Joseph Buckley is a dark fiction writer, teacher, and poet who lives in New Orleans.


by Joseph Buckley


When I arrived at the Regency Hotel, the dispassionate receptionist told me the hotel had been overbooked and wouldn’t have a room for me, as if I were a man of very little importance, as if my company hadn’t booked my room already.

“But, a reservation has been made in my name. Paid for in advance. I just don’t get it. What even is a reservation, then?”

“I’m terribly sorry sir. The refund should appear on the account in the next five business days.”

“Five business days? Look, I’ve got a flight tomorrow morning. Early. I can’t…Jesus!”

The receptionist stood behind the desk, clicking away at her keyboard. I couldn’t imagine what was so important that required all of her attention when I was standing right there in front of her, a living, breathing person. Her eyes remained downcast offering me only the icy-blue of her painted lids.

“I mean, Jesus…hello! Do I even exist here? Can you at least recommend a hotel I could stay at? One that actually has rooms available?”

“There’s a computer in the lobby, sir. You could book a room online.”

The black blazer on her arms struck out, pointing her finger in the direction of a machine that looked better suited to a junkyard than an efficient way to navigate my difficulties securing lodging for the night. When I sat down to use the dirt-crusted machine, it wouldn’t even light up, instead it clunked and coughed like a clogged vacuum, so I grabbed my bag and made for the door. 

On the way out, I smashed the ferns that decorated either side of their distinguished entrance and kicked the dirt about the entrance. I heard some shouting in the lobby and took off into the street, running as fast as my legs would take me. I knew it was stupid and childish, but I couldn’t help myself. 

Once I started getting out of breath, I slowed down. The bootsteps of whoever pursued me had faded—the scammers. Everyone was out for blood these days. I couldn’t walk down the front walk of my house without being scammed or screwed over. 

I had been travelling for work for so many days, so many months. I was so tired that I was having trouble remembering what city I was in—Milwaukee? Detroit? No matter, I would find out at the airport early the following morning, I always did, so long as I could find a place to sleep that night.

But where?

Stern-faced buildings rose across the street-fronts like sentinels for a world that was determined to keep me scrambling. Then a faint source of light flickered in the distance, and I ran toward it. Before me stood a chain-link fence blocking a narrow alley between two towering buildings, but further down, fading into the distance was the soft yellow glow.

One of the corners of the fence was peeled up, so I bent down and pulled it further back, tearing my blazer down the length of the back, on my way through. I then traveled down a maze-like alley, turning and twisting around the dark backsides of the generic buildings. When I finally reached the source of light at end of the alley, I found what looked like a hotel.

A short green awning reached held up with tarnished-brass poles reached out over a set of double doors. Beneath the awning, a tattered runner rug extended out all the way to the alley. A hand-painted sign in the window read, Hotel. Up the facade of the hotel were many windows but none produced any light, just the front door, which felt welcoming enough except for the strange, almost impossible, location.

The body of the hotel was squished between the buildings that surrounded it. There was no visible space between the buildings on either side. I imagined the windows must’ve looked out onto nothing more than the brick or concrete of the neighboring buildings on either side; if those sides even had windows. Nonetheless, time was dwindling, and I didn’t trust that my pursuers had given up quite yet, so I walked in.


The lobby of the hotel was unbelievably warm. No one tended the marble-topped counter, but a small silver bell sat there, so I rang it and seemingly out of nowhere rushed a mustachioed man, who wore a tailcoat complemented by white gloves, cummerbund and bowtie. The condition of his outfit matched its dated affect, as if this man had been trapped in this hotel since its inception however many hundreds of years ago.

“Well, yes…what is it? Speak up. I’m very busy.”

I looked behind me. The lobby was elegant but hadn’t aged well. A live fire burned before a gathering of riveted high-back chairs, most of which were riddled with tears or holes. Palms in planters scattered themselves in a random array, browning and limp. Every surface, from the mantle to the velvet couch, appeared dull from a layering of dust, how thick was anyone’s best guess.

“Please do not waste my time, sir. What may I do for you?”

“I don’t suppose you have any rooms?” I asked.

“Why, matter of fact, one just opened up.”

He looked at me again. His silver-streaked hair was slicked back flat to his head and the skin of his face was slightly sagging with age. “We take credit cards. We’re very busy. I certainly hope this isn’t the way you go about your day wasting people’s time, gaping jaw and what have you.”

I was appalled that this man was just as rude as the last receiptionist at the previous hotel. I handed him the card and was even more appalled as he snickered.

“Come, come. Let’s go.” He motioned me around the corner to where he stood in front of a door with chipping, gold molding. Behind the door was a circling, concrete stairwell, which strangely matched the city outside more than this time-capsuled hotel. 

“No elevators?”

He rolled his eyes and led the way, his leather heels echoing up through the spiraling chamber. Then, he continued leading me down an endless hallway. We passed door after door and the kaleidoscopic pattern on the carpet, mixed with the unbearable heat, induced a vertigo in me. A further work of curiosity overtook me when I realized I couldn’t see the numbers on any of the doors.

“Are we almost there?”

“Yes.” He spun on his heel and pointed to a simple door indistinguishable from the others.

“Ring if you need me. Check out is ten sharp.”

“That’s okay. I have a flight at six. I’ll be long gone by ten,” I said, pushing the door open but he had already disappeared down the hallway.

The room was cut-rate and so small I had the impression it may have been a former closet or store room they turned into a place to put guests when they overbooked. There was no window in the room. A dim lamp by the bedside provided the only source of light. The carpet underfoot was hard as the concrete beneath it and though the bed was made tidily it felt dirty when I lay my head back on the pillow.

On the wall opposite my bed, I noticed a door.

I had seen these in other hotel rooms along my travels. They joined to another room, and must’ve been leftover from the times when people had enough money for suites. It was curious that such a door should exist since the neighboring building offered no space between.

Then I heard a soft clicking, like someone was sticking a key in the lock. I jumped from the bed to my knees to inspect the lock, but there was no key inside.

The handle jiggled.

“Hello?” I spoke at the metal door, and I’m not sure why, but I stood and peered at the center of the door as if there was a peephole, but of course, I could not see beyond it. I raised my voice.  “Is someone there?”

Then I heard muffled noises, like someone was speaking through a pillow.

I was now shouting. “Speak up. I can’t hear you. Do you know that mine is a private room? You can’t come in.”

I heard more muffles, sounding desperate this time. Soft thuds on the door made a sound like a knock. I looked around the edges to see if I could peer through the cracks. It was no use.

I picked up the phone by the bed and rang the front desk.

“What now?” It was the receptionist.

“There’s a strange noise coming from the door in my room. I feel like someone wants to get my attention.”

“Sir, we’re fully booked. Have we not already discussed how rude it is to waste one’s time?”

“No, this is coming from behind the door in the middle of my room. I think someone is in trouble.”

“This building is over one hundred years old. I’m sure a few mysteries are in order. Please, only use this line if you need something sir. Goodbye.”


The battery on my mobile was dead, so I made my way to the lobby and back through the front door to call Marcy, my wife. No doubt, she wouldn’t believe the whole scenario I had found myself in, but I couldn’t tell her because she didn’t answer.

That wasn’t like her. She’s almost always at home this time of evening. Chatting with one of her sisters or friends on the phone or off in some corner of the house busying herself was a mystery to me.

I looked out at the narrow alley that funneled to the front door of the hotel. The end was shrouded in fog. The two neighboring buildings shot up so high into darkness, I really couldn’t see where the sky began and the concrete ended. Combined, all I could feel was a sense of compression—almost as if the buildings were closing in on me, consuming me, and the exit to the alleyway stretched itself farther off in an impossible maze.

“Excuse me, excuse me. What do you think you’re doing?” The receptionist rushed out, tapping my shoulder maniacally. “Get in here and close that door! What on earth do you think you’re doing, loitering about out here? We are behind schedule as it is and now you’ve soiled the entire entryway. We certainly cannot have this. Please, wait here.”

“What? I just came out to call my wife and…”

He returned, pushing an ancient-looking steam vacuum. Where he’d been hiding such a goliath, nor how his wiry body could manage to move it was equally bizarre to me. The machine’s wheels screeched, dragging more than rolling, across the floor of the lobby. Its surfaces were splotched in green and red rust. The hose and nozzle looked menacing, like it would be better suited for gassing opponents of war as opposed to removing stains from this frayed carpet.

“You must clean up this mess you made. Please, I don’t have time to sit here dallying with you. Do it quickly or you’ll be forced to leave.”

“Leave? I paid to be here. Listen, you can’t honestly expect me to perform the hotel’s housekeeping?”

He had already disappeared down a hallway before I could continue my protest. Somehow, below my feet was an entire swath of red as if a wine bottle had exploded. I don’t remember it being there when I first arrived.

Sighing, I turned on the clonking machine and the racket was so loud my teeth hurt. At this point I was tempted to leave, but I was tired, overheated, and it was way too late to start over and find another hotel. Once I placed the nozzle of the machine to the Persian-patterned carpet, it worked surprisingly well.

The strangest thing about the stain was that there were small chunks strewn through it. They were soaked in the same deep red. When I reached down to touch one, they felt slightly gelatinous, sending a shiver that coursed through my body so suddenly I dropped the hose of the machine.

The extreme efficiency of the machine of course came with a caveat. An odor so powerful, so caustic, wafted forth from the froth so strong that I thought I would faint. I wondered if the cleaning solution residing in the ancient chamber of the machine was as old as the machine itself and decided I should stop before I died of poisoning.

I shouldn’t have to do this in the first place. I decided I would refuse to do any more.

The moment I turned the machine off, he appeared again.

“I’m not doing this,” I said. “You shouldn’t have guests clean your lobby.”

“Whatever do you mean?” He looked exasperated, like I was the one who had been acting out of line.

“I paid to stay here. Why on earth would I have to work for my stay?”

“Sir, you’re free to go at any time. As I said, we’re very busy and you should take responsibility to clean up the mess that you have caused. I’m not sure how you were raised, but it won’t do in a place such as ours.”

“No.” I tossed the hose down.

“Then I’m sorry to be the one to have to train you out of your feral ways.”

“I have no idea what you are talking about. That almost sounds like a threat. Look, I have a busy morning tomorrow, an early flight and then I’m to give a very important presentation.”

“Oh, you don’t say? And tell me my important sir, on what will you give your presentation?”

I was so drawn out on all that had happened I forgot what I was going to give my presentation on. How could that have happened?

Maybe the fumes from the machine had corroded my thoughts, or the heat was getting to me. Our whole company depended on my outreach. I had been travelling to cities across America for years, discussing the finer points of what we did, despite at that particular moment having a hard time remembering what it was we did, or who I worked for.

“Look, I don’t want to continue this stupid conversation. First, I’m going to call my wife again, and then I’m going back to my room. I don’t feel so well.”

“Of course.” He offered obsequiously, dragging the machine away.

I stumbled outside  to the front of the hotel once again to try Marcy on the payphone. It rang all the way through to voicemail. I tried it again with the same result. I worried that something drastic might have happened to her. Or somehow I was dialing the wrong number. Or, perhaps, my phone wasn’t working at all. The alley started to spin. I considered leaving everything behind.

Seemingly coming from nowhere, an orange cat approached. He mewled up along my leg rubbing his cheeks against my cotton pants.

“Here little boy, here, here.”

I reached down to pet him, but suddenly he hissed and clawed at my open palm. A deep red slash opened on my hand. I needed to wash it in my hotel room.

The bed upstairs was only my option if I was going to ace this presentation the next day.


Back in my room, I washed up for bed and laid my clothes out for the next morning, hoping that would help spark my memory. It didn’t. I figured I could read over my report in bed to further prepare me for the big day I had ahead of me.

I wished I could’ve reached Marcy. She wouldn’t have believed what kind of day I had. Soon, I would be rushing through the airport with plenty of downtime and reception, of course, I could try her then.

There was a knock at the door but when I opened it there was no one in the hallway. Just the dusty lamps flickering their dying light and then I heard the knock again. I realized, with a slow-budding anxiety, that the knock wasn’t coming from the hallway. It was coming from the other side of the door in the middle of my room. 

I tried the handle, but it was still locked. “Hello?”

The murmurs came again, but there was no way I could hear what they were saying. It was like the person had a mouthful of cotton.

“Hello? Do you need help?” I shouted.

Nothing. I rattled the handle with both hands so hard, that I fell back. Then I shoved it with my shoulder.

My vision blurred. My shoulder grew hot.

Then there was a banging on the hallway door.

I opened it and he said, “Sir, what is all the noise coming from your room?”

I had about enough of the rude receptionist. “What? What in the name of...that’s what I want to know! What kind of a show are you running here anyway, buddy? This is absurd. I have to get some sleep and sounds are coming from behind this door in my room. There must be a trapped person behind there for Christ’s sakes.”

“First, you wake up half the hallway with your bashing around our delicate rooms and now you’re yelling at me? I’m not sure how you’re supposed to be sleeping while performing such ridiculous activities. Please keep it down. And, well, you don’t need any further lectures from me about manners I’m sure.”

“But, but, this is outrageous. I’m telling you something is wrong with this room. There’s someone trapped behind the door!”

“Good night, sir.” And the receptionist stomped away.


It was no use trying to sleep at that point, so I went to read my report. Except when I opened my bag, the report was gone. I emptied my entire bag out onto the floor of the hotel—no report.

Perhaps I had forgotten to pack it altogether? But I had given my presentation in the previous city and those before the last. Hadn’t I?

Then I considered, maybe, that whoever it was on the other side of the door had come through and stolen my report when I was downstairs. They would have finally finished the sabotage they had planned all this time. But no, if that was the case, they wouldn’t be begging to be released.

Or maybe, it was the receptionist. He’d had it out for me since I arrived. It must’ve been him.

When I opened the door to my room, the hallway was completely dark. I couldn’t see my own hands if I placed them out too far from my body. The only source of light came from the lamp in my room. I slowly crept further down the long hallway, trying best to remember where the location of the stairwell was, but within seconds I felt disoriented, confused, as if I had fallen into a great, endless void.

Then I heard my door slam shut behind me. An anxiety flooded through me, sending me to my knees, sweating from the heat. I didn’t want to be in this hotel any longer. I was certain the receptionist was laughing at my misfortune like some twisted villain. He had probably been the one to cut the power to the lights.

I crawled back toward my room, desperate to wake from this nightmare. The smallest sliver of light escaped from under the bottom of the door, offering a tiny ray to guide me.

I stood up and opened my hotel door.

The receptionist was rifling through my luggage in the middle of the floor.

“What the hell are you doing?” I shouted.

“I might ask you the same question.”

He stood and took the folded report from his breast pocket. “Sir, we certainly cannot allow you to stay here any longer. You’re a threat to the well-being of the hotel and its guests. And, well, frankly, you’re a threat to me.”

He unfolded the report and began pointing to different pages in demonstration.

“You can’t do any of this!” I screamed and tore at my hair.

“Sir, if you do not choose to leave, I may be forced to make you leave.”

“I have to sleep. I have a big day tomorrow,” I shouted. “I must stay. Now, get out of my room and give me my report. I’ll be out by six in the morning.”

He moved closer and I thought I saw him take the report between his white-gloved hands like he was about to rip it in two. I can’t say why, but in the next moment, I had the lamp in my hand and smashed it over his greasy head.

He dropped to the floor with a thud—his head growing darker with blood; a thin trail that trickled down his forehead, coloring his gray-speckled mustache red.

I snatched the papers that were still clutched in his hands and stuffed them into my own pocket. But then, I began to focus on what was in front of me. What had I done? This was assault! Or maybe worse…what if he was dead?

What would I do with this man? He was still breathing, but this situation would certainly cause big trouble. My thoughts ran through many possibilities, many had me in handcuffs, or, worse yet, months spent in court rooms—steep lawyer fees.

Looking over his body, the ring of keys on his belt loop caught my eye. I removed the keys and my first impulse was to try them in the door in my room. My body quivered with anticipation. After a few fumbling tries, I came to a key that slid right in. The lock turned easily and the door in my room finally opened. I would see what was going on inside it.

I was shocked to see that behind the door was a plain concrete wall. I tried to press my hand into it but it was as it looked: a solid wall. I pressed my ear to the cool surface but could no longer hear the murmurs.

“Hello?” I shouted to the concrete. “Hello?” Nothing but silence.

I regarded the empty space with disappointment and confusion. Had I imagined all of the noises from before? There was no way to be sure. But soon none of that mattered when I realized the brilliance of this secret chamber.

I dragged the receptionist’s body over to the doorway and removed his uniform. By standing him up, there was just enough space between the frame and the concrete for me to close the door on him. It locked automatically. Once shut, it looked exactly as it had always looked, like a simple door leading to nowhere with no one behind it.

I looked around in my room and saw there was blood on the rug. When I thought about it, the receptionist was right. I did need to clean up the messes that I made.

I scurried down to the lobby and tossed my luggage into the still-burning fire in the lobby. The flames slowly ate away everything I had brought with me. A sense of relief washed over me and my thoughts felt settled for the first time in many hours. Then, I heard the bell ring.

There, at the counter, stood a disgruntled traveler.

“Do you have a room for the night?” He inquired of me.

I looked down at my business suit and then back to the traveler. I realized he thought I was the receptionist. “Why yes, one just became available.”

I opened the door to the front desk and stood behind the counter. “Well?”

“Well, what?” He looked confused.

“Do you have payment? We accept credit cards. Please, don’t waste my time. We’re very busy.”