…..”
“Yeah its pretty windy tonight..can you close it up?”
“Sure buddy, I got it.” I pressed the cell phone’s face and disconnected the call. I went to grab a drill and a handful of screws to reattach the plywood that covered the broken doorway. It took a little effort to get the heavy things off the concrete and back onto the rotted wood it had been attached to. Before I closed it up I took a last look inside the darkness that was the lobby. The light and life were replaced with a cold darkness. The wind blowing the snow in through every opening. It turned the darkened lobby into a snow globe. I sighed and screwed the final slab of wood back into place.
Walking home I watched the snow whip down the street, and sighed.
Yes, this time of year does make one nostalgic for the sweet memories of yesteryear. The warm and fuzzy memories that turn even the coldest heart to thoughts of warmth, hearth and family. My mind wanders back often to the old southern style majesty of Christmas at the Hilltop house. And one day, Santa…if youre reading this, I have been a good boy, I will see the warmth and hospitality of the season celebrated again at the old place.
Wishing Everyone a very Happiest of Holidays…