The Rhino House
This incident in itself would seem curious enough to most if it wasn’t for the fact that exactly seven minutes after the beasts had filled the ground floor spaces of the hotel causing countless damages, they had disappeared without any trace of exit or sound of retreat. Local inspectors were at a loss to find an answer to this strange outlandish problem and, hearing I had some expertise in the field, had sent a car immediately.
The large Edwardian building stood on the headland looking out over the sea and the beginnings of the estuary that ran inland to the south. It was a curiously shaped building. A courtyard greeted new arrivals but then led them around the building to a balcony overlooking the main patios and gardens where a huge set of glazed ironwork doors opened outwards. From the balcony, the walkway could be followed around the entire building still rising until level with the first floor. On the inland side of the hotel the walkway continued, running along the top of a wall which joined what seemed to be a working farm and windmill to the hotel. The wall, unbroken and towering nearly twelve feet high and at least six feet thick gave the whole arrangement a linear and military ambiance.
The hotel, dwarfing all of it’s companion buildings stood four floors high. Wooden shutters painted blue opened out to welcome the warm afternoon summer sun and keep out the winter evenings. A central staircase with an enormous skylight gave a wonderful light to the building and inside the decoration was somewhat colonial and dated. Palms and ferns grew from tall containers that hinted at the far east. Guests came here for the peace and quiet and the wonderful views and walks that the hotel made available. I arrived on site in the late afternoon as some of the braver, long standing guests were having tea in the conservatory. All credit to the establishments amazing staff who, with the aid of drapes and table cloths, had brought some semblance of normality. Two uniformed policemen were on hand to give assurance to the guests and await the possible return of the owner.
The guests, a retired Army Officer, a widowed Baroness and a School Mistress were playing bridge with one of the sergeants. A large bottle of brandy stood on a serving trolley to one side, half emptied for medicinal purposes. They all stood when I entered, expecting news that would make sense of the night time surrealism. After introducing myself, I spoke to one side with the card playing sergeant first.
“It’s not good sir. The way they describe it makes it sound like the end of the world. They all woke up around ten to five to hear thunder, but it just got louder until they heard the scream of the night porter. By that time the ground floor was full of Rhino’s. The Major over there reckons on counting at least twenty five head sir. ‘Says he wishes he had his old rifle, ‘would have taken a couple of ’em out…”
I listened to the briefing from the young sergeant extracting the relevant and guessing the parts he forgot. Whilst I listened to the guests who added very little to the evidence, I kept thinking about the wall. I could not find any reason for it. Talking with Hotel staff did not help. I searched for clues that the farm and mill were part of an older sea fort but none of them had worked for longer than two seasons and had never heard any history.
As the late afternoon drew towards the evening, I decided it was time to investigate the farm and mill closer. I walked past the farm gates and spied an old woman sitting in a barn with no teeth. She beckoned to me to come forward and speak with her. Thinking I might find out a little more about the strange wall, I stepped forward as a number of geese emerged and surprised both of us. I smiled and the old lady showed me both of her remaining teeth, yellowed and soon to join their companions. Through lisps and mispronounced words, the woman quizzed me.
“Is he back yet?”
I assumed she meant the owner and shook my head.
“You’ll be speaking to my husband then, he’s up in the mill.”
I was confused. I had no idea who this woman was and had not intended to speak with her husband. Perhaps she was being old fashioned. I gave her a puzzled look and enquired who her husband might be.
“He’s the miller of course. Have you not wondered yet how we get those big sails to keep turning?”
She gestured vaguely towards a small door near the point where the mill and the wall joined. I hesitated and then, seeing sincerity in her eyes, walked towards it and entered. The door opened onto a small and confined spiral staircase which rose beyond the level of the wall and brought me out onto the flat roof of the mill. leaning against the rail, looking out towards the sea stood an old man in a slightly dishevelled tweed suit.
Standing next to him I looked out across the sea and forgetting my manners. Embarrassed, I asked if he was the miller and introduced myself. He smiled a completely toothless smile and gestured to the view.
“It’s a grand one that view. Better than any you’ll get from that monstrosity over there. I suppose you’re here about last night. I wondered when one of you police folk were gonna get round to talking to me.” He pulled out a pipe and began to stoke it with tobacco.
I suddenly became aware of how remarkably far from the ground I was and that I was standing on the top of a windmill and the circular roof was made of stone. The words of the old woman came back to me about the sails. They were turning very quickly and yet there was practically no wind.
Lighting his pipe he continued, “These Rhinos. I’ve never seen ’em myself, but the master of all this. He’s been doing some strange things in the quiet seasons. Lots of digging and building when there’s no one around. Last night I happen I saw him coming up this way. I stayed up some time but I never saw him come down again.”
The sun was low in the afternoon sky and the Hotel would be serving an evening meal soon. I glanced at my pocket watch to see that it was only ten minutes from five. Then I felt it.
We both grabbed the rail as the whole of the circular roof began to turn. Somewhere a bell was ringing. Mechanisms were moving wildly and loudly beneath our feet. The Miller seemed shocked and afraid, his eyes searching wildly for an explanation, but we held on as we were turning from the east to the south. I didn’t doubt that he also thought of the fate of the owner. Something beneath our feet came together with a loud crack and the roof came to a sudden halt. A rumbling started from the base of the windmill. It travelled invisibly along the length of the wall towards the Hotel.
As the motion of the roof stopped, the horror of what was happening hit me. Paralysed, I listened to the sound of smashing crockery and high pitched screams, men shouting and the angry snorting of huge beasts. My mind reeled to make sense of things as I noticed the young sergeant escaping through the main entrance, an enormous wound in his side, pain written clearly across his face. I could only imagine the scenes of carnage inside the building as we, the Miller and I, stood fixed to the spot watching. We were powerless to help.
I felt myself sobbing, my lungs dragging at the air trying desperately to breath. The ground below the rail, far away swam in my vision. Still I had no answers to this mystery beyond the mechanics of tragedy. Where was the owner? Why were Rhinos somehow powering a windmill?
Such are my memories of the Rhino House and the long walks along the shores It took to finally heal me of it’s horrors.