The humid heat blasted me as I opened the car door. It was intense, despite the overcast sky and the mild breeze. There was a dense muffled silence, and I wondered if it would storm tonight.
The hotel receptionist greeted us with a smile. I gazed around the small reception with its plastered stone walls, modest provincial furniture, low ceilings and unmistakable scent of mildew drifting down from the wooden rafters. The old hacienda, now the best hotel in the region, offered thermal-spring swimming pools, temazcales and water sports on the blue-green lake.
The receptionist explained a little about the hacienda’s history as he checked our reservation. A Spanish noble built it in the sixteenth century and had been the head of a network of mining haciendas nearby.
“The family lived here,” the receptionist said, “one night, lightning struck the main building, and it succumbed to fire. After a century of abandon, new owners built this space which comprises the lobby, the offices and the dining room. They never rebuilt the ruins and lived here until the family died out. Afterwards, it passed from owner to owner until the current one converted it into this hotel.”
I felt his gaze on me, yet, though I listened, I could not take my eyes off the portrait above the dining room entrance. A man, gray-haired, stern and ruthless stared at me through steel-colored eyes that pierced the ancient canvas and stabbed my heart. Chills crept up my spine. I had the scary sensation I’d seen him somewhere.
“Señora, that is the hacendado, Don Pedro Maldonado de Alarcón. He lived here with his daughter when the hacienda caught fire.”
I turned to the receptionist and caught a mischievous glint in his eyes, as if he wanted to continue, but waited for me to respond.
“Oh, yeah?” I said, nonchalant; my gaze drawn back to that portrait.
“What happened to him?” My husband Frank asked, falling straight into the honey trap.
“No one knows,” the receptionist narrowed his eyes, “they think he perished in the fire, but they never found his remains.”
“Wow,” Frank was hooked. I too enjoyed a good story, but this time, I felt I already knew it.
“Yes, the legend says he caught his daughter eloping with the capataz—how you say—foreman. They say he killed them, then the lightning struck, and the fire broke out. People say it was God’s punishment. Her portrait hangs in the dining room. You should see it.” He grinned at me, as if hinting something.
“Shall we go to our room?” I said, a blank smile on my face.
“You are in the Doña Pilar suite, go through that door and follow the well-marked paths. I will send the bell boy with your luggage.”
We smiled and walked out into the sultry air of the cobblestone courtyard.
“What is it?” Frank asked.
“I’ve been here before,” I whispered, “in dreams, you know which ones.”
“Where you are trying to escape and you run down paths and courtyards?”
“Yes! And I’m running towards someone, I want to warn them, but, someone’s hunting me.”
The cool breeze ululated like a crying woman through the tall, moss-laden trees of the dusky hacienda. I hugged myself while Frank glanced at the key and turned towards a path. The breeze enticed me to follow the path that led to the small stream. Up ahead I glimpsed a wall, both a dam and a narrow bridge. The gurgling stream sounded like running feet.
Thunder cracked like gunshots. In the milky light, I saw a man and a woman shot down as they hurried across the bridge. The old man in the painting stood beside me, the musket still smoking in his arms. The bodies drifted down the stream, silky red water flowing behind them. Lightning flashed as they passed me, her in a heavy purple dress and corset, him in breeches, boots and shirt. I gazed into the woman’s face. My heart jolted; she looked like me!
I glanced away. The old man was gone. Though I heard the faint cry of “fuego!”, nothing was amiss.