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The Blue Oasis Hotel

by Ashley Brandt 6 months ago in Short Story
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Apparitions in Needles, California

The Blue Oasis Hotel
Photo by Max Di Capua on Unsplash

The Blue Oasis occupied its own desolate piece of desert property in Needles, California, population five thousand. The summers there were hot, and the only plant life to speak of came in the form of cacti. Nevertheless, the desert held its appeal and served as a gateway between California and Nevada destinations. The hotel sat slightly East of the old post office, and within hiking distance of the Foothills. Now abandoned, the Blue Oasis had formerly been a desert gem, opened by Mister William P. McQuaid in 1975. Mr. Mcquaid had been a wealthy investor, who had wisely invested his capital in the Las Vegas tourist attractions and had begun expanding his business endeavors to the outlying areas. The Blue Oasis had died with Mr. McQuaid, in 1983, it's lovely exterior deteriorated under the assault of the desert sand and unrelenting heat. His son Jeffrey, who had inherited the entirety of his late father’s properties, was too busy managing the more lucrative Las Vegas dealings to bother with a dusty old hotel in the middle of nowhere. Rumored to be haunted by Mr. McQuaid himself, the hotel had not seen a single live visitor in over a decade.

Paul Hansley had just turned thirty-four. His job at the Life Insurance agency he had been employed by was short-lived; the new management had begun downsizing, and Paul himself was next on the list. Married for six years, his wife Hannah was considering a divorce; his old car had just cost him three thousand dollars in repairs, and his hairline was receding. Paul was as plain as his name, with a thin face and unremarkable features. The most remarkable thing about Paul, come to think of it, was his gift with a pen. He’d taken up freelance writing a few years before, and he had discovered a talent within himself. He published his works under the abbreviated name of P. Hansley, or sometimes under the pseudonym of Axel Rodrick. Today he was packing up for a three week stay in a haunted hotel in the middle of the desert.

Hannah folded his socks and passed them over, chattering on about the conversation between herself and a fellow hairdresser the day before. Hannah worked in Orange County at a salon that doubled as a yoga studio three days a week. Hannah was perpetually dieting, and she changed her hair color nearly as often as she changed her clothes. Though a dedicated wife, it was clear that she had grown bored of Paul, and their marriage had become stale and lifeless. It was an unspoken agreement that Paul’s twenty-one day departure would provide them both with some time and relief.

“-So what happens when you come back?” she asked tentatively. Paul considered this while folding his khakis. Hell if I know, he thought.

“I’ll submit my written account to the ‘Moniker’,” he explained finally. The ‘Moniker’ was the small magazine syndicate to which he submitted the majority of his written pieces. Though not yet a prominent media outlet, Paul was convinced that eventually its' popularity would progress, and his work along with it.

“That wasn’t what I meant,” Hannah snapped. “What are we going to do?”

Paul zipped up his bag and sighed. The prospect of spending the next three weeks in a haunted old establishment was sounding increasingly preferable to him.

“I don’t know yet, honey,” he admitted with a heavy sigh. “You know that I only want your happiness.”

What he wanted, of course, was a wife who was happy to be around him, who chose his company over her hairdressing friends.

Hannah scoffed and left the room, unsatisfied with the honest answer he’d given her. Paul lugged the bag to his car trunk, called an unrequited goodbye, and drove North toward Needles.

The Oasis was larger than he’d imagined it to be. Towering at four stories, it’s wealthy origins were evident in the dilapidating details. The front entryway was ensconced by a wrap-around porch, constructed of a fine wood that had since rotted through in a few places. The carefully planted shrubbery around the deck had withered and died under the oppressive desert heat. The windows had lovely old shutters on them. The front door was also paned, like the windows, and painted a red that was chipping. Paul’s nerves suddenly attacked as he stepped onto the porch, trying the door handle. Technically he was trespassing, but clearly the owners had not considered this particular piece of property in years. The door opened easily, whining with his passage, and clicking shut ominously behind him.

Paul gasped as he took in his surroundings. Contrary to its abandoned and disheveled exterior, the interior of the Oasis was elegant and occupied. The floors were a glossy hardwood, graced with expensive-looking oriental rugs with intricate patterns on them. The curtains were adorned with gathers of heavy, silken fabrics and tied back with ribbons. A glistening table sat to his left, in a formal dining area, its top neatly decorated with nine place settings exactly, all fine china and cloth napkins. Candles burned on the wall sconces, which were a soft bronze. Directly in front of him yawned a wide staircase, leading to the second landing with four doors, all of them closed.

“Welcome, Mr. Paul!” Greeted a lovely older woman. Paul yelped in surprise as she rounded the corner to his left, appearing to have just come from the kitchen. She carried a tea tray in her hands, her face wearing a warm and ready smile.

“I am Edwina Salazar, your house hostess. The manager, Mr. Bill will be checking in with us later, and I was just about to call the residents for tea!” she exclaimed, placing the tea service in the middle of the table. Paul’s eyes followed her movements, noting the small sandwiches stacked on a tray in the middle of the table, and the fruit and cheese tray beside it. Had those been there before?

“Lovely to meet you, Miss Edwina,” he choked. Edwina was a petite woman with long dark hair tucked into a neat braid, and a lovely shawl draped over her shoulders. She wore large hoop earrings and her hands, he noticed, had some small, delicate tattoos on them. Without any signal, the residents of the Oasis drifted down from their rooms, silent and orderly, pleasant expressions fixed on their faces. Paul counted them silently, all eight of them, as they took their places at the table, including Miss Edwina. The chair at the end of the table closest to him sat empty, and to his surprise, a name placard had been placed there with his name scrawled in lovely handwriting. Confused, Paul stowed his bag near the coat rack and cleared his throat, taking his appointed seat. The residents all stared at him now, smiles fixed on each of their faces.

“Forgive me Miss Edwina,” he began, “but who told you that I would be coming?”

Paul could only think of three individuals that had known he would be staying at the Oasis- trespassing, more like- and those were his wife Hannah, his friend Charles, and his contact at the Moniker, Henry Hopkins.

“No one did, my dear,” she said, as all at once, the residents took a sip from their teacups.

“I don’t understand,” he said plainly. “How did you know who I am? How did you know to set a place for me?”

Edwina smiled but said nothing, nibbling at one of the tea sandwiches. Paul glanced down at his own plate, wondering who had placed the sandwich there, and who had filled his cup. His eyes had been on Edwina the whole time, and she hadn’t done it.

“Drink your tea, Paul,” she said, taking another sip of her own. Paul eyed the others and acquiesced. One by one the other residents introduced themselves, and Paul began to relax with his tea. The others exchanged lively and polite conversation, including Paul, and to his relief, the entire table found his jokes delightfully funny. Paul offered to assist Edwina in her cleaning duties after tea, but she waved him off and left him to Gloria Minor, the lovely blonde woman to his right, to locate his room. Paul found his bag was no longer in its place by the coat rack, and Gloria explained that it had already been taken into his room.

Again, he wondered who had done so- they’d all just gotten up from the table.

Gloria led him up the first staircase, turning right, and leading him past two doors and down to the end of the hall. There was an old-style elevator, the sort with the iron door and a pulley. Paul couldn’t admit to this lovely stranger how frightened he was of the contraption; instead he climbed in ahead of her, leaving her space after him. Together they made their way up to the third floor, where Paul’s room sat alone, at the end of the hallway.

“This is the only room on this floor?” He asked as she pushed the door open.

“This is our Reserved Room,” she explained, leading him into a perfectly large and luxurious suite all his own. Similar to the downstairs, the floors here were polished wood with rugs and a large armoire against the South wall. An antique mirror stood opposite the door, its brass borders polished to shine. The windows had heavy gathered drapes stitched in floral patterns, and the bed to his right was tall and massively decorated with more pillows than he’d ever used during his lifetime. The bedspread was a soft gold, gathered in places, and the pillowcases a collection of jewel colors. A small hearth occupied the wall adjacent to the bed, a fire crackling inside it. To his intense delight, a dozen bookshelves occupied the same wall, graced by dozens and dozens of books.

“Welcome to the Blue Oasis, Paul” Gloria said shyly, leaving him to his privacy.

Paul inspected the room, kicking off his shoes and leaving them near the hearth. He didn’t locate his bag, but perhaps someone would bring it to him later. Paul wondered about the other rooms and resolved to tour the hotel at length later tonight. For now, he needed a nap; his eyelids felt extraordinarily heavy, and his bones felt like they’d begun to sag. Paul climbed into the lovely bed, which smelled like summer, and drifted off into the best sleep he had ever had.

During the night, Paul shifted into semi-consciousness, aware of someone coughing in the hallway outside of his room. It seemed curious, as this was the only room on this floor. Just as he began to think about it, his mind pulled him back into the depths of a warm sleep.

When Paul awoke, the sun was rising, and a new set of clothing had been laid out for him on the chair nearest to the armoire. After washing, he helped himself to the tray of coffee and toast that had been left on the chair by the heart, underneath a handsome portrait of a middle-aged man with piercing eyes and angular features. The caption beneath the photo indicated that the subject was Mr. William McQuaid himself at the age of fifty-three. Paul finished the coffee and made his way downstairs to join the others.

The residents were at the table again, each in the same seats they had occupied yesterday, all of them waiting for him expectantly. Paul felt equal parts discomfort and delight, and let the moment pass as he took his own seat at the head of the table. This mornings’ spread consisted of eggs prepared three ways, various forms of breakfast meat, a tall stack of pancakes, and a large bowl of fruit. Two coffee carafes sat equidistant on the table, and his own mug was full to the brim when he glanced down.

“What a lovely breakfast, Miss Edwina,” Paul complimented, enjoying the first bite. Edwina blushed and sat down to her own plate, and the breakfast chatter began similarly to the tea conversations the night before, hearty and with ease. Once again Paul found that the others found him amusing, unlike his own acquaintances back at home. Just then Paul thought to ask about his bag, which Edwina assured him would be located and delivered to his room promptly.

“It was probably just misplaced,” she explained.

Paul offered again to assist with the clean-up duties, and again, Edwina waved him off. After breakfast a group of the residents invited him to a board game in the sitting room. Paul agreed, recalling their names as they found their seats and laid out the game. To his immediate right was Rodney Hammond, a tall , middle aged African-American man with perfect posture and a wonderful accent. Rodney was a Professor at an out of state University. To Rodney’s right was Othelia Whitley, a twenty-something performer who worked in Vegas. Othelia was quiet, sweet and well read. To Paul’s left was George Parker, a plump older man with facial hair and a ready laugh. George had recently retired from his job at the military base, something in the intelligence division that he would not expound on. Finally there was Gloria, small and thin and demure, and batting her eyelashes at Paul himself. Paul was flattered; he couldn’t remember the last time a woman had been flirtatious with him.

Then, like a dash of cold water, Paul remembered Hannah, and the purpose behind his visit. With some excuse, Paul extricated himself from the game and returned to his room, only to find that his bag was still missing. He ventured up onto the fourth floor, counting four more rooms there, all of the doors shut tight. Paul wondered if all of the rooms were as spacious and elegant as his own, but dared not intrude. Instead he made his way back to the iron elevator, lowered himself down again, and found his way into the kitchen. The kitchen was very large, with gleaming countertops and appliances, and light window curtains that fluttered in the morning breeze. He could hear Miss Edwina humming somewhere nearby, but he could not see her. Paul crept around quietly, searching for her, hoping to inquire after his bag, which held his camera and his writing equipment.

Just then the door to the pantry swung open, and Paul yelped when he saw her, a watery apparition of Miss Edwina, hazy and intangible, as she carried a box full of various spices. She’d stopped humming now, and her figure solidified into the version of Edwina he’d become accustomed to seeing, solid and petite and wearing her colorful shawl.

Paul clutched the countertop behind him, gasping for air. Surely this had to be some sort of trickery, a challenge met with a challenge? Someone had to have tipped off the owners that one foolish man with nothing to lose intended to trespass for twenty one days in the haunted hotel in Needles. Surely, he had gone mad. Edwina’s figure flickered into focus again, like a television program with poor reception.

“Paul, have you found your bag yet?” she asked kindly, and Paul, at a loss for words, shook his head and silently backed out of the room. Having cleared the kitchen, Paul rounded the corner and hurried into the sitting room where he’d just been, to alert the other guests of what he had just witnessed. There, on the table, stood four pairs of cards, all erect and angled away from the others, as though they were in the hands of invisible players. Paul held his breath and clutched the door frame there as he watched the cards move, matched and replaced, with quiet ease on the table. Overcome with shock, Paul stumbled out of the sitting room and toward the front door, throwing himself out of the hotel and into the desert heat. The worn and dilapidated exterior stood as it had been yesterday, in sharp contrast to the lovely interior and the pleasant guests inside. Paul found his bag on the front porch, undisturbed, and he grabbed it and ran toward the road, where his car had been parked the day before. His car was missing from its spot. Panicked, Paul searched all around him, stricken by the realization that he was stranded in the desert at a haunted hotel and had no means to return home. The nearest gas station had to be miles away, and the heat had already begun to affect him. He glanced at the hotel and saw Edwina standing there in the doorway, her lovely face smiling at him, as she raised her hand in a final goodbye, closing the door behind her. Shaken, Paul began the long trek toward civilization in search of a phone.

Paul returned home late that evening. Hannah had cried, and news reporters had inundated him with questions about his whereabouts. As it turned out, Paul had not been gone for one day, the police had explained. Paul had been missing for six months. Initially, he’d expected someone, Hannah perhaps, to admit that the entire thing had been a cruel joke at his expense; but after hours of police questions and media attention, Paul realized with unsettling certainty that they were all telling the truth. When three weeks had passed, and no one had heard from Paul, his wife had gone searching for him. She’d located his car, parked just off the highway, in the middle of a barren desert. She’d insisted that there was no hotel there, no buildings at all. Police corroborated everything she had said, and Paul had no choice but to question his own sanity. Unfortunately, the police had, too.

“It is quite possible, Paul, that you wandered off in a fugue state,” one psychologist had told him. Paul had insisted that he could account for every moment that he had been away from home, and that he could give them names of the others he’d encountered at The Oasis.

The names, it turned out, belonged to dead people. After adamant protestations, the Detective showed Paul a photograph of William McQuaid himself, identical to the portrait in Paul’s room. Exhausted, Paul drove himself home. Night had descended, and Paul was just as weary and confused as the moment the police had intercepted him at that little gas station in Needles. Hannah moved cautiously around him, as if he were psychologically fragile. She’d undoubtedly spoken to the Psychologist, who had determined that there wasn’t enough evidence to confirm mental instability, which was why Paul had eventually been permitted to return to his own home.

Hannah had questions, of course, but Paul couldn’t answer them. When he did, no one believed him. Paul’s thoughts shifted to the photographs of the hotel guests, their names listed with their obituaries, confirming that the friendly strangers he’d eaten his meals with had been confirmed dead by the police. Paul laid there that night, thinking again of the deep sleep in the room reserved just for him, and the portrait of Wiliam “Bill” McQuaid on the wall, and the coughing outside his door on that first night. As Paul drifted into a restless sleep, he remembered the answer to the final question he'd posed, on his way out of the Detective’s office that evening.

“Detective?”

“Yes, Paul?”

“Can you tell me how William McQuaid died?”

Paul hesitated there in the doorway, as Detective Langston leafed through his paperwork.

“It says here that he died of complications of lung cancer,” he replied, and Paul nodded and left the station.

Paul slept in his own bed that night. He dreamt of the lovely guest bedroom at the Blue Oasis, the haunted hotel that no one could seem to find. He dreamt of the strange coughing outside of his door, and of the sprawling staircase that led to the strangers downstairs who waited for him at the dining room table, their places set, and smiles fixed in place. Paul stepped onto the landing, and made his way downstairs to join the others.

Short Story

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Ashley Brandt

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