This one’s inspired by a story some of the other housekeepers at work told me. I thought it was good enough to share.
The ten o’clock news lights up the grimy hotel room, a dull buzzing sound coming from the television. It only seems to increase in volume at time goes on and is impossible to drown out without disturbing the rest of the hotel. The guest, a tall, angular man, is sitting on the bed in his boxers. He’s not paying much attention to the news: it’s just background noise. The television is only on so that he doesn’t fall to sleep.
He becomes bored of the miserable stories and turns off the television. The room becomes suddenly dark, despite the curtains still being open. After flicking on the bedside light, he pushes himself up and off the bed, walking the short distance over to the window to pull them shut. There’s a book on the desk and although he read it on the train to the hotel, there’s nothing else for him to do. He picks it up and returns to the bed, grimacing when he collides roughly with the headboard.
There’s only so much time that he can spend sitting there staring at the small print. The book was only vaguely interesting the first time around – something his sister had given him that she had thought he would enjoy – and, unsurprisingly, this time is no different. His head drops slowly forward, his chin resting against his chest as he fights off sleep; waking himself and returning to the book, he reads the same line three times before admitting that he can resist for no longer. He gladly puts the book down, flicks off the light and lies on his back, moving around to get comfortable on the strange bed.
Falling to sleep had seemed so easy when he had been reading, but he’s always had a problem with other people’s beds and the task is suddenly becomes very difficult. He’s always found that hotel beds, no matter how comfortable they may be, never do quite what they’re supposed to. This one is no different.
It isn’t just the bed that’s troubling him, either. Other things about the room have been getting on his nerves and he’s made a mental list in his head to recite to the receptionist in the morning. Aside from the television, there’s a dirty mark on one of the towels that looks like a boot print and the soap dispensers are almost empty. Perhaps the worst part about the whole room, however, is how cold it is. The radiator is blasting out heat at full temperature – he can feel it if he puts his hand over it – and he should be sweating from head to toe, but instead there are cold spots in the room that apparently refuse to warm up. He wraps himself tighter in his blankets.
It’s probably the windows. They’ve got to be letting in the cold air from outside.
He rolls over onto his left side, then his right. At some point, over an hour after he’s first climbed into bed, he falls to sleep. It isn’t peaceful; thankfully he’s only here for one night. It isn’t a ruinous thing and he can catch up on his rest when he’s back in his own bed.
In the early hours of the morning, while it’s still dark outside, something wakes him. At first, he’s unsure what it is. The light at the end of the bed looks like it could be coming from the television, and a part of him thinks he must have left it on by mistake. When he realises that he had turned the television off well before he had fallen to sleep, he sits up to see exactly what that light is.
He stares. Two eyes stare back at him. The figure of a little girl, perhaps nine or ten years of age, is standing at the foot of his bed, her head tilted slightly to the left as though she’s analysing him. She doesn’t blink. Her clothes look old, though how old he isn’t sure. She doesn’t look quite right: her skin is bright, making everything around her glow eerily. There’s a mark on her neck that might be a cut.
He’s not fully awake, because if he was, he would know how to react. In his tired state, he blinks dumbly at her.
‘What’re you doing in my room?’ he asks. Each word leads into the other, slurred in his drowsiness.
She doesn’t acknowledge that he’s spoken, just continues to stare. He feels a shiver move down his spine. The room is colder than he remembers it being. It seems lonely without the rhythmic buzzing of the television.
‘Do you need help?’
There’s no response. He’s not really sure he wants to get one.
‘Are you lost?’
Again, nothing changes. She’s still and silent. He feels the small hairs on the back of his neck stand on end; with them comes the sudden realising that this is not a dream. It’s like a smack in the face.
He shoots up out of the bed, startled. The violent movement is enough to get something out of the child, and in that instant she vanishes, leaving behind a lingering flash of light on his retinas. He yells loudly, throwing himself off the mattress and landing on his hands and knees on the floor, where he crawls towards the door as fast as he can. It’s cold as he passes the foot of the bed and he moves faster, trying to shake some invisible creature off him in the confusion.
When he locates the door he reaches up and pulls sharply on the handle. The heavy wooden door collides with his shoulder, but the pain of the impact is irrelevant: his only concern is to get out of the room as fast as is physically possible.
Out in the corridor, enough of his senses come back for him to climb to his feet and take the distance to the entrance at a run. His feet sound like thunder on the carpet. He bursts through the double doors and rounds the corner to enter the reception. There’s only one receptionist on duty at this time of night and she looks up from the game she’s been playing on her mobile to see what the noise is about. Her eyebrows disappear into her hair at the sight of him.
He pants heavily, the adrenaline wearing off a little. It takes him a moment to realise how foolish he looks, standing there in nothing but his boxers. He can feel himself blushing heavily; he clears his throat, trying to figure out how to explain what just happened to him and why he didn’t get dressed before bounding loudly past a dozen rooms.
‘I want – I want to move rooms. I want another room.’
It’s simple and effective, he thinks. His room isn’t good enough and he wants a new one. It may be a decision that he’s apparently made in his boxers at three in the morning, but that’s the least of his worries.
The receptionist’s eyebrows descend into a frown.
‘Is there a problem with your room?’ she asks him. She sounds intrigued, but he finds he can forgive her for it. He isn’t offering her much and this kind of thing probably doesn’t happen very often.
‘Yes,’ he says while still trying to catch his breath, ‘yes, there’s … there’s something in there.’ He waves his hands around, discovering that he has to elaborate further when she continues to frown. She probably thinks it’s something as trivial as a spider in his room: he needs to make her understand it’s a far more serious situation. ‘A girl. It was a girl. She … she stood there. She stood there, at the end of the bed. Looked at me. Then she went … she just went. Vanished.’
The receptionist only gawks at him.
‘I want another room!’ he repeats, more desperation in his voice.
‘Okay, okay,’ she replies hurriedly, turning to her computer to see which rooms are still available. He doesn’t care – he’ll sleep in the restaurant or on the stairs if there’s nowhere else for him to stay. ‘Okay … room eighty is free. It’s on the middle floor. There aren’t any girls in there.’
‘She was real!’ he shrieks.
‘Yes, yes, okay!’ she raises her arms up in defeat and walks over to him to hand him the room key. Her people skills are probably far better during the day when she isn’t faced with guests in their underwear babbling on about children who vanish into thin air, but he feels he has a right to overreact. ‘If you want to collect your stuff from your old room and –’
‘No!’ he replies immediately. ‘No. I’m not going in there again.’
She sighs. Whatever it was that he saw (and he knows it’s going to take him a while to come to terms with it), she clearly doesn’t believe him. She does what he won’t, though, and as though tales of girls who can scare adult men don’t bother her in the slightest, she tells him she’ll deliver his bags to his new room and leaves the reception to collect them. He watches her go, amazed by her resolve, before making his way to his new room on shaking legs. The rest of the night is uncomfortable, and it isn’t one he wishes to relive, but nothing else disturbs him until his alarm rings to wake him the following morning.
During tea break, the cleaners laugh loudly as the receptionist recalls her story. They wait for her to leave, her shift finally over, before sitting back in their chairs, continuing to chuckle behind their tea and biscuits. The giggles die away; an uncomfortable silence settles between them, and each one glances around the room nervously. They’ve heard things before: the glimpse of someone moving out of the corner of an eye, wardrobe doors opening and closing of their own accord, and one guest who felt as though he was being pulled out of his bed by an invisible force. Some of them even have their own stories to tell about room thirty three.