With one hand on the steering wheel and holding the car door open with the other, holding my head out of the window so I could see, soaking wet I pulled into what appeared to be the boardinghouse that we were looking for. I stopped in front, set the parking brake on the Model A and ran inside, cold and dripping wet. There was no one there. No one behind the long mahogany desk. No one. I repeatedly rang the silver bell on the desk and waited. Nothing. I noticed right in front of me, a note with a key on it. Our last name was written there, and a room number.
The wind was picking up, howling, the rain was Niagara Falls, but it had to be done. So, hardly able to see anything at all and with the stinging cold rain in my face, I ran back out, and while yelling instructions to my wife over the noise of the storm, grabbed our luggage. We ran together, mud splattering with each frantic step.
It was the wee hours of the morning. I'd gotten up from bed to make the trek down the house hallway to the community bathroom. Our room was unusually dark, pitch black in fact, illuminated only by what I perceived to be flashes of lightning coming from the windows. The electric light wasn't working so I'd lit an oil lamp that was on the bedside table. Holding the lamp out in front of me, I headed across the room toward the closed door. As I rounded the foot of the bed, holding my lamp a bit further out, I noticed that the sheet on my wife's side was thrown back. In the flickering white light from the windows, her unoccupied nest of sheets and pillows became completely visible. As I approached the door I realized that the flashes of light were not coming from the windows as I had surmised, but from the gap underneath. Starting down the hallway to investigate, I was repeatedly struck by what was to my unadjusted eyes, blinding bursts of this light. Emanating, to my amazement, from the open kitchen door down at the end of the hallway. Oddly, as I walked it began to feel as if the passage of time was slowing and physical movement was becoming laborious, difficult. The short trip down the boardinghouse hallway had turned into a long, tedious journey. The violent bursts of light were increasing in intensity and had become almost continuous now. After finally arriving at the kitchen door, I put my oil lamp down on the floor, reached up and placed one hand on the door frame, and attempting to shield my eyes with the other, peered around the corner and into the room. At that moment, the blinding bursts of light stopped. I picked up the oil lamp, still burning, lifted it up and took a step through the doorway and into the kitchen. Just then the initial crackling of a thunder clap broke the silence. I began to feel as though I was disconnecting, losing touch, falling. Then the final thunder crash came, like heavy artillery. My knees started to give way. I began to sink to the floor, head bowed, arms hanging limp at my sides. I was drifting away, floating out of reach like a carnival balloon from the hand of a child. Gasping for air, choking on smoke that smelled of burning lamp oil, floor wax and wood. Then in the distance I recognized the sound of my wife's voice speaking my name, and I felt my shoulder being firmly shaken. Only partly conscious now I began to sense a commotion around me. Then all at once with the click of the wall light switch, a cold incandescent light sprung up from the fixture above. Through the haze of smoke, I could see a pair of feet in pink bedroom slippers. My wife had smothered the fire with the blanket she'd wrapped herself in, and was trying to get me up and out of the smoke-filled boardinghouse kitchen.
There had been a freak November thunderstorm, and I'd been sleep walking as I'd been known to do.
Robert Palmer 2/8/17
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