The Sarrgoset Hotel
Mike had to back the car through the bridge, as the invisible wall that kept them from escaping the doom-haunted town of Murgent left little room for any kind of U-turn. This he did with great care; though the going was slow, and was no help to their already jangled nerves.
Once they were free of the bridge, Mike turned the car back towards the way they had come; back towards the center of town.
“Okay,” he said, “Brace yourselves.”
However, as it turned out, they had no further problems with the townspeople on the way back; as they seemed to have returned to the state they were in before Mike hit the horn.
Still, Mike had to drive cautiously, and occasionally stop to allow a batch of them to cross the road in their slow and shambling gait.
“Whatever you do, Mike.” Callie whispered tersely, “Do not honk the shigging horn!”
“Thanks for the tip.” Mike muttered.
“Would you two shoosh?!” Edward hissed from the backseats.
At last they got past the townspeople, and reached the empty main street. They drove up to the Sarrgoset Hotel, and parked the car.
“Let’s go.” Mike said, as he took the keys out of the ignition, and opened his door.
Once Callie and Edward were out of the car as well, Mike hit the lock button, closed the door, and pocketed the keys.
The three walked up to the hotel’s front door, and rang the doorbell.
“Oh man,” Edward said, with a shaky voice, “I don’t like this at all. Not one dang bit.”
“With you there, Ed,” Mike said, “If there was any other way…”
“There isn’t, and we all know it.” Callie said, her voice as nervous as Edward’s, “Whatever the hell is going on in there, let’s just try to stick together and work it out, okay?”
Mike and Edward nodded.
There came then the sound of someone on the other side of the door turning the handle.
“This is it.” whispered Mike, “Here we go.”
“I don’t think the door was even locked---” Edward started to say, but cut short his own sentence as the door was opened.
On the other side of the doorway was a boy of about Mike’s age, staring back at them. Although young, his eyes had a weary cast to them.
“Hello,” the boy said, “My name is Egann Ackbe.”
He moved aside, to allow them room to enter. Once they were in, he closed the door behind them.
“Zedda’s been expecting you.” he said.
Mike, Callie, and Edward followed Egann down a long arched hall, furnished with tapestries and hung with burgundy cloth. The hall was lit with rose-colored light, which gave it a surreal quality, then opened up into a large foyer. The front desk was parenthesized by two gold-painted banisters which met at a second floor balcony, from which dozens of kids looked down at them. All of them with the same weary eyes.
There were more kids, lining the twin stairways, and entering the foyer from side doors.
“EEEEGANN!” a horrid and shrill voice from the second floor called out, “Why deedn’t you tell me they were heeeere?”
The voice belonged to a tall, stick-thin figure rushing down the stairs in a manner that could only be described as insectile. Kids shrinked back as the figure passed near them.
“That’s Mr. Balooda.” Egann said, “Do whatever he says. You DON’T want to see him mad, believe me.”
Mr. Balooda wore a shiny black vinyl-raincoat-looking-thing, which went down to the floor and covered his whole body, down to his feet. He was hunched over, and his hands were extended in front of him like a praying mantis. He was bald, except for a tuft of bright red hair at the top, and he wore thick spectacles that magnified sickly eyes already much too big. But his most disturbing feature was his huge grin, which showed off long, rectangular teeth.
Mr. Balooda reached them, and clasped his hands in pleasure.
“What brave leeeetle boys and girl!” he cackled, like a witch in a fairy tale, then turned towards the stairs. “Follow meee, pleeese. Meestress Zedda wants to meeeet you!”
His exaggerated accent sounded more like an affectation than an actual speech pattern; but follow him they did, up the stairs past the other kids, to the second floor.
“The rest of you get back to work!” Mr. Balooda turned and snapped.
The kids in the gallery, stairs, and foyer scattered.
Mr. Balooda led them to a smaller, less impressive stairway, which led to the third floor. This floor was empty and silent. They passed through a hallway of closed rooms, to a door. The door was painted black, and had symbols drawn all over it in red paint. The central design was a circular seal, with another symbol inside of it.
There was no knob on the door.
Mr. Balooda murmured, “Maqwa tevvis geffah jammuk!” while tracing the circular seal clockwise with his finger. The door opened wide on its own, without even a “click”.
That might be useful to remember, Edward thought, and tried to memorize the words Mr. Balooda had just spoken.
Mr. Balooda entered, and the three followed. The door closed noiselessly behind them.
The room they entered was big; ballroom big. It was also dark; the windows were covered up and the only light was that coming from candles flickering at the far end. The candles were placed in a semi-circle around a luxurious red velvet couch.
The couch was empty though.
The right side of the room was lined with tables. On those tables were cards, stones, sticks, bones, crystal balls, and all manner of objects of the divinative arts; as well as a tripod upon which was placed a marble basin of some liquid that shimmered with an eerie green glow.
The left side of the room was taken up with viciously spiked sculptures of mysterious black forms, of tenebrous design.
Before they got to the empty couch, a tall shadow separated itself from the general darkness around them, and spoke.
“Thank you, Mr. Balooda, I’ll take it from here.”
Unlike Mr. Balooda’s shrill voice, the shadow’s voice was deep and throaty, with an undercurrent of threat.
“Thank you, Meester Blessure.” Mr. Balooda replied courteously, but not without a shading of irritation.
He turned and stomped off.
“Follow me.” the shadow named Mr. Blessure said, and led them the rest of the way. Once they reached the warm glow of the candles, they got a better view of him.
He wore a black greatcoat, and a matching broad-brimmed hat. He seemed to be even taller than Mr. Balooda, but perhaps only because his back was not bent. His face was an impassive pallid mask.
“They’re here, Mistress.” he said.
“Thank you, Mr. Blessure.” A hoarse voice called out from all around them, disembodied and reverberant, “Would you please remove the coverings from the windows, so our guests can see a little better?”
Sheets were dislodged from their places. Light entered and illuminated the room.
They still couldn’t see their hostess, until Edward yelled, “LOOK!” and pointed up.
Floating near the high ceiling, like a feather on a light breeze, was a woman. She seemed to be somewhere in her mid to late thirties, and a bit on the obese side. She had long black hair that floated all around her, and some kind of dark stain on her forehead. She wore a red satin robe that billowed and fluttered beautifully, as if she were underwater.
Despite her physical appearance, there was something quite gorgeous and fantastic about her. Mike, Callie, and Edward stared at her with open mouths as she slowly descended.
She floated down into a sitting position on the couch before them. Once gravity took over, her hair and robe stopped their billowing, and slumped down, as if a switch had been flicked off.
Only now could they see that the dark stain on her forehead was some kind of oversized birthmark, or mole. The skin there was bumpy, and its outer edges seemed to have little extensions, like “feelers”, that made the thing look like a black splat.
Or, perhaps, a spider.
“All three have tasted despair in their lives,” Zedda said, “This one especially…” she pointed to Edward, “But the other two are slim pickings, I’m afraid. Hardly worth draining, except for information. Some time under Mr. Balooda’s care should change that, though.”
“Perhaps a visit to the Ick Box.” Mr. Blessure suggested.
“Yes.” Zedda smiled, “That always does the trick. Though Mr. Balooda tends to overuse it, methinks. He’s getting lazy.”
“Uhhh, excuse me---” Mike started to say.
“NEVER INTERRUPT ME, BOY!” Zedda snapped, and Mike was thrown back violently, almost all the way to the door. He stumbled to a painful stop. Callie and Edward ran to him.
“I’m okay, I’m okay,” Mike assured them, as he got back to his feet, “Just got the wind knocked out of me a bit. Didn’t see it coming.”
“We do things a little differently here,” Zedda said, “Like not speaking unless spoken to. Since you three are new here, I’m cutting you a little slack, this once.”
“You call this ‘cutting us a little slack’?!” Callie asked.
“Careful, girl. Unless you want to go flying too.” Zedda said, “First things first: you…” she pointed to Edward, “Come here.”
Callie stepped in front of Edward.
“He’s not going anywhere.” she said, but was knocked sideways and out of the way; struck hard by an invisible hand. Mike moved in to protect Edward, but himself was knocked aside.
Edward turned to run, but felt himself lifted off his feet. He was turned around in midair, floated over to Zedda, and set down before her.
Zedda put her hands on his shoulders, brought his face close to hers, and gazed into his eyes. Edward tried to turn away, but the pull of her eyes was too strong to resist. They were hypnotic in their power. Before he knew it, he was lost inside of them.
Mike and Callie got up and started running over towards Zedda and Edward. They saw that Edward was no longer struggling and looked to be in a trance. Zedda’s eyes were open wide, taking something from him; and the black stain on her forehead rippled and darkened like a thing alive.
“What the hell is that?!” Callie cried, “What is she doing to him?”
“I don’t know, but we have to stop it.” Mike said.
The two almost reached Zedda’s couch, but Mr. Blessure was there before them in an instant. He grabbed Mike and Callie by their necks, and lifted them up.
“You’ll have to wait your turn.” he said.
He set them back down on their feet, but did not let go of their necks. Mike and Callie fought for release, hitting and kicking at him, but to no avail; he was as unmovable as a bronze statue.
“EDWARD!” Callie screamed.