The end of the hall finally arrives, and on Todd’s left a door marked 129. The keys jangle as he spins them idly on his finger like a gunslinger just after the kill; then he notices the grimy film coating his fingers from touching the key ring. One more thing nobody bothers cleaning.
Todd slides the key into the door handle. The lock snaps back like cracking vertebrae, and behind it is a sound like a gasp or sob inside the room.
Todd hesitates, listening. The entire building is silent as if it were abandoned. He pushes the door open and flicks on the light, maybe a little hastier than he’d admit.
Standard room. Small table by the window. Wooden vanity with a cracked mirror. Small entertainment center with television set and video game console. Queen size bed with green comforter (read as, mite nest), which Todd promptly tears off the mattress and tosses in the corner. Bathroom so claustrophobic the door almost touches the toilet bowl when it opens. The one thing giving it personality is the presence of the missing author’s things — mostly textbooks and notebooks — which haven’t been moved or claimed yet. The bedside clock reads 9:31 P.M.
The room is quiet.
Todd closes the door with his foot, tosses the key on the vanity. He pulls a packet of bleach wipes from his back pocket and begins wiping down the doorknobs, the TV remote, and the faucet handles. He takes twenty minutes to wipe down the toilet’s seat and lever.
Todd Kline maintains the most abysmal rooms at the Nimbus Hotel. He used to clean the cadaver room at the university, so the eerie and the disgusting have little effect on him.
He’s lost track of how many years he’s been a room attendant there, but it’s been long enough to know the hotel should be shut down and the building condemned. The shit he’s seen would turn tourists off of hotels forever. The beds are a vast culture of germs and dust mites: attendants don’t wash the comforters between tenants unless they’re visibly stained on both sides. The bathrooms have such thick layers of fecal particles that tenants ought to be showering with their shoes on. And God knows what’s crawling around in those “clean” drinking glasses.
That’s all standard fare for a veteran hotel worker, though. It’s the special, gruesome little touches that make Nimbus stand out from the other germ bordellos.
Last year he cleaned a handsome spread of gooey feces out of the bathtub in 222. Gladys, Dave, and Bernie all refused to touch that one. They wouldn’t touch the crusty clumps of God-oh-God-please-don’t-be-semen in 114’s comforter, either — stone solid like petrified gum. It was a miracle Todd managed to scrub it all out.
The same year as the tub-shitter and the bed-gum, a lady got scabies from sleeping in room 313. Gladys checked the bedspread and found it swollen full of mites, fleas, and ticks. Todd had to ball it up, stuff it in a garbage bag, take it to a stretch of desert highway and burn it. The lady got reimbursed for her stay. Todd got seven or eight fleas.
All of that still doesn’t top the crown jewel from two years ago, when they got a complaint about a sweet and sour stink in Room 106, and found the source — stuffed between the mattress and the bed frame — was a dead hooker. Todd was the only one who didn’t puke when the body was found, so Todd got to sanitize the room after the police hauled it off.
Somehow the Nimbus Hotel is still in business, boasting that “A stay in a Nimbus Hotel is like sleeping on a cloud!”
A cloud of shit-caked fleas that feed on dead hookers.
All Todd’s jobs at the Nimbus Hotel are dirty jobs. When the other attendants refuse to clean the filthiest of filth from the bed sheets, bathtubs, or TV remotes, Todd has to drop whatever he’s doing and go take care of it. He’s the only one who’s ever had the guts or the know-how (and you can bet he won’t let anyone forget it). Nothing scares or even discourages him, however weird or gross.
That’s probably why Manager Ed asked him to spend the night in the Crying Room.
Its proper name is Room 129. It’s had eleven tenants in the last two months and not one of them stayed the entire night. Some stayed for less than an hour. They usually packed their bags and fled without giving an explanation or asking for their money back (a few had even abandoned their luggage). Four of the eleven just vanished. Todd and the others presumed those tenants had left in the night.
Only one asked for a refund: Jervis Liddel, a pasty, balding lawyer with a bulbous nose and huge grandma glasses who had haughtily announced he was staying for a week. He’d barely been settled in for an hour when he came back to the lobby whiter than ever, his hands trembling and his teeth chattering as if he were standing in a snowy wood without a jacket. He took his money and launched through the doors like a missile.
Todd was chatting with the pretty new clerk, Melissa, when the Crying Room’s next tenant checked in: a middle-aged schoolteacher lady named Fran Carlyle. She came into the lobby at ten to five, made pleasant conversation with them about the book fair up the street that she’d come to help with, asked if there were any good restaurants about, then took her key and went to her room.
Melissa got the call on the lobby phone around nine. The voice on the other end was hoarse and just barely above a whisper.
“Can you come down to Room 129 please?” it said.
“Uh, is this Miss Carlyle?” Melissa said.
The voice seemed unsure. “Yes.”
“Miss Carlyle, is everything okay?”
She was quiet for a while, then said, “I…I think someone is in my room.”
Melissa didn’t waste any time calling the police. But they didn’t find anyone in there except the teacher, and she seemed a mix of frustrated, embarrassed, and terrified. She explained that she’d been reading in bed and heard a voice — a young boy or a woman, she wasn’t sure — crying and sobbing silently somewhere in the room. The police were pretty irritated when they left and the teacher seemed desperate for someone to believe her. She’d frightened Todd pretty good trying to make him stay with her.
She was gone the next morning. Her car was still in the lot. Everyone assumed she must’ve run screaming into the night like in a cheesy campfire story.
Sometimes a tenant in room 127, 128, or 130 reported hearing someone sobbing next door, usually late in the evenings. One guy had actually knocked on the door to the Crying Room and asked if everyone was okay in there. The sobbing stopped, and the room was quiet for two days.
The last guy to stay in 129 was a mediocre writer of children’s lit, Benjamin Hammond. He’d heard about the Crying Room and wanted to stay in it for a night or two. He was working on a book about childhood night terrors — closet monsters, bogeymen and the like — and thought studying Room 129 would help his research. Like the other three vanishing acts he was gone the next morning; but later that same day the college girl staying in Room 127 filed a complaint with Ed, saying the rowdy lovers in 129 had woke her up late at night.
“I had an important interview today and only got about five hours of sleep for it,” she said. “I wake up to those two wrestling next door like they’re the only ones in the building, one of ‘em going on with this pathetic whimpering and another giggling like a child. I pounded on the wall and told ‘em to keep it down, and the racket stopped, but they’d woke me up at midnight all the same. I mean, guys and gals gotta have fun now and then, but goddamn…”
Ed shared this little anecdote with Todd and the others. They all knew the author had checked in alone.
Ed sat everyone down in his office earlier today and said he wanted something done about Room 129. The other attendants were so scared they wouldn’t be caught dead in there. So it was up to Todd to save the day — “like always,” he’d reminded his coworkers as he patted each of their scowling heads — and that’s why he was walking down a green carpeted hall stinking of fresh paint with a hotel key in his hand instead of driving home to the comfort of his apartment.
“Stay the night in 129,” Ed said. “Figure out what’s going on in there. Maybe it’s a prank. Maybe it’s a ghost! Who knows? Figure it out and there’s a raise in it for you. I can’t afford to keep losing tenants. Bad publicity.”
“It’s a prank all right,” Todd thinks, reflecting on the meeting, “to see if they can break me. What a waste of time and effort that could be spent actually cleaning this dump.”
Bad publicity. Todd thinks of scabies and dead hookers and wrinkles his nose.
Todd wakes suddenly in the night and finds himself sitting upright, staring into darkness. The unfamiliar bed startles him at first, but with a groan he quickly remembers where he is.
His heart kicks the inside of his throat like he’s been jogging for the last hour. He has trouble breathing as if the air is made of lead. Neither of his arms will reach over to turn on the bedside lamp. They’re frozen stiff. He can’t remember what nightmare could have pulled him so abruptly out of a sound sleep or put him in such a frightened state.
Was it a nightmare that woke him? Or was it that ice pick jab in the pit of his stomach — jabbing him still — trying to tell him that someone came into the room while he was asleep? Ten minutes pass as he allows his eyes to adjust to the dark, but the room is deserted except for the comforter wadded in the corner; quiet except for the sound of his own uneasy breath.
Todd’s muscles soften and he releases a long sigh. Skimming through the author’s notes before bed was a mistake, all right. Late night thoughts of boogeymen and closet monsters and Baba Yaga have made him as paranoid as a five-year-old. He lies down again. Takes in another lungful of stale air.
An hour later Todd wakes up again. Someone is weeping silently nearby.
He bolts upright and scans the room. There’s nobody. The shape in the corner is still a wadded comforter. His head still swimming from waking so suddenly, he loudly mumbles, “Whoozere?”
The room is quiet. It stays quiet for the fifteen minutes Todd sits there, listening, wondering if he had heard anything at all. Angrily he swats the missing author’s notebook off the bedside table and goes back to sleep.
Todd has barely slept a half hour when he’s awoken once again by the voice. It’s unmistakable this time: a delicate, miserable voice trying shamefully not to cry too loudly.
Now Todd’s mind is crisp and clear. “Who’s there?” he whispers.
Like before, the voice holds its breath. After a few minutes it starts crying again.
Todd can’t pinpoint the source of the voice: it seems to come from all around him, from the room itself. He climbs out of bed to get a better bearing. He plants his feet on the carpet and stands up, wobbling slightly.
The weeping suddenly stops.
Something made of old leather paws at Todd’s ankle.
Survival instinct takes over. Todd’s feet leave the floor as he lunges forward like a rabbit escaping a snapping bear trap; he twists in midair, crashes headfirst into the wall and lands on his side. Barbs of pain drip through the joints of his skull and fill his eye sockets. His ears are ringing. He might have cracked one of his ribs. He doesn’t care. The bed has a firm hold of all his brain’s conscious functions.
There’s nothing where his feet had been. But Todd knows there was something a moment ago.
The voice starts crying again.
It can’t be coming from under there. Nothing could live under there for two months.
Todd inches steadily forward — eyes never leaving the spot by the bed where the thing touched him — and turns on the bedside lamp. Somehow it makes the void beyond the bed skirt even more sinister.
Seemingly of its own free will, Todd’s hand reaches for the bottom of the skirt. The crying stops when his fingers brush it.
It’s Ed, Todd thinks, his blood sizzling like cooking oil. Or Gladys. Bitch blubbers like that all the time.
Todd bites his lip and puts his ear to the carpet inches from the bed frame. He pulls the bed skirt upward, a montage of angry curses on the tip of his tongue.
The hand that reaches out to greet him is vaguely human.
The ancient eyes staring at him from the shadows are not.
Suddenly Todd doesn’t care if it’s a prank. He doesn’t care if there’s a raise in it for him. And in the next ten seconds he doesn’t care that he’s running across the hotel parking lot in his boxer shorts.
Written by Mike MacDee