“Check in the rear storage room, they might be in there,” Ronnie shouted at his wife as he carried bags of supplies across the lobby.
“I did, they’re not there,” came the response.
“Then I don’t know.”
The guests standing by the reception desk followed Ronnie’s spirited movements with their collect gaze as he power-walked around.
“I’ll be with you folks in a second,” he said over his shoulder as he unloaded more supplies.
“We’re in no hurry,” one of the guests replied as Ronnie sprinted back outside.
The lodge Ronnie ran with his wife wasn’t big or fancy, but it was the only one for miles in this area of the mountains. Supplies and provisions arrived once a month from a nearby town.
“Could I interest you gentleman…” Ronnie began, as he carried the last of the supplies into the supply room. He emerged a minute later, finishing the question, “…In some high-quality climbing equipment while you stay here with us?”
“Just the room, please.”
“Okay, well if you change your mind, the offer is open.”
“We appreciate that.”
Ronnie began fiddling with the computer behind the reception desk as he tried to find available rooms. The three guests standing before him appeared quite old. Far older in fact than any guest he had seen before.
“Did you find the slopes to your satisfaction today, gentleman?” Ronnie asked as he registered each guest. He assumed they had come for the skiing. Perhaps the beginner slopes, he thought to himself.
“We’re climbing tomorrow morning.”
Each one of them smiled politely.
They were oddly bereft of climbing equipment. As Ronnie looked them over while handing over their room keys, he noticed very little in the way of any belongings. Just simple knapsacks hoisted over each man’s shoulder.
“We hope you enjoy your stay here.”
All three men walked up to their rooms and disappeared inside. Ronnie’s wife appeared shortly after carrying bags of canned food.
“These ones?” she asked.
“Yes, we’ll need them to make supper later.”
Ronnie went back to tending unloading the supplies in the back.
The next morning started as any other morning had previously. Peace, calm and quiet. Ronnie woke up and made two cups of coffee, one for himself and one for his wife. It was 6:00AM. The guests would soon be waking up and it was time to make them breakfast. Eggs, bacon, soft bread, hot coffee and fresh fruits. The breakfast buffet was ready. Guests slowly migrated down from their rooms in search of the source of the seductive smells. It was now after 7:00AM.
“Sun’s out, no clouds in sight,” Ronnie whispered to his wife while sipping coffee. Guests lined up along the buffet table and filled their plates. Ronnie and his wife both peered out the window at the enormous mountain view from their tiny lodge. The enormity of it never failed to amaze them, even from so far away.
Guests slowly filed through, had their fill of breakfast, and, after getting appropriately dressed, headed out on the slopes or to indulge in some mountaineering. It was approaching 8:00AM and Ronnie and his wife continued to prepare more of everything on offer and replenish the buffet table.
Ronnie watched from his kitchen window how the lodge steadily emptied out and the slopes outside filled up. The three older gentlemen from last night still hadn’t woken up, he realized. He saved some breakfast for each of them and wrapped it in foil. It was after 9:00AM.
“You know they’re still not awake,” Ronnie said, leaning over to his wife who was taking in the mountain view.
“Who’s not awake?” she asked without averting her gaze.
“Those three guys that came in last night.”
“What three guys?” Ronnie’s wife asked, as she turned to face him.
“The three in rooms… wait let me check.” Ronnie walked over to the reception desk and checked the computer. “I put them in rooms…” Ronnie searched through the guest registry while his wife looked over his shoulder.
“The last pair to check in was that husband and wife, they just left to go skiing.”
“I know they were here; I gave them their keys last night.”
“Ronnie, there’s no one else here.”
Ronnie cycled through the guest registry, trying to see if a name appeared familiar. His wife now busying herself with tidying the reception desk.
“I’m not crazy, I distinctly remember checking them in… they were going to go climbing today, but…”
“It’s strange,” Ronnie said as he shut off the monitor. “They weren’t really packing any climbing gear, but they told me they were going climbing today.”
His wife said nothing but continued to tidy the desk.
“… maybe I’m confusing them with someone else…”
Ronnie went back to the kitchen and dumped out the leftover breakfast.
“I swear they were here,” he muttered to himself as he returned back to work.
Evening came and most of the guests were back in their rooms, having already had their complimentary dinner. Ronnie was sitting at the reception desk, dozing off while his wife was chatting with some guests outside their room. He could hear them all laughing at a joke one of them told. With his eyes barely open, he could see the main door open to the lodge open. He shut his eyes and lifted his tired head from the desk where he was resting it. Barely opening his eyes, he could see three men standing before him.
“We would like a room for tonight.”
Within an instant Ronnie looked like a deer in headlights.
“We will be leaving early tomorrow morning,” another of the men added.
Ronnie opened his mouth but nothing came out. He peered down at the computer and began tapping on the keyboard to wake the computer from its screensaver. He again looked up at them. They all looked exactly like the previous day’s guests who, according to his wife, evidently never came.
“I need a document of identification from each of you,” Ronnie said, stuttering.
Each man placed his respective document on the reception desk counter. Ronnie could hear more raucous coming from the rooms on the second floor. Ronnie thought of asking his wife to come down.
“Only one night, correct, gentleman?”
“Yes, thank you.”
Ronnie peered at each man’s document. All three were passports, although he couldn’t make out what the country of origin was. The men had no obvious accent when they spoke.
“Where are you gentleman, from?”
“Oh, we’re from around here.”
“Just up there,” another of the men added, pointing towards the mountain peak, as seen from the lobby window.
“From… the mountain?” Ronnie asked while tilting his head at an awkward angle.
“Yes, we return tomorrow.”
“You live there?”
“Ronnie, honey, who are you talking to down there?” Ronnie’s wife shouted as the laughter upstairs died down. Ronnie ignored her and continued his inquiry.
“Wait, what do you mean, like you have a house there?”
“The cave helps keep the wind off our faces.”
“Keeps us warm,” another man added.
“You live in a…”
“Ronnie, who are you talking to?” Ronnie’s wife shouted. Ronnie turned his head to look at his wife, looking down from the top of the stairs. He quickly swiveled his head back to an empty lobby. Looking down at his hands, he saw no passports and the computer’s screensaver was still active.
“Well…?” Ronnie’s wife said with a confused look on her face. “Was someone here?”
“No one,” Ronnie said dejectedly. His wife returned back upstairs to entertain the guests.
The next morning Ronnie continued to think about what had happened to him the previous night while making breakfast for his guests. Among the guests there were always several mountaineers who were at least somewhat familiar with the mountain. He could contain his curiosity no longer. Carrying a tray of scrambled eggs and bacon, he restocked the breakfast buffet himself. Ronnie walked from the kitchen to the buffet table. He restocked the bacon and eggs and beelined it to a group of regular guests who were seated by the window. They were obviously preparing to go on the mountain that morning.
“Morning,” Ronnie said, standing a distance back from the guests.
“Good morning, love the breakfast, Ronnie,” one of the men said cheerfully.
“Thanks, I was wonder, you gentleman are going up on the mountain today, correct?”
“After I get a few more slices of that bacon,” another man added. The entire group began chuckling and tacitly agreeing.
“Is there a house up there?” Ronnie asked abruptly, while pointing at the peak.
“What? Up on the mountain?”
“If there are any houses up there, they’re probably under a few tonnes of snow.” The group again burst into laughter. The group of mountaineers began making jokes to one another while Ronnie continued to stand there, holding the empty trays.
“Don’t think a house would stand very long with those winds,” an older climber said.
“How about a cave?” Ronnie asked.
“Cave? Yeah, there’s a cave,” the older climber continued. “But it’s a little out of the way, if you know what I mean. We aren’t going there today.”
“It’s on the other side.”
“Could you gentlemen, maybe go there today?” Ronnie asked, unsure of what he was even saying.
“Well, so… you could,” Ronnie fumbled his words. “I was just wondering, since you guys are so familiar with the mountain, could you maybe take a photo of this cave?”
“We have several,” one of the climbers said, while pulling out his cellphone from his side pocket. “Do you want to see them?”
“I know, but could you take one for the lodge here?” Ronnie looked around the hotel lobby. “I don’t really get out much myself, what with running this place and my wife…” He trailed off and continued to look around. The group of men stared at Ronnie and each other with puzzled looks on their faces. Ronnie ran over to the reception desk, grabbed an item and ran back.
“Could you maybe take a photo,” Ronnie began while producing a plaque with the hotel’s name and logo. “With this here sign, so we can display it in the lobby for all guests to see.” He held up the plaque for them to see. The men again looked at each other and then back at Ronnie.
“So, like a hotel promotion or something?”
“Right exactly,” Ronnie added enthusiastically. The men agreed and Ronnie went back to cooking more food for the buffet table. He later brought over a huge plate of bacon directly to the men’s table, thanking them once again before their departure.
Later that night, one of the skiers brought news to the hotel that there was a grisly discovery on the mountain by a group of climbers. They had stumbled upon three frozen mountaineers huddled together in a cave. Over the next few days police and emergency services descended on the mountain to remove the three bodies and investigate what had happened. Autopsies showed the three were trapped in the cave during a snowstorm and froze to death. They had been there for over a month. Police concluded the trio had been inadequately prepared for the climb and the elements. Ronnie’s plaque was never returned nor did he ever again see the guests who had found the bodies. Ronnie never did tell his wife.