Chapter One: The Ghost Boy

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It was a blistering winter's day when the black sedan rolled up the gravel drive of the Hotel Braga. Beneath the thick rubber wheels, rocks crunched and crackled to announce their approach and within moments the newly arrived guests were greeted by a dismal looking valet boy.

"See, I told you Elizabeth, everyone here is perfectly friendly." The man in the car, Mr. James Williams, was smiling over at his daughter who was strapped into the passenger seat, looking thoroughly unconvinced. It was widely known that the Williams family was of the unusual sort. The mother had passed away some time ago and the father was a lawyer, who was often called away on business. It was during these trips that he was accompanied by his eleven-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.

"If you say so, but this place looks really bleak." She turned her eyes up at the towering stone hotel with a frown. It looked like a castle that had once been the destination of great parties, but now stood gloomy and unfriendly. Perhaps, the Hotel Braga would not have given such feeling if it were not surrounded by iron fencing that towered over the tallest of people with sharp, pointed ends. The enclosure gave her the distinct impression of a prison yard, not a prestigious hotel's driveway. And she couldn't decide if the fencing was meant to keep something out or keep something in.

Above the main entrance was a row of narrow, ornate windows. Their multi-colored glass was bleak in the shadow of grey clouds and their sliver veining was worn from years of neglect. They rested over the veranda and had a view of the entire drive that led up to the Hotel. From their position it would be possible to see miles of unobstructed landscape and catch a glimpse of the town that the building resided on the outskirts of. Provincetown was ordinary in comparison to the Hotel Braga, but that didn't stop her from comparing one to the castle of an evil queen and the other to a fairy-tale village. Elizabeth also gathered that the small windows were the perfect place to watch incoming guests, because as her gaze fixated on the far-left side of the front of the hotel, she spotted a shadow retreating from the glass and what appeared to be a candle being snuffed out.

Upon entering the hotel, Mr. Williams and his daughter were tended to immediately by an elderly concierge by the name of Jones. Attempting to be polite, she addressed him as Mr. Jones, but was quickly and kindly corrected, "No Miss, the name is just Jones." He smiled warmly at the two of them and the young girl decided that the place might not be wholly bad after all. If everyone who worked at the Hotel Braga was as warm and friendly as this Jones, then the foreboding nature of the building would be all the more tolerable. "I'll be taking your things up to your rooms while you check in. It was nice meeting you Mr. Williams and Miss Elizabeth." Without another word he scuttled off, heaving their two very large suitcases into an elevator and disappearing from their sight entirely.

"Where are our rooms anyway?" Beth asked, looking around at the grand entryway they had been left in. They stood on polished wood floors and the walls around them were the same stormy-grey stone that the outside of the building was made of, only here they were draped with tapestries to keep the chill from closing in. Off to the left, there was a grand hearth in which a fire blazed, snapping and crackling heartily as it devoured pieces of wood. Here, things did not seem so gloomy. The room had a historical charm that she had heard belonged solely to the castles of Europe and a sense of grandeur, privy to those of immense wealth. "How old is this place?"

"Well, aren't you a curious little girl?" A woman, with sleek black hair that fell to the tops of her shoulders, rounded the corner and stepped behind the front desk, smiling widely with red lips and dazzling white teeth. "This Hotel has been around for nearly four hundred years. Everything has been restored, as you can see, but we like to keep the Hotel Braga as true to its original state as possible."

Beth stood quietly, her mind reeling over the insult of being called a 'little girl'. Certainly, it was true, she was quite young, but she had read many books and that surely counted for something. "So, it was built when this area was first discovered?" Her sharp eyes met those of the woman, something about the broad smile made the girl bristle with agitation.

"Why yes, we were quite popular for many of those traveling in and out of the country. The hotel has been through several transformations over the years, from being a home to an academy and now a hotel." Laughing, the woman extended her hand to Mr. Williams, her attention no longer on the curious child, and offered another coy smile. "Ms. Livingston, at your service. It's a pleasure to finally meet you Mr. Williams. I am the manager here at the Hotel and I'll be making sure that all your needs are attended to." The adults began conversing about the amenities of the establishment and which roads were best to take when Mr. Williams was required to travel to town for meetings and conferences, things Elizabeth had no interest in being a part of. She couldn't drive nor did she care to venture into the snow and she wasn't interested in the hotel's brand new steam rooms.

While they talked, Beth began moving further and further away from them and deeper into the strangeness that was the Hotel Braga. She noticed that the tapestries on the walls all seemed very familiar to her, like she had seen them in a history book or come across them online. They were intricately detailed and their colors, despite their age, were very vibrant. It was possible that restoration had allowed them to look so good, but she was no expert on the subject. In fact, everything looked strangely new and well cared for. The boasted antique frames didn't look more than ten years old and some of the paintings she knew were dated long before the building of the hotel, some of which she thought she recalled as being missing or destroyed. It was odd that a place so old could appear to have sprung out of the ground only yesterday. It was even stranger still that there didn't seem to be anyone else sharing the hotel with them. Aside from the valet, Jones, and Ms. Livingston, Beth hadn't seen any other employees and absolutely no guests.

It became her opinion that this historic place wasn't as grand as it presented itself to be. If there were no guests, then surely it meant that it wasn't a nice place to stay or very accommodating. In fact, it might have been better for them to stay at the little bed and breakfast she had found in town. It would be more convenient for her father to be inside of Provincetown and would offer her more to do when he was busy working. At least there she could go to the book shop and maybe to an ice cream parlor. And there would be people.

Elizabeth was inspecting a strange looking cabinet when she spotted, out of the corner of her eye, a boy watching her from behind a curtain. He was a thin child, with dark hair like Ms. Livingston's, and brown eyes. His nose was sharp with a small upturn at the tip, his chin small, and his cheeks round with youth. He looked to be about her age, maybe a year older, and the idea of a new friend excited her greatly. But when she straightened up to look at him directly, he slipped behind the thick drapery and out of view.

"Excuse me?" She called out, abandoning her examination of the antique and began approaching the spot she had seen him. So, there are guests here, she thought with renewed interest in the place. Perhaps her stay at the hotel would not be so bad if she had someone to play with and talk to. "My name is Elizabeth, but you can call me Beth." She called, her hand hovering over the curtain, waiting with painful anticipation to draw it back. Carefully, she listened, to see if maybe he was speaking very quietly to her, but there was no sound other than her own slow breathing. Was the boy very shy? She couldn't imagine why, she hadn't been too forward. Or had she? Elizabeth was aware that some of her social skills were not as refined as those who grew up in one area and took the time to interact with other children their age. It was one of the bad things that came from travelling from place to place with her father.

"Honestly, I'm not going to bite..."

Beth threw open the curtains, only to reveal a large window that overlooked the courtyards. There was absolutely no boy in sight, nor was there any place he could have gone. Outside, the low, grey clouds sprinkled a light dusting of snow over the trimmed hedges and pathways. She peered down at them, noting that the snow remained fresh and untouched. Leaning, and almost pressing her face to the glass, Elizabeth examined the edges of the window and its creases but found no way for it to be opened. There was no draft, no latch, and no way to push it out. Even below the windowsill, there was no vent or trap door to slip into. And she had read about such things before in mystery novels. Secret panels in walls and vents could be opened and used as tunnels for quick escapes. Her fingers slid along the smooth stone, pressing the bricks and half expecting one to move. But none of them did. It seemed that the boy had simply disappeared.

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