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Cabin 33

by Douglas Page2012 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Terry wants to leave, even though we're booked for a second night. It's early evening, the sun just slipped behind the pine ridge to the west leaving behind a trail of bruised amber clouds. She's troubled by the realization she is facing another night in this place. It's called the Mineral Lodge because it's located in the tiny town of Mineral, population 90, a splinter in the great woods of northeastern California, a few miles outside the south entrance to Lassen National Park. Calling this establishment a lodge is probably generous. Yosemite has the Ahwahnee. The Grand Canyon has the El Tovar. Lassen has the Bates Motel - a row of a dozen or so rustic one-window duplex cabins the color of old bones on Highway 36 a few miles west of the park entrance. We're at the top, up the slope, on the end of the row, 75 yards from the parking area down by the road. Our cabin has two windows, one more than the number of electrical outlets inside. The cabins are Spartan, which is to say no tv, no telephone, no radio, no bedside digital clock, no mini-bar, no refrigerator, no coffee pot, no hair dryer, no shampoo. When we can, we travel from Best Western to Best Western, with an occasional Hilton or Hyatt thrown in just to remember what a decent towel feels like again. Cabin 33 has two towels, so thin they could be used to dry dishes. Right now, we'd settle for a Motel 6, with or without a porch light. There is no light on the porch here, and there are only two lights inside, which we noticed when we attempted to charge our devices. The lone outlet comes as something of a culture shock, since we travel these days with two cell phones, three digital cameras, two iPads, an iPod, a backup hair dryer, and a Sonicare toothbrush. No sockets in the toilet, either, nor the room where the shower is, nor the room where the sink is. Yes, the sink, toilet, and shower each have their own rooms. There is carpeting under the sink but no place to plug in the hair dryer or toothbrush. But it's not that Mineral Lodge looks too much like the Bates Motel, complete with an abandoned Victorian house further up the slope, or that the cabins are rustic or that the floor

plan makes no sense or that the cob web up in the corner by the door is so mature it looks like you could stack books on it. Its not even that she has to dry her hair without a mirror that has Terry freaked. What's got her nervous is the proprietor - a stern, boney man she suspects is a serial killer. She calls him Lon Chaney. I think he looks more like a 65-year old Anthony Perkins, but I keep that to myself. We first met him when we checked in Tuesday, yesterday, after a scenic dash north on Highway 89 through the western Sierra foothills from Portola to Chester, then west over to Mineral. He didn't have much to say in the way of greeting that afternoon. It was sort of like he resented us disturbing him, that he lived this far out in the sticks to get away from people. His latent hostility has apparently been aggravated by the fact that he failed to predict that operating a highway motel outside a national park would necessitate dealing with strangers more or less all the time. He ran our credit card, then tossed a room key on the counter. "$75.00 locksmith charge if you lose the key," he says, without looking up. "Could we have two keys," I say, "in case she gets away from me again?" It was a joke, to brighten the moment. "$150.00 if you lose both," Lon snorts. We leave and go for a hike to the Bumpass Hell steam vents in the Park. The next time we see him it's 2 am and he's up a ladder against the attic crawl space on the cabin next door. Terry has been awakened by the rustling sounds of something in the bushes outside the window, and the rattling of a metal extension ladder. It sounds like someone's playing soccer on cement with empty paint cans. Now she's darting from window to window in the dark peaking between the blinds, attempting to determine what or who is trying to break into the cabin to murder us. I'm weary from the altitude, the drive, and the three mile steam vent hike at dusk, but I rally in support. "What the hell are you doing?" Someone's out there," she whispers. "No one's out there. Come back to bed."

"Shhh. Listen. Someone's out there. Did you hear that?" "Probably a critter. We're in the north woods. Come to bed." "Critters don't carry ladders. Someone's trying to break in. Where are we?" She switches a light on. "In bed. Jesus. Turn off the goddamn light." "No. Where are we? What's the name of this place?" "I dunno. Please, come to bed." "It's something Lodge, right?" "Yes. Now come to bed." "Which Lodge?" "Why? What does it matter?" "I'm calling 911." "No you're not. Get in bed." "Where's the phone?" "There is no phone. Besides, the sheriff is 45 miles away. It'll be dawn before he gets here. Our bodies will have already been hidden." "No, the cellphone." "It's dead. No sockets, remember?" Then, the next morning at the general store we see Maybe he owns the motel and wonder he's terse. He works when we buy a bag of ice next door him again. He's behind the counter. the store. Maybe the caf, too. No all the time.

"What was that noise outside our cabin at 2 am?" Terry asks, her jaw set, ready for a skirmish. Sometimes, when she doesn't get enough sleep in a motel, she asks for her money back. Once it was something she claimed was a pubic hair she found on a clean sheet. Another time it was something gnawing through the plaster wall over by the sink that turned out to be a coffee pot left on. Last night it was Sasquatch.

"Squirrels," Lon says. "Squirrels? Squirrels don't use ladders," Terry says, starring at him defiantly. "Oh, the ladder? Bug spray." "What?" "Bug spray. Squirrels get in the attics when it's dry like this because they smell shower water. So I spray the attics with Raid. They hate Raid." Terry starts to ask why the spraying can't be done at 2 pm instead of 2 am but I pull her away. I can see it all makes perfect sense to him. Then, late this afternoon, believing she's seen a curtain move in the abandoned Victorian just up the hill, Terry heads out on a perimeter reconnaissance to determine what defenses need strengthening out back. During her patrol down the slope through the rocks and weeds behind the cabins she encounters Lon sitting on a milking stool alone in a small, dark tool shed, smoking a cigaret. "Hey," she says, not stopping, like this is her regular route. "Hey," he replies, blowing smoke in her direction, maybe wondering what he has to do to escape this woman with the aggressive attitude so he can dismember bodies in peace. Terry continues down the slope a few steps until she approaches a pony-sized dog chained to a tree, panting eagerly against the restraint in anticipation of a blond dinner. "I think we should leave," she says when she gets back to the cabin. She has that look. It's easier to change the Olympic symbol than to change her mind. "Why?" "I saw Lon again, back there in an old shed, like he was waiting for it to get dark or something. I think he was sharpening a knife. We should leave."

"He owns the place. He can sit wherever he wants. We just hiked most of the way up Lassen Peak. I'm not going anywhere. Be glad he wasn't abusing a chicken." We checked out early the next morning, after an uneventful night. No sirens, screams, or soccer games. Terry says it doesn't matter, we're never going back there. I'm not so sure. Lassen is a wonderful scenic secret and these cabins are the closest lodging to the park by 18 miles. Besides, it would be interesting to see how big that cob web gets, or how many clandestine graves have been discovered in the woods nearby. ### July 25, 2012, Mineral Lodge, Mineral, California

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