Carmine’s Lake Manor
Chapter 2: At the hotel
“At two miles per hour we will be there in less than two hours, two hours goes by fast,” Juliette thought before leaving.
Now she couldn’t help but estimate the time remaining before she arrived:
“About thirty-six minutes…”
She was looking at her cell phone, which she had left on and was trying to protect from the rain:
“Forty-one now, another hour and ten to go.”
She stopped to take a break, her bag was heavy on her back.
She had never liked intensive physical effort, or even physical effort at all, she was just trying to pay attention to her diet and certainly she didn’t look like Jessica Alba or Selena Gomez but she didn’t find herself ugly either.
The path was made of limestone and was constantly descending, which made it easier to progress.
“Logic,” she thought, “after the climb we had done, there must be a descent.”
But half of it was flooded and with each step she soaked her shoes already filled with water and splashed her clothes with the cold and dirty liquid. And there was also the wind, which was facing her as if to keep her from moving forward and biting her skin through her wet clothes.
If she could have, if she had been alone, she would have stopped here, shouted, begged to be found, given up.
Just thinking about it made her cry. But she wasn’t alone, she looked up and watched the others move forward, she didn’t know what would happen after nightfall but she was sure she could count on her friends in all circumstances. She went back to walking.
Igor could hear the young woman’s panting breath, and he himself began to struggle. In other circumstances he would have paused, supported her friend, now he had neither the desire nor the strength to do so, he went on without turning around.
Jessie was walking by Ethan’s side, a question had been bugging her for some time, she looked at her boyfriend who had endured the attacks of time without saying a word for over half an hour, she finally asked him:
“Do you think Melissa’s gonna be okay? It’s not too serious?”
Ethan considered her for a few seconds and finally answered:
“I have no idea.”
Jessie, stunned by this answer, took a brief look behind her and grabbed Ethan to prevent the others from hearing the rest of the conversation while whispering to him:
“What do you mean, you don’t know? You said earlier that it was mild!”
“He looked her in the eye, his face was inexpressive.”
“You asked me if it was serious or not, and I don’t know, I looked quickly but earlier it didn’t seem too serious, and then anyway we had to move on, we can’t call for help.
Just because she’s hurt doesn’t mean we all have to risk our lives. Besides, it’s all her fault, if she hadn’t played dumb, I wouldn’t have been distracted. What the hell happened to that lunatic to get mad like that?”
“You too have been very aggressive, you’re usually much calmer, why all of a sudden did you brutalize her? Did you have a fight?”
At least that’s what she suspected. Ethan simply ignored her questions and stared at the horizon, his own way of stopping a discussion that embarrassed him.
Jessie kept looking at him, and when he looked at her, she would look away. Indirectly she was trying to get his attention, to get him to say a word.
She wanted to talk but couldn’t formulate her sentence, she was struggling to figure out how she should name him, Ethan hated being called darling or any other nickname he thought was too stupid.
So she called him Ethan, referred to him with others as “my boyfriend” when he was likely to hear her. When she felt that it might pass she would have fun nicknaming him “my Mozart”, the nickname she had given him when they first met. He had surprised her with his skills for music. Sometimes she whispered to him a “sweetheart” when they were alone and he was in a good mood.
Juliette was looking for a distraction to forget the exhaustion, she caught up with Igor who had since then made steady progress and started a conversation:
“You’re okay, she’s not too heavy?”
“No, I’m fine. How about you?”
“I keep up, thank you.”
Then blank. Igor apparently didn’t really want to talk, but she insisted:
“It’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other. I know we’re not very close, but you used to go to Ethan a lot before and lately he’s been saying all the time that you’re busy. What were you doing? Was it your studies that took you so long?”
The young man left the questions unanswered, lowered his eyes and looked at the ground as he walked, his face was tense. He raised a glance and, turning his back on her, finally answered:
“To be honest with you, these last months I’ve been in jail.”
Surprised she tried to find out what to answer to that:
“In jail?! Huh… And what did you do?” She hesitated.
She stopped suddenly.
“What?!” She exclaimed, panicked.
He turned around, looking at her, a slight smile on the corners of his lips.
“Shhh, I’m kidding, I went there for some stupid and much less serious thing.”
The joke was not to her taste. Or perhaps this was a way of minimizing the facts by announcing something serious first, a manipulation of opinion in short. She breathed and tossed at him:
“So, what happened?”
“One night I got into a fight with a guy and his girlfriend on the street, the dispute came to hands, they were drunk, I had been drinking too. The guy was taller and bigger than me, at least six feet tall and not far from 220 pounds for sure.
I knocked him down. He was already having trouble standing up at the time. But I hadn’t done anything, I wasn’t asking for trouble. His bitch came up behind my back and smashed a bottle on the back of my head, I hadn’t done anything to her, not even looked at her.”
He looked at Juliette who was still staring at him with insistence, he continued:
“The cops showed up just as I was grabbing her by the neck and my fist was reaching her cheek. I was in action, I was in pain, I had no idea what I was doing. They pulled their guns on me, made me get down on the ground and handcuffed me, and I ended up in a cell.
Later they came to get me, I saw the woman, she had an atrophied face. I was sad but I had no regrets, I hadn’t done anything wrong.”
“I took four months.”
Juliette had listened without saying a word, she didn’t know what to think. If he was telling the whole truth then he really was not responsible, afterwards he could have kept quiet and avoided the conflict but you don’t let yourself be abused in the street without saying anything. The young man had always been friendly with her, he was a little younger than her but he looked older than he was. Overall she liked him.
“I think you did the right thing, you can’t let yourself get beat up in life.”
His eyebrows rose and his face cleared up a little, he didn’t seem to expect such an answer, he smiled at her.
“I think I see a building there in the distance, on the right,” Jessie announced.
The two lagging behind rushed to catch up with the couple in front.
“Are you sure about that? Where?!” exclaimed Juliette.
“Almost, look at the white shape through the fog right there,” Jessie replied, pointing at it.
As they made their way into the long, gentle turn, they soon arrived at their destination and remained there, disheartened and discouraged. There were a building standing in front of them, high up on it small hill, faded white, so far everything was fine. At least if only half of the roof had not collapsed, the three-quarters of the windows broken and the doors ripped open for the luckiest, the less, held only by the frame, were waiting to join their many sisters already face down on the ground.
It was easy to deduce from this that the establishment had not welcomed visitors for at least fifty years.
Igor put Melissa down on the old white and green tiles in the main hall while the others put their belongings down and sat on a few old wooden chairs swollen with moisture that were dragging here and there, for a few moments of rest.
“So what do we do now?”
“Now we have to agree on what we’re going to do,” Ethan replied.
Igor came in with his chair in hands:
“We don’t have much choice, it’s after four o’clock. Either we turn back and get on the road just before nightfall if we hurry and try to make a little shelter or we settle here for the night.”
The building was a decaying ruin, much of the furniture had disappeared, debris of all kinds was scattered on the ground and despite the little water now raining outside, the ground floor was flooded, water was flowing abundantly from the upper floors, drops were falling from the rotten ceiling.
Sleeping here didn’t delight anyone, Ethan then shared an idea:
“In the worst case, the path to get here was almost straight and the road was perpendicular to the path so instead of walking straight ahead and then catching the road, we can cut through the woods and walk diagonally. That way we can move forward, catch up on the road and save time. Then we’ll try to find a house, people, or we’ll end up falling into an area with network.”
Igor was septic.
“But if we have no signal and don’t find anyone, we’re going to have to make something up and sleep on the road.”
“I would rather try. It’s not by staying here that we will get help!” Ethan told him.
“I want to spend the night in this thing as much as I wanted to come here, that is, not at all. It’s not even a shelter, everything is soaked and it can collapse at any time, given the state of the building.”
They stared at each other successively, Ethan gave his young friend an insistent look and announced:
“Well, then I’ll change Melissa’s bandage, we’ll rest a little and go by the woods.”
He got up and left, it was not a question but a statement. Group decisions are fine for a while, but they prevent us from moving forward. It was time to get things under control.
He came back soon after and informed the group that Melissa had just woken up, all of them rushed up to go and see her. The teenager’s eyes were finally open, her fingers grasping her head and her face was expressing a mixture of pain and confusion. She tried to sit down but her forces seemed to have left her, she was shaking.
They were all relieved, Igor and Jessie smiled at her, and Juliette’s eyes were wet. She knelt down next to Melissa to take her in her arms.
“How are you?” she asked, stroking her cheek.
“It hurts. What happened? Where are we now?”
“We had a car accident,” she replied, looking at Ethan stealthily, “and we found this old hotel, so we stopped.”
“Is everyone all right? Did anybody else get hurt?”
Juliette burst into tears:
“When I saw you lying in the front of the car, I thought you were… But yes, everyone will be fine,” she said.
“I’m strong, it takes more than that to kill me!” Affirmed the youngest. She smiled and hugged Juliette against her.
They left half an hour later, went around the building and found themselves facing the forest. The weather was no better now than at the beginning of this day, the sky was even darker than before their break.
Was the ambient darkness due to the large black clouds that had further choked the already heavy landscape or was it the darkness that made the clouds darker than they were?
In any case, although it was early, as he entered the dark forest with his friends, Igor wondered if it was not, already too late for them.