Vendula greatly underestimated how much time she would spend hiking. Orange sky and navy blue clouds warned her with an unforgiving delay. She analysed rocks below and began descending. She hurried not, despite a distant thunder clearing its throat. No lightnings yet.
“The app claimed it would rain at ten. Great.”
As her boots reached a flatter, safer surface, she felt goosebumps beneath her checked shirt. Freezing wind flipped her short hair like a page.
“Yup. Won’t buy that gel anymore,” she decided in advance. A backpack slipped from her shoulders, as her intention was, and hit a stone with a crumpling sound. One sweep of a zipper later, the backpack opened its mouth, revealing a cotton blouse.
The thunder grumbled louder.
Vendula shoved her head inside and through the blouse, not noticing that its print was ‘gone.’ She fixed her hair to see better, retrieved her rope, packed it carelessly, closed the backpack and put it back on.
She followed a mark on rocks next to a road.
Then, a flash startled her. She counted to nine when the thunder roared.
“Nine times three hundred and thirty… Seventy… Twenty seven plus two… That’s… That’s almost three kilometres.” It dawned on her. “Bad.”
She kept walking and calculating. A mere minute later, she had to use a flashlight. The wind showed no mercy, and the thunder scared her with a loud shout. The tempest got dangerously close to her.
A forest was rocking chaotically in front of her. She knew she wouldn’t return to shelter in time, so there was no point in entering the woods. She looked around and spotted a field to her left.
“Around forty metres,” she estimated, “Let’s go.”
She ran wherever the rocks and grass allowed her, and marched when the ground was uneven. A drop fell on her nose. Another one shattered on a stone near her. Yet another thunder announced its presence and a downpour followed. She took off her backpack once again to settle it on her head.
She made it to the field: a yard with tall grass and scurvy-grass. A manor house with a gambrel roof was covered in moss and partially ruined to Vendula’s right, brownish bricks exposed. Even more rubble was lying behind the building as far as she could tell.
“I don’t deserve that much luck,” she thought, “Why does the Lord focus so much on my well-being when there are other people ou… Ah, stop that, Ven! Appreciate the moment! You won’t get soaked at least.”
A door was long gone, just a hinge hanging on one nail. The floor was crumbling from plentiful holes as woodworms have been digesting it. No paint on the walls, except for two vulgar graffiti. The stained glass high above her head prevailed despite time and the weather, while the low windows stood naked. With no furniture left, leaking ceiling, and whistling cracks, the building seemed to exist solely for the reckless youth that cannot imagine leisure without alcohol.
Vendula sent a text message and turned her phone off. Her hands started to twitch. She found a fireplace, but she could hear birds tweeting inside the chimney. She turned around and walked towards a dirty corner, where no wind seemed to pass through. A smell made her take two steps back.
“I guess this is the best spot.” She sighed and gazed at the remains of the floor.
The half-eaten planks refused to ignite, so she dived into her backpack and grabbed a comic book. Its pages weren’t slippery smooth, and its content only angered her, so it worked perfectly for her bonfire. As she was ripping the comic apart, she recalled the exact plot devices that disappointed her.
“Of course she’s young and short. Of course she feels sorry for defending herself against the kidnapper. Of course her workmate is a nasty trash-talker. Of course the creep is presented as the right and only option for her. And naturally, once she tasted sex she stopped being an awkward cinnamon roll. Aaand masturbation is evil. Obviously.”
One by one, the pages vanished in a flash of flames. She smirked blissfully.
“She should have run away to Dorothea. That chick was sweet, and she respected her shyness.”
The planks gave in to the heat and glowed in bright red. Vendula unpacked the rope and sat on it. Watching the fire, she hummed Gyöngyhajú Lány, then Celkem Jiná. The shivers ceased.
A lightning hit a mountain.
She remained afraid, but the warmth and the colours of the bonfire soothed her. It simply felt good.
One of the birds sang like a violin.
Eerily akin to violin.
Vendula’s eyes grew in shock. It was a violin, though she didn’t recognise Haydn’s piece: Violin Concerto in C Major, the second movement. She stood up. The fire lingered in her eyesight, leaving dark spots that followed her wherever she looked. Peering didn’t help her.
She spoke, “Hello?” She heard a grating: a startled hand twitched with the bow. She rushed to the hall. She saw nobody but continued, “Are you also a hiker? A hiker with an instrument, I mean, are you a tourist? A casual… fan of Nordic walking?”
The melody resumed. Vendula took a couple more steps… just to realize the violin was playing in the previous room all along. She hopped back. Examining her surroundings, she checked the windows with the stained glass.
Red, blue, yellow, pink, and green flakes were falling gently, leaving the windows clear. The petals stuck to the walls and the floor, adding shapes and colours, forming a chair, creating a painting, giving birth to candles and oil lamps… The grey and dusty ruin was transforming into a place of wealth and luxury, where one could disappear in countless books, trace patterns on vases, swim in cushions or, indeed, show off their musical skills to strangers.
A ginger woman in a plain dress immediately noticed Vendula’s dyed hair. She moved the bow away and straightened her neck.
“No proszę. Coraz więcej dam z krótkimi włosami.”
Vendula opened her mouth and froze, unable to speak.
The lady switched to Czech. “Not many people can hear me. It appears to be that you’re one of the lucky.”
Vendula loosened her scarf. “Oh, you can s… I’m not sure if I’m lucky… or hallucinating.”
“There have been times when two people in a group could see me. It only complicated the situation.”
“I can imagine.” Vendula realized she was counting the ghost’s freckles. She lowered her head and folded her fingers. “But this illusion… this room… it isn’t helping me.”
The woman nodded, then swung the bow. The colours faded and vanished behind Vendula, where the bonfire was flickering.
She looked back and forth, comparing. “Uh… Thanks?”
“No problem. What is your name?”
“Mine is Vrotsmira. You can go sit down again.”
“… just like that?”
“And burn as many floor planks as you need.” She smiled and resumed playing.
A thunder growled quietly, as if muffled by the memory of Wrocmira’s room.