Chapter 4

Written by: Gabrielle Burt

The Ambassador Hotel!

The sight of the familiar envelope invoked a thought-numbing emptiness inside her.  Slowly, the fear built, until she couldn’t breathe properly.   Perspiration beaded her brow.  ‘Get a grip! It’s just a piece of folded stationery.’ Stella pushed her finger over the embossed monogram, then pulled it away quickly. As if from a flame.  Her fingertip glowed with a dusting of gold-leaf.

She supposed it did not matter if they knew where she lived. What she needed was time. Time to make sense of it. Thoughtfully she picked up the double-shot filter basket and, clicked it into the holder, tamped a precise measure of coffee into place. The coffee-making ritual was familiar.  Comforting. Careful not to spill the brimming mug, she carried it to a chair beside the window and hoped the extra caffeine would keep the recurring nightmares at bay.

The small, fair-haired boy at the park had thrown her completely. It was him. But common sense told her that wasn’t possible. He was dead. His father was dead.

Lost, she sipped the scalding coffee.

The nightmares were always the same. First the acrid smell of burning fabric and varnished furniture. Then a deafening roar, followed by the whoosh of flesh-eating flame.

Loosely crossing her arms, Stella ran her hands up her forearms; over the lumpy, crisscrossed scars. She shivered. It had happened so quickly.

******

The ensuite was luxurious. Silver veined Italian marble tiling and huge, oval bath. It overlooked a fairyland of city lights. As Stella finished her makeup she could hear Greg’s deep voice in the next room, bantering with their 4year old as he coaxed him into his ‘going out’ clothes.

But then something had changed. At first it was just a funny smell. Nothing she could identify. Gas perhaps? Then a loud thump and suddenly Greg was shouting frantically for her to get out.

In the time it took her to register something was terribly wrong and open the bathroom door, their hotel room was an inferno. Flames licking across the ceiling, cutting off her only escape. She heard their screams, but couldn’t see Greg – or Toby. Thick, black smoke filled the room, stinging her eyes and burning her lungs. She lost consciousness knowing she would be burned alive.

Stella woke in hospital, arms heavily bandaged, her throat and lungs raw from smoke inhalation. And two men she’d never seen before, sitting by her bed! The cloying smell of burning flesh still strong in her nose.

“Ahh. Awake at last. Feeling better?” the doctor was solicitous as a nurse prepped a hypodermic and handed it to him.

“Greg and Toby? Are they okay?” She felt the panic rise like bile and sensed, rather than saw, the imperceptible exchange between the two. “Is my family safe?”

“Quite safe… You’ve had a breakdown, Stella….”

******

She knew she hadn’t had a breakdown. But something was wrong. Terribly wrong. She had to get away.

 

 

Comments

This made the hairs on my arms stand up. Who are 'they" I wonder? And who are the strange men beside her hospital bed? Lots of mystery to come. I loved it!
Thanks very much Donna. As always, I appreciate feedback.
This line is fabulous 'Her fingertip glowed with a dusting of gold-leaf'. Now the back story confirms the father and child were not her lost loved ones. I'm missing Betina. Such a colourful character. But a terrific twist at the end...no breakdown or has she had one? Great description and introduction of mystery. Must read on.
The story gets better and better!!!