The bed and breakfast to which the sign referred turned out to be a little further than a hundred yards. The entrance was marked by a similar sign, and a narrow, bumpy dirt track that branched off from the lane. Winter squeezed Christopher's hand as they turned off and started walking uphill.
"I see lights," said Christopher. "Me might be in luck."
Winter shivered and said nothing. She hated the dark, but at least she wasn't alone. She was grateful for Christopher's presence.
At the top of a slight rise they came to a low wooden fence, the gate of which stood open across the path. The house itself was a large, rambling old thing with grey walls and wooden eaves. There was a small gravel car park, empty of vehicles. The big double front doors were right in front of them, yellow light spilling out from within.
"Looks a bit creaky, doesn't it?" said Christopher.
"It looks like my grandmother's house," said Winter. It was not intended as a compliment.
Inside the ceilings were low and the fixtures all made of dark wood. A small table was scattered with ancient-looking leaflets advertising local attractions, and there was a desk at the far end of the entrance hall with a grimy brass bell on the surface. A battered old hotel trolley, grey with dust, sat sadly in a small alcove by the door. The room was poorly lit, and Winter saw the fine froth of cobwebs hanging in the corners.
"Hello?" called Christopher. There was no response, and so they crossed to the desk and tentatively rang the bell. As they waited Winter caught a faint scent on the air: something dark and rotten that was gone again almost as soon as she sensed it.
"Can I help you?" The voice--quiet and high and creaky as a rocking-chair--made Winter jump. It belonged to a small, frail man who looked to be in his late sixties, who now stood behind the desk. His head covered with liver spots and a sparse quantity of wiry grey hairs, and he peered out from behind spectacles as thick as bottle glass.
"Hi," said Christopher, and Winter could tell from his voice that he was as unnerved as she was by the man's appearance. "I was... Well, we were wondering if we could used your phone, perhaps? We've broken down you see, on the road just outside, and we need to call for help."
The old man shook his head, making a sucking sound through his teeth. "Oh, dear," he wheezed, "I'm afraid we don't have a phone here."
"No phone," repeated Christopher, disbelievingly. Winter smiled: to Christopher the idea of someone not owning a mobile was alien, let alone someone going without a landline phone.
"Afraid not," said the old man. "Now don't worry. What I'll do is I'll book you into a room, and you can hitch a ride with the mailman in the morning. He comes around first thing, and he doesn't mind passengers, he doesn't." The man was already paging through a dusty folder.
"Oh," said Christopher, taken aback. "Well, I suppose..." He looked at Winter, seeking guidance. She shrugged.
"What else can we do?" she said.
"Just the two of you is it?" said the man.
"No, actually, there's another couple we were travelling with," said Christopher. "They're just waiting down by the car."
"Two rooms it is then," said the man. "I know just where to put you." And with that he plucked a set of keys from the desk and slid them across the surface to Christopher and Winter. "You'd best run down and get your friends," he said.
"Um, sure," said Christopher. He gave Winter's hand a squeeze. "I'll go. You can take care of the bookings can't you? Use my card."
"No problem," said Winter, thinking how she'd rather be here in the creaky old bed and breakfast than wandering through the night again. The old man pushed across a piece of paper for her to sign, and as Christopher turned to leave she caught a faint gust of that same rotten scent again, and couldn't help but shiver.