He was warned a storm was coming. Nonetheless, Rick was bent on reaching the city by midnight. En route, he wished he had heeded them. Dark, shapeless and menacing clouds drifted into each other. Soon raindrops hit Rick’s car with such force that it seemed they might pierce through. Along the snaky road, trees involuntarily waved their arms to the strong wind’s erratic ways. Several yielded and landed on the road, right in front of the car. Rick swerved to the right and then to the left just in time to avoid plunging into the valley below. He brought the car to a sudden stop; driving in such weather was more akin to taunting the angel of death than bravery. Up ahead he descried a sign that wrought him much relief.
Safe Haven for the weary traveller
Turn left 50 meters ahead
An all-weather road led him through the hotel’s humongous wrought iron gate. There, on each of the gate’s pillar, sat a lion with its mouth ajar and inside the hotel, at the heart of a luxurious lawn, stood an ancient moss-draped oak tree whereupon an owl perched one of its thick lowly branches.
A man, probably in his late sixties, sat at the reception. Another, considerably older, sat by the fire, lost in the pages of a book. The man at the reception greeted Rick heartily, all the while apologising profusely for the foul weather as if he was somewhat to blame for it.
‘Do you have any rooms left for the night?’Rick politely asked
The man explored the register while muttering, ‘Not room 13. Not room 13’. He then looked up and said in a loud voice as if speaking to another, not Rick.
‘Sir, I am afraid we have only one room left-room 13’
The man by the fire stirred.
‘Well, as long as it has a bed and the windows shut tight, I’ll take it’, Rick retorted.
He made as if to hand over the key but hesitated in mid-air. A quick glance exchanged with the man by the fire, followed by a surreptitious nod removed this hesitation. As Rick mounted the stairs, he felt the eyes of the man by the fire mount with him. The room was at the far end of the hallway. As Rick walked towards it, he still felt those eyes hovering over him.
It was not long before sleep overtook Rick. Later, he was awakened by a draft that swept into the room. Thinking he must have left the window open, he plodded towards it to do the needful. It was tight shut. He was about to call for an extra blanket when he heard a low whimper. He stopped dead in his tracks. The whimper got louder with each passing second. Momentarily, it was punctuated with sobs and sighs. Rick turned around just as a flash of lighting tore through the dark night. What he saw made the hair at the back of his head stand on its end. There, on the main beam, a teenage girl hung with a noose round her neck.
He tried to scream but no sound proceeded from his mouth. He stepped back hastily towards the door, opened it and fled downstairs. Therein, the old man still sat by the fire, engrossed in his reading. Upon seeing Rick, he looked at his wrist watch to ascertain the time-ten past midnight. It seemed he expected Rick at that precise time. A steaming tea-pot, two cups and some biscuits were laid on the table. A blanket was thrown on the other chair by the fire. The old man eyed Rick for a while before beckoning him to take the seat. Trembling at what he had just seen, Rick mechanically obeyed. The old man threw the blanket over Rick then poured tea into the cups. Rick stared blankly into the fire. He nearly screamed when the old man tapped him and placed the cup of tea in his hands.
‘Lisa’ The old man whispered.
‘The girl you saw. Her name is Lisa Turner’
Rick returned his gaze to the fire. As he warmed up so did his curiosity typical of investigative journalists.
‘What happened to her?’
The old man looked at him over his reading glasses that sat awry on the bridge of his nose. He languidly removed them in anticipation of what might be the telling of an unwanted narrative.
‘Love son, forbidden love. You see, Lisa fell in love with the wrong kind if you know what I mean.’
‘I am sorry sir. I don’t follow’
‘Nigger! Lisa fell in love with a nigger!’ The word was hissed through clenched teeth.
‘When his father got wind of the affair, he forbade her to see him again but she wouldn’t listen. So he arranged for the boy to be conscripted into the army. It was during that time when able bodied Africans came in handy in the war effort. Lisa did not speak to her father for weeks on end. The boy died in war. Lisa did not utter a single word to her father after that. One night, a loud commotion could be heard coming from Lisa’s room. The father went to find out what was happening. Horror of horrors! There dangling from the ceiling was Lisa. She died at exactly midnight. On her bed was a note addressed to the father. It read…
You took my love from me. Now, I take yours. We’re even.
While Rick was taking in the story, the old man put on his glasses and resumed his reading. The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe was the book and the face of the author with that characteristic moustache filled the front cover.
‘I suspect you would not want to go back to your room. You may sleep on the couch over there. You will be given half your money back at checkout’
Rick proceeded to the couch then turned back upon realising he had not introduced himself properly.
‘My apologies Sir, I do not believe I introduced myself. My name is Rick Wallace.’
Years of experience told Rick there was no more he could get from Old John. Hence he bade him goodnight and had himself some shut-eye.
The next day, Rick woke up to a beautiful morning; the sun was out, sunbirds could be seen darting here and there, sucking nectar and chirping in their characteristic staccato manner. It almost felt like God was compensating him for the previous eerie night. He checked out without any hitches and was soon on his way out of the hotel. As he approached the gate, he noticed a white cross on the far end of the lawn. Across its arm were words he could not make out clearly. Once again, curiosity got the best of him. As he approached the cross he could see the mould of earth upon which it rested and the wreath of flower around its foot. It was a grave. He could now read the words clearly. He shuddered at their import.
Here lies Lisa Turner
Daughter to John and Mary Turner