~ PART FIVE ~
Our experience at the hotel wasn’t what we’d imagined it to be.
Have you read Part Four? You can catch up *here*.
We had left behind our current worries and the modern world. But what was entertaining us? What did it want with George and me?
A soft knock came at the door. George paled further, his shaky hand cautioned me to stay.
“I’ll go.” He mouthed the words.
His anxious face reflected my own. I steadied myself, grabbing one of the four vertical poles of the four poster bed. From here I viewed George, some fifteen feet away. I watched his back as he opened the bedroom door.
The door was opened as if it were any other normal day – a seemingly confident swing; not fast and aggressive, nor slow and cautious. Brave George. I could see he was playing their game. Like all this strangeness was normal and he hadn’t just witnessed the removal of a dead body from the premises.
In the dark space beyond, into the hall, I couldn’t see anyone. Yet someone had obviously just been here because they had knocked on our door. George was looking at the floor, then he bent down. When he turned back to me, he was holding a silver tray of two cups of coffee – and small pots of cream and sugar. As he neared me, I noticed there was something else on the tray: a short note scrawled on a piece of cream coloured paper, in black fountain pen ink. The paper bore the hotel’s letterhead: The Hotel Unicus ~ Leave your current worries behind!; and then the contact details.
George set the tray down on our dressing table before passing me the note. “It’s alright; it’s from the girl.”
I read it:
Dear Mr and Mrs Chester, please do not worry. I will keep you safe. The coffee is from me.
Dinner is at seven, in the dining room.
I recalled Mary’s gentle face with its haunting look of wanting to be elsewhere. I knew deep within myself, that George was right. We could trust her.
But what was her role in all of this? She seemed a prisoner here. Was this a form of modern day slavery? I had read reports in newspapers about people being used as slaves – working in the fields or sea, or cleaning houses – for a pittance. Living in crowded accommodation, being beaten, having their freedom curtailed. And worse still, being sexually exploited. It was happening now – around us – yet we in our relative comfort bubbles were blinded to it.
“Maggie? What are you thinking?” George interrupted my stream of thoughts.
I told him what I had been thinking.
“Let’s drink this coffee then go downstairs. We don’t know where this dining room is.” I said.
The dining room was via the first door we tried; the nearest one at the foot of the stairs. It was opposite the reception room, at the front of the hotel. We were twenty-three minutes early.
A large table, with oval edges and bedecked in crisp white linen, stood centrally in the room. An empty fireplace was situated to the right; its mantelpiece strewn with framed photographs of which the faces of the subjects overlooked the table. Soft candle light danced from long candles in silver candelabras. The day was fading outside, the candles and a couple of wall lights – shell shaped sconces – barely brightened the room. The table was set with silverware, white linen serviettes, crystal cut drinking glasses and white plates – for six people. Around it, twenty-six chairs carved from oak with ornate filigree work. The curtains at the two long sash-windows were of deep crimson velvet, which pooled onto the aged parquet floor. A mid-brown wood in a herringbone pattern – unlike the red and black stone tiled diamonds in the hall. Other than the floor the curtains were the only colour in the entire room – like a drop of blood bleeding into the pristine whiteness. The ceilings in the hotel were high and often bore reliefs of fronds, flowers and wild dogs with open snarling maws.
But the dining room ceiling featured the most elaborate tableaux. Every square inch was covered in relief, and around the dripping crystal chandelier that held sway over the table, it became more pronounced – bigger, bolder, more ferocious.
The beast was the same size as the man; its long and daggered teeth having no place in the mouth of an earthbound dog. The man fled for his life, with flailing arms, as the hound from hell, in its long bounding stride almost had its prize seized between its very capable teeth.
George followed my upcast eyes.
“Are we really safe even with Mary on our side?” I said to him.
“I get the idea she is stronger than what she seems – there’s a feral cat under the sweet exterior of a mouse.”
I thought of her thin and rasping voice; a voice that impressed upon the hearer it had lived centuries. And, that the one for whom the voice belonged to, had witnessed much of human suffering. There were nuances of pain and fragility and understanding. Hundreds of years worth.
Why couldn’t George hear her real voice? Was it because we heard – individually – what she wanted us to hear? I couldn’t believe it was malicious manipulation, although in her way she was orchestrating something in her – and I believed, in our – favour.
I slumped into one of the ornate dining chairs. “I’m famished, George. We need to eat whatever we do next.”
He took the seat beside me. “Maggie, I’m not sure whether to be relieved or worried at the sight of these other set places.”
Four more places set with water and wine glasses, plates, cutlery, serviettes. Who were the other guests – were they here already?
“That dead body,” George said in a low voice, “I wonder if he had been one of the dinner guests.”
“He was.” Said a woman’s voice.
We turned to see an athletic woman dressed in jodhpurs and riding boots as if she’d only just returned from a spot of horse riding. Her hair, a blaze of orange fire competed against the clashing colour of the curtains’ crimson. Her grey eyes were bright and her skin aglow. Her cheeks were touched with red – perhaps from the ride. Encased in leather gloves, her hands held a riding hat in one hand and a whip in the other.
She strode into the room as if she had done so a thousand times. “What! Am I late for dinner?” She said in upper-class tones.
I was dumbfounded. Nothing seemed to sit right in this place. I wasn’t expecting Lady Horsewoman who seemed to be ejected from 1927.
“We were advised to be here for seven.” George said.
“Darling, no one is ever on time at the Hotel Unicus.” She said, leaning against the fireplace and looking them over. “I’m Joan. Who are you two? Married I’d say.”
George bristled. It was subtle, but I knew the signs: the pressing together of his lips, the flush of his cheeks. “Joan, why don’t you tell us what happened to the body?”
Joan switched her attention to the droves of framed photographs on the fireplace mantel. The faces seemed to watch us out of the black and white photos. Idly, she lifted one. Fixated her stare upon it. “The body? Oh, that’s over with – dead and gone. But, have you heard of the folklore of Black Shuck?”
~ 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