Chapter Twenty

On bed, in room. Check-in was routine. Sign on reception said ‘under new management of Old Teller.’ I stood in the doorway looking around the large reception room. Mounted animal skulls hung all around the room. Twisted horns and antlers. Bullet holes in heads. Shattered jaws. Looming down. Alarming shadows cast on the floor. I stood there for a while staring at them all when suddenly Old Teller rose up from behind the counter, as if on platform. Expressionless. A statue. Old Teller was indeed old. Possibly 200 or maybe even 500 years old. Young eyes though. Hazel, wild, alert. I greeted him. He said, “Welcome back Master G_.” He spoke in an accent I couldn’t place. Struck a chord but it links to nothing, not a grain of sand in my mind can offer a clue to that voice but he did know me! Or at least my name.

Unnerved me greatly. I asked how he knew my name. He said it was an irrelevant question. I pressed him to tell me. He went to speak and as he did, his jaw fell clean off his head! It hit the counter and his teeth rattled out and scattered around like marbles. His wet bulbous tongue flopped around his neck, like Paisley’s does when he is thirsty. The man made no attempt retrieve jawbone. Just stood there, like statue, tongue lolling. Disgusting slurping nose. Fierce hazel eyes staring at me. That bulbous tongue; I recognised it. Then I saw two little toy soldiers on the counter. Armed with rifles. It struck a chord in my mind, I flicked back over notes. It was boy in waiting room. Ugly, bulbous-tongued boy who shot me with soldiers! But how? Why? To what purpose? I must admit I was horrified and felt sick. Like I had been tracked by an enemy and was facing my execution. Felt as though my skull might soon be up on wall like the other animals. My skin stripped away. A bullet hole in forehead. 

Decided that it was foolish fear. If it was boy, then it was just a boy. Not to be feared. I tucked journal under arm and approached. Smell of tongue rancid. Stomach held firm as I collected teeth. Fixed the rotted pegs back into jaw. Then, held up tongue and jammed jaw back into mouth. Moved it about. Could hear grinding of bone and then a ‘click’ as it fell into place. Like putting coin into a mechanical attraction at a penny arcade, Old Teller came to life. He said, “Welcome back Master G_ you have one letter waiting for you,” and at that handed me a small brown envelope. The corners are tatty and it is severely weathered. Was about to leave when Old Teller grabbed my arm. His mouth fell open (jaw held, luckily) and a voice came from deep within as if he was a gramophone speaker. Voice said, “If you cannot remember, follow the beacons in your desert and I will tell you…but be quick, I am sinking into this dune.”

It was my voice! Or at least, an approximation of my voice. Was same, but somehow different. Twisted. Pained. I yanked arm away and fled up to my room. On bed now. Haven’t opened letter. Waiting. 

Room is large. Bed has net over it. Bed sheet is clean. Patchwork quilt. Patches show embroideries of buildings. Not like Couldwell’s architecture. These designs are industrial. Compounds, steam pipes, towers and reactors. Apartment blocks, workers, children playing. Wonder where the town is? Would quilt-maker have visited it and then constructed this quilt all from memory? Could have been made there and transported here. Have scanned each panel of quilt and found no real clues. Just a tableaux of life of a bustling town. Prosperous in layout. As a town should be. Not like Couldwell which is a ghost town. At least, it seems that way. Population 278. Though after train, have seen only one – Old Teller. Maybe they only come out at night? Under cover of night, you cannot see the nothingness which is a comfort. Only the mad and inquisitive venture into this wasteland during daylight hours. Felt pang of melancholia when looking at the quilt-town and all the life it depicts. Want company, want people. Want to go back to civilisation. But not without Lucy. Her face gives me courage. Packed away melancholic feelings. Back to room inspection. 

Cupboard at the end of bed. Blank doors. Nondescript. There are clothes inside. All fit. 

  • 5x Starched shirts.
  • 1x Frock coat. Black.
  • 3x Dress trousers. Black ribbon piping.
  • 1x Leather gloves for driving.
  • 1x Boots. 

Lamp works. Floorboards are clean with no loose fittings. Checked all of them. Dresser doesn’t squeak, drawers empty. Interesting green paisley swirls on lining paper in drawers. Pretty. Wallpaper has hand-painted ivy detailing running around the room in concentric circles. Gives me warm feeling. Very happy with room.

Strange discolouration in the corner, though. Paisley has gone straight towards it and is now sitting, staring at it. He won’t shift. Tried to move him, he growled and the bullet in his eye socket glinted evilly. I have left him to it. Alexander Tumour Baby has turned from the stain. He tried to crawl up into my jacket. Repelled by stain. Fearful of it. Put him on bed before moving closer to inspect stain. 

Stain is about four-foot tall. There are two trunks at its base that join together two-foot-seven-inches up from the ground. Peculiar. Stain is dark grey and has a slight relief to it. Sticking out oddly. Tried to pick it away, could not. It was behind the paper, or at least something was behind the paper trying to push through. Very curious. Didn’t smell, didn’t taste. Will keep eye on the stain and detail any change in its state.

Have noticed another stain. This one is altogether more sinister. Noticed it when I lay on the bed. There is a black stain on the ceiling. Human shaped. A definite silhouette of a man. Stood up to take closer look. It is a powdery stain. Picked at it and flecks came away, lodging under my nail. Smelt ionic, tasted metallic. Like ozone. A chill ran through me when I tasted it. Felt wrong. Felt dangerous. Most unsettling. 

Sat back down on bed and looking up at stain. Feel tired.

Have awoken to see that the stain has changed shape! The silhouette is now pointing! Pointing towards the window. Have looked out and saw ridge and, in the sunset, saw the glinting of the beacon-star behind it. Fills me with dread. Nevertheless, I must investigate it. 

Have finally opened envelope. Picture fell out. Black and white stenograph of my Lucy! But not! She is disfigured. Horrible tumours on her back and liquid streaming down arms. Lying on her front looking at camera. Awful expression. Fear, tiredness and confused pain. Not the Lucy I know! Made me sick to think of her in that state. Under picture it had the words ‘Day Four, good progress’. Will show Brekker when I meet him. He will be curious to see it. 

Stain has grown 3 inches. Paisley not moved. Tumour Baby has crawled under bed. 

Graham Thomas