The Silent Woman – chapter two

The Silent Woman – chapter two

When Amy reached the hallway, she was immediately struck by another thought and returned to the doorway of the room. As she entered, she stopped suddenly. Ahead of her she could see Analina standing as if rooted to the spot, a look of terror on her face.

Taking a deep breath, Amy stepped into the room and approached Analina. She put out a hand to the chambermaid, who grabbed it like a lifeline and latched onto her shoulder, gripping her hard and turning Amy to look at what she was seeing.

A shadow was between the room’s twin beds, right in front of the wall. Through the center of the shadow Amy could see the wall light, its delicate glass shade gleaming.

Carefully, with slow, slow movements, Amy reached into her bag to get her cell phone, all the while keeping her eyes fixed on the shadow.

It stretched from two or three feet below the high ceiling almost to the floor, and was about three feet wide, though the outline was not a fixed, straight-edged rectangle but undulating and soft-edged, almost a human shape. And the shadow was darker at the top, growing clearer from halfway down, lightening and fading until it disappeared completely six or eight inches above the carpet.

It looked exactly as if someone had painted a dark grey shadow on a glass screen. Amy quickly opened the camera function on her phone and snapped four or five times before Analina whispered, ‘it goes.’ And Amy looked up and saw that the shadow had completely disappeared.

‘What it is?’ Analina asked her, angry and frightened, tears of frustration in her eyes. ‘You find this what it is! I need this job!’

‘I know, I will, I promise. Wow, that was so exciting!’ Amy said, and patted the woman’s arm.

‘Not for me it not exciting! I got to work here, I need this job! I do not need your exciting thing! First time I see this in this floor. Now I got two places to be scared to go! You need to do this!’

Amy felt terrible. For a moment she had sounded like the IPA boss. She shook her head, all contrition. She had forgotten that most people would not welcome these kinds of occurrences in their workplace.

‘I’m so sorry Analina, I wasn’t thinking. I promise I will do everything I can to sort this out.’

She remembered then why she had come back to speak with Analina.

‘Analina, do you know if anyone else here has seen the shadow? Or heard noises?’

Analina shook her head doubtfully, although her words made Amy think someone had talked about seeing or hearing something.

‘I don’t know. You ask them, maybe they tell you what they see. I don’t know. I don’t speak for them. They see for themself if they want to talk to you. It not good here to talk on these things. Stephanie say we here to work. I do not want to lose job now.’

‘Okay, that’s fine. Look let me give you my card, it has my phone number and email address on it. You can call me anytime, if you want to talk or if you think of anything else.’ Amy held out her business card but Analina shook her head, holding out a hand to stop Amy giving her the card.

‘I can’t. Stephanie not like me call you. Stephanie not like us to talk about shadows and footsteps.’

‘Footsteps?’ Amy asked eagerly. Something else new. But Analina had had enough, she pushed past Amy and started to leave the room, calling over her shoulder,

‘Sorry Madam, I must get back to work now, I nothing to say to you. Very busy now. Thank you.’

Out in the corridor Stephanie and the two IPA guys were returning. Stephanie looked impatient.

‘Oh, there you are! We’ve been looking all over for you.’ Stephanie adopted a brittle smile for Amy but couldn’t resist directing a sharp look at Analina who was now busy with her cart.

‘Sorry. I hope you don’t mind, but I saw this lady cleaning in this room and I couldn’t resist the urge to ask her about anything she might have witnessed.’

Analina looked at her with eyes rounded in horror, clearly afraid Amy was going to get her into trouble. Amy smiled back at Stephanie and added, ‘I bet your housekeeping staff see all kinds of things, I mean, they’re in and out of all these rooms on a daily basis.’

‘And what was she able to tell you?’ Stephanie asked, with every appearance of making a casual enquiry. But her eyes were cold. Amy felt no compunction about lying shamelessly to protect Analina.

‘Nothing, she says she’s too busy to pay attention to silly stories.’

Stephanie’s sharp look softened slightly, and as she led them back past Analina and down the stairs, Amy heard her say softly to Analina, ‘Muy bien.’ Immediately Analina relaxed.

Downstairs they followed Stephanie into the dining room.

It was large, brightly lit even at this time of day, with around thirty tables set for a fairly formal dinner, with fresh candles, waiting to be lit, set into dainty glass holders, and gleaming napkins and table cloths. Glassware and silverware shone. Everything was immaculate and Amy could see how the hotel had earned its four stars.

The back wall was mirrored from floor to ceiling, and here too, the mirror was spotlessly clean and dust-free. On the right, the expanse of wall was broken up by three double glass doors overlooking a wide terrace, with the sweep of a tree-lined lawn beyond.

‘We’ve occasionally had reports of a young woman either looking out this first door onto the terrace, or walking from that same door across the dining room to the door we just used to come in from the hallway. I would say she’s been seen about five or six times in the last two years by various guests and staff and even myself. She never seems to notice us, never pauses or stops or speaks, just always seems to walk quite quickly directly from glass door to hallway door. But when she’s looking out at the terrace, she seems fainter, and she literally just stands there, she doesn’t move or turn or anything, and after a minute or two she just disappears into thin air.’

‘Wow! That’s incredible,’ one of the IPA guys immediately chipped in. Amy already didn’t like him because of his way of monopolizing Stephanie’s attention by constantly interposing ‘uh huh’ or ‘wow’ or ‘you don’t say’ at the end of every phrase she spoke, so that the constant stream of interruptions made her forget what she was saying. And in addition, it made Amy want to slap him.

Conversely his colleague – or minion, Amy wasn’t quite sure what their relationship was though she suspected the big, noisy one was The Boss – his colleague had said almost nothing at all. But in spite of his silence, Amy liked him simply because he was so polite – he had held doors open for her several times as they walked round with Stephanie. He didn’t interrupt just listened attentively. He was the only one of the other three that even acknowledged Amy’s presence.  She felt like an uninvited guest at a party.

‘What did you say the apparition looked like?’ Jake the Noisy Boss asked. Stephanie took a deep breath, said, ‘well.’ Both hands, palms down, held up a little way to give weight to her story. She’s enjoying this now, Amy thought. In fact, Amy thought next, I’m not sure what she’s telling us is even true. But why would she make something like this up? Amy pondered on this for a moment. From a purely economic point of view, a ghost in the dining room would be good for business, especially if it was young and pretty and possibly tragic. On the other hand, if it became known that there was a terrifying male shadow-person lurking in the guest bedrooms, that would quite definitely NOT be good for business.

‘Well,’ Stephanie repeated, ‘she’s young, I’d say around twenty, twenty-two. Very pretty. Long brown hair caught back in a blue velvet ribbon. Long skirt, almost to the floor, and some kind of white cotton blouse with a locket on a chain resting on her bosom. She looks kind of old fashioned, actually, though maybe not exactly Victorian, you know, but maybe kind of 1910s, 1920s. And she’s about my height, with a very nice, slim figure. My guests said they thought she looked as though she was waiting for her lover.’

In spite of her suspicions about what Stephanie was telling them, Amy carefully made notes in her book.

‘Do you know anything about the hotel’s history?’ Nice Guy asked. Stephanie shook her head whilst Amy was thinking how nice his voice was, and what a sensible question to ask.

‘Not really. Sorry.  I just know there was an old mill on the site.’

That much could be gleaned from the hotel’s name, Amy thought, feeling cranky, but the two IPA guys nodded slowly as if Stephanie had said something insightful.

‘Wow!’ exclaimed Jake the Noisy Boss once more. Nice Guy simply nodded again slowly.

‘I know, right?’ Stephanie simpered and finally Amy realised that Stephanie was flirting with the two other investigators. Amy felt angry with herself for not noticing sooner. She was definitely slipping! Meanwhile, it was clear that Stephanie’s main objectives were to keep all of them away from the hotel’s real paranormal issues, and if at all possible, to snag herself a gainfully-employed celebrity ghost hunter at the same time.

‘What time of day do you usually see the – um – apparition?’ Amy asked, trying to sound bright and perky. She would not get anywhere by giving in to the urge to snap at anyone. Bills to pay, she reminded herself. Play nice, you want to eat next month, don’t you?

‘Ooh, well, let me think,’ Stephanie seemed to be trying to remember. A faint flush stole up the woman’s throat and flamed across her cheeks as she said, ‘It’s mainly late in the evening, you know.’

‘When the last one or two guests are finishing up a late dinner and about to go up to their rooms?’ Amy suggested mildly. Stephanie had the grace to look a little embarrassed.

‘That’s right. Or sometimes a small group might linger over their drinks, you know, just chatting. We wouldn’t chase them out, that would not be hotel policy.’

Amy nodded her understanding even though she was now absolutely convinced Stephanie was making the whole story up. Apart from the appeal that a mysterious and tragic haunting might hold for guests, Amy still couldn’t quite see the point of the fabrication.

‘Late in the evening and into the night are commonly believed to be the most likely times for someone to have a supernatural experience,’ Jake the Noisy Boss assured Stephanie. ‘Although of course, it can also depend on the reason the haunting or hauntings have come about in the first place.’

Stephanie was hanging on his every word like it was the most interesting thing she had ever heard in her life. Amy could tell Jake was flattered. They began a long discussion about ghostly time-keeping, with Jake flinging in the odd anecdote to prove whatever point he was trying to make.

Nice Guy did an exchange of eyebrow-raises with Amy. Clearly he wasn’t buying it either. Somehow, Amy was pleased to know he wasn’t taken in by Stephanie’s act, and that he was treating her as an ally. After a few minutes, just as Amy was getting almost too bored to continue being polite, Stephanie, seemingly embarrassed, said,

‘Um – I was just kind of wondering. I mean, I suppose you can’t just maybe do like a kind of all-purpose kind of general ritual to maybe get rid of any kind of ghosts or spirits or whatever they are?’

Amy frowned, puzzled, and bit her lip. What was Stephanie really asking here? The two IPA guys looked equally baffled. Stephanie hastened to explain.

‘It’s just that there could be ghosts or whatever that I don’t even know about, you know, in other parts of the hotel. I mean, just because we’ve seen this sweet little girl down here, doesn’t mean there might not be something nastier somewhere else – maybe in the kitchen or some place. I guess I’m just worried about losing bookings.’

At last. There it was. The truth at last. Finally, she was being honest about what was motivating her to call on them for help. Jake shook his head.

‘Sorry, it has to be specific to whatever kind of spirit you have here, we can’t do a kind of general spring-clean to cover all eventualities.’

Stephanie couldn’t hide her disappointment. She just shrugged her shoulders and said, ‘Oh well. I just thought I’d ask. So, what do you guys want to do next?’

‘We need to do a night-time investigation, or rather two or three night-time investigations, followed by a kind of debrief where we tell you our findings and come up with an action plan,’ Jake said.

Just in case anyone thought of leaving Amy out of things at this point, she nodded vigorously and said, ‘Yes, that goes for me too.’

‘Whatever,’ Stephanie said, she sounded resigned now, like all the fight had gone out of her, ripping away the flirty, talkative persona she adopted for business purposes. ‘I’ll just go tell my staff they’re having a few days off. I’m closing the hotel until you all figure this mess out. I already have one lawsuit on my hands, I can’t afford any more. A client’s wife had a heart attack after seeing something upstairs and now they’re suing me. If they win, I’m going to lose everything anyway, so I guess closing for a few days won’t make a whole lot of difference.’

Looking older, anxious, she turned and stomped away, her shoulders slumped in misery. Amy felt bad about the things she had thought about Stephanie now. She realized how quickly she had forgotten that her livelihood depended on someone else’s nightmare. She should have realized that there would be a lot riding on this investigation – after all, nobody called in people like her, or the IPA guys, unless they were desperate.

She couldn’t wait to come back after dark and find out what was really going on.

Amy found herself a seat in a corner of the dining-room. She could hear the sound of trampling feet above her as the IPA crew – about seven people in all – were getting into their positions ready to start filing the start of the night’s vigil.

Suddenly there was the sound of a car horn from outside and in response, footsteps thundered down the stairs and raced across the lobby to the front door. Then Amy heard voices, getting gradually quieter as the people went upstairs once more and downstairs part of the hotel grew still around her, waiting, watching in the darkness.

Amy settled herself again, the threads of her concentration had been broken by the disturbance. She felt edgy. Some part of her was afraid that every time she got settled and began to concentrate on her environment, a bunch of IPA crew-members were going to blunder in like so many untrained puppies and crash about and spoil things. It seemed inevitable that they would, if only for the sake of appearances, carry out at least a brief investigation in the dining-room after what Stephanie had told them.

The room was pretty dark. A little light crept in at the terrace doors and was reflected by the mirrored wall at the back. It felt musty and disused in here. Amy felt there was something eerie about being alone in a large room full of empty chairs and tables dressed for a meal that no one would eat. She longed to throw the windows wide and let some fresh air into the place. The dining-room, with its sense of abandonment and the eerie images in the dusty mirror, was peopled with enough ghosts already, without anything paranormal that might yet occur.

There were sounds from upstairs and Amy wondered if she was missing any excitement. She had reached the stage of the investigation she termed ‘stupid o’clock’, mainly because after sitting alone in a dark room for an hour she knew her concentration levels would dip and she would begin thinking about her life with all its doubts and dissatisfactions.

Voices in her head pointed out that sitting here like this wasn’t going to pay her bills – not now, not ever. And, she didn’t have a plan, she didn’t have insurance, she had an overdraft she couldn’t repay, and her freezer was empty. More importantly, as her mother had pointed out to her on more than one occasion in the three months since she had given up her ‘real’ job, she also no longer had a boyfriend.

If she had any sense, she would walk out of here right now, drive back to her motel room, get some sleep and first thing in the morning drive all the way back to London and beg her former boss to let her have her old job back. She could say she had been ill, had a breakdown or something – she could get some counseling and be back at her desk first thing on Monday morning. Why the hell had she quit? The money had been great, she had the prospect of promotion after a year or two, she had fringe benefits, a nice office, parking, and last but by no means least, there had been Lyle Best – the sexiest man in a three-piece suit, now her ex-boyfriend.

But this was stupid o’clock, and she didn’t have any sense, so she continued to sit where she was and wonder what she was going to do with her life.

Maybe even Lyle would take her back? She had loved him once, maybe it wasn’t too late?

‘Oh God!’ Amy groaned to herself and leaned back in her chair. ‘What am I going to do?’

She heard a sound, a plain ordinary, everyday sound. It came from right in front of her. It was a sound she could hear a hundred times a day and not think anything of it. But here in the darkened dining room, knowing she was all alone, it was definitely a supernatural occurrence.

Someone had just cleared their throat.

Everything else left Amy’s mind. A quick glance round showed her absolutely nothing, just as she had expected. She concentrated her thoughts, her emotions, reaching out as she had learned to do, trying to communicate with whatever spirit or entity was out there.

She spoke. ‘Hello? Is there anyone here in this room with me? If you would like to speak with me, I’m ready to listen.’

She spoke quietly but clearly. She hoped she sounded confident but not arrogant. Too often, in person or on television, she had seen the brash way investigators marched into someone else’s space and started to lay the law down or make demands. Often any paranormal events made them flinch and shriek or startled them into bad language. Amy had lost count of how often she had thought, it’s that mouth of yours that cost you any findings, spirits don’t expect someone to barge into their sphere and then start mouthing off, it’s just so – wrong. That kind of rudeness seldom got the results they hoped for with spirits from an older, more mannered era.

She waited for a few moments. When nothing else happened she added, ‘If you can’t speak to me, you might be able to make some other kind of sound. Maybe you could try something else?’

Almost before she had finished speaking a candle on a nearby table fell onto its side. The sudden sound almost made her jump, even though she’d been half-expecting exactly that sort of thing. But it was an encouraging sign. She nodded her approval.

‘That’s great,’ she said, enthused, ‘can you set it up again?’ And whilst she waited she fished in her bag for her small flashlight. Finding it, she clicked it on and focused the narrow beam on the candle. Although the torchlight was weak, she could clearly see the candle rolling to and fro on the tablecloth.

‘You almost got it that time, keep trying, this is excellent!’ she said. An idea came to her – she should be recording this! She felt annoyed with herself for overlooking such a vital aspect of the investigation. She tried to find her cellphone in her shoulder bag but it was hiding. Reluctantly she had to take her eyes off the candle and concentrate on finding her phone.

Finally, she found it, she selected the video-record mode and held up both the flashlight and the phone, jiggling them until she had both a firm hold and the light was directed on the candle.

The candle was once again upright in its holder. It stood there, proud and steady in the centre of the table.

‘Wow!’ Amy exclaimed involuntarily. ‘That was amazing! How did you do that? You really had to concentrate hard on that, which shows you have tremendous strength. Is there any way you could show me again?’ Hearing herself, she cringed. I sound like one of that other lot, she thought.

Obligingly, the candle fell over, and as Amy watched, it seemed to wobble and roll about on the table, twice rising a short distance up in the air before falling back again.

The door from the hallway burst open and four people entered, a cameraman and a boom-mike operator entering backside-first into the room. A powerful beam of light played across Amy’s face, blinding her momentarily. As she turned, she saw the IPA guys beyond the beam of their flashlights, and out of the corner of her eye she just saw the candle as it eased itself back into an upright position for the second time. Amy let her arm drop but the beam of the IPAs flashlight illuminated her phone.

‘Sorry to bust in on you, Sweetheart, I guess you’ll need to go outside if you want to text your boyfriend, it’s just that we’re trying to run an investigation here, and we need to come into this room now.’ It was Jake.

Of course, she thought, why am I not surprised? She was angry, and got to her feet, ready to argue her right to stay, but as soon as she stood up, she had a strong sense of all energy draining from the room. Suddenly the room felt hollow, like an empty shell. Whatever she had been communicating with had now left. Which made everything okay.

‘Fine. See you later. Good luck with your investigations,’ she said sweetly. She saw that Nice Guy was watching her closely as she put away her flashlight and phone and hitched her bag onto her shoulder. He wasn’t fooled. She winked at him as she went past on her way to the door, only to collide with a tall dark figure in the doorway as she did so.

‘Excuse me,’ said the voice, a pleasant female voice, a deep contralto. The Medium, Amy realised. They always brought in a medium on these night-time investigations. Not the same person each week, the medium usually arrived blindfolded to make it clear to the audience that they were doing a cold-read from the venue and had not been tipped off with any information. Which on some shows they often were, though Amy wasn’t too sure about the IPA, they seemed genuine enough, if somewhat inept.

‘Sorry,’ Amy said, ‘my fault, I wasn’t watching where I was going.’ She continued on into the hallway.

In the lobby she stood for a few seconds debating where to go next, and as she stood there thinking it over, a sound behind her made her turn and even before she saw him, she knew it was Nice Guy.

‘Hi,’ he said, ‘I’m really sorry about crashing your investigation. That’s kind of the way they expect to do things in the IPA. They always think they’re top dog.’

‘It’s okay,’ she told him, ‘whatever it was in there has gone now anyway. I’m just trying to decide the best place to go next.’

‘Hmm. What about upstairs? We kind of skated through pretty quickly, but I think there could be something interesting up there. Um, did you capture anything on your phone?’

She looked at him, assessing him. Was he to be trusted?

***