Don’t stay at hotels off old highways.
It’s a hulking structure, squatting there in the middle of the New Mexican wasteland like some passed out fuck-ugly giant.
Desert Night Inn
North of Roswell. West of the Mesa Rest Stop. Right off Main Street. Drive down Stargrass Road until it turns into Cat Road. Keep going straight and you’ll see it, looming there, at the rounded part of a dead-end—ancient, lore heavy, haunted.
Well, some of the guests and locals say it’s haunted. Me, I don’t know…
I’m not really a believer, I’m—how do you say—a staunch fucking skeptic. A militant one. I go out of my way to explain away the unexplainable. Well…at least I was and I did. Which is why I don’t know, I don’t know—
Something happened…something I can’t fucking explain, something that has kept me up until the cool, quiet hours of the early, early morning for a literal month straight.
This is a word of warning.
I was sitting next to the new hire Rachel on a Friday morning a month ago as she checked people into their rooms. I had worked security at the Desert Night for two years. Two long, miserable, hot, dusty years. I had never seen anything unusual or spooky or life-changing, but I heard hundreds of stories from both guests of the hotel and staff alike. And now, it was Rachel’s turn.
And boy did she have a story to tell. She was so invested in it, she continued to check in guests while continuing her tale without missing a beat.
Her story began the way they all do: the night before she felt as if something was…off, which—as I’m sure you all know—is absolutely irrefutable scientific evidence that something paranormal has occurred. Not being sarcastic at all…
She said that she was walking the second floor hall late, late at night there was a sound…horrifying, right?
A man in a teal shirt with a setting shooting off pink rays surrounded by palm trees walked up to the counter and checked in for five nights. He had a huge backpack and I wondered for a moment if he was a hitchhiker who had decided upon a luxurious stay at our grand inn, when I saw his car outside—a fast-looking Nissan. It was gorgeous. I told him so and he thanked me.
Rachel continued, saying that the sound wasn’t natural, that it reminded her of an animal growling or yowling. That maybe, just maybe, it was a demon or a ghost or a poltergeist. That maybe there’s a portal to hell somewhere in the building.
A middle-aged couple with three kids—loud, obnoxious—stumbled up to the counter. Said they were on their way to White Sands to see a rocket launch. They were only staying the night. The kids asked if we had a pool and, when Rachel confirmed that we did, in fact, not have a pool, one of them starting wailing. The parents gave us an exhausted sort of look and ushered them upstairs.
Then, right as Rachel heard another growl rise up, raising the hairs on the back of her neck, she saw it. A black mass, shaped like a human figure, walking out of the elevator and towards her. She said she couldn’t move, that it walked right past her, through her, turning the air around her frigid, making her feel faint, and when she finally was able to move again and have the other security guard check the tapes, there was nothing there.
Another man in an impeccable white suit and mirror shades strode up to the counter. Said he was in town for business. Checked in for two nights.
The suit left and Rachel looked at me expectantly. Like she thought her cliché as fuck story deserved a response other than silence, dismissal.
“Crazy,” I replied unenthusiastically when I realized she was staring at me. “Totally crazy. You should tell the boss about that, I’m sure she’d love to hear it.”
Rachel tittered and shook her head, annoyed. I shrugged and looked down at my phone, checking the front page of the internet. After a few minutes, I heard the jingle of the front door opening and closing. I didn’t look up.
“Hello, how can I help you today?” A guy said something I didn’t quite make out, but Rachel heard and handed him two sets of keys. “Welcome, Mr. Softly, you’ll be in rooms 237 and 239.”
I heard someone inhale excitedly and finally looked up, startled. It was a girl. She was standing a few paces behind Mr. Softly. Her eyes were bright in the dim florescent light.
Mr. Softly turned back towards her. “What?”
“What about room 237?”
The girl smiled, “Ain’t nothing. Ain’t nothing in room 237, yah hear me, Uncle Ed? So stay out.”
Mr. Softly scoffed and held out the key for room 237 to her and said, “Wow. Here, Hallorann.” She snatched the key from him and held it against her chest like it was some precious treasure or something, then glanced over at me.
I smiled at her—she was cute. Faded Bathory shirt, ripped shorts, and high tops; she looked like she was in her mid-twenties, but I’m bad at telling ages, so she could’ve been a bit older or younger than that. Suddenly, my brain caught up with me, and I glanced at the guy looming nearby. He was watching me watching her, eyebrows raised, a slightly amused expression on his face.
I glanced back at the girl and took my chances. “The Shining?” Her smile grew and she nodded. “Book or movie?”
“Both,” she replied almost immediately. She opened her mouth the say something else, but Mr. Softly interjected.
“‘She’s a confirmed ghost story and horror film addict.’”
The girl smothered a laugh and glared up at Mr. Softly. I smiled awkwardly and looked over at Rachel who rolled her eyes at me, seemingly upset, then went back to typing at the computer. Mr. Softly cleared his throat and Rachel finally spoke up.
“So, you’ll be staying three nights?” He nodded. “Well, we hope you enjoy your stay.” Mr. Softly thanked her and turned to leave, the girl following closely behind.
“And remember,” I added, “it’s a ‘tough old world, baby. If you’re not bolted together tightly, you’re gonna shake, rattle, and roll before you turn thirty.’”
I was rewarded by her laughter, but she didn’t turn back around. Mr. Softly did, though, and he shot me a look I’ll never forget.
My one day off a week. And of course I get a call a few hours after midnight about some strange glitches on the security monitors and the CCTV cameras acting up. I only agreed to go in for time and a half pay.
As soon as I entered the Desert Night, I was met by a fearful looking Rachel. I asked where the other security guard was and she said he walked out and didn’t come back.
I stymied my surprise and bit my tongue, then walked into the security room, telling her I’d take care of it and shut the door behind me. I ran a hand down my face knowing I was probably going to have to pick up the slack. I sighed then turned to the monitors expecting to see some simple fix. What I saw instead made my blood run cold.
There was—and I can’t believe I’m saying this—a wolf huge, hulking, hairy sauntering down the hallway on the top level of the inn. Now, I know there are wolves in New Mexico, but I’d never seen one before, and I wasn’t expecting to, especially not like this, not inside my fucking place of employment. It was enormous. As big as a bear.
It walked past the camera, glancing up at it momentarily as if it knew it was there, and kept going right on into the elevator. The doors shut behind it. My eyes shot to the elevator monitor and I saw the wolf standing in it, waiting, almost human. Then the screen went black.
“What the fuck?”
I glanced back at the hallway monitors and saw the elevator moving down the floors. It stopped at the second floor. Just stopped. Like someone had pressed the emergency button. I hesitated, made up my mind, and ran to the stairs, arriving on the second floor landing a few minutes later.
And there it was—the elevator—waiting there for me. The doors were still closed and, as I approached, I was half expecting a flood of blood to rush out at me, cover me, drown me, devour me. There was definitely something…off about the whole situation.
I walked up to the elevator panel and pressed the button to go down and flinched. But instead of the door opening and an enormous wolf jumping out and mauling me, nothing happened, nothing.
I pressed the button again. Then again, but was met with no response each time.
The sound of the elevator reaching a floor rang out and I ran back a few paces, prepared for the worst.
But the doors didn’t open.
Ding. Ding. Ding.
Totally confused, I took a few steps back towards the elevator, wondering if it was malfunctioning.
I backed away, horrified, my heart pounding so hard and fast I thought it might explode and then—
The doors opened slowly, too slowly. The light inside it flickered once then glowed blindingly bright. I covered my eyes, then blinked, allowing them to adjust. There was nothing inside the elevator—no giant wolf, no blood, no ghosts or demons or terrors.
Shaken, I walked back down to the security room to check the tapes. But there was nothing on them either, nothing at all. The strangest part was, the elevator didn’t even move; I watched myself run up to the second floor and stare at the door blankly for about ten minutes.
I sat back and ran a hand through my hair. Clearly I was just hallucinating, clearly this was just a symptom of sleep deprivation or stress or boredom. A gas leak. Maybe I should buy a gas mask, I thought to myself, then laughed too loudly.
Didn’t sleep a wink that night.
Sunday, July 9th…the night that changed everything.
The night I became a believer. And I know, I know, that sounds fucking stupid; I meant it when I said I’ve always been a skeptic, I’ve always explained the unexplained away—but this time—this time I couldn’t.
I got the call exactly at 11:11PM. Room 237. It was coming in straight to my security phone, which was strange; usually guests had to call the front desk for a problem and then whoever was staffing the desk would call me.
I perked up, remembering who was staying in that room, and answered. The line went dead. I held the phone out, confused, then hung up. Again the phone rang and went dead. And then again for a third time.
Mystified now, I decided to investigate and made my way up to the second floor (using the stairs) both excited and hesitant. Maybe this wasn’t something bad, maybe the girl just wanted to see me and didn’t want her uncle to know. But when I got up there, my heart dropped.
Someone was screaming like they were being attacked. Panicked, I slid out my phone, ready to call the police, when I saw I had no service.
“What the shit?”
The screams were getting, if possible, louder. It sounded like someone was calling out for help. I slid my phone back into my pocket, took a deep breath, and kept walking. I realized they were coming from the room directly next to room 237.
Mr. Softly’s room.
I held my fist out, ready to knock, when I remember the line: “Monsters are real. Ghosts are too. They live inside of us, and sometimes, they win.” I shuddered.
Then I knocked, loudly, forcefully, and asked if everything was alright, trying to make myself heard over the screams. They stopped abruptly and I heard some shuffling noises, like something heavy being dragged across the ground, and then glass shattering.
I banged on the door again, warning whoever was inside that I was about to enter, and pulled out my master-key. My heart was pounding, I knew this was a bad, no, a stupid idea, but that screaming…I wanted—had—to help.
Inside, the room was dark. I flicked the light switch, but the room stayed unlit—power must’ve shorted out. I clicked my flashlight on and swung the beam around the room, ready to see a massacre. Instead I saw a normal, perfectly tidy hotel room. Tucked in sheets, no suitcases, no evidence that anyone had ever stayed here.
The unmistakable sound of a door slamming shut echoed out behind me and I jumped, yelping, almost pissing myself. I wheeled around and saw a dim light coming from underneath the crack of the bathroom door.
No turning back now, I thought as I approached the door and opened it. There was a bit of resistance, like the air pressure behind it was different, but I got it fully open and I felt my mouth drop. I wasn’t looking at a sink and toilet and bathtub, I was looking at a goddamn swamp. It extended out for as far as I can see, and in the distance, there was the pale glow of a building lit up by LEDs. I stood in the door frame, imagining how I might look from afar as I stood there—a silhouette framed by a rectangle of darkness, when I saw it, floating, flying above me, blocking out the starlight. Something I can’t explain, something I can’t even comprehend, something I can’t share—not here, not now, not ever.
This is a word of warning.
Don’t let your curiosity get the best of you, listen to your gut, and never, ever stay at hotels off old highways.