Chapter 2 - A Thorn amongst Roses
The bitter coffee hit the back of his throat with a scaling thump. At least it did its job as he strode across the gas station forecourt back to his reliable old silver piece-of-crap mobile. He checked his phone; 7:30 AM, August 28th. Did it make any difference?
The sun was just about rising. After Eowa’s attack on Hugresvale, followed by her immediate disappearance, the police had begrudgingly allowed Aiden to leave, knowing that they were now looking for some crazy hippy lady. Aiden neglected to mention the more insane parts of the story. Carol may well still be up there…
He had to move forwards. More and more insanity seemed to be crawling into the light since that night with the coven and somewhere in the mix of it Aiden’s life had been obliterated. There was nowhere back to go to, for all the good scrounging around in the dark would do.
He had a lead, it was tiny but he had nothing else. Port Bregash, just another hour or so ahead, lay waiting. Just last week Lauren Eriksen had come to Port Bregash and had gone missing, or rather vanished. CCTV at this very gas station shows her car, with her clearly in the driver’s seat, approaching the town with one more storefront camera in town showing her driving through but that’s all. Her family in town who she was supposedly visiting haven’t seen her, they weren’t even expecting her whilst her family back home across the country insist she was, that they should know. No trace of her nor her car has ever been found and CCTV across town never shows her or her car leaving.
It was the thinnest possible link. In truth there was no visible link, a girl had gone missing a few weeks after Aiden’s family had. That didn’t mean they were in any way connected. Still, Aiden had nothing else.
The engine started with a dull cough, the music started with a roar as the blackest metal tore into Aiden’s ears, something to drown out the world. The car rolled on.
Port Bregash, much like everything else around here, was an out of the way town, nowhere near as big as Mareth but it didn’t need to be, the docks on the ocean shore there brought more than enough business for the town, the shopping district attracted people from miles around and as if that wasn’t enough the ocean front was an absolute tourist trap, filled to the brim with crap and scams, most everyone around here knew the place well. Aiden was certainly one. He and his sisters had spent most of their summers there and knew the town well. Though, maybe their holidays there was more to do with their father needing access to the docks… if they could be called holidays in that crap hole.
The town’s glory days were long, long behind it. What businesses used docks anymore now that air travel existed? Who wanted to holiday in some destitute old boat town when they could fly to some sun lit night club surrounded by attractive people and marijuana? Well that was certainly Cara’s opinion on the matter, Aiden’s older sister was the first to stop returning here for their holidays, and the first to discover marijuana and sun-lit nightclubs. Aiden continued for a while, though the town was near unbearable and riddled with crime by the time he was twelve. It was a run down, crumbling, paint stripped old monument to depression. Still, fond memories existed somewhere.
A memory spread a smile over Aiden’s face. The Deckhand’s Arms Inn, the place Dad always booked a huge two-bed room in for us all. A warm bed was certainly an inviting idea.
Then Port Bregash rolled into Aiden’s front windshield, his mouth hung agape. It was not a run down, crumbling, paint stripped old monument to depression. The buildings were not covered in dirt, they were not run down and not a single window was replaced with wood or cardboard. The stone walls were clean, they almost looked polished, and every window was intact, clean and certainly polished with reflections shining all around.
The tiny shops, instead of being boarded up old crap-shack shelters for the drug riddled, they were proud polished procurers of their trades, glowing with wealth and success.
Even the people, to Aiden’s amazement, had teeth! Aiden remembered the locals here looking like rejects from a zombie film, only with more inbreeding, but every person he saw was a proud, healthy, beautiful, fit and toned, handsome paragon of the human form, all wrapped in stylish clothing and enchanting perfumes and aftershave wafting in through his window. They looked more like rejects from a supermodel agency, rejected for being utterly unrealistic.
As Aiden drove on through the wonderland of modern life, passing beautiful car after stunning person, after finely trimmed greenery and even a huge sports fitness centre, which answered most of his questions, a shiver ran down his spine.
This is just one more thing that’s different, like my friends having different lives and my family vanishing, apparently Bregash is not a crap hole… brilliant…
As the chill settled in the base of his spine, it did give way to a ray of hope. If this town is different because of whatever happened to him, then they are connected.
There’s answers here, finally!
Despite the town’s makeover, the layout had hardly changed in the near decade it had been. Aiden found his way to the Deckhand’s Inn with no issue.
It was still the same shape, thankfully, and it was still an Inn but the name was now sLeap, specifically with a small s and large L.
The dull cream flaky paint had been swapped for a smart grey, the old patterned thick mouldy carpet was now a polished near bronze stone floor, complete with a warm fire encased in glass presiding over the beautiful longue area and stylish modern furniture and pretentious art grinning away.
“Good morning sir.”
A welcoming, chocolaty voice poured forth from the reception area, now a shining black desk complete with tablet computer, certainly an upgrade from the old sheets of paper, lockbox for money and second box for room keys.
“Hi” Aiden approached the sparkling desk. The tall, tanned, chiselled, well suited man behind the counter smiled away.
“Uh, do you have any rooms?”
“Certainly sir. Hiker are we?”
The man cast a gentle eye over Aiden’s clothes, black and certainly outdoorsy.
“Yeah… just came from Hugresvale, did some of the mountains around there. I’m doing a bit of a road trip around the area, thought I’d call in an old childhood haunt.”
“Ah, that’s fantastic” the receptionist smiled, then it dropped. “How long has it been since you were last here?”
“Yeah… I was a kid.”
The smile returned to the man’s face. “Well, I hope you enjoy your stay. How long will you be staying with us?”
“Oh, let’s say a week.”
“That’s fine sir”
The receptionist tapped and swiped away at his tablet.
“We have a room available. 114.”
“That’ll be three thousand…”
He didn’t finish, the look on Aiden’s face said enough. The receptionist nodded with a friendly smile, tapped something else.
“Actually, there’s this other room that’s only three hundred for the week.”
“Yep” He smiled, “if you like we can add complimentary breakfast onto that for another thirty.”
Aiden stood baffled.
“Breakfast sounds cool but a ninety percent price drop? How?”
The man leaned forward over the counter, speaking in a gentle hush.
“Truth be told, sir, we’ve not had many visitors recently. I’ve been allowed to offer extremely low rates since a room for something is better than leaving all the rooms empty”
Aiden pondered a moment, only a brief moment, but before he could answer the receptionist spoke again.
“We also have our spa facilities on site. The usual rate for those is sixty however, if you decide you’re interested we’ll see what we can do.”
“Alright, I’ll take the room for three hundred.”
The receptionist’s smile nearly stretched off his face.
Aiden was booked in to room 114. Thankfully he still had a small fortune left from what he stole from the Cannibal of Mareth, he didn’t need to worry about money for a while. He brought in his laptop and home bags, though didn’t unpack much. The idea of needing a quick exit was ingrained into his skull.
The room was absolutely beautiful, a far cry from the peeling wallpaper and damp beds of his childhood. His door opened up into a spacious sitting area with couches so modern it took Aiden a moment to see how one would even attempt to sit on it, below a huge flat panelled uber-HD television by the great floor-to-ceiling windows with the hill beyond rolling away down to the coastline and the beautiful crystal ocean beyond. Even the weather seemed to be complementing the town.
Along the wall by the front door was a small sink and some sci-fi technology which was apparently the poshest coffee machine Aiden had ever seen, complete with complementary coffee! The entire room sat snuggly below, would anyone believe it, a delicate, intricate, enchanting chandelier, its golden light dancing on the warm, cream coloured painted walls, decorated by endless mirrors and artwork.
Finally, through another doorway, was the bedroom, complete with yet another chandelier and a four post king sized bed! Purple sheets housed thick, plush bedding with the same wall comprising of continuing huge floor-to-ceiling windows. Aiden didn’t even know it was possible to make drawers and wardrobes look stylish and modern but this place had achieved it.
So maybe some parts of the world weren’t monster ridden hell-holes. Still, Aiden’s search for Lauren Eriksen was about to begin.