's 2018 Horror Write-off:

Ephemeral Entity

Submitted by Hisham Hasan

I used to work at a certain high-class hotel. My official job title was page boy, which meant I mostly ran errands, but I was also expected to perform all the tasks of a bellhop, if needed.

Now, in a hotel of this magnitude, its resident collection of staff is basically its own gated community, for all purposes practically an isolated town, cut off from the rest of the city. And if there's one thing townsfolk love, it's gossip. And any small, isolated town is going to have its own plethora of local legends and stories, and our hotel was no different.

So it was almost inevitable that a hotel as big and as old as this one would have its share of sensational tales and urban legends; the celebrity guests, the legendary scandals, the murders, the absolute-worst-guest-of-all, the time the head chef got drunk, and other delightful horror stories.

Now, our employer's pretty big on image and reputation, and most of our clients are averse to publicity and scandal, so we're not allowed to speak to "outsiders", nor discuss with them any of the hotel’s inner dealings. We all had to sign nondisclosure agreements to work here. Management is pretty lax on gossiping between employees though, as long as it is done out of earshot of the guests.

I guess they realized trying to suppress rumors only fanned the flames higher. Besides, any element of truth to these stories was mostly buried beneath a pile of sensationalism, exaggeration and outright lies. If anything, letting the people gossip probably only obscured the truth even further with every distorted retelling.

Now, this place was pretty old, and some of the stories had probably been passed down for years, maybe even decades, and their origins were lost to time. And like any old creepy place, there were ghost stories.

Now we had our usual ghost stories, like the restless spirits of murder victims that allegedly caused weird stuff to happen in the more isolated, less-travelled parts of the hotel, strange noises, doors opening or closing without reason, stuff like that. Pretty standard spooky stuff.

But there were a few that stood out.

One of the most common stories was how someone would go to one floor, then suddenly find themselves on a completely different floor. The most commonly affected were the 16th and 19th floors. Sometimes you’d go to the 16th, then when you turned to go to the elevators, you’d discover you had somehow ended up on the 19th, and vice-versa.

Or you would find yourself in an endless maze of seemingly identical hallways with no clear exit, or stairways or elevators. The maze was often described as having illogical geometry, like turning and doubling back on itself to reveal another hallway while not intersecting itself, or sloping upwards or downwards, or even changing when you retraced your steps or even looked away from one end for a moment. The door numbers would repeat, change or even disappear completely.

This type of story seemed the easiest to debunk; after all, weren’t there security cameras on every floor?

But when I started asking around, most of the security staff constantly rebuffed me, until someone lodged an official complaint and I was reprimanded.

Later, a security guy who was quitting finally decided to tell me the secret they kept from the rest of the staff.

The cameras don’t work on the 16th and 19th floors.

No matter how many times they replaced them, they would show nothing. And those exact same cameras worked perfectly fine when they were installed on the other floors.

Even the cameras on the elevators glitched out temporarily whenever they stopped at or even simply passed the 16th and 19th.

This instantly piqued my interest. I decided to mostly focus on the stories that centered on these two floors.

I mentioned before that we had our share of ghosts and whatnot, but there was one entity that stood out, one unique to our location. Some people referred to it as “The Specter”, but I’ll refer to it as the Entity.

Now, the reason why I call it the Entity, is because it doesn’t seem like a ghost, i.e. the spirit of a deceased person. Some people might refer to it as a demon, but the fact is none of us knew what it was.

Now this Entity held a special place in the hotel’s lore, for not only was it the subject of more than one story or eyewitness account, but the stories about it spanned throughout the years, up until the present day. Almost everyone had a story about someone who had claimed to have seen it. Nobody really believed it existed; it was a myth, an urban legend passed down as tradition, to shock the newcomers, an initiation or hazing of sorts. It was our own local Mothman.

Except, some of the very people who I worked with claimed to have had encounters with the Entity.

I developed a keen interest in it as soon as I heard about it, and soon I was collecting all the stories I could coax out of people. I paid special attention to the most recent incidents, and I tried to get those stories from the actual people who experienced those encounters firsthand, although most were (understandably) reluctant to tell their tales.

It was to be expected that the description of the Entity varied from story to story; after all, some of these stories spanned decades, and were most likely distorted through countless retellings.

Some stories said it towered above a human, others described it as creeping on the floor. Some said it walked on all fours, hunched over to fit its massive size in the hallways. Others said it walked erect, almost tripod-like. Still other stories described it as walking “like a centaur”. Sometimes it had a cloak, other times it had wings.

But there were a few commonalities. Immense size, for one. Spindly, elongated legs. A blurred appearance, like it was obscured by mist or fog.

Another thing was the fact in only appeared at night, and only on two specific floors; the 16th and 19th. And only when these two floors where mostly unoccupied. If either one or the other had plenty of guests, our Entity did not appear.

Another thing most stories agreed on that it seemed impossible that it was alive, at least in the conventional sense. Like when you see a cartoon or game character move in a way that you just know is impossible for a real, living being? Like proportions being distorted, or limbs being separated or moving in ways no living being could ever hope to emulate?

This thing moved like someone, without any previous experience in animation, just designed and animated a model without any consideration of how it would actually interact with the real world.

Sometimes it glided smoothly, like it never touched the ground at all. Sometimes it moved with sudden, jerky movements, like a stop-motion puppet. Sometimes the speed at which it traveled was incongruous with its pace; sometimes galloping in a frenzy while moving slowly, other times taking slow steps while crossing great distances at incredible speed.

And sometime it would suddenly change either its pose or location, often both, seemingly without transition. Like it had teleported into a new position or location, as if there were missing frames of animation.

Mind you, most of stories that were told to me didn’t use such terms to describe its movement. Whoever was telling the story, no matter how young or old, never described it that way. The people relaying the stories simply repeated what they had heard, used the same words, but nobody thought much of what they were actually describing.

This, it seemed to me, proved that these older stories did indeed originate far in the past, before computers, films and fancy video games were a common thing, and before such jargon entered the mainstream vocabulary.

But the few people who said they actually encountered it, did indeed use such terms, and it illustrated to me, far clearer than any verbose prose, the unsettling nature of what they had experienced.

One lady, who asked to be referred to only as M, said when she first came to work here, she was called up in the middle of the night to clean up a room on the 19th floor because an important guest was arriving earlier than expected.

It was a simple enough job, but when she finished and closed the door of the room behind her, she felt a sudden chill.

She actually felt physically cold, like she had stepped into a fridge. She was a bit unsettled.

She decided to hurry back to the elevator.

After a few minutes she realized she had been walking far too long, and wasn’t the hallway longer than she remembered? She looked at the room numbers, but they were all jumbled and mixed up.

She started to panic. She kept a death grip on the cart, kept pushing it as she continued walking forward.

She arrived at a T-junction. She didn’t remember passing a T-junction on her way here.

There was more turns and walking after that. Then, after what seemed like hours, she found she had arrived at room numbers that she recognized.

She was now on the 16th.

At this point she nearly broke down, but quickly gathered herself. It was late, she was tired, she was probably sleep-deprived and hallucinating.

She was completely disoriented, but at least she thought she had a general idea of where she was now. At this location, she knew where the elevators should be located.

So she started in what she hoped was the right direction. It was at this point she noticed the hallway was dimming.

Not the lights themselves, she explained, but the hallway itself. The light continued to shine, but it was as if the hallway was a lot dark, a lot deeper, than it usually was. As if the illumination provided by the lights was no longer adequate.

All around her the shadows loomed, and the hallway in front of her stretched away into gloom.

As she walked on, she noticed that it seemed like it was snowing. Greyish motes kept floating and disappearing through.

And in the distance, she saw a flicker.

She froze in her tracks. Was her mind playing tricks on her?

Another flicker.

She waited, heart pounding.

There really wasn’t anything moving there, she thought.

Was there?

From the gloom it emerged, looming over her just a few feet away.

Her mind refused to register any details, whether it was pale or dark or ethereal she could not say, but she had an impression that its head reached the ceiling, and its eyes were huge dark globes.

She abandoned her cart, and fled shrieking.

She did not dare look back. To look back was to solidify the horror, to make it even more real.

Far better to pretend she had just imagined it, a fleeting hallucination.

She could not bear to have it be real.

She ran, praying and sobbing, until she collapsed out of sheer exhaustion.

She looked up to find that she had fallen at a four-way intersection.

No such intersection existed in the hotel.

It was clear to me that telling me this tale, and recalling these grim memories, took quite a toll on poor M. She told me the next part in a whisper.

It was the worst possible situation she could think of.

A four-way intersection. The being could come from any direction

And she heard it. A sound of rustling, like stiff paper.

It seemed to come from all directions.

She got to her feet. Her only strategy was to run away as soon as she which direction it was coming from.

As much as she disliked it, she had to step into the middle of the intersection, so she could see it coming from all four directions, and sprint any way she needed.

It entered the intersection from the right before she took a single step.

She cried out, stumbled backwards. She rolled to the side, huddled to the wall.

The rustling passed her by.

As the sounds faded away, she chanced a look.

She saw it slinking way into the gloom, its gait unsteady and jittery.

It seemed to flicker occasionally.

She had the impression it had a front part (with the head on top) that it held erect, and a back part which it held horizontally. The front part looked like it was hunched over.

The only thing she could make out clearly were three long, thin tails, held stiffly.

She started walking in the opposite direction, in a stunned daze.

Soon, the room numbers started making sense, and hallways lightened.

She wept in relief when she finally reached the elevators.

When she got to the ground floor, she remembered collapsing into the arms of concerned security guards, weeping.

The manager that night was a hotel veteran of many years, and he instantly guessed what had happened. He gave her the whole week off, and scheduled no night shifts for the next three months.

The next morning, they found her cart untouched on the 16th floor.

She probably would have just quit there and then, but her co-workers encouraged to sleep first, worry later. In the morning everything that had happened seemed utterly absurd. The only reason she stayed was in gratitude to the on-call manager that night.

Still, it was a terrifying experience, and the memories all too vivid. She definitely didn’t want a repeat of that night’s events. To this day she refuses to go to the 16th or the 19th, and she never goes at night alone.

Another guy who was willing to discuss his encounter with me was Antonio. Unlike M, he was eager to discuss the Entity.

He had just brought up something a guest on the 16th had ordered, and as he was heading back, he noticed too that numbering on the rooms was off.

Puzzled, he retraced his steps, but realized the hallway turned at a place it shouldn’t.

Now, Antonio had heard the stories, and he realized, to his horror, what was happening.

As unsettled as he was, he did remember that eventually you could find your way back.

He had heard stories about a maze, so instead of wandering about in one direction, he decided to go up and down the same stretch of hallway. He hoped that he could wait it out and that, eventually, it would go back to normal.

Along the hallways in our hotel are chambers set into the sides, like waiting rooms, with seats and tables and couches, acting as a miniature lobby for those guests who didn’t want to come down into the main lobby.

He was near one of these sitting rooms, so he took that as a base of operation, first walking up in one direction, then the other, but always keeping the room in sight.

At first, it didn’t seem to make much difference. Soon he was basically pacing back and forth, just out of nervousness.

He didn’t remember how long he paced like that, but suddenly he realized the corridor had become freezing cold, that was becoming dimmer, and the sitting was no longer in sight.

Fear settled like ice in his belly. Like a fool he had wandered off. He realized he had no choice but to simply pick a direction and walk.

He walked for maybe a full hour before he came across a turn. And around the corner, just down the hallway, there was the familiar sitting room.

Further down there was something else. A presence that teetered to and fro. Moved like a malfunctioning robot.

It seemed like it was shrouded in a snowstorm, and wrapped in a tattered cape. Long thin spindly arms waving around in front of it, maybe three or four.

He told me he might have actually fainted, for he found himself face down on the floor.

He quickly scrambled to his feet and jumped back, but peering around the corner again, he realized it didn’t seem to react to his appearance. And with the way it waved around its appendages like that, it seemed it was blind.

He made up his mind. After steeling himself, he slowly made his down the corridor. When it didn’t react, he started moving faster.

Its position suddenly moved forward. It now flickered just beyond the edge of the room. If it did that again, it would come between him and the room.

Praying, he broke into a run, threw himself into the room and slipped underneath the coach.

He waited.

The sound of rustling paper. A strange creaking noise.

It walked into view. He could only see the bottom part, but he could see it scuttled along on joined legs like an insect, like a silverfish almost. The top part teetered almost alarmingly, as if it would topple over at any second.

He stayed under the coach, praying, hoping it would move on.

Eventually it did, but he remained under that coach, trembling like a leaf until the cold had gone away and the lights brightened again.

When he finally crawled out, it took him only a few minutes of walking before he ran into the elevators.

After that, he had a nervous breakdown, and the mere sight of the hotel’s corridors made him queasy. He had to take his vacation early that year. These days, he’s better, but he only goes to those two floors when they’re packed with guests.

Even then, he doesn’t go alone at night.

Now, being (relatively) young and foolish, I've tried to catch a glimpse of the phantasm on more than one occasion. When I knew the 16th and 19th were mostly vacant, I would sometimes go up at night, hoping to see it, but it seemed conditions were never right.

Time went on, and my hopes for my very own supernatural encounter faded. Besides, with all human drama in a place like this, spooky stories were the least of my concerns for quite a while.

Then one day, a big storm was poised to hit the city. Most of our guests and staff decided to hurry and leave before the storm struck, before the flights were cancelled and they were stranded.

But for those who wish to stay, the hotel was as safe as anyone could hope for. It was an old, solid building whose owners had spared no expense, and had weathered many storms in the past.

With only a few guests electing to stay, and no new ones expected to arrive for the next few days, management left a skeleton crew staffing the premises.

I was on duty the night the storm hit. That night, the 16th and 19th, for the very first time in a long while, were completely devoid of guests. There was minimal staff, and few guests.

Ideal conditions for a few experiments.

That is, if I had wanted to. But I didn’t.

Now, earlier on, I might have jumped at the chance, but that night, well, let’s just say I was disinclined.

I was afraid, alright? I was tempted several times, but there was always this nagging fear that I might get more than I had bargained for.

But all of that didn’t matter in the end.

It was like one in the morning. A guy on the 20th floor wanted a new pillow. I fetched him one, rode all the way up in the service elevator, delivered the pillow and proceeded to head back.

I descended in the elevator.

The power proceeded to cut out.

The elevator came to a sudden halt.

All things considered, I wasn’t bothered too much by the complete darkness, or the feeling of helplessness being trapped in a metal box.

No, what really had me all rustled up was the fact that, going by the number displayed just before the power went out, the elevator had stopped right on floor number 16.

I told myself to relax. This wasn’t the first time an elevator had broken down, and I knew the hotel had its own back-up generators in case of emergencies like this.

So I stood there, waiting, trying to keep my overactive imagination from coming with vivid scenarios where the Entity materialized right in front of my face.

I don’t know how long I waited, but eventually power came back, the elevator lights momentarily blinding me.

I barely contained a whoop of joy.

But my happiness was short-lived.

The elevator did not budge.

I pressed the emergency button over and over.

No use.

I had my phone, but the reception was nonexistent. Even then, who would I call? Security probably already knew that one of the elevators was stuck. They were probably getting a repairman right now.

So I waited.

I waited for what seemed like hours.

I was fully prepared to spend the whole night in the elevator, if it weren’t for the fact I badly needed to use the bathroom. I had been planning to go after I delivered the pillow.

Eventually, the demands of my body started to overtake my fears, and made them seem more and more irrational with every passing second.

I reluctantly decided to take action.

Now, you can’t actually climb through the top of an elevator; that hatch is locked. So my only option was to try and pry open the door, and hope that the elevator had actually stopped at a point where I could get off, and not between floors.

It took some effort, but I finally managed to pry apart the two halves.

To my utter relief, I saw the elevator was almost perfectly aligned with the floor. No nightmare scenario of crawling through a small gap, hoping the elevator didn’t suddenly drop and chop you in half.

I squeezed through, then looked around. Everything seemed normal.

Now I could simply walk to the other elevators, or maybe stairs were a better choice?

But I felt the blood in my veins run cold when I saw the big gilded number by the elevator.

It was the 19th floor.

For a few sickening moments I felt the ground sway beneath my feet. I was hyperventilating.

There was no way the elevator had moved while I was still inside.

Great, I chastised myself. You wanted a spooky story, now you’re in one.

I seriously debated going back into elevator, but what good would that do? Stay all night until I finally soiled myself?

I must have spent a full five minutes deliberating before I finally decided to try and make my to another elevator.

What else could I do?

I walked down the corridor.

The room numbers were already scrambled, and the hallway turned to the left where it shouldn't.

There is quite a difference from simply listening to someone else's account, and experiencing these phenomena firsthand. To actually see the rooms labeled with nonsensical numbers left me shaken, and when I saw that left turn, I think it finally sank in that I was well and truly in the thick of it.

Dread, pure icy dread settled in my chest like a lead weight.

It wasn't so much the shifting architecture that was so bad. It was the terrible anticipation that things were going to be much worse, the near-certainty that I was going to run into the Entity before the ordeal was over.

I kept walking.

The mere thought of meeting the Entity threatened to send me into a panic.

To calm myself, I tried to remind that in all the stories, the Entity hadn't actually harmed anyone. Both M and Antonio escaped unscathed.

The Entity practically walked over M, and Antonio had the impression that it was blind. Avoiding it seemed entirely possible; I could probably sneak away if I was careful.

So engrossed was I in my own thoughts, that I had failed to notice the hallway darkening, or the steadily lowering temperature.

It was only when I looked up, and saw how the corridor faded away into the gloom, that I realized that hallway had become shrouded in darkness. The lights still shone brightly, but only illuminated a small sphere around themselves.

I froze in place.

Something, at the far end of hallway, moved.

I stood there, petrified by a sort of horrified fascination. The corridor was freezing now.

It lurched forward, disappeared for a second, then reappeared even closer.

It teetered left and right, as if it was unsure of its footing.

As it came into view, I saw its long, thin, jointed arms waving in front. Like the legs of an insect.

I saw it was built like a slender, insectoid centaur, the front part held upright.

It scuttled on six legs, while three pairs of arms waved about.

The upper part carried a round head with huge eyes that almost filled it. It was sort of hunched over, and had what looked like a tattered hood or cloak of paper.

I could see that it appeared to be surrounded by falling, grey snow.

It's movements alternately sped up, then slowed down. Sometimes it would pause, perfectly frozen in position, before resuming.

It seemed to flicker in and out of existence.

A rustling, crinkling sound, like of paper, filled my ears.

Panic finally took over. I ran.

I sprinted at first, but fatigue soon forced me to slow down into a jog.

I took every turn at random, hoping to put as much turns as possible between me and the thing.

I don't know if I had taken one too many turns, or if it was the nonsensical warping of hallways, but eventually I found myself actually behind it.

It lurched away from me, seemingly unaware of my presence.

And then my heart soared, for just beyond it was an arrow pointing to the stairs.

All I had to do was walk behind it carefully (at a distance) and patiently wait for it to pass.

This did give me an opportunity to take a closer look. I was able observe a few more features; the three filaments extending from the abdomen as a tail, the fact its papery cloak seemed to extend down its back portion, or how the junction between the upper and lower part was marked by strips and tatters of an unknown material.

I still had to be careful. This thing could cross great distances at a moment’s notice. It could even probably teleport right behind me.

Which is why as soon as it flickered out of existence, I made a dash for those stairs.

After that it was simple. I’d go down a floor, check the hallway, and if it was still dark, I would go down again.

I repeated this like maybe a dozen times until the hallway went back to normal. When I came out and checked, I discovered I was back on the 16th.

I had quite enough for one night, and after spending an hour in the bathroom, violently shaking, I proceeded to spent the rest of the shift stretched out on the couch in one of the staff lounges, staring at the ceiling. Fortunately, like I said, few guests meant a quiet night, and my colleagues seemed to realize what had happened when I came back to the ground floor.

Needless to say, I now joined the ranks of Antonio and M, and when the rooms on 16 and 19 are mostly empty, I also refuse to go up there at night.

I applied for emergency leave, and I think management knew or at least suspected, because they immediately granted it, no questions asked.

I kept to the day shift for a while, before easing back into night shifts. But to this day, a light flickering in a hall, or a blast of cold air, makes my chest seize up.

I only told Antonio and M the full story. Anyone else who asked got a condensed version.

I’ve pretty much given up looking into these things. Except for one small incident.

The other day, I was instructed to take a set of ornamental candlesticks to the storage closet on floor 15. When I had put them away, as I locked the door, I noticed the door directly opposite. It looked identical to the door to a suite, except it had the traditional keyhole and not a card reader.

Now, most of the guest rooms were now fitted with card readers and can only be opened with keycards. It was only the main offices and closets that still used regular keys, so I was surprised to see a suite door with a regular lock.

I took a closer look. There were faded markings that showed the outlines of the numbers had been attached at one point.

They clearly read 1661.

Room 1661. Here.

On the fifteenth floor.

For one wild second, my mind was flooded with ideas of nonsensical architecture and reality-defying geometry, but after my initial hysteria my panicked brain soon came to a more mundane explanation.

Because of superstitious guests (and sometimes owners themselves) hotels and inns often skipped the number 13 when labeling their floors. So, after floor 12, there would be floor 14, and so on.

It was clear that at some point in the past, this hotel followed the same numbering convention, and the 13th floor was labelled as the 14th, until one day someone finally came to their senses and had it corrected. The 16th floor was changed to the 15th, and when the all the room numbers were updated, this room, unused for whatever reason, was not.

A simple, perfectly sensible explanation.

I was spooked just because of the number 16.

I chuckled, shook my head.

As I turned to leave, I thought to myself:

"What would've been real spooky was if the number was 1619 or something..."

I stopped.

A sudden realization.

What happened if you turned 1661 upside-down?

Despite my misgivings, and every alarm in my head warning me not to, I turned back towards the door.

It didn't look anything out of the ordinary.

I looked at the keyring in my hand. Several keys, including the storage closet key.

The key to this suite might actually be on this keyring.

I might not have another chance. When I went back, I'd have to hand in the keys.

I looked around. The 15th floor was mostly unoccupied; very low chance of being discovered. I was right at the end of a hallway. Surely the cameras' gaze couldn’t reach me here?

I resolved to do it. If I was caught, I'll just tell them I got confused about which door was the closet.

My heart was pounding. I was more excited than afraid, probably because it was in the daytime. Still, there was a sense of terrified resignation, that I somehow knew I would regret doing this, but I still felt that I had to. I knew I would regret it even more had I not done it.

Besides, I wasn't going to barge in there. A quick, careful look first.

If there was anything remotely threatening or suspicious, I wouldn't take a single step past the threshold.

I start trying the keys one by one. My hands were shaking, I could barely insert them.

None of them would turn.

In my frustration I tried them all again. Maybe I missed one?

One of them turns, but only halfway.

I pulled it out, blew on it (I don’t know why, I wasn't thinking clearly) and inserted it again.

Turned it, twisted it back and forth, jiggled it.

With a loud noise like a gunshot the key turned fully in the lock.

I took a moment to compose myself.

I turned the door handle and opened it just a smidge.

It creaked thunderously loud to my nervous, the protests of ancient hinges that had forgotten what movement was like.

It was dim, but not completely dark. And from what I could see, it was empty.

I opened the door wider, sweeping an arc in the dust on the floor.

It was completely empty, devoid of furniture or even light fixtures and curtains.

The bathroom door was missing, and I could see there was not even a sink, toilet or showerhead.

A bare, empty room.

I'm not sure what I expected to find. A pentagram on the floor? A long-desiccated corpse? The scene of a gruesome murder?

The grimy windows let in a little sunlight. The windowsills were thick with dust.

I moved closer to the window, to see if there was anything.

Something tiny caught my eye, perched on the side.

It looked delicate. I blew on it carefully to clear away some of the dust.

It was a dead mayfly, perfectly preserved. It was in mid-molt from dun to spinner.

It had died while halfway in, halfway out, still partially trapped in the skin of the subimago.