Monday, 21 May 2012

Chapter Twelve

Mark was starting to worry now. A good fifteen minutes had passed since he discovered that he and Jenny were locked in, and nobody--not Christopher, nor Winter, nor the old man--had shown up. Jenny remained in her semi-comatose state, not moving, barely drawing breath, her skin cold and clammy as that of a corpse.

He sat on the bed beside her and tried to come up with an explanation, but nothing he came up with fit. There was no way that Winter and Christopher would have left the room of their own accord, at least not without waking him and letting him know. Therefore something must have forced them to leave, perhaps in a hurry since they left behind the coats and shoes. And why would Garmondy lock his hotel guests in at night? That was just wrong.

And then Mark remembered the noises he'd heard just a few moments before he'd discovered that Jenny would not wake. The footsteps, the thumps and dragging noises. He tried to think back and remember as much detail as possible.

For a start it had been only one set of footsteps. One person. And where had they gone? To one of the hotel rooms further down the corridor. Could it have been Christopher and Winter's room? Mark thought that one over for almost a minute, before concluding that yes, it probably was. The pair would never have left the door unlocked, not after Winter was so creeped out by the old man, and yet the door had been open when Mark went to find them.

Which meant that someone--that same someone who had come wandering up the corridor so late at night--had opened their door.

Why hadn't either of them woken up when whoever it was opened the door to their room? The locks and handles on these doors were big clunky things, and they made plenty of noise: enough to wake even the deepest of sleepers. Had Christopher and Winter already left the room by that stage? Was the noise he heard in fact one of them returning to the room for some unknown reason before sloping off again to who-knows-where? Or...

Or were they, in fact, unconscious instead of asleep. Slowly Mark looked down at Jenny. Something had happened to her and now she would not wake. What if the same illness had afflicted Christopher and Winter? What if...

And then he had it. He understood. It was so obvious and so startling that he couldn't believe he had failed to see it before. The hot chocolate they had all drunk before bed! All except himself, who had instead decided to stick to Jenny's drink from the park. The old man, Garmondy, must have put something in the powder sachets, or in the kettle, or in the water. And then, when everyone was soundly unconscious, he could come creeping in at night to do whatever perverted things he liked.

A shiver ran through Mark, and at the same moment another piece of the puzzle suddenly fell into place. The other sound he'd heard, the rumbling noise that he had thought might be a wheel moving over boards. It had been the battered old hotel trolley he's seen stashed in a nook on the way up to the room. The old man had wheeled it along to the room, loaded the sleeping bodies of his friends on board and then wheeled it away again.

At any other time Mark might have thought twice before acting, might have written off his fears as paranoia. But not tonight. There was something about this place, about the whole situation that was deeply and upsettingly wrong. The nails on the road; the shock of the accident; the sheer emptiness of the hotel and the creepiness of its owner; the fact that Jenny, his girlfriend Jenny, lay beside him so deeply asleep that he could have mistaken it for death.

He was scared. He had to get away. Get help.

Leaving Jenny for the moment, Mark got up from the bed and went down the corridor once more. Action suited him. When he was busy doing something there was no chance for the worry to set it, no chance for the fear to gnaw at his gut like rats on a wire. He arrived at the locked door at the end of the corridor and, without preamble, tried to kick it down.

He was expecting the door to be as flimsy as it looked, but each kick that he landed barely sent a tremble through it. It was heavy, solid as a rock, rooted into the frame with big metal bolts. After half a dozen heavy kicks that caused more pain to him than to the door he gave up and hobbled back to the room.

The doors, then, were out. That left the window. Opening it as far as he could he stuck his head out and peered down at the ground. They were one storey up in the air: a drop of about twice his height, less if he lowered himself down from the ledge before falling. He could manage it, he told himself. Of course he could manage it.

Before he went, he shut and locked the hotel room door, and then heaved the heaviest item he could find--the big wooden wardrobe--against it. Satisfied, he made sure that Jenny was lying safely on her side, and covered her over with the blankets.

"I'll be back," he said. "Soon. I promise," he said to her, feeling vaguely silly for talking to someone so deeply unconscious. He kissed her, and for a moment felt a powerful urge just to crawl back into bed and pretend that everything that was happening around his was nothing more than a dream. He ignored it, stood, and went to the window.

Climbing out was the easy part. There was a wooden ledge just below the sill of the window that Mark was able to set his feet on as he slid the rest of his body through the gap. He took a firm grip on the edge and lowered himself down to the extend of his arms, shoulder joints screaming the whole while. He tried to peer down past his body to judge how far he had to fall, but it was impossible.

Well, he decided, nothing else for it. Time to go.

And he dropped. His landing on the scrubby grass below was almost perfect. Almost, but not quite. He felt his ankle turn underneath him, and white, blaring pain made itself known in his calf. He tumbled to the side, grunting in pain, and smacked into the ground, the smell of dirt and leaves entering his nostrils.

Mark lay for a long time on the ground, holding his ankle, breathing deep, waiting for the pain to subside. When it was down to an insistent throb, he hauled himself to his feet and set off hobbling through the woods.

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