Recently, I wrote about 108, a guest who scared me while I was working the night shift at the hotel. (Quick story synopsis: he arrived claiming severe spinal injuries, then repeatedly requested off-kilter assistance, then revealed his injuries were probably imaginary, then stalked me through the long night.)
My tension that night built up in layers. At first, I worried he would suffer a medical emergency on my watch, and I would be ill-equipped to handle it. Upon realizing how disruptive he was being, I dreaded complaints from other guests. Later, when it dawned on me that he was mentally unstable – and that he was taking special delight in deliberately startling me at every opportunity – I feared he would physically harm me. It wasn’t until the predawn hours, when I was huddled behind my desk waiting for him to emerge again from his room, that a final cloak of foreboding settled on me.
108 had been absent for a long time. The anticipation of his next appearance had me twitching at the faintest sound. As the minutes ticked by, I became convinced he had somehow sneaked out of his room without me hearing his door open or close. It was possible, I imagined, he had then crept down the hall, out one of the four exits I could not monitor from my desk, circled the building, and come into the laundry room through the service door. I cursed myself for not ensuring that door, which opens into the dumpster’s yard, was locked.
I stifled my rising panic by remembering that the service door automatically locks so that no one can enter from the outside, and that no room door in this maintenance-hungry hotel can be opened and closed noiselessly. It just wasn’t possible for any living creature to surprise me, I reassured myself, as long as I continued to keep my back to the the laundry room.
My confidence lasted about two minutes.
True, no living creature could slip past my spooked vigilance. But what if – oh mother of God – what if he had died? What if his injuries were real, and his refusal to wear his neck brace had allowed him – in his agitated state – to snap the last important connection between his spine and his brain?
[That happens. My son took a first aid course last fall, and the instructor stressed the importance of keeping accident victims immobile. To emphasize his point, he described the relatively common phenomena of crash survivors wandering dazed until they they turn their head and drop dead.]
As I contemplated the possibility that 108 had died, I couldn’t help but think about what kind of ghost he would become. (In that moment, I did not doubt that he would become a ghost.) Unlike the spirit that may actually haunt this hotel, 108 would not be content with being perceived at the edge of my awareness. No, 108 would alternate between shuffling around the lobby and racing along the hall. He would open and close doors, rattle the ice in the ice machine, and make the desk gate swing on its squeaky hinge. He would repeatedly sneak up behind me, then wait silently for me to turn around.
That would be bad. (Oh so bad.) But what if he didn’t limit himself to the tricks he’d already played?
Certain horror movie images are particularly terrifying to me. Any human-type creature crawling on the ceiling? (As in The Exorcist III and Legion.) That freaks me out. The guy who stands in the corner of the cellar at the end of The Blair Witch Project? He gives me a serious case of the willies. The worst, though, is that ghost-girl from The Ring, and her way of fast-forwarding toward the camera in fits and starts.
I suspect 108 – with his need for attention and his penchant for hide and seek games – would have discovered, then mastered, all of those techniques and more. I know this: Had the man died in this hotel, I would never have stepped foot inside the building again.