Chapter Sixty-Three: Unfamiliar Waters

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Sarafina could feel the fear twisting in her chest like a rubber band. With every step she took through the dilapidated ruins of the motel, she could feel the band tightening. It was as if the walls were slowly pressing together against her. The stale, dusty air felt devoid of oxygen and the tips of her fingers tingled with tiny pinpricks. 

Behind her, Forester came out of the stairwell backwards, pulling Trevellian's wheelchair. He moved slowly, trying to muffle the sounds of the wheels hitting each step. Bennet was already a little way down the corridor. Sarafina could make out her lithe figure in the shadows as she walked around a pile of debris and pushed open the door to one of the rooms. The spear strapped to her back glinted in the moonlight. 

They were in the eastern wing of the motel now, far from the stairwell where they had come in. The walls here were made of crumbling plaster that sloughed off in chunks to reveal the rotting insulation beneath. Rows of doorways stretched away into the darkness, but most of the doors had fallen away from their hinges. The empty doorways let in slits of moonlight that illuminated the chaotic mess of graffiti running the length of the corridor. On the wall next to Sarafina's head, someone had painted a large red face with slitted eyes and a hideous grin. It seemed to be laughing at her. 

It had been slow progress since they left the roof. Bennet had been careful to lead them away from the stairwells that were likely to be watched. With Trevellian's wheelchair, each flight of stairs had to be taken slowly to avoid any noise that could give them away, and every step they took risked sending a foot through the collapsing floor. 

Bennet motioned for them to come to her, and Sarafina followed Forester and Trevellian as they picked their way down the corridor. When they reached the open door, Bennet glanced down behind them then leaned in. 

'This will take us down to the end of the eastern wing of the building. When we hit the end, we'll drop down another level and double back to the main reception area.' 

Bennet's voice was barely a whisper. Sarafina found herself moving forward so she could catch the words. 

'Once we get out, we're still going to have to get away,' said Forester. 'The car is parked on the other side of the building from reception.' 

Bennet rolled her eyes. 'One problem at a time. They're going to be--,' 

Bennet stopped speaking and looked up. Forester opened his mouth, but she silenced him with a hand. 

Sarafina held her breath and listened. The wind outside made a whispering noise as it drifted in through the gaps in the boarded up windows. The rustle of her friends' clothes and the sounds of their breathing seemed intrusively loud in the darkness. She was about to turn away when she heard it - the regular sound of footsteps on the stairs. They had the dull, heavy thud of boots on concrete.  

She felt Bennet put a hand on her shoulder and firmly push her towards the open door, and realised that Trevellian and Forester had already gone through. Bennet followed her and closed the door behind them. 

The room had been stripped of everything of value. The electrical sockets were gaping holes in the wall, and there were chunks of concrete missing where the aluminium window frames had been torn away for scrap. Through a gap in the plywood boards covering the window, Sarafina could see the motel carpark and the petrol station. 

They packed into the small room that had once been the bathroom. Sarafina could see a protruding pipe where the toilet had been, and the floor was tiled with a sickly cream and brown mosaic pattern under the grime. In the discoloured patch of paint where the mirror used to be, someone had spray-painted the words 'I feel more like I do now than when I came here.' The atmosphere in the bathroom was tense and close, as if the physical proximity had somehow heightened each of their fears. 

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