The Laughing Room.
Tom wiped the condensation from the window with his hand.
A trickle of icy cold water ran down his wrist and soaked into the cuff of his night gown. He peered through the wet blur of the glass. Last night’s frost had turned the countryside to a beautiful, sparkling crispy white.
He turned to walk away and cursed as he hit his head on a low beam.
“Language.” said a sleepy voice form a lump in the untidy bed.
“Bother language.” said Tom, rubbing his forehead. “That hurt.”
“You’re the one who wanted to stay here.” said the lump in the bed.
“A beautiful old coach house with years of history. Remember ?”
“Well it’s got a bit more character now.” said Tom. It’s got my head print in that beam.” Tom sat on the edge of the bed and turned back his damp cuff.
“Anyway, I still think it’s beautiful. Look at this place. It must be two hundred years old. Just think how many people have stayed in this very room.
Where were they from ? Where were they going ? What did they do ?”
“Probably banged their heads on that beam.” said the lump.
“You’ve got no feeling of history at all.” said Tom.
“I’ve got no feeling at all.” said the voice. “I haven’t been warm since I woke up.”
“I’ll soon get you warm.” Tom jumped onto the lump in the bed and frantically squeezed and tickled the wriggling mass of bedclothes. The voice squealed and laughed and begged him to stop.
“No mercy for the wicked.” laughed Tom.
“I’m not wicked. I’m not.” squealed the lump.
“You were last night. laughed Tom.
“I promise to be good.”
“For ever and ever ?” Tom teased.
“Yes. Anything you want.”
“Yes.” screamed the desperate voice from under the bedclothes.
Tom stopped tickling.
“Right. Come out and give me a morning kiss then.”
Elizabeth’s head appeared. Hair awry and red faced from laughing.
Tom leaned forward for his kiss.
“Beast.” she said, turning away, teasingly.
Tom made a grab for her to inflict further punishment but Elizabeth was too quick for him. She brought her legs up and pushed him off the edge of the bed.
As he landed in a cursing heap, she ran laughing to the far side of the room, still swathed in bed clothes. Tom picked himself up and grinned menacingly at her. “Now you’re for it.” he said, pushing his sleeves up his arms.
As Tom approached, Elizabeth squealed and laughed in playful fear.
“No. No. I’m sorry.” she giggled nervously. “I didn’t mean it. I wont do it again.”
“A beast am I ?”
Elizabeth backed into a corner and sank to the floor in a giggling heap.
Tears of laughter filled her eyes as Tom reached her. His large hands reached inside the blanket and tickled.
“You’re not a beast. You’re not. I take it back.” Elizabeth screamed between gasps of hysterical laughter.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
“How do I know you mean it ?” asked Tom, still tickling.
“You can have your kiss.” gasped Elizabeth.
“And you wont call me a beast again “?
Tom stopped and Elizabeth fell in a limp heap on the floor.
“No more. I can’t stand any more.” she said breathlessly.
“Come on then. Where’s my kiss ?”
“You’ll have to come and get it. I can’t get up.”
Tom lay down beside her, propped up on one elbow.
“Had enough ?” he asked.
“Yes.” I couldn’t take it any more.
“I’ll have my kiss then.”
Tom leaned over Elizabeth’s upturned face and touched his lips to hers.
Elizabeth responded and they kissed lovingly.
“Are you warm enough now then ?” joked Tom as their lips parted.
“Too warm. I need a drink.” said Elizabeth as she fondly stroked Tom’s face.
“Stay there. I’ll get you one.”
Tom got to his feet and went to the far side of the room. He poured some icy water into a pewter mug from a jug and took a deep refreshing drink himself.
He refilled the mug and took it to where Elizabeth still lay on the floor.
She sat up and took the mug as Tom lay back down beside her.
Elizabeth took a few small sips and felt the freezing water sink down inside her.
She looked down at Tom, lying peacefully beside her with his eyes closed.
Her devilment returned.
“Do you love me ?”
“Of course I do.”
“Good. Then you wont mind me doing this.”
Tom opened his eyes just in time to see the raised mug pour ice cold water over his face. He sat up, spluttering and cursing as Elizabeth ran, laughing, out of his reach.
“Beast. Beast.” she taunted from the far side of the room.
“You little vixen.” laughed Tom as he wiped his face on his sleeve.
“Now you’ve really asked for it.”
Elizabeth squealed as Tom approached and she knew there was no way to escape the inevitable.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I wont do it again.” she begged.
“I’ve heard that before.” said Tom as he reached her.
In an instant, Tom’s hands were inside the blankets, tickling every rib and funny bone he could find. Elizabeth laughed and screamed and begged and pleaded and cursed and laughed some more. For an eternity, Tom tickled relentlessly as her pleas went unheeded.
Suddenly, Elizabeth stopped laughing and began punching and scratching at Tom’s face. Tom looked up from his task, to see her gasping for air. Her face had turned blue and her eyes were rolled back to the whites. Tom held her wrists to stop her flailing arms striking him. Desperately, he asked her what was wrong. Elizabeth couldn’t respond and fell to the floor. He ran to fetch water and tried to get her to drink, but it was useless.
It was as if she couldn’t breath in and couldn’t breath out. Tom tried banging her on the back, clumsily, with his big, workman’s hands. He urged her to stop playing and breath properly. Then she became still and quiet.
Tom shouted at her despairingly. Begging her to wake up. Pleading with her to stop fooling around. He shook her and slapped her face. The face he’d spent the previous night caressing. He tore at his hair and ran pointlessly from one side of the room to the other, not knowing what to do.
He ran out into the corridor and shouted for help. For a doctor.
No one answered. He ran back into the room and heard voices.
Outside. Below the window. He jumped over the bed to get to the window.
As he landed, he stepped into the puddle of icy water on the floor, where seconds earlier, he’d been lying happily with his love.
His foot slid, and for the second time that morning, he cracked his head on the same wooden beam. Tom sank to the floor, blood pouring from his forehead. He felt the world fading away. As cold and darkness enveloped his body, he whispered. “Wait for me Lizzy.”
As his eyes closed, the room door opened. A man entered, dressed like a mannequin in a hotel porter’s uniform. He was followed by a portly man dressed in shorts and a loud shirt. He was accompanied by his larger and louder wife.
Here’s your room Sir. I hope everything is satisfactory.” The porter gestured around the empty room as he spoke.
”So this is the famous ‘Laughing Room.’ said the wife. Is the story true ?”
“Of course it isn’t true honey. said the shirt with a New York accent. They just make up those stories to get gullible Yanks to come and stay here.”
“On the contrary Sir. sneered the mannequin. We still have the original register and an article from a newspaper of the time.”
“No ?” gawped the wife.
“In December 1841, a newly married couple, Mr Tom Berwick and his bride, Elizabeth, spent their wedding night in this very room. They were found dead by the inn keeper the next morning. It seems they’d had a violent argument. She had beaten her husband around the head and face. Before expiring from his wounds, he had strangled her.”
“So why is it called ‘The Laughing Room ?” asked the shirt, cynically.
“It’s said that on frosty December mornings, people in this room are woken by the sound of two people laughing.”
“Isn’t that a strange thing to hear if they murdered each other ? puzzled the wife.
“Maybe they died laughing honey.” snorted the shirt. The two guests enjoyed their joke.
“Indeed Sir.” lisped the mannequin as he left.
The loud shirt walked to the window to admire the view. He slipped on the wet floor and growled to his wife.
“Just look at this honey. There’s water all over the floor.”
As he turned to his wife, he hit his head on a low beam.