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74. I Answer, I Don't Know 76. Knaresborough House

October 15th, 2020

The Moat Hotel - Sleep and Wake

‘Are you real?’ The question came blurting out before his mind had fully caught up with the thought process. Laura stopped. She turned her head to look at him, quizzical. Mike opened his mouth to apologise, but nothing came out, so he closed it. She frowned, narrowing her eyes, and kept walking. Mike stood stunned for a moment. ‘What the fuck is wrong with you?’ whispered Oliver. Mike didn’t reply, just made a sort of nnyyuh noise and, reanimated, lurched forwards after Laura who was striding away down the corridor, almost at the end, where they turned, walked another length, and turned again. Mike tried to track back through the rooms, he felt sure they must be heading back towards the street, but couldn’t judge the distance they had walked, couldn’t picture the walls of the halls where they had come. The smell was back, where was it coming from? He watched the back of Laura’s head bob as she walked ahead. Up and down, every so slightly. Up and down. He felt his eyes drooping as the hypnotic rise and fall of… Something bumped against him, something large and heavy. It fell against his arm and almost toppled him. He opened his eyes and the hallway was empty. The smell, the smell. The walls were dimming to a reddish glow. Oliver snored quietly beside him. In his mind the back of Laura’s head went, every so slightly, bobbing away down the corridor. The walls leaned in and the lights turned out. The carpet was soft and warm. The smell, the smell. The body of Oliver beside him, snoring. The bobbing head fading into the shadows. He opened his eyes and the walls were black, the ceiling was black. Oliver was a dark mass in the shadows, snoring sweetly by. He opened his eyes and a face was smiling down over him. He smiled and whispered her name into the darkness. In his hand he felt a hand, and without a sound he let sleep wash over him. Something hard sticking into his ribs woke him. It felt like someone was jabbing him with a baseball bat, a constant, dullness that he couldn’t seem to roll away from. He opened his eyes but found the room where he was lying to be as dark with them open as closed. For a while he waited, the pain in his side growing until he thought he was going to cry out when suddenly it stopped, and he felt something roll away beside him. ‘What the fuck is wrong with you?’ whispered Oliver in the darkness. ‘What?’ ‘What the guck is prong with new…’ he slurred. ‘What are you talking about?’ ‘Whan te bruck is plong win strew…’ ‘Ollie.’ ‘Wozzz errnuup ingtop erb loop…’ ‘Ollie, are you alright?’ ‘Woooor…’ He yawned. Mike yawned too, it had been a long journey after all. A faint sound, like water trickling over stones was coming from a far corner of the room, though it was still pitch black. He thought about getting up to find out what was making the sound, but still he couldn’t find the strength to move, or was something weighing him down? He yawned again and squinted to see Oliver lying beside him, closedenough that he felt the warmth of his breath on his face… but nothing. He yawned, and heard a yawn in the darkness. ‘Wum wum wum…’ from the sleeping boy… and no more. Breakfast was laid before them like the banquet of some medieval feast, and Mike wasted no time in heaping large portions of steaming food onto the plate in front of him. Oliver was opposite, doing the same, a gleeful grin on his face that Mike knew matched his own. They didn’t talk for a while, too focused on shovelling food into their mouths for idle chit chat, and only when their pace had slowed a little did they start to look around and take in the room where they found themselves. The walls were a lightly blue grey, and from corner to corner stretched the same thick carpet from the day before. On the walls the same lamps that lit the room with an even glow, warm but not reddish as they had seemed in the evening. Strange, thought Mike, has the colour changed or… He looked at Oliver, who gazing idly around. ‘Ollie,’ he muttered, though they were alone in the room. The other didn’t seem to hear him, but started to hum a little tune, his eyes fixed on ones of the lamps. ‘Ollie,’ said Mike, a little stronger, something like fear beginning to make his palms sweat. Still the other hummed, transfixed by the glow that held him like a siren song. ‘Ollie.’ Mike gritted his teeth, his hands clenched on the arms of his chair. He tried to stand but something was pulling him down, as though a huge weight had suddenly been placed in his lap. He cried out in shock, his head spinning. ‘Mike!’ it was his voice, ‘Mike, are you alright?’ He opened his eyes and found the room dark, the face of his friend barely visible in the light that glowed softly from a lamp on the wall. Water trickled from the fountain in the corner, the lamplight reflected there, casting strange bubbling waves of shadow on the ceiling. ‘Mike,’ Oliver was sitting up before him, ‘Mike’ ‘I’m alright.’ His breath was fast and ragged, he could feel his heart beating through every inch of his body. ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Yeah, fine.’ ‘Mike, are you sure?’ He was staring at the other, his eyes alive with concern. Mike closed his own, his head throbbing. The woman’s face swam up behind his mind. ‘Ollie…’ he paused, his breathing slowing, ‘What was her name?’ ‘Who?’ ‘The woman at the door, the one who—’ ‘Laura.’ A wave of sickness was building inside him. He opened his mouth and let the cool air fill the back of his throat. The wave subsided as he breathed, his mind full with the dizzying picture of the woman’s head bobbing gently up and down before him.

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