The morning that crested through the windows of Marrowbone inn was as wet and grey as the night before. Sparrow watched the light grow with heavy eyes. He could sleep on dirt, under the stars, and through a storm. Resting last night in the inn’s common room had been impossible.
Shuffling footsteps from above the staircase pulled Sparrow temporarily from the haze of exhaustion. He pushed himself up and off his bedroll. Two of the hikers from the night before nodded to him, coming down into the common room. Neither had their packs with them.
“Heading out?” Sparrow asked hopefully. He’d slept in his clothes as he did on the road. He straightened them as he stood.
“No.” One of the hikers said curtly. Apparently the bad impression he’d made the night before had stuck. Sparrow sighed internally, and looked back towards the second floor. “Have Justine and Trevor woken up yet?” They’d been nicer about Sparrow’s refusal of the inn’s carnivorous fare.
Before either of the others could answer the innkeeper emerged from the back rooms, arms and legs first out the door, like a spider crawling from its hole. The spindly man answered before his guests could. “They left, before the sun rose. We saw them off with a small meal.”
The others looked at Sparrow as if the answer should have been obvious. Sparrow ignored their now rooted dislike. “I didn’t see them leave.” He said to the towering innkeeper now setting the table for the three of them.
“You were asleep.” The man rumbled. “They were quiet, they did not want to wake you.” He finished setting down the old silverware and straightened to his full height. Again Sparrow felt the urge to lean back from the man and his creaking limbs.
Sparrow inhaled as he looked up at the innkeeper. He’d not heard or seen Justine or Trevor last night, and the small common area left little room for them to have crept by, even if Sparrow had been capable of sleeping.
Content with Sparrow’s silence the innkeeper turned his knobbed back on them. “Breakfast is almost ready.” He folded himself under the door frame again and was gone.
Out the front windows Sparrow could see the muddy road beckoning him away. He’d stayed to wait out the night and the grasping trees, but daylight grew with each minute and the inn had proven itself dangerous. Sparrow checked his pack, still ready and undisturbed next to his bedroll. Then he turned to the other guests.
The two young hikers had settled themselves at the table, stretching the sleep from their limbs. “Something happened to Justine and Trevor. I didn’t sleep last night, no one came down those stairs.” Sparrow said softly, shooting a glance towards the kitchen door. “We need to leave, this place isn’t safe.”
Both of the guests looked at each other and then back at Sparrow. “You probably missed them. And this place is perfectly safe, they’ve been nothing but hospitable.” One said.
The other nodded. “The woods get creepy, we get it, but you’re being weird.” The two exchanged another look.
Sparrow held back a growl behind clenched teeth. This was why he traveled alone. Spiders took pains to make webs look hospitable to flies. Thick scents of cooking meat wafted from the kitchen, turning Sparrow’s stomach more than normal.
He tried again, unwilling to leave the travelers here to whatever the others had fallen to.”This place is strange though. The town is abandoned, and none of us were looking for this place, and we just happened to find it in the middle of a mountain range? Justine and Trevor are gone, I didn’t sleep last night. They never came down those stairs.”
The plea hung in the air between them, for a moment Sparrow thought they’d listen, that the two would rush up and grab their things and escape down the path into the safe expanse of the wild. But then the kitchen door opened again.
The innkeeper balanced three plates on a tray. Each was piled with thick slices of meat, the red juices seeping into the small potion of sun colored eggs. “Fresh, all of it.” The innkeeper assured them and set the plates at the table. The two other hikers turned their attention enthusiastically away from Sparrow to the offered meal.
He could have stayed, argued with the others more, but the innkeeper looked to Sparrow and gestured to the open seat with two long fingers. Sparrow shook his head and backed away. There were no livestock about, no game, and nothing delivered this deep in the mountains. Only wanderers, and the innkeepers.
Sparrow grabbed his pack. “Don’t eat that.” He said in parting to his fellow travelers. He didn’t think they would listen to him, anymore than they had before, but he said it anyway. Then Sparrow left, abandoning his bedroll in favor of haste.
Though the sun shone overhead, the path from the inn was dark. The branches leaned over the path, creaking and settling. Sparrow swallowed the impulse to bolt, breathing in the charged potential waiting in the trees. His control failed him at the abandoned road, and he let his feet take him as far from Marrowbone inn and its empty town as they could.
Sparrow only looked back once on a crest of the road, half expecting the place to be gone like some bad dream. It was still there, through the thick grasping trees. In the distance the sun shone off the inn’s windows. The flash of it beckoned and Sparrow felt weariness grow in his bones at the sight. The inn promised a place to rest, a place to eat.
The bloody smell of the innkeepers meals still hovered about his nose. The memory of it kindled the fear in his chest, and the energy in his body. Sparrow turned his back on Marrowbone inn and kept walking.