“What did you do? It’s falling!” Finnian jumped back as air rushed out of the tiny passage and the rope spun upwards. Darius didn’t move at all, simply watching the rope intently and then, like a snake, snapping his hand out into the lift holding it in place a moment before the tiny box shattered down on the basement floor.
Jack’s white face appeared in front of them, his eyes squeezed tightly shut and his entire body curled tightly.
“Pull him out,” Darius ordered Finnian and he reached for his brothers hand.
“Jack!” The hand was slippery with blood and Finnian recoiled. “Are you okay? Quickly get out, he can’t hold the elevator forever.”
Jack opened his eyes and looked confused by the presence of the concierge above him, but he obeyed, stretching his arm and leg out of the small door and sliding his too large body through the opening. Finnian grabbed his hand and pulled. There was a low growling sound and Jack’s body jerked back.
He looked up with panic in his face. “Something is holding onto me. Something is pulling me back in there.”
There was a creaking and then crack as the roof of the dumbwaiter, held up only by Darius’ hand, began to break, the old wood splintering. The elevator shifted downwards.
Finnian redoubled his efforts to pull his brother free. It was only one more floor to the basement, but it would still be a horrible accident if Jack fell, crumpled in the tiny elevator like that. The growling became a snarl and he heard a voice behind Jack.
“Leave him. I will end him for you. No more brothers.”
Jack scrambled forward, kicking out with his back legs and Finnian pulled hard, falling on his backside so he could gain purchase against the wall with his good leg. The ceiling of the elevator groaned and Darius was forced to place his other hand in as well to hold it up as it fell to pieces.
“Don’t let me go.” Jack’s voice in his face was filled with terror. “Don’t let him pull me back in there.”
Finnian had never seen that look on his brother’s face. In fact he had never seen his brother need him for anything. He jerked as hard as he could and he felt his brother’s leg come free tumbling them both onto the floor. There was sharp pain in his foot and Jack landed on him, but he ignored it and glanced around his brother’s side to see Darius holding the arm of the ghostboy, pulling him out of the elevator. A face appeared. It was Vali, snarling and dark, his mouth curled up in anger and fear. “Let go, filthy ljosalfar, get out of my hotel. I’ll tell my mother who you are. I’ll tell her. I’ll rip your…”
Darius let go of the boy and the elevator as the roof gave way and it is disappeared instantly from view. A few seconds later there was a crash in the basement and a rushing cloud of dust up the shaft. Darius closed the door carefully as if nothing had happened and stacked the chairs back against the wall.
Jack rolled off Finnian’s body and the two of them sat up. There was blood everywhere.
“Are you…” Finnian looked over his brother for an injury, “hurt?”
Jack held up his hand, his thumb was cut at the first joint. Finnian couldn’t see how badly, but it still flowed steadily with blood, so he assumed it wasn’t good.
“We’d better go get Mum and Dad.”
Darius held out his large hand to Finnian, pulling him gently to his feet and handing him the crutches. He turned towards Jack, his hand out.
“Perhaps I could take a look at it. I have some skill with healing.”
Jack pulled his hand back, cradling it under his arm. “What do you mean – skill with healing? Are you a doctor?”
Darius smiled. “No. I am not.” He walked out of the empty restaurant kitchen and through the lobby to the elevator. The boys limped after him.
“Who is this guy?” Jack whispered to Finnian. “Why is he in the hotel?”
“I told you. He is the concierge. He lives here.”
“I need to go to the hospital – its gonna need stitches.”
The elevator jolted slightly as it reached the fourth floor and Jack winced, holding his still bleeding hand against him, wrapped up in his own shirt.
Jack was still protesting as they walked down the hall to Darius room but he stopped when he saw the number 13 in the door, his eyebrows furrowing.
“13? There isn’t a 13 on any floor.”
“Welcome to my 13, Jack.” Darius opened the door without a key and ushered the boys into the room. “Please take a seat at the table. I will make us tea and see what can be done for that hand.”
The boys didn’t talk while they sat. Jack was too busy looking around the room and Finnian was thinking about the ghosts in their hotel. He still had so many questions. Was Vali evil all along? Killing his brother and then trying to make it appear as though his brother was the one in the wrong? He looked at his own brother, someone who barely spoke to him. Brothers were very complicated, even under normal circumstances.
Darius was pounding something in a mortar and pestle when the kettle whistled on the gas stove. He mixed a little hot water and something that looked like oil into the mixture and brought it, and a small white bandage over to the table.
“I’ll need to see that injury,” He held out his hand to Jack who paused, looking at the purple mixture that seemed, for some reason, to be slightly bubbling. He gingerly unwrapped his thumb and placed his hand on Darius’. There was still a trickle of blood coming from the wound, but it was visible now. A slash across the middle of his thumb, deep and wide. Darius used a piece of very white cloth to clean away the blood and Jack watched him cautiously. Finally he scooped a small amount of the purple mixture and smeared it across the wound. Jack flinched.
“It’s hot. Like… like.. electricity.” He held the injured wrist with his good hand, trying to keep it still, tight breaths hissing through his lips.
Darius wrapped the thumb tightly in a white bandage and fastened it by tying the ends very neatly together. “Do not take that off until tomorrow.”
“But I’ll need to get stitches, won’t I?” He looked at Darius worriedly. “I need this to be fixed properly, I use my hands all the time for basketball.”
Darius cleared up the bloodied cloth and took it back to his small, old fashioned but immaculate kitchenette. “You can wait until tomorrow. It will not be too late for stitches.”
He poured the tea and passed each boy a cup, sitting at the end of the table himself and calmly placing a slice of lemon into his steaming cup.
They were silent for a minute, their thoughts slowed and calmed by the tea they were sipping. Finnian watched Jack looked around the large hotel room and he was sure his brother was thinking they way he had. Where did this room fit into the hotel? It was larger than the other rooms, perfectly painted with gas and electricity. Nothing else on this floor worked. Nothing in most of the hotel worked. The gas in their own apartment wasn’t being connected for a few more days. They were eating take away and microwaved meals.
Finally Jack’s curiosity got the better of his manners. “What is going on in the hotel? Seriously. Is it real? There are two ghost boys running around here trying to kill us, or save us or just send us insane. Is that what has happened? Am I crazy? You see all this, right?”
Finnian nodded. “Yeah. I see it. I have talked to one of the boys.”
They both looked at Darius who took another delicate sip of his tea before placing the cup gently on its saucer.
“It is not for me to tell you all of the mysteries of the world. You need to figure some things out for yourselves. But I understand your question. The doorways between worlds are much more firmly closed now, than they once were. The power of the gods has faded. The boys’ mother did something a long time ago that she should not have. She broke a rule. And it opened a door that allowed something… someone… access to her son, Vali. He was a difficult child already, angry and complicated, and this… this force… played with him. Confused him. He became convinced that is mother loved his brother more, that they were planning to kill him. He killed Nari to save himself, or so he believed. It broke her.”
Finnian winced. “Wow. Like a demon?”
Darius looked at him. “Like a god. Remember I told you that she named her sons after the sons of Loki, the god of chaos and mischief? You cannot connect yourself to Loki like that and not expect him to notice. He could not resist the chance to cause trouble. And he doesn’t not see trouble as small or big, minor or tragic. He is a god. To him it is all amusement.”
Jack looked dubious. “Gods? Seriously? I’m only just getting my head around ghosts and you want me to think there are gods involved?”
“I understand your lack of belief, child, I do,” Darius sighed. “Life is very different for you now and the gods have all but disappeared as people packed them away in favour of science. But it does not mean that echoes of what once was, still haunt us.”
Finnian nodded. “Like ghosts.”
Darius turned to him and nodded. “I see you understand.”
“I’m starting to.”
Jack snorted. “I’m not. This is all ridiculous. Can’t we just get rid of them? Can’t we banish them or kill them or something? I mean – they’re already dead! It’s not like we’d be hurting anyone.”
Darius stood and carefully took the now empty tea cups from the table, placing them delicately upon the marble counter top in his small kitchenette. “One of the problems with breaking the bonds between the old worlds and the new is that it is hard for anything stuck in the new world to return. They are echoes of something ancient. This world has harder edges.”
Finnian narrowed his eyes, understanding beginning to dawn on him. “Are you stuck here too Darius? Are you stuck in this world?”
The man’s face was turned away from him, but Finnian heard his gentle sigh. “No. I am not. I have a way to get back to my world.”
“So why don’t you?”
“Your world? What does that mean?” Jack spoke at the same time as Finnian and they looked at each other for a moment in annoyance. Finnian shook his head slightly, trying to get his brother to be quiet.
Darius turned around slowly and looked down on them with his dark eyes. “If I return, that is it. I cannot come back. I can no longer watch over the boys or the hotel and I made a promise that I would do both.”
Finnian nodded. “You promised their mother right?”
Darius smiled. “Yes. I did. She broke a rule to save my life and it cost her… well it cost her everything. I have to stay and keep my promise.”
Finnian thought for a moment, then spoke, “You know my mum and dad are going to restore this place. They love it too. They’ll look after it for you. Especially my mum.”
“Could you take them back to your world if we looked after the hotel?” Jack examined his hand as he spoke, bending his thumb within the bandage. “The tingling has stopped. It doesn’t hurt anymore. That stuff was pretty good.”
“Perhaps.” Darius looked thoughtful. “Perhaps. But… this place is… well, it is very special to me. I do not think I am ready to leave it.”
“You might not have a choice, sir.” Finnian tried to sound respectful. “Every time someone tries to fix up the hotel, Vali drives them away and destroys more and more of it. I don’t think you can watch over the ghosts and look after the hotel. You just can’t do both.”
“What happened to the boys mother? What happened to their father?”
Darius’ mood changed and he became sharp, almost harsh. “Their father never returned from sea. He abandoned them. Their mother… she was broken hearted after the boys died, but in time she had another child, a daughter and she passed the hotel on to her. For a time. Until Vali drove her out as well.”
Darius tilted his head and towards the window. “Nobody came to the hotel after that. It has been abandoned for decades. People would buy it and begin to renovate. They would open the restaurant, or the bar, or a few of the rooms. But they never persisted. They always gave up on it. It was as though they could sense the ghosts, the darkness here, and wanted nothing to do with it.”
Jack shrugged. “I don’t think my mother senses them. She thinks this stupid hotel is perfect. I’ve actually never seen her this happy.”
Darius smiled noncommittally. “Hmm, that is good to hear, but we shall see. You have not been here long. For now, you two should go back to your rooms and keep each other safe. I will think more on what we can do.”
As he finished speaking, a voice in the hallway startled them and they turned quickly – first to glance at the closed door and then towards Darius. He gestured to them to leave and the boys quickly rose and made their way to the door. Jack opened the door and the two of them walked out to see their mother at the far end of the hall, holding the doors of the elevator open.
“Where have you two been?” She smiled. “Come and see what I just found!”