~ PART EIGHTEEN ~
Our experience at the hotel wasn’t what we’d imagined it to be.
Have you read Part Seventeen? You can catch up *here*.
George awoke me by softly calling my name. I saw Pendleton beside him, but no Fred.
“Fred?” His name came out as a cry. I feared the worst.
“He must have took off onto the marshes – but it’s too dark to see your way round now. We’ll look for him at dawn.” George said, his voice grave.
The sinister words the Tall Man had uttered, came back to me –
“Black Shuck. The Hound of Hell. You better keep off the marshes.”
There were Fred and Sedgewick. Or, rather, the body of poor Sedgewick, to think about.
Only when they had been found could we leave Hotel Unicus. The problem was, we had to venture onto the marshes – in daylight or not – it was the precarious domain of Black Shuck.
We slept fitfully in our room that night. Pendleton and Mary were nearby, ever watchful, like two faithful sentinels. They could have been inside our room and we wouldn’t have known, since they were invisible.
At six in the morning, we packed our few things to leave, then, we went into Fred’s room. Mary showed us the way. I involuntarily let out a laugh, when I noticed the decor – of swags and tails, flounces and frills. In pastel hues, floaty fabrics and cupcake prints and kitsch furniture and ornaments, the sweet room declared to be eaten.
“Cupcakes!” I blurted out.
It was so absurd! Like a sickly sweet nightmare. The point at which the cake you’ve eaten was both too rich and too sweet, leaving you with an upset feeling.
George smiled, not unkindly. “Of course, of course. Fred would choose the room with the food theme.” It made perfect sense.
It was just sad he couldn’t be appreciating it now.
We gathered his few items, such as clothing and slippers, to put into his large overnight bag, also remembering to pack his toiletries.
On the floor, peeking out from under the bed was a card. I awkwardly bent down and retrieved it.
My husband, with his back to me, contemplating the view of the marshes through the window, didn’t notice it.
I went to him and he squeezed my hand. “Maggie, I thought for a moment, there was a slim chance he could be in here. And, not lost on the marshland.”
“I know George. Let’s see if we can find him.”
There were a distinct chill and a thick mist that covered the bottom four feet of Unicus, until it thinned out towards the top floors of the building.
As before, we followed the meandering earthen path eastwards; the mist, as if an alive being, curled and uncurled around our ankles like snakes. We were still able to find our way, by fixing our sights on the earthen parts of the path – it was just more work and slower going. We followed the path until the bramble hedge and stile, of which we climbed over.
As I rested atop the stile, before throwing my leg over, we heard what sounded like Joan’s horse neighing in the near distance. The intrusion stopped us momentarily; ‘Joan’, George muttered.
“She can’t hurt us with me here.” Pendleton said.
“Thank you, Pendleton.” I said.
The little person shivered. We all knew, though, that he wouldn’t be able to protect us from everything.
In the cloaking and moving mist, the tree branches – long and knobbly – stuck out like arms and hands and searching fingers. Whether they were Silver Birch, Oak, Sweet Chestnut or Ash, they couldn’t be distinguished from one another. The earlier walk we’d enjoyed, for the most part, under warm and bright skies – until the sighting of Black Shuck’s claw grooves in the wooden seat – seemed a completely different place.
The weather and the darkness weren’t natural. It should have been light. It was as if the Tall Man had the power to colour them darker, to fit his own twisted agenda.
Was he really that powerful?
We passed the oak tree, where I’d noticed the small horses grazing beneath its boughs. The mist snaked around and about the tree as if presenting us with a magical illusion soon to take place. The three of us stopped on the boardwalk, mesmerised by the quickening and slowing display of the tendrils of mist.
Then, I recalled Elizabeth’s words: ‘The deceased Sedgewick: you will find his body buried on the marshes…Under a tree.’
“I don’t think that mist is from the Tall Man.” I said, just loud enough for the others to hear.
“I’ve never known a mist like it.” George interjected.
“I’m not saying it’s natural. It’s anything but. What I mean is, that I believe it’s just trying to tell us something.”
Pendleton, George and I stared at it.
“I believe it’s from Elizabeth.” Pendleton said.
Before I could voice my thoughts about what Elizabeth had relayed to me, in the distance, from out of the depths of the mist, a fearful scream arose. It filled the air, our senses. I held George tight to me. Pendleton whimpered.
“FRED!” George yelled.
The skip of a heartbeat, then: “GEORGE!”
We tried to move quickly along the boardwalk, in the dense mist, towards the sound of Fred’s voice. Fred called out again. We passed the wooden bench we’d sat on; the very one that was marked by Black Shuck. We heard the thundering gallop of hooves on the marshland and couldn’t keep our eyes off the dancing neon green illuminations ahead. The nearer we reached them, the further away they danced.
“Where is he?” George said in exasperation.
We came to another wooden bench and I was forced by my own body to rest. I couldn’t go on.
The mist thinned somewhat. “I’m sure it’s Fred I can see, further up…”
“Isn’t that good, George?” I couldn’t understand the hesitation in his tone.
“There’s someone with him.”
The Tall Man? I thought.
No, we had been spared that awful fate.
The mist thinned further as if consciously making way for Fred – and his mysterious friend.
“He won’t hurt you.” Pendleton whispered to us.
“How do you know that?” I asked him.
He didn’t answer me. He just stood there, sort of relaxed considering the circumstances. George, on the other hand, wore a deeply puzzled expression.
In less than a minute they arrived at the bench where I sat and George and Pendleton stood.
“I screamed when I saw him come out of the mist.” Fred explained.
The slight, slim man beside him smiled sadly. He had on a long waxed coat and rubber boots. His fair hair stuck up in spikes from the unnatural elements.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes…at first.” Fred continued.
Then, we knew who it was, without his further explaining.
“Mr Sedgewick?” George said astounded.
“Yes, yes, it’s me; but please call me Tony.”
“But, I saw your body.”
“I’m not alive – you’re quite right. Without locating my body, though, I cannot escape.” Tony Sedgewick said.
I smiled warmly at him. “But, I know where it is buried.”
~ 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.