“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 hotel.
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 me?”
“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 Clara Dysart.
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 morning.
Clara started to read further, but stopped as the telephone shrilled.
“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 meeeeee...!”
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 call.
“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 her.
“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 England!”
“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 South America!”
“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 Sylvia.
“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
“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 cannibal cook!”
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 alive.”
“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 look!”
“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 it.
“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 together.”
“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 the telephone.
“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 me!”
“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 care.
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 vanished.
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 shadows.
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 eat me!”
“Let it eat you then!” screeched Sylvia, slamming down the receiver.
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 period.
“But how could it take the ghost this long to catch her and eat her?” demanded Sylvia, hoping Clara would at last confess her deception.
“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 with anger.
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
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 me?
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
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 toilet cubicle.
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 wits.
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?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 rising panic.
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
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 blood!
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 wall.
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
“The dumbwaiter!” she said with a sudden rush of relief.She thought, Saved!This is how I can escape from this hellish room!
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 frightening pace.
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 out.
“Sylvia?” called Clara Dysart, as she strode up to the registry desk.
“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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© Copyright 2016 Philip Roberts. All rights reserved.