"Whatever you do, don't lease out room 408; it's haunted!"
That had been the last instruction Sylvia Wenlock had received
before being left alone to stand the night shift on the hotel
register. Yet here she was, only two hours later, with a
newly-wed couple demanding to be given a double-bed room, with
only three double-beds in the hotel; in rooms 216, 321, and 408.
And rooms 216 and 321 had both been leased out earlier that day,
so poor Sylvia had only two choices: ignore the warning and lease
the young couple room 408, or risk them going to another
Clara had been very insistent that under no circumstances
should room 408 ever be leased out. But how could Sylvia
tell the couple, "We have a double-bed room, but I can't let it
to you, because it's haunted!" She's look a fool. But
perhaps that's the whole idea? thought Sylvia. She
remembered how she had been run off her feet for eight hours
straight as laundry girl-cum-waitress-cum-kitchen hand, before
being told that due to the peculiar rota system the hotel
employed, she would also have to stand the graveyard shift on the
registry desk. "Still you won't have to come in to work again
till Wednesday then," Clara Dysart had assured her.
But who cares about getting Tuesday off? thought
Sylvia. When I have to work a sixteen hour
double-shift on my first day at work! Sylvia
knew that some employers liked to put new workers through
childish initiations during their first week. When her sister
Samantha had started work at a Fremantle hardware shop,
she had spent nearly an hour searching through hundreds of tins
of paint in the back storage room, looking for a can of
red-and-green striped paint, which a bogus customer had ordered,
before one of her co-workers had taken pity on her. So
Sylvia thought, Obviously the haunted room story must be part
of my initiation into the hotel business. It would serve them
right if I sent the couple away and we lost a booking to the
Astoria Hotel down the road! But then she realised
she could get into serious trouble if Clara denied having told
her not to lease out the room. After all, it would be only
my word against hers, and who'd ever believe me?
"Well? Do you have a room, or don't you?" demanded the
impatient bridegroom. Watching the newly weds, who could hardly
keep their hands off each other, Sylvia thought, I'd better
get them to a room...Quickly! Aloud she said, "Room
408." She got them to sign in the registry book, then took the
key from the rack behind her and said, "If you'd care to follow
"That's all right," said the young groom, grabbing the key in
one hand and his wife's backside in the other, "we can find our
own way up."
His wife giggled childishly as they grabbed up their two slim
suitcases and ran across the foyer toward the lift.
* * *
"How did you enjoy your first night alone in the Bates Motel?"
asked Clara Dysart by way of greeting the next morning.
"Didn't get attacked by Anthony Perkins in drag I
Yawning widely, Sylvia waved a silent greeting and thought,
She's right, this place does belong in Psycho!
There was something basically depressing about the old hotel.
Perhaps it was the feeling of creeping decay masked but not
completely concealed by the new carpet and lemon-yellow paint on
the walls -- intended to give the hotel a warm, sunny look;
instead, the hotel looked sick and jaundiced. And although
outside the hotel it was the middle of a 40 Degree Celsius
Western Australian summer, inside the hotel seemed to be caught
in a permanent state of winter. The old-fashioned small-paned
windows, designed for aesthetic purposes, let in very little
sunlight and the owners were too "cost efficient" to allow the
hotel to be extensively lit up by artificial lighting. The
large, lemon-carpeted foyer had only three low-wattage bulbs for
lighting -- one bulb near the double glass doors (so people could
find their way inside), one midway between the doorway and the
registry desk (so they wouldn't get lost before signing in), and
one directly over the registry desk (so the paying customers
could see to sign their names into the register). The small
registry counter was cloaked on all sides with almost
impenetrable shadows out of which people seemed to step, almost
preternaturally, at the most unexpected times. Bates Motel
is right! thought Sylvia. She almost expected to see a
knife-wielding Anthony Perkins step out of the shadows behind
Walking behind the counter, Clara swivelled the registry book
around -- making Sylvia shudder as the plastic folder scraped
along the Masonite-topped desk, screeching like the sound of
fingers on a blackboard, a sound which had always made Sylvia
feel like screaming in her school days --, to take a quick look
and read out, "MacLeod, Mr. and Mrs..." Turning toward
Sylvia she said, "Two new additions to the clientele, I see...I
hope you didn't lease them room 408?"
Sylvia sighed her frustration at the tired old joke and looked
toward the electric clock on the wall behind the registry desk,
trying to will the hands to move around from 6:52 to 7:00 a.m.,
so she could escape the gloomy hotel, at least until Wednesday
Clara started to read further, but stopped as the telephone
"Help me! For God's sake help me!" shrieked a voice
which Sylvia would have recognised as belonging to Mrs. MacLeod,
as Clara held the receiver to her left ear. "It's already eaten
my husband and now it's after me! Please help
After hanging up the receiver, shaking with terror, Clara
confirmed that Sylvia had indeed leased room 408 to the
MacLeods. "Now look what you've done! Even during the
America's Cup regatta in 1987, when we were desperate for rooms
to let, with tourist spilling out of our ears, we never let out
room 408...She's as good as dead now, and it's all your fault!"
wailed Clara, going on to give Sylvia the gist of the telephone
"But how could a ghost eat people, even if the room is
haunted?" demanded Sylvia.
Ever since she had been a little girl, Sylvia had been
terrified of ghosts. While her sisters had eagerly lapped
up the horrors of "A Christmas Carol", "The Signalman", "The
Monkey's Paw", and other ghostly tales, little Sylvia had
quivered in fright, lifting the bedclothes up over her head to
block out the horrors that were read to them each night by their
silver-haired Grannie Stella. Each night for years, until
finally passing away, the old lady had regaled her four
granddaughters with her favourite ghost stories. Recalling how
enthralled she herself had been, sixty years earlier, when her
grannie had beguiled her with Lord Halifax's Ghost Book, and
tales by lady Cynthia Asquith, M.R.James, and others, Grannie
Stella had never for a minute suspected that while Samantha,
Sibyl, and Sarah "Oohed and Aahhed" in delight, Sylvia shook from
terror, afraid that the ghosts would somehow leap out of the
pages of "Thurnley Abbey", or "The Dream Woman" to eat
"But ghosts can't eat you, pet," her mother, Sharon, had
comforted little Sylvia, after learning of her fears.
Now, thirteen years later, Sylvia repeated her mother's
assurance, "But ghosts can't eat you, Clara!"
"This one can!"
"But how could the hotel even be haunted? That sort of
thing only happens in America and
"Well," began Clara. She had spent many hours
researching the history of Perth's most
famous 1990s ghost, and never tired of airing her opinions
regarding the haunted hotel room, "I believe the room is
possessed by the spirit of a cannibal!"
"A cannibal?" asked Sylvia in disbelief. She thought,
Now this has to be some kind of weird joke! "Here
in Western Australia? That kind of
thing only goes on in Africa and
"Don't you believe it; cannibalism is no stranger to the
western civilisation. There was the case of 'Sawney Bean'
in Scotland, a highwayman who fathered a
whole clan of bushranger-cannibals, who looted and ate passing
strangers for decades before being flushed out," enthused Clara,
having researched this subject extensively also.
"Then there was Karl Denke, in Germany in the
1920s, who was the landlord of a hotel. He killed his
guests and pickled them in brine -- more than thirty men and
women all told. Then there was Fritz Haarman, in Hanover, a
homosexual and cannibal, in the 1920s, who molested then killed
thirty youths and sold parts of their flesh as meat. One buyer
suspected that it was human and took her purchase to
the Hanover police who analysed it at great
length before finally declaring it to be pork!"
"But what has all this got to do with room 408?" demanded
"Maybe nothing," said Clara, drawing a sigh of frustration
from Sylvia, "maybe everything. Because right here
in Perth, in 1918 just before the end of
World War One, we had our own cannibal-murderer, Hermann Heinrich
-- Hermie for short. Hermie was the head chef here from
1907 to 1918. Then in 1918 he was caught dissecting a young
girl in his room -- room 408. It turned out that over the past
decade he had murdered and eaten nearly sixty young girls."
When Sylvia looked ill, Clara gleefully added, "But that's not
the worst of it. There's a dumbwaiter from room 408 to the
kitchen, and while Hermie worked here, the speciality of the
house was shepherd's pie!
"Of course it was never proven that he fed the girls to the
patrons, and natch the hotel did its level best to hush the story
up. But whether or not the patrons ate the girls, Hermie
certainly did. Which could explain why the ghost eats people --
if the room is possessed by the spirit of Hermie Heinrich, the
Although it was after quitting time and she was impatient to
leave, Sylvia had heard too much of Clara's story to leave
without hearing the climax. The punchline!she
thought, still expecting Clara to corn clean any moment and
confess that Hermie Heinrich was just part of Sylvia's initiation
into the hotel business.
After a few moments, Sylvia's impatience got the better of her
and she demanded, "Well? What are we supposed to do about
the MacLeods?" She fully expected Clara to suggest they both go
charging upstairs to rescue the MacLeods, or perhaps break the
glass to press the fire-alarm button -- either of which would
certainly have made Sylvia look suitably foolish in her first
week at work.
Instead, almost nonchalantly, Clara said, "There's nothing we
can do for them now. She said her husband had already
been eaten, and she's bound to have been finished off by now
also." Opening a small drawer under the registry desk, she took
out a clear plastic ruler and picked up the black pen attached to
the registry book. "So there's only one thing we can do about
them." Placing the ruler onto the open book, she drew a thick
black line through the name "MacLeod, Mr. and Mrs."
"But what about the key to room 408? The MacLeods took
it up with them."
Bending at the waist, Clara took a small brass key from the
rack behind the counter and said, "It's back on the hook
already. It always returns after the ghost has eaten its
"Returns? How?" demanded Sylvia. She somehow found
the idea of a returning door key even more ghastly than a ghost
that eats people.
"Don't ask me, it just does. One second it's not
there, the next it is. I guess the ghost must know the only way
it can get more meals, is to send back the key so other victims
can use it to get into room 408."
"But how does it send the key back?"
Clara shrugged. "Carries it back, I suppose. Ghosts
can make themselves invisible you know. Maybe Hermie has the
walk of the hotel, but can only eat people in room 408, cause
that's where he killed and ate the young girls when he was
"Crap!" cried Sylvia, deciding that her initiation had gone
far enough. "Do you really expect me to believe all that?
Obviously you put the key back on the hook when I wasn't
looking, or else had it in your hand when you bent down to
"But why would I do that?" asked Clara. She sounded
shocked at the allegation.
"So I'd be dumb enough to fall for your stupid story!"
insisted Sylvia. She didn't want to believe the tale of
the cannibal-ghost, even though Clara's hurt look seemed to prove
she was telling the truth -- at least as far as she knew
"But where would I get the key from?"
"From your friends, the phoney Mr. and Mrs. MacLeod," insisted
Sylvia. She still hoped Clara would soon confess that it
was all an elaborate, sick joke. "Obviously you're all in on it
"But why?" demanded Clara.
"To make me look stupid!"
"You don't need my help for that!" said Clara. She
stormed away from the counter.
Sylvia started after her, but was stopped by the ringing of
"Yes?" demanded Sylvia into the receiver.
"Help me! For God's sake help me!" shrieked Mrs.
MacLeod. "It's already eaten my husband and now it's after
"You're just as sick as she is!" shouted Sylvia before
slamming down the receiver. She knew she could get into
trouble if the personnel manager, Mr. MacQuarie, heard her --
since he had stressed that courtesy to the customers was
essential at all times -- but at the moment she was too angry to
* * *
On Wednesday Sylvia turned up to work early, yawning into her
hand, having had to get up to set off for work before it was even
light outside. Up at the crack!she thought,
rubbing her hands together for a few moments, wondering why it
was so cold. Anyone would think it was winter, instead of
mid summer!thought Sylvia. She started as she thought she
saw someone standing outside the double glass doors directly in
front of her; staring into the hotel at her. Probably an
early customer? she thought, trying her best to ignore the
little voice inside her head which kept shouting, Hermie
Heinrich! Hermie Heinrich!
After a moment she forced herself to look away from the
doorway to steady her shaky nerves. Then she half thought
she could see a dark figure standing near the bottom of the
staircase, a hundred metres from where she stood. Now you're
seeing -- Hermie Heinrich! -- ghosts everywhere, she
thought, angry at herself.
When at last Sylvia forced herself to look back toward the
glass doors, the figure standing outside had gone. If
he was ever there? she thought; looking back toward the
staircase to find the second phantom figure had also
Looking across to the glass door of the cafeteria, on the
right of the staircase, Sylvia thought, I wonder if they're
open yet? Doing her best not to glance
at the small, wire-cage lift at the base of the stairs, in case
anything -- Hermie Heinrich!-- was lurking there, she
thought, I could use a strong cup of coffee to steady my
nerves and wake me up. She shivered again and thought,
And warm me up a bit too!
She hesitated for a few moments, before summoning up the
courage to start across the dim-lit foyer toward the cafeteria,
looking neither left nor right for fear of seeing apparitions --
Hermie Heinrich! shouted the voice -- standing in the
She had only gone two or three paces, however, when the
telephone began to shrill. For a moment she considered
ignoring the ringing, but finally -- not wanting to make a bad
impression with the management in the first week -- Sylvia forced
herself to return to the counter to answer the phone.
"Help me! For God's sake help me!" pleaded Mrs.
MacLeod. "It's already eaten my husband, and now it wants to
"Let it eat you then!" screeched Sylvia, slamming down the
There was a brooding silence between Clara and Sylvia over the
rest of that week. Not helped by the fact that the phone
calls from Mrs. MacLeod began to occur with ever increasing
frequency, sometimes two or three times in a ten minute
"But how could it take the ghost this long to catch her and
eat her?" demanded Sylvia, hoping Clara would at last confess her
"Maybe it hasn't," countered Clara, "maybe it's her ghost
phoning. Maybe she doesn't realise she's already dead.
Or maybe she's in cahoots with Hermie, helping to lure others up
to room 408!"
Sylvia tried to avoid the phone calls, by allowing Clara or
Sophie -- another maid-cum-waitress-cum-registry girl at the
hotel -- to answer the telephone as much as possible. But
the more she tried to avoid them, the more the calls seemed to
seek her out, never ringing when Clara or Sophie were around.
She tried simply ignoring the ringing, until being told off by
the cook, Mrs. Celentano, who complained that the constant
ringing was giving her a headache, as well as disturbing the
patrons, while they were trying to enjoy a quiet meal.
So Sylvia began to leave the receiver off the hook whenever
she was alone at the reception desk. Until on Thursday
she was bawled out by Mr. MacQuarie who had gone down to the
Westfalia after being unable to ring through to the hotel.
After more than two hours MacQuarie had rung
Telecom to complain that the hotel telephone was out of order,
only to be told curtly, "No it's not! It's off the hook!"
So he had passed on his discomfort to Sylvia, who considered
passing it on to Clara by telling him how Clara had been playing
a stupid joke on her all week. However, she thought, But
it's only my word against hers, and no doubt that cow Sophie
would side with Clara, so he'd never believe me! So she had
taken the bawling out in silence, all the while seething inside
* * *
Finally on Friday afternoon, only an hour or so before she was
due to knock off for the week, Sylvia decided to settle the
haunted room issue once and for all. After all, enough
is enough! she thought as she bent down behind the counter to
take the key to room 408 from its hook. It's been a whole
week now and that's long enough for any initiation to
Looking round the foyer, she saw no one was about. It
had been a slow day, with only two parties booking in, one party
calling to cancel a booking, and another party checking out.
But she could still get into trouble with Mr. MacQuarie if she
left the counter early. But I'll only be gone a few
minutes! she thought. So who's going to even miss
Still undecided, she took a couple of deep breaths to steady
her nerves, then started around the counter. But she had
only gone a step or two before stopping again. She stared in
trepidation toward the double door at the front of the hotel.
Behind the glass doors stood a tall, thickset man, who seemed to
be standing up against the glass, staring into the hotel; right
at Sylvia, she convinced herself.
Mr. MacQuarie checking up on me? she
wondered. Hermie Heinrich! insisted the
little voice inside her head.
The man stood staring into the hotel for what seemed
like an excessively long time, before finally, to Sylvia's
relief, he turned and walked away.
She heaved a sigh of relief, and thought, It's now or
never! She scurried across to the staircase,
preferring to walk four flights than trust the wire-cage
It seemed to take forever to climb the four flights and when
she reached the fourth floor she was panting -- more from fear
than exhaustion though. But finally she stood outside the
door to room 408.
For some reason the corridor seemed unusually badly lit in
this area, although there was a fluorescent light directly above
the door. But what else could you expect from this
gloomy Dracula's Castle? thought Sylvia, wondering why she
had suddenly thought of Bram Stoker's classic novel. Hermie
Heinrich! explained the little voice, but she pushed the
suggestion aside, thinking, Cannibalism isn't the same as
vampirism, is it? Then she decided, No, it's much worse,
because cannibals aren't just fiction!
She was still thinking about vampires and cannibals, when she
noticed the door to room 408 was standing wide open.
"What...?" she said, startled. Looking down she saw that the
key was in the lock, although she couldn't remember putting it in
the keyhole. She remembered Clara saying the key returned to
the hook by itself, and wondered whether it worked both ways?
But that's silly! thought Sylvia. Of course I unlocked the
door. But Clara has got me so rattled with her weird ghost
story that I hardly know what I'm doing any more.
She took a deep breath to steel herself, then stepped
through the doorway and into room 408.
The apartment was comprised of two large rooms (the lounge and
the bedroom) and a slim corridor leading to the bathroom and tiny
The lounge room was sparsely furnished, the walls and ceiling
painted a ghastly fleshy pink; a strange contrast to the
lemon-yellow throughout the rest of the hotel. Still,
if no one's been in here in seventy or so years, the rest of the
hotel has probably been repainted a dozen times since then,
reasoned Sylvia. She felt proud of herself for being able to
think so clearly, despite being half terrified out of her
As she walked round the lounge room, Sylvia found herself
constantly looking back over her shoulder -- half expecting to
see the ghost of Hermie Heinrich standing close behind her, meat
cleaver at the ready -- as she was driven to distraction by an
almost overpowering sensation of being watched, expecting any
second now to become Hermie's latest feast.
It's only a story!
Sylvia told herself, with less conviction than previously, as
she checked into every corner of the room, under the furniture,
even behind the books in the small bookcase, not quite certain
what she was even looking for.
She found nothing, but something disturbed her about the
room. Something's wrong! thought Sylvia,
frustrated that she couldn't put her finger on what it was.
There's definitely something wrong with this room, but what?
Finally, heaving a sigh of frustration, she forced herself to
walk down the slim corridor to the two smaller rooms. She
poked her head quickly into then out of the toilet
Next she examined the bathroom, from the doorway, loath to
step inside, nauseated by the fleshy pink of the walls, ceiling,
even the linoleum floor. She had already turned to leave,
before thinking, I've got to examine the linen closet at the
other end of the room. Tentatively she stepped into the
small room, startled by the rubbery feel of the linoleum, which
seemed to quiver beneath her feet, almost as though she were
walking across a solid mound of jelly.
She stood for a moment before the linen cupboard, steeling
herself, before finally flinging the closet door open wide.
"Nothing!" she said. She heaved a sigh of relief as
she gazed in at the empty racks.
She stepped back out into the corridor before thinking,
Nothing at all, not even dust! Surely if the room has
been locked up for decades, the dust should be several
centimetres thick! She realised at last what
had disturbed her about the lounge room: there had been no signs
of recent occupation yet not a trace of dust, anywhere
She hurried back to take another quick look at the lounge,
where she thought, It should be coated-in a thick patina of
dust after all these years! Venturing
into the bedroom, she could see that it was as spotless as the
other rooms, and the double bed had obviously been recently made
up with fresh linen, despite Sophie's claim that no one had been
into room 408 in the ten years she had been working at the hotel.
Obviously she's in on the joke too! thought Sylvia.
She turned to leave again, only to find that she
couldn't get out of the bedroom.
For a couple of minutes she managed to keep herself in check,
staring in horror at the sight before her, determined not to
panic, that her senses must be lying to her. I must be
more turned about by Clara's silly ghost story than I
thought! decided Sylvia, turning first one way then the
other. In desperation she clamped her eyes shut -- so tightly
that it hurt -- for nearly a minute, in the hope that her eyes
were deceiving her, that when she opened them again she would be
able to see her way out.
But finally she was forced to admit the truth: The doorway to
the outer room had somehow vanished: she was trapped within the
four unbroken pink walls of the bedroom, with no way back to the
Pink! Pink! Pink! Why this ghastly fleshy
pink! thought Sylvia.
Noticing a square of black against one wall, she went across
to investigate and realised that it was the infamous
dumbwaiter. So this is where it all happened!she
thought, grasping at any thought rather than give in to her
Deciding that she didn't want to get too close to the
dumbwaiter, she quickly stepped back and almost fell over as her
left foot stepped in something slimy. What now?she
thought. She stooped to examine the clear, sticky fluid which
was pooled on the carpet.
She shrieked and jumped forward as a large drop landed on the
top of her head.
Looking up she saw a small circle of liquid building up on the
ceiling and thought, My God, the bath must have run over in
the room above! Spellbound she watched as the puddle
of liquid built up and began to hang down a few centimetres from
the ceiling in a long, thin tentacle, which swelled in size until
it released a single clear drop, which plopped down to join up
with the sticky puddle near her feet.
Although horrified by the thought that the room above had been
flooded out, she was clear-headed enough to realise that since
all the apartments were laid out in the same pattern, the room
directly above should be the bedroom, not the bathroom.
She thought, Unless that stupid cow Sophie left the bath
running in room 508 and it has run over and flooded out the whole
As another drop fell from the sticky tentacle, Sylvia
tentatively stretched out one hand and shuddered from disgust as
the slimy liquid fell on her flesh. Holding her fingers
up to her nose, she thought, Saliva! The sticky substance that
pooled on the ceiling was human saliva. With just a trace of
Hearing a plop just behind her, she jumped forward again and
saw that she had just been missed by a long, thin stream which
had fallen from the ceiling. As the streams started to
fall all around her, Sylvia slowly backed deeper and deeper into
the room, until her back was pressed hard against the opposite
Beginning to whimper from fear, Sylvia started to crawl along
the wall, eyes wide from fear, as the clear beads of liquid fell
ever closer and closer to her. As a large drop fell only
millimetres to her left she shrieked and jumped to her right.
Her hand struck something hard. Shrieking, and jumping away
again she turned her head to look.
"The dumbwaiter!" she said with a sudden rush of relief.
She thought, Saved! This is how I can escape from this
As a large drop of liquid splashed onto her back, she
shrieked and dived headfirst into the dumbwaiter, only to find
herself hurtling down the dark and seemingly endless chute at a
As she fell headlong into the darkness, the chute started to
become sticky and the sides of the chute began to convulse
wildly, like someone swallowing hard in a bid to clear an
annoying object stuck in their throat. The slick wetness
coating the sides of the chute began to burn Sylvia's flesh like
acid, blinding her and making her shriek aloud, allowing the
acidic fluid to fill her mouth and run down her throat, to choke
off her screams, until her flesh was burning both inside and
* * *
"Sylvia?" called Clara Dysart, as she strode up to the
"Where the hell is she?" Clara wondered aloud, looking about
the dim-lit foyer.
Glancing at her wristwatch, she thought, The little cow
must have left a few minutes early, since it's Friday. Oh
well, good riddance! She was still annoyed at the
way Sylvia had treated her all week, accusing her of making up
Hermie Heinrich to frighten her.
Then thinking of room 408, Clara gasped and thought, Surely
she wouldn't have...?
Almost too afraid to look, she turned round and saw that the
key to room 408 was missing from the rack. But as she
watched the key suddenly appeared on the hook.
Clara was so shocked that she almost didn't hear the shrilling
of the telephone.
However, it rang on and on, seemingly determined not to be
ignored, and finally Clara snapped out of her shock enough to
pick up the receiver.
"Hotel Westfalia...?" she began.
"Help me Clara! For God's sake help me!" shrieked
Sylvia over the telephone. "Help me Clara, it's eating me!
Room 408 is eating me!"
But Clara had already fainted across the registry desk.
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