The drive through the moors towards the house felt even longer than the 8 hour plane journey. The roads were tricky and narrow, and they turned unexpectedly at random corners. The sky was colorless. Even grey would be overcrediting its saturation. It was pale and lifeless, but the trees compensated for it, as they swayed with a force I had never seen in Seattle. The moors seemed to be stifling some sort of anger, as if they were holding onto something that they could not speak of, but finding release through passive-aggressive bursts of rain and dismal overcasts. There was something unsettling about the place, with how silent and isolated it was, yet I was sure I had ended up here for a reason. Though somewhat on edge, I was looking forward to my stay. It was my chance to reset.
It was my first time traveling solo; I had just finished college and came to Bodmin for a much-needed retreat after my parents’ divorce. The place I was staying at was an old manor house with large surrounding grounds, which had been renovated and turned into a B&B. The pictures online showed a quaint seaside apartment, fit with stone walls, oil lamps, and oak mantelpieces, offering the homely sameness of a sweet cottage. The town it was in—Bodmin—was a small civil parish in the south of England where it rained often and where cattle grazed in muddy fields. When the wind wasn’t howling, the place was silent, offering some chance of peace and healing that was unavailable in the busyness of my hometown.
The journey finally came to a close as I pulled into a cobblestone driveway gated by an arched black metal wicket. The B&B was quite the sight. Looking around at the sloping greens and rocky cliffs that lay below, I felt like I had stepped into a scene from Wuthering Heights. Below the cliffs were crashing waves which banged against the cliffs with a persistent insanity. Even the sea here was far from anything I had seen at home.
The host was waiting for me outside and welcomed me with a polished hospitality. We walked into a hallway that was overwhelmingly brown, lit with stained glass sconces that cast the place in a yellow glow. The host, whose name I couldn’t remember, had an uncomfortably professional air about her. Even her smiles seemed practiced. She was a tall, thin woman with dark hair that was greying in places. Her forehead was scored by a permanently furrowed brow, and her nose and lips were thin and tight. She was strikingly beautiful despite years of sorrow having made their mark on her face and hands. She had a darkness in her eyes that made it hard to stop glancing at her. She reminded me of my mother at times.
There was a communal living space and dining area, both with the same warm brown as the hallway. The interior offered some coziness and warmth with its fireplaces and candle-sconces on every other wall, particularly against the rain outside, which was beating down against the paneled windows. Sitting in an armchair, there was a man looking out one of these windows, who the host introduced to me as the owner of the building. He was frumpy, slightly jittery, and moved with an itchiness and anxiety that was enough to unnerve anyone in the room. Unlike the host, he had pale silvery eyes which, despite their light color, held an even darker disposition. A peculiar pair.
The woman showed me to my room upstairs, which was small but pretty. It was rather empty except for a wooden bed, fit with a blue ditsy bedsheet, a dark oak chest of drawers, and a bedside table, the same dark oak as the drawers. The view from the window showed me the angry seas in all their might.
Once I had been left alone to unpack and make myself at home, I looked around to explore. All of the guests must have been either in their rooms or out in the town or by the seaside, as no one was downstairs. One of the women had left her door half ajar, and as I walked past, she did a double take on me. She jumped to the doorway and called out to me, asking if I’m a new guest. I told her I had just arrived, and her eyes began to soften at the corner as she shook her head. She seemed disappointed or afraid, but I couldn’t make out what that meant. When I asked what had brought her here, she told me that she had just left an abusive relationship and was taking some time away to heal.
Later that afternoon in the downstairs living area, I introduced myself to an elderly man. He was playing chess by himself, so I asked if he wanted to play with me, but he said that he already had company. He told me he likes to play with his wife, who was nowhere to be seen. Strange, I thought to myself but left him be. In the dining area, a few of the other guests were sharing tea in a deafening silence, which was beginning to drill into my head. Perhaps stepping out into the garden would do me some good.
The door to the garden was a bolted and locked metal door, which I thought was an unusual amount of security just for a garden. The dark-haired host came to ask me why I was going outside and said that only she had the keys. When she opened it, I stepped into a freshly mowed lawn, surrounded by sharp edged maze-hedges on the border and neat flower beds on either side. It was rather geometrical, and skirting this mathematical paradise was a tall stone wall dripping with ivy. The rain had turned the vermilion of the flower beds into something rusty, and the lawn looked dark with the dewdrops covering it. Looking up at the wall made my stomach turn. It was the kind of feeling you get when you see an unsettlingly large ship on the coast and are reminded of your insignificance.
Upon returning inside, I realized that my phone was not in my pocket or in my bag, so I decided to go check in my car in case I had left it there. I walked through the dining area and out into the long brown hallway. There seemed to be more doors than I remembered, and I couldn’t recall which one was the front door. My neck and face started to grow hot, and I felt that feeling in my stomach that I had felt when looking at the wall. Where could it be? Standing at the end of the hallway watching me was the woman from the room upstairs. She shook her head the same way she had before and walked away. By now, my mouth was drying out, and I could feel the sweat making my sweater stick to my skin in a sickly and uncomfortable way. I ran behind the woman, calling out for her to help me find the exit. The noise I was making seemed to rouse the other guests, who had grown used to their own silence, and I saw them all look at each other like, who’s going to tell her? There had to be a door, I came in through one, so there must be one here, I thought, trying to rationalize things to myself. It would be stupid to think that there wasn’t one now. But then, why wasn’t it at the end of the hallway that I walked in through? I walked toward the garden door to try and get out through some back exit, but the dark-haired host was there to question me once again. She didn’t seem to care when I told her I needed to get to my car, telling me instead that I should go sit with everyone else instead of making a fuss. Still shaking, I sat down amongst the rest of the guests and eventually fell asleep having exhausted myself with fear. When I awoke, it was dark outside, and the lady from the room upstairs was sitting at my side. She told me how she had gone through the same thing, but that I’d come to terms with staying here. The door exists only from the outside but on the inside there’s no way to access it. It sounds ridiculous, but we were all trapped here with the things we had attempted to run away from.
That evening, I heard a doorbell ringing and ran toward the hallway, thinking that I would be able to leave. There was nothing there, but through the walls, I could hear the host welcoming someone in.
Safa Ali is an aspiring writer who combines academic rigor with a creative flare. Her distinctive voice in literature, nurtured by a profound love for poetry and art, resonates with readers seeking originality and depth.
Featured Image by K. Mitch Hobbs.