Monday, 2 July 2012

Chapter Eighteen

When the dumbwaiter stopped and Winter popped the doors open she found herself in a large kitchen. From racks on the walls and ceiling hung down an assortment of pots, pans, knives and other utensils, and there were a series of big wooden tables spaced about the room, scarred by many years of use. A black cast-iron stove with a dozen big burners was set into the opposite wall.  It was empty of life, human or arachnid.

Practically crying with relief, Winter tumbled out of the tiny box and set about rubbing some life back into her limbs. When she could feel her fingers again she quickly ripped off the gag that covered her mouth. She tried to do the same with the chains around her wrists, but there was no way to unlock the cuffs. For the moment at least she was stuck with an unwanted set of heavy metal bracelets.

There was a noise from elsewhere in the hotel: a creaking sound that on any other night Winter would have simply written off as the pipes or the settling of the ancient walls. Tonight though it made her freeze, stomach filling up with icy water. This was not the time to hang around, she decided. She wanted to get away from the hotel, far away, a million miles away, and never look back on her memories of it, never think about what had happened again.

The first thing she did was to arm herself with a little metal meat tenderiser she found hanging from one of the racks. It was solid as a hammer, and felt reassuringly weighty in her hands. Next she crept to the nearest door, cracked it open and peered out into the corridor. It was vacant, deserted, barely lit. She peered both ways, hoping for some clue as to which direction might take her to an exit. There was none: each corridor faded into identical darkness.

At random, Winter turned left down the corridor. She turned a corner, pushed through a set of double doors and took a narrow passageway that branched off to the right. She came to another door, this one secured with heavy iron bolts. She shot them quickly, grunting with the effort it took, and pulled the door open, then screamed and leapt back as something large and heavy tumbled through to land at her feet. The meat tenderiser tumbled from her grasp, landing with a thud on the floor.

It took a second for Winter to realise what it was she was seeing. The thing that had fallen through the door was Jenny, who now lay quite still on the floor, twisted at an awkward angle in the narrow corridor.

"Jenny!" she cried, kneeling down beside her friend. Was she dead? For a moment Winter was sure that she was, and the sick, keening horror of it threatened to overwhelm her. First Christopher and now Jenny: it was too awful to be true. And yet there Jenny lay, still as death, her face the pale white of china. But her chest was moving, Winter saw after a second, and her eyes were flickering behind their lids. She was merely unconscious, probably drugged.

If Jenny was here, then surely Mark couldn't be far away. Winter's first instinct was to shout for him, but she stopped herself, fearful that someone other than a friend would hear her. Instead she bent over Jenny, shaking her shoulders, tapping her cheeks, trying quietly to rouse her.

"Jenny!" she hissed. "Jen, come on. Don't leave me all alone here." And to her surprise Jenny's eyes flickered open, drifting around in confusion.

"Winter?" she groaned blearily. "What's going on? Where am I?"

She was so relieved to hear another friendly voice that Winter could not resist giving Jenny a quick hug. "We're at the hotel," she whispered. "You remember? We had to stop because of the accident. But there's something wrong. The man, the hotel keeper: he drugged us. There was something in the water. He drugged us and now he wants to... to take us down to the basement. I've been down there. He tied me..." She held up her still-chained wrists to show Jenny, who looked at them in bemusement.

Winter realised that she was babbling, tears springing to her eyes, her voice climbing higher and higher. She stopped, took a deep breath. Now was not the time to lose control. Now was not the time to think about the basement. Now was the time to get away from here, to escape while they had the chance.

"Is Mark here?" she asked, relieved to hear that her voice had returned to something like normal.

Jenny shook her head, propping herself up on her elbows. She rubbed at her eyes to clear away the sleep. "Nope," she said. "Stupid kid's wandered off somewhere. Me and him are going to have words when we get out of here. Where's Chris?"

"He's dead," said Winter. "Garmondy killed him." As she said it she felt for a moment as though she was outside of her body, hearing those strange, hollow words as though someone else had said them, as though they were a mischievous echo and not her real voice at all. Jenny paled.

"Dead? Christ, Winter, I..." She tailed off, clearly unable to think of anything to say. Her mouth hung open and her eyes searched Winter's frantically, as if hunting for some hint that this was a joke or a lie or a dream. "Dead?" she said again, eventually, her voice small.

Winter nodded. She could feel the tears again, but she refused to give in to them. "We have to go, have to get out."

"Yeah," said Jenny, nodding dully. "Yes, of course." She tried to climb to her feet, but stumbled, still dozy from the effects of the drug. Winter took an arm and looped it over her shoulders, supporting Jenny as best she could. She thought back to when Garmondy had walked her through the confusing maze of hotel corridors, showing her the way to the room.

"Come on," she said. "I think it's this way."

As they hobbled together down the corridor, Winter was sure she heard the faint scuttle of things moving in the walls.

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