WICCAN: Chapter One Preview
Peter looks out through the window of the train as it hurtles up a hill into mountains and countryside. The scenery is breathtakingly serene and he wonders why he has never ventured to these parts before. It reminds him of areas in North Wales on a sunny day, which is rare. A bright sun and rapidly moving clouds in the sky create shadows that meander over the countryside like angelic phantoms caressing nature.
"Clophill our next and final stop." A voice comes through the intercom - it crackles towards the end of the message. Peter checks his mobile phone and smiles - just in time. He stands up, grabs his suitcase from the carriage above and checks his pockets - he has formed this habit before disembarking any vehicle. He feels for his wallet and phone before setting off. He struts to the exit of the train and steps off.
How refreshing it is not to hear 'Please mind the gap' as is often the case when on the London underground.
He makes his way to the exit of the station then saunters to the taxi rank where he's pulled towards a yellow taxi. It reminds him of his stay in New York City. He enters the taxi, instructing the driver to please take him to the Dragons Inn. The driver takes a second glance at him and pauses for a moment before saying "Fine - that will be about £7.89." Peter nods his head and smiles and cannot help wondering how come the driver is so exact with the amount.
The taxi pulls away from the station and heads towards an A road. Meanwhile, Peter checks his mobile for any messages. He was having problems getting a signal whilst on the train and for some bizarre reason he was unable to access the so-called free Wi-Fi. As soon as he had pulled his phone out of his pocket it buzzes, alerting him to three texts. One is from Grace and plainly reads 'Hope you got there in one piece?' Peter decides to ignore this text for the time being as he is expecting to hear from a detective he's found to help him in his search for his missing partner. The private investigator is gay and he hopes the guy would have some more understanding of the predicament he is in. He does think to himself how silly that he has to hire a gay detective despite being in the 21st century; society is still infused with homophobia - dripping with it, in fact!
A text from the detective called Ryan reads - 'Meet you at the Dragons Inn at 6 pm.' He checks the time and it is past 4pm. Should just be enough time.
The other is a message from the annoying PPI people. He deletes the text and wonders when they will put something in place to prevent all cold calls and texts. He then returns to the text from Grace and starts to reply; 'Just arrived at Clophill and now in a cab on way to the Inn X.' He types quickly on his mobile phone and at that moment he glances up to notice the driver staring at him through the rear-view mirror. He keeps his stare for a brief moment which for some reason causes a slight shiver to creep up Peter's neck. The driver eventually returns his attention to his driving.
"First time in these parts sir?"
"Erm, yes it is," Peter replies still looking at the rear-view mirror expecting the driver to return his stare, but he doesn't. He merely responds with a mumble and nods his head. As the taxi continues up a back road, Peter peers out of the window. All the houses are made of brick similar to the terracotta bricks on the wall in his living room. He wonders if Jaime noticed this too when he arrived here. He also notes how deserted the village is; no one is about - the odd car but not a soul to be seen crossing the road or walking around. The only thing missing is tumbleweed.
"Is it always this quiet?"
"Oh, there's a town meeting this evening. I'spose everyones at that. It's a very strong community here; everyone looks out for each other if you know what I mean." This time the man gapes at the rear-view mirror and Peter stares back at a deadpan face.
"I - I see." Peter manages to expel.
"I'm assuming there'll be people at the Inn to check me in?" Peter attempts to break the ice as he feels a little awkward to say the least and the driver peers at the rear-view mirror again with the same expressionless face. "Yea, there will be someone to make sure you get settled in alright." He keeps his stare for a while before returning to concentrate on the road.
A few minutes pass and the yellow cab pulls up at a petrol station. This time the driver turns round to speak. "I'll be a minute, need to collect something from 'ere."
"Oh, okay." He can't understand why he's intimidated by this driver. He is a highly respected financial analyst in the city of London for God's sake and here he is in the back of a taxi with as little self-confidence as a young schoolgirl with a dire taste in ponytail ribbons!
And this is weird - a taxi driver stopping to do his own business when he's got a passenger?! What is that all about? Peter thinks to himself. He decides to pick up the courage and confront the driver about this when he returns.
Peter peers out the side window; a sign with the words 'Pit Stop' in dark red letters is strategically positioned so as to be seen from as many angles as possible. American and kind of apt but an unusual name nonetheless for a petrol station but at least it expresses it's function clearly.
He scans further along inside the garage and watches the driver of the cab speaking to the guy at the till. Both men glance over at the stationary car, unflinchingly looking at Peter for a few unsettling seconds. Eventually, the driver taps the guy on his shoulder and makes to exit the garage. He slumps back to the cab which reinforces Peter's decision to talk to the driver about the inappropriate pit stop. As the driver slides into the vehicle he immediately turns round to Peter making Peter jump slightly in his seat.
"I'm sorry about that. Had to get directions. Needed to make sure was I taking you to the right Inn."
"Is there more than one Dragons Inn?" Peter fidgets in his seat.
"There is actually," the driver announces.
"There's more than one Dragons Inn in a small town?" Peter emphasises every word.
"Yes, I'm afraid so," the driver remarks without checking \peter's reflection. The cab pulls away from the petrol station and turns on to a dirt road.
The taxi arrives at a big house with a swinging sign at the side with the words 'Dragons Inn.' Sudden darkness from cumulonimbus clouds engulfs outside and a persistent breeze sways the branches of the trees around. Peter thanks the cab driver whilst giving him money; he decides not to give him a tip as he collects the change.
If I couldn't pick up the courage to speak to you about stopping at a garage because you have no sense of direction, I'm sure as hell not giving you a tip. He takes hold of his small suitcase and automatically abiding to his routine of checking his pockets for phone and wallet, he gets out of the taxi.
"Thanks again." Peter shuts the door of the taxi and the driver replies with "aye" with no visual acknowledgement. Peter struts off towards the pub. Yes, I did not give you a tip and that is my God given right. He approaches the door with a sign that reads 'free house.' He remembers laughing at that expression in the past as there was nothing free about it. He later found out it meant it wasn't controlled by a brewery and so not restricted to selling any kind of booze. As he reaches for the door handle the breeze stops and the sign stops swinging. He tries not to give in to the anxiety being induced from the events so far.
He enters the Inn and is instantly hit by a distinctive aroma, like marzipan with a clinical hint of formaldehyde. At least it doesn't stink of unclean carpets masked by some ungodly smelling air freshener. He does wonder which of the smells is sicklier after a while of inhaling. He approaches the reception counter where someone sits. The man is concealed by the counter at first glance. "Hello," Peter announces in a forced cheery voice and the man who is sat down with his back to him turns around startled. The man appeared to be staring at a blank wall. He was sure he hadn't put down any reading material. "Hello."
Peter notes the man is wearing a hoody and tracksuit bottoms. He is a middle-aged fellow with stubble and piercing blue eyes. Peter is taken aback by just how blue his eyes are. The greetings are interrupted by another man, this time a black man wearing a suit and wellies. Peter thinks this is rather strange.
"All done," the black man declares managing a smile. Light reflects off his shiny bald head and his shaven head compliments his goatee and trimmed eyebrows. Peter wonders to himself if the guy is gay. He remembers chatting and having a laugh with his partner about some gay men who are obsessed with trimming their eyebrows and how unattractive this was to them.
"I'm Mr Coleman; I booked a reservation over the phone." Peter is aware the word 'reservation' sounds American but he prefers this phrase to 'I have booked' or 'I have a booking here.' The man with the hoody inspects the laptop suitably positioned on the desk so as to create space for a signing-in book.
"Yes, here you are. It will be room three which is round the corner, past the fireplace to your right, up the small stairway and then left." He hands Peter the key on a key-ring with a huge number three which appears to be made of bone. It's like a chiselled instrument for the Australopithecus man! "With such a big key it makes it near impossible to lose I suppose."
"Thank you," Peter acknowledges while reaching into his pocket and taking out a photograph of Jaime. "Have you seen this man?" He does this without flinching. He has no idea where he's picked up the courage to do this. He certainly hadn't planned to - he just did it involuntarily and he points the picture to the man in the hoody. The black man turns around to see also.
"No," they both say in unison. "I don't believe I have." The man in the hoody responds and turns back to his laptop. At that moment Peter's phone rings and he scrambles in his pocket for it, answering straight away. It's the detective he has planned to meet at the Inn. "Yes," Peter answers smiling.
"I'm afraid there's been a problem."
It's a little difficult to hear the man on the other end of the phone. The two guys at the reception desk reluctantly peel their eyes off what they are doing to look at Peter.
A crackling noise replaces Ryan's voice and the call is eventually intercepted. "Hello." Peter knows full well he has been cut off. He detests this reaction in movies when the actor continually utters 'Hello, are you there?' knowing full well that the connection has gone. Yet here he is doing the same thing. He chuckles nervously, simultaneously checking his signal - he has one bar.
"Bad reception here then," Peter mentions, regarding the man in the hoody and again chortles as he realises the irony - it's bad reception all round.
"You should be okay out the front," the black man states without turning round from a task he's gotten engrossed in.
Peter walks out to the front of the Inn where he came in still clutching his small briefcase and his bedroom key.
He dials the number to the detective, whilst spotting the Dragons Inn sign has taken to swinging again, this time more
powerfully and with a creaking noise. Peter observes his surroundings and senses a storm brewing.
"Hi Peter." A voice on the other end of the mobile phone answers.
"Ryan, are you okay?" Peter strains his face to listen, attempting to cut out the sound of the wind and the squeaking Inn sign.
Why do people do that when trying to listen - contorting face muscles has nothing to do with helping you hear better but yet we do it.
The reception is not good at all. Peter wanders further away from the Inn.
"I'm afraid I'm going to be late - I'm stuck in traffic. I think there's been an accident. I can see a fallen branch in the road and lots of lights. Bad storm coming in," Ryan retorts.
"I see.....Well, no rush, get here when you get here but be careful. Heads up, the reception is not that good here, on the phone or otherwise," Peter replies and smiles.
"When you do arrive, call me before you come into the Inn and I'll come down to the lobby. Okay?"
"Okay. Hopefully not more than an hour."
"Okay. See you soon. Drive carefully."
Back at the Inn Peter passes the reception and recalls the directions to his room. He does not want to ask the two people at the desk again. He's not in the mood. He strolls past a stone fireplace crackling with fiery heat.
A satisfying shot of brandy sitting next to that will be lovely.
He walks further to the right and accidentally hits his suitcase on the corner wall. He mutters then continues and finds the small stairway, goes up it and bears left. Before doing so he peers out the bay window at the top of the stairs where two leafless and lifeless trees stand in the distance like two skeletal alien twins embracing. The way they've grown make him think they mimic the arteries and veins of someone's lungs - upside down.
"Fractal patterns," he murmurs. Jaime used to talk about this, informing him on how nature was made up of replicated fractal patterns and how it was consistent throughout. The veins in a leaf were almost identical to the branches of the tree and so on. It was referred to as the golden ratio in nature and the Fibonacci sequence, all demonstrating how living things mimic one another. You could go as far as noticing that the neural network in the brain or eye was the same as a snapshot of the universe, but was something else altogether.
He finds the number three on a door and opens it with the key he has been given. He saunters in and shuts the door gently behind him and turns around. The room is surprisingly decent. Judging from the people he had encountered at the reception desk he would have expected the room to be quaintly furnished and uncouth but on the contrary. The internal decoration throughout the room is tasteful. It has a good-sized bed, which is nicely decorated with crisp white linen and two big puffed-up pillows, without the excessive cushions you often get in bedrooms in posh hotels. He didn't quite care for that. In fact, he thought it was rather pretentious. You only had to go through the hassle of removing them from the bed to climb in anyway. What was the point?
A desk and chair are propped up against a window. Outside in the distance are the two skeletal trees mimicking an X-ray of lungs.
He throws his suitcase on the bed and enters the en-suite - again clean and decent enough. He strolls over to the sink, turns the tap on and washes his face and hands using the sandalwood and vanilla soap provided. He grabs the towel and dabs his face with it. It's not too old and dry or brand new either. He can't stand it when the towel is too new it rubs the water around your body without drying or when it's so overused it's like giving yourself a body-scrub with a loofah!
He ambles back into the bedroom and sits down on the bed to contemplate. Suddenly a bright flash casts detailed shadows across the room. He glimpses out the window and it is lightning. He waits for the sound of thunder and sure enough after a few moments the cacophony of a thousand atmospheric drums. He gets up and gazes at the dead trees and again there is another bolt of lightning. He takes his mobile phone out of his pocket and checks the signal - about half a bar fluctuates on the screen.
The storm can't be helping.
He sits down at the desk and moves his hand against the side. He exclaims and curses whilst inspecting his hand. A splinter of wood had lodged itself into the palm of his hand. He removes it and sucks on his hand in time for more lightning and thunder - this time they are a lot closer together.
He glances over to the right side of the desk, and is about to throw the wood splinter into a small water bin provided and spots a crumpled piece of paper in it. He reaches for it, exchanging if for the splinter and opens it up.
'Own your suffering, knowing that it is on that platform your greatness shall be revealed' is written on the scrap of paper and Peter scrutinises the note as he reads it again.
He walks over to his suitcase and fishes out the book published by his lover and opens it up - he finds the sticker he had removed from the mirror in their apartment. He inspects the writing and checks the note he has retrieved from the bin again. The prose seems identical. Could Jaime have stayed in this very bedroom? What are the chances? And how come the crumpled note is in the bin despite the pristinely clean room? He places the creased note with the sticker in the book as another flash of lightning scatters light around his room and this time it's a while before the thunder follows.
Moving over quite swiftly.
He checks the time on his phone; he hasn't owned a watch for a long time. He often wondered how the wristwatch industry still kept up business when you can get the time on any decent mobile phone. I mean why be bothered with a watch - just another thing to clasp to and be mindful of. It's only a matter of time before they are completely out of business, like Tom-Tom's or Sat-Nav's are becoming. When you can own a very good Google mapping app on your phone why bother with purchasing a Sat-Nav? Funny how times change.
He gets up from the desk and starts to unpack his suitcase. He picks out his neatly folded clothing and walks over to the wardrobe which is a fair-sized mahogany bedroom furniture with handles shaped like horseshoes. He opens it up and for a second is alerted to the whiff of his lover's aftershave. He always wore Joop, a brand of aftershave, and he loved the scent especially when he was kissing his neck. Peter moves closer to the hardwood clothes cabinet, almost walking into it and he sniffs as he does so and again the faint aroma of Joop. He draws in breathe through his nose savouring the fragrance and the moment.
Could it be my imagination?
He remembers reading somewhere that imagination can be so powerful as to activate sensory perceptions like smell and even sight. Is he going to be seeing an apparition of his lover sitting on the bed admiring him? Or could he have been in this exact room? What are the chances?
A tear wells up in his left eye - always his left eye to start when feeling emotional. Why, he wonders to himself, trying to distract himself as he wipes the tear that is now running down the side of his face. A knock on the door startles him, more because it happens in unison with more thunder. Had there been a previous knock concealed by the storm? He's not sure but he walks over to the door and reaches for the handle and opens the door.
Stood before him is the guy from reception.
"Everything to your satisfaction, sir?"
"Y-yes, thank you - very good." Peter smiles hoping the receptionist does not notice his emotional moment.
"Great," utters the man with the piercing blue eyes. "If you need anything please just lift up the phone that is by your bed." The man is about to leave when Peter puts his hand in his pocket again and shows him the picture of Jaime.
"You're certain you haven't seen this man?" Peter pushes the photo forward.
"No." the man responds. "Who is he?"
"Oh.....a dear friend," Peter replies. No need to test homophobia in this small town.
"Do you want me to put a copy of the picture downstairs, to see if anyone recognises him?"
"Really kind, but maybe later." For some reason, he does not feel comfortable with the idea.
"Okay, well as I say, phone's over there if you need anything." He points to the receiver by the bedside and smiles revealing yellow teeth. Europeans don't quite care for pristine white teeth like the Americans do but there is no need to have your teeth that yellow!
"Thank you.....thank you very much, appreciate it." Such a shame, perfect blue eyes with yellow teeth.
The man turns to leave but not before Peter proclaims, "Oh, I'm expecting a friend, he might be here at any minute - he will ask for me. I told him to call or text me when he's near the Inn but being as the signal is not great," - he purposely chooses the word signal over the word reception this time - "he may not be able to get hold of me."
"Actually, do you have Wi-Fi?" Peter thinks to ask.
"Yes we do as a matter of fact - here's the passcode." He hands Peter a card.
"Thanks," Peter acknowledges, wondering if the man will notice the difference between their teeth.
"I will call you when your visitor arrives." The man smiles again revealing his yellow gnashers and he leaves closing the door behind him gently.
He can't have noticed the difference in our teeth as he willingly flashed his yellow teeth at me again. Well, at least he doesn't have plucked eyebrows.
Another flash of lightning scatters dark defined shadows across the room and this time it is a long while before the thunder follows.
Certainly moving away as fast as it came. Never known a storm to come and go so quickly.
He goes back to the desk and sits down, checking his palm, a little blood seeps out, and he sucks on his palm again. He peeks at his phone which now has a full bar of signal.
Hopefully, Ryan should have enough to text me when he's here.
He decides to text Grace using WhatsApp. He inspects the card the receptionist gave him and enters the Wi-Fi passcode on to his phone.
Should have thought of this before but Ryan would not be able to use WhatsApp until getting here.
He waits for his phone to register the Wi-Fi at the pub and sends a text.
'Hi, arrived at the Inn. Nice Inn but strange staff with yellow teeth.'
As he sends it his phone beeps with another text from Ryan.
'I might be a little longer as I think I've arrived at another Inn which also happens to be called Dragons Inn. Grrrrr.'
So the taxi driver wasn't joking when he said there were several pubs with the same name. Not sure why I would think he was joking. He certainly didn't seem the type to make a jest. What on earth would make a small town have pubs with the same name?
'Okay, how long do you think you'll be?'
'Another hour I think,' is the reply.
'Okay,' Peter texts back.
Thankfully he has curbed the impatience he feels when people are late. It used to drive him crazy when people weren't on time, but he has learnt to let go of this, as it used to make him mad with anger and he realised that the universe has a funny way of repeatedly throwing things at you that you have an issue with. So it was simple - he either lets go of his obsession with time and lateness or persistently remain in a state of anger, because despite the best intentions, people were people and some of them had a different relationship with time.
He breathes in Joop again and turns around in his chair to examine the wardrobe. He is convinced now that Jaime stayed in this pub - in this very room. But why had neither of the receptionists seen him? Perhaps they were new to the role. I should have asked how long they had worked at the pub, to be sure. Until you ask the question straight out he had learnt not to make any assumptions.
I'm not making a very good investigator, so far.