It had been an interesting day for the proprietors of the Hotel Nouveau. Every day was an interesting day for them: maintaining a sixty-year-old guest house with numerous inaccuracies in its name caused certain eccentricities to be drawn to it. It was something in the spirit of the place; it drew people in, and they never wanted to leave, entranced as they were by the building, or the location, or the service, or something. The owner, Jonas “Jon” Coulsdon, often joked that it was “like the Hotel California”. Unfortunately, his poor sense of humour often led to him explaining that joke.
Jon and his wife slept and lived in the attic rooms, which gave them a spacious living area and, at the same time, kept their private quarters separate from the corridors below, where guests would tromp about in the early hours. The attic was made up like a small apartment; it contained a single master bedroom, a living room, a bathroom, and a kitchen. There was also a small, box-like study, where the guest house's vault, several important documents, and a single antique computer were kept.
At present, Jon was in bed with his wife, sound asleep. He floated through serene dreams of bliss and joy, imagining himself swimming across a vast ocean, and relaxing on warm, golden beaches. Jon hadn't had a holiday in a while. The waves washed about his pudgy frame, and swept over his head – and then he was drowning, gasping for breath as shadowy hands tried to drag him down, trying to resist, trying to break the surface even as the unbearable pain of his lungs grew more and more restrictive, falling, slipping into darkness and agony, until the blackness of shadows embraced him and he fell into a watery grave, a loud scream ringing in his ears.
The scream was still sounding in his ears as he sat up straight, sweating profusely and panting like a madman. There was something wrong here, too, back in reality; the bedside light was off, the darkness stifled everything. Normally that bedside light was on all night. He reached towards it clumsily, and with effort managed to find the switch. It didn't work. A power cut? But they never had power cuts.
Then it came to him, like a fresh nightmare. Creaking in the study. He checked beside him. Eliza – his wife – was still lying there, less disturbed in her sleep by afar than Jon had been. So why the creaking? He listened more. More creaking. It wasn't just in his head. Then what was it? Burglars? Guests in places they shouldn't be? Or perhaps he was being paranoid. Perhaps it was just the wind. No matter what, it necessitated a check.
He cautiously got out of bed, placing each foot in turn gently on the floor to avoid creaking of his own. Then he slid open one of the drawers beside the bed, rummaged around, and withdrew a revolver and a box of bullets. Better safe than sorry. He would've probably been more intimidating if he wasn't wearing blue pyjamas with sheep printed on them, though.
While he was loading the revolver, there was a fresh creak. It was louder this time: closer to him. Jon finished loading the revolver and snapped it shut, then aimed the barrel at the bedroom door. The sound grew closer and closer, louder and louder. Creak. CREAK. Jon was shaking with fear.
But there were no more creaks. Plucking up his courage, Jon moved towards the door. Nothing. He inched closer. Still nothing. He put one hand on the doorknob. Silence. He eased the door open, aiming the revolver into the blackness outside. And that was all there was – blackness. No thief. No murderer. Just – darkness. The only strange thing was that the lights were all dead. A power cut? That would make sense. Just to make sure, Jon moved into the study. There were thudding noises coming from that direction. Thud. Thud. Thud. Like the sound of footsteps, almost. The footsteps of a hoofed being. A monster. A demon. He rounded the corner between the bedroom and the study, pointing the revolver into the night and saw – the window of the study, bathing the room in faint moonlight. A strong breeze had picked up, and the branches of the large oak tree outside were whacking repeatedly against the window. All rational, all explainable. Nothing to be scared about.