~ PART TWO ~
Our experience at the hotel wasn’t what we’d imagined it to be.
Have you read Part One? You can catch up *here*.
It was with relief when we finally stretched our legs after the hours of travel. Underfoot, the crunch of the gravel driveway was loud and brash against the stillness.
“Well,” George said, looking about, “we are here now.” His voice ricocheted off the building and other stone and cement structures.
I had the feeling of being watched. Then I saw why.
Stone had been chiselled and sanded smooth into featureless faces. They were white busts – heads, necks and shoulders – standing on oblong plinths. The faces were blank, devoid of expression. They were all turned to face our direction. Peeking at us through the fronds and branches, and over the top of the six foot hedge.
The welcoming committee at Hotel Unicus.
Other than our presence there was no other sign of human or animal life. The wind, until now had been still, like someone with bated breath listening at a door; and then it blew strong, in a singular gust. Shaking the trees of oak and willow as if to declare its presence. I am here; I am listening. I am watching.
Where was anyone?
“This isn’t the right place. I feel it. We shouldn’t be here.” George said. During the whole fiasco at work, with the firing of his boss, a tic had started up in his left eye. It was the only thing that revealed his inner turmoil. Dear George, so sturdy and dependable. Loyal and brave. Since the adjustments at work – a month now – he seemed to be getting better from the stress. But his eyelid was twitching now.
“George,” I said gently, “we know it’s the right place. Do you remember us seeing the hotel sign at the bottom of the drive?”
“That doesn’t mean anything. There could be two hotels…”
I watched him carefully wipe his glasses with the bottom of his t-shirt; then followed him with my eyes as he walked towards the building. Conserving my energy, I leaned against the van.
The front door – glossy and red, under a grand portico – opened wide. My husband hadn’t yet reached it and so the abrupt action visibly startled him. He gave a little jump and then a nervous laugh in an attempt to mask his surprise.
The laugh bounced off the walls, off the statues, off the paved ground. Of course, the blank faces divulged nothing.
“Welcome Mr and Mrs Chester.” A thin, barely audible voice was carried on the wind. I imagined it belonging to someone ancient, not late middle aged like us. Of course I wasn’t able to see who the voice belonged to: I stood about sixty feet away, and the portico was under shadow. If it hadn’t have been for the wind’s breeze I wouldn’t have heard the voice at all.
I noticed George take a step backwards. He half turned to me, smiled, and waved an arm; beckoning me to come.
I was as confused as George’s laugh had been nervous. I didn’t know whether to stay or go.
I – remaining by our vehicle – watched George leave whoever was at the door as he returned to me.
“Maggie, it’s strange, but it’s alright.” His eyes were bright and the eye tick seemed to have disappeared.
“We don’t have to stay.” I countered. I tried peering inside the open front door. All I could see was a dark space. It must have been the shadows, I reasoned.
“Well, we’re here now. Come on.” He grabbed our few pieces of luggage except for the Italien leather handbag I wore over my shoulder. We locked the VW van and made our way towards the hotel. Him striding ahead, me awkwardly negotiating the gravelled terrain with my walking stick.
The wind started to whisper through the branches of the trees. It was as if it spoke words of another language. The oak and weeping willow trees sighed and creaked. Uttering secret words though their message was clear.
Perhaps if I had paid closer attention…
“Hello!” George said loudly, breaking whatever spell I was under. “Funny, the woman is gone.” He put the big suitcase and overnight bag down on the tiled floor just inside the lobby.
I stared at the pattern of the tiles. Small diamonds, deep red and black.
“At her age she most probably needed a rest.” I said, recalling the thin, raspy voice.
George laughed. “I wouldn’t call nineteen or twenty very old.”
I stared at a particular red diamond. It had cracks radiating from its centre. Something had given it an almighty bang.
“Where did that girl get to?” George wondered.
We listened for a sign of our host, but all was quiet.
“We can’t stand here like wallys, let’s make ourself at home. We might bump into someone who can actually help us.” George said, grabbing our bags and leading the way into a room on the left.
We found ourselves as if back in time. Not by decades, but by centuries. The room, large and bright, could have been a gentleman’s reception room. The wood panelling adorning the walls was painted in yellow, cream and gold. The long sashed windows were dressed in gold coloured silk; one window of the six had a window seat, making it a perfect sunny spot for reading. The floor was of dark parquet, covered in places with thick oriental rugs. The furniture consisted of a long chaise lounge, a love seat by one window, and various low tables and other seating upholstered in yellow or cream silk. And when we looked up, the white ceiling had been painstakingly decorated in a relief of roses, palms and creatures that looked like gargoyles.
George stared at his reflection in a large mirror above the room’s fireplace. He didn’t know what to say.
I knew what he was thinking. “This..” I turned round in a slow circle, accidentally hitting the chaise lounge with my walking stick. “This is ‘expensive’. We didn’t pay for an expensive hotel.”
One of several oil paintings, near the fireplace caught my eye. “George, look at that painting.” I pointed. “That isn’t a print; it’s done in real oils. I know they’re oil because my grandad used to paint in them. And…and it looks very old.”
From the open doorway a floorboard creaked. “That painting is very old. All the paintings are.”
We turned to see a very tall slim man, dressed in attire from another century.
From upstairs we heard a cry.
~ To be continued! ~
Photographs and digital manipulation by me, 3rd May 2016, Great Yarmouth Row Houses.
My day out at the Great Yarmouth Row Houses.
Writing prompt: Our experience at the hotel wasn’t what we’d imagined it to be.
Writing inspiration: A strange dream. And a little Hotel California.
What’s a Short Story Series?: A short story written over several parts, around 1,000 words for each part.
Copyright Faith McCord 2016
Story and artwork belongs to Faith McCord who is the author and artist holding the copyright. This is not a public domain work. Worldwide right