Christine woke up very early. She got dressed. She put on her old denim overalls and her T-shirt. She laced up her sneakers that weren't so white anymore. She braided her hair again; it had come undone during the night. Then she went downstairs.
Her parents were sitting down to breakfast and wished her a good morning. They told her that her fox had been running back and forth in front of the house since dawn. They were not able to talk to animals like their daughter. They wondered what it wanted.
Christine went outside. She called to her friend and sat on the ground against the wall of the house. She stroked her gently.
The fox, a vixen, said, "I have five little kits. Would you like to come and see them?"
"Oh yes," the girl said, happily. "I would love to. Can I hold them?"
"Of course," said the fox. "Can you come today?"
Christine went back into the house.
"Dad, my fox has five little kits. Please, can I go see them?"
Our friend didn't attend school. The village was too far away. She did her schoolwork and learned her lessons with her mom. But today her mom gave her the day off, and her dad didn't need her help bringing back logs from the forest.
She choked down her toast and drank a glass of milk. She made herself a picnic lunch, wrapping it up and slipping it into the big pocket of her overalls along with her penknife. The knife was something she always carried with her when she went into the woods. She put on a belt and hung a canteen full of water from it. Then, fully equipped, she left for the day.
The fox led her along the road that brought them to the crossroads. As soon as they got there, the vixen pointed out a long path, and then, after making sure Christine knew the way to go, she ran ahead. She went to join her babies. Our friend wasn't moving fast enough for her.
That day, the path seemed very long to Christine. She wished she had her bike, but the path was too uneven for that. She didn't catch up to her friend with the kits until around noon. By then, she was very tired from her long walk.
They were so cute, all five of them. She held them in her arms. She petted them and gave them little kisses. She felt all this as a moment of joy and wonder.
Then, before eating her sandwich, she went over to a large lake just there. There were trees all around the shore. The fox den was very well located, just a few feet from the water.
It was a beautiful, hot day. The girl decided to go for a swim before going back. She took off her shoes and shirt and went into the water in her old, faded overalls. The water was a bit cool, but after a minute she got used to it and swam happily.
The lake itself was long and narrow. When Christine reached the middle, paddling, she discovered that it also went around a bend, like an elbow. And then, what a surprise! She saw a large building that looked quite abandoned.
A bit ill at ease but curious at the same time, our friend came out dripping, dressed quickly and walked towards this construction that she had never seen before. She stood right on the water's edge. Three stone steps separated the front of the building from the lake.
She saw a ground floor, and the first, second, and third floors above that.
The walls, old, dark, and cracked, seemed very sinister.
Christine entered the building through a large open balcony door. She saw a huge staircase. She followed the stairs up.
On the right was a front desk covered in dust. Behind it, she saw a shelving unit with little cubbyholes.
An old phone sat squarely on the desk. She picked up the phone but there was no dial tone. The floor and the carpets of the hall were covered with rubble and dust. The wallpaper was peeling off the walls.
She opened a heavy door and found a large dining room. Little by little, she realized she was exploring an abandoned hotel.
There were still tablecloths on some tables. There were places set on the tables. Knives, spoons and forks put in place alongside the plates and glasses. Other tables had, over time, collapsed or been knocked over and the crockery was broken.
Leaving the dining room, she walked through large halls now nearly in ruin. The paint on the ceiling was coming off in big flakes. Some littered the floor.
Christine went back to the lobby. She walked behind the front desk and looked at the little cubbyholes. There she saw a great number of keys. Each one had a number engraved on it, 101, 102, 103, and so on. On the shelf above, there were numbers 201, 202, then 301, 302, etc.
Christine had never stayed in a hotel before. She was curious so, at random, she took the keys to rooms 101 and 105. She went across the hall and up the stairs.
On the second floor, she went down a long hallway. It opened off to the left and the right. She walked up to room 101, put the key in the lock, turned it, and entered.
She looked at the room she had just cracked open. A double bed, a closet and, at the other end of the room, balcony doors opened onto a small balcony. She opened them and walked out. The balcony overlooked the lake. Christine closed the balcony doors and went to visit room 105. It was the mirror image of the first room.
Our friend went downstairs and put the keys on the front desk. She wanted to explore more but, just then, she noticed a curious sound. She realized that the sound had been going on before but she hadn't really paid attention to it when she first came in.
The sound was only every once in a while. "Thuk... thuk...thuk; thuk; thuk... thuk... thuk." It seemed to be coming from underneath the kitchen. Maybe there was a basement. Christine crossed the hall. Just there, on the wall by the upstairs banister, she noticed a door and opened it. It opened onto a wooden staircase.
She went down. The stairs creaked beneath her footsteps. She found herself in a hallway that had storerooms on either side. The sound was coming from a room off to her left.
Our friend walked over and looked through the keyhole. At each "thuk," some lamps would light up and then they would slowly dim. Just as they were about to fade away altogether, a new "thuk" would sound and rekindle the glow. Spooky. Scary.
Not seeing anyone, Christine tried the door. She found a very large, very strange machine. Water, which seemed to be from the lake, came in through a fairly wide pipe, some kind of chute. The water flowed directly onto a big wooden wheel and this made it turn. The rotation of the wheel made others also rotate. This finally activated a set of copper wire coils. It seemed to be a very old contraption, an electricity generator. Perhaps this is what provided a bit of light in the building. This abandoned hotel ...
Christine closed the door and went back up to the lobby. She then took the keys to 201, 203 and 312. She wanted to take the key for room 313 but, funnily enough, the key was missing. She took the key for 314 from the cubbyhole next to it.
She climbed the staircase up to the second floor. There, she saw rooms 201 and 203. They seemed pretty much the same as the rooms on the first floor, except that the doors here seemed to be much better built, much thicker and stronger.
She put the keys to 201 and 203 on the floor, just below the top step to the stairs up to where she was on the second floor, below the banister.
She climbed the stairs to the third floor.
She slipped the key to room 314 into the bib pocket of her overalls, next to the toast that she still hadn't eaten. Then, with the key to room 312 in her hand, she went up to the door of room 313.
She saw some light coming through the keyhole. A lamp was lit. She could hear the lamp crackling as it burned. Christine saw a bed that was made up. Softly, she tried to turn the doorknob. It was locked.
She went over to room 312, put the key in the lock and opened the door. Taking the key with her, she went in and locked the door. The room was empty. Our friend put the key marked 312 on the bed, walked over to the balcony doors and out onto the balcony.
From the balcony of room 312, she peered into room 313 but the windows were too dirty and she couldn't see anything.
Then her curiosity got the best of her and Christine climbed up onto the wrought iron of room 312's balcony. From there, she put a foot on room 313's balcony and held on to a gutter that ran between the two.
She straddled the void and then swung her other foot over. Finally, she stood with both feet on room 313's balcony.
The balcony door was locked. She couldn't get in from there.
Through the dust and cobwebs on the window, she could just make out a small bathroom on the left. She noticed a bathtub. The tub was full of water, almost to overflowing. She saw someone moving and the edge of a black dress. So she supposed the person she saw was a woman. This woman seemed to be cleaning something. Our friend couldn't see anything more.
She understood she wasn't alone in this abandoned hotel.
Quickly, she turned away from the window, climbed up on the wrought iron railing and jumped over to the balcony of room 312. She entered the room and closed the balcony door. She had only one thought now: to get away quickly.
She went over to the bed to get the key to room 312. Remember, she left it lying on the blanket. But the key to room 312 was no longer on the bed!
Christine's heart started beating fast. She was frightened out of her wits. This anxiety got worse when she heard a squeak and saw the doorknob of room 312 slowly turning.
Our friend looked all around her. A door connected rooms 312 and 313. It was the only way out.
She walked towards that door and turned the handle. It was unlocked.
The knob to the door to the hall was now turned all the way. The door opened slowly.
Christine hurried into room 313 and closed the connecting door behind her.
In the adjoining bathroom, there was an old woman with white hair. She had a lost expression on her face as she cleaned something in the bathtub.
This strange person didn't seem to have noticed Christine. Suddenly, from the soapy water of the bathtub, she pulled out a human skull.
Christine had to stop herself from crying out in fright. Just then, the communicating door opened. The girl quickly got herself behind the bed and lay down on her belly.
Wanting to hide herself away better, she lifted the edges of the bedspread that hung all the way down to the floor. As she did this, she saw two whole human skeletons right there under the bed.
A second woman entered the room. The first one put down the brush and the soap she had in her hand and walked towards our friend. Christine tried to get away but each of the old women grabbed her by a wrist.
Their strength was unbelievable for their age.
She fought back with every ounce of her might. She kicked one of the women and bit the other on the wrist. Once she was free, she opened the communicating door and ran through room 312 to the hallway. The two women ran after her.
Christine went down the stairs as fast as she could. A ten-year-old girl can run a lot faster than two senior citizens. She got to the lobby a while before them. She went through it, ran to the shore of the lake, and kept going as fast as her legs would carry her.
She looked over her shoulder a few times. The two women weren't following her anymore.
Christine ran and kept running with everything in her, until she was spent. She was drenched in sweat and still flushed with fear. With her heart beating fast, she looked back to make sure no one was behind her. Finally, she slowed down and headed straight home. She hadn't even had time to eat her snack!
By the time she got back home, it was evening. She told her parents all about her adventure in the abandoned hotel. At first they had a hard time believing her. But then Christine took the key to room 314 out of the pocket of her overalls. With that her parents knew that their daughter was telling the absolute truth.
Her dad called the police right away. They told her dad that the police would send them an update to keep the family informed.
An hour later, Christine's home phone rang. She was on the way to her room but stopped halfway up the stairs so she could listen to the conversation. Commander Francois from the special ops unit spoke with her dad. Our friend had already met him in her other adventures.
Her dad called his daughter and handed her the phone.
"The commander would like to talk to you, sweetie."
"Hello Christine. How are you doing?"
"Better now but the afternoon was an emotional rollercoaster. It took a lot out of me."
"Tell me all about it," said the soldier.
Then she told the story of her adventure one more time.
"Good. The police asked us to run the investigation. I will come tomorrow morning, quite early, with three of my men. Robert and Bertrand, enlisted men you already know, and a third. You'll bring us to the hotel and we can then try to find out the secret of these two women. How does that sound?"
"All right," our friend agreed. "With you there, I have nothing to fear.
"Perfect," Commander Francois answered. "See you in the morning. Have a good night."
Christine hung up, kissed her parents and went off to bed. But not before explaining everything to them.
The next morning at dawn, she got up. After putting on her usual overalls, T-shirt and well-worn sneakers, she went downstairs for breakfast.
Commander François and the three soldiers had only just arrived.
"So, Christine, did you sleep well? Let's get going!"
The girl sat in the front of the ATV just to the right of the commander. The three soldiers were in the back. They drove for half an hour. After that even the military all-terrain-vehicle couldn't continue, so they had to go the rest of the way on foot.
Our friend then guided them down the path leading to the lake where the abandoned hotel was. They walked right past the fox den and they cautiously went up to the old building.
The commander took out his binoculars and, for a long time, watched the building. He couldn't make out anything unusual. It seemed completely deserted.
"Fine," the soldier said to himself. "Men, we go in through the front entrance. From what Christine has just told us, from the front lobby, we can access the basement. Once there, we search the area. This is a full-scale search. Once you have cleared each room, you go upstairs and clear the ground floor, first floor and so on. Christine's with me. We take the stairs and go into room 313 where these women were last seen. Then we all meet where we came in."
The girl still very worried. She gave the commander her hand and entered the hotel with him. They mounted the big staircase in silence.
The man took his pistol out of its holster on his belt and gripped it firmly.
When they reached the third floor, the commander indicated to Christine that she should stay behind him. The hallway was dark.
Without a sound, they quietly moved towards room 313. A little light was coming out from under the door.
Commander Francis tested the doorknob. Locked. Then, he shouldered the door and stormed into the room shouting, "hands in the air!"
Room 313 was empty. The bathroom as well. The lamp was still crackling away. The bathtub overflowed with grey water. They couldn't see to the bottom of the tub because it was too soapy and dirty.
The soldier combed over every nook and cranny. He reached into the filthy water and fished out the chain so he could pull the plug and drain it. While the dirty water drained, he crossed the room towards the balcony door.
"Be careful," our friend said quietly. "The door to your left goes through to room 312."
Commander François saw no one on the balcony of room 313 so opened the door between the rooms and entered room 312. He turned it upside down, but it was empty, too.
Passing back through the bathroom, he glanced at the bathtub. In the meantime, it had drained of the dirty water. What horror! There were human bones at the bottom! Two skulls, shinbones, femurs, ribs and vertebrae. The remains of two people: two whole skeletons.
Christine and the commander both went out into the hallway. They walked down the stairs in silence. They couldn't hear the other three.
Where could they be?
They walked through the lobby. Empty! The door that led to the basement was open.
Commander François and Christine went downstairs. The soldier squeezed the hand of the brave little girl as she came after him.
At the bottom of the steps, they saw, to their right something they might have expected to see in an old castle, a sort of metal gate that came down from the ceiling and could block off a passageway. It had been lowered. They listened to the dull sound that had made our friend so curious. "Thuk...thuk... thuk...". It kept breaking into the heavy silence.
"What's that?" the commander asked.
"I know. Open up the door, there on the left. You'll see a big electrical machine behind the door."
Still with his gun in his hand, the soldier pushed the door open and entered the dark room, the electrical generator room. Our friend went in with him. He looked at the strange device.
Suddenly they heard a loud noise, the scrape of metal behind them. The commander rushed into the hallway. Too late, a heavy gate had just come down from the ceiling and was trapping them in the basement!
The three soldiers appeared at that moment behind the other gate.
These special ops soldiers were prisoners with Christine, in the basement of this old abandoned hotel!
"We couldn't find any other way out," shouted the three soldiers. "We've just searched everywhere over here."
With Christine, the commander went back into the generator room. They looked at it closely. Then, climbing up on the machinery, he tried to crawl into the wooden chute that connected with the lake. But the chute was too narrow. He turned to our friend.
"I could get through," she said. "Good thing I'm small."
"All right," Commander François agreed. "Listen carefully, Christine. I need you to crawl through this chute if you think it won't be too scary. I'm always very impressed at how brave you are. With any luck, you'll come out near the shore of the lake. But I don't want you doing anything risky - don't be a hero! Now, listen carefully. Once you get out, head straight home. Phone the Colonel and tell him to send 50 men as backup. Then come back with them."
"Okay," Christine said.
"One more thing," the soldier added.
He unfastened his belt with his holster and gun. He wanted to fasten it around our friend's waist. But the belt was too big for her. He borrowed our friend's penknife, made a hole quite a way from the ones he used. Then he tightened the belt around her waist.
"There you go," he said. "I'm pretty sure your father has taught you how to use a gun, yes? I know for sure that you know how to handle a rifle. You sometimes go hunting with your dad."
"I've never fired a handgun before," replied Christine. "But I'm pretty sure I'd be able to if I really had to."
"Watch this. It's not all that hard."
He opened the gun up. He showed her the magazine with the bullets in it. Then he put everything back together. He showed her the safety. The girl put it back in the holster on the belt.
She walked over to the machinery and got ready to climb over it. Commander François grinned.
"With your overalls and the belt, you really do look like a fearless little warrior."
Christine blushed but she was happy that her courage had been noticed.
Proud but with a heavy heart, she climbed up onto the machinery and slipped into the chute. She crawled through the murky water until she reached an opening that came out between the second and third steps of the stairs that faced the lake. An unfortunate surprise was there waiting ...
To her left and right - one on each side - was one of the old women. The girl was unnerved and could think of only one way to get away from them. She raced up the steps into the hotel and ran towards the big staircase inside.
Going by the front desk, she grabbed the key to room 101. If you remember, it had been left there on the desk the night before. With it in hand, she ran upstairs. She opened the door, running into and across the room.
The two women ran after her. She unfastened the window. They came into room 101 as well. Christine went out onto the balcony. The two terrible women ran through the room after her. Our friend hoisted herself up on the wrought iron railing of the balcony, hesitated for a just a second. Then she jumped. The next thing she knew, she was deep in the water of the lake still dressed in her T-shirt, gym shoes, overalls, and the commander's belt.
She swam up to the surface. Quickly, she got out of the water, on the shore in front of the hotel. She stood there dripping wet, starting to tremble from the cold, right there on the stairs. He heart was beating fast. She glanced up at the balcony. The two women were watching our friend.
Christine left, running along the path. They wouldn't have been able to keep up with her.
Quickly, night fell and it became very dark. Clouds covered the sky. A bolt of lightning lit the darkness. A loud thunderclap rattled Christine as she felt the rain begin to fall. This turned into a violent thunderstorm. The night was almost black. Sheets of rain were coming down. If Christine hadn't already been soaked, she would have been now.
The path had turned into a big mud pie. She couldn't see where she was going at all. A few times, she got caught in the brambles at the edge of the path, slipped, got back up and, by the glow of the lightning, managed to find her way back to the path. Even with all this, finally, she did lose the path and found herself going in circles, lost in the forest.
She kept walking, trudging through the mud, searching out her way forward but ending up losing her way again. It felt useless. The more she went on, the more lost she felt.
For just a moment, she crouched against the trunk of a tree. She felt like crying. The rain was still coming down hard. And when she did start crying, it was not because she was wet or because she was lost. Yes, she was very scared but what bothered her was that she'd failed in her mission. The commander and his three soldiers were counting on her to save them. And, instead of returning home and getting help, she'd become more and more lost in the woods.
But crying wasn't doing any good. Christine knew that much. She had to think. She stood up and looked at the tree beside her. She climbed it, going from branch to branch.
From above, she could scout out the area. She could make out a dim light glimmering a ways away. Our friend knew that that, in stories, when the hero sees a little light, it's never a good sign, usually a witch, a werewolf, or robbers. But none of those existed in her forest. So she decided to make her way towards the glow.
She walked through everything. The bottom of her overalls got caught in thorns and her skin was pricked by nettles. She tripped over roots and found herself groping her way forward, soaked with rain, droplets coming off her, and she shivered with cold and trembled with fear.
She came into view of a sinister-looking building. A moment later, Christine realized with some horror that the glow was none other than the small intermittent light she'd seen in room 313. This was the abandoned hotel! By dint of groping around in the forest, she had returned to just where she'd started.
The girl only saw one solution. She had to face the two women. She mustered up all her strength and headed into the hotel. It was still very dark, almost pitch-black. The lights were not working well because the power from the generator was sporadic. She walked slowly, carefully looking left and right. She drew the gun and held it in her hand, released the safety and clenched it tight. She was attuned to the slightest sound. She heard nothing, though.
She crossed the lobby. The silence was heavy and ominous. She walked towards the basement door. She was thinking to ask Commander François for advice.
As she came up to the door, she heard a faint creaking noise coming from the floor above. The thought that the two women might be coming made her panic. She hurried back across the lobby and hid behind the front desk. The two women crossed the room, walking over to where our friend was hiding. They were after her.
She slipped between them and bounded up the stairs. She made it to the first floor and then to the second. The whole time, the two women kept coming.
As she got up to the second floor, Christine saw two keys lying there near the railing where, as you might remember, she'd left them the day before. They were for rooms 201 and 203. She took them both and, right then, had an idea.
She ran to 201, opened the door and switched on the light. Then, leaving the door ajar, and the key in the lock, she ran over to room 203. She went in without turning on the light and watched through the half-open door.
The two women arrived quite out of breath because they'd been running up the stairs. Without talking to each other, they instinctively entered room 201, drawn there by the light.
Then Christine, quickly slipped out of room 203 and crept along the corridor. She slammed the door to room 201 and quickly locked the door. The two mysterious women were now locked in, her prisoners!
Remember, the doors on the second floor were built thick and heavy. No matter how much they beat on the door, they wouldn't be able to get out.
Relaxing a little, Christine went downstairs and headed to the basement. She saw three levers on her right. Two were pushed down and one was up. She tried pushing the third one down. The hotel went totally dark.
Then, reacting fast, she brought the lever back up and pushed the other two up as well. She heard the sound of metal on metal and the gates that had enclosed the soldiers and Commander Francis opened.
They ran up the stairs and saw our friend. They congratulated her for her bravery and quick thinking.
Christine then explained that the two women were still locked in room 201. She returned Commander François his gun. They all went upstairs together, opened the door, and put the two women in handcuffs.
By then, it was too late to go back to the military base. It was black as coal outside. They would have to spend the night in the hotel.
Christine wasn't sure about sleeping in the same building as the women.
Commander François suggested she sleep on another floor. On the first or the third. Christine picked room 301. The soldier promised our friend that one of his men would stand guard in front of her door so she'd be safe.
It was hard getting to sleep in her cold, wet overalls but finally she did.
She woke at dawn and got up immediately. She went out into the hall. The soldier posted at the door was there, but he was sitting and asleep. He woke with a start and jumped to attention when he saw her.
They went to find Commander François.
Everyone headed back to Christine's house. The soldiers took the two women with them. They found the ATV where they'd left it the day before. Once the soldiers dropped her at home and everyone said their goodbyes, Commander François, his men, and the two prisoners drove to the base. Our friend's scary adventure had come to an end.
A few days later, Christine got news and a fuller understanding of what had happened.
The two women were twins. Fifty years earlier, they'd married and had spent their honeymoon at what was then a chic lakeside hotel.
For their golden anniversary, they wanted to return with their husbands to the hotel that was once so popular. They discovered a hotel that was now empty and falling apart. The two couples walked through the abandoned building.
In the course of their exploring, the two husbands fell out a window that wasn't secure. Or, more accurately, the window fell with the men and the men fell to their deaths. A stupid accident. Be careful. This can happen when visiting such places. They were killed at once. The shock of finding their husbands dead drove the poor women crazy.
Unable to carry the two bodies, they stayed there under the protection of their big, fierce dog. They watched the bodies of their beloved husbands slowly decay and rot. In their madness and delirium, they took it upon themselves to clean them. They'd found them ugly. But soon, after brushing them in the bathtub in room 313, only skeletons were left.
It was just then that, without being aware of it, Christine had surprised them.
The two women were sent for treatment in an institute for the mentally ill. The old abandoned hotel settled back into its solitude and silence.
Our friend was safely at home, always ready for more adventures.
Translation : Andrew Gordon Middleton