Monday, 13 August 2012


Two months later, he and Jenny walked back up to the blackened, rain-rotten ruins of the old hotel, accompanied by a short and balding man known to them as Detective Miller. Detective Miller kept a cigarette behind his ear, and when he was thinking deeply he would remove it and put it in his mouth. Both Mark and Jenny liked him a lot.

"Take your time," he said. "We got all day if you need it."

"You're sure it's safe?" said Jenny. "Nothing, you know... lurking?"

"Not a flea," said Miller. "Whole site has been searched, sprayed to hell and back and searched again. All we're interested in now is any extra details you might remember."

They stopped and stood in the large gravel square that had once been the hotel car park. Jenny listened as Mark did the talking, telling of the final confrontation with Garmondy that had taken place here two months prior, pointing out the exact spot where each of the groups had stood.

Once he was done they set off around the wreck. Halfway along one wall a narrow corridor of yellow tape lead into the midst of the black mass of charcoaled wood and furniture. Even now it still smelled of ash and burned hair.

"That's where they broke through to the cellar," said Detective Miller. He paused. "We don't have to go down there if you don't want to."

"Thank God," said Jenny, finding that she was actually very glad to be spared a view of the basement itself. Since the events at the hotel she had learned that some things, once in your head, were difficult to forget. The feeling of a hundred fist-sized spiders eating you alive was one of them, and she suspected that the dark underground room in which her friend had died would be another.

"I'll go," said Mark, surprising her. When she tugged on his arm he turned to her and whispered. "I want to see. I owe it to him." He shifted uncomfortably, clearly not at home with emotional stuff.

"Well I'm going to wait up here," said Jenny. "Get my daily dose of fresh air, if that's okay with you guys."

"No problem," said Detective Miller. "We'll only be a minute." And with that he led Mark down the taped corridor to a place where a set of concrete stairs disappeared down into the ground. Jenny watched the two men pick their way out of sight, and then turned and surveyed the wreckage.

Something caught her eye. Something white in among all the burned black. She took a few steps closer to the tape and saw that there was something clean and rounded nestling among the charred beams and slurries of ash. It was only an arms-length away. If she just moved a couple of bits of wood she would be able to see what it was.

Jenny had never been one for letting CAUTION! tape stand in her way. She ducked beneath it and picked her way over to the object, snatched up the loose bits of wood that hid it from view and threw them aside. She saw then that it was not just one white object lying there in the ruins, but a clutch of several, five at least, each one about the size of a grapefruit. Her breath stalled in her throat.

They were eggs. Big, round, papery-white eggs.

Jenny reeled back, ripping through the tape in her haste. She turned to the dark entrance into which Detective Miller and Mark had descended. In the few seconds during which her back had been turned it seemed to have taken on a menacing air, waiting there like an open mouth.

"Mark?" she called, her voice quavering. "Mark, are you down there?"

There was no answer, but on the breeze that whistled through the ruins of the old hotel, Jenny could have sworn she heard something scuttle.

Monday, 6 August 2012


The spiders let them go. At the moment their mother had screamed they had forgotten all about the humans in their midst, surrounding her instead and crying out in grief and helplessness. No knowing how long they would be distracted for, Mark thought. Best to get out while they could.

The three of them managed to squeeze past the car and hobble out into the middle of the car park. There they stopped, Mark holding up a hand to halt Winter in her tracks. Garmondy stood at the head of the lane, looking weaker and frailer than ever. Blood stained his clothes like a tidemark, and he was leaning heavily on the rifle like a crutch, his left leg held tenderly off the ground.

"You," he breathed. His voice was quiet, tentative, but somehow perfectly audible too. "You've killed her, haven't you? You've killed her!"

"Yes," Winter said, almost shouted. "She's dead! She's burned up! Dead!"

Mark held out a hand to try and hush her, terribly aware that Garmondy still had the rifle, that he could shoot them dead with hardly any effort at all. But he did not raise the weapon. All he did was look at them sadly and shake his head.

"I really did have no choice, you know," he said, his voice steady, almost conversational, but with a tremble in it that betrayed the truth.

"Yes you did," spat Winter. "Of course you did. You could have killed it. Should have."

Garmondy nodded reluctantly, as though acknowledging a well-argued point. "After...after my daughter died I was very lonely. I needed... company. In a corner of the attic I found the egg, brought it down, incubated it, hatched it, cared for it--"

"Fed it?" said Winter. Behind them the screeches and insect noises of the spiders were starting to tail off, the sounds growing weak and reedy. As he glanced back Mark saw a glow behind the windows, flickering like a hearth fire. The smell of acrid smoke was on the air.

"Fed it, yes," said Garmondy, and then wistfully added, "They really are such fascinating creatures."

"How long before it started eating people?" said Winter, her voice cold and hateful.

Garmondy didn't reply. He shook his head again, and Mark was surprised to see tears in his eyes. "I had no choice," said the old man again, and then he started walking towards them. Mark pulled Jenny aside quickly, and Winter took a step in the other direction, Garmondy passing between them without another word or glance. He hobbled up to the front doors of his old hotel--his old hotel from the windows of which smoke now billowed blackly--hobbled up to the doors and slipped inside.

Winter didn't waste a second staring after him. She grabbed Mark's arm. "Let's go," she said. "Please, let's go."

"What about Chris?" said Mark. "Where is he? You wait with Jenny and I'll go in through a side entrance and get him."

Winter didn't say a word, just looked at him, and in her expression he saw everything she needed to know. He had thought it an odd question a moment ago: how long before it started eating people? He had wondered how Winter knew that the spider preyed on the guests of the hotel. And now he knew, and the knowledge was like a knife between his ribs, a puncture wound, wide and deep, letting all the air and warmth and life seep out of him like air from a balloon.

"No," he said, half questioning.

"I saw..." said Winter, but swallowed and tailed off, unable to speak. She didn't need to. Mark took her arm with his free hand, and together they turned towards the lane and started to walk, an odd and tattered procession, quiet in their grief.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Chapter Twenty-Two

Jenny fell. Winter saw it in excruciating detail, how the spiders leapt up at her and moved up her body like sailors up rigging. As she tried to swat at them and pull them away they leapt onto her hands and arms, and then they were on her neck, her head, her face. She went down onto her knees first of all, then onto her front, scrambling and rolling and clawing at them, her voice lost to a single, long scream.

Winter looked at the car, at Mark. He sat there looking dazed, blood flowering from a cut on his head. The doors lay across the bonnet of the vehicle, and there was dust and wood chips and plaster all around.

She ran for it.

She felt little, spindly bodies crushing and splitting and scattering at her feet. Others hurled themselves at her, fastening onto her clothes and scrambling up in a mad flurry of legs. Pincers sank into her ankle, into the vulnerable flesh just above her kneecap. She screamed, in pain and anger and grief and swatted at them, knocking some away, crushing others.

The mother reared up, front legs sawing at the air, and began to back up awkwardly, moving towards the door through which she'd emerged. Winter saw little spiders clinging to the hairs of her legs, riding on her back, dropping from her face like flakes of dry skin. They were closing in, swarming, protecting their queen. But the queen was not her target. She made for the car, ignoring Jenny's screams behind her, ignoring the queen, ignoring Mark's shout of fear as the little monsters started scaling the car and tumbling in through the broken windshield.

She reached the car, found a door and wrenched it open, diving inside. Suddenly there was a spider on her chest, spindly feet scrabbling at the air. It was so close that Winter could see every one of its eyes, could make out every hair on its many legs. She could hear the screeching squeal that extruded from its jaws. She hit it, smearing it sideways across the front of her pyjamas, leaving a trail of blood and blobs and legs behind.

Winter flipped onto her knees and reached over the back seats into the boot, searching frantically. Mark had jumped from the car, swearing loudly, beating spiders from his clothes with both hands. She was alone in the car, a hundred egg-sized horrors struggling through the gaps between the seats, crawling up Winter's calves like eager hands.

"Get off me! Get off!" She kicked at them, losing her balance and falling back to the seats. She pushed herself up again, dived again over the seatbacks and found, almost immediately, what she was looking for.

Her hand closed over the cool smoothness of the petrol can, she wrenched it over the seatbacks and into the car and then, hugging it to her chest, leapt out of the vehicle. The whole procedure had taken only seconds. Mark stood not ten metres away, stamping and smashing and kicking at the massing crawlers, his legs up to the knees coated in red-black slime. Jenny was on her hands and knees now blood flowing freely, no longer screaming, her struggles growing sluggish.

And there was the mother, the queen, stuck absurdly in the doorway, legs scrabbling and pushing as she tried to manoeuvre her way through.

Winter ripped the cap from the petrol can, took two steps, and flung the contents over the queen. There wasn't much in there. Mark had only had cause to use the thing once, when he had run out of petrol last year while driving everyone to London for a daytrip. It had been Christopher who suggested leaving a small amount in the can, in case they should ever run out again.

Now that litre-and-a-half of fuel splashed out over the spider queen, which reared up and screeched in pain or protest. And every one of the little spiders howled and chattered and screamed as well, to hear their mother suffering.

"Mark!" yelled Winter. "Mark, lighter!"

He was already scrabbling in his pocket, and then he had it, the little silver thing, and he was moving for the queen, flicking it, coaxing out a small and yellow flame. The spiders seemed to sense his intention, and suddenly they had shifted and all were flowing towards him, still screaming, fast and deadly as a riptide. He ignored them, not even bothering to swat away the ones that flung up at him, that latched on and scrambled up his body.

The queen was frantic, limbs waving like hairy tentacles. Quite calmly, quite easily, as if he wasn't half-covered in her frantic, biting children, Mark ducked under one waving limb, and touched the yellow flame of his lighter gently against the body of the queen.

The flames caught, easily, quickly, looking to Winter as though they burst in a single rich orange spurt from the queen's body. They licked and wriggled and spread quite happily, and she saw smaller bodies dropping like twitching cinders from their mother, to smoulder on the floorboards, or set alight others that curled black or popped in the heat.

The queen screamed. The spiders screamed. The noise that had come before was nothing to the deafening, tortured sound they gave vent to now. A smell like burned hair, but a hundred times worse reached Winter's nostrils. Fire consumed the queen, and as she thrashed it spread, leaping to the spiders that milled around her, to the doorframe, the carpets in the lounge beyond.

"Time to go," said Mark. He was standing by her side, a hand on her arm. With the other he supported Jenny, who was covered in blood, head lolling on his shoulder, barely conscious. In a dozen places pincers and legs were still attached to her clothes and skin. "Come on," Mark said, and swept her towards the door.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Chapter Twenty-One

With two tyres shredded the Peugeot was almost impossible to control. It moved in a series of skids and lurches, veering so heavily to the left and right that Mark had to haul the steering wheel back and forth just to stay on the narrow lane. The back windscreen was broken completely, allowing in a steady flow of cold night air, and the front was webbed with cracks that made it near-impossible to make out anything beyond.

Nevertheless, Mark was driving it. He was halfway up the narrow lane that lead to the old hotel. Locked doors or not, he was going to rescue his friends. Garmondy was out of the way, incapacitated if not dead, and if he went for help instead of returning to the hotel there was no knowing what might happen to his friends while he was gone. He had vivid and frightening mental images of Christopher, his best friends since secondary school Christopher, lying bleeding in a cellar somewhere. And what about Winter? The poor girl was bound to be traumatised from whatever the old man had done. He would get them out, get Jenny, and they would all make their escape together.

The head of the lane and the dark bulk of the hotel hove into view. Mark gritted his teeth and cranked the steering wheel around to the left to keep his course. There was the empty car park, and there the big old front doors. No doubt they would be locked, of course, but Mark had a plan for that.

Gripping the wheel so tightly that his knuckles went white, Mark stamped on the accelerator. The Peugeot shot forward, fishtailing, bare wheels clanking and rumbling across the gravel. He heard the undercarriage strike the stone step with a heavy, expensive-sounding crump, and then the car bucked violently, mounted the step and crashed head on into the doors.

They opened. Not gracefully or willingly, but they opened. Mark's head smacked into the windscreen, which finally cracked all the way and fell from its frame. Dazed, he slumped back into his seat as the car rumbled to a stop, the front end of it protruding into the lobby.

The scene that met his eyes was one that Mark would remember vividly for the rest of his life.

On the far side of the lobby, as though they had been waiting specially for him, stood Jenny and Winter. Both looked scared out of their wits. Winter was covered in dust and dirt and had a pair of heavy chains dangling from her wrists. Jenny's leg was bleeding. The floor around the girls appeared to be moving, shifting like a living carpet.

Mark didn't look closely enough to ascertain what was causing the movement. He didn't look because his attention was captured entirely by the monster that stood almost directly in front of him. It was a spider, but not any kind of spider Mark had ever seen before, even in his nightmares.

"Mark!" sobbed Jenny.

"Jen!" he said, still dazed and unsure of quite what was going on. "I'm here to rescue you."

"About bloody time," said Jenny. And then the mass of wriggling spiders that surrounded her swept suddenly forward, swarming up her legs, biting and biting and biting.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Chapter Twenty

Winter and Jenny burst through another door and found themselves on a narrow balcony overlooking a parlour. By now Jenny had recovered and was walking unaided. They had been lost in the hotel for almost fifteen minutes, and she was beginning to panic, her stomach going tight and fluttery every time they came to a dead end or locked door. She glanced at Winter, and saw that her face was set in a mask of uncharacteristic hardness. She wondered again about Christopher. Could he really be dead? Actually dead? It hardly seemed possible, and yet she senses that now was not the time to probe Winter with further questions.

"I think I know where we are," said Winter, though she sounded far from certain. "This way, come on."

They followed the balcony around and descended a creaking set of stairs, brushing aside spindly stands of cobweb as they did so. The door at the bottom opened out into the lounge, a well of darkness populated with the dim shapes of bulky armchairs and spindle-legged coffee tables. As they emerged from the stairs, Jenny felt around for the light switch.

"Yes," said Winter, suddenly. "I recognise this, I'm sure of it. We're just on the other side of the lobby. All we have to do is go through that door and then--" Winter stopped talking. She stopped talking because Jenny had found the light switch and flicked it on, bathing the room in a tired yellow glow.

Revealed by the light, awfully and unnaturally still, were hundreds and hundreds of spiders, bristling from every surface, each one the size of a chicken's egg.

"Bloody hell," murmured Jenny.

And then from behind them on the staircase she heard a rustling, quivering sound. A sound like bacon sizzling in a pan a hundred times over. She turned. So did Winter. Flowing down the staircase behind them was a black and gleaming tide. Their bodies dripped over each riser, jaws working, legs whirring in almost-silence. Jenny felt her bladder contract, her heart seeming to stall in her chest like a faulty starter engine.

Beside her, Winter abruptly sank to the floor, her face frozen. Jenny crouched beside her.

"What's going on? What are these things? Winter, tell me!"

Winter shook her head. "They're the children."

"The children? How do you mean? The children to what?"

But Winter simply shook her head and would say no more. Ahead of them, the carpet of scuttling black creatures parted, leaving a narrow channel that led into the centre of the lounge. The spiders on the stairs behind surged forward, pincers working, legs raised as if in anger. Jenny gave a small scream, disgust and terror welling up like poison. She grabbed Winter's arm and together the two girls were herded into the centre of the room.

"What are they doing?" whispered Jenny. "Winter, talk to me."

Winter was gazing fixedly at an entryway on the far side of the lounge. Beyond it a set of stairs led down into the darkness of the basement. "We can't go in there," she said, her voice low and urgent and terrified. "We can't. If they take us in there we'll die."

But that seemed to be where the spiders were intent on taking them, the channel opening up like a parting river before their shuffling feet. Jenny paused, wondering what would happen if she simply tried to run across the carpet of spiders. How long would she last? How long before they swarmed up her legs and started biting? How much poison could she take before she fell, before they flowed like water over her arms and chest and face? A mental image of herself wrapped up in a cocoon of webbing flashed through her mind and she shuddered.

"We have to run," said Winter. "No choice, no choice, we have to."

"They'll swarm all over us," said Jenny.

"Better than what's down there," said Winter, her voice trembling. "Ready?"

"No," said Jenny. She was not ready, not at all. If Winter ran at that precise moment she was not sure she would have the strength to do the same. "Not ready at all."

Winter was breathing heavily, sucking in air and spitting it out again. Her grip was tight on Jenny's hand, and the spiders seemed to sense their readiness. A ripple ran through the ranks, legs and pincers twitching. Jenny could hear a squealing, keening noise, so high-pitched as to be almost inaudible.

"Go," said Winter, and then she screamed it, "GO!" and the both of them were running, Winter in the lead, almost dragging Jenny with a death-grip on her wrist. Jenny felt something crunch underneath her heel, and cold slime coated her bare foot. A shudder ran through her and she squealed in disgust, but didn't stop. There was no stopping now. Spiders were bowled aside, screaming in protest while their fellows pressed in. Jenny felt something disturbingly heavy seize on the knee of her pyjamas and reached down to slap away a scrabbling, hairy body. Another one hit her leg halfway up the calf and swarmed up to her hip before she could hit it. Its body broke with a sound like a cracking egg and it fell, leaving pincers embedded in the fabric.

"Through here!" shouted Winter, and then they were through into the lobby. Jenny felt a stinging, stabbing sensation on her heel and kicked convulsively, sending a hairy body flying into the wall. There was another on her thigh; she felt its legs scrabbling a second before the pincers pierced her skin. She howled and crushed it flat, red-black goo leaking between her fingers.

The lobby was mercifully clear, but even as they crossed Jenny could hear the rustling, creeping noise of the spiders spilling in behind them. They slammed into the main doors and each seized a handle, pulling with all their strength.

The doors didn't move. Not an inch. Jenny looked at Winter, who was still tugging at the door, spitting and cursing, yanking at the handle to no avail.

"It's not going to open," she said, surprising herself with how even her voice was. Winter ignored her. "Winter!" yelled Jenny. She grabbed her friends arm and dragged her away from the door. The flood of arachnid bodies had spread out across the floor like a pool of water, and there was nowhere else for them to go except along the far wall. There was a door at the far end, their only chance. Jenny reached for it, found the handle, fumbled, found it again and pulled.

Nothing. The door was bolted.

The two girls huddled up against it, backs to the wall, as the spiders clustered at their feet, hissing and squealing. Jenny felt sick inside: it was so unfair. They had tried, they had run, they had done everything that they could. It wasn't supposed to go like this. This wasn't... couldn't be the way she was going to die. She shut her eyes. Winter was gripping her arm so hard it hurt.

A moment passed, and then another. Jenny cracked her eyes open again. The spiders were still massed around their feet. They weren't attacking.

"Why..." she began, but just as soon as the word was out of her mouth she heard something that made her fall silent. From the door to the lounge through which they'd come drifted a faint scrabbling, dragging noise. It was loud. Too loud to be one of the spiders that surrounded them.

"It's her," breathed Winter, her voice thin and high. "It's the mother."

Jenny saw it. At first only a thin section of the monster was visible through the doorway, and she had an impression of thick, brawny legs, a low body, so black and shiny it looked wet. And then the thing, the horrid thing was hauling itself through the doorway one leg at a time. Jenny was appalled by it, horrified, and yet she couldn't look away.

It was at least four foot tall, the body the size of a child, rounded and covered in heavy black hairs that looked sharp as razor wire. The pincers were long and curved, the legs the thickness of arms. It moved with an arthritic slowness, not the fast scuttle of its many children. Jenny saw the eight eyes staring from its blunt head like little search lamps. They were red and deep and empty as old mineshafts.

Winter's grip tightened still further, and Jenny realised that this must have been what killed Christopher. With that knowledge she looked again and saw that the pincers were coated in a tacky layer of dried blood, and scraps of tissue hung like foul decorations from the stiff hairs of its front legs. It was so close, so close and all Jenny felt was a numb sadness that this was how her life would end.

The mother paused, seemed to consider the two girls with its many eyes. Its head tilted this way and that. Jenny wondered if it could smell them. If it could sense the hot blood that pumped around their bodies. And then it started forward again, and Jenny shut her eyes, shrinking back against the door.

From outside, beyond the big old front doors of the hotel came a roaring screeching clamour of noise.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Chapter Nineteen

Mark dropped to his knees with a grunt and plunged his hands into the undergrowth, feeling around frantically for the keys. It was dark beyond seeing, and weeds and creepers tangled his arms, their thorns leaving shallow scratches on his hands.

"Come on," he muttered. "Come on, come on."

He was sure he could hear Garmondy now, the old man wheezing as he picked and fought his way through the vegetation. How good was his eyesight? Was he even now taking aim at Mark's unprotected back?

Mark's hand brushed metal, and he snatched at it. A second later he was holding the keys, his ankle protesting painfully as he levered himself to his feet. There was a sharp clack as he mashed the button and the locks sprang open, and the sidelight of the car in front of him flashed brightly, throwing long orange shadows through the trees.

He dived towards it, found the door handle, clumsy in haste, yanked the door open and twisted, tumbling inside. With a slam the door was shut and he stabbed once, twice, three times at the ignition before he found it and the engine roared to life. The lights flared on, and the heater started blowing air, warm and car-scented. At once Mark felt calmer, safer, more in control, as if in the presence of an old and loyal and capable friend.

Looking up, he saw something move in the rear view mirror. It was Garmondy, illuminated with a pale wash of red by the brake lights. There he stood, feet planted, shoulders squared, the gun raised and pointed. Mark saw his mouth move.

"You just step on out of there, boy."

"No," said Mark. "I don't think I will."

With practiced ease he slammed the little Peugeot into reverse and stamped the accelerator to the floor. The wheels spun, screeching. Mud spattered the sides of the vehicle, and Mark was jolted violently as it kicked into motion, shuddering over roots and rocks. He heard Garmondy scream, and ducked down as far as he could, keeping a one-handed grip on the wheel. There was the booming explosion of the gun once more, and cubes of glass rained down on the back of Mark's neck.

Then the car hit Garmondy, and his scream was cut short. Mark didn't see him as he was thrown up and rolled limply all the way over the roof. He felt him though.

And then the Peugeot was lurching back onto the road, rumbling heavily on its two flat tyres. Mark only just managed to straighten it in time, having to fight the pull of the wheel. He slid it into drive, and, grim-faced, set off for the old hotel.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Chapter Eighteen

When the dumbwaiter stopped and Winter popped the doors open she found herself in a large kitchen. From racks on the walls and ceiling hung down an assortment of pots, pans, knives and other utensils, and there were a series of big wooden tables spaced about the room, scarred by many years of use. A black cast-iron stove with a dozen big burners was set into the opposite wall.  It was empty of life, human or arachnid.

Practically crying with relief, Winter tumbled out of the tiny box and set about rubbing some life back into her limbs. When she could feel her fingers again she quickly ripped off the gag that covered her mouth. She tried to do the same with the chains around her wrists, but there was no way to unlock the cuffs. For the moment at least she was stuck with an unwanted set of heavy metal bracelets.

There was a noise from elsewhere in the hotel: a creaking sound that on any other night Winter would have simply written off as the pipes or the settling of the ancient walls. Tonight though it made her freeze, stomach filling up with icy water. This was not the time to hang around, she decided. She wanted to get away from the hotel, far away, a million miles away, and never look back on her memories of it, never think about what had happened again.

The first thing she did was to arm herself with a little metal meat tenderiser she found hanging from one of the racks. It was solid as a hammer, and felt reassuringly weighty in her hands. Next she crept to the nearest door, cracked it open and peered out into the corridor. It was vacant, deserted, barely lit. She peered both ways, hoping for some clue as to which direction might take her to an exit. There was none: each corridor faded into identical darkness.

At random, Winter turned left down the corridor. She turned a corner, pushed through a set of double doors and took a narrow passageway that branched off to the right. She came to another door, this one secured with heavy iron bolts. She shot them quickly, grunting with the effort it took, and pulled the door open, then screamed and leapt back as something large and heavy tumbled through to land at her feet. The meat tenderiser tumbled from her grasp, landing with a thud on the floor.

It took a second for Winter to realise what it was she was seeing. The thing that had fallen through the door was Jenny, who now lay quite still on the floor, twisted at an awkward angle in the narrow corridor.

"Jenny!" she cried, kneeling down beside her friend. Was she dead? For a moment Winter was sure that she was, and the sick, keening horror of it threatened to overwhelm her. First Christopher and now Jenny: it was too awful to be true. And yet there Jenny lay, still as death, her face the pale white of china. But her chest was moving, Winter saw after a second, and her eyes were flickering behind their lids. She was merely unconscious, probably drugged.

If Jenny was here, then surely Mark couldn't be far away. Winter's first instinct was to shout for him, but she stopped herself, fearful that someone other than a friend would hear her. Instead she bent over Jenny, shaking her shoulders, tapping her cheeks, trying quietly to rouse her.

"Jenny!" she hissed. "Jen, come on. Don't leave me all alone here." And to her surprise Jenny's eyes flickered open, drifting around in confusion.

"Winter?" she groaned blearily. "What's going on? Where am I?"

She was so relieved to hear another friendly voice that Winter could not resist giving Jenny a quick hug. "We're at the hotel," she whispered. "You remember? We had to stop because of the accident. But there's something wrong. The man, the hotel keeper: he drugged us. There was something in the water. He drugged us and now he wants to... to take us down to the basement. I've been down there. He tied me..." She held up her still-chained wrists to show Jenny, who looked at them in bemusement.

Winter realised that she was babbling, tears springing to her eyes, her voice climbing higher and higher. She stopped, took a deep breath. Now was not the time to lose control. Now was not the time to think about the basement. Now was the time to get away from here, to escape while they had the chance.

"Is Mark here?" she asked, relieved to hear that her voice had returned to something like normal.

Jenny shook her head, propping herself up on her elbows. She rubbed at her eyes to clear away the sleep. "Nope," she said. "Stupid kid's wandered off somewhere. Me and him are going to have words when we get out of here. Where's Chris?"

"He's dead," said Winter. "Garmondy killed him." As she said it she felt for a moment as though she was outside of her body, hearing those strange, hollow words as though someone else had said them, as though they were a mischievous echo and not her real voice at all. Jenny paled.

"Dead? Christ, Winter, I..." She tailed off, clearly unable to think of anything to say. Her mouth hung open and her eyes searched Winter's frantically, as if hunting for some hint that this was a joke or a lie or a dream. "Dead?" she said again, eventually, her voice small.

Winter nodded. She could feel the tears again, but she refused to give in to them. "We have to go, have to get out."

"Yeah," said Jenny, nodding dully. "Yes, of course." She tried to climb to her feet, but stumbled, still dozy from the effects of the drug. Winter took an arm and looped it over her shoulders, supporting Jenny as best she could. She thought back to when Garmondy had walked her through the confusing maze of hotel corridors, showing her the way to the room.

"Come on," she said. "I think it's this way."

As they hobbled together down the corridor, Winter was sure she heard the faint scuttle of things moving in the walls.