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He lay there in the darkness, paralysed with fear. He could hear the footsteps getting closer, knowing they were carrying something evil. He tried to move, to defend himself or make his escape, but his muscles wouldn't respond. He tried to shout in desperation but even his lungs wouldn't oblige. The footsteps had ceased now; the door handle creaked as it turned. The door slowly opened, he saw the glint of the blade in the moonlight, and finally he yelled out...
His mother woke him. He was covered in sweat, his heart pounding as if it would explode.
"I must have been having that nightmare again", he said.
"That's the second time this week. Why don't you see someone about it?" suggested his mother.
He flatly refused to see a "shrink". They sat in silence for a while; "Let's talk about it in the morning", she said as she left the room.
Martin Taylor didn't sleep any more that night. Was he really going mad? He'd had bad dreams since he was a child, but they'd left him alone for a while. Now, since his divorce they'd returned, worse than ever. And always the same. He tried to remember it logically. It doesn't start as a nightmare, he's at a party, music playing and people talking, he can see their faces, but no one he recognizes. But then the horror begins. He's in bed in a room that's not his own, and the footsteps, and then, he can't remember any more.
"Why don't you take a holiday?" suggested his mother at breakfast. "What with the divorce, and Jean getting the house and the kids, and all that overtime you've been doing - it's no wonder your brain's getting a bit mixed up!"
Perhaps she was right.
"Can't you look up some of your old friends, see if they've got some time off?"
"No mother, they're all still happily married." he snapped. "I'll go away on my own for a bit, give me time to think about the future. Might even take up photography again."
She was a bit worried about him being alone in his present state, but at least he'd agreed to take a holiday. When he got in from work that night it was all arranged. He'd booked the time off, and was going to drive down to Cornwall. It was somewhere he'd always wanted to go but had never before found the time.
The two weeks before he left passed without him having the dream again, as though anticipation of the holiday were enough to calm his mind.
He set off on Sunday, feeling more relaxed than he'd done in ages. Most of the first day was spent on the road, arriving in Cornwall just in time to find a room for the night. He'd decided to make the most of his visit, taking in as much as he could and staying somewhere different each night. After a sound night's sleep and a hearty breakfast he headed towards the coast, camera gear in tow. A full day later he found that night's lodgings.
And so went the next three days. On Thursday he arrived in the picturesque village of Brabney just before sundown. He entered the Coach House Hotel and made arrangements for the night. He had a strange feeling he'd been there before. After dinner he got talking to the landlord in the bar, the feeling of recognition now stronger than ever. He remarked that he appeared to be the only guest; the landlord informed him there was just one other guest, who spent most of the time in her room.
"Are you a photographer?" enquired the landlord.
"No, nothing so exciting," replied Martin, "I'm just pursuing an old hobby."
"You must visit the old abbey while you're down this way", suggested the landlord; "they say it's haunted."
"If you believe in that kind of thing." said Martin sceptically.
The landlord hesitated for a while then said, "I hope you're not superstitious, but they say this place is haunted."
"Tell me more," said Martin curiously.
"Well, about two hundred years ago there was this boy that used to help out here, anyway he started getting a bit too familiar with the owner's daughter. The owner didn't want servants marrying into the family, so he murdered the boy and hid the body in the cellar. Eventually the villagers got suspicious and burst into the place. When they found the boy's body they carried out their own death sentence on his killer. It was shortly after that my own ancestors took this place and it's been in the family ever since."
"So who's the ghost?" asked Martin, "the boy or the innkeeper?"
"Well it's supposed to be the innkeeper, destined to remain on earth to pay for his sins. It's quite a well known tale in ghost-hunting circles, in fact they used to run tours here for people interested in that kind of thing."
"Have you ever seen anything?" asked Martin.
"Not exactly seen," said the landlord thoughtfully, "but I've often felt a presence, like you're not alone, and I've had three or four staff leave over what they claim to have seen."
"Evening, Alice." he said as a smartly dressed old woman entered the lounge.
The woman said good evening to Martin. He didn't answer at first; he was trying to remember where he'd seen her before.
The woman took her drink back upstairs. Martin decided to retire to his room, he wanted to make an early start next day.
He still had a vague feeling he'd lived through all this before, but he couldn't remember and right at that moment didn't care. He lay back in the bed feeling more relaxed than he'd done in ages, it was as though this part of the world had been made for him. He made plans to quit his job and get a place here. He soon drifted into a deep sleep of satisfaction.
Something woke him suddenly, and then he remembered... This place and these people were from his dream.
He could hear the footsteps getting closer, knowing they were carrying something evil. He tried to move, to defend himself, or make his escape, but his muscles wouldn't respond. He tried to shout in desperation but even his lungs wouldn't oblige. The footsteps had ceased now; the door handle creaked as it turned. The door slowly opened, he saw the glint of the blade in the moonlight.
But this time it was for real. The figure drew closer, still he couldn't move. The face, hidden in the darkness, hovered above him. The blade was poised to strike, and then he overcame the paralysis of fear. He grabbed the arm of his unknown adversary, and he felt the knife go in deeply. The strength suddenly drained from his enemy, the figure collapsed in a heap. Taylor felt a great force pushing him into the bed, so hard he could barely breathe, the whining sound in his head felt as though it would burst his brain, and then he sank into oblivion.
The clock said 8:05 when he woke, the sun was streaming through the window and it looked like being another fine day. He remembered the dream, but far from being concerned he felt confident he wouldn't have those dreams again. Looking forward to breakfast he dressed, shaved and went downstairs. To his surprise the place was deserted. He shouted and searched but to no avail.
He went outside, the main street was empty, but he noticed the newsagent's was open. He went in and enquired if the owner knew where the landlord of the hotel had gone.
"Potential buyer, are you sir?" asked the man behind the counter.
Taylor explained that he'd stayed the night and wanted to settle up before he moved on.
The man looked puzzled, and explained the hotel had been boarded up for about four years after the owner had murdered his wife and then killed himself. "You see sir, at one time we used to get a lot of visitors round here, but these days people prefer to go abroad. Old Tom couldn't bear to see the business go downhill, he'd been there since he was a boy. I suppose he couldn't face it, and just cracked. He stabbed his wife Alice while she was sleeping, then hanged himself in the lounge."
When Taylor wouldn't accept the shopkeeper's explanation the newsagent left the shop and the two men walked across the road together. The hotel was indeed boarded up.
"It's been like that since it happened sir. Nobody wanted to go near it, but now they've just put it back on the market. That's why I thought you were asking."
Taylor was confused, then he wondered what had happened to his bags. At least his car keys and money were in his pocket. He went over to his car, and there in the boot were his belongings.
© abracad 2005