There is a botanical garden at the back of the hotel. Loose stone walkways weave around a number of display beds. Here and there a corner, or a section, is marked with a tree or some bushes. The plants are leafless and skeletal. Their bones frosted, some breaking under the weight of the ice.
Dotted around the garden are benches. Wooden ones slowly rotting from lack or attention. Decorated with brass plates in memory of whoever. People ripe for cancellation due to their links to slavery or maybe they just didn’t support same sex marriage vehemently enough in 1820s. But their plates shine arrogantly into the face of modernity.
The wooden benches are being gradually replaced by industrial, concrete furniture. Grey tombs that honour the seats that came before them.
On one of the seats, someone has carved two snow sculptures. A pair of boobs and a cock with balls. Next to the sculptures, written into the snow, are Cindy’s initials. Given the size of the shaft I don’t know whether to feel complimented or inadequate.
Beyond the gardens is a strip of lawn and some gravel paths connecting the gardens to the forest, the beach steps beach, and other areas of the hotel grounds. One path leads to a decking near the cliff edge that acts as a observation platform. Cindy is there, looking out at the sea.
“You alright?” I ask.
She looks distracted but says yes. “How was the training?” I explain. She says I’m an idiot for making a scene.
“I wasn’t trying to make a scene. But the way they structure it, the language. They make it so if you disagree you are a white supremacist. It’s all nonsense, but it’s unchallengeable.”
“Why are they even doing DIE training?” she asks. “Does your company have a racism issue.”
“I didn’t think so until I found out about all the microaggressions I’ve been committing.” Cindy doesn’t laugh, she still looks distracted. “I guess it’s just trendy at the moment. I hope it doesn’t stick.”
She mumbles some sort of agreement. She doesn’t look comfortable. She looks like a rough animation of herself. Her mind is foggy, I can’t reach in.
“What’s up, Cindy?” I ask. She’s looking out at the sea. It’s grey and choppy but strangely, there is only a slight breeze on the viewing platform. The scene seems disconnected from us. As if we’re watching an open air movie. The tide is out. Only a small sandbar is uncovered by snow. More of the snow should have been washed away by now. Maybe. I don’t know. I haven’t been tracking the tide. It’s [current year], who the fuck tracks the tide? Above us is overcast. We’re living between blankets, one of cloud and one of snow. And they’re inching closer together.
“I had a vision. About twenty minutes ago,” says Cindy. Her hands slip into the inside of the puffer jacket.
“I did too,” I offer.
“Of what?” she asks.
“Nah, nah,” I say. “You first.”
Cindy describes wandering around the gardens and seeing the bellhop unloading some boxed of food from a storage room at the back of the hotel. “When I asked him long he’d been on shift he said he had only just started. He introduced himself as if we had never met. But it was definitely the same guy.” She describes how she was about to challenge him when she felt a pain behind her temples. “Then it seemed as if another reality was being layered on top. There was this white, naked, doll-like figure stood next to him. It’s hand against the bellhop’s thigh. The little figure seemed to realise that I could see him and then became agitated.” She pauses, shaking her head and still avoiding eye-contact. “It only lasted a few seconds.”
“Mmm,” I respond, waiting to see if she adds anything more. An interpretation, a question, but she doesn’t. Even though the events are similar to what I experienced, there is still doubt in my mind. As if my brain is trying to save itself. To avoid dealing with an inconvenient reality.
I explain what I saw. Cindy listens, looking out at the sea. Then simply nods.
“Let’s assume it’s real and that we’re not just coincidentally having the same hallucination,” I say. “What does it mean?”
“They’re not friendly. But we don’t know what they want. Or why they’re here in particular.”
“In the clearing, they were talking about some sort of alignment,” I remind her.
“Like they’re trying to bring something from the past, or merging two different timelines… this is stupid.”
“Assume it’s real for argument’s sake,” I say. “What do we do about it?”
Cindy lifts her foot out of the snow. “The snow on the road is still this deep,” she says, pointing to her mid calf. “I walked down to the road earlier. Escaping doesn’t seem like an option.”
“And if we escaped, then what? Tell the ghostbusters?” I say humourlessly.
“Fight it then,” says Cindy, evenly.
“I can’t control when I see them. How do we fight them?”
“When they appear, we should try to do something – anything. They’re not happy that we’re here. Whatever it is they’re doing to the others they don’t seem too be able to do it to us,” she says.
“Shit. What about Kanu?”
Cindy suddenly locks her eyes onto mine. Her eyes are narrow and wet. A vessel has popped in one of them. She’s scared. “Then let’s find him.” I realise she is keeping her voice flat to stop herself crying.
A weight rises in my maid. As if a balloon were inflating in my skull, pushing my brain into the front of my head. Cindy feels it too. It’s coming from the sea. It rises to an almost unbearable peak, and then retreats even quicker, as if something was pushing it away.