A ghost story.
There is a majestic old hotel in a city several hours away from my hometown. Built in the early 1900s, it has been visited by queens and kings, stars of screen and stage, politicians and pundits, vacationers and businesspeople.
I, on this trip, was one of the last group. We had been called to a meeting of the minds to advance our prospects in the newspaper industry.
I had been to the Fort Garry before. It is a majestic, austere, massive building with long silent hallways and tall, ominous-looking elevator doors. Very much like The Overlook in The Shining, really, if a bit smaller and less remote.
Over the years, I had heard many stories about this hotel being haunted. One of the legends has it that a young woman awaited her new husband, or husband-to-be, in Room 202. Tragically, he was killed in a traffic accident — whether by automobile or horse and cart, I cannot say.
She killed herself that night out of raging grief. Now her spirit awaited the unsuspecting traveller. She appears, they say, in a flowing white gown, perhaps her bridal dress, at the end of the bed. Sometimes a small piece of fabric will be found on the floor. Sometimes the closet door will creak open. Sometimes footsteps can be heard, often falling wetly on the bathroom floor as if she has just emerged from the bath.
Sometimes, she weeps.
Bosh, I thought. Great story, but really? A ghost?
When we arrived by taxi at the soaring front doors, my colleagues and I tramped inside. Me, Kelly, and Jack, the three musketeers of editorial, advertising and marketing.
We checked in and collected our keys. We found ourselves in the elevator pushing button Number Two. All of us had rooms on the Second Floor.
“Which room are you in?” Jack asked.
“I’m in 205,” I said . . . with a small intake of air.
“Yes. Of course.”
Silence, for a moment.
“I’m in 202,” he said, then looked up with a grin. “The haunted room, isn’t it?”
Jack and I both nodded and laughed nervously.
“You want some company in there?” Jack asked, since of course it would not have been all right for a married woman to ask such a thing of a married man.
“Nah, I’ll be fine,” Kelly said. “I don’t believe in ghosts.”
“Me neither,” I said.
“Me three,” Jack said.
A long, long day of meetings ended in dinner and drinks, then falling exhausted into bed.
But just before midnight, I heard a great thumping. As of pipes banging in the walls. But it was summer. The heating wasn’t on. Hmm. Curious.
I crept out of bed and pushed my ear up against the wall. Then the other. Nothing.
I opened the door to the ominous hallway. I saw no one. Heard no one.
Back in bed, however, the thumping continued.
After a while, ears plugged, I fell asleep.
The next morning at breakfast, and having forgotten about the thumpings, I was late to the omelette lineup, where Kelly and Jack were already awaiting their eggs and bacon.
“Good morning,” I said, sidling up. “How did you sleep?”
“Fine.," Jack said. "But Kelly, not so much. Tell her, Kelly.”
He poked Kelly in the ribs, and Kelly turned around . . . his face as white as the hotel’s bedsheets, which is saying something at this grand old dame.
“I can’t explain it,” he said. “But something was making a lot of noise most of the night. Didn’t get much shut-eye.”
“I heard something too,” I admitted. “A thumping noise. Couldn’t figure out where it was coming from.”
“I . . . saw something too,” Kelly said, voice low. “In the mirror. A woman’s face.”
I laughed. “Good one, Kelly.”
But there was no evidence of hilarity on his face. He shook his head.
“You’re not serious.”
“Yeah. Bit weird. Gotta admit it kind of freaked me out.”
“Could it have been a reflection of something? Is there a painting on the wall? Was it dark?”
The questions spilled from my mouth. He shook his head. “I’ve asked for another room.”
I was gobsmacked. He was really, honestly upset.
But there wasn’t another room to be had. The hotel was full.
That night, Kelly told us the next morning, it happened again. His face was drawn and grey.
But this time, he also heard a soft voice calling him. He wasn’t sure if he’d heard the words correctly, but the voice was a woman’s and she said his name. “Come to me, Kelly,” or something like that.
“This is ridiculous,” I said. “Linda or someone is playing a joke on you. Go stay with Jack tonight. You have to get some sleep, dammit.”
“Yeah. Maybe I will.”
“You’re welcome to,” Jack said. “Two beds in my room.”
The day went on much as the previous two had. Long meetings. Late dinners. Even later drinks.
Finally, Kelly said, “I have to get some sleep. See you tomorrow.”
“Aren’t you going to sleep in my room?” Jack asked.
“Nah,” he said. “This is stupid. I’ll wear ear plugs. Good night.”
I heard the thumping again that night. Louder than it had been two nights previously. This time, I found it hard to get to sleep. Something was . . . off. Even if it was a prank, it was a damned unpleasant one and someone was being nasty.
The last morning in Winnipeg. Thank God. I met Jack and the others in the breakfast room, ordered coffee and juice, and again went to the bar.
“Where’s Kelly?” I asked Jack.
“Dunno. I texted him but no reply.”
“Not like him to be late. I wonder if he didn’t sleep well again.”
We were quiet over breakfast. Kelly did not appear by the time we had finished. We worried that he’d be late for the final meeting, or maybe he had simply come down with something?
“Text him again.”
“We better go knock on the door,” I said with a sigh. “What if he’s unwell? Even if he doesn’t come down for the last meeting, we have a plane to catch later.”
“Yeah. Okay, let’s go.”
We loped up the stairs, arrived at Room 202 minutes later, and banged on the door.
“Kelly!” I cried. “Wake up, dear!”
No answer. Jack hammered harder and yelled, “Come on, Kelly! Not funny, man.”
Truly alarmed by now, I ran back down the stairs to the front desk.
“I’m worried about our friend,” I gasped, out of breath from my dash. “Could we please go up with a hotel key and check on him?”
I was thoroughly interrogated by the front desk manager, but he finally agreed.
Back up the stairs. The manager also banged on the door, asking if Mr. Brown could please open it.
Then he slipped the key into the slot and opened the door.
Clothing was everywhere, spread onto the floor and bed in a haphazard mess. Kelly’s phone sat on the bedside table; the contents of his grooming kit spilled onto the carpet. Wineglasses and coffee cups had been tipped over, the dregs of their contents staining the sheets and coverlet.
A tiny scrap of white satin sat in the middle of the mess.
And Kelly . . . Kelly was gone.
(Photo by Steinar Engeland, Unsplash. Thank you.)