He hadn’t been struck immediately by the uncanny resemblance with that other place. Not as they pulled into the driveway nor as they climbed from the car and the old man ushered them into the chalet at the far end of the row, the one closest to the house, his office.
As they waited for their key, and the old man busied himself behind the counter, he had turned, leaving her to deal with the formalities and amiable small talk. He crossed to the window and gazing out he noticed the warning signs, staked at random amid the reeds. Squinting, he managed to read their hand painted messages; DANGER, KEEP OUT, DO NOT VENTURE, QUICKSAND.
He then glanced up at the house, had to crouch in order to see it all and with its imposing gothic façade it peered from its vantage point, causing him to shudder. He stepped back to the counter and, standing at her shoulder, watched as she signed the register using her name – Mr and Mrs.
Theirs was the next chalet along. She let herself in and he moved to fetch their bags from the car but, pausing, he watched the old man making his way up the slope and toward the house.
He worked then on findings ways in which this place differed from that other. It wasn’t difficult. Firstly, the house was solid, bricks and mortar not the bleached clapboard house from the old black and white film. There were fuchsias in the garden and flower boxes at the windows. It wasn’t run down and dilapidated here. Yes it was deserted but not because they had moved the highway. This was Scotland and late in the season and it was what they wanted – to be alone and not care if it rained.
He dropped their bags in the bedroom and next he brought in the boxes. Beer and wine and all they needed for that evening’s meal and breakfast the next morning. She began unpacking, finding her way around the tiny kitchen. It was already nearly dusk and he could see a path disappearing into the woods at the back but, no matter how he ducked and craned before the window, he couldn’t find the sky.
He wasn’t ready for nightfall, not yet, and so he deserted her. In fact she encouraged him out the door. Telling him yes, to go and explore, she needed time to prepare and wanted to take a shower.
The sky now was everywhere, there was too much of it. Draining all colour from the scene, turning lush green to ice blue. He wanted to back up and view this from afar. The house at a distance, grand if austere’ and the holiday chalets nestled below, an idyllic retreat.
But this wouldn’t be possible, not tonight. Still he stepped from the tarmac. Moving out toward the warning signs, reaching the first of them he leaned against it and when it didn’t give he ventured a little further.
The ground beneath his feet was springy but it seemed unlikely he could sink. Nevertheless, it was darkening and he decided instead to try the path behind their chalet.
He reached the tarmac’s edge and was about to step from the grass when he heard the voice. Not the words, just the intonation. A scolding sentence, clearly intended for him and close, very close.
Spinning around, he saw the light at the upstairs window. It could have been the old man or somebody else from up at the house. He wouldn’t have heard the sash opening and closing, not from here, not with the wind rustling in the reeds. He stood watching, waiting for something. A silhouette perhaps? But no-one appeared.
He stands on the raised bank, directly opposite the bathroom window. He can hear her in the shower or at least he can hear the water gushing in the stall. She has left the window ajar and, from where he has positioned himself, he can see her through the glass sliding doors, moving underneath the tiny torrent. He is mesmerised but, forcing himself to move away, he then lunges without hesitating into the tangle of trees.
It isn’t until he stops and turns to make his way back that he realises just how far he has climbed. Breathless and groping in the dark he stumbles. He has strayed from the path and the only way out of this now is down.
Cautiously he begins but, slipping on the slick moss, he lands in the damp leaves and, when he tries to move, brambles claw at his clothes, dragging him deeper into the undergrowth.