No Check-Out

by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson


The hotel was by far the tallest building in the immediate area, 16 storeys high, surrounded by a parking lot on one side and a nondescript commercial building on another. The landscape was flat and uninteresting for as far as the eye could see, mostly farmland, and from any storey of the hotel you could indeed see a lot of it.

Jonas walked into the foyer and looked around. It was mostly rust-brown marble. There was a huge fish tank before him; underneath it, some comfy chairs. In the tank were some large fish. The reception desk was long and made of marble. All of a modern look. Nothing strange there. It was a relatively new building, dating back to the late nineties at the earliest.

“Can I help you?”

Jonas looked around, and saw a tidy looking man in his mid thirties.

“I’m looking for the manager.”

“That would be me; and you are?”

“Jonas. I came to check out room 601.”

“Oh yes. Come to my office, I’ll explain there.”

The office was just behind the reception desk, a modern room of a most boring kind. Jonas and the manager had a seat and the manager called for some tea.

“So, what’s the job?” asked Jonas as the secretary handed him the tea.

“We want you to stay in room 601 for a couple of nights and report everything you see, hear and feel during the night. You will be awake the whole time, of course.”

Jonas stared at the man.

“The room has been a bit of a bother ever since we opened the hotel ten years ago. The guests reported strange noises: a pattering of feet, knocking at the door, loud noises in the air vents and all sorts of other unpleasantries. One reported that somebody had snuck in and touched his hand when he was in bed trying to catch some sleep.”

“Have you tried calling the exterminator for the pattering and an air-conditioning technician for the air vents?”

“Yes. The exterminator was surprised that there were rats on the sixth floor, but he did put down some traps. We let them lie for a week, but they caught nothing. We must have put the AC repairman’s kids through college. It didn’t help. So we set up cameras in the room. They found nothing there when the room was empty, and we had to remove them before selling it to anyone. Privacy issues, you know.

“Then we hired a man to stake out the room. He went in the room at 6:46 pm on the second of April 2010. As far as we know, he’s still in there. Our CCTV cameras didn’t catch him leaving at any point.

“We hired another one, figuring the first one was some sort of a Houdini wannabe, and the same thing happened. I mean, he entered the room, and then he never came out. Funny thing is, the paying guests always come out again, all of them, before and since. And they complain about the strangest things in the morning.”

“You are saying the room is haunted?”

“No. I’m saying you go in there and find out whether it is, and come out and tell me if it is, and how it is.”

“Right. An unusual gig, this, but I’ll do it. When do you want me to start?”

“Tonight, if you can.”

“No problem.”

“Do you need anything? Help carrying your stuff perhaps?”

“No, I don’t need any large and heavy equipment. I have three cameras in this here bag,” Jonas said, indicating his small sportsbag. “They have enough recording time to last eight hours each. I’ll be fine.”

The manager nodded, and took Jonas to the sixth floor. “See you in the morning then,” he said to Jonas as Jonas closed the door.

Jonas grinned. That had to be the easiest job to date. Normally, when staking out, he had to stay in his car. Now he had a bed. And a TV. Pay per view. Nice.

He got out his cameras, and set two of them up. The third was a spare. He also took out the extra memory cards he had, just in case, placed one camera on top of the closet that housed the refrigerator/mini-bar and the other on the desk beneath the TV and turned both of them on. Now he was recording.

Jonas then turned on the TV, made himself some coffee and relaxed.

After the news and a bad movie about bank robbers, Jonas looked at his watch. 9:13 pm. He made more coffee and watched some inane show he knew he’d forget within hours. Then he turned off the TV and lay on the bed to relax. There was no way he’d fall asleep. He was a night person. It was a part of his job to be a night person. Most people only have time after work hours to have affairs anyway.

He heard nothing strange. Maybe if he turned off the light? He did that, and lay there, letting his mind roam for what he felt was hours. Then he sat up again, turned on the light and checked his watch. 10:43 pm. Not even proper night yet. He turned the TV on again.

TV was absolutely frightful. But he had forgotten to bring a book. Jonas went to make more coffee, but found he had run out. Tea it was then. He had two cups over some TV show and the news, then a dull film he vaguely remembered having seen before.

Jonas shook his head when the end credits rolled, and went to check on his cameras. He put one away and replaced it with his spare, and changed the chip in the other. That ought to be enough until morning came, he thought.

There was a magazine on a table near the window. Nothing that really interested him, but neither did anything on the TV, so he turned it off and got the magazine.

Resisting the urge to leaf through the whole thing, he was forcing himself through an article about stocks and bonds when he thought he heard something. He perked his ears and looked over the magazine at the door, from where the noise seemed to be coming. He listened for a minute. There was indeed a faint sound; not the air-conditioning unit. It was like somebody was just outside the door shuffling their feet. It was faint, but present.

Jonas stood up from the bed, and listened. The noise had ceased. Jonas stood by the bed for what seemed like minutes, when he heard the sound again: faint, barely audible. There was definitely somebody by the door. Probably listening, he imagined.

Jonas sneaked to the door with the idea to look through the keyhole.

“Whoever is skulking out there...” he whispered to himself as he leaned to the keyhole.

There was somebody out there. Looking away from him. It appeared to be a rather petite woman with straight shoulder-length black hair, wearing a white coat or long jacket and black pants. She was just standing there. Jonas peered his eyes. She didn’t move.

Jonas raised himself from the keyhole and sighed. Then he unlocked the door and opened it to have a short chat with that person. But the woman wasn’t there. Jonas cocked his head. He leaned his head out to look down the hallway.

The hallway was lit, but the design relied on light from the outside, so it was never very bright, not even during the day. The woman was there at the far side, still facing away from him. She wasn’t very tall, perhaps 160-165 cm, and weighed maybe 50 kilograms.

Jonas made sure he had the keycard in his pocket before he exited the room.

“You there,” he said.

The woman stood still.

Jonas blinked, and the woman disappeared.

“What the...” he said out loud, but then, thinking about it, was pretty sure he had seen her run into an alcove. So he jogged along to the end of the hallway. There was a small alcove there, all right. In it was the door to the stairwell.

“That’s where you went,” he said to nobody, and entered the stairwell. He looked down, and saw a hand slide along the railing as someone silently descended the stairs.

Jonas ran down the stairs, making a hell of a noise. He didn’t feel he was going fast enough, so he started to jump down the flights, his impact echoing on the plain walls as he went. He worked up quite a sweat as he thundered down, flight after flight, every now and again checking on the woman in front of him, only to find her a couple stories down from him. And off he went again, jumping and running.

After a while it occurred to him that he had only started on the sixth floor, and he thought he must have run down at least fifty flights with no end in sight, and still the woman was silently sliding down deeper.

“What sort of basement does this hotel have anyway?” he asked nobody in particular, as he leaned over the railing to have a look down at his quarry.

She was a couple of storeys down, about four flights, as she let go of the railing and what followed was the unmistakeable sound of a door opening, the sqeak of hinges in need of oiling.

“Gotcha now!”

Jonas ran down the last four flights and attacked the door there. He threw it open and jumped through it.

He found himself in a very narrow, shady alley. The alley wasn’t quite straight, the damp ground was set in cobblestone and the buildings made of dark brick. Not a window in sight, just a few drainage pipes. And there, standing at the end of it, was the woman.

Jonas walked toward her, careful not to take his eyes off her. She didn’t look tired at all. She just stood there, silent, unmoving, as if waiting.

Jonas had just a few steps to go to be able to reach her when she was off again. He was after her, managing a brisk walk. Sweat was pouring down his forehead. It occurred to him that it had suddenly brightened up a lot outside. And he found himself wondering where he was. It was a much wider alley, wide enough for a car to go through, and there was a sidewalk on each side of the cobbled street. Some closed-up stores on each side. And that woman, keeping perfect pace in front of him, faceless, untouchable.

He followed her for hours through the maze of alleys and narrow streets in the weird twilight, never meeting anybody.

Then, turning around one corner he found that he had lost her. He ran faster than before, until he was dripping with sweat and could hardly breathe, but found nothing. So he stopped and rested. He looked at his watch. 88:88 it said.

“That’s just wonderful,” Jonas said to himself as he picked himself up, and tried to get himself oriented. The place did look like a generic European city center, but completely depopulated, to the point of resembing an abandoned movie set.

He looked around, until he finally decided to open one of the doors and enter.

* * *

The manager knocked on the door at noon. When nobody answered, he got the maid to open the door, and he had a look inside.

He looked around the room scratching his head, then gathered together the cameras and whatever else looked like it didn’t belong to the room and went outside.

* * *

“Disappeared?”

“Gone. Like the other two,” said the manager.

“Where?”

“I don’t know. We looked over the video he took, and it’s basically just him, lying on the bed, drinking coffee, watching TV and reading a magazine. Then he suddenly walks out of the shot never to be seen again. The weird thing is, CCTV didn’t catch him leaving.”

“Right. So, what do you want to do?”

“I want to seal the room.”

“You think that’s necessary? What about the other rooms on that floor?”

“Oh... you’re right. Better seal the entire sixth floor. Better be on the safe side.”

* * *

It was just after noon in the Avesnes Cafe in The Haag. Half a dozen customers were quietly reading the paper or playing cards while the proprietor played with his phone at the counter, waiting for someone to summon him.

The front door swung open. The clerk looked up from his phone, and one of the patrons glanced at the door.

There was nobody there, so they thought nothing of it, but a timid pattering of feet caught the clerk’s ears, as someone walked through the cafe unseen...


Copyright © 2013 by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson

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