An Entirely True Ghost Story

12/16/2008 By Shawn Burns

The hotel looks gothic, and then Southern Gothic, and then like a Catskills resort. It spins through incarnations of hotelier fantasies, and my back tires spin in the ditch.

I resign myself to approaching an obviously haunted hotel because, as the wheel turns, there is nothing to the world beyond the short stretch of road I’ve managed to evacuate. The world emerges from fog behind me, and disappears into fog ahead.

Why is it always fog that confounds existence in terrifying stories? Makes us doubt the reality of the world beyond? Fog is a metaphor: Recollections are hazy, drinking clouds the mind. Fog is a good metaphor, because in the real world fog is more occluding than nightfall. In the dark at least there is no illusion of reality, just certainty of solitude. In the fog the world taunts with its absence. Fog offers hope of reality just outside of view, hope where there is none.

Hope that there is a world beyond the hotel. The creepy, eerie hotel coalescing out of the fog as I approach.

And why are hotels such eerie edifices? Is it that they are by nature waystations, places of waiting with no permanent residents, un-homes full of the un-homed and therefore easily associated with sad spirits. Is it that hotels are metaphors, metaphors as good as fog but precisely opposite? Fog wards existence round; hotels are existence, writ small and manic.

This hotel in particular is eerie just because of its appearance. It looks like a trap.

Of course it’s a trap. It is a building with no distinct shape rising out of a shifting fog on a road to nowhere from nowhen. But it is irresistible. 

I cross a threshold exposed by slowly swinging doors, and step onto a carpet worn thin by use rather than mystic age. The foyer of the hotel is cold, and hallways disappear into the darkness to the left and right. The carpet leads to a wide staircase with wooden banisters. But as I step onto the stairs to begin a necessary ascent they writhe beneath my feet and transform into a dank stone spiral. I use the now-stone wall to support me in my climb to the distant top.

As my eyeline crests the ultimate stair I take in the expected scene: an endless hallway lit by ensconced torches. It is so predictable that I can’t even muster nervousness, much less the quaking fear it seems the hotel hopes to inspire. I begin a routine stroll down a hallway free of dust and cobwebs but completely obstructed by cliche.

And then the hotel reveals its bait, a diaphanous, glowing form with an ageless face but ancient eyes. She waves me forward and I comply, sighing inwardly at the cloying tradition of it all.

"So. Now we spend eternity together in a spinning dance of hopelessness?" I ask, knowing the answer will only confirm the suspicions I have had ever since my car found the muddy ditch in the fog.

"No, there is no dancing. There is no touching. I cannot touch you. That is not why you are here."

"Ah. So, perhaps I am here because I am a striking copy of your long-dead lover who betrayed you and only now joins you in your damnation?" I’ve seen too many movies to not be able to eventually figure out what the future holds for me in this in-between place.

"No. You are not here for me. You cannot save me, or join me. You are not here for me. You are here for him." And she points her insubstantial but lovely chin over my shoulder. I turn and there is another glowing form standing in the hallway, this one apparently male, but completely nondescript, forgettable.

"What do you want, ghostly form exuding menace?" He doesn’t answer. So I ask the other, "What does he want?"

"Food," comes her sad reply.

"Food? I’d prefer to stay here and dance." Turning back to face the diner I mock, "And besides. You can’t even touch me. You’re a ghost in an eerie hotel. You can’t touch me."

"Yes," he ripostes, "I can."

And he can. He’s worn the carpet down, and I am another victim of the lying fog.


Sometimes I hate waking up in the morning. But not that morning.