A Night at the Bristol
by Norman A. Rubin
Reminiscences of the past are usually quite pleasant, but one bit of memory that is constantly retained in my mind still sends a cold finger of terror down my spine and leaves me in a cold sweat. About a year ago, I was staying overnight at the old Bristol Hotel, an aged, rather obsolete lodging centered in a large city on the Atlantic coast. There a strange incident occurred that was beyond my expectations. A ghostly figure was my companion that night through a frightening nightmare; but was it only a terrible dream or an actual happening? The mystery of that night still haunts me. Listen to my story and you will understand.
A business engagement called and I was obliged to make a stopover in that city. The choice of hotels was limited, as the city played host to athletic games, and hotel rooms were filled to capacity. Thus I was obliged to register for a room at that hostel, an ancient edifice of four stories, weather-darkened and squeezed on every side by the overgrowth of the great city.
When I registered at reception desk, I was given the key to a room on the second floor, which I was told was the only vacancy in the entire hotel. Yet when I walked down the dimly lit corridor to the creaky elevator I saw no one about; not a soul greeted me. When I alighted from the lift and made my way to my room, I heard no sounds to suggest occupancy of the other suites. This seemed strange, as it was early in the evening, when guests would usually be preparing for their evening’s entertainment.
“The room that I entered for my evening’s lodging was as ancient in furnishing as the hotel itself. When I switched on the dim overhead light, I noticed a bed of solid oak, a heavy armchair from another era, night table with a lamp, and a heavy and cumbersome wardrobe.
A large painting of rather strange dimensions hung on the wall facing the bed. It portrayed a flowery garden with nymphs dancing to the pan pipes of satyrs; other mythical creatures surrounded the players. A black attired figure was centered in that garden, grim in facial features, and his black hair long and stringy like strands of willow sprigs; he looked haunted, and as if he had endured ridicule and chafing during his life. He seemed to me to have orchestrated all that was occurring in that garden.
I dismissed all that I saw and imagined, as I was quite tired from my journey and a bit bilious from a frugal supper at a non-descript restaurant. The weather was rather blustery, with the wind blowing shrill and shrewd, and the night air damp with expected rain. The only thought now in my mind was the anticipation of an early night’s rest. Preparations were in order; I welcomed the warm shower even though the water gurgled sluggishly through the pipes; then I got into my clean pajamas and the warm embrace of the bed. The bed fortunately was quite comfortable with a firm mattress, clean sheets, and warm blankets. I had taken a book to read, but the comfort and warmth of the bed soon lulled me into a sound sleep.
At the toll of midnight, I was rudely awakened by the clear tap of high-heeled shoes walking slowly passing my door. After progressing to the end of the corridor, they returned and repeat the route twice over.
I commented to myself that it was a damned nuisance and quite rude to be so plagued. Firm action on my part was required. I switched on the table lamp and cursed when I noted the late hour on my watch; lifting myself from the bed, I made for the door. Angry words were on my lips when I opened the door, but to my surprise the sound of the footsteps had faded away, and when I looked about the dim corridor I was greeted with emptiness.
After a moment or two of searching, I pulled my head back into my room and relocked the door. As I returned to the comfort of my bed, I noticed that the grim-faced figure had disappeared from the center of the painting on the wall. I looked deeper into the painting, but the figure was nowhere to be seen on the canvas. For I moment, I contemplated the strangeness of the disappearance of the figure, but I shrugged it off as a figment of my imagination.
I soon fell back to sleep, but upon the close of my eyes, a nightmare enveloped me in a disturbing scene: I found myself within the unearthly painting itself, and I was both subject and viewer of the scene at once. I was possessed of cloven hooves and a horned head; I played the pipes and danced with lovely nymphs. Yet the features on my face were not those of joy, but of dismal countenance.
Within my horrible nightmare, I was again aware of loud footsteps coming in the corridor outside; this time they were accompanied by a sound of a chain being dragged along. I lay in dread, hoping the footsteps would go away, but to my horror I saw the locked door slowly pushed open, and whatever it was entered dragging a chain. Slowly it walked into the room and I noticed it was that grim-faced figure that had disappeared from the painting that now imprisoned me.
How long this spirit remained in my room I do not know, but when he moved about the room, he was searching for something unknown. The he turned and looked at me and spoke. His was the voice of a haunted man, but I do not remember his words. Relief flowed through my frame when he turned away from me. Then he slowly walked out of the room and away down the hall, the sounds of his feet and chain dissipating like mist.
I awoke with a start from the nightmare; daylight streamed into the room through the slight opening of the heavy curtains. When I allowed more light to enter the room, I looked at the painting. To my surprise, the black-attired figure was there in the center of the canvas, looking as grim as ever. My eyes moved from the painting to the floor; there, I saw to my horror faint footprints leading from the door and returning. My fear grew as I realized that they were of cloven hooves.
Needless to say, I did not prolong my stay at the Bristol Hotel. There was no banter of enquiry at the reception desk when I returned the key to the room. But when I was handed the receipt for payment, I noticed with a shock that the receptionist was a black-attired figure with features indefinably grim.
Norman A. Rubin is a former correspondent for the Continental News Service (USA), now retired and busy writing short stories and article for websites and magazines worldwide.