[This is a previously unwritten continuation of the first installment of this story series and in respect to the Texas Observer Short Story Contest, I have taken it off the site in order to follow their submission guidelines. Either way, the first part will be available as soon as I hear back.]
It was Chacho who suggested that we try again to sneak onto the private property of the burned out Hot Wells Hotel. He didn’t care that Véro and I had been scared off by a large, ugly man with a shotgun and that we had both been taking turns having nightmares over it for weeks. Chacho approached us with his hard black candied eyes lit up with a familiar fire. He sensed danger and was excited by it like a bloodhound on the trail of prey, goaded on by an unknown master.
“NO!” Véro screamed with a rapid shaking of her head. “No,” she said a little quieter when she saw Chacho’s determination, cowering under his gaze.
“You told him?!” I turned to her incredulously, grabbing her arm. I could feel the fragility of the bones under her skin.
She nodded as I felt heat rising up my throat. I thought it had been our secret and shared shame that our curiosity had been cut short just as we were discovering the existence of our bravery.
Most of our cousins didn’t care or notice that we had been missing when we ran away from the drive-in that night, but Chacho, being the closest to our age, knew that something was up.
He didn’t look like the kind of 12-year-old interested in danger. He had the same indio bowl haircut from the age of 5 and his thin body was topped by an abnormally large head. His cheeks puffed out from his face like he blew too hard on a trumpet and it got stuck that way forever. It gave him the look of permanent goofiness.
But the cousins knew better. He was always the one to climb the highest in the tree, unwilling to come down even when his mother screamed at him from the ground. That’s how he broke his arm for the first time. He laughed all the way down and didn’t stop, even when everyone heard the sickening crack of his bones breaking. He wore his cast proudly and wouldn’t let anyone draw stupid pictures or jokes on it. He kept it completely clean and walked around saying, “My arm will be stronger than everyone else’s now.”
His favorite insult was to call someone “stupid”. No one could be as cunning or as smart as Chacho. In his opinion, you were either brave or stupid and so far no one had proven themselves worthy of being called brave by Chacho.
Before Véro and I could say more, Chacho was already devising a plan with us as his assumed but unwilling accomplices.
“Alright, we need to figure out a way to sneak back to the hotel without that old fat guy putting a gun in our faces.”
I could feel Véro trembling next to me at the thought. I gave her a tug on her skirt.
“And we have to pick a day when our parents aren’t going to care that we’ll be gone and when we can ditch the other cousins.”
Chacho decided that we would go over the next day that the little league football team was playing at the school nearby. It would be a sufficient distraction for all involved and we would leave several hours before dusk, in order to give ourselves enough time to explore.
We arrived at the football game, among the smell of salty popcorn, sour pickles, and sticky raspas baking in the sun. Our tias, tios, and cousins were so numerous that they took up two benches along the hill. As soon as our Tio Bobby started yelling on the sidelines near the cheerleader bench and sipping his unauthorized brown-necked beer, we knew it was time to make our exit.
Chacho thought that it would be best to enter the ruins from the north side, across the street from the creepy mental hospital. It made my back arch and hair tingle just to have it behind us. Véro wouldn’t stop shaking unless I held her by the wrist.
Soon, we saw the jagged edges of the burnt walls peeking up over the trees.
“There it is,” Chacho whispered.
My heart beat sped up and my stomach felt queasy. I could hear my blood throbbing in my ears and feel my palms starting to sweat. Our eyes darted around as we stepped over crunching gravel and large dead palm leaves. We started sniffling as the overwhelming smell of rotting eggs invaded our nostrils, making our eyes water.
“Sulphur,” said Véro.
One broken wall ahead of us said “Men” and further down, almost hidden by illegible graffiti said, “Ladies”. Véro and I turned to look for Chacho, but he had already disappeared somewhere in the depths of the ruins. Véro stiffened next to me.
“I don’t like it here,” she whispered, her breath hot on my ear.
“Let’s just go look at one thing and then we can leave, okay?” I said, the excitement of being here again prodding me on. We came to a dead end surrounded by empty windows several stories above us. I could have sworn I saw a silhouette sweep by on one of the top floors.
I gasped and Véro let out a little animalistic squeak. We heard the low sound of cruel laughter echoing from an unknown source and Véro started to whimper.
“It’s just Chacho,” I said. “Trying to scare us.”
We turned another corner and came to a long concrete hallway. In the dust, something white caught my eye. I bent to pick it up and discovered that it was a piece of long lace that had been buried near some wood scraps. As I pulled the string, it began to unravel around what looked like a piece of postcard.
“My dearest darling, Emile,” it began. “How I have dreamed of our time together and of your beautiful…”
The paper started to crumple in my hand and I stuffed it in my shorts pocket.
“Let’s go,” said Véro in a hiss. “I want to go back to the football game.”
“Ugh. Why do you have to be so boring? Just one more look.”
We walked down the hallway and came to a crumbling staircase on one side and what looked like a grand hall on the other. The hallway continued to disappear in front of us further away than we could see.
To be continued…