The hotel was called ‘Peacock’s Haven’, which was bewildering for some because it was nowhere near the light Indian plains that peacocks are known to nest in. Instead, this dwelling stood over the cliff that looked out to an open beach in the northern areas. With acres of grass and marsh outstretching from either side, the ‘Haven’ stood remote on the cliff. It was a small pretty building, with white-washed exteriors, irons railed balconies, and potted plants were strewn about. The most distinct feature was the roofs which were tiled with rich Sapphire tiles, no doubt designed to augment the hotel’s name.
Maybe, it was because of being so distant from the rest of the countryside that resulted in the depleting business, but certain customers always arrived to stay there. Particularly those, who wanted to escape the chaotic city life.
Ayden was one such man, except he hadn’t been a guest at the hotel but an employee. He was one of the desk managers who also doubled as a bellboy of sorts, but now was standing behind the reception desk, glaring at Mr. Durnheim who was now parading in the lobby.
The Haven had been mortgaged to Mr. Durnheim for more than a year, and now he eyed the hotel like a predator, an attitude which of course, earned him the animosity of every employee of the Haven.
Mr. Durnheim strode proudly through the hotel corridor, his one arm entwined with the arm of his lovely wife. The woman on the other side of Mr. Durnheim was Aliza, who was constantly tugging the collars of her almond coat despite doing her utmost best not to appear nervous.
The clock chimed, sending echoes in every nook and corner of the place. It was twelve o'clock and Ayden straightened. He noticed Aliza glancing in his direction and for a moment wished he could telepathize with her; if he could, he would assure her that everything would be alright.
A scream pierced.
Mrs. Durnheim panicked and lost her balance. Aliza rushed to her as she faintly pointed at a giant Monet painting on the wall. Everyone stared, looking for answers before the lady screamed again, “Blood!”
They saw it then: a scarlet liquid was dripping from underneath the painting. Mr. Durnheim stared dumb-founded at the wall. He didn’t turn to his wife once but turned pale, and looked close to collapsing himself.
Behind them, Ayden called for a physician in the town close by but unwittingly released a slight chuckle. He focused his attention on calling the doctor, but his chuckle had already been overheard by Aliza.
“I assure you Mr. Durnheim, this has never happened at the hotel before” Aliza pleaded. On the inside, she was burning with so much frustration that her cheeks were almost as red as the stain on the lobby wall.
Mr. Durnheim was still wiping his sweaty brow and tried to look as composed as he could. The doctor had already checked his wife and departed. She was now regaining her composure in the hotel room Aliza checked the couple into. Mr. Durnheim felt distressed; the sight of blood on the wall was too vivid to leave his mind just yet and he insisted on resting through the night. He did not listen to Aliza’s pleads and shut the room door on her and Ayden, who silently giggled.
“You!” Aliza choked, as soon as she and Ayden were alone in the corridor, “You idiot!”
Ayden sighed, “Maybe. But you might change that to ‘genius’ in the next few days.”
“You know what you’re doing is called gaslighting.”
“As long as Mr. Durnheim doesn’t know it, it won’t hurt him.”
He began whistling, and just as Aliza opened her mouth to add another protest, he smirked back at her saying, “If you want me to stop frightening the Durnheims, I’ll stop.”
“Then stop!” Aliza cried.
Ayden reflected and proceeded to the staircase. “How about” he turned to reply, “You save the hotel your way and I’ll save it my way?”
He continued downstairs whilst, not far behind him, Aliza scavenged the corridor for something to throw at him. But after a deep breath, she reminded herself that every little thing in her father’s hotel was much too precious to waste on that blithe idiot.
Mr. and Mrs. Durnheim did not leave the hotel premises the next morning but insisted on an inspection. Aliza had to come up with a credible reason why the wall was leaking, but Ayden jumped in. He argued that the pipe passing the lobby wall had begun leaking at the precise time that his carefree nephew pranked the staff by dropping red food coloring in the pipe areas. The only dishonest part of this story was that Ayden’s nephew hadn’t visited in the last three months, not since he moved to the city with his parents.
Mr. Durnheim was still only half convinced but spent his time gorging at brunch. Within hours, his usual demeanor of bouncing about the hotel, greedily eyeing everything, had returned.
This was the signal for Ayden, who took it upon himself to begin another episode of ‘haunting’, this time with more substance. But Aliza had other plans.
She invited Mr. Durnheim to her office, a tiny room on the ground floor, of which the brightest feature was a window covering an entire wall, overlooking the spacious lanai which stood between the hotel and the sea.
From her desk drawer, Aliza quietly handed Mr. Durnheim a stuffed envelope. He checked the contents, and they were the exact amount Aliza had intended but Mr. Durnheim puffed his cheeks at the delivery of this monthly installment. He had made it clear to Aliza on many similar meetings before and now made it crystal once again that he was going to get his hands on something. It was either going to be many, many more notes and envelopes like this, or a pretty little ‘Haven’ by the sea.
Aliza had already prepared herself for the scrutiny that was due to come, but a sound of glass crashing rang from the lanai. Both of them looked outwards and saw Mrs. Durnheim, whose newly regained health was looking to deplete once more.
Aliza almost burst out, ‘What now?’ but Mr. Durnheim rushed to his wife’s side, the envelope tightly pressed in his hand.
Mrs. Durnheim was having her brunch overlooking the sun-kissed beach and had made the humble mistake of questioning the waiter about the name of the hotel. Aliza sighed, leaning her head against the white grilled door of her office, observing the unfolding scene while calculating a new excuse in her mind. She twice considered returning to the office and checking whether she could find new sources of funds. She wanted to finish this ensuing drama ‘her way’ as soon as possible, but her curiosity ultimately won and she stayed to listen to what spectacle Ayden had conceived to outshine the ‘bleeding wall’ scene.
The waiter humbly retold to the inquisitive but sensitive Mr. Durnheim about the story of a married couple who resided in the house by the cliff and owned a family of beautiful peafowl, whose feathers were a sight for the entire village to see. One night, a spectacular country ball was to take place and the wife demanded an equally spectacular dress to wear. But the couple was poverty-stricken, and in a bid to satiate his raving wife, the husband bludgeoned one of the beautiful peacocks to death and used its feathers to adorn his wife’s dress. This however was the couple’s undoing. The wife was not only cursed with incurables scar on her body by simply touching the feathers, but later that night, the couple was haunted by the sounds of the remaining peafowl family. Two days later, their bodies were discovered, covered in horrifying bites and pecks and a pile of beautiful, vibrant peacock feathers.
Mr. Durnheim too choked when the waiter added that the ‘Haven’ was built atop the ruins of the married couple’s house.
Aliza turned and caught Ayden observing the unfolding scene with a wide grin sketched on his face. She glared at him and the waiter; she decided which two employees would be getting a cut on their paychecks that month.
It was the last leg of the weekend, but Ayden felt the theatrics had only just begun. He scratched the back of his neck and waited impatiently for sunset to arrive, but even more unsettling was the reminder that the Durnheims were late sleepers.
Ayden had been working at the Haven for two years, and that was just two months shy of the time the Haven had opened. He was there because he liked it; the quiet mornings, the unrushed time, and the minimal crowds meant everyone knew the other’s name and smiled when exchanging greetings. He had been there from the time the hotel didn’t have the vast expanse of décor in the lobby wall, he remembered when the lanai was still under construction, and most importantly, he remembered Aliza’s father and the debt he owed to Mr. Durnheim, even after death.
Aliza was just as diligent as her father, he thought, but she didn’t recognize that Mr. Durnheim was a vulture in every meaning of the word. Mr. Durnheim was preying on the remains of her and her father’s investment, which was now crumbling.
When the Durnheims finally retired for the night, Ayden began making his move. He was to meet the waiter with a bottle of red dye, some peacock feathers, and a bag of sawdust by the couple’s door an hour after midnight.
But when he got to the rendezvous, he found an uninvited Aliza glaring at him.
“I told you to leave them alone!” she whispered.
“I am leaving them alone!” Ayden protested, “In a haunted hotel!”
“I’ve already paid off more than half on the installments” she replied, and smirked, “All that’s left now is to give him your stipend for the next two months!”
Ayden raised his eyebrows, “You turned out to be more diabolical than I thought.”
“Father warned me that you would be a terrible influence.”
Ayden took in a deep breath of pride and affection for the woman standing in front of him. Aliza didn’t lower her glaring eyes for a second, not even when the waiter arrived behind her.
Ayden had intended for the waiter for another task but for now, the waiter improvised and distracted Aliza; a task which he was clearly unfit for. When Aliza mistakenly looked in the other direction for one second, Ayden disappeared from the window at the corridor’s end. He carefully treaded the ledge which led to his destination: a tiny balcony hanging outside the window of the Durnheims room.
Using a key from his set, he opened the window door only slightly, just enough so the night breeze would pass through. The window did not creak, and the couple lay blissfully asleep. Disappointing, Ayden thought.
He carefully scampered into the room, the window still open, and began laying out his plan.
Suddenly, a knock was heard on the door, and Ayden knew it was Aliza who was trying to wake the couple. The relief was that Mr. Durnheim answered the knock by grunting loudly in his sleep. Dismayed but relieved at not being caught, Ayden chose Plan B and waited on the balcony until dawn.
The next morning, Mr. Durnheim was awoken by the shrieks of his wife. He looked around to find their room in disarray. Powder had been thrown about the room and furniture, chairs were upside down, and everywhere they looked, they saw the gruesome sight of bloodied peacock feathers scattered about.
But the most distressing sight was a certain shadowy figure leering at them from the balcony.
The couple sped away in their car before breakfast.
Three weeks had passed since the Durnheims exit and even Aliza had to admit; it was undoubtedly the most dramatic weekend that the Haven had ever seen. For the first time in her life, she was grateful that business was lacking because the couple were the only significant guests at the hotel that weekend.
She wouldn’t speak to Ayden at all; yes, ignorance would be his punishment. But she thought the result was ironic; Even if Mr. Durnheim wasn’t interested in acquiring a haunted hotel, he would still want his money.
Today, however, she was in much higher spirits than before. She figured that if the next two months went according to plan, she could easily pay off the mortgage owed to Mr. Durnheim and settle this business once and for all.
The day however went about much differently than either she or Ayden had designed.
In the afternoon, a car pulled outside the hotel doors. Exiting it was a man in a grey suit and hat, paired with a briefcase. Ayden welcomed him and the man revealed himself as Mr. Durnheim’s lawyer. Aliza could only gulp in response.
But the lawyer had much staggering news to reveal, and he did so whilst handing Aliza the lease papers to the hotel. She stared at them and at the lawyer. The papers to the Haven, her only heirloom, were in her grasp. Even Ayden smiled, in part amazement and part curiosity.
The lawyer began: “These papers have been sent by Mrs. Durnheim. It appears that Mr. Durnheim cleared his debts prior to his death.”
“His death?!” Aliza and Ayden burst out together.
“Why yes. Didn’t you know? He passed away in his sleep last Friday.”