Jared glanced at his watch and smiled to himself. He knew that it was pointless to time the bell hop, but old habits and all that. Considering this quirk was all that was left of his once debilitating OCD, Jared embraced it. Keeping track of those seconds kept him from needing to count stairs, kept him from having to go down to the first step again if he missed one or lost count, kept him from tapping the railing five times if there was an odd number of stairs, kept the compulsion to look at the ceiling every fourth step he took at bay.
“Welcome to Peaks Hotel. I’m Marina. Do you have a reservation?”
“Yes, hello Marina. I’m Jared Charles. I believe my editor, Elaine Price, took care of my reservation for the Hollywood room?”
Jared smiled half-heartedly. Surely this little old receptionist knew why he was here: to see what exactly was going on in that room to make people think it was haunted. Almost all hotels famous for being haunted turn out to be hoaxes, sly tricks carried out by the owners or staff as a ploy to gain publicity. The Peaks Hotel, an old Victorian style mansion-turned-hotel was bound to be uneventful.
“Okay, Mr. Charles, if I could just see some identification, we can get you settled into your room.”
Jared pulled his driver’s license from his wallet and handed it over to the little, elderly lady behind the desk. Marina made a copy of his license and filed the it in a large filing cabinet, then moved to a large peg board. Each peg had a label listing the names of the suites along the top, and simple room numbers for the smaller rooms on the third floor. Marina selected the Hollywood room key and returned to the desk, handing it and Jared’s license back to him with a smile.
“Would you like a tour, Mr. Charles?”
“Jared, please. And thank you, but I’ll wander around later if that’s okay. I was actually wondering if I could use the sitting room across the way?” Jared asked as he motioned to the double doors, pointing across the grand entry way to the sitting area.
“As you know, I’m here on behalf of American Adventurer Magazine,” Jared continued. “I’d like to talk to some of the staff and guests, as well as Mrs. Peaks to find out more about the hotels history, and why it’s so famous. Mrs. Peaks told my editor setting up there wouldn’t be a problem, but as the room is just across from your desk...”
“That’s very kind of you to ask, Jared. I don’t mind if you use that room but I would request that you use a desk closer to that side of the room,” she said, pointing to a table that isn’t visible from the lobby and check-in desk.
“The Peaks is renowned, yes, but our reputation for the supernatural isn’t all we are known for. Our Victorian decor, our prestigious accommodations, even our menu are all reasons people choose to stay here. I wouldn’t want to scare a guest away because they overhear some maid telling you she saw something.” Marina put an emphasis on the word “maid” that told Jared she considered herself above the help, and that she dismissed the rumors as just that- rumors.
Switching gears, Marina gestured for Jared to follow her up the stairs. He couldn’t help but smile to himself: the bellhop had just arrived in his room and, glancing at his watch- 300 seconds. That had to be record time! Granted, it wasn’t a very long trip from the lobby to his room, he’d had bellhops take at least an extra 100 seconds for much shorter trips. He reached in his pocket to pull out his money clip and grabbed a twenty. Folding it in his fist, he slipped it into the bellhop’s hand as he shook it, thanking him.
Marina had already opened the double doors to the terrace allowing natural light to spill into the room.
“So the bathroom is through this door,” she said opening a door to one side of the room. “And over here is the den,” she continued, walking into an open space on the other side of the bed. “Premium cable, the remote is here. On this side we have-“
“Thank you, Marina, the room is wonderful. I’m sure I’ll be fine.” He passed her a five-dollar bill as he took the key from her and ushered her out the doors.
He closed them behind her and turned around, taking in the room. With a deep breath, he went to his luggage to unpack. Just as he got to the suitcase with the laptop case on top, he reconsidered. He thought about the years he spent at home collecting disability because he couldn’t force himself out of the cycle of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.
I’ll unpack later. Right now, I’m going to go downstairs and talk to people, schedule appointments, Jared thought. He smiled, proud of himself as he pulled his planner from the front pouch of his laptop bag. He got three steps before he remembered that this hotel used old fashioned keys and turned back to lock the door. It was ajar about five inches.
“What the-” Jared was sure he closed the door. He heard the click. He shook his head. The wind coming in from the terrace must have blown the door back open. He locked the doors, and gave the handles a jiggle, to make sure they were really shut. Satisfied, he turned and made his way down the staircase.
Jared spent most of the morning approaching staff and guests, explaining who he was, why he was there, and then asking them about their stay. At 12:50 pm, a chime went off. The grandfather clock next to the grand staircase, just outside the dining room doors, was programed to chime ten minutes before each meal. Guests on the first and second floors could all hear the chimes. Those on the third floor of the hotel, which was comprised of several smaller hotel rooms, could faintly hear them if their doors were open. Jared jogged up the stairs to change into a polo for lunch. He came around the railing at the top of the stairs and froze. The doors to his room were open. Again.
“You have got to be kidding me!” Jared said, annoyed. He peaked in and looked around. Nothing was missing, nothing was out of place. Jared shook his head as he meandered in the room, his mind racing.
I must have left them unlocked. It’s so unlike me. Nothing is missing. But then again, they could be hiding, waiting to jump out and stab me. No, that’s ridiculous. Jared you’re being ridiculous. No one wants to stab you. Maybe there’s a mechanism or something set up to unlatch doors. To make me think its ghosts. If it were a ghost - wait can ghosts open locked doors? Need to research that.
Shaking out of his less than cheery train of thought, he changed for lunch, grumbling that he was now late. Turning to leave he was suddenly frozen with anxiety. He couldn’t go to lunch if he was late. The thought of showing up late? Well, that just wasn’t acceptable. Jared phoned the front desk and asked for lunch to be brought to his room.
Later that evening, after several meetings with staff members and guests, Jared was exhausted. The more time he spent in this damned hotel the more he found his mind wandering. It would slip off to dark places he thought no longer existed. Haunting thoughts, obsessive thoughts…
Did I leave the stove on at home? Is the kennel I brought Trixie to trustworthy? I mean, how many cat owners reviewed the place? Not many. Why is that? Oh God, what if there are so few because they are all fake reviews?! My poor cat! I can’t wait to get home… Did I leave the stove on? My house could burn down! I’ll go back to nothing but rubble and ash. At least Trixie would be okay, she’s at the kennel. Is the kennel okay though?
When the grandfather clock chimed at 6:50, Jared didn’t bother returning to his room; he would not risk being late for supper. He gathered his notebook, computer, and pens placing them in his bag with extreme care. The laptop first, then the notebook. Now the pens in the pen slot. He stood up and rapped his knuckles on the desk three times.
“Woah.” Jared said aloud in response to carrying out a behavior he hadn’t felt compelled to give into for years.
This hotel is messing with my mind…
After supper, Jared relaxed a bit. He typed up notes and reviewed the schedule he had for the next day. Feeling good about the progress he was making, he clicked the overhead lights off.
That king size bed is calling my name! Trixie would love it. I hope she’s okay. I couldn’t leave her home alone all weekend. Wait, did I leave the stove on? No. Stop it, Jared, you’re being ridiculous!
Jared took a deep breath and shook his head, as if he were trying to shake the obsessive thoughts loose. With his mind at ease once more, he undressed. First, he removed his pajama bottoms from the dresser and laid them on the bed. Then, he turned around and removed the matching shirt. But when he faced the bed once more, the pants were gone.
Jared stopped himself - talking to himself was something he did before. He turned back to the dresser and looked in his pajama drawer. His pajama bottoms were there, neatly folded.
I just imagined myself taking the pants out, but clearly I forgot to actually take them out.
He placed the shirt down on the dresser. The pants had to be laid out first. Pants, then shirt. Always.
He laid the pants out on the bed. He turned around, picked up the shirt, shook it out and as he moved to lay it down next to the pants he froze. The pants were gone. Again.
“Nope.” Jared declared, replacing the shirt. If he couldn’t lay out his pajamas, he couldn’t wear them. He slept in his boxers.
At some point Jared woke with a start. He sat up in the dark, breathing heavily.
“Hello? Is anyone there?”
It was unnaturally dark. Jared leaned over and clicked the light on and let out a yelp. There was a man standing next to the bed, a clown mask over his face.
Jared scrambled towards the other side of the bed. The man just stood, watching him. When Jared looked to his left to jump off the bed, he caught movement in his peripheral vision. He glanced back and gasped. There was nothing there.
The sound of a latch snapped Jared’s attention to the double doors of his room, and he sat staring in disbelief as light from the hallway slowly spilled across the carpet. One…two…three… 300 seconds. The doors were open for 300 seconds before they closed, locks clicking.
“What the hell is going on here?”
Moving to get out of the bed and investigate, he paused to grab his slippers, but they weren’t where they were supposed to be. It was then that Jared realized he was wearing pajamas.
“I’m dreaming. This is one long messed up dream!”
Jared laughed, patting his chest and thighs to confirm he was really wearing the pajamas. It was a dream. He would lay down, close his eyes, and then wake up for real when his alarm went off.
The next morning the alarm clock jangled cheerfully, waking Jared from a fitful sleep. Sitting up, he turned the alarm off and began to yawn and stretch. As his arms raised above his head, he realized they were bare. He wasn’t wearing pajamas.
Okay, last night was just a nightmare. It’s from all the hype, the interviews, that’s all. That one housekeeper, Betty, what did she say? Something about the hotel knowing your fears and using them against you. It got to me, mixed with the other stories, and my imagination came up with some bad dreams, that’s all.
Satisfied with his logical reasoning, Jared got up, showered and dressed. After carefully checking the doors were locked six times, he headed down the hall towards the stairs. Every four steps he glanced up to the ceiling. When he got to the bottom of the stair case, he rapped five times on the railing. This earned some curious looks from other guests, but Jared seemed oblivious to his actions.
After lunch Jared retired to his room, mug of coffee in hand. After last night he would need caffeine if he hoped to get any work done that afternoon after the restless nights sleep he’d had.
Looking through the sheer white curtains hanging on the double doors to the terrace Jared noticed the cloudless sky and the trees lightly moving in a soft breeze. Some fresh air will energize me. He pulled his notebook, a pen, and laptop out, resolved to work outside. It’ll be good to get some sun and fresh air.
Armed with the tools of his trade, Jared opened the doors and set up his workstation on the terrace table and set to work.
As he was typing up a draft of an article he happened to glance towards the open terrace doors. Those sheer white curtains now bore an unnatural silhouette. Jared shook his head and squinted. Yes, it looked to be the shape of a man, but the head was abnormally shaped with odd protrusions on the sides, kind of like a clown wig.
Like clown hair!
“Hey!” Jared yelled, jumping up so quickly the chair fell backwards. He ran into the room, brandishing the empty coffee mug as a weapon. But…nothing. There was no one there.
You’re losing your shit, Jared.
Deciding to focus his energy, Jared stalked back to the terrace table, righted his chair, and started taking notes about the incident. This wasn’t some kids pulling a prank, and he wasn’t dreaming this time. His experience was similar to the incidents reported by the staff and guests he had interviewed earlier that day. However, there were never repeat incidents. The experiences people had related to their deepest fears. While Jared has never liked clowns, his greatest fear was regressing. He spent years recovering from his obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. He’d face down a whole room of clowns before letting that happen.
Jared climbed the stairs after supper, counting as he went: Rap-rap-rap-rap…rap. Jared had knocked on the railing four times before he realized what he was doing. Try as he might, he could not stop his hand from knocking the fifth time. He walked to his room, glancing at the ceiling every fourth step.
He unlocked the double doors and pulled them open, wide. He stopped. The room looked as though a tornado had blown through it. Clothes everywhere. Television broken on the floor. His laptop in pieces on the terrace. This isn’t real. Closing his eyes tightly, he took a deep breath in through his nose and opened his eyes as he exhaled. Everything was as he left it.
It was only 9:30, but he felt as though it was much later. He undressed, hung his clothes in the cabinet and sidestepped to the dresser. He took out pajama bottoms and smoothed them over the bed. He turned around, picked up the night shirt. When he faced the bed again his pants were gone.
“You have got to be kidding me.” Jared said, dryly. Defeated, he returned the shirt to the drawer and climbed in bed.
Again, Jared woke sometime during the night with a start. Again, the room was unnaturally dark. Again, he turned on his bedside lamp. The man from the night before was there, wearing doctor’s scrubs, next to his bed, the large plastic clown mask smiling down at him. Jared kept his eyes on the clown as he scooted across the large bed, intending to jump and run as soon as he hit the end. He slid back, groping for the edge, and slid some more. Finally, he reached the side, but when he rolled to climb free of the covers, the clown was there and he was no longer still as a statue.
The clown shoved Jared to his back with immense strength. While holding him with one hand, it grabbed a pillow with the other. The pillow came down on Jared’s face, effectively cutting off his ability to breath. Jared clawed and kicked, fighting to get out from under the pillow. Fighting for air. He couldn’t open his mouth to scream- all that came out was harsh guttural noises. His limbs started to feel thick and heavy. His lungs were searing hot, desperate for air. This is it, he thought, as he let his arms fall limply to his sides.
“Mr. Charles? Mr. Charles, are you okay?”
Jared blinked and looked around. He was in the lobby, sitting in one of the arm chairs. Marina stood over him, hand pressed to her chest, an alarmed look on her face.
“I’ve put your luggage in your room and opened the terrace doors, Mr. Charles,” the bellhop said enthusiastically from the bottom of the stairs, not noticing Marina’s concerned looks.
Jared glanced down at his watch. The bellhop made record time! 300 seconds.