Dark Room

I never used to believe in ghosts. Those were happier times.

I recently took on a new job as the night auditor of a hotel. Working the late shift you meet some, for lack of a better word, interesting people. Still, it's a pretty easy gig provided you can stay awake. You basically get paid to sit on your computer for eight hours a night unless a customer happens to show up. Run the nightly reports, get breakfast set up in the morning, and then you're good to go. All that time, just for you.

The problem is your mind starts to wander. I mean, sure this is a brightly lit hotel lobby, but everywhere else outside is dark and forbidding. And the loneliness doesn't help either. Having no coworkers to talk to doesn't just make the work boring, it makes it unsettling.

It doesn't matter than you're not more than thirty feet from the next living person, in this lobby, at two in the morning, for all you know the world could have ended and you could be the last person alive. Sure once in a while some drunk college kid will show up looking for a place to crash, or else a trucker who's in it for the long haul, but after that brief encounter you go right back to the waiting. The insufferable waiting.

Distractions aren't very effective when you're already on edge, and I was always on edge. I don't know why, but I would always feel anxious whenever I worked my shift. As if somebody- no, something was watching me.

Let me explain to you how our lobby works. You've got the front door to the place which I lock after my co-workers leave and I start my shift. Then you've got the “common area”, which has a couple of couches, a small table with various magazines and then adjacent to it on the far left side of the room the breakfast area. It's a small hotel so this is all crammed into about 700 square feet. It's cramped a bit by the long desk where the hosts wait to check you in and out and behind that is a small employee area, divided by a sliding panel door. On the opposite side of that same wall, near the breakfast area, is the door to the pool, hot tub and restrooms. It's a small, uncomfortable and ineffective layout if I ever saw one, but I'm not paid to decorate, I'm just paid to make sure it doesn't all fall apart overnight.

Oh, and of course, right next to the desk on the far right side you've got a little alcove where night time guests come to check in. There is a window and a little bell they can ring to get service. That bell is the first odd thing that I noticed.

It must have been about 4 AM. It was my second or third night on the job and I was still getting used to the shift, so I was constantly on the verge of dozing off. Just after a point where I'm certain I did doze off, I heard the bell ringing frantically. I jumped up and rushed out the sliding panel door to greet the guest, but nobody was there.

Of course, I figured they'd just gotten ticked off and left. I kicked myself for letting myself fall asleep on the job like that and really hoped they didn't report me to my manager. I made sure that I stayed awake by grabbing a coffee from the breakfast area and made sure that I sat up straight at my computer.

Then, I heard the bell again. Just as frantic as before. I knew I was there before the sound stopped this time, but there was still nobody at the alcove. I opened the window, called out “Hello!”, and even – you'll never believe this- peeked over the small outer ledge to make sure some kid wasn't hiding there and playing a nasty prank on me. I saw nothing, and for the rest of that night, I heard nothing else out of that bell.

Then a few more nights passed. I'd gotten used to the job and was doing okay. My manager had nothing but praise for how well I was doing (I'm pretty sure the guy had no idea how simple the job was).

And then, in that annoying way that manager's do, he rewarded my “good work” by giving me more work to do. He said he wanted me to go around to the pool and scrub the area as well as preparing the breakfast area. Okay, easy enough. I have no problem cleaning, and besides it'll give me something to do.

The manager didn't mention that there really aren't that many lights in the pool area. Just two silly corner sconces on opposite sides of the pool. And this is an indoor pool, can you believe it? Well, those 40 watt light bulbs did next to nothing to illuminate the place. And the loneliness isn't your biggest problem when you're cleaning the pool area. No, it's those big, wide windows. You look out into the darkness around you and you can only see your reflection.

I know I sound pretty pathetic, but if you've never done it, you wouldn't understand. Even if you're wide awake, at night your mind just changes. The bravest man in the world would constantly be looking over his shoulder working night shift all by himself in a dingy little hotel. My sleep-deprived brain kept on fearing that each time I looked out those windows, I'd see something looking back at me, or else see something in my reflection that wasn't there.

I was half-right. It wasn't in the windows though, but the pool water itself. One night after I'd been cleaning the pool for about a week I bent down to scrub the handle to one of the ladders and I saw a shaky black silhouette standing behind me in the pool. I turned around so quickly I almost fell in the pool but, of course, there was nothing there. When I turned back to the pool, the figure was gone. I finished the scrubbing in a hurry and got out of there. I also “forgot” to turn the lights off when I left.

Every time I tried to bring up these stories to my daytime co-workers they laughed it off like I was telling the stories just to try and freak them out. I suppose that was better than them thinking I was crazy, but it was irritating to have nobody believe what I was telling them.

Probably the worst scare I ever had happened on the shift marking one month with the hotel. We were in the middle of a massive windstorm; what they call a "derecho". I had the television from the breakfast area on watching the weather report. They kept warning us all night that we were probably going to lose power and sure enough at around three, all the power in the hotel went out. Pitch black, and silent as a tomb. No refrigerators running, no computers humming, nothing but the howling wind outside and the darkness inside.

The phone started ringing and I went over to answer it. Some dumb teenager calling in and complaining about the power outage and insisting we comp his stay for the night. It took all my self-restraint not to tell him that he should be in bed anyways and if he had a problem he was welcome to go back out into the storm. Fortunately, he was the only person that called. Or, I suppose unfortunately, as I was now alone in the dark with nothing to distract me.

I had a flashlight, one of those old self-powering kind that you crank by hand to generate electricity. “Always be prepared,” my dad would say and tonight I was glad that I followed that sound Boy Scout logic. The only problem is the light it provided was pretty weak.

I'm not so certain the flashlight actually helped me stay any calmer than if I'd been in total darkness. The problem with having a little bit of light is your eyes never get accustomed to the darkness and so you're stuck with tunnel vision. And when that happens, you're always on edge that something might pop up out of your peripheral and blindside you. But of course, that wouldn't happen. I was all alone.

Then I heard it. I don't care if they say that it must have been a pipe, or a crack somewhere, I don't care how much they insist that stuff like this happens all the time I heard the sound of a woman wailing echo through the lobby. Inside the lobby. No. It was not outside. It wasn't the wind. I keep telling people that, but nobody believes me.

This ghostly wailing bounced off the walls and I shone my flashlight all around me trying to find out where it came from. The wail turned into a scream as the intensity increased.

And then, as my beam of light turned to the sliding panel door just two feet from me I was the one screaming. it came upon a shrouded, disfigured woman's face. There were holes where her eyes should have been, her bony face was all but completely withered away, and her flesh stank of decay. I couldn't help but notice that when the light hit her she shook, as though she'd been moving- moving towards me- and suddenly stopped. The woman's face disappeared and the wailing stopped.

Then, out of nowhere, all the power came right back on. My computer booted up, the TV came back on and the refrigerators began humming once more. I kept the flashlight running anyways, and I kept turning that crank well even after the sun came up. I left my shift without a word, except to tell the manager that I was feeling ill and would need to take the next night off.

It was a good thing I had the extra day, I couldn't fall asleep until the next night, and it was interrupted with nightmares of that terrible face, and of horrible imaginations of what might have happened if I hadn't shone the light on her in time.

I've worked at this hotel for four months, three weeks, and six days. I would have quit if I could afford to leave it, or find work anywhere else. This is the only job that will have me. But I am determined to finish telling this story. There's another bad storm tonight. I brought my laptop and the battery has a full charge. I'm hoping the screen will stay nice and bright for me.

There was a loud crash just a moment ago. Lightning struck just a few miles from the hotel. It's getting closer. And I just noticed in the slight reflection of my laptop screen that black figure is standing right behind me, right now.

I haven't brought my flashlight tonight. I completely forgot.

And now the low battery warning is coming up on my laptop. I forgot to plug it in!

I'll be fine. I just have to keep it together. There's that wailing again. Another clap of thunder. Just stay calm. I'll be fine. I'll be fine just as long as the power doesn't go out.