This week’s story is a strange one that, once again, came out of a combination of my travel experiences. First, the story’s title, Room 666, comes from a recent stay in room 668 of a hotel. There was, in fact, a room 666 next door to me and every time I passed it on the way back to my room I thought, there’s a short story idea in that room.
The second part of this comes from a leisure stay in a hotel in which the room next to mine had very loud music coming from it (Pink Floyd for the most part) with the odor of a particular kind of smoke wafting into the room.
Sure enough, when I checked out, I heard the hotel manager berating the guests from that room for smoking with a threat to charge them extra.
All of these bits of data wove themselves into this week’s strange little tale. I hope you enjoy it.
Another week in the same hotel. The glamorous world of business travel was not so glamorous. After traveling 45 weeks each year, Steven would often wake up and wonder what city he was in and what direction the bathroom was located.
He had a fairly long stint in Southern California that kept him consistently staying in the same hotel. The staff recognized his repeat business and went out of their way to accommodate him. He frequently received thank you notes with free breakfast coupons and extra bottles of water in his room. He was able to leave some items with the hotel over the weekend which lightened his travel load. He had stayed in a few different rooms but had been encouraged by the hotel management to let them know if he liked a particular room so that it could be reserved for him each week.
Steven had done this. He liked being on the top floor of the hotel facing the courtyard and the mountains beyond. This was the quiet side of the hotel and the room he had chosen, 668, was perfect. That was, until the second night of his second week in the room. He was just drifting off to sleep at about 10PM when he heard the sound of music and laughter coming through the wall to the right of his bed from the adjoining room. At first, he decided to ignore it for a while. 10PM was late for him as he tried to stay on east coast time, but it was not late for those that lived in this time zone.
The music stopped at about 10:45 and Steven drifted off to sleep. He slept peacefully until about 2:30AM when the music started again. He could hear the distinctive beat of the song, Strawberry Letter 23 by The Brothers Johnson. He didn’t know why he knew the song and artist, but he just did. He could hear the sound of laughter and loud chatter and thought he could even smell smoke that was a mixture of tobacco and marijuana.
While he was tolerant at 10PM, he was not so at 2:30AM. He had an important meeting at 8:30AM and wanted to get some rest. He groggily sat up in bed, reached for the telephone receiver and illuminated the buttons on the phone with his cell phone.
“Front desk. How may I help you Mr. Robins?”
Steven plugged his right ear so he could hear the phone above the noise from the room next door.
“Yes. I was wondering if you could ask the guest in the next room to quiet down. It sounds like there is a party going on in there. I’m sure you can hear it over the phone.”
There was silence on the other end of the line and then finally a response.
“I can’t hear it over the phone, but I will ask them to quiet down. Which room is it?”
“It’s the room to the left of mine as you exit.”
“Okay, Mr. Robins. I will give them a call right away and ask them to keep the noise down. My apologies. Is there anything else we can do for you?”
“No. That’s all I need,” Steven said.
Steven was pleased that the noise stopped almost immediately after his call to the front desk and he tossed and turned for about 15 minutes before falling back to sleep.
At 4:30PM, the bass and guitar strains of The Brothers Johnson hit started up again. Steven was now becoming a bit angry as he was rudely roused from his deep sleep. He turned on his bedside lamp, sat up and swung his legs out of bed. He put on his slip-on shoes and grabbed his key. He was going to address these rude hotel guests directly.
He exited his room and turned left toward the source of the noise. It was coming from room 666. He could see the light coming from the crack under the door along with the return of the acrid smoky smell.
Steven knocked on the door.
The music continued. The volume of the laughter and talk increased. How many people were crammed in this room?
Steven knocked again with more authority. Still no result. No one answered the door.
He decided to walk down to the front desk and ask for a different room for the remainder of the night if they couldn’t curtail the activity in room 666.
He shuffled from the elevator to the front desk where the night manager was keying some data into the computer terminal. He greeted Steven with a daytime smile.
“Mr. Robins, how can I help you?”
“You’re call to my neighbor worked earlier, but the noise is back with a vengeance and I can’t sleep. I’ve got an important meeting in the morning and it’s pretty annoying. I knocked on the door, but no one answered.”
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Robins. Which room is it from which you heard the noise?”
“It was room 666, right next door to my room.”
A look crossed the night manager’s face as he appeared to struggle keeping his smile.
“Are you sure about the room number, Mr. Robins?”
“I’m pretty sure. I’m in 668 and it’s right next door. 666.”
“We don’t have a room 666,” the night manager said. “When the hotel was built, the company was Christian-owned and it was thought that having a room 666, due to it’s connotations, was inappropriate just as some buildings don’t have a 13th floor.”
“I’m pretty sure it was 666, but it is late,” Steven said becoming slightly annoyed. “All I know is I can’t sleep and the guests in that room obviously didn’t stay quiet for too long. Do you have another room I can crash in for a few hours? I need some rest before this meeting.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Robins. We are completely booked because of this week’s college football game,” the night manager said. “Why don’t I come up to the sixth floor with you and see what’s going on.”
“That would be great,” Steven said. “I really need to get back to sleep. Maybe you can end the noise for good.”
Steven and the night manager, who’s name was Lawrence according to his name tag, walked to the bank of elevators in the lobby and took the ride up to six. Lawrence appeared to be struggling to keep a pleasant composure. Steven imagined that his typical shift as the night manager was quiet and Steven had upset the routine.
The doors opened on six and the duo stepped out into a silent hallway. Steven’s room was a bit distant from the elevator bank and the two men headed in that direction with Lawrence leading the way. They passed rooms numbered in the 640s and 650s and finally made it to the rooms in the 660s. They walked past 662, 664 and then arrived at Steven’s room, 668. Steven was confused.
“I could swear the placard next to the door said ‘666’. It must have been 664. I was only half awake.”
“Well, that room appears to be quiet now,” Lawrence said in a hushed tone.
“It certainly wasn’t when I came down. Can you knock anyway and see what the story is? I don’t want to be awakened again.”
Lawrence seemed to ponder this but decided to knock on the door to room 664. He wanted to make sure, if there was some kind of party going on, that there wasn’t damage to the room. He tentatively knocked and, at first, there was no response. After his third round of knocking, a sliver of light shone from beneath the door and the sound of the security locks being opened was followed by the door cracking open.
A man in plaid boxer shorts, a white tank top undershirt and a healthy crop of bed hair blearily looked out at the two men.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“Um, I’m sorry to bother you sir, but we’ve had a report of loud music and other noise coming from your room. I just wanted to make sure you understand that you were disturbing other guests.”
“Are you the one that called my room earlier? I told you then that I wasn’t making noise. I don’t know what’s going on here, but I’m not staying at this property again.”
“Do you mind if I have a quick look around the room?” Lawrence asked, apparently not dissuaded by the man’s threat.
“I’m awake now. It’s worth it if you let me sleep for the rest of the night.”
Lawrence motioned for Steven to stay in the hall as he entered room 664 and flipped on the light switch by the door. He reemerged in about 90 seconds with a grim look on his face.
“I’m so sorry for this inconvenience, Mr. Moss. The hotel will not charge you for your stay and you can have another night free at your leisure.”
“Thank you, but I don’t think I’ll be staying here again.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, sir.”
The door closed with a bit more force than needed and Steven and the night manager stood facing each other in the hallway.
“Well, Mr. Robins. It appears you will be able to sleep the remainder of this night in your room. Mr. Moss does not appear to have his room equipped for a party and there is no evidence that there was one in there earlier.”
“I didn’t imagine the noise and the smoke smell.”
“Nevertheless, there is no evidence of anything untoward in his room.”
Steven felt the embarrassment rise in his face.
“I…I appreciate you checking. I know what I heard, but apparently he cleaned up quickly.”
The two men parted without a goodbye. Steven let himself into his room for another two hours of sleep. After he dozed off for what seemed like a very short time, he was once again yanked from sleep by the 1970s hit from The Brothers Johnson. This time they were singing the chorus of Strawberry Letter 23. The lyrics were actually ‘Strawberry Letter 22’ with no explanation for the difference from the title. Again, Steven was not sure how he knew this.
This time, when he sat up in the midst of the sound and smells of the nonexistent party from the nonexistent room, he noticed a sliver of light under the door that adjoined his room to the next.
Had that door always been there?
Without thinking much about it, Steven moved toward the door. He thought if he opened his side, he might be able to pound on the door on the other side and get the attention of Mr. Moss or whoever was partying in the adjacent room.
When he opened his side of the door, he found that the other side was already open. In the room he saw a hoard of partygoers moving in rhythm with the music. He also saw a portly man dressed in white. From the back, he thought it was Mr. Moss, but when the man turned toward him, he saw that it wasn’t him at all. The man had dark black hair that was slicked back on his head and a pointed goatee.
“Steven Robins. You’ve finally made it to the party,” the man said.
“Not yet, but you will before the party is over.”
Steven meant to ask him what he meant, but the beat of the music seemed to be pulling him into the room. He was moving involuntarily and in perfect rhythm with the beat. The door closed behind him and he suddenly, like never before in his life, had the urge to dance.