The thing is, I'm hoping the guy who is judging the writing thinks it's pretty damn OK, because the prize for this one is the first three modules of his "writing course" for free. The plan is to send in some stuff I've already written and get him to edit it. Sneaky, yes. But he says that is OK and he would look it over if I were taking the course.
Enough. Here it is.
(I have no title. Care to suggest one?)
Greg has seen the old place in his dreams. Now here it is on the Internet. A real place. It popped up when he searched Hound of the Baskervilles on his computer. It is a fortress of a building, all gray stone and ivy. He thinks it's too symmetrical, its windows evenly spaced and its false dormers rising like little domes, suggesting a pseudo elegance. Too dark.
The Baskerville Hall Hotel in Wales is said to have been the inspiration for Sir Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes mystery. This intrigues Greg in the way the word "hounds" has intrigued him for months now, for he hears them, hounds baying as if on some far off mountain pass. Greg lives in Chicago. There are no mountain passes. There are no hounds. Yet everywhere he goes, he hears them or sees references to the sleek hunting dogs of England, their lustrous brown, black and white coats, their long snouts eternally sniffing the wind. Baying, baying. He dreams about them. They are in magazines, newspapers, television commercials.
It is possible he is going mad. Either that, or he is being pursued by the beasts in earnest and his dreams are a warning. Emily is in the dreams. She is so real that he wakes up grieving, wishing he could stay with her a little longer. She is beautiful again, opening her arms to him. He approaches her ready to embrace her, but then the tracks appear on her arms and she disappears. At this point in his dream, he feels the need to run.
But run where? There? To that place? Is she prompting him to go there? The question will not leave him alone. He would be wise to leave the country anyway. His crimes follow him and this is perhaps his best move. Go to meet the Hell-Hounds that want his soul. If they are after him, he has to admit, if only to himself, that he may deserve as much. He has not always been a good man. If this is his fate, then he will meet it no matter what. Why not on his terms?
He books the flight and makes plans. He will stay at the Baskerville Hotel in the Welsh countryside. Five days and nights. He packs his camera, three changes of clothes, a credit card with a $20,000.00 limit. He may want to stay longer and he should use some of the money he has creatively transferred to his many and various bogus accounts, let it disappear into the hands of the Welsh.
He should not leave a trail, so he travels under one of his many identities. Frank Cushing, says the passport. A man recently deceased, Frank will not begrudge the desperate use of his identity for just a little while longer.
Greg remembers little about the flight. He mostly sleeps. Even the crisp Welsh air and the lush, green, checkerboard farmland does not impress him. His mind is filled with howling dogs. A train takes him to the small town of Hay-on-Wye where he rents a car to drive the rest of the way. He does not ask directions. He seems to know how to get there.
It should be a warning sign to him, this instinctive, magnetic knowledge, but he cannot manage to turn around or think better of his plan. He hears the baying again as he nears the hotel at dusk, the air infused pink with sunset light. It gives the mansion a ghostly glow.
"Frank Cushing," he tells the proprietor who thumbs through a notebook, draws his finger down the page, nods his approval. "Five nights, five days," he says. "Welcome, Mr. Cushing."
Greg takes the key and smiles. "Nice place," he says. He means it. The exterior doesn't prepare the eye for the rich golds and reds of the lobby and main floor. Victorian furnishings, dark wood and glowing fireplaces give it a deep sense of history Greg is not used to.
In his part of Chicago, everything looks new. Or if it's old, it's crumbling and seedy. His is a culture that reveres what is novel and tears down what is established to make room for each new generation of buzzing, bright neons, flavored liquors and dazzling drugs. An every youthful, ever wasted generation. He should know. He has pushed it down the throats of everyone around him. He has used more people than he can count and he is rich because of it. Rich, but troubled. It is a combination he knows how to play. The poor rich man. People are suckers for it.
He lugs his suitcase up the carpeted stairs to a cool, dimly lit room with a four poster bed, a wash stand he assumes is for looks only and a bureau all made of deep, lustrous woods. The window looks out on green lawns, looming trees, garden paths. If the Hell Hound resides nearby, it has a lovely home.
Greg has not made plans to have supper, but he is too tired to go searching. Breakfast isn't that far away. Food will wait. He undresses, then stores his money, identification, and credit cards in a locked zippered pouch in his suit case. He falls into bed, his dreams already howling.
In the morning, Greg is aware that he has dreamed of Emily again. He also remembers that the hound was there. No, several hounds, circling him, menacing. One in particular sat quietly at her feet. The dis-ease of the dream has walked with him to breakfast where he asks for cereal and toast. He is also given bacon done the English way, limp and a little soggy, and coffee. His hands are shaking, and it is difficult to keep the cereal on the spoon. He eats alone. It is as if none of the other guests can see him.
Greg is good at being invisible until he is ready to be seen. He tries to imagine how he will play the part of Mr. Cushing, but his mind is circling to the dogs and to Emily. He cannot concentrate.
Someone at the next table is laughing. The laugh is startlingly like Emily's. Greg turns quickly and stares, but the woman who is laughing has her back to him. How stupid. "Way to lie low," he mumbles to himself and returns to his breakfast. Emily is dead. He will not be hearing her laughter again.
A man walks into the dining room and whistles as if whistling to a dog. Greg chokes on his toast and someone behind him slaps his back.
"All right, then?" comes the voice from behind.
Greg nods and waves off the attention.
A dog begins to bark and Greg can hear it running, toe nails against hardwood floors. It lets out a long and lingering howl just outside the room.
He stands and looks desperately around for an exit. The place is too much. The dream, the laughter, the dog. It was a mistake to come here. He is hallucinating. He is still asleep perhaps.
He turns, looking for the door through which he came, and there is no one left in the dining room but Greg and the woman who had laughed. There are no others. The man who just slapped his back, the man who had whistled for the dog, they are gone.
Greg takes a quiet step toward the woman, whose back is to him. She might know what is happening. It is crucial that he either wake up or come to his senses.
"Excuse me," he says. She turns her head slowly.
"Emily!" The same Emily he saw lying in her coffin, wasted from heroin. The same Emily he had loved in the only way that Greg knows how to love. A brutal, savage longing he uses to consume the very ones he hopes to possess. But she is here.
"Frank Cushing," she says. "Fancy seeing you here."
His mind cannot hold what it sees and hears. He makes a run for the door and almost slides into the largest, blackest hound he has ever seen. The thing bares it's teeth and Greg stops short, moving back into the room toward Emily. His heart is beating wildly and he cannot breathe.
"Looks like we aren't leaving," Emily says and sighs. "The puppy wants us to stay." She smiles beautifully.
Greg turns toward her, arms flinging out as if to push her and the scene before him out of his visual range. He upsets her coffee cup and the black liquid spills slowly across the table, thick as blood. His blood. Whether nightmare or reality, Greg understands that the hound has come for him, and Emily is here to see to it that the hound collects.
She runs her finger through the reddish brown liquid and licks it."Dammit, Frank. That was my coffee," she moans.