In this excerpt of The Dead Set, Sixtine accepts Rowan Hellebrand's challenge to join a ghost-hunting team in situ, and heads into the muffling darkness of winter snowfall, intent on photographing the long-abandoned, reputedly haunted, Norns Hotel:
The first stretch of open road intersected a highway. Their survival instincts told them to get off of that stretch quickly, and they jogged that portion.
The long driveway to the Norns walked up the wrinkles of a dark foothill. The roadway had been ploughed so that a single sparkling lane wove up through bare branches. A pale crisp of moon, overhead, lit the car-path wherever the net of wet, black trees parted. Under the arch of huge oaks, there was no wind, and no sound but their breathing and the squeak of dry snow.
Uphill. Sixtine was tired of uphill.
The top of The Norns crested trees, black-wooded and ominous, with patches of rotted plywood along its face where windows had been boarded up. The smell of decline tickled Sixtine’s cheeks, who was frightfully accustomed to it.
“Creepy,” Sharon huddled.
Beside her, Sixtine became determined not to show fear. This had been her idea. They could both vanish off the face of the earth now, and no one would be the wiser. But this wasn’t an episode of Supernatural here. Six held on to that contrail of logic.
Six took a moment to absorb the monstrous size of the lodge. The paint had sloughed away like dead skin, subject to the seasons. The soaked wood looked malodorous.
Sharon sent hurried texts, her fingers like shivering birds. Six hardly noticed her friend as they walked into the circle of floodlights looking up at The Norns Hotel. For Sixtine, sensitive to illumination from years of photography, this arrangement was like bottom-lighting a face so that the angles looked ugly and menacing. It was disturbing. Surely that wasn’t coincidence. She scanned around her in conjecture.
Who was Hellebrand?
One hell of a production.