You can see the hotel by the marina. It stands out, in a quiet way, because of its’ greyness. Even in the brightest of sunshine, the shadows remain, repelling the light. It’s not exactly spooky or creepy, just slightly sombre, like a funeral just after the service, but before everyone gets drunk.
I stood there for a while, wandering what drew me to the place. I had been to the island before, but never stayed there, and not really given it much more than a passing glance on my way to the much more important Chocolate Cafe around the corner. The hotel looked somehow more real than the rest of its’ surroundings. I realised I noticed these intangible things a lot more now I was dead. In the middle of my musings, a figure appeared from the right hand side of the building, curiously dressed in what looked like a white, lacy gown from the Victorian era, and shimmering slightly in the sunlight. She beckoned me over with a smile and a wave of her elegant hand. ‘Welcome!’ she smiled. ‘My name is Isabella. I’ve been expecting you, dear’ she said warmly as she took my arm and led me to the once grand main entrance to the hotel. I let myself be steered into the foyer, figuring I had no-where else to go anyway, and I wasn’t exactly going to get any more deceased. Probably…‘We already have a room set up for you on the first floor, I always put new visitors near my rooms in case they need anything – you do know what you are now don’t you dear?’ she said, eyeing me cautiously but not unkindly. ‘Yes. I think so. I’m a ghost, right?’ It was the first time I had really admitted it to myself, but it felt better in the presence of my new companion. ‘Indeed. You are taking it rather well I have to say.’ She smiled again, leading me into a tastefully decorated parlour. ‘I guess so. I mean, we always read ghost stories when I was a kid, and fairytales…. And Mum was always reading about the afterlife or new lives and stuff… I suppose I never really believed in it but I also never thought it was impossible either. I just feel… sort of numb, mostly… like after..’ I paused. Isabella continued the thought for me ‘After someone has died? They have, dear. But this time it’s you.’ She gestured for me to sit on an ancient but still beautiful brocade covered armchair, and took her seat beside me. I already liked her. She was forthright but kind. ‘What you’re feeling is perfectly ordinary’ she assured me. ‘In a few days you’ll start to get your normal feelings back, you are just in a kind of existential shock at the moment, but it will fade.’ She patted my arm. ‘That’s why I’m here’ she said brightly ‘I’m a caretaker for lost souls, as it were. The hotel draws you to it and I make sure you are looked after until you know where you want to go.’ This took me by surprise more than the myriad of other strange experiences I’d had up to this point. ‘Oh…erm… what are the options?’ was the only response I could manage. ‘From my experience, whatever you want them to be, dear. No need to worry about that now though. Shall we have some tea?’ She suggested. ‘We can have tea?’ I asked, slightly incredulous. ‘Well it’s a special kind of tea…’ she almost explained. ‘That I would like to know more about.’ Tea was familiar ground at least, even if it was supernatural. ‘Excellent!’ she exclaimed, ‘We will get on famously! The others will be down shortly and I can introduce you.’ At this point I noticed an ornate silver tea tray bobbing it’s way across the room, carrying a china tea set so thin you could almost see completely through it. It was white with a deep pink rose pattern and gold edging. As it came closer I could smell the fragrance of my favourite rose conjou tea – fine Chinese black tea blended with rose oil and dried rose petals. ‘How does it do that?’ I asked baffled and more than a bit delighted. ‘And how did you know what tea I wanted?’ I watched the tray set itself down on a small round wooden table between us. ‘There has to be some perks to being dead, dear’ Isabella grinned mischievously. ‘The best way to describe it is that the memory of past teas come with you, and, since they have already been consumed, they appear spectral, as you are.’ She picked up teapot and poured the tea from a height into the cups with astounding accuracy. The sent wafted towards me inviting me to taste it. It was just as good as I remembered. Obviously. ‘Does that mean I can only have now what I’ve consumed before?’ I pondered aloud. ‘Ah, well spotted’ Isabella looked at me like a teacher at her prize pupil ‘We’ve found a way round that. We can share our memories, if we choose to, with others like ourselves. The boundaries between us are somewhat… fuzzier than when we were alive. Food is a particularly easy one to share since we already have a sense of it from other foods.’ She appeared to be enjoying her role as mentor to the newly deceased. ‘Do you recognise the tea set?’ she enquired. ‘No, but it’s beautiful’ I answered with a tea lovers appreciation for sets so delicate they were almost unusable. ‘I’m glad you like it. It was mine.’ She picked up the cup with a slightly wistful expression. ‘My favourite.’ In that moment I could see some of the residual sadness of losing the life she once knew. ‘Do you mind if I ask… What happened to you? And how did you end up staying here?’ She looked up again and blinked a little as if she had been lost in her memories for a moment. ‘I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours’ she agreed with a slightly conspiratorial smile, her eyes dancing. ‘Sure’ I couldn’t help but smile myself ‘That sounds good.’