Marmalade

Earlier on Twitter:

“Instead of going to work I could be working on my horror novel about a golliwog doll that comes to life and two supernatural ginger kids”

So, I’m actually doing it.

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The town was more industrial than the travel brochure suggested. Everything was covered in a thick layer of dirt and dust, save from the giant billboards towering above desaturated trees, advertising car dealerships cut-price hotel rooms.

The couple drove through the empty streets in silence. At some point one of them reached over and turned the radio down. There was factory smoke coming from the depths of the city, the only sign of life.

‘Can we stop to get a drink?’ the Girlfriend said. Her hand was on his thigh and he could feel her growing cold and tense.

The Boyfriend wanted to get to their hotel as soon as possible but he didn’t want to start the trip off with an argument. They pulled into a parking lot in front of a parade but the bleak neon signage only promised them pine furniture, second-hand fridges and Nails by Jenna.

The Girlfriend lit a cigarette, grimaced and threw it to the ground where a tiny wind started dancing with it. ‘I need a drink… hey, what about this place?’ she pointed towards where the Marlboro was rolling, a dirty glass front tucked between a pawnshop and a barber’s. The only handpainted sign in the parade read, ‘Mama Lazarou’s Curiosities’.

The Boyfriend said, ‘Well, I’m curious.’

‘If it’s a tourist type place then they might have a drinks fridge,’ she said, ‘come on.’ He watched her jerky gait as she headed towards the shop and felt irritation instead of pity for the first time. He wasn’t sure which was worse.

They threaded their way through the bead curtain as a bell signalled their arrival. Inside it was dark and musty, incense fighting with mildew for sinus space. The Boyfriend sneezed and jerked sideways, elbowing something soft off a shelf in a cloud of dust. It was a golliwog toy and a chill went down his spine.

‘Be careful,’ the Girlfriend said.

‘It’s just a toy,’ he gripped it by the legs and whacked it against the wall a few times. ‘I wonder what the Chinese child labourers thought when they were making this.’

There was no drinks fridge and no one came out to greet them. The Girlfriend wanted to browse through shelves of strange, twisted statuettes and organic matter but he took her by the hand and led her outside. ‘Not now.’

‘I have a voicemail,’ she said. Her face twisted as she listened. ‘This is odd.’

‘What?’

A voice crackled on loudspeaker, ‘Hi there, this is Catherine Laveau calling from Holiday Inn Orleans. Unfortunately due to the conference we are now fully booked and are unable to offer you a room. Please accept my apologies for any inconvenience caused and we hope to see you at Holiday Inn soon.’

‘When did she call?’

The Girlfriend looked at her phone. ‘I… I don’t know. There are no missed calls.’

‘You must have been out of range,’ the Boyfriend said.

‘I can’t believe they would do that. What do we do now?’

‘Drive over there and make a scene.’

‘No!’ her voice rose. ‘Don’t. Please. I don’t want anything to happen like the last time.’

He took his phone out. ‘We’ll find a different hotel. This is a big town, there must be loads available.’

The only place with vacancies was St Louis Bed & Breakfast. It looked like a charming family-run boutique hotel with just the right amount of shabby chic (overgrown hedges but also clean towels). But strangely the sat nav couldn’t find the destination… no, dear Reader, that would be too clichéd, wouldn’t it? It showed a perfectly straightforward route and the Couple drove away from the parade, neither of them wanting to mention the fact that they felt like they were being watched by someone in Mama Lazarou’s.