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Rated: ASR · Fiction · Travel · #2285481
A short story - Dream vacation...or nightmare?

"Yahoo! Yes! Yes!" Shelly's happy dance carried her around her two-room basement apartment, waving the good-news letter like a flag of victory. "Look, Peter!" She showed the letter to Peter Parker--the spider plant that was her room-mate, friend, companion and confidant, and the only plant she hadn't managed to kill since moving in a month ago. "I've won an all-inclusive, all-expense paid three day, two night visit to Lake Chipatla, Mexico!" She grabbed the plant pot and waltzed it around until she was dizzy.

Surely this was a sign that her life was turning around. She'd find a great job, lose weight, meet a wonderful man, buy a used-but-snazzy car, move out of this dump. "Warm water, Peter! Sandy beaches! Three days with no dieting! A dream vacation! Woohoo!"

She briefly considered phoning her mom with the news. "Nah, Peter. She'll only tell me everything that's wrong with me, and who needs the grief? I'm twenty-four years old and it's past time I was on my own. We'll let sleeping mama-dogs lie."


After a forever of resumes, applications, interviews, and rejections, departure day arrived. As with the rest of her life--what did she expect, anyway?--things did not go well.

In her rush to get ready, she almost drowned Peter Parker. "Peter, I'm so sorry." She carried on a running conversation with her spidey friend. "I forgot to pack sun tops. That's the second time I've had to repack my suitcases. And I forgot to call for a cab. I hope I've got everything now."

Waiting for her ride, she slumped on a chair beside her pet plant. "Peter, why is life out to get me?" Peter had no wisdom to share. "Whatever made me think I could break away from home and get a fresh start?" The plant's leaves drooped in silent sympathy. "No! I will not think that way. Things will change for the better!"

The taxi eventually came. She was an hour late to the airport.


"Come on, machine. Gimme a ticket." She gave the bullying box a hefty whack. But when your life is off track, nothing cooperates. The automated ticket machine would not disgorge her ticket and boarding pass, forcing her to stand in line for an agent, which made her later still.

Somehow, in the lineup, she went one way and her luggage another. Sorting that out took more precious minutes.

This series of mishaps was her life as she knew it; she could sense her mother chortling and smirking from half a continent away. What had happened to that wonderful turn-around?

The last one through security, she dashed onto the plane with only minutes to spare.

"Boarding pass, please," the stewardess held out a hand.

"Oh, ah, um..." She finally located it in a jacket pocket.

"Thank you. You're in 18C, part way down on the left. Please take your seat quickly, we're cleared for takeoff."

But when she tracked down seat 18C, it was occupied by a bulky blond guy who might have been part of an Olympic wrestling team. He not only filled the seat, he dominated it with solid muscle. His calm gaze from clear blue eyes turned her warm and pink with blush.

"Ah, excuse me," she ventured, "I think you're in my seat."

The man checked his boarding pass, then glanced up at her. "I think not. Are you sure you've got the right seat number?"

A stewardess confirmed that somehow two identical seat reservations had been issued. Shelly lurked in silent embarrassment beside the seat-stealing wrestler while that was sorted out and another place found. Too bad, he had looked interesting.

By the time she was finally wedged into her seat, collapsing with a heartfelt sigh, her blouse was soggy with sweat and the tension in her neck and shoulders was agony. Her dream vacation was so far something of a nightmare. What more would go wrong?

"Please forgive me, but you do look frazzled." The sympathetic tone relaxed her a bit, but her jaw almost dropped when she turned to find a handsome, bronze-skinned man beside her. Lean, with sleekly brushed black hair, a crimson-and-gold Hawaiian shirt and tan slacks, he was just what she dreamed of finding on a dream vacation.

"Buenos dios, I am Luis Delgado, with Lake Chipatla Tours. Are you on one of our trips, perhaps?"

"Oh! Yes. I'm Shelly. I'm looking forward to some sun and fun, but I'm off to a rocky start." She reeled off the misadventures that had led to her being beside him.

"Ah, how unfortunate. But now, you are en route to Lake Chipatla, a place of beauty and enchantment. Just picture yourself suntanning on the beach, a cold cerveza or margarita within reach, seabirds flying in the azure sky, the gentle lapping of the waves! We have a private casita for you, your own little hideaway from the cares of the world. For three days and two nights, anyway." His laugh was like the sparkle of sun on gentle waves.

Shelly relaxed, and decided she might just enjoy the flight.

"So tell me more about Lake Chipatla, Luis." She hoped she didn't sound too interested.

"Si, Lake Chipatla. A place of romance and beauty to energize the soul. It is said to have healing power, and for centuries the native Matzatecos came to bathe in its waters and build their casitas on its shores."


"Native Mexicans. I'm part Matzateco, myelf. Not so famous as the Mayans or Aztecs, and not nearly as blood-thirsty. Those guys, they would cut out the heart of a living victim as a sacrifice to their gods, and poke cactus thorns into their babies or rub pepper juice into their eyes to teach them to endure pain. Muy gachos, those old ones, real nasty."

Luis continued his stories, telling of Chipatla's bloody history of death and torture under the Aztecs and the near-extermination of the Matzatecos. "There are wonderful catacombs in the hills, full of mummies with their hearts cut out. They say you can hear the wail of their ghosts when the wind blows through the hills! Some of our guests are lucky enough to hear them."

"Oh, I'm really looking forward to that."

Her sarcasm missed its target, and Luis went on with an enthusiastic account of local wildlife viewing. "Besides songbirds and coyotes--the word comes from the Aztec coyotl--we have many species of snakes, spiders and lizards." As he listed the deadliest of each group, Shelly began even more to doubt the wisdom of the trip. She huddled in her seat and concentrated on visions of sun and sand.


After landing, Luis shepherded her and a few other passengers onto a shuttle bus, which he drove to the resort. To her surprise, the olympic wrestler sat beside her. "Hi, Shelly. I'm Paul. I spotted your name on your boarding pass." She learned that he was as friendly as a big puppy, ran a busy one-man dry-walling company, and was taking a short break.

When the bus reached the resort, staff unloaded the luggage. Luis grabbed her bags and escorted her past the sparkling blue lake to the casita that would be her home for the next two days.

"I would love to see you settled in, Senorita, but I must go to assist others. Still, I hope you will be my special guest at the reception in the clubhouse at four o'clock. That will give you an hour to freshen up and recover from your troublesome travels. Bienvenidas y felices vacaciones."

The casita was a little house of reddish stone with red terra cotta roof tiles gleaming in the sun, and white wrought iron grill-work on the windows and doors. Strands of flowering vines creeping up the walls made it a charming bower. Inside, it was simply furnished, and cool enough to make her shiver.

"Special guest at the reception," Shelly murmured to herself. "He probably says that to all the senoritas. Make us feel special. But he is muy handsome, and it's nice to pretend, even for a while, that he might find me attractive. And Paul is so nice."

Tired and stressed from the eventful day, she kicked off her sandals and shed her travel clothes, looking forward to a shower and a nap. She accepted the tepid water and banging pipes as par for the course; her favorite shampoo and luxurious body wash sluiced off much of her fatigue and restored her hopeful mood.

She dried as best she could on the thin towels, put on clean (secretly sexy) undergarments, wrapped herself in the threadbare bathrobe from the closet, and threw herself onto the hard mattress. She was almost asleep when she heard a loud thump and felt a tremor on the bed.

Shelly opened her eyes and froze. She didn't dare breathe. Didn't dare move. Dared only watch, eyes glazed in silent horror, as a huge tarantula placed two quivering legs on her naked thigh.

It was only after it had crawled away and dropped to the floor that she found the breath to scream.

There was a violent pounding on the door, then it was flung open and Paul strode into the room. She ran to him and sagged into his arms. "Shelly, what's wrong?"

Gasping and sobbing, she choked out, "Spider! B-b-big spider!" She pointed to the far side of the bed where the monster had made its escape after crawling over her leg.

Paul released her then walked over and peered into the corner. "Oh, wow, what a beauty!"

Shelly blinked at him, open-mouthed. "A what?"

"It's a Mexican red-knee tarantula. They're harmless, and people keep them as pets. But this is a big one. No wonder you were startled." He carefully picked it up and smiled as it crawled up his arm.

"Startled? Startled?" Shelly leapt away, putting the bed between them. "You idiot, I was terrified. Keep that thing away from me!"

"They're nocturnal and usually hide during the day. You must have disturbed this guy."

"Not nearly as much as it disturbed me!" Her breathing was returning to normal, and so was her sense of humor. The spider was pretty in a furry horror-monster kind of way. That didn't mean she wanted one in her bed. Paul or Luis, on the other hand...

"I'll put this guy outside, all right?"

"Put it five miles from my casita, please! The further the better!"

While Paul took the tarantula out, Shelly dressed and did a quick makeup. He returned after a few minutes. "How about we go get a margarita to settle your nerves?"

"Yes to the drink, but, Paul, could you just hold me for a minute? I'm really shaken up."

He took her in his arms and held her close.

"Paul, I don't want you to think...I mean, I'm not..."

"Shh. As soon as you're ready, we'll go to the reception together. Okay?"

Chatting as they walked to the clubhouse, Paul mentioned that he was looking for someone to handle job bookings and details. She offered to apply and wriggled in delight when he gave her a business card.

"Call when we get home. But no more business talk for the duration, deal?"


"Ah, Senorita Shelly," Luis rose from his spot at the bar and greeted her smoothly when she walked into the Taberna. He frowned when Paul moved up beside her. "And Senor Paul, buenos tardes. Please, have a margarita." He turned away to greet another Senorita.

"Luis is something of a lounge lizard," laughed Paul. They picked up a margarita each. "Felices vacaciones, Shelly," he toasted, and she basked in the warmth of his smile.

"To a wonderful vacation." She raised her glass to his.

Perhaps things were turning around after all.

Word count: 1940
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