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Authors: C.M. Saunders

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

Sker House (5 page)

BOOK: Sker House
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Taking another slug of JD from the bottle and stubbing out his cigarette in the overflowing ashtray, Machen resolved to make amends with his new guests before nightfall. Never let the sun set on an argument was something Sandra was fond of saying, not that it was enough to save them. He assumed it meant going to sleep after a difference of opinion was a bad idea, in case someone died during the night and you never had the chance to settle your differences. It seemed logical. Morbid, but logical and frighteningly true. He would treat the young couple that weren't a couple to a drink on the house by way of apology. It wouldn't do his profit margin any good, but it it might get him back in their good graces. He couldn't have them going off and writing nasty stuff about him, could he?

That would be the final nail in his coffin.

 

 

 

Chapter 4:

 

Sensitive

 

 

 

 

Back in room twenty-three, Dale turned to Lucy and said, “Did you see that? What's with that guy?”

“Maybe your interviewing technique needs some work,” Lucy said as she flopped onto her commandeered bed and picked up the copy of Empire magazine she'd been reading. “How about that Isaac dude, huh?”

“Yeah, Machen was right, he was a nasty piece of work.”

“He basically put himself before his daughter's happiness. What kind of father does that?”

“Times were very different then. At least we've moved on from that. Arranged marriages are still the norm in some places.”

“That's no excuse. How did the rest of the interview go? Did you get what you needed?”

Dale lay his crumpled notebook on the desk and flexed his still-throbbing wrist. “It went okay, I guess. Mr Machen is an... interesting character. Don't call him mister, by the way. He hates it.”

“I didn't. It's you who insists on doing that.”

“To be honest, Lucy, I don't think the guy's all that comfortable being interviewed. I might not ask him again. I only got a few usable quotes. I was thinking we could get some back-story from the employees. Or maybe that old dude in the bar. I bet he has a few tales.”

“No doubt. I'm sure you'll think of something. Writing is what you do. I'm going to grab a shower and get changed.” With that, Lucy disappeared into the en suite bathroom and shut the door behind her.

Dale immediately made himself at home at the tiny desk he had converted into a work station, and began transcribing the interview into the Word document he had opened. This was one of the most laborious and frustrating aspects of the entire interviewing process, which was why the job so often went to interns and work experience kids. A lot of people are under the impression that being a journalist is a glamorous and exciting profession. Not quite up there with fighter pilot or spy, but close. Generally speaking, those people are deluded. No doubt it
can
be glamorous, with all those socialite parties, invitation-only events and expense accounts. But Dale knew that kind of privileged existence is only true for the chosen few. Most journalism is nuts and bolts stuff. The endless struggle to make contact with people who didn't want to be contacted, and countless hours pouring over hazy computer screens trying to write something that someone somewhere might want to read.

As an unfortunate consequence of the human condition, most people tend to talk a lot of shit. You didn't really realize how much until you were charged with analysing a conversation and sorting out relevant, useful information from reams of meaningless drivel. People repeated themselves a lot. Or they said the same things in different words. It's almost as if the human brain can only comprehend a handful of central ideas at any one time, so we do our best to apply those few basic themes to everything and anything we do to bring a modicum of sensibility to our existence.

Dale sighed as he listened to the shower running in the little en suite bathroom behind him. He would have to put all thoughts of seducing Lucy to one side, at least temporarily. He could still cling on to a thin thread of hope, but he wasn't going to force the issue. He didn't want to come on too strong and wreck their fragile friendship, not the way Lucy was acting lately. She was liable to stick one of his pencils through his eye.

He and Lucy had known each other for over two years, having enrolled on the same journalism course at uni. During the first year they shared most of the same classes and got to know each other pretty well, spending many weekday evenings at each other's digs, drinking cheap cider and watching reality television. It was there they discovered they shared the same slightly warped sense of humour and the same taste in music, though Lucy tended to veer more towards Indie rock, which to Dale's mind was just a bunch of posh boys in cardigans singing about how jolly hard life was.

Several times their strictly platonic relationship even extended to sharing the same bed, usually when one of them was too drunk to stagger home. Dale often suspected this was some kind of Friend Test Lucy was putting him through. On the occasions she stayed over, he was sure she could have made it home if she'd really wanted to. Besides, either one of them could have slept on the floor or sofa. Having slept on a multitude of floors and sofa's in his time, he wouldn't have minded in the slightest. But no, Lucy insisted on sleeping in the same bed. But only after pointing out that any 'wandering hands' would be snapped off. Fair enough. A guy who can be trusted to share your bed and not try any funny business must be a good guy, right?

True to his word, Dale ensured that his hands didn't wander, but instead he spent all night lying uncomfortably on his stomach trying to smother an erection. He winced at the memory. Whatever test he'd been put through he hoped he passed it, though recent evidence would indicate otherwise. Lucy had seemed increasingly distant and irritable these past few months, giving Dale the impression that whatever opportunity he might have once had was gone. Sometimes, he got the feeling that she actually wanted him to try it on, probably so she could turn around and shoot him down in flames. Show him who was boss. She wasn't a vindictive person, far from it. But in affairs of the heart, normal rules didn't apply. She knew how much he liked her. How could she not? He didn't try to hide it. He'd never grabbed her and tried sticking his tongue down her throat, he was more subtle than that, but surely she must have got the message by now.

What he didn't know was whether or not she felt the same way. Like most girls, she gave off mixed signals. Sometimes she flirted with him outrageously, other times she acted like she wouldn't sleep with him if he was the last man on earth. She wouldn't answer his calls, or reply to his texts or emails, and if they attended the same lectures, she would rather sit alone at the back of the hall than anywhere near him. She was also always keen to stress to everyone that they were 'just friends.' Probably a bit
too
keen.

Damn the Friend Zone. It's a place no self-respecting man wants to be. A horrible, uncertain neverland full of missed opportunities and shattered dreams. You get all the negative aspects of a relationship; trust issues, jealousy, lies and deceit, without any of the good stuff. Like sex. And sex. And more sex. Guys who think the way into a girls pants is through the Friend Zone invariably set themselves up for a long, frustrating, ultimately fruitless slog.

He knew Lucy was damaged goods, but he always got the impression that there were things he didn't know about her. She was a complex individual. It was one of the things that first attracted him. That and an arse you could bounce pennies off. She wasn't as transparent and superficial as most of the airhead girls he met at uni. All most of them cared about was cars and money, and not always their own, either. Lucy was different. She had more substance, which was revealed cautiously, one layer at a time. Even so, despite knowing each other for over two years, he still had no idea where he stood in a romantic sense. The girl was a mystery. He remembered reading somewhere that the reason men didn't know what women wanted was because
women
didn't know what they wanted. That made complete sense. He'd reluctantly come to the conclusion that he would be happy to just be friends. Anything more would be a bonus.

Right now, there were more important things on his mind than girls. Even girls of Lucy's calibre. He would be graduating soon, and a good, thoughtful and interesting article about Sker House would definitely help his final grade, not to mention help bulk up his portfolio. So, back to the interview.

*

A few minutes later, clean, invigorated and wearing a fresh Biffy Clyro t-shirt over a pair of faded jeans, Lucy stepped out of the shower. Dale was hunched over his computer at the desk, a look of concentration etched into his face. “You still working on the interview?”

“Yeah. The Maid of Sker stuff is pretty interesting, but apart from that we don't have much.”

Lucy casually peered over his shoulder at the computer screen, where one line of text was highlighted.

It's not so much what you can see and touch, but what you can feel.

“The landlord guy said that? Very philosophical. What was he talking about?”

Dale sighed. “Fucked if I know. I told you the guy isn't used to being interviewed. He didn't make a whole lot of sense. And toward the end, just after you came, he lost his rag and stormed off.”

“Well, that's what you need me for, right?”

“How so?”

“Because I'll take so many outstanding images there won't be any page space left for much of your deep, insightful scribblings,” she grinned.

Dale smiled back, “Gauntlet accepted.”

“In fact, I'm going on a quick expedition now, give you some time to finish what you're doing. Then maybe we can go for a walk on the beach before dinner.”

“Sounds good.”

Lucy carefully unpacked her Nikon from her suitcase, enjoying its comfortable weight in her hands, and turned it on to check the battery and settings. Everything seemed to be in working order. Flashing Dale a quick wave, she closed the door behind her. Outside the room, she took a few shots of the corridor and staircase, but soon decided that wasn't very interesting and took her camera down into the bar instead. To her surprise, it was empty except for Champ the Guard Dog, who was still lying prostrate on the floor. She didn't think he had moved so much as an inch since they'd arrived. Tiptoeing over to where he lay, she reached out and warily stroked the greying fur on his head. She half expected the dog to turn and bite her, but he didn't. In fact, the poor old thing seemed glad of the attention. As she tickled behind his ear he cocked his head to one side and studied her with wet, red-rimmed eyes. Lucy snapped a few pictures, moving around to change the angle. She didn't think Solent News would want to use any doggy pics, so these would remain in her personal collection.

Human-canine relations cemented, she looked around for anything else she could shoot. There was an old-fashioned brass oil lamp sitting prominently behind the bar and little silver bell on the counter. She almost rang the bell for service before thinking better of it. The landlord would probably be back soon enough. She could wait. Besides, it would give her a chance to work without any interruptions. When she was taking pictures she often got lost in the act. The real world melted away, her only association with it being the small rectangle she saw through her viewfinder.

As she moved through the bar, her attention was drawn to a large framed picture hanging on the far wall. For some reason, this picture stood out from all the others. But when she got closer, it seemed unremarkable enough. It was a faded black-and-white still of a small group of men standing on a pebble beach in front of a small boat. If she looked carefully, she could just make out the name painted on the side.

Edward, Prince of Wales.

The inscription beneath the photograph said: Mumbles RNLI, 1947
.

Something about the photograph made her vaguely uneasy, yet she couldn't tear her eyes away from it. Of all the pictures in the bar, this one was special. Different. She leaned in closer and used a tissue to rub away some of the brownish film clinging to the glass. As was the norm in photographs from that era and before, none of the men were smiling. Studying their faces, she noticed that although they ranged from young to old, they all shared the same air of steely camaraderie, like they were soldiers going into battle together. Their forlorn stares gazed back across the decades, filled not only with determination but also a grim sadness. Whoever they were, whatever they did, these men knew tragedy and loss. Furthermore, if the date in the inscription was correct most of them would be dead now, making the photograph even more poignant.

She adjusted the settings on her Nikon and reeled off a few close-quarter shots, and for the millionth time or more marvelled at the magic of photography. A simple push of a button, a flash of light, and a single fleeting moment in time captured forever. Immortalized. Lucy knew there was a science to it, but in her mind she still thought of it as a kind of magic. Like alchemy. There were times when she found herself shying away from the more technical aspects she learned about, not to burst the bubble of enchantment. She liked believing in magic.

Without warning, she suddenly started feeling very exposed and the hairs on the nape of her neck stood up, as if someone was breathing on her. She whirled around, fully expecting to find either Mr Machen or the old gent from the bar looking over her shoulder.

But the room was still empty except for Champ, who looked directly at her and let out a low whimper as if to say, 'Yes, I feel it too.'

Goosebumps peppered her arms and the air around her seemed charged in some way, as if some kind of electrical current was running through it. Her mind was dragged back to the snippet of Dale's interview she'd read upstairs.

It's not so much what you can see and touch, but what you can feel.

Now, Lucy understood.

She was reminded of her grandmother on her father's side, who died when Lucy was six leaving behind little more than a bunch of vague, jumbled memories. Friendly brown eyes set in a mask of papery skin, near-white hair pulled back in a bun, skinny, liver-spotted arms, the sickly smell of scented Lavender water. Towards the end, as her mental state deteriorated and she succumbed to dementia, she spent an increasing amount of time talking to people who weren't there. It was painful to watch, even for a child with a limited understanding of death. But something her grandmother said stuck with Lucy. Now, more than fifteen years later, the words were once more brought to the forefront of her mind.

BOOK: Sker House
2.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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