The assignment was to write a short story. I decided to go for a spooky story.
“The Fairweather Hotel” by S. Dawson
Tom Christie pulled open the door to the Boar Arms, walked into the welcoming warmth and scanned the packed bar. He saw his friend, Chris Jones, seated at a corner booth and made his way towards him. Tom was in his early thirties, stocky with thick lightly curling black hair. He wore black combat trousers, a thick green fleece under his blue waterproof and heavy pair of walking boots. Chris was dressed in a similar fashion, a large rucksack resting at his feet.
Tom reached the booth and greeted his friend. They had been friends since university, sharing a common passion for hiking and the English countryside. This trip was the first they had been able to organise since Chris had married earlier that year and each had been eagerly looked forward to it.
They discussed their plans and examined the map before retiring to bed, ready for an early start the next morning.
As the early morning sun peaked through the thick grey clouds, Tom hoisted his backpack and scowled at the skies, hoping that the weather would hold of until they reached the next pub. As they walked, the weather took a drastic turn and they knew they would have to find shelter or risk walking in a storm.
“How far is it to the nearest pub?” Chris asked as they paused to consult the map.
“Couple of miles.” The wind nipped at the edges of the map. “Looks like there’s some sort of hotel, here.” He pointed to a tiny marker. A drop of rain followed his finger.
Chris looked up at the sky, “let’s go before we get soaked.”
Following the road for about half an hour, they reached a heavy wood and a winding driveway, almost hidden by the overgrown shrubbery. Through the now driving rain, they could just make out a peeling, faded sign indicating that they were approaching ‘The Fairweather Hotel’. Both men grinned at the name as the hurried down the drive, gravel crunching under foot. After a few moments they reached an unremarkable square red brick building with large bay windows.
Shivering Tom turned up his collar against the rain and made his way up to the blood red front door. He pressed the ancient electric buzzer, peering through the frosted glass door.
“Maybe no one’s home.” Chris grumbled as he pulled his coat around himself.
Tom was about to press the buzzer for a third time when a harried looking eldery woman in a strangely old-fashioned dress answered. She stared over her glasses at them. “Yes?”
“Any room at the inn?” Chris joked, seeing her confused look.
“Oh. Yes, sorry. Come in.” She stepped back to let them in. They moved passed her and stood dripping in the foyer. It wasn’t much warmer inside but at least it was out of the rain. The woman quickly closed the door against the storm. “We don’t really much passing trade.” She walked stiffly towards a reception desk.
Glancing around Tom was tempted to say that he could see why. The walls were stained and smelt strongly of damp, the once brilliant white of the floor tiles were dull and faded, the windows needed a good clean and the whole place had a feeling of long neglect. It was also very cold. He pulled his jacket tighter and walked up to the desk. The red lettering spelling out the hotel name was faded and the wood stained. Keys hanging on the wall showed that hotel was entirely empty.
Tom was about to explain that they just needed somewhere to stay to wait out the passing storm when a sudden burst of lightning lit the entire foyer, followed by a deep roll of thunder.
“We should think about staying the night.” Chris said, peering out into the accompanying darkness as the rain started to lash against the windows.
“I’ve got two rooms on the third floor, as it’s off-season I can do them at £20 each.”
Tom checked the number on his key and unlocked the door in front of him. The door creaked open. He stepped back wrinkling his nose at the almost overwhelming smell of mould, decay and rot that hit him. Peering into the room he was careful not to breathe too deeply as he surveyed the contents.
A large four poster bed filled the far wall, faded green curtains hung limply, the green bedding was almost as faded. He risked a breath and found that the smell wasn’t as overpowering as it’d once been so he hefted his bag onto one shoulder and ventured inside.
Crossing to the bed, he cautiously rested a hand on the duvet, expecting it to feel damp but found it to be dry and soft. He dropped his bags onto the bed and surveyed the rest of his room. The wallpaper was peeling, spreading damp darkened the cream paper around the window ledge. Tom had a brief flash of blood running down the walls before shaking himself with a laugh.
He turned to the bathroom, switching on the light, which failed to respond. Frowning at the single bulb hanging from the ceiling he tried again before accepting that it was dead. Luckily there was just enough light in the dim room to make out the that the once brilliant white of the fixtures were dull with age, rust stains streaked the sink. The hot water tap strained, the pipes clanking and shuddering as he turned it on, after a moment of strain a thick spurt of rusty water burst from the tap before shuddering to a halt. Tom rolled his eyes and glanced in the fly speckled mirror, a little girl, her face pale and scarred returned his reflection with a twisted smile. He spun quickly but there was no one there, just the yellowing shower curtain swinging softly as if someone had just stepped behind it.
Frowning, Tom reached out for the curtain and quickly pulled it back, revealing stained white tiles and a dead spider. He took several deep breaths, closing his eyes for a moment. Opening them again, he found he was still staring at the cold stained tiles, no faces or strange children.
He quickly left the bathroom behind and jumped as he heard a tap on the door.
Chris stepped through oblivious to his friends unease. “There’s something off about this place.” He murmured as he glanced around Tom’s room.
“It’s just a bit neglected.” Tom replied.
“Abandoned more like. Judging by the dust, I don’t think anyone has been in my room for centuries,.”
“It’s off season, there haven’t been any guests for a while.”
“It’s starting to feel like a fucking Stephen King novel.” Chris grumbled.
“Well stay away from any typewriters and let me know if you see any tricycle riding twins.” Tom grinned at his companion. “Come on, let’s go see if we can find something to eat.”
After an underwhelming lunch of thick cut beef salad sandwiches washed down with weak tea, provided by the woman they’d met earlier, they settled by the fire which seemed to be only source of heat in the dinning room. The woman introduced herself as Mrs Marsh, the general manager. They were fortunate, she explained, that she’d been here as normally she was only here for a couple of hours each morning during the off-season. The storm continued the grow around them, battering the windows and whistling loudly down the chimney making the fire dance and twist.
“What’s the history of this place?” Chris asked, spooning more sugar into his tea. Chris was a local history enthusiast and loved visiting National Trust properties, learning about the history and conservation of the old buildings.
The hotel, Mrs Marsh explained, had started life as a reform school for troubled girls. A widow by the name of Lady Esme Fairweather had used her husband’s money to established the school in the early 1880s. She was a God-fearing woman who believed that the troubled girls of the time, unwed mothers, runaway maids, prostitutes and other ‘unsavoury’ women, could be redeemed from their sins and made into respectable young woman through a good Christian education.
Stories of brutal practices, prostitution and worse were swapped in hushed whispers in the nearby public houses and despite a series of tragic deaths, it was the Great War and the outbreak of influenza that finally shut the school. The government bought the building to use as a convalescent home for soldiers returning from the trenches. The last soldiers left in 1926 and the descendants of the Fairweather family bought back the building and turned it into a hotel.
“Any ghosts?” Chris asked.
The atmosphere noticeably shifted and Mrs Marsh looked away. Tom studied his tea, feeling oddly uncomfortable and unwilling to share the experience he had, had in the bathroom.
“Well,” she started hesitantly. “There’s stories, there’s always stories. Nonsense in my opinion. Soldiers reported seeing a disfigured little girl on the third floor.” Tom froze. “Guests have complained that were kept awake by a baby crying when there haven’t been any families staying here but really, I think that’s just the old plumbing and those poor soldiers had been through so much it’s not surprising that they saw things.”
By evening it was clear the weather was not going to improve. Chris and Tom resigned themselves to spending the night in the neglected hotel, bid Mrs Marsh a reluctant goodnight and climbed the slowly rotting staircase to their rooms.
“Tom.” Chris paused outside the room to 312, “is everything okay? You’ve been pretty quiet since lunch.”
Again Tom found that he was unable to tell his friend about the ghostly encounter. “Just hacked off about the weather, mate.” He said with a forced cheeriness. “Come on, let’s hit the sack. Drinks on me when we finally get to that pub.”
Chris regarded his friend for a moment before wishing him a goodnight and heading off down the hall to his own room.
Tom found himself staring at the heavy oak door, fearing about what he would find when he opened the door. Seeing the little girl in the bathroom earlier had unnerved him and what Mrs Marsh told them about the soldiers seeing a little girl, made him doubly uneasy. With an unsteady hand he reached for the door handle, almost recoiling in horror as he doorknob was freezing to the touch. After a moment he laughed at himself, of course the doorknob would be cold, the whole hotel was freezing and the handle was made of brass. This moment of foolishness made him feel slightly braver, squaring his shoulders as he quickly opened the door and snapped on the light bringing an almost welcome warm glow to the dingy room.
The light bulb flickered for a moment before going out with a ‘ping!’ Cursing, Tom fumbled in his pocket for his phone only to discover that the battery was dead. He cursed again, stretching out a hand, shuffling forward in the direction of the bed.
The floorboads creaked under foot and his breath hung in the air. The feeling of uneasy and fear began to build within him but he forced the image of the little girl from his mind. He wasn’t about to be scared out of his room by his imagination and a creepy story.
With a sudden crack of lightening, the room flashed bright casting dark dancing shadows on the walls. The light was gone as quick as it had come, soon followed by a low rumble of distant thunder. Tom froze as a second, more disturbing shadow was highlighted in the second burst of brilliant white lightening. The little girl stood by the window, a strange twisted smile on her scared faced. She was dressed in a grubby pinafore, streaked with rust coloured stains. As Tom stared, she tilted her head studying him and opening up a second grotesque parody of a smile across her throat.
Tom tried to scream, rooted to the spot as the girl raised a finger to her twisted lips but a cold, clammy hand was clamped over his mouth. He struggled, trying to free himself but an arm snaked across his throat, pinning him. He gagged, feeling the bile rise in his throat as he struggled to catch his breath. He could smell the thing holding him, rot and earth filling his nostrils before blackness overtook him and he slid to the floor.
Chris sat on the hotel steps, an orange shock blanket around his shoulders. He watched as the ambulance drivers sombrely lifted the covered body, closing the doors with a finality that he could scarcely believe. A young police officer stood to his side, notebook in hand.
The thing is,” the officer began hesitantly, “this place has been empty for ten years, ever since Mrs Marsh passed away so you can see how your mate being found strangled in an empty house with only one other person present is a bit suspicious.” Chris stared as the officer took out his handcuffs. “So I think we’d better continue this down at the station, don’t you?”