Finnian watched the pigeon fly around the room frantically, completely ignoring the hole in the roof that would lead to freedom. He waved a crutch at the bird until it changed direction and then switched to the other crutch, but nothing seemed to be able to convince the bird to look upwards. It keep up its circling, panicked zigzag across the room and Finnian began to wonder if it would be better off without him. He was about to leave them room when he saw movement in far corner of the old hotel room, an alcove that would have once been the bathroom. A pale hand reached out and grabbed the bird from the air as it passed, pulling it into the darkness. His heart pounded heavily as he jumped backwards, almost losing his balance but hitting the wall in time to keep himself upright.
There was a shuffling, banging noise and from the room limped the boy with the crutches, the pigeon firmly in his hands and his arms expertly manoeuvring the crutches even without his hands. Finnian watched him closely trying to be sure if the boy was real or another dream. In the hospital it had seemed a dream, a type of vision, but here in the hotel and the even the grainy, dusty darkness, the boy felt very real.
“Hello. What did you want with the bird? I have it.” The boy held out the bird towards Finnian.
“Oh, yeah. Well, I was trying to help it get out. It was stuck in here.”
The boy look surprised and then amused. “Really? That’s all? Birds come in here all the time. They find their way out eventually.” He flicked the bird upwards towards the collapsed roof and it flapped its way up and out of the hole. A feather floated back down through the vein of sunlight to the floor.
“Do you live here?” Finnian kept his eyes on the boy and limped a few paces into the old hotel room.
“Yes. Sort of, I guess.” He moved closer to Finnian. Uncomfortably close. “Where you talking to someone down there? I heard you.”
The boy’s face was right near his. It was pale enough that he could see the thin outline of veins beneath the surface and dark enough around the eyes that he felt a shiver of concern. The boy didn’t seem like the ghostly spirit he thought he had seen in the basement. This boy felt very real.
“The Concierge. I met him. He lives down the end of the hall.”
The boy’s eyes narrowed and moved even closer to Finnian. They were only a few centimetres apart and Finnian was surprised at how cold he felt. It was as though the boy emanated ice.
“Darius? He’s back?” The boy’s voice seemed to snarl.
“Yes. I guess. I didn’t know he lived here. I don’t know if he has ever been anywhere else though, so I don’t know if he is ‘back’”. Finnian slid himself along the wall with as much subtlety as was possibly with his leg in a cast. The door was close, he wouldn’t be able to run but he would feel better if he was out of the room.
The boy let him go but watched him closely. “He’s not human you know. Darius. He’s something else. You shouldn’t trust him. He is very, very dangerous.”
Finnian slid out into the hallway. The light was brighter and the air warmer and his eyes took a moment to adjust. The boy stood in the doorway of 402 and watched him.
“You know who else is dangerous? Your brother. He’s going to try again, you know. You can’t let down your guard.”
“Jack didn’t do this. I’m sure of it. We aren’t very close, I know that, but he would never like, throw a knife at me. I know he wouldn’t. It fell. Or…” Someone else threw it. Someone that looked a lot like you. Finnian trailed off, leaving the last part of his thought unspoken.
The boy narrowed his eyes. “You think I’m being melodramatic? Crazy? To think that your brother might try and kill you?”
Finnian said nothing. He heard a noise on the stairs and hoped desperately that it was someone from his family.
“Because I am not. My own brother tried to kill me. He pushed me down the elevator shaft. I know brothers. They cannot be trusted.”
“Your brother did that? Your older brother?” Finnian felt suddenly sorry for the boy. He was weird but his weirdness made sense if his own brother had tried to kill him. “Jack isn’t like that.”
“Your twin? Like an identical twin?” The image of the boy in the basement throwing a knife at him came back to Finnian. Was it the twin?
“Yes. His name is Nari.”
“But, didn’t your parents do something about that?” It all seemed so far-fetched to Finnian. Maybe his brother accidentally pushed him into the elevator shaft.
“We did not come here with my parents. We came here with others. Others who brought us but didn’t protect us.”
“Oh.” Finnian didn’t know what to say to that. “Was it that elevator shaft right there?” He pointed to the elevator in front of the stairs.
“No. It was the small one. The luggage elevator that goes all the way to the basement.”
Finnian remembered the small door he had opened in the basement. The small elevator. He looked back at the boy. “What is your name?”
“I am Vali.”
“Well, I’m Finnian.” He didn’t hold out a hand. It felt too late for a handshake and he wasn’t sure he wanted to touch the boy. He just knew that hand would feel like ice. “Uh, why are you still here? Did this all happen a while ago? Supposedly no one has lived here for a very long time.”
“I don’t know. I think there is a problem with the time in the hotel. I think maybe it is both my time and your time.”
“Like, some sort of magic?” Finnian was dubious. He had seen some weird things over the last three days, but he wasn’t completely ready to believe in magic and fractures in time.
“And Darius? Is he from your time?”
“He is from all time.” Vali’s face curled back into the angry frown he had whenever Darius’ name was mentioned.
Before Finnian could ask any more questions there was a noise in the stairwell and his mother, father and brother appeared around the side of the elevator and onto the fourth floor.
His father frowned, “Oh, it’s you! We heard something and thought we’d better investigate.”
“I told you specifically not to come up here,” his mother was also frowning. “The roof isn’t safe here. Why are you up here? And on those crutches too – you were told to rest that foot.”
Finnian turned back to Vali, wondering why his family hadn’t mentioned the boy, but he was gone, either back into the room or down the hallway.
“I heard a noise too, I thought I would come and check it out.” He watched their faces carefully, wondering how much he should tell them. Probably everything.
Jack was watching him too. “And what did you find?”
“A pigeon. I helped it get out of the roof.”
“Oh, is this where the hole is?” His mother walked past him into the room and looked up. “Oh, thank god, that is far less awful that I thought. I had pictured half of the rooms up here buried in rubble. I feel like that was a huge exaggeration.” She smiled at his father.
“Yeah, I guess so. They told us it wasn’t even safe to be up here, but it seemed structurally quite sound. At least on the floor – I’m not sure I’d be climbing on the rooftop though.” He walked around the room. Vali was nowhere to be seen.
Finnian looked at Jack and then his parents and finally decided he should be honest with them. “I, uh, I think someone might be living up here. In one of the rooms.”
Jack’s eyes immediately met his, narrowed and sharp as though he wanted to say something. He stayed quiet.
“Oh?” His father looked at him. “Like a bum? Did you find something? The police said they check everything, but I did tell them to avoid this floor so maybe they missed something. Jack – perhaps you were right all along.”
“Show us,” his mother gestured with her hand.
“Down here, on the left at the end. One of the rooms.” Finnian didn’t give them too many details because somewhere in the back of his mind were the films and the books and the stories he had heard where you told everyone about the incredible thing you had seen and when you arrived, nothing at all was there. And you looked like an idiot.
They walked along the hall and as they reached the end he was disappointed and unsurprised to find that Room 413 was no longer there. The last rooms on the hall were 406 and 412. He walked into 412 anyway, determined to at least avoid a conversation about imagining an entire room. The family filed in behind him, waiting for their eyes to adjust to the darkness. The room was almost completely empty and Finnian sighed and dropped his head. Yes. It was some sort of magic and he was going to be the one who had to deal with it. Everyone else would think he was crazy. His mother walked around the room.
“Yes, I can see what you mean.”
Finnian looked up in surprise. “Really?”
“Yes, this mattress and sleeping bag looked reasonably new. And there are some cans of food over here that haven’t been opened. I don’t know if they are still living here though. It’s very dusty. We’ll just have to keep an eye out.”
He breathed a sigh of confused relief. Was that luck? Was it more of the magic? His father rummaged around the corners of the room looking for anything else that would give them a clue about what was there, but when he found nothing he shrugged and walked out of the room.
“Well, I really need to get back to work if we want to have a reasonable space to sleep in tonight. But I guess it’s okay for you two to be up here – it doesn’t seem unsafe to me. Just stay off the roof okay? Don’t even try that staircase either – he gestured back up the hallway to the curled iron staircase that led to the roof. “I don’t even think it is attached to anything anymore. Just held up by rust.”
“Sure.” Finnian watched his parents walk back down the hallway towards the stairs, looking into each room and commenting on the work they needed to do. Both seem buoyed up by the new knowledge that the fourth floor wasn’t as dangerous or broken as they had thought. Jack didn’t move from the doorway, blocking his exit. “What do you want?”
“This wasn’t what you meant, was it?”
“What? Let me out?” Finnian pushed past his brother, suddenly desperate to be in the light again.
“You didn’t mean some bum sleeping on an old mattress.” Jack paused and seemed to be trying to decide whether or not to say anything else.
“What did you see?” Finnian also didn’t want to give anything away.
They watched each other, each waiting for the other to speak. Their parents walked down the staircase, out of sight and earshot.
“Yes. Did you go in?”
Jack frowned, “Go in? No. I just saw the door, and the light underneath the door. It looked brand new and now it’s gone. Did you go in?”
Finnian shook his head. “No. I just saw it. I heard whistling.” He started the slow, limping walk towards the stairs.
“Did you see anything else?” Jack asked tentatively, falling into step beside him.
“I don’t know. Like… a boy. The one you know, that you saw in the basement.” Jack seemed hesitant to bring up the basement incident again.
“I thought I saw something. But now I don’t know.” Finnian had a sudden feeling that he should keep some secrets until he understood them a little better.
“Yeah. Me too. I thought I saw something. A boy.”
Finnian needed one more answer. “On crutches? A boy on crutches?”
Jack frowned. “What? No. Just a boy, with blonde hair. He was walking fine. No crutches.”
“Oh, okay. Well – we’ll just keep… watching okay? See what happens.”
“And we don’t need to tell Mum and Dad, right? Or they won’t let us go anywhere.” Jack looked pointedly at Finnian.
Jack nodded quickly and then walked off down the stairs leaving Finnian to take them slowly, one halting step at a time. There was so much to think about. It wasn’t just Vali who was here in the hotel, stuck in some sort of time warp. Nari was here too. Jack had seen him. And it sounded as though Nari was very dangerous. He paused on the stair and shook out his aching hands. Three more flights to go.
- That is the end of Chapter 5 of Ghostboy. Thank you for all the ideas you sent me through your emails and messages. Some of them made it into this chapter and some have been set up to appear later in the story. Once again you are invited to submit ideas for what could happen next in the comments section or via a direct message to the author (firstname.lastname@example.org).
SPECIAL NOTE: The hotel in this story is a real place - The Great Northern Hotel in Newcastle, NSW. Finnian and Tenzin explored this abandoned hotel one day while their dad was shooting a music video in the ballroom.One of the rooms on the fourth floor looked suspiciously like someone was living in it. And there were several pigeons. It recently been renovated so you can visit it again and see all the spaces mentioned in this story. Possibly even the basement. If you dare.