Tuesday 21 August 2012

#OBSummer #Books - Ford 99 - Frequent Traveller

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Genre - Women's Fiction
Rating - PG 
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August 2009
One of the least populated and yet one of the most culturally diversified countries in the world, Papua New Guinea is believed to be home to more than 780 traditional communities and tribes, each with a speaking dialect of its own. It is the world's fiftieth biggest country and is a vast mixture of islands and highlands, located on the Pacific Ring of Fire between several tectonic plates. This has made made Rabaul an unpopular choice for development. Between immense volcanic activity, earthquakes and tsunami waves, the locals remain acquainted with hardship, a testament to the nation's anthem ‘O Arise, All You Sons’.
Poverty is so rampant, the average income is not above $30 a month. The country gained its independence from Australia in 1975 and has continued to be influenced by its other colonial rulers which included the Spanish, Portuguese and the Germans.
The country is also said to be the first in practicing and passing on, traits of cannibalism. The extent of this practice is yet to be determined, with some studies pointing out at least twenty thousand people have been affected in the past, while others indicate it is still practiced amongst smaller, religious tribes.
In 1937 and 1994, two volcanoes Tavurvur and Vulcan erupted leaving behind a trail of ash and destruction. After the first time, the town was rebuilt in a span of two decades but was completely condemned after the eruption in 1994. As a result, the entire town of Rabaul was relocated to an area less than twenty kilometers away. Now, popular for its enchanting harbour, several tour operators within the new Rabaul, offer adventure seekers a once in a lifetime trip exploring rare marine life.
A new venture which had started operating more than a year ago, MoonStar Rabaul stood tall in an area literally spewing with volcanic uncertainty, making marketing and promotions a continual challenge.
The property was jointly owned by MoonStar and two local businessmen who were determined on rebuilding their city. The success of this property rested on ensuring every guest felt the same way here as they did in other MoonStar properties around the world. This was a task far easier printed on a brochure than accomplished. Feeling an urgent need to compensate for its location, the owners had built 380 guest rooms in an expansive area of more than eight hundred acres of land. There were eight buildings and each was thematically associated with a different country like France, USA, South Africa, England, China, India, Germany and Australia. All of these buildings were connected to one colourful reception area. It was their belief that highlighting attractions from around the world would encourage locals as well as foreign tourists to stay at the property, a theory that had thus far engaged in more costs than any profit.
Aside from the usual sales ventures and travel agent offers, regional sales had made it compulsory for other properties to cross-promote MoonStar Rabaul. They had formulated a super saver promotion which included return flight tickets, water sports, travel insurance and meals for the entire stay. So far it had worked like a charm. For more than seven months, the property had seen an average occupancy rate of 60 per cent, with groups arriving from as far away as Russia and England. It was during one of these trips that a particular incident would threaten the property's already fragile state.
A male figure lay sound asleep, his loud snores filling every corner of the room. Rick and Emily had arrived two days ago and had spent every possible minute they could exploring the various water sports offered by the property. Their first long holiday in almost a decade, they considered every minute that was absent of activity, was pleasure wasted.
Earlier in the day, they had spent most of their time snorkelling and were to attend the beach barbecue with other hotel guests but Rick had felt queasy. He knew full well the excitement of the trip was starting to take its toll on him and had changed his mind. While Emily made her way to a host of seafood dishes, he ordered a club sandwich, watched an in-house movie and was in bed by 9.00pm. A few hours later, a loud knock at the door woke him up from a deep sleep.
Uncertain of whether he was dreaming, he attempted to pull himself together, fumbled with the bedside clock and got out of bed. The knocking continued.
‘Ah Em, you forgot your key again,’ he muttered as he made his way to the door.
He swung it open and expected to see a slightly tipsy Emily, his wife of ten years, but instead was taken aback at the sight of a little girl. Obviously one of the locals, with long jet black hair, dressed in an orange T-shirt with denim shorts, she could not have been more than ten years old and looked up at him with big bright eyes.
‘Sir, would you like a key chain?’ she said in a sing song voice.
‘Haaaaa! What?! Do you know what time it is? Its 2.00am! Did the hotel send you?’ Rick was doing his best to stay calm but could not mask his irritation.
The girl shook her head and held out a little hand with a seashell key chain.
‘No ... no I don’t want it.’
Unperturbed by his annoyance, she giggled and skipped her way to the next room. Rick closed the door, bewildered that any hotel, let alone a five-star luxury holiday spot allowed such disturbances at such a God-forsaken hour.
He turned to make his way back to bed but curiosity gripped him. He yanked the door open again, wondering how other guests on his floor were reacting to the little girl. Rick peeped out to find the entire stretch of corridor, empty. There was no sign of the little girl.
He stepped out into the corridor, turned left and right but it seemed she had simply vanished. With only one elevator, which would have taken her at least two minutes to get to, he was not sure where else she could have gone. Maybe, someone had decided to make a purchase. Maybe, she was another guest's child playing a prank while her parents got drunk at the twenty-four hour bar.
‘Hon, I know I'm late but you don’t have to stand out here in your boxers waiting for me. What will the other guests think?’ Emily's voice sneaked up behind him in a loud whisper.
‘Oh, hey. It was the strangest thing ... she was just here.’
‘Who was? One evening alone and you are already fantasizing about other women?’
‘Very funny. No, there was this little girl selling key chains. It was weird.’
‘A little girl? Selling key chains? I think the heat must be really getting to you. Come on now, let’s get to bed. I'm exhausted and oh so full. You missed out on a fantastic spread,’ Emily said as she made her way through the doorway.
‘Hmmm okay ... I'm coming.’
A sudden feeling of discomfort washed over him. Something about the incident made his hair stand on end, he watched as Emily sauntered into their room and thought maybe he had dreamt it after all. Regardless, he made up his mind to check with reception in the morning, just to be sure.
‘I'm absolutely certain, Sir. Any little girl would have had to walk past us in order to get to your room and I was working last night. I didn’t see anyone.’
‘There is only one entrance to the hotel?’ Rick asked still certain that all was not right.
‘Well no, you can also come in through the beach but it is a private beach with no other hotels for about twenty kilometers, and whichever way she came in, she would have had to walk pass the counter. I'm sorry you were disturbed but we know nothing of it.’
Rick stared hard at the Front Office Assistant speaking to him. Her name tag indicated that her name was Arianna and she had a pleasant, smiling face. Though reassuring, at the same time, she looked like she hid vital information that could explain the entire situation. As if she wanted to tell him more but could not. Maybe, he was not asking the right questions.
‘Right, let’s forget it. Hon, maybe it was like you said ... some kid on our floor or another floor was trying to be funny. Let's eat, I'm starving again,’ Emily said as she nudged him.
Arianna watched the couple walk away. She waited till they were well out of earshot then motioned for the Front Office Manager, Jarod.
‘They saw it too. The little girl. It's happening again. The fifteenth of every month for the last five months. Something is not right. What do you want us to do?’
Jarod grimaced. It was one thing to have an intruder lurking at corners, peddling local souvenirs and iron out security problems, but the fact that this little girl knocked on doors at 2.00am intruding on single male occupants, worried him more.
In recent months, other complaints had been made. One particular couple had heard a loud knock at dinner time and when they had opened their door, found wet seaweed placed at the entrance of their room with no one in sight. Prior to that, a group of students had been scared out of their wits. One night, when they had been taking group pictures on the balcony of their apartment suite, someone spotted a dark figure peering at them from the bathroom door.
An older Housekeeping Associate mentioned that the property needed spiritual cleansing, but Jarod knew if the guests or the media ever caught wind of it, the property's reservations would spiral downwards and they just could not afford that at the moment. It was a week later when Cathy stood and looked around the lobby.
It was 3.00am and all guests had made their way back to their rooms. She had arrived three hours earlier and was still skeptical about what they were about to allow. After much discussion and numerous emails, the Vice President of Operations, Peter had agreed for the property to contact a local medium.
Any ceremony had to be done on a day when occupancy was at its lowest. Now, Peter and Cathy watched as the medium started the ceremony of ‘calling’ the spirits out and sending them on their way. They had both insisted on being present, for the simple reason that if the matter was leaked to the media, they would be informed and know how to react. No other MoonStar property had experienced paranormal disturbances or at least none that made its presence known to guests before. So, this was a definite first, for all concerned.
‘What do you think? Is all of this really happening or are we just falling prey to unwelcoming locals?’ asked an exhausted Peter.
‘Where there is good, there must be evil. So I'm really not sure about the presence of bad spirits but it is important for the locals to believe that we are doing all we can. They work here, most of them even live here. They are taught to see and believe these things. Let it take its course, that's all we can do,’ Cathy remarked thoughtfully.
‘Indeed. What fascinating jobs we have,’ Peter snickered.
As the medium chanted, incense sticks in his hands, they stood in silence. Some of the local associates were also seen offering prayers. Three hours passed before the medium signalled that he was finished. He said he had spoken to a little girl who had drowned at a nearby beach and was now looking for her parents. He assured them there would be no more disturbances. He claimed that he had transported her away from the property.
Peter and Cathy lingered in the lobby as the older man received his payment of $3000 cash and made his way to the breakfast buffet already looking content.
‘I really want to believe it, Cathy. But for all you know the little girl selling key chains is his daughter and this was all an elaborate scam ... Ahh well, only time will tell,’ said Peter, still unconvinced of the entire situation.

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