Story postcard – the search (2)

Sheltered by the walkway Rudd switches his torch back on. Tonderai and Innocence do the same, and the three begin to check in and around the guest rooms, beginning with Fred and Bernard’s.

The door to their room, like that to most of the rooms, has been left unlocked for the come and go of families and campers sharing bathrooms, but the windows are shut and it is dry inside. They shout repeatedly, their torches shining into the corners, but nobody is there so they move on to check the other rooms. In one they find the garden doors have burst open, so they squelch across the carpet, and duck under the thumping flail of the wet curtain to check the patio, but there is only an upturned table without its chairs.

The last room they check is Rudd’s, now Simi’s. It is the only one they find locked. Rudd tries to shine his torch through the small window into his old room, but can see nothing.

“No sign!” he shouts, then turns back to Tonderai and Innocence. “Come on. We’d better get back up there.”

He forces his torch beam out into the dark in one last anxious sweep, but it is a hopeless gesture, bounced back at him by the rain which tips, thick as mercury, over the roof and gutters. He swears, and switches the torch off.

“Let’s go. We need to check up there.”

“Use the main stairs. It will be best,” Tonderai shouts, as he and Innocence switch off their torches and lead the way into the dark, their waterproofs slick and shining in front of Rudd.

Rudd is tensed tight with cold and dread. He is now so miserable that he barely feels the rain as it gusts in sideways, slapping his shirt and trousers to his skin like wet paint. Panic starts to throb through him, its beat getting faster and faster. He does not want to lose two indestructible veterans, two legends, on his watch. He dreads finding them dead due to his lack of truth, due to his failure to pass on information that might have saved them. Fraught with hopeless guilt he shouts their names again, but there is no reply, just the soaking roar of the rain.

By the foot of the stairway the water is deeper, seeping over the edge of his veldskoens and slopping around his toes. He looks up through the blur of rain, and sees water torrenting down the stairs towards him. Just visible to either side are the lowest of the old roof supports, standing stiffly to attention, as though guarding the cascade. On its right edge he makes out Tonderai and Innocence climbing slowly, close together, heads low. He follows them, working his way carefully through the debris swirling around his feet.

The higher he climbs the heavier the wind becomes. He anchors himself to the poles one stage at a time, before staggering on to the next. He is halfway up when he hears a shout.

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023

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