Read Sker House Online

Authors: C.M. Saunders

Tags: #horror, #ghost, #paranormal, #supernatural, #mystery, #occult

Sker House (2 page)

BOOK: Sker House
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“Good, good! Well, I'm James Machen. The landlord around 'ere. You can just call me Machen. Or Mach for short, if 'ew like. Most people do. Let me just get the book out...” He ducked behind the counter for a few seconds and popped back up holding a large leather-bound notebook and ballpoint pen. The pen immediately tumbled from his grasp and he stooped to retrieve it, groaning as he did so.

“Not computerized yet?” said Lucy with what she hoped was a sympathetic smile. The only hotel she had ever stayed in before was on holiday last summer in Crete. It was nothing like this.

The landlord returned the smile. “Not entirely. There's a computer with Internet in the games room for the guests to use, and I do the accounts on my little laptop in the office. Easier to keep records that way. But I'm old-school myself, like. This book is a lot easier to use than a computer. For me it is, anyway. Plus, whatever's in here doesn't get lost or stolen by... them people, you know, the geeky criminals you hear so much about on the news. What do they call them? Cyber wookies? Computer whackers?”

“Computer hackers?” offered Lucy.

“Yes! Them ones. Clever buggers, they are. I'm better off keeping my records in my notebook. All in black n' white. Or blue sometimes, depending on what I have to hand.” The landlord chuckled heartily, resting a hand on his ample stomach as he did so. “Hmm... let's see... Dale Morgan and Lucy Kerr?”

They nodded their heads in confirmation.

“So where're you folks from?”

“Lucy's a Southampton girl and I'm from Wales, originally. A village called New Tredegar in the Rhymney Valley. I left to go to uni,” explained Dale.

“Oh aye, well you haven't lost your accent yet, boyo!”

“It's funny,” he said. “Welsh people usually say I sound English, but English people always go on about how Welsh I sound. I guess I have an identity crisis going on.”

“So who would you play rugby for then, Wales or England?” Machen the landlord's tone suddenly turned serious and his eyes narrowed. It seemed like an odd question. At least, not one of the first things you ask someone when you meet them. But Lucy understood. Dale had already filled her in on the Welsh obsession with rugby. Here it wasn't just a game, it was more like a religion.

Mischievously, Dale turned the tables on the landlord. “England, of course,” he said.

Machen looked offended, placing his hands on his hips and puffing out his chest in exasperation, “And why's that, like?”

“Because I'd never get in the Welsh side, they are way too good! My mum could probably get a game for England.”

It took a second or two to sink in, then realizing he had just been duped the landlord laughed uproariously, reached out and shoved Dale hard enough to push him off balance. Now seemingly at ease, his curiosity came to the fore. “So what's your business here? You're the journalists, right? So is it just work, or a little break you're after?”

“A bit of both,” replied Dale. “My friend Lucy has never been to Wales before, and I thought she should visit God's Country at least once.”

“I've always wanted to come, though,” interjected Lucy, hopefully giving her credibility a boost. “I heard its beautiful here.”

“We also want to do a story about Sker House,” continued Dale. “I'm the writer, Lucy takes pictures.”

“I see. Proper little double act, then. So tell me, did you do your research, like? What do you know about Sker?” Machen's eyes darted from Dale to Lucy and back again.

“We don't actually know that much,” Dale said. “Just what we could find online. We decided to come with an open mind and were kinda hoping you could fill in the blanks for us. When you have time, of course.”

“Be a pleasure. What kind of article are you doing? Is it about starting a small business? The inn-keeping trade? Restoration? It's a Grade One listed building, you know.”

“Is it really? To be honest we don't actually know what direction the article will take yet,” Dale lied, probably not wanting to show his hand too early. “When did you open for business, Mr Machen?”

“Like I said, you can call me Machen. 'Mister' is just for the tax man. I reckon he skims so much money off me every month he
should
call me mister!” The landlord erupted with laughter again before making a visible effort to compose himself. “Well, let's see... I bought the place over two years ago. In a hell of a state it was then. Nobody had lived here since the sixties, see. We officially opened on St David's Day. The first of March.”

The look he gave Lucy told her the last scrap of information was added just for the benefit of the English tourist. “So have you had much business yet?” she asked, struggling to keep her barbs under wraps.

“To tell you the truth, it's been quiet so far,” the landlord said. “But we expected that. In this business you have to build up a reputation. That takes time, it does. What we need is a bit of publicity, you know?” He winked as if the three of them had just hatched a foolproof plan for world domination.

“Well, hopefully we can help with that mister... sorry, Machen.” Dale corrected himself just in time. “We'll definitely try and turn a few heads this way.”

“Cheers, I'd appreciate that. Most hotels and guest houses are only busy from May through to October. But we wanted to open a couple of months early to get everything in good working order. Iron out any wrinkles, like. The only other guest at the minute is Old Rolly over there...” the landlord nodded at the old man with the wispy white hair and beard, who still hadn't looked up from his newspaper. “He lives here, he does. Stays in his room or the bar most of the day, then walks on the beach mornings and evenings. He's harmless enough.”

Lucy and Dale glanced over at the old man sitting at the table. Whenever someone was described as being 'harmless' the implication was that in actual fact, the opposite was true. Both heads snapped back when the landlord cleared his throat loudly to win back their attention.

“So yes, we've already had some bookings for the summer...” Machen continued. “In fact, we're booked solid for the last week of July and the first week of August. The old Miner's Holiday. The pits may be closed but people still need a holiday, don't they? Hikers, fishing parties and couples like yourselves mostly.”

“Oh, we're not a couple,” Lucy quickly interrupted.

“A couple of what? Miners?” The landlord laughed again. “Didn't think so. None left, see, after Thatcher had her way. Old cow.”

“I mean we're not miners, nor a couple. We're just friends and colleagues.” Lucy was growing tired of this guy's performance and was feeling an increasing need for a quiet lie down.

“Really?” Machen exclaimed, eyes widening. He must have sensed the familiarity between them and assumed it was of an intimate nature. “In that case you'll be wanting a twin room, rather than a double, will you? Just let me know if you want to change it back at any point.” He smirked at Dale, who blushed right on cue.

“So er, is this a family-run business? You and your wife?” Dale asked. Lucy got the impression the question was designed more to change the subject and save what was left of his self-respect than a genuine desire to know the answer.

Now it was Machen's turn to look awkward, and Lucy couldn't help but feel a small twinge of satisfaction. Those barbs. “Erm, not exactly. Not at the moment, anyway. My wife's... gone away for a while.”

The ambiguous nature of the answer and the tone of his voice alerted both Lucy's journalistic instincts and her female intuition. Judging by the look that came over Dale's face, the response awakened something similar within him, too. There must be some kind of problem with the marriage. A serious one. Either that, or the happy-go-lucky landlord had murdered his spouse and buried her in the sand dunes. Now that would be a story.

“Most of the time it's just me and Champ,” Machen continued. He motioned to a spot on the floor in the corner of the room where a tired-looking German Shepherd lay. His coat so closely matched the colour of the wood floor that until then he had gone unnoticed. At the sound of his name, the dog raised his head, offering them a first look at his droopy, bloodshot eyes, before giving a limp swish of the tale and laying his head back down on his paws.

“He's the guard dog,” said Machen proudly.

The poor thing looks washed out, Lucy thought. More of a couch potato than a guard dog. If an intruder broke in it was doubtful whether Champ would be able to muster enough energy to fart let alone raise the alarm.

The landlord must have read her thoughts. “He might not look like much, but if anyone so much as sets foot behind that there bar he'd bite a leg off, he would.”

“No doubt,” Lucy said. “So you and Champ run the place by yourselves?”

“We can't do everything, so we have help. Mrs Watkins and her daughter Izzy drive in from Newton and are here from ten or eleven 'til eight most days. Between them they prepare lunch and dinner, take care of the cleaning, laundry, shopping, and anything else that needs doing, like. You'll see young Izzy behind the bar a lot. She likes bar duty cos she can just sit there and play with her bloody phone.”

“Oh, you do food here too?” Dale was always thinking about his next meal.

“Have to, really. Being so far away from the nearest restaurants, our guests wouldn't eat unless they ate here or went onto the beach and caught their own grub. Most of our food is home-cooked by Mrs Watkins. The plan is to grow our own veg before too long. You know, orgasmically.” There was a pause while the landlord reconsidered what he had said. “Organically, I mean. Lunch is between twelve and two by the way, and dinner is five 'til seven. I do breakfast between seven and nine. Just bacon, sausage and eggs. Or you can have toast and cereal if you'd rather. If you have any special requests, let me know and I'll see what I can do.”

“That won't be necessary. A fry up would be lovely. We're not vegetarian or anything.”

“Glad to hear it,” replied the landlord, “Young 'un's like you need the protein. Let me see... what else? Bar's open eleven 'til eleven and the games room's next door. In there you'll find a pool table, dartboard, jukebox, some books and a karaoke machine, if you like that sort of thing. If you don't, all the rooms have Sky telly. They have en suite's, too, so you never have come out if you don't want to. We get the Times, the Independent, the Mirror, and Wales on Sunday delivered every week. In peak season we'll probl'y get newspapers every day, but at the minute the only person that reads 'em is Old Rolly and it takes him all bloody week.”

The landlord handed them two keys. “I lock the front door at midnight. If you come in after that, you'll have to use the side entrance. That's the big key. Don't forget to lock the door behind you. It's quiet around here, but you never know, like. The other one's your room key. I'll put you in twenty-three, on the second floor. Like I said, let me know if you want to change to a double at any point.”

“Okay, er, thanks. We'll go and get ourselves sorted out,” said Dale as he and Lucy headed for the stairs.

“Oh, one more thing,” the landlord called after them. “Welcome to Sker House!”

They each mumbled their thanks and made their getaway. Newly renovated or not, the wooden staircase creaked like it was three-hundred years old under the combined weight of Dale, Lucy and their luggage. Maybe it
was
three-hundred years old. Or more. Who knew what 'renovations' actually meant? It would make sense to keep as much of the original building in place as possible to keep costs down. At the top of the stairs a door opened into a corridor, and on the carpeted floor outside each room lay a little mat with a picture of a dragon on it. Beneath the dragon were the words,
Croeso y Cymru
. “What does that mean?” asked Lucy.

“'Welcome to Wales.' In Welsh,” replied Dale.

“Well I didn't think it was Chinese.”

Dale, who must be used to her scathing wit by now, didn't register any reaction as he counted off the room numbers. “Twenty-one... twenty-two... here it is! Twenty-three.”

“Oh, joy.” That sarcastic streak again. She would have to work on that.

Dale used the key to open the door and flung it wide with an over-dramatic, “Ta-dah!”

The room was small, but nicely decorated and spotlessly clean. It boasted a large ornate dressing table set against a wall, complete with mirror, the sight of which made Lucy whoop with delight. A small desk and chair had been placed near the window, and two neatly-made single beds were separated by a night-stand on which stood a reading lamp. A portable television was fixed to the wall opposite the beds, and an electric kettle was placed on the floor near a socket along with two white mugs full of various complimentary sachets. The walls were cream-coloured, and the carpet and curtains light brown. The smell of newness was so intense that Lucy could easily have believed they were the first guests to ever use the room.

As promised, there was a tiny en-suite bathroom, just big enough for a toilet, washbasin and shower cubicle. Crisp fresh towels hung from a rail, and a selection of toiletries lined the only shelf; two disposable toothbrushes, a tiny tube of toothpaste, shower gel, shampoo, even moisturising lotion. After a brief inspection Lucy was more than impressed, “Seems like a decent choice, dude! I'm liking all the free stuff.”

Ever the realist, Dale replied, “Well, it isn't technically free, is it? It's just all included with the price of the room.”

“Yeah, yeah, okay Mr Rainy Day,” Lucy said as she watched Dale unpack and start setting up his laptop at the desk near the window. “Hey, do you think we'll be able to get Wi-Fi this far from civilization?”

“I don't see why not. Anyway, didn't the man say there's a computer downstairs? Wouldn't be much point if it wasn't hooked up to the Internet.”

“Oh yeah.” She was looking forward to some time away from Southampton, but the thought of complete isolation filled Lucy with dread. She needed human interaction, even if it was via a screen, and was accustomed to having her senses constantly bombarded with bright lights and white noise. Truth be told, she was already finding the stillness of the countryside a little disconcerting. Knowing she could still use Facebook and Twitter made her feel a lot better

BOOK: Sker House
9.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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