The Silent Woman – chapter one
He hit her once, the hammer striking her across the side of the head, sending her sprawling across the bed. She came to rest, stunned, with her neck bare on the rail of the bedstead. Her flesh seemed very white against the dull sheen of the moonlit brass. Too white. And naked. It filled him with rage. How could she not be disgusted by her own nakedness? He felt a compulsion to hide it, cover it, take the filthy bareness away. His good, trusty hammer was at hand. He brought it up above his head and with all his strength slammed it down on her bare white neck. Then again. And again.
There was a sound. The soft wet sound of her last breath, softer than the sound of butterfly wings, as the hammer smashed her neck again, and then again. A pause then twice more to be sure the thing was done. The last scrap of tissue tore away and the head fell onto the floor, the weight of her hair causing it to land with a soft thump. Immediately he felt peace wash over him. He had done it, he had dealt with the filthy creature, and everything would now be clean, Godly, decent.
He threw her body into the closet and slammed the door. There was a bloodied, sticky mass on the bottom rail of the bedstead. He spread a clean towel across this mess and it was gone from his sight. A length of fair hair tailed out from under the bed, somehow still unsoiled by her blood and so it did not offend him. Her head had rolled under there and he decided it may as well stay there until the morning. He’d clear up then, once he’d had a good night’s sleep. A weight was gone from his heart, his mind, and as he lay down, a smile spread across his face. All would now be well. He read his Bible and then he slept.
‘Hi Mum, it’s me. How are you?’ Amy said, putting a big smile in her voice.
‘Hello Sweetheart. It’s nice to hear from you. How’s Lyle?’
Amy frowned to herself. She knew she’d told her. She just knew it.
‘Mum, we broke up a few weeks ago, I’m sure I told you.’
‘You broke up! But you were so in love, so happy, you were engaged to be married!’ Mum sounded like she was hearing this for the first time. She couldn’t have been more upset if she had been engaged to the cheating moron herself.
‘I know, Mum, I know,’ Amy said gently.
‘But you were so happy,’ her mother repeated.
‘I know Mum, I was there. But now it seems that Lyle wasn’t so happy after all.’
‘What did you do?’ Amy was shocked by that. But while she was still recovering herself, her mother answered her own question. ‘No, I’ll tell you what you did. Just like all you young women these days. You want to have your cake and eat it. Men don’t like women to be so independent. They want a woman who will support them, not put your own career first.’
It wasn’t the first time Amy had heard this. Hurt gave way to irritation, impatience.
‘Mum!’ she snapped, more forcefully than she meant to, ‘that’s not how it was!’
‘Oh really? You’re telling me he was any happier than I am about this ridiculous, so-called career change of yours? I mean, I can’t imagine he was at all pleased to hear you’d given up a perfectly good job at his family’s firm… in fact, I imagine it felt like a huge betrayal to poor Lyle… not to mention the potential damage it could do to his professional reputation.’
‘Mum!’ This time Amy actually shouted. ‘That’s not fair! In any case, I made my decision to quit after he and I broke up. He cheated on me…’
‘I’m not surprised! There’s only so much a man can take. You modern women need to learn to be less selfish, less…’
Interrupting as her mother was about to embark on another explanation of Where Amy Went Wrong, and too upset to want to talk any longer, Amy said, ‘I was just calling to let you know I got my first professional assignment. It’s in your area, so I’m coming down there for a few days. I’ll get there Wednesday night.’
‘Doing what? What is this “assignment”?’
‘Investigating, Mum. Investigating paranormal phenomena. That’s what I do now. I told you. That’s what you were just ranting about.’
Her mother didn’t bother to conceal the scorn in her voice.
‘Oh that! That’s not a real job! That’s not even decent. It’s just a low, cruel confidence trick. And it will never pay your bills! Go back to London and ask them for your old job back, I’m sure they’ll understand. You could tell them how much you regretted your decision to leave, and that you realise now how wrong it was.’
‘I’m not going to do that, Mum. It wasn’t the wrong decision. Now, I’m going to be there in four days. It would be nice to get together for dinner?’
‘I can’t, Amy, I’m busy packing. As you well know. Or you would if you weren’t so absorbed in your own affairs. You know I’m moving house, so if you thought you could wander in without a moment’s notice and have me put you up, well I’m sorry, that just is not possible. Now, I’m very busy, so if there’s no more bad news, I’ll need to go, I have to get on.’
Amy fought back tears. It seemed pointless to tell her mother she had already booked her motel room, and that she would never have presumed on staying with her, and that yes, she’d known her mother was packing and that’s why she had thought it would be nice to go out for dinner so her mother wouldn’t have to cook for herself, and could escape the packing cases for a couple of hours. But now all that was spoiled, and so Amy said goodbye in a choking voice her mother dismissed as “the sulks”.
At least when she still had her accounting job with Webster-Best, after a miserable conversation with her mother she could have gone out with a bunch of colleagues and got drunk. But terminating her contract with Webster-Best had effectively terminated her friendships too. Apart from Brandy, who still called her once or twice a week to gossip, Amy hadn’t heard from any of her old pals, none of them had replied to her emails or texts.
She went to find a feel-good movie to put on to lift her low mood. Instead she chose The Green Mile and followed it with Solaris. At the end of all that, as she gathered up the damp tissues and empty chocolate packages, she could still hear her inner bitch saying, ‘Your Mum’s right – it’s – all – your – fault. You’ll – be – alone – forever!’
A week later, Amy halted the car in the street outside a sprawling building proclaiming itself to be The Old Mill Hotel. The area was probably terrifying at night – now, even at just eleven o’clock in the morning, it lacked appeal.
She stretched out the journey’s stiffness from her neck and shoulders, then reached back into the car for her bag. Halting in the hotel’s main entrance, she quickly checked her phone. No messages. But she was a few minutes early for her appointment. So she tapped out a quick text to her mother asking if the house-move had gone smoothly. Pocketing the phone, she dragged open the big front door and stepped into the lobby.
Inside, the reception area was warm and welcoming, a pleasant contrast to the outside. Whoever had planned the décor had made the most of the industrial architecture, using stark neutrals for the wall and floor-coverings but adding warm oranges and golds in the shades on the lamps, the pictures on the walls, the little side tables and the upholstery of several deep and squashy sofas. The no-nonsense comfort was instantly appealing.
There were voices to the right of the reception desk, through an open door. Amy could hear a woman’s voice saying, ‘…was just standing right here, as clear as you are to me, then when she took a step closer, it just vanished into thin air. She saw half of a man’s jacket, and a gold watch chain, shining from the top pocket to the middle buttonhole, and she saw a full, dark beard.’
‘Wow! That’s just amazing!’ a man declaimed. Amy thought he sounded as though he was speaking to an audience. He sounded like someone in the business, and Amy fixed her attention on him as he continued: ‘I can’t tell you how excited we get whenever we hear about a full-bodied apparition.’ There was a pause, for effect, Amy thought, then he added, ‘because you know, that’s pretty rare. We’ve been the length and breadth of this great British nation of yours doing this show, and we’ve seen some pretty intense things over the years, but a full-bodied apparition still has the power to excite us. That’s what makes us want to travel all these miles, so we can experience the thrill of interacting with this kind of phenomena, and bring it to the people at home and hopefully help everyone to understand just a little bit better. This is a great opportunity for us.’
Amy shook her head. She called out, walking in the direction of the voices as she did so. Three heads appeared in the doorway, a female and two males. All mercifully attached and alive.
‘Hi!’ Amy said again, and held up her driver’s license as ID. ‘I’m Amy Harper. I’m expected. We talked on the phone? You must be Stephanie?’
The woman didn’t have time to conceal a frown but advanced to meet Amy, hand outstretched.
‘You’re a little late, we’ve already started.’
Amy smiled, in spite of the irritation she felt. She shook Stephanie’s hand.
‘I’m pretty sure we agreed on eleven-thirty. It’s only five past.’
The frown was displaced by a look of embarrassment as Stephanie checked her own watch.
‘Oh yes, that’s right, we did say eleven-thirty. Sorry. I probably should have called you back to cancel. The thing is, I got a call from the IPA guys, you know, from that really great TV show? Anyway I was just showing them round, telling them a bit of the back-story.’
The IPA? Oh yes, Amy had heard of them. She had seen them on television, their show was now in its fourth series. They had bespoke vans, all kinds of electronic equipment, and they all wore a uniform of matching jump-suits. And they had a big team of investigators. Her heart sank. Her first assignment already down the pan.
‘So, I’m guessing you no longer want to retain my services now you have the IPA team on the case?’
‘Well, I’m afraid…’ Stephanie began, still looking embarrassed. The two men stepped forward. One of them, the largest in terms of height and width, thrust a large hand out towards Amy.
‘Jake Henriksson, joint co-founder of IPA, which you may not know stands for Investigators into Paranormal Activity.’
She did know. But she had automatically shaken his hand and said it was a pleasure to meet him before she knew what she was doing. Note to self, she thought, stop being so damned friendly, it’s a cut-throat business, you’ll never make any money if you keep being nice. The second guy stepped forward, and quietly said his name was Steve. He also shook her hand. Then it was over to Jake again.
‘Now look, I don’t see why there shouldn’t be enough room for two teams of investigators here, you know. I mean, we’re always real keen to encourage new talent.’
Amy didn’t want to think of herself as “new talent”. Neither did she like the way he had assumed some kind of authority or seniority over her. Thirdly, she noted they expected to have to help her, but didn’t seem to think they could learn anything themselves. She’d seen them in action on their show a number of times and felt that they could use a few tips. Their technique had all the finesse of a bulldozer.
She looked at Stephanie who was biting her lip and looking worried.
‘Well, I did kind of ask you to come here.’ The hotel owner admitted, ‘and I know you did say I only have to pay up when the investigation is over. And the IPA guys are paying me for the chance to come here, so I guess it would be okay if you stay.’
Amy gaped. The IPA guys were paying their client? Her client? Dismayed, she couldn’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t get bleeped out of the IPA TV show. There was a moment of uncomfortable shoe-shuffling and throat-clearing.
‘Well, I guess we’d better get…’ said Steve, and
‘Yup,’ said Jake.
They all drifted back through the doorway, Steve waving Amy through ahead of him with an embarrassed smile. The walk-through resumed.
‘As I was just telling the guys…’
As Amy fished out her notebook and pen and followed Stephanie and the other two investigators around the hotel, she was doing three things: she was trying to fix on what Stephanie and the IPA guys were saying, and she was reaching out with her mind, with her senses to try to get some kind of feel for the place and whatever might be going on there, and on top of both of those two things, she was also trying to make some clear notes for herself about what had been experienced in the hotel and to record her first impressions.
A couple of times this led to her getting left behind by the others, who went round the hotel at what seemed like lightning speed. If they had a cab waiting out front with its meter running, Amy wouldn’t have been surprised. Now that she thought about it, she recalled a dark van parked down the street. That had to be their vehicle.
Left behind by the others, she paused in an upstairs corridor to draw herself a little plan of the hotel so she could mark in the “hot” spots that had been mentioned. Through an open doorway a chambermaid had paused in her work to look in Amy’s direction. Amy approached her with a smile, her hand outstretched.
‘Hi. I’m Amy, I’m here to try to find out a little more about some of the unusual things that have been going on.’
The woman nodded and smiled. But she said nothing. Amy felt she should prompt the woman a little.
‘Have you ever seen or heard anything strange?’
‘Something you can’t explain, something, I don’t know, maybe a bit crazy?’
‘Crazy? Like ghost? Yes?’
‘Yes!’ Amy said a shade too eagerly, ‘or, well it could be anything, noises, shadows?’
‘Shadows? Like shapes in the air? Yes, I have seen the shadow. Not this room. Upstairs. Outside the room 303 there is a shadow one time, I come out to get cloth from my cart. Here I see shadow just at stairs.’
‘What happened?’ Amy asked, feeling a thrill of excitement. An eye-witness report, within minutes of arriving. It was incredibly lucky.
‘Nothing really. I take my cloth, and turn around, here he is…’
‘He? It was the shape of a man?’
‘I don’t know, but yes I think a man. I think so.’
‘Okay, that’s great. So what happened next?’ Amy didn’t want to make notes while she was talking to the chambermaid in case she missed something: an expression, a phrase, a look, or forgot to ask a pertinent question. She only hoped she would be able to remember all this later, once she sat down to write up the notes about her first visit.
‘Like I say, I just turn and there he is, this shadow, this shape, by the stairs. And I surprised, you know, so I do a little sound, but I feel like it hear me and it turn, so I run, I run very fast and I come into this room 303 that I am cleaning, and I go inside the bathroom and I lock the door. And all the time I am praying, but as well I think, Idiota, spirits walk through the doors, right?’ She looked at Amy for confirmation.
Amy nodded. ‘They can sometimes move through solid objects such as furniture or even doors or walls. You must have been really scared. Did you wait in the bathroom for very long?’
The woman looked down at the floor, pleating her apron hem with anxious fingers. Biting her lip, she nodded.
‘I wait. I wait long time,’ she said in a whisper.
‘That’s okay, I can understand that. You were scared. Anyone would have felt the same. Don’t feel bad.’
‘No, you not understand. If Stephanie find out, she take some of my money back for me not work. Please,’ the woman held out clasped hands in front of her, looking at Amy imploringly. Amy smiled.
‘It’s okay, um…’
‘Analina. It’s okay. I won’t tell Stephanie what you said.’
‘She won’t know?’
‘She won’t know,’ Amy confirmed. ‘Have there been any other events? Has anything else happened?’ She clarified when Analina looked puzzled.
Analina shook her head.
‘Not really. Sometime I just feel someone is there but just that one time I see.’
‘Okay. Well thank you, it’s very interesting.’ Amy smiled then as she turned to leave, Analina smiled too and almost bobbed a curtsey.