Currently reading: Novella: By The Fire (The Stranger) – Chapter 4
Novella: By The Fire (The Stranger) – Chapter 4
Posted on 16th August, 2017 - By Jonathan Hezzlewood
The next chapter into the barren lands of The Stranger sits before you, a key to another world.
Go on, nurture your desire for escapism, and step through into the world of; The Stranger…
By The Fire (a tall tale of Stranger times): Chapter 4
They had travelled back along the path up toward Salt-Crum Bluff. A town that had earned its name from the nearby salt mines. It was nearing the close of day before they arrived, having returned that which they had borrowed to Mister Pickett’s barn beforehand.
There appeared to be two hotels in town. THE SMOKING PHOENIX and MADAM’S JOY – which was most-certainly a parlour house, given the attire of one of the women stood outside on the boardwalk, holding the attention of a couple of men.
After having secured the horses to the hitching rail at the front of the Phoenix, they made their way inside – what was seemingly the more suitable place out of the two for children.
The wide, bare hardwood floorboards ran the length of the lobby. The gaps where the boards met showing them the direction in which to walk.
Powder blue walls were home to several oil paintings. Mostly landscapes, many of which were of the surrounding area and of the salt mines themselves, with workers travelling to-and-fro in their daily task. White decorative panelling was fixed to the lower half of the lobby walls, freshly painted – given the smell that greeted them as they entered.
A man stood behind the reception desk. Tidily dressed, wearing a rough-wool grey suit and white shirt; with a black dickie. Greased brown hair; slicked-tight against his skull in a side-parting, closely-set brown eyes sat at either side of a broad, flat, crooked nose – clearing having been on the receiving end of a fist, in the past.
Upon seeing his new guests, the man smiled – showing a collection of the day’s food lining the ridge where tooth met gum – and welcomed them, introducing himself.
“Hello, and welcome to The Smoking Phoenix. I am the proprietor of this fine establishment. My name is Albin Yancy Littleton.”
The greeting was pleasant enough, but something just didn’t sit right with the stranger. False. Tries too hard. Fidgety too, adjusting items and papers behind his desk as he spoke. Almost presentable, apart from a couple of gravy speckles staining his shirt, and uneven stubble – a few long hairs sticking out beneath his ears.
Albin realised that they were watching him organise things unnecessarily, and stilled his hands; placing them at his side. The stranger said. “We need a place to rest our heads for a night, maybe two.”
Distracted, Albin looked beyond the stranger’s shoulder, throwing a question into the air; raising his voice. “How many times do you HAVE TO BE TOLD??” The stranger slowly turned his head, looking back over his shoulder. Stood there in the doorway was a Negro man, holding a horse-hair brush – covered in white paint – in one hand. His other arm hooked, holding a small wooden container.
“Use the service door ‘round back. Not the entrance where all the good, hard-working folk can see. They don’t want to see the likes of you.” Albin continued.
The Negro man stood there, like an elk in a rifle sight. Skin as black as coal. Looked to be middle twenties. His mouth open slightly, bright white eyes wide open, staring at the floor. “Yes sir, Mister Littleton.”
Albin slowly walked out from behind the desk. The Negro man’s eyes darted upward, following Albin’s with every step. The man continued. “I-I apologise if I gone caused any upset again Mister Littleton sir.”
The hotel manager stopped directly in-front of the Negro, and cupped his hands gently on the man’s cheeks. “I don’t want t’ave to tell you again. You understand? Don’t let it happen again.” Albin smiled at the man.
The Negro nodded in acknowledgement. “I’m sorry Mister Littleton sir.”
“Now go.” Albin nodded his head toward the back of the lobby. And the Negro man turned and left quickly.
Albin turned and smiled at the stranger, his eyes glancing to the children as he walked back behind his desk. He had begun moving things again; more subtly this time, but still failed to keep his eyes on his new guests. Instead, whatever it was atop his desk seemed to require his attention more.
The stranger leaned forward, placing the fingers of his left hand firmly on the guest-book – which Albin was lining up with the edge of the desk – stopping it in its place. “Two rooms.”
Albin looked at the stranger but made no response, until the stranger’s eyebrows flicked upward silently asking; Well?
Albin stuttered into action. “Y-Yes sir.” The stranger withdrew his hand and Albin opened the book. “Two rooms…” He ran his finger down the first page, then flicked it over to the next. “Two rooms…” His finger reached the end of the list and stopped. “Ah. Um.” His eyes met the stranger’s, and his lids flickered slightly as he stuttered once more. “I-It appears we only have the one room left. A double.”
“Okay, we’ll take it.” The stranger replied.
Albin smiled. “Excellent choice.”
“Was there a choice? Thought it just the one room?” The stranger asked, firmly.
“Yes, that’s right. Jus’ the one room.” Albin held out the key. “Mister…?”
The stranger took hold of the key, but the manager kept a grip, and said. “I need a name sir, for the books. So’s I know who got what room.”
The stranger gave a sharp tug and the key slipped through Albin’s fingers. “You choose.” He said.
Taken aback by the sudden loss of the key, Albin said. “O-Of course. I’ll put the room under a Mister Jones, if that suit you?”
“As y’please.” Said the stranger. “We’ll be needin’ a warm meal each, and drinking water right away. Knock on the door when ready.”
“It’s the shank o’the afternoon. Tea has b—” he stopped mid-flow. Realising it best to keep the guests happy – especially one with such a cold demeanour. “I’ll see Cook gets to it right away Mister Jones.” Albin nodded, and pointing his finger at the key saying. “First floor, room nine. Turn right at the top o’the stairs, door at the end of the landin’”.
The stranger made it half way up the stairs before stopping. “This fine establishment have stables? Got four horses out front.”
“No sir, I’m afraid not. It’s something I plan to introduce in the ne-”
“Anywhere in town?” The stranger interrupted.
Albin paused for a moment. “Tegmayer has stables on the south side of town, right across from the steam laundry huts. Spenser Tegmayer.”
He watched as Mister Jones – or whoever he was – and his boy and girl disappeared from view up the stairs. Closing the guest book he looked down, and moved it in line with the edge of the desk, before turning and stepping through the doors to the dining room, on his way to the kitchen.
To Be Continued…