I am in agreement with Anton Chekhov who stated, “Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” That is what I am going to try to do here. I will tell you the straight facts. I will not mislead you with red herrings. I am going to explain to you why I have xenodochiophobia so you can understand. In simple terms, I have a fear of hotels that I would like to explain to you.
It all began when I decided that I needed a change of scenery. I was working a dead-end job at an office building. Each day of work was like slowly dying inside, piece by piece and bit by bit. I had my own dreams that slowly grew duller as each day passed. I finally decided I had had enough and I put in my two-weeks notice and moved to another city. I decided to stay for a month at a cheap motel while I looked for a place to live. I paid for a month, but I fled after three weeks.
I feel like I have to clarify a bit so you can understand that when I say that the motel was like living in the fourth circle of Hell that I am only slightly exaggerating. I now realize you get what you pay for and I didn’t pay much to stay at the motel. The bed sheets had a yellowish stain to them and the entire place reeked of disinfectant. I think if I brought a black light with me that the walls would look like something a modernist spatter painter who insisted on painting with only bodily fluids would create. There was a cockroach infestation and let me tell you that there is no creepier sensation than feeling a roach skitter across the back of your neck while you sleep.
The worst part of it for me was the fact that the walls were so paper-thin that if I was standing on the eastern wall of my room, I could hear an ever-rotating series of people engaging in coitus. The person who lived to the west of me on the other-hand was quiet, which was a bit of a boon to me. I resigned myself to grit my teeth and bear the month in this place until I could move into a nicer apartment or townhouse. You can already tell from my introduction that this did not happen. It was in this motel that I developed xenodochiophobia.
It all started with the sounds of footsteps. I was in the bathroom getting ready to step into the shower when I heard the heavy sound of feet on tile. It took me a few seconds to realize that my bathroom butted up to my next-door neighbor and the noises I was hearing were coming from his feet on the tile. I finished my shower and went out into the main room thinking nothing of it.
The next day, I started to hear something alongside the footsteps. He was talking. It was a low mumble that I couldn’t quite decipher. I imagined that this man was pacing back and forth into and out of the bathroom and muttering to himself. The tone didn’t sound urgent, it just seemed like a guy lost in his thoughts and talking to himself. I tried to ignore it.
I wasn’t particularly worried about the man talking to himself. I think we all deserve a little modicum of privacy. I have no doubts that any of you could say you have never done something foolish while you were alone. Some people sing or hum a tune, some verbalize their thoughts in order to better understand. I decided that he deserved his privacy and to listen in on him would be a grievous violation of that. I tried my best to ignore him, but that stopped being an option.
The situation degraded a week later when I began to pick out words. I woke up that morning and went into the bathroom to brush my teeth. The muttering was background sound as I proceeded to brush my teeth. It wasn’t until I realized that the voice was clearer now and I could pick out words. I stood silent and listened to him with my mouth full of toothpaste.
I could pick out a few words he spoke that reverberated through the bathroom walls. They were: “a man”, “rooted here”, “nothing left”, and “splintered skeleton and a wooden heart”. The words perturbed me quite a bit. This was not the sound of someone planning their day out or rehearsing a speech. These were the words of someone with a couple of screws loose in their head. Still I decided to stay the full time despite the shitty condition of the motel and the probable insanity of its residents. I was only a few weeks away from moving out into my new place.
The sounds persisted. I heard them almost every time I entered my bathroom. It became an ambient sound that was part of my everyday life at the motel. Think of it like a bad smell. You noticed it at first, but after a while you get accustomed to the smell and stop noticing it. That was how I was with the voice. I adapted to hearing it and soon it just became part of the background. I was doing a good job of ignoring it until the night of my dream.
I don’t typically have dreams. They are just not part of my nightscape. I close my eyes at night and wake up in the morning with nothing in-between. This night was different. I dreamt I was being pursued by something that chased me down nondescript hallways. The thing could only be described as grotesque. Its limbs were bent at odd angles like a bus had struck it. Its head was crooked and looked like it was resting sideways on top of its neck. I threw myself through a door and found myself in a bathroom. I woke up the instant it slammed shut behind me.
I woke up sweating and panting heavily. It took a few minutes to calm myself. I realized I was sweating because the AC was busted and summer was heating the building like an egg on the sidewalk. It took a few minutes for me to realize that it wasn’t the nightmare that woke me up, but the sound. I turned my head towards my bathroom and I could hear the same phrase being repeated. It was louder this time. It sounded like it was coming from my bathroom and not my neighbor’s.
I got out of bed slowly and approached my bathroom. It was eleven o’clock at night. I had gone to bed early. The voice continued rambling its mantra. It really sounded as if it was coming from just beyond the door inside the room. I turned the handle and the voice stopped. I swung open the door, expecting to see a crazed man perched on my toilet endlessly repeating, but instead I found my bathroom just as I had left it. Except for one thing, I didn’t remember closing the bathroom door before I went to bed.
I paused in the bathroom and tried to make sense of it all. Had I closed the door and just forgotten? That didn’t make any sense. I wasn’t living with anybody and I didn’t close the bathroom door. I even left it open when taking a piss. Could it be- Thump! I almost shit myself when my neighbor struck the adjoining wall and practically shouted, “There is nothing left, but a splintered skeleton and a wooden heart.” That was the last straw! This guy was clearly psychotic. I had to get the motel owner involved and put an end to this once and for all.
I found the owner behind the desk in the main lobby. He was reading some sort of magazine. He set down the magazine when he heard me approach and gruffly asked, “Is there a problem, sir?” He spoke the word ‘sir’ as if it were an insult.
I said, “You gotta do something about the tenant in the room next to mine. He’s ranting and raving and I can’t get him to shut up.”
The owner looked me dead in the eyes and answered, “Ain’t no one in the room next to you. It’s been vacant for weeks.”
I thought he was joking at first, but one glance at his dead-pan expression shattered that theory. I knew someone was in the room next to me. I had heard them banging around and whispering to themselves for the past week or so. He didn’t seem interested in getting up from the desk until I began to hint that I would call the police to investigate.
He stood up with an exasperated huff and said, “Wait here while I check the room.” He grabbed the room key and left.
I waited down by the front desk. Time passed slowly, I leaned over the counter to see if the magazine he was reading was worth picking up. “Sexy Siamese Schoolgirls.” Oh course he was reading something like that. I paced in the lobby a bit while waiting for the owner to return. I figured that if someone was living in the apartment without paying, the owner would drive them out quickly. A few minutes later he returned, but something was now very different about him.
He came back with his face ashen. He didn’t speak, but walked like a zombie from an old black-and-white classic horror movie. He sat back down in the chair. I tried asking him what he had seen, but he was unresponsive. It was then that I decided I had to see what was in that room. It was one of the stupidest things I had ever done, which is really saying something. I grabbed the key from off the desk counter and went to the room next to mine.
I opened the door expecting to see a bunch of baby dolls hanging from hooks or inverted pentagrams painted all over the room. Instead I found an empty room that looked like it hadn’t been touched for weeks. The bed was made and there was a thin layer of dust on the wooden counters. The motel room did not have a lived-in feel to it. I looked around the room and found no evidence to the contrary except a window that was barely cracked open. Had the squatter fled out the window? I was about to leave when I had a thought. I wanted to check the bathroom.
I flicked on the light switch and bathed the bathroom in light. A swarm of cockroaches scuttled off behind the toilet. I stepped into the small bathroom and opened the shower door. There was no one inside. I looked behind the door with the some result. I knocked on the bathroom wall that adjoined to mine. There was no response. I decided that the man had probably been squatting in the apartment for a few weeks. He probably had a few screws loose, which would explain the mumbling. I was a little distraught at the thought of going to bed with a mentally unstable person a few feet away, but I would recover. I turned to leave and that was when the bathroom door swung shut.
I grasped the handle and pulled, but it was stuck. It felt like the wood had swollen in the door frame. I pulled and pulled at the door, but it didn’t loosen up. I put my foot on the door’s frame and pulled with all my might. It budged slightly, but made no real signs of opening. I was about to begin calling for help when something out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. I was not alone in the bathroom. Someone was in the shower.
The glass was opaque and made it hard to clearly see through it. My heart began to race when a voice echoed from behind the glass pane. “I was once a man and now I am rooted here. There is nothing left, but a splintered skeleton and a wooden heart.” I watched transfixed as the figure slowly became clearer. The limbs were bent and stuck out at odd angles and tangents. A scream caught in my throat as the thing put one of its hands on the glass and cracks began to radiate out like a spider web.
I had no intention of meeting the whispering crooked and broken man. I slammed into the bathroom door. It gave a cracking sound, but didn’t break open like action movies had shown me. I backed up and threw my weight back into the door again. Pain shot up my shoulder, but I shut that out of my mind. The shower door slowly began to slide open. I threw myself at the door in a panic and thanked the gods when it splintered open and fell off of its hinges.
I sprinted out into the motel room and charged at the door. I caught the counter with my side as I passed by it. That caused my body to shift drastically and I fell onto my ass facing the now destroyed bathroom door. I caught a glimpse, just a tiny glimpse at the thing. I wish I hadn’t because the image of that thing has been burned into my nightmares. It was a spindly-looking creature. It was a little taller than your average person and it was bone thin. Its skin was browning and had a rough appearance. The image of tree bark comes to mind when I imagine it. The limbs were bent and contorted. A brackish fluid leaked from its wrists. Every movement brought it closer to me with sickening creaks and cracks from the thing’s bones and joints. The head was twisted and the mouth hung ajar.
I shot to my feet and grabbed the front door’s handle. Much to my relief, it swung open unimpeded. I ran through the open door and slammed it in the creature’s face. I didn’t dare take another second to look at the abominable thing’s knotted and grotesque form. As I fled its parting words echoed in ears. I shut those words from my head and ran.
I fled the motel that night. I left behind all of my stuff. I have no intention of returning to that place. Ever since that night where I encountered the creature that was whispering to me through the walls, I have been afflicted with crippling xenodochiophobia. I don’t leave the house very much these days. I go straight to work and then home. I have no intention of traveling and the thought of staying in another motel or hotel room makes my stomach roil. At night when I’m feeling anxious, the words the creature spoke come unbidden to my ears. “Please don’t leave me.”
Written by EmpyrealInvective