Randy Nikkel Schroeder grew up Mennonite in Alberta's deep south. As a young man he fled for the High Arctic and, psychologically, never came back. He currently lives with his family in Calgary, where he snowshoes in the woods, watches birds, and plays guitar and mandolin for his band, Uncle Zugg. In his spare time, he is Professor of English, Cultures, and Languages at Mount Royal University.
The Marquis Hotel has a century of murmur in its bones. Tales, too--inhaled at twilight by hissing vents, circled through hallways and hidden rooms, exhaled at daybreak. Downtown Lethbridge crouches under the edifice, toking its secret histories: the coal baron and his paramour, the runaway pastor's daughter, the felon on the lam--clandestine meetings, illicit love, voyeurs known and unknown--Mormon bishops, gamblers, whores.
The Marquis is over a hundred years old, ancient history on the Canadian prairies. By day its fading brick reaches to the sun, slate shimmering reds and greens, stonework cooled by shadows. At night the Marquis casts a spell: its pinnacles slice and crack the moon's light, then strew it in peppercorns across the tangle of gardens, while starlings gather on pitched rooftops to watch. Gingerbread windows gulp the remaining moonbeams; behind the glass, fires spark and dwindle in the hearths.
Townfolk say an entire floor has been closed long as anyone remembers. Ghosts, demons, murder--depends who tells the story. Some say two brothers came down from the High Arctic in the roaring twenties, stayed in the Marquis a whole year. Haroot and Maroot Darker, both eccentric, both in love with some Japanese woman inexplicably named Zurah. When she fled northward with a new lover, a white knife thrower from the carnival, the brothers' eccentricity turned to madness. Room One Thirteen, people say, demolished, sprayed with blood, but who killed whom? Some old Lethbridge folk tell the story differently, cackle over dark rum cokes or burnt black coffee in taverns grimed with failing light. Insist the brothers did not die--could not die--for they were dark angels cast from heaven to wander earth, to feed on malice, to tear apart the bonds of love.
But the story can never really be told, because no thread is ever lost: every hard choice and chance encounter weaves the tale out of itself--stitching, whirling, snaring--forever knotting and unspooling at the same time. So the angels may still haunt the long hallways, but who would know? For the Marquis has lost its voice to carpets, drapes, and crooked pictures--to thick coverlets and layered dust.
The century is about to turn.