"Don't", the lady said.
The man checked himself on the stairs. He glanced down at his hands: keys, receipt, bags. He wasn't forgetting anything. Turning, he opened his mouth to ask.
"In your hallway there is a room with no numbers", the lady said. She adjusted her wig and gazed at him indifferently. She had about her the air of one who has said the same thing many times, with the same results. "Don't disturb it".
"I -- "
"Don't," she said again, and turned back to her computer.
The man shut his mouth and went up the stairs, shaking himself to be rid of a creeping sensation. Perhaps the lady's eyes had followed him up the staircase.
He came to the third floor and stepped out of the staircase. An instant draft caught the edges of his pants and snaked up his leg; he frowned, batted his pants down with his polished dress shoes, and marched down the hall. The room numbers passed by him: 303, 305, 307. Then, a room with no number, no markings, no doorknob.He paused and tilted his head.
The woman's voice floated calmly to his ears: "Don't."With a shrug, he continued on to his room.
He awoke in the night, an unexplainable chill seeping around the edges of his room and bed. He'd checked the windows, stuck a towel against the bottom of the door, and turned on the heat, but nothing seemed to be working. Rolling out of bed, he padded down the hall to page the front desk and collect more blankets.
He came to the blank room and stopped. Curiosity filled him. He crept forward on silent bare feet and put his eye to the keyhole.
There was nothing out of the ordinary about the room. He could just make out the shape of a woman curled up on the bed, asleep. Raising his hand to knock, the man hesitated.
"Best not," he said, and shrugged.
On his way back, his arms laden with blankets, he stopped again at the room. The sleeping woman touched deep rivers of curiosity inside him. He put his eye to the keyhole again, but this time, drew back with a disappointed sigh.
The keyhole was filled with red, tinged at the edges with white. The woman, sensing a peep, must have covered the hole with red paper.
Again, he raised his hand to knock, assuring himself that it was out of common courtesy; he just wanted to apologize for spooking her. But the desk lady's voice was burned into his brain: "Don't."The rest of the night, he tossed and turned and wondered.
When he descended the staircase just as sunlight filled the hotel lobby, the lady was back behind the desk. The man approached the counter and leaned forward.
"Can't", she said, without turning.
"Ma'am, I'm a paying customer here", he said, lowering his voice a notch and adding emphasis on the word 'paying.'
She turned slowly, and he noticed now that she had a lazy eye. "What."
"Who is staying in the unmarked room?"
"Huh," she laughed mirthlessly, and tried to turn back. But the man reached out and took her shoulder firmly, surprising even himself at the bold move.
"No. I must know."
"He murdered her," she said, in her slow drawl. "Some couple, rich snobs, were staying here five years ago. He had enough of her whining. Jammed a knife up her, jumped out the window, never got caught."
The lady seemed to be enjoying her story. For the first time, she was smiling, a gap-less, perfect smile. "She's a ghost, now. All white and bloodless. Except her eyes. Her eyes, honey." She leaned forward, and the man smelled her rancid breath.
"Her eyes are red."
Releasing the woman, the man staggered backwards, grabbed his suitcase, and fled.
Room without a number
4/ 5Oleh Arnav Choudhary