If you know how to read, and chances are you do if you are on this website, then you have to check out the macabre horror fiction from my personal long-time friend Michael Dortmundt. He has a style that is all his own, even though you will see the heavy influence of Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft.
He writes great stories that may actually make you piss your pants in fear. I know I did. There are currently seven chapters to The Chapel by the Sea with more to be added. If you love horror and you love to read, then you will love the fiction of Michael Dortmundt. Stay posted for future chapters and more short stories. If you absolutely cannot wait for more, check out his MySpace page for all of his works.
The Chapel by the Sea : Chapter Two – Ye Olde Iächen Inn
The door hissed closed behind him and now saw him standing alone again in the darkness of the empty platform. The chill night air blew against him and caused him, again, to shiver. He set his bags down to give his eyes time to adjust to the unaccustomed darkness outside the train. What an odd turn of events, he thought to himself, reflecting on all that had transpired since his awakening. He fished in the front right pocket of his cargo pants and came out with a half empty pack of Marlboro cigarettes. He stabbed one into his mouth and lit it, inhaling deeply, before striking off towards the end of the platform ahead of him.
The stars were all out tonight, burning brightly, and fully visible in this part of the world. It had never ceased to amaze him, whenever he looked up to admire the stars, just how long it took the light from each one of those glorious celestial bodies to reach him here at this moment in time and space. Centuries had elapsed in the time that it had taken for that light, he now witnessed, to traverse the infiniteness of space, from sources that, chance dictated, no longer even existed today. He was, in a sense, gazing back in time. He was looking at celestial history existing in his present. Ancient history at that. He took a long slow inhalation off his cigarette and looked out towards the direction where Iächen should lie, sleeping judging from the amount of light and activity that he was witnessing. He could make out no structures in the dark from where he stood even though his eyes had had ample time to adjust to the darkness that engulfed him. But quite a way off in the distance, he could vaguely make out some lights burning. Perhaps the inn, he wondered?
Not even a single street light shone to break up the endless monotony of pressing darkness and mark the way to the possible inn. He took a final drag off his depleted cigarette and dropped it on the platform before crushing it out with the toe of his work boot. Might as well get a move on, he mused, it wasn’t going to get any earlier and he desperately hoped the inn would still have room available after taking on all the passengers the train would have put out. This was obviously not a village used to seeing much traffic from what he could gather. He walked back to grab his bags and set off on his search for temporary lodging.
Walking the length of the platform in a converging direction with the light that he hoped to reach, he soon stumbled upon a sidewalk that took him away from the platform and into the direction that Iächen would lie, and he decided to follow this. Oddly enough, he had not glimpsed a single kiosk or news stand, not even a vending machine that would dispense soda or snacks to would-be passers through, there had been nothing. This walkway however, was at least lined with trees, willows if he remembered his trees correctly. They hung precariously down in all manner of ways casting sinister and ominous shadows on the walkway through the moonlight shining down from above. There was very little wind to speak of, but now and then a slight breeze would kick up, causing a ruffle amongst the dangling leaves of the trees on either side of him, making him shudder. He pulled his collar up around his neck in an effort to help stave off the bite of the night chill, but this had very little noticeable effect. He must have walked beneath roughly a dozen trees on either side before he came to the edge of the black asphalt that marked the start of the street.
It appeared that if he followed this road to the left, he would have to find another street that intersected with this one, on which to make a right on, to keep him moving in the direction of the lights he hoped to attain. He pondered for a few moments the strangeness of any village that could have paved streets in place but lack the common sense or intelligence necessary to erect a single halogen lamp anywhere to help mark the way. Nor was there any traffic signal to be seen for that matter. And, even taking into account the lateness of the hour, he had not witnessed any cars pass by, not headlamp one from any moving vehicle, no pedestrian out for a late night or early morning stroll, nobody taking a dog for a walk or just outside for a casual breath of fresh night air. This was all truly perplexing indeed. What a queer little village. It was surely very peaceful, he imagined, but he doubted he could live in such a place as this. The desert had been bad enough, he needed to be surrounded by life, he needed the sights and sounds of the city again. He would be so happy to finally return home to the real world and leave the past couple years behind him, this increasingly awful night included.
He stepped onto the blacktop road and headed off to his left. He could not make out a whole lot in the way of scenery, due to the overpowering darkness, as he walked, but he could tell that on both sides of the road there was a field. He could also faintly make out the outlines of several trees in the field that lay to his right, however as to what lay to his left, very little could be ascertained. The field was without surrounding fence though, so in the absence of finding a crossroad to turn down, he could possibly cut right through the field if it came down to that. His bags had been growing increasingly heavier with every step and he felt he would soon have to stop and rest before too long. Curse that damned train and the phantom staff who had failed to roust him from sleep with the rest of the passengers, he would even now, most likely, be fast asleep in the same warm inn everyone else had long ago acquired refuge in from this chilly and strange night. What he wouldn’t do for a passing taxi right now. He set his suitcase down in the street and unshouldered his bag, setting down his briefcase as well before again digging into his pockets for his cigarettes. This was just balderdash! He struck a light and savored his cigarette while taking in what he could of his new surroundings.
The faint lights of the structure he had set out for were still the only lights he could see burning in any direction, but he had drawn much closer now than when he had originally set out for his distant destination. He estimated the distance to be maybe a mile or so off still, give or take some steps. He turned and looked back in the direction from whence he had come, but could make out nothing behind him. Funny, he thought, shouldn’t I at least still be able to see the lights of the train burning from here, he didn’t think he had walked that far yet. Of course, with no watch and being lost in his thoughts during his walk, it was hard to judge just how far he had come or even how long he had been walking for that matter. He wondered for the first time how much longer it would be before the sun began its early morning ascent. It shouldn’t be too far off, if his watch had stopped at 3:18 and he had lingered at the train for an unnecessary and unknown amount of time before starting out on foot, what time could it be?
Not much point in standing around here and wondering about that which was beyond solving right now, he had a bed to secure. He took a last puff off of his cigarette and crushed it out in the road before resuming his journey in search of warmth and lodging. It wasn’t long after he set out again that he came upon the crossroad he had been sure he would find. It turned only to the right, in the direction of his destination, and to the left the field continued for as far as his limited vision would allow him to see. He noticed that this new road appeared to be set at a slight incline and he inwardly sighed as he imagined having to lug his bags uphill. Oh well, I am almost there, he thought as he started his walk up the road.
The going was miserable. The incline seemed to get steeper with every dreaded step that he took and he had to stop two times on this leg of his journey to set his things down and catch his breath, while cursing the fortune that had put him on that damned train. Having regained his composure after his latest brief break from the treacherous uphill climb, he resumed his battle with the road determined to find a hot shower and a place to sleep before the sun broke the horizon and brought with it a certain amount of heat to add to his exhaustion and misery.
After what seemed like several minutes of walking, he was rewarded with the sight of the lights he sought just up ahead on his right. With renewed vigor, he quickened his pace and was soon standing before his blessed destination. The gods were certainly smiling on Dr. Weston Peabody tonight, and about damned time too! Looming before him was Ye Olde Iächen Inn in all its decrepit glory. The place was monumentally old to be sure, he hadn’t seen architecture of this kind built any later than than the 17th century. To have survived for so long and still be in operation was most impressive indeed. Sometimes these quaint little villages held a surprise or two, he would be sure to take a few photos before he left the village in the morning and perhaps have a little look around town first. Perhaps he could stumble upon another old treasure like the one that stood before him prior to his departure.
He looked closer at the ancient stone masonry that comprised the walls of the outside of the structure. Outstanding! Absolutely marvellous in it’s construction and detail, and though the years and the weather had certainly taken several jabs at the stone facade, he had to say it had stood up rather well to the ravages of nature. It almost appeared as if it had once been part of a castle at some point in history, and made a mental note to inquire about its history before checking out tomorrow, but judging from the rather small size of what remained, the majority of it had been lost to aerial raids or otherwise removed over the intervening years. But the antiquated stone that made up the outside of the inn was fascinating and on closer inspection appeared to have been meticulously carven with odd symbols he could not quite make out in the light provided, at intervals of several inches. He reached out and traced the lines of one of the inscriptions with his finger and an uneasy feeling suddenly stole through him. He removed his finger.
He dismissed this last feeling as having come from a lack of sleep compounded with the stress and excitement of all that he had already gone through tonight and decided to just leave any further exploration for morning after he had gotten whatever sleep his dreams might allow tonight. Riding on the undercurrent of this thought was another that alarmed him more than had the strange sensation when he touched the stone; how many people could this little inn possibly house? It looked as though it surely could not take in more than a dozen guests on any given night. Despair and defeat finally sank in and his hopes dwindled as he pushed through the wooden door into the barely lit but comfortably warm inner lobby.
The inside of the lodging house was charming to say the least. Cozy would have been yet another word that sprang to mind. It was sparsely decorated and the stone foundation that made up the outside was nowhere to be seen on the inside but rather had been redecorated by wooden walls and a hardwood floor that was no stranger to dust. There were two tables that sat almost in the center of the room and each was surrounded by four small chairs. The tables each held a few snacks and what appeared to be various kinds of bread, it all gave the lobby a certain mouth watering aroma. He realized now just how hungry the walk had made him and he decided then, room or no room, he would at least purchase some bread while he was here and perhaps sit a spell. But underneath the pleasant aroma of the bread, now and then he thought he detected something else. Something rather sickly and putrid, but it could, of course, be another symptom of the fatigue and anxiety, so this too he dismissed.
The dust covered wooden floors looked rather worn and had been scuffed in multiple places but never buffed clean. The walls too were made of a similar wood and all held various paintings, of odd and often horrific depictions. The one that had caught and held his gaze the longest hung directly behind the front desk. It showed what appeared to be a man at first glance, a very tall man. However, upon closer inspection the mans face was seen to possess very dog-like characteristics that became increasingly more unnerving the longer one gazed upon it. He had never seen anything so awful before on canvass and wondered who would paint such a monstrosity, and furthermore, who would purchase and hang such a blasphemy! The painting was signed R.U. Pickman, which meant nothing to him. He tore his gaze from the gruesome thing and looked around for someone to help him get inside a room or at least point him in the direction of another inn. Nobody was anywhere to be seen though, he did however, discover a bell on the desk which he approached with a growing certainty that his walk had been for nothing. Dropping his belongings on the floor, he sucked in his breath and rang the bell.
He heard a distinct shuffling sound coming from behind a curtain that he hadn’t noticed before set off to the left behind the counter, and a moment later an old man appeared from behind the curtain and sauntered slowly forward. He was dressed in a dirty blue robe that hung open in the front revealing the nakedness of the shrivelled old man beneath. The open robe had exposed far more than the carpet of thick white hair on his bird chest and his bony ribs protruding viciously, seeming to make every attempt to wrench themselves free of this withering body and breath fresh clean air. It might have been comical had it not for some strange reason struck him as so alarming. His white hair was thin but long and he wore it thrown back over his shoulders letting it run down the back of the robe. He was clinging to a cigarette that looked as though he had gripped it for several hours before deciding to light it and it was horribly misshapen. The old man took a long drag from his gnarled cigarette before rasping quietly to his new guest, “help ye wit somethin’?”
It took him a moment to find his voice given that he was so put off by the whole experience unfolding before him. He had certainly never expected this horrific little turn of events. The old man must have been close to 100 years old, stark naked, awake and smoking at this ungodly hour! This just keeps getting better, he thought. Of course, he had probably been roused out of a sound sleep a little earlier when the swarm of passengers had descended on his little inn a short time ago, so in retrospect, it wasn’t so odd. “I don’t suppose you have any rooms left, do you?” He asked, removing his own pack of cigarettes and proceeding to light one while the old man reached under the dusty counter and came back up with a thick leather book.
“Reckon ye be wantin’ smokin’ then?” He replied, opening the thick book towards the middle. He grabbed an old pen from a glass container on the desk to his left and began writing. “Ye name?”
Luck of all luck! He would not have believed it possible, there was still a room available! “Weston Peabody.” He answered, still shocked at his fortune in finding a room. “I gotta admit, I was sure there’d be no room, what with all those passengers seeking rooms earlier. You must have had a nice little run in business tonight.”
The old man stopped writing and glanced up at his guest with a look he was at a loss to define, it most closely resembled a look of either aggravation or surprise…or that of a man who was unaccustomed to practical jokes who was having his leg pulled by this late night visitor. Here he mashed the stub of his gnarled cigarette on the counter top throwing glowing red embers in every direction before swiping at the counter top with the back of his hand, as ash and butt fell to the floor the old man coughed into the crook of his robed arm. “I ain’t let a room in musta bin goin’ on 3 months now to be sure and I ain’t for no funny bissniss eitha. I don’t know bout no trains or whatnot but ain’t nobody come in here tonight but ye just now mista.” He hacked something up in his throat and proceeded to spit on the floor from the other side of the counter before going back to writing, as the guest stared in shock and confusion. No one! Where had they all found lodging then? Ah of course, that many people, there would have to have been a larger inn closer to the station and they must have shut the lights off when they had reached capacity. That would explain the darkness and the lack of the passengers.
“I suspect they must have taken up lodging at another inn then.” He said this more to himself than to the eccentric old man behind the counter, who ignored the remark altogether and pushed the thick leather book in his direction while turning it on the counter to face his guest. “Sign that thar next te ye name, and it’ll be 32 francs for the night, don’t ye worry yeself bout no check out time, we don’t get much travel here and ye welcome te sleep in as late as ye like and leave when ye of a fit mine to tomorra. Room 01 right down ye hall thar.” The old man turned and removed a large skeleton key from a hook on the wall where 11 other like keys dangled beside it. He put the key on the counter and turned to shuffle back toward the carpet to vanish in the same fashion in which he had appeared.
“The bread sir, how much to take some bread up with me?” He asked almost as an afterthought.
The old man merely raised one bony hand in the air and waved it briefly before disappearing behind his curtain and leaving his guest there bewildered at what had just transpired. What an odd old bastard, he thought to himself, scooping up the key and depositing it into his pocket. He grabbed his bags, and after making his selections from the table, added a few of the better looking pieces of bread and a pastry to a side compartment before walking the brief steps to the hallway where his room was the first door on the right. He let himself into the room and dropped everything on the floor, turning on the light, looking forward to getting some much needed sleep and a nice hot shower before getting the hell out of this lightless town inhabited by naked old misers, the following morning.
He eased the door closed behind him and made sure that the lock was latched before surveying the room around him. The room appeared to lack all the modern amenities of even the most standard hotel room as there was no television, no minibar, and no phone to be seen. But there was a bed, and god willing, he would find a shower behind the only other door the room contained other than the one with which he had used to gain entrance. He set down his luggage and pushed open the small door to his right. Flicking the light switch, he was relieved to see that there was indeed a shower, and a toilet as well. No mirror, but there was no sink for that matter, so he would not be shaving his days growth of whiskers in the morning. He had become quite adapted to that during his stint in the desert though, so missing a morning shave wouldn’t be the death of him, he laughed to himself. He flicked the light switch to the off position and returned to his room to prepare to turn in for the night.
He had never seen any room so devoid of furniture before. The small room was occupied by only a single bed and a tiny wooden night table that looked barely large enough to hold the contents of his pockets. Not even a chair to sit in which, after assessing the size of this cramped cubicle, was probably a good thing. A single painting haphazardly hung askew on the outer wall where he imagined the window would have been, had it had one. He unzipped his bag and removed his soda and bread. Taking a large piece of sweet bread with him, he approached the small painting to ascertain what scenery they imagined could take the place of a window in Ye Olde Iächen Inn. It was an odd print. Not the horrendous monstrosity he had gazed upon in the lobby, but still sinister and unpleasant. The picture depicted a pack of small children at play against a backdrop of several great stone monoliths strung along the coastline of some large body of water, and the children looked to be running intermittently through the designs of the odd stone structures.
The faces of the children were all blurred however and the painting as a whole lacked much detail, so it failed to retain his interest for long and he soon found himself stretching out on the bed and finishing his last bites of bread. He washed it down with a large swallow of his soda and laid back. At least the bed was a comfortable one, and right now that was all that really mattered to him. He planned to get a few hours of sleep and depart this strange little town with its naked old innkeepers and lightless streets. He leaned up and clicked off the single lamp that had been illuminating his small room and lay back in hopes of a few hours of dreamless sleep.
With the lamp no longer shining, the room was cast into complete and utter darkness. It had been comfortably warm in the room as he had been looking around but upon slipping into bed, he was again struck by a slight chill that had seemed to plague him for the better part of the night, so he pulled the blankets down and crawled under them pulling them all the way up to his chin. What a strange night this had turned out to be, he would be none too happy to have this place far behind him tomorrow and be on his way to the conferences that awaited him in Germany and America after the weekend. Though he fought against it, his mind wandered back to the train. Where had all those people gone to find lodging? It struck him as too coincidental that they had all been able to find another hotel in a town like this and even had they done so, why had it not been lit up?
Even if it had been filled to capacity, shouldn’t it at least then light up the no vacancy neon, and even if it did, for reasons he couldn’t fathom, shut off all the lights once full, shouldn’t there have been at least one light burning somewhere in the hotel to give away it’s existence and position? It seemed unlikely any hotel in a village as small as this one would even have a hotel capable of taking in so many travelers. Was it possible they had gone off in another direction for lodging? But even then, where? Everything had been dark in every direction, except for this lone set of lights where he had logically set out for. Ah, but perhaps the staff of the train had known more about this town and the surrounding area, and they had known exactly where to go with so many people in tow. He lay there considering this and several other possibilities as sleep finally overtook him. He was unaware that he was even dozing off as he left his broken thoughts to join those of the dream world he had lately come to fear so much.