Rudd pushes through the swing doors into the dining-room and pauses. The noise and chat of the wedding party is gone. All he can hear is the eery, raindrenched echo of an empty room. He switches on his torch, its reach no more than a few yards now, and crosses the empty space towards the stairs up into the reception area. On the top step the storm shake is louder. Rudd can feel the wind chasing in through the broken doors, its scent wet and wild, but he cannot hear anyone. He is about to shout out when the front door bangs.
“Who’s that?” he calls.
A bright light angles over the floor towards him.
“Ja. Just been outside. Climbed round to where the gate used to be.”
“Ja. Apologies hey. Suddenly wondered if Fred might have been in his car for some reason.”
“But it’s chaos …”
“Don’t tell me. I found the car. It’s a write off. The good news is they weren’t in it.”
“Eish … We were out there too. Never saw you.”
Tim’s glasses glint in the dark as he comes closer. “I was right up at the top end. Where Fred’s car was parked.” He shines his torch into the corners. “Where’s everyone?”
“Search parties I reckon. Or getting warm clothes and stuff.”
“Hope they’ve found Fred and Bernard. This is terrible.”
“Telling me. Listen we should probably get out there and look as well. I’ll get Tonderai. I’ll leave Innocence with the staff. They’re freaked out by that landslide. Give me two minutes. We’ll meet you at the door.”
As soon as they step out on to the front verandah the wind shoves into them, pushing them first to one side and then back to the other. They try to press on into the thick of it, but their progress is slow, and cluttered by chairs and tables that shift unpredictably.
They are halfway across when the bend and lift of the roof above them, unnerves Rudd.
“I think we should get under cover,” he shouts out to Tim and Tonderai who are ahead of him.
“… make it dow … rooms …” Tim replies, but Rudd cannot hear him properly.
He forces his way through a few tables, trying to get closer, then shouts again, worried that Tim will try to make it down the stairs to the walkway below. “There … let’s go in …. billiards. Get nowhere in this … your torch.”
He sees Tim hesitate, and then, with relief notices that Tonderai has turned back and is urging the young doctor to follow. Rudd waves the last of his torchlight, beckoning them towards the open door of the billiards room which is swinging wildly to their left. As they reach it, a fresh lash of rain whips into them from behind, collapsing them on to each other like dominoes. Helpless, they heap through the door. As they get back to their feet there is a shout, and a torch catches them in its spotlight.
“Marybelle?” Rudd calls.
“Hi. Yes. It’s me. And Fred. And Simi. Bernard and Jambee have gone to fetch stuff.”
“How’s Fred?” Tim shouts.
“Not so good. Any chance you can shut that door?”
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023