“I’m too superstitious for this,” I whispered, looking around the gilded marble lobby of The Hotel.
“I’m too tired for this.” My partner for the night shift rolls his eyes, grabs two flashlights and tosses one to me. “C’mon, lemme show you what we’re supposed to be doing.” And he was off.
Following him up the grand central staircase, I ponder the massive painted portraits hung throughout the walls of the mezzanine. Things look different in the dark, at night. Eyes look less dead and more angry. Buildings seem to breathe.
I think this building might be breathing.
“‘M’kay, so,” my partner starts on again, still walking ahead, spinning the flashlight around his wrist and glancing back and forth from door to door, “basically, find a pattern that doesn’t make you want to kill yourself and stick to it. All the hallways, including the basement, including the attic, including the servants’ quarters. We go every half hour on rotation, so you’ll walk your pattern 7 or 8 times in a night.” He looks back at me and deadpans, “Fascinating, right?” He half smiles.
I think I hear a small laugh from behind me.
He sees me hear it.
“Don’t worry about that shit, noob. Just an old building creaking and stuff. I’ve been here two years and nothing has eaten me. They’re just rumors.”
“I dunno, man, I’ve seen a few clips of leaked security footage to suggest otherwise.”
I think the next room might not be empty.
“I know, like, ‘technically’,” he says sarcastically while air-quoting, “I’m supposed to follow you around for a week making sure you get it. But that’s, like, double the work for me. And a confident monkey could do this job, so -” He shrugs as he trails off.
“It’s cool. I already know the place; we used to come here when my dad would come to town when I was small. I’ve run through these halls a thousand times.”
It’s different in the dark, though.
“Cool. Bangin’. I’ll be in the lobby.” He gestures backwards, about-faces, and he’s around the corner and gone.
And then things became quieter than they should have been.
“So much for that loud creaking old building idea,” I mutter under my breath as I point my flashlight ahead of me and press on.
Around the west wing of the third floor I start to wonder how many times it actually had been that I’d scraped my knee on the stairs running after my brother, playing tag while our parents sat in The Red Room, soaking up moments they’d missed when they were still together. She hated him. She loved him. She couldn’t shake him.
Someone down the hall calls out a name only my father has spoken. In my father’s voice.
I snap my head, body and flashlight around to peer back down the hallway, where the sound came from. There is light spilling from under the door to The Red Room. And then again -
“Bro, I dunno if I was just too high last night or your superstition bullshit is rubbing off on me, but some pretty weird shit went down last night.” My partner is leaning against the inside of the front desk, just next to where I’m sat at the computer, catching up on bookings the day shift didn’t finish. I instantly perk up -
“Really? Like what?”
He laughs. “Dude, you like this creepy shit way too much.” But then he gets kind of quiet - “Nah, but in all seriousness, I heard people whispering, like, three times. And one of the times I was almost completely sure I heard my name, in my sister’s voice.”
“What? No way. I heard my name in my father’s voice last night!”
“No, but you don’t get it. My sister is dead. And never once did she ever come here.”
“My dad’s dead, too.”
Our eyes meet, and it’s just a little more uncomfortable than it should be.
Returning from his third walk of the night, my partner enters the lobby at a quick trot, looking around in a combination of paranoia and urgency. When he gets to the desk he slaps both hands on the counter and leans in over me -
“Dude, come with me. Now.” And he immediately turns around. Halfway through the lobby he turns back, says, “I’m serious.” with a dark look under his eyes before he turns back around and continues toward the central staircase.
I grab my flashlight and scurry to catch him. I’m a bit scared, but it seems like The Hotel finds this a bit funny.
The Hotel feels funny.
When we get to the west wing of the third floor he stops dead at the entry. He breathes a little too deeply -
“I don’t know what in the fuck is happening here, but there was a light on in The Red Room.”
“Shut up!” I quip, nearly slack-jawed. “What happened?”
“I just told you, dude. There was a light on. So I went inside. I thought it was a trick of light from outside or somethin'. But it was the room. The fucking fireplace was going and the oil lamp next to the bed was burning. And then the minute I stepped inside the room, it was all gone.”
He turns to me, and the way the flashlight is pointed, his face looks ghoulish. “No one’s been in that room since the murder, dude. There’s still fucking blood stained into the marble!”
I had seen pictures. I had seen the room. Everyone in town had. Murders never happened here, except every time that they did. And it seemed every time they did, The Hotel was involved in some way. The murderer sweeps through town and rents a room. The killing occurs inside the building. Double suicides in the front lawn. Employees who just pack up, leave and never return.
But it’s all just superstition. Until it isn’t.
I think we both feel different tonight. He’s not eating his usual apple, making small talk. I’m looking into dark corners more than I usually do.
“Erright, I’m going.” I grab my stuff and head towards the staircase for my second round. 1230 AM.
My footsteps on the marble stairs echo more than yesterday. The building feels me on its spine.
It seems as though I’ve made a sweeping pattern that leaves the west wing on the third floor the last hall on my rounds. Is it out of fascination or fear? When I step through the threshold and into the hallway, I think I hear a small laugh again.
The same small laugh.
“Hello?” I say quietly, my flashlight searching for an origin to the sound.
“Little Bird.” Something says in a sing-song voice. But it’s not my father’s voice this time.
“Who are you? Do you need something?” I say to no one. I turn in a circle, and at the 180 I see the light spilling out from under the door.
The Red Room.
Something makes me walk towards it. And just within the next moment, a blanket of cold force pushes me backwards and takes the breath out of me. And it says, “Get out,” from all around me. The feeling of the words stays in my ears. I shake my head to shake it out and continue walking toward the light-leaking door.
The doorknob is warm. Somewhere both far away and right on the other side of the door there is a piano playing. And when I swing the door open, The Red Room stays lit. It’s fully alive, in all its former glory, with its marble floors, marble fireplace, grand, solid-oak bed posts and ornately built, gilded ceiling. It’s extravagant. And for a moment, I forget. And in the next moment, it’s all gone, and I am in a grey room covered in grey dust looking at grey footprints that cross the blood-stained floor, interrupting the peace of 13 years of silently fallen dust.
But they’re not my partner’s footprints.
And then the door slams shut behind me.
“I don’t care about the rules, dude - I’m not going down that hall without my cell phone on record. No way.”
My partner is visibly shaken. And frustrated -
“I’ve been here two years, and nearly nothing. You’re here less than a week and we’re in a fucking horror film.”
“Bro, I just got here, like in what way could this possibly be my fault?”
“Are you fucking kidding me? For starters -”
And in that moment, all the massive painted portraits lining the walls of the mezzanine atop the grand staircase were no longer on the walls. It was as if someone had thrown them all into a pile at the top of the stairs. Torn canvas and mangled frames formed what looked like a pyre.
We slowly unpasted our eyes from the scene and turned to face each other. And we stood like that for a while.
The Hotel is breathing. The Hotel is awake.
A disembodied voice calls out my name. My real one. But my partner hears his own name. And then he begins to walk toward the staircase. Toward the pyre. And I have no idea why I am just standing behind the desk, watching him.
Almost as if in a trance, he walks up the stairs so calmly and evenly. At the top landing, where portraits that once stood tall, protecting The Hotel and its past, he stops just short of the edge of the pile. And in one smooth motion, he takes the zippo out of his pocket, flicks it alight, and tosses it into the middle of the pile. And in another smooth motion, everything is alight. And then, just as calmly, he walks back down the stairs and towards me.
I scramble to find the fire extinguisher under the desk, and then I’m running towards the fire.
“What the fuck were you thinking?!” I exclaim as I run past my partner. He looks up, surprised. Almost like he snapped out of something. I hear him turn back toward the fire and gasp.
“What the fuck happened?!” he yells after me. He keeps yelling, but I unleash the extinguisher the moment I get to the top of the staircase, and I don’t let up until everything is dark again.
It’s not supposed to be that bright at night.
Panting, I turn around to see my partner staring, agape, at the foot of the stairs.
My partner hasn’t show up for shift tonight. No one knows where he is. I would be worried about it, but I’m too worried about myself. Walking into the building today, I felt the hot, dry, oppressive air of anger and gritted teeth. All around me.
I could swear the building is breathing. The stairs don’t seem to sit still.
I decide I need to know. I need to know about The Red Room. I need to know why all this is happening. Why me. Why him. Why us.
At the entry to the west wing of the third floor, everything stops. The silence is overwhelming. The feeling of dark red and viscera pressing at me from all sides dissipates, and I am left standing in front of an empty hallway that is as bereft as it has ever been. And then the moment I step over the threshold, everything changes.
The Hotel is awake. The Hotel wants to tell me a story. The Hotel has a disease living inside of it, corroding brass fixtures and cracking marble tiles.
The hallway is lit on all sides by oil lamps I know haven’t been used for years. They were dried up and dark less than one second ago.
The rugs lining the pathway towards The Red Room are just as vibrant and rich as they must have been when they were first laid down, decades ago. It’s as if everything has restored itself to a time I can remember chasing my little brother up and down this hall.
And then I see a slowly creeping puddle of blood oozing from under the door to The Red Room.
I walk towards it. I need to know.
Stepping into the blood and placing my hand on the doorknob, I take a deep breath and try to collect myself. One more deep breath in, and I turn and push the door open -
In less than the next second, I see a dozen deaths. Nooses with necks, razors in the bathtub, water glasses and empty pill bottles, bullet holes and grey matter spattered on the walls.
Blood on the floor.
And in less than the next second, the door to The Red Room slams behind me and a force blows me back up against the closed door and holds me there. And it feels like someone has grabbed my arms at my sides and breathed into my face -
“I told you to get out.”
And then a small laugh. But it wasn’t in the voice of a child anymore.
The leaded window across the room shatters in place, and nothing falls. Almost as if directed, and against all forces of nature, each and every shard spins, slowly, until they’re pointed at me.
And the last thing I see is something that used to be a man, splattered in someone else’s blood and viscera, holding a knife in one hand and a human head in the other. All around his feet, pieces of somebody torn apart. It has my father's eyes. It has his face and his mouth and his shoulders and his hands. It smiles, crookedly -
“I told you to get out.”
And then each and every piece of the window is in and around me.
And then everything is dark.
“Little Bird.” It scoffs and then cackles.