The train journey was a long one. She'd fallen asleep a long way back. Had she missed her stop? Either way, it had been the last train of the night. She was tired. Someone had nudged her awake, so she turned.
"Last stop. This train doesn't run again until next week. Maintenance issues."
She nodded at the ticket inspector, then stood up to leave. He stopped her with a hand on her shoulder.
She gave him an odd look, then stepped off the train. She wasn't aware that those were the most sane-sounding words she'd hear for a long time; so of course she didn't take them to heart.
The woods didn't echo like they should have. The fog made her footsteps seem like they were the only ones in the world. Like she was shut off. It felt like she was underwater – that is, enclosed and muffled. The feeling passed. She was still alone, but there was a light ahead. Two. Either side of a set of ancient wooden doors.
She approached, and knocked. It was a few minutes before anyone answered.
An old mouse answered the door, giving her an unreadable look and pushing the door so that its hinges creaked. She entered at his gesture, and noted that he was wearing a nightcap and pyjamas.
"I'm sorr-" She cleared her throat and spoke a little quieter. "I'm sorry I'm here so late. I missed my stop on the train."
The mouse smiled, although it wasn't the most pleasant of smiles, nor the least disconcerting. "It's alright, miss, just you relax. We get the majority of our guests in the later hours. So far, however, we haven't had one at three in the morning. Come, come. I'll show you to your room."
"Ah- how much is it? I think I have a twenty in my pocket somewhere." She rummaged in her jeans pockets, but he shook his head.
"No, don't worry about that. If you're here at all, you might as well have already paid."
This was a rather odd comment to make, but nevertheless she wasn't complaining. Never look a gift horse in the mouth.
All of a sudden, she heard a piercing screech from the door to the right of her. Gregory balled his paw into a fist and banged it on the door.
"You be quiet in there! Gah, I bet the whole house is awake now. Don't mind that, my dear," he added, seeing her disquieted expression; "that's just Neko Zombie. He used to be a lovely cat… until one day, someone sewed everything shut! What a gruesome thing…" He embellished on the tale, but she wasn't listening. She had a feeling that she was being watched. They stopped at the next door down from Neko Zombie's room, and she slipped inside.
"Thank you, mister… Gregory, I presume? It was written on the front of the building…"
"Yes, that's me alright. Now you should get some rest. Oh, but – sign here, please." He thrust a logbook in her face, and she took the pen he offered, scribbling her name quickly.
"I don't have a real signature," she apologised, eyeing the messy scrawl with a look of disdain.
"That's fine, just as long as we have your name, er…" He squinted at the page. "…Amber. Goodnight, now!"
He shut the door with a quiet click and she listened to his footsteps padding off down the corridor. Apparently she was expected to sleep now.
Amber was a night owl at heart. Coupled with the rest she'd had earlier on the train journey, and the chocolate bar she now found in her pocket, she had a late-night sugar rush and she certainly didn't feel like sleeping.
There was the sound of rails from outside. Curiosity got the better of her. She reached for the door.