MS Found in a Hotel Room
By mark p
In my part-time job as a chambermaid in hotels, I often find unusual things in the rooms I clean, usually stuff that I can just put in the bin and forget about, but today was a really weird one. Not something I will forget in a hurry. I found that one of the guests, a Mr Benton, had disappeared from his room, leaving a smashed mirror, a huge hole in the wall, a pile of malodorous clothing, and several pages of what appears to be a story, or maybe the explanation for his disappearance.
Jenna at reception told me that he was just the usual businessman types we get in this place, he didn’t appear weird or unusual in any way when he checked in, and well we all know he checked out, but not in the usual sense of the word.
Oh, by the way, I am a bit of an amateur writer, so I have gathered up the pages and retyped them, I have arranged the manuscript, so it makes some sense, (I hope) I have given it a title, that I think appropriate, and I have taken out a lot of the swearing which to be honest didn’t add much to it.
Did I tamper with evidence? Did anyone know there was any in the first place?
Then again, evidence of what?
Benton obviously liked a good rant and does not impress as the most pleasant of people, he comes over as a rather nasty individual whose attitudes come from the neanderthal end of the 70’s or 80’s.
I have e-mailed what is now my story to the Script Editor of a writers’ group I attend, so I wonder what feedback I may receive at the next meeting.
6th June 2016
I’m sitting here in a hotel room with a half bottle of vodka, looking at my fat ageing face in the mirror. It’s not a pretty sight. I have often thought that the grey strands in my hair and facial lines are a sign of being distinguished, of the road travelled so far, which to be honest is neither the best thing to think nor the best route to have taken.
Classic FM is playing in the background from the plasma screen TV.
That was ‘Missa Solemnis by Ludwig Van Beethoven’, shrills the DJ in her upper crust accent, it’s background music, religious music, not my thing at all, I suppose it’s better than the Kerrang channel or Kiss FM, though, I’m not a music fan nor a religious man. I was tempted to go for the Adult Channel, but the wonderful company I work for would find out and I would no doubt be disciplined for that, you know how things go. I decided that I would just get absolutely pissed in my hotel room, with a bottle of cheap vodka purchased en route instead, adhering to the work’s alcohol policy by leaving the minibar intact and finally get around to writing down where my nightmares come from.
I always loved horror as a kid, read heaps of it, Arthur Machen, Pan Books of Horror, H.P. Lovecraft, you know him who wrote about of rats in the walls, cosmic otherworldly monsters, that Cthulhu and his mates, there’s a whole bloody industry has built up around old HP’s work, and that got me thinking, what if I wrote my memories of years ago into a story, maybe a novel? Everyone says that I’m wasted in this hellish job, that I should have gone to university and studied English, that I have a lot to say and should write a book!!
That’s easy for another folk to say, isn’t it? Especially when they know nothing at all about you and your life!
One of my primary school teachers praised me up as ‘a good storyteller’, apparently, I showed enormous potential in secondary school. I secretly wrote stories in my youth, when my mates considered such things uncool and entering the gates of geekhood. I even won prizes and was published in Fear Magazine back in the 1980s. My story, ‘The Black Cascade’, earned me £500 which was a fortune back then but all that stopped when I met the lovely Julie. I was taken in by her beauty, the way her ocean blue eyes would draw you in. I fell head over heels in love, or something close to it.
I got a job and became a ‘company man’ and any creative talents were well and truly scuppered, stifled, crushed under the wheels of industry, whatever. I had a stunning girlfriend, who ultimately became my wife, a good job in a company I lived for and a house in the suburbs, all we lacked was the two point two kids!
It wasn’t for the want of trying, if you know what I mean! We were unable to have kids, and this was the source of our problems, if I’m honest. Evidently, it’s down to my impotence rather than any fault of Julie’s, and she never lets me forget this when she’s been at the vino. When I’m up for it, she’s always got a headache or has some excuse. I could never imagine myself as a Dad anyway, maybe Philip Larkin was right what he said about parents being the source of their children’s’ dysfunction. I know Larkin’s work really well, read it at school, he was a right miserable git, but spot on with his observation.
She’s seen better days has Julie, her blonde comes from a bottle, and her figure has seen more sizes than Marks and Sparks’ sale racks. She reckons she looks like her from Coronation Street, you know, that blonde bird who works in the factory? Right enough, she does look like a fat version of someone from Coronation Street.! She reckons being curvy is great, that she looks like a real woman should, that she’s comfortable in her own skin etcetera, etcetera. She’s certainly got a lot of skin to be comfortable in! I reckon she’s let herself go, far too many cakes and crisps when I ‘m away on business and sitting on her backside reading those rubbish books like ‘50 Shades of Grey’, fifty shades of shite more like.
Anyway, I’m rambling a bit here…. Imagine if I wrote a bestseller. I could be famous, make myself a fortune and leave this stultifying life of office stress forever, maybe even leave Julie for a younger model, hell yeah, imagine that!
Here I am, the drink fuelled writer -a fat man in a too tight business suit, Julie reckons I look like some actor off the telly, some fat Yorkshireman, I have no idea who she’s on about, and I’m rubbish with names for folk on telly, I never watch the thing, numbs the mind it does, and don’t get me started on Social Media, nothing social about that!
Anyway, here I am in front of a mirror in the hotel, talking to myself, it’s the drink talking, that’s what I tell myself. It’s my inner thoughts coming out though, bubbling to the surface, those I have suppressed from back in the day.
‘Back in the day’, one of my favourite catchphrases -Julie always takes the piss out of me for saying that, but whatever, I’m a writer tonight, ladies and gentlemen… for one night only, scrawling down a story from my younger days, trying to make sense of events which happened years ago, and which have reared their grotesque hydra-like heads in my dreams of late because of heightened stress at work, or is it just that they have been in the darkness of my psyche all this time waiting to catch me unawares?
I ‘m sitting with pen and paper instead of the usual laptop, I ‘ve left the laptop in the car and I’m too drunk to leave the hotel and walk down to the car park, well that’s my excuse tonight. I’m here on a training course, a bleeding training course, I ask you, at my age, sitting in with all these fresh-faced management trainees half my age in their new designer suits. They seem to be full of good ideas and the latest business jargon, all blue sky thinking out of the box and all that shite. Full of bollocks more like, I’ve been in this game for donkeys’ years and I know a manager when I see one, this fat bloater looking back at me in the mirror is one!
Stress has taken my life over, sleep is not a problem, oddly it’s what comes when I actually get to sleep is the problem. The dreams, or to be fair, the nightmares! I’ve woken Julie up a lot of late when I’ve screamed in my sleep or woken to find my pillow wet with tears. She thinks I am losing it and keeps on at me saying that I should get myself along to a psychiatrist, aye she’s one to speak!
The memories came flooding back the other day when my old mate Andy posted a picture of us from schooldays on Facebook. The three of us standing in the back garden of my folks’ house dressed in the reviled school uniform of the day with school ties discarded for the occasion. Steve’s hair is already short and spiky; a badge of punk, his chosen tribe, Andy’s and mine conforming to medium long and regularly cut as our folks dictated.
The years have been kind to Steve, he still has dark hair and looks relatively unlined, but Andy and I look both look all of our fifty years, me bloated with greasy salt and pepper hair, Andy gaunt faced and white of hair, it’s hard to believe we were as young as the kids we were in that picture back in the 70s.
Now that picture would have been taken around the time of ‘The Shelter Sessions’, as our storytelling times came to be known, we would have been about 12, maybe 13, on the cusp of puberty, at the end of boyhood, and of innocence.
Anyway, we go back to my idyllic 70s childhood, the long hot summer of ’76 when the grass was burned brown by the sun, the advent of punk rock and the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in ’77, how we went to school with long hair and flares and thought we were rebels for not wearing ties. When we visited the House of the Rising Scum for the first time.
The eponymous ‘House’ lay in an area of waste ground near to my cousin’s house and was one of these places we were forbidden to visit. A Second World War air raid shelter, with a broken door, which had at one time borne a padlock, not much you might think, but rumours of hauntings were rife, and that some hippies had invoked an evil force with an Ouija board back in the 60s. Someone had daubed the word ‘Cthulhu’ on the wall in crimson paint, crudely applied in the style of a prehistoric cave painting. A reference to Lovecraft the favourite author, wow, here was the perfect hideout for us. We were all into horror, so this was the ideal place for us to tell each other our stories, the ones we made up in the back of the English class when we should have been doing classwork.
We were too young to know where the name came from, but it didn’t matter, it was a memory I think I must have suppressed for all these years, maybe for some sinister reason, maybe just because I don’t want to resurrect the memories of these events of long ago.
I think that place changed me for life. I don’t think I ever had evil thoughts before then; it’s as if something in that place changed me. me, changed me forever.
Not sure if it was for the better or worse, a blessing or a curse.
Andy, Steve and me were all horror fans and had devoured all the volumes of the Pan Book of Horror series from the library and often sat in the English class scrawling down our horror stories which often were pale imitations of the stories we read, much to the disdain of Mrs Reid who urged us to read books like ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘Sunset Song’ neither of which we were remotely interested in.
My cousin Danny gave me directions to the place, and we cycled across town on a beautiful summer’s day to our first visit. Danny had previously told me that the House of the Rising Scum had been home to a gang of winos including a huge fat man Danny had dubbed ‘The Neighbourhood Smoker’, he was as fat as Giant Haystacks, the wrestler, and seemed to be perpetually coughing, in what Danny called ‘a near-death rattle’. Danny had heard all sorts of rumours about ‘The Neighbourhood Smoker’, that he was an escaped criminal, a wizard or an occultist of some kind. Maybe he had been the person who had scrawled the graffiti on the walls of the place, all kinds of monsters and references to Lovecraft characters, all things that appealed to me in a big way, daubed crudely on the walls like the cave paintings we had seen in books in the school library, he would become a prominent character in our stories we told during our sessions in the shelter.
Some of the better off kids in school had garden sheds or tree houses their fathers had made in their gardens, but we made do with that place, the shelter. We cleaned the place up a bit; there was still a bad smell there, a mustiness, what we liked to think might have been the smell of death but was more like that of stale piss. There was an old discarded sofa we sat on and a couple of old tea chests which we used as tables. Steve suggested that he would bring some candles from home and I suggested torches for spooky effect. We could have the torches shining up into our faces as we told our tales and hopefully appearing as disembodied heads as we did so.
At the time, Donna Summer was feeling love at the top of the charts and the reverberations of punk rock from down in England were being felt up in the North East of Scotland. It was the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and she visited our city for opening ceremonies of new municipal buildings. ‘How exciting’ I sneered sarcastically to myself. Mum and Dad had been badgering me to come down the road to a street party to celebrate the Jubilee. My brother Donnie was jeering at me from outside the house. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, it didn’t matter. He was going out; I would get some peace to read of the scary stuff I liked. It was the weekend and I was burying my head in yet another Pan Book of Horror and wasn’t interested in the Jubilee. Steve was really taking his punk rock thing seriously and hated the Royals with a passion. Once finishing Manly Wade Wellman’s ‘School of The Unspeakable’, I decided to write a story for the Shelter Sessions, the Neighbourhood Smoker was the main character, I scrawled the short outline in back felt tip pen.
‘A dark shape moved in the shadows of the shelter towards the twilit world outside. The tramp we’d come to know as The Neighbourhood Smoker, expectorated loudly and shuffled his ursine bulk nearer the entrance of the place, thoughts flew wildly around his alcohol befogged brain of what he would do to this potential intruder into his lair.
The dark shape began to reveal itself in the dim light, a many tentacled creature, shining and viscous, with no visible means of sight. It hissed at him through a small aperture which possibly served as a mouth. The tramp thought wildly that it reminded of a beast from the tales of H.P Lovecraft, his favourite author from days before his mental breakdown and alcoholic decline, he’d even given Lovecraft’s name when arrested for vagrancy once, What the fuck was he thinking of, but more to the point, what would he do now, faced with such a creature? Any attempts at thought were soon halted abruptly as a gelid tentacle snaked its slimy way around his fat and stubbled throat, choking every breath from him…….
So, I’m in the hotel looking into the mirror recounting my so- called ‘tale’ to an empty room and I see not the reflection of my warped mind staring back at me, but this ‘beast’, for want of a better word. A feral monster, a three eyed, gelid, squamous thing with fins where hands should be, and a gaping maw of a mouth bereft of teeth. Is this me? What I really am? My inner self, my nasty, drunken, misogynistic self? Maybe it’s the drink that has conjured up this ‘vision’, my febrile imagination, or maybe I am just going off my head, I could call it ‘executive stress’, I suppose I could call it a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean that this thing in the mirror will go away. I think in my heart of hearts that this is not happening.
I think of maybe just switching off the lights and dismissing the whole thing from my mind, but something inside my head makes me stop. I think of necking back the remnants of the vodka and starting on the mini bar, and possibly searching for some escape via the Adult channels, but something pulls me back, maybe a voice of reason, the voice of my long dead father or someone more reasonable or sensible than I,
That’s the moment when the monster reaches through the mirror to pull me through that I…………….
Bill Benton (2012)
Abridged by Anna Kelly (2012)