Carmine’s Lake Manor
Chapter 1 : Surprise on the road
It had been several hours that the 4X4 had been driving, crossing large cities, residential areas, forests, plains, using highways as well as small roads. Five young people inside were on their way to a promising vacation in a big, fashionable coastal city. They had rented a villa by the seaside and had every intention of enjoying the beach, the heat, Jet Ski rides, walks, and especially the crowded bars and nightclubs in the evening.
In short, a great trip in perspective but for the moment Ethan, his girlfriend Jessie, Igor, Juliette and Melissa the youngest of the group of friends were amidst desolate stretches and sparse forests looking quite sinister.
A heavy rain had fallen on the area over the past few hours, only to stop not long ago, and fog was licking the ground, constantly fed by a fine mist.
The speakers were spitting House music and the 3 girls were shaking and laughing on the back seat. Igor was beginning to get irritated by this music which, at first, was absolutely not his kind, but which was also far too loud.
He took a look at Ethan who was trying to refresh his profile page on his smartphone but the circle kept turning in the void.
“Where are we?” asked Igor.
“I don’t know man” replied Ethan, annoyed by the loss of network.
Igor knew in those moments, there was no point talking to him, he would get upset over anything. Being stuck for three hours with someone yelling at you wasn’t something he wanted. Igor also knew that Ethan was looking for an excuse to release his frustration:
Since yesterday he was sick and now he has been driving for ages. And this because they had to take his car and no one else was allowed to drive his car. All due to that stupid Airline:
“A booking problem” the hostess had said “but I can always book you a flight for this afternoon. Obviously the price will be very different….”
The villa having been rented weeks earlier, they could not cancel the very same day without paying for the week. They had to make a choice.
Igor laid his head against the headrest, observed the dull landscape scrolling, the drizzle falling.
And then there was also Melissa. He himself had nothing against her, Melissa was rather shy with him but Ethan didn’t like her too much. A complicated story, seemingly Ethan’s former best friend, the person he had replaced, was Melissa’s brother.
He heard they had a fight, that Ethan said he let him down. Since then Melissa was no longer truly welcome, and strangely enough she was pretty much the only one who stood up to Ethan, something at odds with her usual temper and something that the young man didn’t like at all.
The girls were talking in the back, he lent an attentive ear.
“I swear, when we get there I unpack and jump into the hot tub.” Jessie said.
“We do have a hot tub! I can’t wait,” exclaimed Juliette excited.
“I would first eat something then sleep, I can’t take it anymore,” admits the youngest. “And only then I’ll join you in the Jacuzzi.”
Suddenly the vehicle’s radio died out, a strange breath and some interference replaced the music for a few seconds then they disappeared as quickly as they had arrived and another music started, a jazz composition, a hit from another era.
Nobody said a word on the moment but a “Hey!” from one of the girls in the back quickly made itself heard.
“We didn’t touch anything” protested Igor.
“Can you witch back”, asked him Jessie.
Igor was about to press the button when Ethan held him back:
“Wait, I think I know that.”
The young man had been passionate about music since he was a child and played piano and guitar regularly for his friends and for small private shows. He was concentrating on the music when Melissa reiterated the request:
“That sucks. Play the other song, it’s one of my favorites!”
“No! I’m listening to what I want on my radio, take your headset, your phone and don’t piss us off!” replied Ethan, giving him a bad look through the rear-view mirror.
“I’m out of battery and no, you’re not going to force everyone to listen to your shit!”
Igor had a hard time withstanding the previous song but it was nothing compared to what these two were able to achieve in terms of irritability. He decided to put Melissa’s music back on, switched stations but the Jazz song carried on, he came back to the right station, still nothing.
“It doesn’t work,” Igor wondered aloud.
“You see it doesn’t work, so shut up,” Ethan replied.
“It’s definitely not funny, if you don’t want to switch, I’ll do it myself!” she said, raising her voice further, she detached herself and leaned against the armrest between the two front seats, her arm extended to reach the radio set.
“I said no!” scolded the driver pushing her to keep her from reaching the radio. The young girl, who was not used to being pushed away, brutally rejected him. The agitation thus caused was at the center of the passengers’ attention when Juliette screamed:
Ethan looked up: a deer and several fawns were crossing the road, it was too late to brake, he tried to steer but slammed into the animal and the car ended its race in the bushes surrounding the road.
A thick smoke now enveloped the woods. The front of the car was embedded in a tree, the crumpled metal had swallowed up the trunk of the deciduous tree, the windshield under the multiple cracks had become opaque and a number of young trees were lying on the ground, saving the main willow as well as the car and its occupants from much more serious damage.
Igor was the first to open his eyes.
Each movement was painful to him; moving his right leg; turning his head; even blinking triggered throbbing pain in the back of his head. He detached himself and tried to open his door distorted on impact, without much success, so he went out through the window.
There was very little left of the window, but enough to slash his lower back as he went by, his legs finally left the cabin and he dropped into the earth and the cold, soaked leaves.
He got up as best he could. Supporting himself on the car wreckage and witnessed the last moments of the troublemaker animal, lying on the opposite side, in agony. Part of his flank was recessed, his ripped fur revealing his bare ribs offered the sad scene of an beast on its end, struggling to breathe and his neck was in an unusual position.
The fawns had frozen and their sharp squeaks filled Igor’s head who wondered at first if they understood what was going on. When he stood up completely two of the little ones left in a hurry but a fawn stayed a moment longer then run off as best he could, the animal was limping.
The young man interpreted his vision: the deer was probably their mother. “One dead on the road, three from starvation, he thought.”
He successfully stepped forward, then walked to the window of the nearest car, apprehending what he might find there.
The airbags had fulfilled their functions, the others looked in better shape than what the accident might have suggested at first glance. Jessie banged several times against her door until it opened violently, rushing her forward. She knelt down, out of breath and her eyes filled with tears rose to Igor, who remained mute and paralyzed.
Ethan’s voice, which had just come to her senses, made her stand up and rush towards him, while Igor went to help Juliette out, her door was the only one that could still be opened without any problem.
“Fuck! Mel, are you all right?!” Juliette screamed as she saw her friend lying in the front of the car.
“Melissa please, say something.”
“Don’t touch her!” Exclaimed Ethan nervously, “she could have a broken neck. Moving her could be lethal, let me see.”
The dashboard was dented, the girl’s hair was sticky, a strand of her hair was spilling blood on the carpet of the car. A large wound spread across the front of her skull. He approached her, palpated her neck, pressed and then made her move. He thought and concluded that the cervicals did not seem to be affected and therefore that it was not their priority.
“It’s mild, you can get her out,” he said.
Juliette, who was pacing around waiting for Ethan’s feedback, turned to him in shock.
“Mild! She’s freaking spilling blood, Ethan!” she screamed.
His eyebrows frowned, his lips tightened, but Ethan said nothing and went to check his luggage in the car. Juliet and Igor left the girl on the road. Ethan came back with a clean t-shirt and used the few classes he had been somewhat attentive at his medical school, undertaking the improvisation of a bandage.
“We must call the emergency services fast,” Juliet struggled to articulate. With her shaking hands she tried to dial the emergency number without much success.
Jessie already had her phone by ear, she looked at Juliette in a grave face, her arm slipped down along her body.
“No need, there’s no connection! We’re in deep shit, lost in the middle of nowhere!” exploded Jessie in a panic attack.
Igor knew that the situation was awful and so a dispute between peoples in a state of shock would not help, quite the opposite. He had to cool things down in the interest of all.
“Calm down, I know what we’re going to do, I know what we’re going to do! We know that there is nothing, no town or habitations within thirty miles behind us, we haven’t seen any of that.”
“So we’re going to go ahead and I’m sure, quickly find someone who would pass by, that’s the main road after all! Or even outright peoples living in the area who could help us. There must be some, we’re not in the middle of a desert. Soon Melissa will receive medical care, and we will all be safe.”
Juliette and Jessie nodded, but Ethan was lost in thought, the jazz tune was ending when all of a sudden he exclaimed with a smile:
“The song, I remember now its Duke Ellington’s Black and Tan fantasy!”
A long silence fell, Juliette, Igor and Jessie stared at him in silence. In front of their faces, he lost his smile, his ferocious gaze betrayed the odious words he was repressing and finally his face closed.
“Let’s go then,” muttered the boy.
They took their bags at least as much as they could carry, Igor made with a few sticks, a rudimentary arrow on the road indicating the direction taken by the group, hoisted Melissa on his back and they set off.
They followed the road, cracked, bumpy, crossing groups of wet trees, which in this season were normally colored with tawny and flamboyant shades, but which in this moment were hardly what they could have been in more pleasant days. Others were already partially stripped, their twisted branches gave in the impression of attempting to seal the road, forming a dark tunnel around our young folks.
The previously low fog had risen and thickened and the drizzle continued to soak inexorably every square inch of clothing or skin of the small group. They were unable to say how long they had been walking or how far they had travelled. A mile? Three? Four maybe?
When the crash occurred, Ethan’s phone had disappeared, perhaps ejected among the shrubs and bushes without being found. Igor’s, broken on impact and the girl’s smartphones heavily used on the long journey had been turned off as from now the battery of these precious devices had become a resource on which their survival might have been based. Anyways they rather didn’t want to know.
As they climbed a never-ending hill they agreed to stop once up, Ethan who walked ahead continued while Igor, Melissa on his back slowed down and turned around to ask Juliette and Jessie if everything was okay, but heard Ethan shout:
“Come see, I found something interesting.”
He was standing in front of a crossroads but more importantly he was pointing his finger at an old sign between the path and the road. Made of wood, consisting of a board on two stakes, with its arrow-shaped tip, eaten by moths and damaged by the onslaught of time and climate, one could still read “Hotel the Owl” and below it “in 3.5 miles” engraved in gold paint on a green bottle background now almost entirely flake.
“We have to go see!” Ethan said, turning towards the others.
After a short reflection Jessie spoke:
“No I don’t think so, we have to stay on the road it’s safer and the sign looks very old and unkept. There’s nothing in this area, for sure the hotel doesn’t exist anymore. If we walk 4 miles to that hotel and there’s nothing, we’re good to spend the night there!”
No one said a word so she sought the support of Juliette and Igor:
“What do you think, Juliette?”
“Well, uh, I think there’s nothing out there and we should continue on the road,” she approved.
All eyes turned to Igor who gauged them one by one.
“Juliette, look if we have any signal now and let me think.”
He tried to weigh the pros and cons, if the hotel was still in activity they would be saved, it would be stupid to let such a possibility slip away.
But, as Jessie said, it was plausible that the place closed a long time ago and they would have lost a lot of time. On the road they had more chance to cross a car and if someone fell on their car and on the arrow he had made we would follow the road to them but no one drove by….
“No, still nothing,” Juliette announced.
Igor sighed and concluded.
“Then we’re off to the hotel.”