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Authors: C.M. Saunders

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

Sker House (8 page)

BOOK: Sker House
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“Now who's the cynical one?” said Lucy.

As they were finishing their meals, Machen the landlord appeared back behind the bar, a huge smile spread across his reddened face. He looked a little unsteady on his feet. If Lucy didn't know better, she'd say he'd been drinking. He said something unintelligible to young Izzy, who shot Lucy and Dale an inquisitive look as she scurried back into the kitchen. Lucy was about to comment on it when Dale jumped in first and asked her if she wanted another drink. The dinner had been so delicious that she hadn't even noticed she had also drained her glass. “Why not? Get me a Cardiac Breezer, please. Lemon if they have it.”

When Dale came back from the bar he was smiling from ear to ear and walking with such a spring in his step that he struggled to keep from spilling his beer. “What's up with you?” she asked.

“You'll never guess what! Mist... Machen, the landlord...”

“Yeah I know who he is. What about him? Did he turn out to be your long lost uncle or something?”

“I don't know. I never thought to ask. Anyway, I went to the bar right, got the drinks, and then when I went to pay for them, he said he didn't want the money. Said he was sorry that the interview went so badly this afternoon, and that we could try again tomorrow when he's not so stressed out.”

“When he's not so drunk, more like.” They both turned to look at the landlord, who was sitting in a bar stool across the room facing them. He smiled and waved.

“You think he's drunk? Can't the guy just be nice?”

“Well you changed your tune. Two hours ago he was just a bad interviewee. Now he's in line for a Nobel Prize. I can't believe you just allowed yourself to be swayed by one free drink.”

“I didn't!” Dale looked offended. “It was two free drinks. I didn't pay for yours, either. And guess what? He said he had a special surprise for you. He just sent that barmaid out to get it.”

“A surprise for me? What kind of surprise?”

“How the hell should I know? He didn't go into specifics. Just said you'd love it. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth. Isn't that what they say? Or is it the ear? Or the...”

“It's the mouth.”

“Okay. It's the mouth. Well, it should be the...”

“No it shouldn't,” scolded Lucy. She knew what he was going to say. When Dale got himself into this kind of excited state, especially after a drink, he reverted back to an eleven-year old boy. His child-like enthusiasm was infectious, and he had lifted her spirits more than anyone else had recently. She supposed she should be grateful.

Lucy and Dale were so busy arguing about horses anatomy that neither of them saw Izzy coming until she was virtually standing over them. “Looks like your surprise has arrived...” said Dale, straining his neck to see what the barmaid was carrying.

“On the house,” said the young barmaid as she collected their empty dinner plates and replaced them with two white bowls.

“Mmmmm! Strawberries! With cream and sugar!” squealed Dale. “Surprise!”

Lucy stared at the bowl of fruit in front of her, feeling like she had just seen a ghost.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 6:

 

Images

 

 

 

Dale made disgusting wet noises as he systematically devoured his desert, and didn't notice that Lucy hadn't even lifted her spoon until his bowl was almost empty. “What's up?” he asked, dabbing at the corners of his mouth with a napkin to soak up any spare globs of cream. “I thought every girl loved strawberries.”

“I guess I'm full,” replied Lucy. Even to her, the remark sounded unconvincingly. Luckily, Dale was too busy stuffing his face to notice her discomfort. “I mean... I used to like strawberries a lot when I was a little girl,” She added. “Just not tonight, that's all.”

“Okay, fair enough. Your loss,” said Dale as he reached over and grabbed Lucy's untouched bowl. “Waste not want not and all that. Do you mind?”

“Not at all,” she said, standing up. “If it's all the same to you, I'm going to go upstairs to check through the images I got today. See if I really did get a shot of the woman in the window. Then I'm gonna grab an early night.”

Dale nodded as Lucy swept the room key off the table and left. She went upstairs and used the key to let herself into their room before she realized something. She had the only key, and Dale was still drinking downstairs. Shit. She contemplated taking it back down to the bar, but then she wouldn't be able to open the door when she came back up. There had to be an easier way. She lifted the corner of the mat outside their room, the one emblazoned with
Croeso y Cymru,
and tucked the room key under it.

It should be safe. Dale will be back in an hour or two. That done, she stepped into the room, flicked on a luminous light switch (nice touch), and allowed the spring-loaded door to close softly behind her. Sitting on the edge of her bed, she took off her battered pair of Converse and flexed her toes. Her feet ached. That walk on the beach had wiped her out. Plus, there were a lot of things floating around her mind just now. Emotional baggage, you might call it. Things she had to try and make sense of sooner rather than later.

Try as she might, she couldn't get the image of the woman at the window out of her head. Furthermore, whenever she thought of the mystery woman she felt an overwhelming feeling of sadness. It could almost be an inkling, a prelude to something bigger. And the strawberries the landlord served up as a 'surprise.' What was that about? Surely he can't have known about Strawberry, the childhood companion who kept her entertained with his crazy dancing. How could he know? Yet it seemed too far-fetched to be a simple coincidence. Lucy couldn't remember the last time she had even thought about Strawberry before today. It was almost as if that by thinking of him she had summoned him, called on him to give her a sign. And Strawberry duly obliged.

Before she forgot, Lucy sent Dale a text message to tell him where the room key was, then sat for a while mulling things over. Eventually she got up, went over to the window and looked out. She wasn't expecting to see much. It was dark, and their room wasn't facing the sea so she wouldn't even be able to stare out at the passing ships. What she wasn't expecting was the sheer
emptiness
on the other side of the glass. Though she gazed out for a couple of minutes, mouth partially open and breath fogging the glass, all she was able to make out were gently rolling hills set against the night sky. There wasn't even the distant twinkle of stars.

Lucy didn't think she'd ever been so far from civilization in her life. The sense of isolation was both disconcerting and all-consuming. Cities were big, dirty, dangerous places, but they were never as silent and still as this. There was comfort to be had in all that activity. The traffic, sirens, street noise, and sodium lights banished shadows even in the dead of night.

Drawing the curtains against the oppressive darkness, she went to sit at the beautifully-carved wooden dressing table. The chair creaked under her weight, but Lucy didn't take it personally. It was an old chair. She looked at her reflection, examining her face for any new blemishes. Thankfully, there were none. As she stared at herself in the mirror, she ran her fingers along the stained wood. It was cool to the touch, and the feel of it against her fingers together with the gentle rubbing motion was soothing. She wondered if every room at Sker House came equipped with antique furniture of this quality. She supposed so, it would make sense to have all the rooms decorated the same way. Unless Dale's trick of telling the proprietor that they were here to do an article really did have a bearing on their treatment as guests. As she caressed the dressing table's delightful contours and curves, she felt herself drifting off into a pleasant, wide-eyed daydream. In the absence of any pressing social engagements, she allowed herself the luxury.

But as she slipped into the fugue, a heavy weight began pressing down on her. It was grief. Loss. Pure, mournful sadness. The kind of burrowing hopelessness that consumes you from the inside out. Lucy moaned and clutched at her chest. She wanted to rip out her heart and hold it until it stopped beating.

What was wrong with her?

In her anguish Lucy let out a moan, and then another. The second moan was almost a complete word.

Elizabeth.

Inside her head, the awful depression was accompanied by a name, repeated over and over again in a hoarse whisper.

Elizabeth, Elizabeth.

Who the heck was Elizabeth?

It had to be the Maid of Sker. Who else could it be? Maybe the name was just fresh in her mind, but it didn't change the fact that something was burrowing away inside her, taking advantage of her sensitivity and sucking the energy right out of her.

Lucy was still fighting to rise above the crushing sense of despair when all at once, the awful weight was lifted and she was brought crashing back to the here and now. She blinked several times and ran her fingers through her hair as her heart thudded desperately in her chest.

What the hell just happened? Was her imagination playing tricks, or did she really just experience a visit from the Maid of Sker?

There was another, even more disturbing possibility.

A sensitive had no control over who or what made contact with them. They were effectively open, and vulnerable to all comers. Any passing spirit could stop by. Even demons. Demons liked to lie. They knew what you were thinking, what you wanted, and wouldn't hesitate to use the knowledge to trick you.

Lucy shivered. Still shaky on her feet, she crossed the room and unpacked her camera from its case. Extracting the memory card, she inserted it into a card reader which she then attached to Dale's laptop. When the desired program responded, she called up the contents of the memory card and began clicking through the images. The first few were old experimental shots taken when she first bought the camera; she and her friends hitting West Quay and Bargate Shopping Centres, Starbucks, St Mary's Stadium. Then there was a solitary picture of Steve in his favourite YSL work suit. Lucy had forgotten all about that picture. Without giving herself time to think about it, she hit DELETE and Steve disappeared forever. “Rot in hell, you bastard,” she muttered as she skipped through to the photographs of Sker House she had taken from the beach.

There were twenty-four in total, six of them showing at least part of the window where she had seen the figure of the woman. One-by-one, she blew them up and carefully inspected each frame. The images showed the exterior of the house in exquisite detail; the stonework, the ramparts, the creeping ivy, the ornate windowsill. But as much as she studied the images, she could find no discernible trace of the woman. There was some curious shadow play in a few shots, something that may or may not be a portion of extended arm or the profile of a face. But there was nothing that could be considered solid photographic evidence. Disappointed, she began to close the programme, then changed her mind and decided to spring clean her memory card instead. She had taken a few pictures to test the camera before they left.

Delete, delete, delete.

Then it was on to the pictures she'd taken in the bar, mainly of Champ the tired guard dog. And there Lucy stopped, finger hovering over the keyboard. What the heck? There was something wrong with almost every picture. Most looked as if the exposure had been mis-timed somehow, but that couldn't be true. Digital cameras made it virtually impossible to take a bad picture. You just pointed the damn thing and hit the button, everything else was done automatically. Yet none of the images from the bar were clear. All were blurred or out of focus, and in some you could make out nothing except a few random shapes and contrasting colours. They were unusable.

“How?” Lucy said to herself as she picked up her camera and examined it. Maybe something was stuck to the lens, or obstructing the mechanism. But everything appeared to be in working order. Besides, the exterior pictures were taken
after
the interior pictures and they were all crystal clear. She put the camera to her eye, found the desk and laptop in the viewfinder and squeezed off a couple of shots. Then she took pictures of both the beds and the en suite door. When she checked the results, there was no problem. The photographs were all just what you would expect.

Stranger and stranger.

Intrigued, Lucy leaned forward to look at the photographs from the bar more closely. On closer inspection, she noted that not all were blurred, but instead ruined by wispy white trails that looked almost like cigarette smoke. There were also littered with coloured balls of different sizes. Several images in particular caught her attention. One was a close-up of Champ, lying prone on the floor. His reddened, downcast eyes looking straight at one of the wispy white trails that had seemingly wrapped itself around him, almost as if the sheer weight of it was pinning the dog to the floor. One of the protuberances had the sinewy appearance of a bare arm, and the tendrils of mist terminated in what could be splayed fingers. The fact that the dog acknowledged their presence indicated that the weird lights and trails were not the result of a technical fault, but rather some kind of physical manifestation.

Something had been in the room with them.

But if there had been any orbs of light or smoke-like substance floating around down there, she would surely have noticed. It would have been hard
not
to notice. She had been oblivious to them at the time, yet Champ obviously wasn't.

She suddenly realized how tired she was and checked her watch. Not yet midnight, but it had been a taxing day. Maybe it was the long drive, the sea air, or the Baccardi Breezer she had put away with dinner. Whatever the cause, it was getting more and more difficult to keep her eyes open. She gathered all the especially weird pictures together into a separate folder and saved them onto the computer's desktop to show Dale, then ejected the memory card and changed into her pyjamas. After brushing her teeth she decided to forego the rest of her nightly pre-bed ritual, opting instead to curl up beneath the covers where she could savour the silence and tranquillity of this haven by the sea.

BOOK: Sker House
5.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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