27: The Erato Inn, Part IV | Valentine

When Thomas wakes up, the air is frigid and the shadows are deepening. It is the kind of darkness with writhing edges and forms twitching somewhere within. Thomas stirs in the empty sepulcher. What was once the quaint bed, desk, and nightstand setup that Valentine had introduced him to is now a simple grave sight. A cement floor. Barren, walls plastered with cobwebs and frost. And a grave. Thomas rises from a worn doormat that was the 'bed', his heart beating too quick for him to calibrate his senses. He reaches for the lid of the sarcophagus. Fingers stretch out from the darkness around him, replicating that very motion.

As he opens up the lid, Valentine's decayed face meets his gaze and the long, grasping fingers surrounding him, at last, find their grip.

“Shh, shh. You're all right," Valentine says to Thomas, combing back his hair. Her bare back is still glistening from the dwindling candlelight and the sepulcher is still warm, filled with the vivid recollections of what they did the night before. Dawn is coming in through the windows.

Thomas lets himself fall back into the pillows, finding that he'd soaked the sheets with sweat from the nightmare. “I hope I didn't wake you," he says.

Valentine's slender fingers trace his cheeks. “You did. Is that so bad?"

“That would be up to you, wouldn't it?"

The hostess continues to stare at him. Her gaze isn't the usual, contented and sleepy look that he might expect given the circumstances. There is a deep recollection behind her eyes, a consideration, as if she is holding up two photographs and trying to judge differences between the two.

“Right?" he asks.

"R-right," Valentine says. She manages a grin. "And it isn't an inconvenience. I love watching you sleep," she admits with a whisper.

But Thomas senses something artificial in the sudden affection. "Maybe you're the one who isn't feeling all right," Thomas says, sitting up. "Maybe this was too fast. Something is bothering you. I can tell. Did you sleep well?"

“No, no it isn't that. It's ... the Inn. Whenever I am gone from it for too long I start to feel worried. There's so much to manage and," Valentine sighs, “I really should attend to some things."

“Sure," he replies, "of course. Yes. You can't spoil me too much."

“I won’t be long,” she promises.

Thomas is surprised by how much a relief that brief sentence gives him. He nods with a brave face, but inside, he wants to grasp her arm and tell her not to leave him alone.


After Valentine dresses herself and leaves the sepulchre, Thomas finds himself taking longer than he anticipated to return to the Inn. Despite his growling stomach, all he can do is look at the innumerable windows from the Erato Cemetery. "Imagine living in that kind of place for so many years," he says to himself. “What that must do to you ..."

Eventually, the writer musters the courage to return to the Inn. By then, the candles in the sepulcher have doused themselves and the sun has risen over the tree line, silver and crisp.

The hotel is quiet as ever.

The shudder of the door as it closes. The metal tab sliding into its notch. His footsteps.

They seem to erupt throughout the interior.

Thomas sits in the dining hall for some time, writing in his journal. Nobody comes to ask if he’d prefer breakfast. When he pokes his head into the kitchen, there isn’t anybody in sight, nor a sign of a cook having recently been there. Everything is perfectly clean.

A grandfather clock in the entryway is ticking away.

To combat the creeping disquiet in his soul, Thomas decides to try and scare Valentine. She must be in the main entryway where we first met, he thinks. Slowly, Thomas gets up from the chair in the dining hall, aware that his movements had been telegraphed throughout the structure for the past half an hour or so. Now, after taking his shoes off, he creeps through the Inn.

Thomas' breath is the loudest sound in the hallway.

At the far end, he spots one of the staff workers standing outside a door as if to guard it. He is standing so still that Thomas hadn't noticed him.

Travis.

Thomas raises a finger to his lips.

The servant's eyes glaze over the walls and land on Thomas before he mimics the gesture. There is no rustle of fabric as he does this. No snicker or show of how ridiculous this is—a grown man sneaking around a massive, empty mansion without shoes on.

Thomas feels a thick pressure on his heart as his eyes meet Travis'. There are words whispering from the servant's still expression. They seem to say that something isn't right.

Then the whispers draw closer. They aren’t distant considerations, rather fluttering around Thomas’ head. Growing louder. An incoherent jumble, but it is English, there are simply too many sentences to sift through.

Thomas stands up straight, a steady line of sweat starting down his back. He isn’t prepared to turn around at whatever is trailing a finger down his arm, either.

Travis has disappeared. And with him, the whispers.

He is cast back into that silence. Where the ringing in his ears is so concentrated that it feels loud enough to make his nose bleed.

The doorway that Travis was standing beside is suddenly open. Inside, there is a room with furniture half-devoured by moths. The walls are covered in dust and a mirror leaning against a wall with holes in it, wrapped in a linen sheet. Shards of the mirror lay around it. There are rat droppings and owl pellets throughout the floor.

The room is in another era. Untouched.

Thomas turns around.

Back towards the kitchen, the hallway is empty. There is nobody behind him, and that sensation has stopped.

And the grandfather clock has stopped.

Thomas finds that he's beginning to mouth Valentine's name. Not to scare her to start a game of hide-and-seek, but to cry for help. Maybe it's that he's been there for too long. Maybe it's because he hasn't spoken to anyone else besides Valentine for the past few days. But suddenly, he is not an adult but a lone child in a monstrous, brooding house whose silence is devouring him.

This is silly, Thomas tells himself, not brave enough to look anywhere but straight ahead. But that door had opened.

You had a momentary lapse. Travis went to go get something from that room.

But you didn't hear any footsteps.

I'm not losing my mind. I am not.

Then what is that sound behind you?

There is a pair of feet just behind him, shuffling closer. Now they’ve stopped moving, and a brush of air slides down Thomas’ neck. When he turns around, Travis is standing there.

Only now, his face is exactly as he saw it the first time.

The lower half of his jaw blown clean off, skin and teeth dangling out from torn, wet flesh. The beginnings of a tongue is pulsing like a maggot from the back of his throat, torn open for all to see. His eyes are yellowed and one of them is rolled back, though it twitches, as if it might click back into place and start working again.

When the servant emits a low groan, a stench of rotted fish envelopes Thomas who, by then, has fallen to the floor with pale lips.

His last image before consciousness swallows him is of a parade of feet leaving the room Travis was guarding. All of their monochrome socks, shoes, and skirts match. Black and white uniforms like Isabelle’s. Their quiet yet stampeding feet flood the Inn.

The rest of the hotel staff.


When Thomas wakes up, the air is frigid and the shadows are deepening. It is the kind of darkness with writhing edge and forms twitching somewhere within. As he slowly blinks to awareness on the splintered, wood flooring, he sees his breath before him. A vaporous exhalation too real to be dreamt. And the Inn is alive and creaking. With innumerable sounds that cannot be readily categorized. Night has fallen. But the grandfather clock still has stopped ticking. .

When Thomas whispers the name, “Valentine,” with a tear sliding down his cheek, there is nobody to shush him and caress his head. But there are feet walking throughout the darkened inn. Moonlight is casting itself through a holes in the dilapidated walls of the entryway.

“Oh,” Thomas mutters.

He had been moved while he was asleep.