It felt like a scene from a movie: I was driving off into the sunset in my ‘57 Chevrolet, my view being the bare desert on every side. A warm breeze tousled my hair. It was a good night. As the sky turned from pink to smoky blue, a large billboard appeared.
CHÂTEAU DE L’ENFER: Luxury Bed and Breakfast
Ah. There it was. I glance at the brochure on the passenger seat with the same advertisement on the cover. I took a right off the highway and pulled into the parking lot of Chateau de L’Enfer. It was a massive olive-colored Victorian mansion with two rocking chairs on the porch, and a small apple tree overlooking it. A pretty woman, somewhere in her thirties, sat in the left chair knitting silently.
“Hello,” She said pleasantly. “Here fer a room?”
“Yes, I am,”
“Then you’re in the right place. I’m Betsy Diabelesse, and you are?”
“Felix. Felix Thomas.”
Betsy smiled. “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Mr. Thomas. I’m sure you’ll find our humble home very fitting.” She led me inside to a home office and handed me a key. “This goes to the third room on the right upstairs. I’ll take you there as soon as you sign the guest book.”
I obeyed and was taken to a wonderful little room upstairs. It had a single bed against the north wall, a desk opposite it, a dresser, and a large mirror. I slung my suitcase on the bed as Betsy hovered a little too close for my liking.
“Thank you Miss Diablesse,” I said, an awkward smile on my lips.
“You’re quite welcome, Hon.”
Betsy slipped out of the room in complete silence, her cherry-red smile remaining on her face as she closed the door behind her. I opened my suitcase and began to unpack. I placed my things in the dresser and then plunked myself onto the bed with my notebook, deciding that this was the perfect place to draw. After sketching my room, the apple tree out front seemed like the best subject. I wandered back through the house, taking the time to fully observe my surroundings; the dull walls were filled with paintings, framed pressed flowers, and various portraits of the Diablesse family. The wooden floorboards creaked with every step I took and the stairs moaned and groaned. Throughout the house, I noticed a few women cleaning. One in the kitchen, one in the foyer, and the other in the sitting room. They were all dressed in the same charcoal-colored prairie dress and pinafore apron Betsy was wearing.
She was no longer on the porch when I got outside. I took a seat on the rocking chair Betsy occupied earlier and curled up in the best position to study the apple tree.
At six, the dinner bell rang. One of the charcoal women arrived and escorted me to the backyard, where a bonfire was surrounded by a small gathering of men. Two men were sitting opposite each other, perched on logs on either side of the fire. At the head of the fire was a tall, slender man in a brown cowboy hat standing with his hands on his hips.
“Weh-hell,” He drawled in a friendly southern accent, “Mister Thomas, innit? Nice of you ta join us. I’m Diablesse. Horatio Diablesse, the owner uh this fine establishment. This o’er here on the left is Mister Moore and o’er here on the right is Mister Carson.”
I nodded. “Please, call me Felix.”
A grin smeared across Horatio’s face, looking almost devilish in the firelight. “Well then, Fe-lix, take a seat ‘ere an’ welcome to the pre-dinner cleanse.” He patted the log Mister Moore sat on with his foot. I obeyed, but before I could sit down, a young woman in a white nightdress emerged at my side holding what looked to be a flute of champagne. Horatio laughed as I gasped.
“Oh, don’t mind her, that there’s just Merridew. She’s offering you a drink.”
I smiled hesitantly and accepted the glass. As I did so, I noticed that Mister Moore and Mister Carson were holding identical glasses. “Thank you.”
Merridew nodded, then retreated to Horatio’s side. “Don’t worry,” He said. “she don’t bite...or talk.”
“She doesn’t talk?”
“Nope. N’er said a word. Don’t know why. She ain’t stupid, neither; in fact, she’s purty smart fer a girl,” Horatio looked down at the girl and rubbed her straggly brown hair.
I sipped on the drink while Horatio entertained me, Mister Carson, and Mister Moore with stories of the wild west and his days of being a cowboy. It didn’t quite taste like champagne- I couldn’t tell what it was- but it was good. With each sip I took, a wave of relaxation washed over me. Between the drink and Horatio’s stories, a strange, but comforting feeling wrapped me in a tight hug. I never wanted to leave. Dinner only enhanced that feeling. Betsy, Merridew, and the other women of the house guided us to the dining room for a dinner of rosemary potatoes, turkey, and more of that fizzy champagne-like drink. I never wanted to leave. Everyone here was so welcoming. The hotel felt like home. And as I retired to my room for the night, I knew that I never would.