Elroy Armitage was free to roam the rooms of the Maid & Bracken hotel.
He could go anywhere he liked. The rooms upstairs, the ground floor and even in the cellar below. But one place he kept right away from was the dining room. In particular the section which had been reclaimed in the latest renovation when the wall in the north-eastern corner had been knocked down. Written history tells that this space had once been the hotel’s cold room, and it was here that dead bodies were kept for the purpose of a coroner’s inquest, there being no other facility in the town.
In fact this was Law, inn-keepers fined if they refused a dead body, regardless of the corpse’s state of decomposition, or if the person had died from an infectious disease. Some lunch and dinner-times, Elroy would stand next to the dining room bar, just inside the door, to watch the people eating their meals. He found it both relaxing and fascinating. And he liked hearing the sounds the cutlery made on the plates. But this was as far as he would go into the room, the tables and chairs a barrier between him and the old-fashioned morgue.
The rest of the hotel was full of favourite places for him. Often, late at night, he’d go into the upstairs bedrooms just to listen to the sleepers’ breathing. And he found a kind of solace in the movement of curtains as the wind came in through their opened windows. Sometimes, when they were closed, he’d unlock the clips and slide them up. And if he felt like playing a prank, he’d change the time on their clocks so the alarms would ring when they least expected them to.
The front bar was another favourite of his, where he’d linger for hours listening to the stories the drinkers told. This is how he learnt about the running of the town, be it from business owners or from the workers, in from the fields or out from behind their serving counters. Then there were the alcoholics with their sorry tales of how women had wrecked their lives. And, not to be denied, there were plenty of drunken women who blamed men for their own fallen ways. Elroy was discouraged by them and their self- centred moaning.
This is usually when he went below the floorboards and took time out in the hotel’s cellar. Among the dusty bric-a-brac that had accumulated in boxes, or were simply left lying around on the darkened floor these past one hundred years or so. Here he found where old passageways had been sealed with bricks. These passageways once led under the main street to the cellars of business houses and banks. He often wondered what transactions were made, and how they might have affected the lives of the people living here in those times.
Just thinking of those times would put Elroy in a melancholy frame of mind. It had really started to play on him since the wall of the old cool room was knocked down a couple of months ago. This great sadness that descended upon him was a weight he just couldn’t throw off. This is when he finally decided that he would go up into the dining room and return to that once cold and dark and unhappy place. And as he moved between the tables, a women’s voice went straight through him.
I dunno, Tom. It’s like the smell of death has just come in here.