Home > You Are Invited : A Ghost Story

You Are Invited : A Ghost Story
Author: Sarah A. Denzil

Chapter One

 

Alexandru muttered what I imagined was a curse word in Romanian as he shouldered the suitcase into his taxi. The boot lid came down with a slam that matched the volume of the man’s grunting and groaning, before he sucked in a long draw of his cigarette, tossed it, and ground it into the pavement with the heel of his shoe. I quickly snatched up the flattened butt. He watched me gingerly holding the tip, and with a shake of his head—and an amused exhale—he continued to watch me throw it into the nearest bin.

I’d been in Brasov less than thirty minutes and already I was about to leave again. I had no desire to face the last leg of my journey, I wanted to sleep, and I found myself staring back at the ground.

“Is that your button?” I asked, pointing to the grey disc near my shoe.

His gaze followed mine to the tarmac and he cursed again. “Yes, that belongs to me.” Then he slapped the fabric bomber jacket he was wearing and shook his head. “This is new! What happened to quality, eh?” He sighed, his greying beard sagging along with his jowls.

“It’s an easy fix. Do you have a needle and thread?” He stared at me as though I had two heads. “That’s okay, I do. It’s in my suitcase though. Could you…?” I gestured to the car.

While he opened the boot, I scooped up the button and kept it safely between finger and thumb. Then I quickly rummaged in the suitcase for my emergency sewing kit.

“I’m not taking that case out again,” he grumbled behind me.

“I’ve found it. Here, give me your coat and I’ll fix it while you drive.”

He removed the jacked and handed it over. “Careful. That is expensive coat. Christmas present from my daughter.”

“Oh, I see. Don’t worry, it’ll be fine.” I flashed him a reassuring smile. “I once made a tube top out of an old pair of jeans.”

He paused by the open driver’s side door, as though considering whether to ask further questions. Then he climbed in, clearly deciding not to bother.

Before following him into the car I allowed myself one last peek at the town I had no time to explore. Brasov was quiet around us as I hopped into the back seat. At the end of October, the tourist season was dying down. Only the most hardcore Dracula fans wanted to be in Transylvania for Halloween. Brasov, I thought, was far away from the vampiric nightmare of Stoker’s imagination. The trees were heavy with amber leaves, the houses pastel fronted. Yet there was an atmosphere about the narrow roads, with the bruised contours of the mountains in the distance, that was tangible even on a clear, crisp autumn day like today. I imagined the isolation bad weather would bring, and the sweeping mists coming down from those blue peaks, touching the steeples and bulwarks of the Gothic churches.

On wide roads that felt out of place in such timeless scenery, there were tacky billboards for the “Dracula Experience”. I imagined fairground ride attractions covered in fangs and blood, weary local actors donning black capes lined with red velvet, all run by young men with dark eyes that dart suspiciously from tourist to tourist.

But soon those busy roads quietened as Alexandru took us deeper into the Carpathian range, to the smooth winding roads of car adverts, flanked by forests and farms.

I reached into my bag for the welcome pack Irene had sent to me. The Event was printed on the front of the document in a bold font. Inside were photographs of the monastery’s stark exterior—tall stone walls, lancet arches and stained-glass windows. A ruined infirmary built separately to the main abbey. Then there were a few pictures of the renovation. Irene Jobert and her mother, Adele, stood next to builders in hard hats, grinning like Cheshire cats. They were in the centre of the monastery, the open part, with the cloister around them. Above them loomed a tall cherry tree in full candy-floss bloom. I could just make out a separate wing behind them, opposite to the newly refurbished rooms. Its stones and arches were in silhouette; ink-tinged and macabre next to the smiling faces and pink blossom.

“Is it going well?” Alexandru regarded me with his dark eyes beneath bushy, white brows. Framed by the rear-view mirror, most of his mouth was obscured, but I imagined him frowning, unconcerned with such things I found myself troubled by, such as people-pleasing.

“I’ll be honest,” I confessed. “I’m distracted by the view.” I placed the document down on the seat next to me.

There was a faint eye-roll visible through the rear-view mirror. “You here for vampire shit?”

“No,” I replied. “Nothing like that.”

“You are staying at Sfântul Mihail?” he asked. “The monastery?”

“That’s right, yes.”

“You know about the curse? The legend?”

I shook my head. “I don’t.”

He grunted. “Perhaps it’s best you don’t. How long are you staying in Transylvania?”

“A month,” I replied. “Maybe longer.”

His bushy eyebrows shot up. “So long? At the monastery? I did not know it was even…” He paused, searching for the word. “Habitable. It has been ruins for a long time.”

“Not quite ruins,” I corrected. “It’d been empty since the forties, but I believe the company I’ll be working for has bought and renovated part of it.”

“Well,” he said. “The locals will not like that.”

“Aren’t you a local?”

“Yes,” he said. “I mean the villagers. It is isolated around there in the mountains. They don’t like outsiders in these areas. The closest village to the monastery is Butnari. Farmers who keep to themselves. Perhaps don’t bother them too much and it will be fine.”

“We’ll be very respectful,” I said, but I had to admit that a shiver ran down my spine.

Placing the button over the remnants of the snapped thread, I quickly sewed it in place and went back to staring out the window. The taxi wound along the serpentine road surrounded by tall spruces, thin silver birches, and the occasional high-reaching oak. They blurred at the edges. Green and gold like Christmas.

“The forest is beautiful.”

“Yes,” he said. “But they are cutting it down.”

“Who?”

“Loggers.” He shrugged. “They take too much.”

“Your jacket is fixed now,” I said, passing it through the gap between the front seats, placing it carefully down on the passenger side.

“Thank you,” he said.

“How old is your daughter?” I asked.

“Twenty.” His clipped tone made me decide not to ask any further questions.

For a time we fell into silence, while all around us the last dying light of the day set over the spectacular vista. Unfortunately, I’d arrived later than expected in Brasov, after an airport luggage-handlers strike had resulted in flight delays, which in turn resulted in me missing my connection from Bucharest. When I called ahead to inform Irene, which—because of her fame—was surreal to me in many ways, she’d sighed dramatically and told me to get to the monastery as soon as I could because the roads would be tricky at night.

Now that the light was fading, her words were on my mind, but Alexandru kept the car in control, not too fast, confident with the bends. Each road was a thinner echo of the road before. Soon the car had to work harder on the steep incline.

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