~ PART ELEVEN ~
Our experience at the hotel wasn’t what we’d imagined it to be.
Have you read Part Ten? You can catch up *here*.
With some difficulty, I stood up to stretch my stiff legs.
It was then we saw the deep grooves on the bench seat. Two sets of three. They looked like they were issued from large claws of a large beast.
“Black Shuck. The Hound of Hell.” Fred whispered.
In the glare of the sun, George and I hadn’t initially noticed the scratches in the wooden seat.
George then told Fred about the witness who saw Sedgewick walking onto the marshland in the dead of night – the night he died.
“You have to take me to her!” Fred stood up quickly. “She might know something, a vital clue…”
George and I exchanged looks.
I sat down again; but not on the ominous scratches. “It’s not that simple, Fred. George omitted to say she’s dead.”
Fred gave me a strange look. “What?”
“Elizabeth is a ghost.” I said.
George shrugged his shoulders. “It’s time you got with it, Fred. This place isn’t normal and you know that.”
“Ok…Take me to Elizabeth the ghost.” Fred said.
We started to walk together down the boardwalk, with the idea of then taking the meandering path back to the hotel. Progression was slow due to my slow gait. We passed the oak tree, under whose canopy the three wild horses had eaten the grass. They were gone.
“What about William?” I asked George, remembering Elizabeth’s long lost love – or rather, the scallywag who was only out to use her.
“William?” Fred queried. “Who’s this? Another ghost?”
“We don’t know if he haunts Hotel Unicus. He’s the bloke Elizabeth was dotty about. She’s been waiting for an age for him to return. Standing there at the window, crying all over his love letters.” George explained.
“So, what’s he got to do with this?” Fred asked.
“We made a kind of a deal with Elizabeth,” George said. “if we were to find William, she would help us find Sedgewick’s body.”
“Oh, that sounds easy!” Fred snorted.
“I didn’t think it through.” George admitted.
We walked on in silence.
Mary met us at the front door of the hotel, with the notification that lunch was now being served in the dining room. The three of us tucked into our ham, boiled egg and cheese salads and a serving of white bread baked in-house; we drank a dry sparkling wine from the cellar and finished with tea and ‘home-baked’ oat biscuits. Mary casually mentioned that Joan and Pendleton weren’t going to join us but would be about for supper time at seven. The conversation was inane as we were naturally concerned for our wellbeing. I remember feeling like I was in some kind of mystery film, playing a secret spy. A character perhaps, like the inelegant Margaret Rutherford’s Miss Marple.
I wasn’t used to having this much fun…
Afterwards, we climbed the small back-stairs, without much expectancy of seeing Elizabeth’s ghost. At first, when our three sets of eyes had grown accustomed to the gloom, all we saw was the furniture – small bookcase, desk and narrow bed – just as before. The daylight barely penetrated the room, as if it were an unwelcome guest in this small secret domain.
George shrugged his shoulders. “She’s not here – let’s go.”
Fred hugged himself with crossed arms. “It amazes me just how cold it is inside this room. The rest of the house is much warmer. Brrr! It feels like someone has an air conditioner on.”
“Wait.” I gently lay a hand on George’s shoulder. “Elizabeth is here. I feel her presence becoming stronger.”
From the corner where the bed stood, a dark gloom manifested itself – and slowly grew larger. It was like a curling soft mist, except it was dark. The fingers of it stretched and touched our skin, leaving icy cold imprints.
“Is this really a good idea?” Fred asked in a shaky voice. I sensed he wanted to bolt for the stairs and out the door, that exited, below.
Then the mist began to take on a form, the figure of the young woman’s ghost we’d seen the night before. The darkness greyed; the softness took on more substance; and, the curling motion halted altogether.
Elizabeth – with love letters clasped to her small bosom, in the long grey dress – appeared before us.
“Did you find William?” Was the first thing she muttered.
“You didn’t say where to look for him.” I said, feeling a mixture of uncanny boldness and surrealism. I was a little irritated too: this ghost seemed as indifferent to our trouble as a selfish living person might.
Elizabeth appeared to think a moment.
“Ah, the Rose Garden. Our rendezvous took place there.”
At first, my mind drew a blank. And then…
I recalled the hotel’s website; the dark photograph of the walled garden filled with roses and lollipop shaped trees, the hedges expertly cut, shaped into various animals and fairytale characters. And, the waist-high sundial that stood in the centre of it all.
It had enraptured me. Pulled me into this world from the very beginning.
Leave behind your current worries and the modern world.
The three of us easily located the pool area; it was situated behind the hotel and was south facing. It was just like it was in the modern photograph – the simple rectangular swimming pool, the yuccas in the terracotta pots, three small round ironwork tables with opened red parasols, and the matching chairs tucked neatly under.
It was empty, but for us.
The breeze, warm and unassuming, brought the far away salty scent of the sea, and the fragrance of the roses and the stronger smell of the lavender. Along the wall – where the enclosed garden lay beyond, and the red door was in plain view, nestled into the bricks of it – ran a narrow flower bed. Completely filled with the deep blue lavender flowers.
Pirates, wreckers, scorned women, will-o’-the-wisps, devil dogs, and gleeful evil crowded my mind.
“Steady, Maggie.” George stuck out an arm for me to lean on. I hadn’t realised I had almost toppled over.
We perched on the ironwork chairs at one of the tables, talking about the old photograph of the walled garden, and comparing it to the newer contemporary one. Everyone agreed the former garden sounded better – more enchanting and special.
The breeze seemed to stop in its quiet tracks. Everything became strangely still – no movement, no background sound, even the strong scent of the lavender had faltered, wilted; and, ceased to be.
It was an echo of our first day at Hotel Unicus, when we had arrived and stood in the small carpark, marvelling at the absolute quiet.
Without a word we looked to one another. For no words were needed.
Then, the breeze resumed – fiercer, sharper, colder. The fabric of the table parasols rippled, the edges lifted, curling upwards. A large black crow, flying low, screamed at us.
“Let’s seek refuge in the walled garden!” George shouted above the din.
The breeze had morphed into a wind that grabbed and pulled our clothes, snapped at our ankles, and slapped our faces. As a group, huddled together, we moved as fast as we could towards the red wooden door in the wall.
My dread was that the door would be locked. Whatever it was – as it couldn’t surely just be the wind – was playing with us. I didn’t want to think where it might lead to.
George grabbed the brass handle. It turned and enabled the opening of the door into the walled garden beyond. Under other circumstances, we would have laughed ourselves silly at how we attempted to squeeze through that doorway as one (especially accompanied with the rotund Fred) – instead of, in single file order. But, squeezed through, we did. And, as soon as we had, a gust of wind slammed shut the red wooden door behind us.
Inside the walled garden, it was still. Though, with our backs to the shut door, we were not at ease.
Fred stuttered, but couldn’t form the words.
George’s “Wha…” hung in the air.
“It looks like we’ve gone back in time to that old walled garden.” I said. My words as quiet as the breeze, despite carrying the gravitas of our new found situation.
~ 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 rights.