~ PART SIXTEEN ~
Our experience at the hotel wasn’t what we’d imagined it to be.
Have you read Part Fifteen? You can catch up *here*.
“Stay put.” George said as he climbed up onto the wide ledge of the kitchen window sill.
I was horrified. “George!”
“Maggie darling, I won’t be able to live with myself if someone else dies, when I could have done something to save him.”
“I can keep you from harm here. If you venture onto the marshes it will surely be your downfall.” Mary said.
My husband, ignoring her wise words, was now half-way through the open window.
I grabbed one of his feet, by the heel of a shoe. “Please, George.” I pleaded. “Don’t go.”
A blown kiss through the window, and he was gone. The next thing I knew, Pendleton was up and away, following his trail.
And, so, I found myself alone – except for the disembodied voice of Mary. I can honestly say it wasn’t the oddest moment I’d yet experienced at the Hotel Unicus.
“Mary, why are you now invisible? You don’t have to explain the ghost part, we’ve all figured that out.”
I went to the kitchen table, my walking stick offering inadequate support. I was exhausted, my pain levels rocketing. Mary thoughtfully pulled out a chair for me.
I heard her clear her throat. “I’m not as strong as the Tall Man, but I’ve powers of my own. Protecting you this evening has depleted my energy. By not being present for you in the ordinary seeing way permits me to replenish it sooner.”
The electric light dimmed in the kitchen.
“Why has it gone darker?” I was worried. I knew I wouldn’t be up to physically getting away from the evil now.
“Don’t worry, Mrs Chester. I’m only feeding off that energy.”
“I have to get to Elizabeth. Obviously,” I made a gesture towards my body, “I can’t make it now, I need to rest first.”
“You and I require rest.” Mary said gently.
I slumped in the chair, my head in my arms on the table. And slept.
Much, much later, George explained what had happened to him from the moment he left me.
“I never thought I could get through that tiny window – but I did! – but caught myself on the sharp windowsill, shredding my trousers to bits. I looked like some wild beast had savaged me, though it was only the windowsill!
“I was standing in a square courtyard, filled with potted plants and a bench, which then led to that swimming pool area. It was obviously still light outside, it being summertime, but I was stumped as to which direction to take: should I turn right, towards the front of the hotel?; or left, to go inside the walled garden? Had Fred taken off on the marshes, or run down the road, or hid amongst the roses? I was standing there, very aware of the passing of time and the ever narrowing chance to find him, when I heard the click of the door – shutting – to the garden.
“It had to be Fred, I thought. I was hoping to God it was. I didn’t fancy meeting any more strange spirits!
“I even called out his name. I wasn’t expecting a reply, but it was worth a gamble. Then, to my surprise, he answered back!
“>George! I’m in the walled garden!<
“I was hoping it was really Fred. It certainly sounded like him.
“Please God, let it be Fred!
“Dear, don’t look so worried, you know we’re safe now because I’m relaying this story. I will continue: Yes, I was terrified, but I was more frightened should something awful happen to Fred. I knew you were safe with Mary’s protection, and that I would sooner, rather than later, return to you – and, well, if I didn’t, I knew in my heart, that Mary would ensure your safety.
“I hurried past the tables with the parasols and the chairs, and around the swimming pool to the door that’s in the wall. For a moment, I leant up against it, to see if I could hear anything from inside, but there was silence. I threw the door wide open and went inside. There wasn’t a wind that night, but the door slammed shut behind me. I was thinking, I’m being watched, ‘they’ wish to unsettle me. I was frightened, and, at the same time, also energised and alert; bloody determined to find poor Fred. And, I wanted to get back to you as soon as possible.
“In the back of my mind was that hedge creature. I was hoping that none of them were going to come out and play today!
“Of course, I had to venture through that winding path, that is like a kind of maze – with the roses obliterating your view and those hedge creatures looming over you – but I stopped a moment, I suppose to gather courage! Then, Fred called to me again; it was more of a whisper this time:
“>George. George? Is that really you?<
“This time, he didn’t sound quite right. But, I put it down to the harrowing situation we found ourselves in…
“>Yes, Fred. It’s me and no other!< I called out. Trying to soften the tension with some humour.
“He didn’t answer me for a long while, after that. There was only one way forward, and that was the path. Forwards, I went. With one eye on the hedge creatures. I had no inkling where the man was; from where he had called out, the voice just seemed to come from anywhere in the garden.
“Maggie, of course – we know that now – it wasn’t really Fred’s voice. Please stop trying to interrupt me.
“Well, I managed to get to the sundial at the centre of the path, with nothing bad happening. I glanced at the time it showed and realised it was all wrong again: It showed a few hours later. I didn’t know what the real time was, except I knew it wasn’t past twelve! The sky did its strange thing again, not so much with clouds – there weren’t many – but involving the moon and the light. I actually saw the moon travel across the sky as if time had speeded up, and at the same time, it had darkened so much that it was hard to see. Under other circumstances, I would have been in awe.
“>Fre-e-e-e-e-d!< I called out. I needed to have some idea where the man was. Was I now nearer or further away from him?
“That was when I heard one of the hedges shaking – except it sounded like old bones rattling rather than twigs and leaves moving about. It sent a shiver down my spine, it did.
“>Fred!< I called out in desperation, >Where the hell are you?<
“I heard soft pattering steps running up the path but each time I looked I saw no one. The steps on the flagstones became louder, the nearer they got. They were like the running sounds of a child. I didn’t remember the hedge rabbit making such noises, so I doubted it was one of those leaf creatures. Anyway, whatever it was, I couldn’t just stand there and wait for it to find me!
“I ran out of the maze in the other direction, towards the end of the walled garden. And, almost into the arms of another living hedge creature! It was some kind of a starfish of all things, and it tried snatching me up in its outstretched arms. It belched and I smelt the sea – albeit a darker version of the sea – the saltiness, and the sweet sickly decaying of its dead beings. Grains of sand – of a thousand years – poured out of its body with every rippling movement; sea water gushed out of its mouth. And, its eyes, they were black and shiny like pools of shadowed water.
“Yes, I screamed, I screamed with the insanity of it all. This evil place, Hotel Unicus.
“Then, arms of another kind, from someone good and kind, hugged my legs. Instantly, the starfish creature vanished.
“I looked down at my saviour, and saw it was Pendleton.”
~ 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.