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Year 2000 Guidebooks

"Carpet" and other tales
A magic carpet in a hotel room, a safari gone astray, a mysterious mission, a map mishap -- four excerpts take unexpected twists.

book cover

Haunted Traveller

By Barry Yourgrau

Arcade Publishing

206 pages

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By Barry Yourgrau

April 28, 1999 | I come into my hotel room with my small bag. I put it down by the bed and look around. The room is dowdy and old, with a nondescript view through the dingy lace of the curtains. The carpet is threadbare; it has an ominous concave area in the middle of it. Very carefully I crouch and lift back the carpet by an edge. I stiffen, involuntarily making a noise. I drop to my knees and peer down.

A hole gapes in the floorboards, giving on to a naked abyss, a chasm that dives away into an unfathomable yawning space in the earth. A dank breeze plays at my hair. With a thudding heart I stare at what I've disclosed. Then I reach over and spread the carpet again as it was, and sink back on my haunches, my fists clenched at my thighs as I collect myself. This carpet appears to be the false cover to a trap. One naive step, one careless turn -- a person would plunge away into nothingness. I grunt to myself and shake my head with an intimate shiver. I run my hands through my disordered hair, and get to my feet and open the suitcase, to start putting some things in the chipped, flimsy bureau.

Then I go downstairs, to the hotel bar. I order dinner by myself at a small table by the wall. The place is shadowy, dull. There is only one other diner, a woman. I strike up a conversation with her. After dinner I buy her a drink at the dark little bar counter. She's pleasant enough, if much travelled, and likes to laugh. Her dress and coat are a bit worn.

"Why don't we go on up to my room," I suggest, a thought coming to mind as I look her over. "There's something I want to show you." The phrasing of the sentence provokes her to blink at me. A smile works her mouth. She bursts into a laugh.

We come into my room and I steer her blandly over to the side of the bed, to sit. I pour a couple of drinks from the bottle I have on the bureau. We salute. "So what is it you want to show me?" she says, with a tart hitch of her lip that's meant to be intimate and worldly. I look at her. In the lamplight, her features are coarsely etched. But there is an underlying vulnerability that stirs me, oddly, as it did downstairs. I sit beside her, and lean in and we kiss over our drinks. When we part, I take a deep breath. "Ready?" I ask. I can see the gravity of my tone confuses her. I climb down from the bed and edge along on my knees to the carpet. I'm a little drunk, and worked by a peculiar drift of emotion. She gazes down at me, baffled, trying to grin. I do the same. I throw back the carpet. She peers forward, then all at once she gasps.

Her drink splashes. She gives out a pathetic cry and scrambles wildly back along the bed against the wall, huddling away, crying out. Her reaction catches me unprepared. It shames me. I bring the carpet back and waddle over on my knees. I climb up beside her and put my arm around her, as she shudders and twists against the force of what she's seen. Her lipstick smears on my shirtsleeve. I smell her nondescript perfume and am gnawed by pathos.

She whimpers beside me, deeply wounded, like a terrified child. "Come now, you've seen worse," I murmur, stroking the brittle mass of her hair. "You've seen much worse in your time ..."

 Next page | Pouches: The beast had attacked and I took my teeth out


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