Chapter 7 - The Roof / by Jim Lounsbury

By the time Finnian made it to the side door of the hotel’s lobby, his parents had already arrived, His father had sprinted past him on the stairs, his hair standing out at a dozen angles and his face creased with sleep. He wasn’t sure what he had expected to see when he pushed his way awkwardly through the doors, propping them apart with his crutches and squeezing through, but it wasn’t this.

His parents were working together to hoist an old piece of the roof that had landed in the middle of the courtyard. His brother’s basketball lay nearby against a wall and Finnian looked around for him.

“Where’s Jack?”

His parents ignored him and continued trying to move the debris.

“Is this what I think it is?” His mother grunted as she pulled a piece at a piece of tin.

His father smiled. “I don’t want to get excited, but  - it does look like it. Rory said it was lost years ago.”

“Is it broken? It looks as though it fell from all the way up there!” His mother looked upwards at the fourth story roof of the hotel.

“That’s the amazing thing. It doesn’t look damaged at all. Very, very old and certainly quite worn, but not damaged.”

“Oh, I love it. I cannot wait to rehang it. Just imagine – the original sign. James – this is so magnificent.”

Finnian moved to his mother’s side and tilted his head to look at the large block. It was a faded, but still quite beautiful blue sign with ornate brass stars twisting across and around it. Across the middle of the sign were the words – The Tvillingene. Finnian looked back up at the roof. It was a long way up. There was no way this sign fell from the roof and survived the fall intact, was there? And how had it suddenly fallen from the roof, just a few minutes after he and his mother had been reading about the hotel. It couldn’t be a co-incidence. There was a small movement in his peripheral vision and he turned his head slightly to see it more clearly. Had someone looked over the edge? A bird erupted into flight from the roof, startling him off balance. As he tried to catch himself with his crutches and his good foot, his attention returned to the ground and he noticed something that made him crouch onto his haunches awkwardly to take a closer look. Was it blood?

There were only a few small drops of it, but it looked fresh. He rubbed his finger in the liquid and as soon as he did, he knew it was definitely blood. He repeated his question to his parents. “Where’s Jack?”

“I don’t know, maybe still in bed. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he had slept through that noise. You know what he’s like in the morning.” His father did not look up from his examinations of the old hotel sign. His mother was just as distracted.

“I’m pretty sure he went to the beach play ball actually. I heard him bouncing it.”

Finnian was frustrated. “No, he didn’t. He was down here. Playing on that new ring you put up.” He pointed to the ring, but nobody was listening to him. “He would have been right here when the sign fell. He could be hurt.”

His mother looked at him sharply. “Finnian, he obviously wasn’t here. Why would you say something like that?”

“There’s blood here. Look.”

His mother leaned over to take a closer look. “Well, yes, that does look like blood, but it can’t be Jack’s. And he couldn’t have been here  - he would have been here when we came down the stairs. He wouldn’t have just run off. He asked me yesterday if he could go and play ball in the morning and I told him it would be fine. He’ll be back later today. There’s no need for the melodrama okay – I’m sure he’s fine.”

Finnian was far from sure that his brother was fine. He knew that he had been there and he suspected that the sign’s sudden descent from the roof had been anything but accidental. Without another word to his parents he made his way back into the hotel.

“Oh, Finn,” his father called. “The elevator is working. I tried what you suggested last night – with the wires. And it worked. Brilliant idea.”

Finnian sighed. Of course Darius had been right. He made his way back into the hotel and stood in the lobby wondering where to begin.

“Jack?” He called. His voice echoed and bounced around the stacks of chairs and tables. He tried the restaurant and kitchen area. There was still no reply. He glanced down the dark curled stairs that lead to the basement. He did not want to go down there again and he certainly didn’t want to attempt those stairs with only one good leg.

“Jack?” This time is was a sharp whisper down into the darkness, as though he could reach his brother but not disturb anything else that was down there. All he heard was his own voice returning up towards him.

So, not downstairs then. Time to see how good the elevator actually was. He stepped into the old cubicle and pulled the folding gate closed. There were tiny rows of lights dotted around the tiles in the floor and up the walls to the roof and the button for each floor was a bright blue star. Finnian decided he would start with the top floor and pressed “4”. He half-expected the old machine to jerk into movement, but it was surprisingly quiet and smooth as it slid slowly upwards, he watched the roof and second floor go past and called out to his brother as he went past. There was no reply. Nothing on the third level either and when he arrived at the fourth floor and pulled open the door it was again, dark and silent – no sound or light from room 413. He glanced towards the curled iron staircase to his right and knew that it was a terrible idea to try and climb it. Even as he limped towards it his footsteps made it shake. It was not connected to the roof, only to the floor. He shook it with his hand and it swayed a little but seemed as though it would hold his weight. There was no way he would be able to take his crutches with him and he couldn’t walk without them yet. He would have to crawl around on the roof. “Jack?” He called up hopefully but wasn’t really surprised to receive no answer. If Jack really was just down by the beach he was going to feel like an idiot.

Holding tight to the sides of the swaying staircase, Finnian began to hop his way upwards, step by step. The movement of the stairs was terrifying and the higher he rose the more he imagined the entire staircase folding to the side, crashing to the floor and trapping him inside an iron cage. He breathed. Why was he even doing this? It wasn’t like he and Jack were close, they barely spoke to each other if they didn’t have to. Jack had his basketball friends and Finnian had… well he wasn’t exactly sure what he had right now – he didn’t know anyone in this city, he had a foot that was useless for at least a couple of months and he had started to see ghosts and elves from Norway so… he had his insanity. Still, something compelled him to make sure Jack was okay and so here he was dragging himself up a broken staircase on the unstable roof of an old hotel to make sure a ghost hadn’t tried to kill him.

There had once been a hatch-like door at the top of the stairs but it had broken open and while that allowed plenty of light in, it also meant there was a thin and slippery coating of mossy green slime on the stairs, rust from the sea air and leaves and debris that had flown in over the years. He had to brush the upper stair clear before he climbed them and his grip on the rails was much more tenuous, the more slippery they became. The gentle breeze that lifted the warm air made a soft whining noise as it came down the hatch and occasionally the leaves lifted and fluttered around him. As he reached the roof he used his arms to pull himself up and out of the hatch and into the bright light of the rooftop.

It took him a moment to catch his breath and adjust his eyes to the light which was made brighter by the white paint of the roof. It wasn’t what he had expected at all. Somehow he had imagined this an actual roof – steep sloped sides and rows of ancient tiles. It was instead, flat and wide like a courtyard with several old tables and chairs scattered around, some empty pots that looked as though they had once housed palm trees and something that looked as though it had originally been an elaborate water fountain. It would have been beautiful. There were views of the beach on three sides, a near constant sea-breeze through the heat and they were the highest point at this end of the city so the views back over the famed red rooftops were also spectacular.  His mother was going to love this. He could imagined her clapping her hands together and planning the opening night party up here.

Then he frowned. How did the owners get the furniture up that tiny staircase? It just wasn’t possible. The elevator definitely didn’t have a rooftop opening. He hopped a few paces out onto the building but knew he couldn’t explore without his crutches, the cast on his leg was just too heavy. He looked at the ground. It was covered in leaves, debris and dirt and he really didn’t want to crawl in it. He sighed and looked around the rooftop again. There were two structures that he couldn’t identify, small buildings that could have been anything from a pigeon coop to a storage shed. Maybe one of them was a service elevator. He thought of the small door in the basement. No – that had felt too small for anything like a table or a palm tree. How did they get the food and drinks up here? His gaze fell on a dark part of the roof and he could see that it had collapsed inwards. That must be over the room on the fourth floor. A small sound caught his attention and he turned.

Something hit him hard in the face, knocking him off balance. He fell instantly to his knees to avoid landing on his foot. One had raised to protect his head as something kept hitting it. He squinted through his fingers. It was a bird. A large black bird, maybe a currawong or a magpie. It flew at his head, pecking and scratching at him with its feet. After his initial surprise Finnian gathered himself and tried to swipe at the bird. He had been swooped many times in his life walking to school and he wasn’t scared of a bird. This one however, was relentless, coming back again and again to his head. He realised he was going to have to get off the roof to get away from it. The stairs were only a few paces away and he crawled with one hand towards them. The bird seemed to double down on its attack, grabbing at his hands with its clawed feet. Finnian could barely see now and knew that if he made a mistake he could fall down the iron stairs and then the injury to his foot would be the least of his problems.

As he reached the stairs he tried to swipe the bird away for long enough to see what he was doing, but it kept coming for his face, screeching now in a way that overwhelmed his senses and made it hard to concentrate. He began to panic.

“Jack? Dad?” He yelled. “Mum? Help!”

Nobody answered him but the bird, who’s beak hit his forehead and split it open, sending a trickle of warm blood directly into his eye. He reached for the edge of the staircase, his hand fumbling through the piles of leaves. The bird grabbed at his hand, cutting it, and Finnian pulled it back, curling his body into a ball to protect himself. He wondered if the was just going to be stuck here until the bird finally left him alone. There was a sharp hiss behind him, a long low growl and then something leaped over his body and hit the bird out of the air. He wiped his face and hazarded a glance. A large cat, lean and long had knocked the bird back onto the roof where it was scrabbling to right itself before the cat could attack again. The bird flapped wildly at the cat for a moment, snapping its beak and screaming a harsh cry. The cat swiped a clawed hand at it, spitting and hissing. The two stood in a standoff for a moment and then finally the bird leaped into the air and flew away. Finnian sighed and uncoiled himself. The cat turned and looked at him. It was a huge cat, at least twice the size of a regular house cat and it had sharply pointed ears and long, blue-grey fur. The fur around its face looked a lot like the mane of a lion and it would have been incredibly beautiful had it not been for a long scar on the side of its face, running from a chink in its ear, through a closed eye and down to its mouth. It’s other bright green eye watched Finnian carefully.

“Thank you,” he said softly, holding out a hand to the cat. It ignored him, walked casually to the edge of the roof and leaped off. He frowned. It couldn’t have just jumped right off the roof, could it? There must be a ledge or something.

He realised that now was not the time to figure that out. Wiping his face on his shirt, Finnian pulled himself on the staircase and carefully made his way back to the fourth floor. The roof had been an interesting find – a dangerous one – he would remember to take some sort of protection against the bird life next time he went up, but it hadn’t given him any answers about Jack. He sat on the bottom step, gathering his crutches and gazing down the length of the fourth floor hall. He squinted – was that… a light? Yes. There was a light under the door of room 413. He took a deep breath. The concierge was back. As he began to limp down the hallway towards the door, a small panic building in the back of his throat that the room would disappear before he got there, a grey cat strode casually past him, arriving at the door before he did and sitting in front of it. The door opened and Darius emerged, glancing first at the cat and then at Finnian.

“Ah, I see you have met Freya. Come in, the tea is ready.”