The black light in my hand told me things I should have never known, word by word over a month’s grim fascination.
It had been three days, and not a word from the man in room 304. Not a single cent for his stay, either. I made my way to his room that morning, intending to collect. When he hadn’t answered to my knocks and demands to open the door, I let myself in with the spare key. The lights were off, and…it was strange. The room was darker than it should have been on such a cloudless day. As I stepped through the door, I was met with a gasp of stale air, the stink of wet, rotten meat.
Then I saw the twisted thing in the corner, a thing that used to be the occupant of 304 before he died a clearly unclean, unnatural death. I won’t describe how it looked; I can’t even stomach the mental picture for long. But I will say that…the human body shouldn’t be able to…bend…like that.
The police taped off the doorway, and I wasn’t allowed in, of course. But as they escorted me away, I saw one last thing through the lit doorframe. The walls. They were covered in writing that I couldn’t quite make out. Not penned, but…painted. Painted in an all too familiar, tell-tale red.
It was a few days before I could force myself to return to the room, but it needed a turndown and I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I’d told myself to just file it away in the old mental archives, out of sight out of mind. Just do your job, business as always, and keep out of other people’s affairs. That’s how you keep your sanity in this business. I’d been running that hotel for quite a few years, and that wasn’t the first crazy thing I’d seen. Though, admittedly…it was the most unsettling.
I tried to keep my head down, just focus on cleaning and getting out as quickly as I could, but my curiosity got the best of me on my way out. As I turned out the lights, in the pale mid-afternoon sunlight pouring through the door left ajar, I saw a slight residue where the writing used to be. Just a few words, and I could barely make them out.
I didn’t fight it anymore. I had to know. I returned to that room with a black light in hand, scanning the walls for answers, and the text returned in a ghostly blue. It was written in blocks and strips, all at strange angles, sometimes overlapping, sometimes large and bold, and other times fine and hardly legible. There were strange drawings, strange symbols, and sometimes just streaking handprints. It covered all of the walls, and even the ceiling.
I don’t know what compelled me, but I couldn’t stop. I reasoned that it was just out of respect for the dead, that somebody should hear his last words. But, in truth, I wasn’t so humanitarian. I just wanted…needed…to keep reading. I needed the closure. It took me a month to compile it all.
I feel the need to tell someone about what I found, so I will leave it here for those who wish to know. As for me, this is the last I’ll bother with it. I’ve already given it more attention than I should, lost too much sleep over it. You can take it as it is, or make of it what you will. I’m too tired to care anymore.
They haunt those who know of them, and they claim those who have wronged them. I’ve learned this much, and that’s why I know that I’ll never escape. I should have left it alone, I was better off not knowing. I should have ignored the voices when they came, but I tried to fight back. I’ve opened too many doors that should have remained closed. I should have just left it alone.
A voice chortles from the bottom dresser drawer, a hideous noise of throaty snorts, crackling consonants and airy vowels. “…Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…” It laughs at me.
They never show themselves in the light, these terrible things. So I take refuge in these sickly, florescent yellow rays from dirty lamps. Every bulb in this room burns brightly through blotchy nicotine stains and dust. I sit alone on a tacky couch before an ancient television set, another source of precious light.
Even the stupid little clown face night light in the bedside power outlet shines dimly, likely some child’s memento from a family road trip. His parents probably encouraged him not to be afraid of the dark, saying there were no such things as ghosts, no monsters under the bed. “There is no boogey man,” I tell myself, just as that boy likely told himself many times before many sleepless nights. Few adults would understand. I do.
“Boogey, boogey. How long do you think you can hide? Hide can you do think you long how?” asks a demented, screeching thing from beneath the storage trunk in the corner of the room. It skitters back and forth with a horrible scratching sound. Not a spider, too soft and fat. Not a rat, too many legs. I can see its innumerable eyes glinting in the dark, black beads without compassion.
I try not to answer the terrible things. If I do not answer them, I often hope, maybe they will go away. Maybe they will leave me alone. But they never do; I can hear them rattling in the space below the sink, crawling behind the stove, scratching at the closet door. I can hear them chattering in the cupboard, slithering beneath the rug. I pull my feet up on the couch and hug my knees, a childish coping mechanism. I know it won’t help.
“This light is not for you, not for you,” taunts a child-like voice from behind the couch cushion, giggling cheerfully. I can swear that I feel a tiny hand touch my shoulder, the cold caress of a dead stillborn. I brush it away in a panic and curl up on my side, wide eyed and frozen. I shelter myself in a fetal position, and I listen to the air from the room’s darkest cracks and crevices.
…Silence. Deafening silence. Unbearable silence. They can’t fool me; I know they’re still here.
I can hear my own quickened breath, hyperventilation takes me and the room begins to spin in a whorl of smudged colors and shapes. I close my eyes tightly, and I hear them skittering from every corner of the room. I feel them crawling over me, passing strokes and taps from talons, pincers, fingers, toes, and other limbs and digits that I can’t identify. I open my eyes with a gasp, like surfacing for air, and they are gone. I stare into the emptiness of the well-lit room, and they laugh at me maniacally from their hidden places.
My teeth chatter with fear, and my eyes well with tears. “Leave me alone,” I plead quietly, though I feel like I’m talking to myself. They listen, they always listen. But they delight in madness. The lights dim and flicker, and I hear the hidden things gnawing anxiously at the walls, and at the floor, and in my head.
“Not long now, now long not. You’ll soon join the ones forgot,” sings the lyrical gentleman at the windowsill, the voice a twisted Cheshire Cat. Its claws squeal and creak against the filthy glass. A chill runs down my spine, and for a moment, I forget to breathe.
“Turn the lights out, boy,” says a familiar voice like a distant recording, crackling like an old radio. My dead father speaks from the gurgling depths of the toilet bowl. “This electric bill is highway robbery. Turn the lights out when you’re not in the room. Money don’t grow on trees, boy.” I hear the toilet flush, and the lights begin to flash and flicker one after another. The terrible, hidden things laugh at me. They taunt me, mock me.
I clutch desperately at my temples and grit my teeth. “But I am in the room, dad. I’m alone in here,” I weakly reply.
A voice from the clown-faced nightlight prods at my mind like a yapping dog, some foul hell hound. “Are you? Are you? Are you really? Are you?” it asks in repetitive torment, and the plastic coloring of its skin seems to peel and melt away. I avert my eyes.
This is not happening. This is impossible, and I will not believe it. I have to stay in control. I can’t let myself go mad.
A voice from the darkness in my left shoe near the bed hears my thoughts. “Mad, bad, glad, sad. Titter tatter, pitter patter, mad as a hatter,” it teases with a shrill voice like a squealing hog.
I shake my head, sobbing violently as I try gravely to ignore the chaotic chatter of the hidden things. I lose myself in memory, the hindsight of pitying people like me, the haunted ones, thinking them crazy. They were alone in their suffering, always alone. The world could never understand. Are these things real? Are they only in my head, some disturbance of the mind? Honestly, I’m not sure that it really matters anymore.
The lights flicker, dim, and die at last. I can hear them declare their presence, turn by turn, a prologue for the coming slaughter.
“We…” says the gruff voice from the bottom drawer.
“Are…” says the demented creature from beneath the storage trunk.
“Legion…” says the child from behind the couch cushion.
“For…” says the gentleman at the window sill.
“We…” says the voice of the melting clown.
“Are…” says the monster in my shoe.
“Many,” says my father from the toilet bowl.
I hear them converge on me in the darkness, a terrifying clatter blanketing every surface in the room. No escape. I can only wonder what they will find of me after the hidden things have their way. I wonder if there will be anything left to find.
That is where the text seemed to end. Or, at least, it was all I bothered to look for. I walled off the room after that, I wanted it forgotten. But…one thing that still hangs on my mind. I saw it just as I was about to close the door for the last time. It was a tiny message scrawled on the carpet. It wasn’t written in blood, but something black and sticky.
I keep telling myself that it must have been something I missed. Though, I don’t know how I could have, not with all of the times I had been in that room since it happened. I hope that’s all it is, because if it’s not…then…that would mean…
…It was left for me.
Run or fight for all your might,
Hush the creatures of the night.
Spare us not this dreadful light,
We shall hide ourselves from sight.
Stay the while, but for your crime,
At death knell’s chime,
We will claim your soul in time
Original Author: Aaron Shotwell