By Tipp Hex
Don Pendelberry pushed open the door to the Victorian guest house, stepped inside, and held his breath. With eyes screwed shut and through clenched teeth, he finally sucked in the air. It was clean, if a little musty, with absolutely no taint of decay and death, just as he had known it would be.
At the end of the hallway, a young woman, dressed head-to-toe in the style of a fifties teenager, was watching him quizzically. He could've sworn there wasn't anyone there in the hallway when he had pushed that door open. Embarrassed to have been caught unawares, he quickly straightened himself.
'Hi, you must be a new guest?'
As she spoke, she tilted her head from side-to-side, appraising him, her pony tail swishing around her shoulders like the tail of an annoyed cat.
'Yes, just for the weekend. I'm sorry, I have a slight cold, settling on my chest I think…' Don's words faded away as he struggled to explain his behaviour in the doorway to this curious gum-chewing girl.
Eyes sparkling, she turned on a smile that overflowed with all the bright enthusiasm of the young.
'Better wrap up warm then. It's a bit cold in this dump. Henry's tight with the heat. I gota rush daddio. See ya later, alligator!
Don watched her waltz down the corridor and vanish in a blur of white bobby socks, flared skirt and pointy breasts.
'Hello, Mr Pendelberry is it?'
'Yes, that's me.' Don said to the elderly man in slippers and threadbare cardigan who had shuffled into the hallway near where the girl had left.
'Henry Winkler, owner of Tied House, welcome, let me get your keys. You're the only guest I'm afraid, end of season you see. Here you are, No.9, second floor. If you want a drink, I'll open the bar, end of the hall, there.'
In his bedroom, Don remembered. Everything was different, yet nothing had changed; she was still here, buried under those hallway floorboards. Why had he come back after thirty-six years? One last night with his lost love, to remember how things were? This house, the whole street was to be demolished, he knew. She would be found; it was inevitable. He had to vanish. He also needed a drink.
In the bar, Henry Winkler poured him a Scotch and a much larger one for himself.
'Was that your daughter, the girl I met earlier in the hall? Into fifties music, is she?' Don asked.
'Are you trying to be funny? What do you know about my girl? How do you know what she liked?'
Don spread his hands in surprise at the cold anger in Henry's words. 'No, nothing, it was just she said hello, in the hallway, when I arrived.'
'Listen, I don't know what your game is, but I'm not playing it. My daughters been dead fifteen years, I live alone and you're the only guest. And I don't appreciate your sense of humour, if you can call it that. Bar's closed. And I want you out of this place tomorrow morning'
Don watched Henry stalk out of the room, and tried to work out what had happened. The guy must be a little nuts. Back in his room, he lay awake and unable to sleep, fully dressed on the bed and in darkness. From under the door, from the corridor outside, a shadow disturbed the light seeping into the room. A soft knock, almost inaudible, startled him.
Padding to the door, he opened it quickly. The girl he'd met earlier in the hallway was standing holding a finger to her lips, whispering, 'Follow me, Mr Pendelburry, come on, hurry!' Then she turned and all but ran down the corridor and down the steps.
He followed, pausing at the top of the landing as she stopped and stared back up at him. A noise behind him made him twist around in time to see a steel club swinging towards his head. He heard, rather than felt his skull crack under the blow. Then he was falling, bones snapping at each impact, before crashing through the old hallway floorboards at the bottom. He was alongside the body of his love, her skeletal arm, disturbed by the impact, draped across his face.
As he lay dying, he heard Henry Winkler screaming, 'Oh God! I thought you were a burgler!'
The girl sat by him, watching. She smiled and then said, 'I just knew you two had to be together. And I knew my dad would help. His stupid anger did me in, you see. Just because he didn't like my boyfriends. And you. You killed your love, out of love.' She turned to a woman beside her. His woman.
'Well, now we can all be together, forever. Ain't that cool, daddio!'