One of the first things I got introduced to when I moved to Vasco, was the old building on D’ Silva street. It was a derelict structure, complete with broken panes and overgrown weed bushes. It had once housed the famous Elliot Hotel until a shooting spree had dethroned its popularity.
My first and only friend, Samantha, also informed me about the local legend surrounding the ancient building. Apparently, the main lift of the hotel still worked. No maintenance and repairs for eighty years. Only a few passengers who ambitiously tried the lift and never returned.
My first few days at Vasco were not great. The other kids almost treated me like I didn’t exist. Only Samantha was of immense comfort to me, especially after the unfortunate fire back home in Mangalore. My mother and I made it, though my dad and my younger sister were consumed by the hungry flames. Samantha thought it would be a good idea for me to loosen up and play with the other kids, even though they really didn’t care about me.
I noticed that Samantha was a pretty popular girl. Next to her, I, a bespectacled bony boy with constellations of acne and rivulets of burn scars, looked like a disgrace to her attractiveness and smartness. Nevertheless, I pushed on, hoping that all this was temporary and there would dawn a day when I would be accepted.
It so happened that one day, in our excitement to choose a wonderful hiding place during a game of Hide n’ Seek, we situated ourselves behind the dense weed bushes of the former Elliot Hotel. We, of course, didn’t mean to go inside and promised ourselves the insurance of distance of our hiding place.
Suddenly, it started pouring heavily and we made a dash for the gates. But as luck would have it, the rusted iron protected them from any movement. We decided to exit the way we had come – throw ourselves to reality over a small space of ‘weed-less’ wall. Much to our utter dismay, we discovered that the heavy rains had already created a moat around the estate. There was now no choice, but to head to the main building and wait till the rain receded.
As we approached the hotel, it seemed to beckon us in a sinister fashion. The crooked bannisters of the once posh balconies looked like blackened teeth of a time-honoured cadaver. The cracked window panes appeared to reflect the darkness inside, rather than the storm outside. The rotting wooden frames seemed to plead with them, as they hung on the edge for dear life. In all, the hotel certainly did seem to lack hospitality, an ignominy to its former glory.
Having hopped across numerous brooks of murky rainwater, we consigned ourselves to the portico of the building. We soon discovered that this idea would not be sustainable, for the rain continued to make its way through, despite the best attempts provided by the roof. In hindsight, maybe not the best attempts.
Grudgingly, we pushed the decaying doors and entered the main hall. I surprised myself by not being as scared as I had expected to be. In fact, my first thoughts were consumed with pity. I was extremely saddened to witness the ruin of a great hotel, confirmed by dust-laden luxe furniture and moth-eaten drapery. A lovely violet velvet carpet dutifully embraced the floor, though long devoid of the respect it deserved. Above, a regal chandelier, boasting of the finest crystal, looked down at us, as if unmoved by the thievery of its functionality.
Samantha on the other hand, was pretty scared. She clung to my jacket and never let go of it. Obviously, she was too frightened to appreciate the concealed beauty of this place.
“Relax, Sam! It’s just an old place! There’s nothing to fear!” I chipped at her.
“You don’t understand, Peter, I perceive… ahem… things.” She whispered. I looked questioningly at her.
“You may think I am insane and right now I don’t care about that. I see ghosts.” She stated with tears in her eyes.
I laid a comforting hand over her shoulder. “Samantha, I would never think you are insane.”
“The thing is Peter, I usually don’t go telling everyone about this. I see them as normally as you would see another human being. Sometimes, they are so similar to us that only upon close observation, do I realise they are not human. If everyone knew about this, I wouldn’t be as popular. But sometimes, the urge is so strong that I blurt it out. Like now.”
“Do you see any of them now?” I asked quietly.
She shook her head. “But I have a very bad feeling about this, Peter. I don’t like it.”
Our conversation was interrupted by a sudden grinding noise at the back of the hall. A dull amber light glowed from the said direction, betraying the source of the noise. After a few hesitant steps towards it, we identified the mysterious noise-maker. It was the lift.
For a few seconds, we stood rooted to the spot, not knowing how to react. You don’t often come across an elevator that works in a powerless, dilapidated building. Our sanity screamed at us to pick and throw ourselves out of this horrible place. Yet, a sense of mind-numbing curiosity overtook us and led us to the lift.
We pushed the rusted collapsible gates to the right and entered the small cabin. A small red light indicated the destinations of the elevator. “Ground Floor & Reception. Mezzanine. First Floor and Spices (Restaurant). Second Floor. Third Floor and Royal Ballroom.”
Before we could decide what to select, the gates shut themselves and locked us in. After a grating moan, the lift slowly started moving upwards.
Terrified, we hugged each other tightly as the elevator slowly tugged against gravity. What was most fearsome was the gradual change around us as the elevator moved. At first, we could hear faint strains of music and distant laughter that were increasingly becoming audible and closer. We also observed the steady increase in the presence of light that washed away the decay of the hotel. Through the diamond-shaped spaces between the rods of the gates, we watched in horror as the corridor of the third floor became brightly lit and announced the luxury the hotel provided. It was now clear that the voices were coming from the ballroom above. It sounded like as if there was a fun party going on.
The fourth floor arrived and our suspicions were confirmed. An immaculate waiter, complete with a white coat and a black bow tie, opened the door of the lift and bowed to us.
Gingerly, we stepped outside and observed the party that was going on. Ladies in satin gowns and silk sarees, bedecked with rich jewellery, twitted away to the menfolk, dressed in formal suits. Another waiter approached us.
“Care for a drink, sir?” No one had ever spoken to me this courteously. However, I refused him politely. There were still six years left to become eligible to drink!
“Sir! Excuse me!” I ran after the waiter.
“Yes, Sir. How may I help?”
“I seem to have forgotten the date! Tell me, what is the date and time?” I asked him sheepishly.
The waiter smiled. “Now I see why you refused another one Sir! Today is the 18th of June 1937. And the time is…” He paused to steal a look at the clock, “… seven-forty in the evening.”
I thanked him and ran back to Samantha and informed her of my newfound knowledge.
“This is bad.” She responded hoarsely.
“Yeah, I know. Looks like we time-travelled.”
“No. That isn’t what I meant. The infamous shooting will take place ten minutes from now. If we have indeed time-travelled, we will be dead before we were even born.”
“Not if we return!” I chimed and we both rushed back to the lift.
To our profound horror, we discovered that we couldn’t move the gates. Both of us tried our very best, using up all the strength we could muster. But the gates showed no signs of moving. We began screaming for help.
“Somebody help us! Please! We don’t want to die!” We continued hollering while the rest of the party continued their merry-making, apparently deaf to our cries. We couldn’t blame them. They were ghosts.
We kept trying and screaming for the next ten minutes. Our hands were a bright pink and tiny streams of blood flowed across our palms.
Suddenly, we heard gunshots. Oddly, the people at the party didn’t seem to care about it. They continued drinking and chatting as if gunshots were as regular as car horns. The gunshots were nearing and we could now see the shooter – a young man of about twenty, with perfectly combed hair and a trim moustache.
He approached us and broke into a guffaw.
“Welcome to the Party!” He said mockingly and continued to laugh loudly. As an anaesthetic reaction to the terror of the situation, my mind was suddenly reminded of Malinda K Reese’s hilarious parody of Adele’s ‘Hello.’
Then, without a moment’s hesitation, he pulled the trigger at Samantha. I watched in panic as the lovely figure fell down, clutching her heart. I ran to scoop her up, but she was indeterminably heavy. I ran to the heartless killer and grabbed him by his cufflinks.
“Why did you kill her?” I yelled at him.
“Didn’t you listen? To welcome her to the party.” He replied nonchalantly.
“Oh yeah? So why am I not welcome to your party?” I hollered at him.
“You are already!” He exclaimed and left me completely confused.
Suddenly, I heard Samantha’s voice. “Peter! Peter!”
I rushed back to where I had laid her near the lift. To add to my confusion, I could make out that Samantha was not in fact speaking. Her voice wasn’t coming from her body.
“Peter! Over here, you fool!”
I turned back and gasped. There was a second Samantha standing in front of me.
“But how?” I asked as my head swung like a pendulum between the two Samanthas.
“I don’t exist on that life plane anymore, silly!” She said, pointing at her lifeless body.
“Samantha, are you a ghost now?” I asked slowly.
“Yes! And now, I can enjoy this wonderful party forever! Come on, let’s have a drink!”
“But… that guy… I am not invited, Samantha. I am sorry you are dead, but that guy didn’t shoot me. I have to go back, my friend.”
Samantha scanned me top to toe and then replied, “Peter, you were invited to this party a long time back. You have been dead for a long time now.”