A warning for my fellow travelers: if you ever have a layover in Philly overnight, don't spend the night at the "Economy Motel." And if you absolutely must, steer clear of room 103.
I was heading south to visit some family members for a few weeks, and unfortunately the only flight available included a seven hour layover in Philadelphia. Not wanting to spend those hours huddled outside the airport, I rented the cheapest motel I could find, and took the shuttle over at about 11 PM. The place was just about the shadiest looking motel I'd ever seen, but it was a bed, right?
I checked in and headed to my room - 103. Exhausted, I immediately collapsed on the bed. A bit lumpy, but not terrible. Not bothering to take my contacts out, I closed my eyes and let my thoughts wander.
I was yanked back to reality by a loud grumbling from my stomach. Right. The airline hadn't fed us. Annoyed, I dug around in my bag for one of those microwaveable soup cups, which I tossed in the room's microwave. As the microwave rattled away, I noticed a piece of paper wedged underneath it. I yanked it out and unfolded it. There were two words scribbled on it hastily - "Don't look." Huh. Whatever. I tossed it aside and retrieved my soup.
Feeling lonely, I hopped online to see if anyone was on. I was in luck - my long distance boyfriend happened to be on Skype. I called him up and we chatted awhile, trying to keep our voices down. Eventually, though, he said something that made me laugh, and I heard a muffled curse come from upstairs. Feeling guilty, I said my goodnights and ended the call, with the intention of getting a bit of rest before my next flight.
As I lay in the now dark room, I noticed a thin stream of light coming from where the curtain didn't close completely. Annoyed, I got up to close it. I was almost at the window when I heard it:
"I can see into your bedroom."
The voice sent a chill up my spine. It was very quiet, and high pitched, like a child's. It was so soft, I wasn't sure I hadn't just imagined it. I shook my head and reached for the curtain.
"I know you can hear me. I'm at your bedroom window, and I know you can hear me."
I jumped back as a shadow crossed the stream of light coming into my room. I definitely hadn't imagined it that time. There was a voice, directly outside my door. Someone was out there, looking in. I jumped back into bed and pulled the covers up to my chin.
"I'm at your bedroom window... I know you can hear me. I can see in your bedroom. Are you listening to me? I know you can hear me. Come, take a look. I'm at your bedroom window..."
The taunting went on and on, rattling into my thoughts and leaving me paralysed in fear. Suddenly I heard the tenant upstairs moving around again. Footsteps stomped over to the door above, and I heard muffled shouting. "Hey, shut up down there. This isn't funny, I have work in four hours!" The door upstairs slammed, and there was silence. I breathed a sigh of relief and leaned back against the pillow, determined to get some sleep.
"I'm still out here... Come look out your window."
I sat straight up, heart pounding in my ears. The voice was back. It whispered on and on, repeating its mantra over and over again. I put my hands over my ears and rocked back and forth, trying to block out the sound. It was no use, the longer I sat there, the louder it got, until I could hear it so clearly, it sounded like it was right next to me.
Frantic, I picked up the phone and dialed the police. Stammering and stuttering in fright, I managed to give them the information - where I was, what was wrong, please help, I'm scared. I didn't care if it was a prank at this point, my mind was reeling in terror. The officers assured me they'd be over shortly to see what the issue was, I thanked them and hung up the phone.
As soon as I did, silence descended over the room. It wasn't just that the voice stopped - no, utter silence filled the room. The air conditioner stopped, the street noises outside ceased, even the faint hum of electricity from the TV and lights went away. It pressed on my ears with a tangible heaviness that sent shivers through me.
Next to me, my phone rang. The caller ID told me that it was the police station, calling me back. Cautiously, I picked it up and answered.
"He-Hello?" I whispered.
"They aren't coming," growled the voice.
And every light went out, plunging the room into complete and total darkness.
In the dark, I fumbled for my bag. I might not have had a flashlight, but I did have my video camera, which had a weak light on it. Besides, I can’t deny I wanted to film this, if only to prove that I wasn’t going insane. Finding it, I turned it on, casting a dim light over the room. Even with this light, the shadows still consumed the edges of my vision, making me jump at every perceived motion I caught in the corner of my eye. Shaking, I forced myself to focus on the camera. Carefully, I stood up from the bed and walked toward where I thought the curtain was. The thin light from the camera only served to give a vague outline of the curtain and door, as though the darkness that had swallowed the room was even now working against the light from my camera. Carefully I reached out and touched the curtain, pushing it closed all the way. Whatever was out there couldn’t look in now.
As I did, I heard a loud clicking sound next to me, like a latch turning in the door. Panicked, I whipped around to look at the door. Inexplicably, it had opened on its own. The latching sound I had heard, however, was the door getting caught by the extra security lock. I could see nothing through the crack, just more inky blackness outside.
I slammed the door shut again, double checking the locks and latches.
Everything was in place.
I breathed a sigh of relief - that’s when I heard it.
A sort of scuttling sound, coming from the back of my room. Somewhere in the direction of the bathroom. Cautiously, I moved slowly toward the noise, trying to keep my hands from shaking too badly. I knew whatever footage I got was going to be a mess of wobbly camera, but my videographer skills weren’t exactly my top priority at the moment. I approached the source of the noise, but found nothing there... except for another piece of paper, wedged partly behind a wall length mirror next to the closet.
I fumbled to open the folded up scrap, trying not to tear it in my haste. When I finally got it open, there were only two words:
I was not about to do anything of the sort. Trembling, I slowly looked up at the mirror, while pointing my camera behind me at the same time. To my horror, the light from the camera illuminated a faint silhouette of something behind me. All I could make out was a vague form, no taller than the height of the bed - and it was moving toward me.
I broke out of my paralysis and dove into the bathroom, slamming the door behind me. Quietly sobbing, I leaned against the door and slowly slid down until I was sitting on the cracked tiles, the door firmly closed and locked behind me. Whatever it was scrabbled a bit at the bottom of the door. Then came the whisper:
“Let me in. I’m out here, in the dark. Let me in.”
“GO AWAY!” I screamed.
The voice stopped abruptly. I shivered and let out the breath I had been holding in tightly. I still clung to my camera, unwilling to let go of the one thing that was keeping me tethered to reality. I sat there until the rays of early sunlight began peeking under the door, and I knew it was safe. Carefully, I cracked open the door and peeked around. The coast was clear. In a rush, I grabbed all my luggage and raced out the door. The hotel manager looked at me kind of oddly, but I wasn’t going back in that room.
I spent the next hour waiting for the shuttle in the lobby.
The flight to my aunt’s house was short and uneventful. I spent the flight running over what had happened over and over in my mind. Could it have been a prank? Who could have done that?
It didn’t matter. It was over. I was out of that insane place, on my way to family and friends. I tried to put the whole thing behind me, and just enjoy the ride.
I’ve always loved flying. Watching the world fall away behind me is one of the most incredible feelings - the patterns beneath you, the rivers, and ponds, and winding roads, spotted here and there with cottony clouds, shadowing the land. This time, however, I just couldn’t enjoy the scenery. I was too on edge from the previous night’s events.
The plane finally landed, and I just about ran to meet my aunt and cousins. Finally, I could start my vacation and get back to a normal state of mind. I hugged my aunt and my little cousins so tight, just to be sure they were real. We all laughed, and packed up the car with my luggage to head home. I didn’t tell them about the motel.
That night, my aunt made my favorite - pan-seared salmon, dripping with lemon and butter. Since she lives so close to the beach, it was fresh from that day’s catch. I don’t think I’ve ever had anything so sweet and fresh. Sitting here, with my family, I could almost laugh off the events of the night before. Almost.
Silence descended upon the house as night fell upon us, bringing with it a thick fog. The little cousins toddled off to bed, yawning and rubbing their eyes. My aunt and I sat quietly in the living room, her reading, me silently recalling the night before over and over. Finally, exhausted, I got up and announced that I was heading to bed early. A bit surprised, my aunt wished me good night, and I headed to my room to collapse. Once alone, however, I felt unease creep in around me. The only lamp in the room was the bright overhead - too bright to sleep with. And with the fog as thick as it was, no light came in from outside. As if that weren’t unsettling enough, at the foot of my bed was a large window, and there was no curtain, only a venetian blind.
I shivered and turned on my side so I couldn’t see the window. Slowly I fell into a fitful sleep.
I woke up sometime around 3 AM to an odd squeaking noise, like nails running across glass or tile. Confused, I sat up and looked around. Blinking, my eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness. Still, I could see nothing that could be making a noise. In fact, in seemed to be coming from somewhere outside. My heart rate quickened as I stood up and approached my bedroom window with apprehension. With shaking fingers I reached for the pull to open the blinds.
I yanked down with one swift tug and the blinds flew open. Nothing. I let out the breath I had been holding in in a rush. I had only imagined it.
Or had I? As I glanced down, I noticed the long, slightly smudged mark near the bottom of the window, as though some grubby hand or paw had run along the glass, looking for a way in. I dropped the blinds, dashed back to bed, and pulled the covers over my head, desperate for some sleep. It seemed impossible that I’d ever get back to sleep after that, but eventually I drifted off, dreaming of strange noises and small, scuttling creatures hiding just at the edge of my vision.
I woke up in the late morning, head wreathed in fog from a restless night. My phone was buzzing next to me. Squinting, I glanced at it to see that I had five unread messages, all from my aunt. I shook my head, not wanting to bother with it at the moment, and fell back against the lumpy pillow.
Something was wrong.
My eyes flew open and I sat up. No. Even without glasses or contacts, I could tell I wasn’t in my room at my aunt’s house. But no, I couldn’t be - I wasn’t - no!
I was. I was back in the motel room from the night before. I tried to scream, but only a choked cry escaped my lips. I looked back at my phone - every message from my aunt was a variation on “Where are you?!” Still in my pyjamas, I ran to the door, threw it open and dashed to the office. In a panic, I ran in and immediately started begging the manager for help. He looked up, startled - not at me, but at the door I had just come in through.
“That door again? I thought I fixed that damn thing...” Without a single glance at me he walked over and shoved the door closed, giving it an extra push with his shoulder. He hadn’t even seen me.
Later, I returned to room 103, numb and confused. As I sat on the bed, I heard the voice one last time: “You’re mine now,” it taunted. I didn’t care. I couldn’t even muster up emotion anymore.
I’ve lost count of the days I’ve spent here by now. I don’t think I’m dead, just not quite synced up with the rest of the world. These days, I’m the one leaving the notes, warning travellers not to look out the window. Most of them laugh when they see my scribblings, but I don’t worry too much. It’s the people that dwell too long on my message that worry me. They’re the ones that listen too closely to the voice in the window. They’re the ones that might end up like me someday.
There’s a young couple staying here right now. I’m sitting outside now, waiting for them to quiet down and go to sleep. I’m trying not to think of how life was before I ended up here. I mean, I’ve tried leaving, but I can’t get past the parking lot entrance. The only knowledge I get from the outside world now is from my phone and the occasional news program I watch during what passes for a “continental breakfast” at this motel.
I think the two inside have fallen asleep. Well, he has at least. I’m not worried about him. His girlfriend - or fiancée, or whatever - I’m concerned for her. She’s still up, eyes darting around. I know she saw my note, and she’s definitely upset. She’s a perfect target.
Excuse me now, I’m going to go huddle in the closet, with my hands over my ears.
The voice is going to start soon.