Dr. David Rudd is an emeritus professor of literature who, after some forty years, turned from academic prose to creative writing and found contentment. Recent stories have appeared in Altered Reality, Bandit Fiction, Bewildering Stories, The Blotter, Corner Bar Magazine, Dribble Drabble Review, The First Line, Jerry Jazz Musician, Literally Stories, and Scribble


by David Rudd


A young woman—naked apart from a silver bracelet on her left wrist—walks through Graeme’s hotel room and into his en suite, leaving the door wide, her back towards him.

It is a dream that Graeme has experienced five nights running. But is it just a dream? After the first night, Graeme has ensured that his bathroom door is shut. Yet, when he awakes—always at 4.15am—it stands open. There’s also a lingering scent in the air, which he thinks is what awakens him.

Of course, some people might envy him this vision. But for Graeme, the fact that he finds his naked visitor arousing—that chestnut hair, the trim buttocks and lithe legs—is precisely the problem. After years of uncertainty, Graeme thought he’d finally come to terms with his sexuality, although he’s never gone through any official “coming out” routine. Is his subconscious, he now wonders, trying to send him a message?

As ever, after these “dreams,” Graeme is too disturbed to get back to sleep. At 6.00am he gives in, showers and dresses. After checking himself in the mirror—blond curly hair, cheeky grin, dazzling powder-blue suit—he makes his way downstairs, stopping en route to greet the newly arrived housekeeping staff who, as usual, are gathered around the linen closet.

He then pops in on the kitchen staff. They are just preparing the early breakfasts, although, with Christmas imminent, there are fewer takers. As assistant manager, Graeme likes to keep his eye on such things.

He treats himself to a croissant and coffee, still unsure what to do about his ghostly visitation. It’s not something he wants to discuss with other staff—especially the owner and boss of the Hotel Excelsior, Mr. Venables, who only recently allocated him accommodation on site. Graeme knows only too well why, too: not as an act of kindness but in order that he could work even longer hours.

His room, number 39, is also the only one in the hotel that’s not been redecorated. In fact, it had become something of a lumber room before it was cleared for Graeme. The longer-term staff also made sure that Graeme knew why it had been neglected.

He had dismissed the rumors. At the time, the prospect of escaping the tyranny of life under his father had been a far more attractive prospect.

It was only in the last few days that he had begun thinking more carefully about what the staff had said: the notion that room 39 was haunted; that someone had been attacked there; that there had been a drowning in the bath; that there had been a suicide.


Even though he now finds himself dwelling on these rumors, it doesn’t really help him deal with the situation. He tries, instead, to focus on the more pressing arrangements for the Christmas festivities.

Wandering out into the freshly decorated foyer, he admires the festooned tree: his own handiwork. He’d insisted on purchasing a proper one with new decorations and lights, and he personally oversaw the placement of the brightly wrapped boxes underneath. Safely stored elsewhere, he has prepared presents for each guest and member of staff.

Graeme had had a huge battle with Mr. Venables over this extravagance, but, as Facebook shows, his presence has garnered nothing but positive reviews. He is Mr. Popular with both guests and staff, old and young. Were it not for his disturbing dreams, he’d be happy.

For the next two nights, Graeme is not disturbed. He has room 39 to himself, though he still finds himself awake at 4.15am, looking round for his frequent visitor. In fact, he wonders whether he might have slept through her appearance before realizing he’s mixing-up dream and reality.

On the third night, just as Graeme is beginning to relax into the Christmas spirit, he has a second dream. This one is almost a sequel. In it, he finds himself lying in bed listening to the sound of tap water running. When he wakes, he discovers that the sound of water is real. He scrambles out of bed and into the en suite—where the door is once again ajar—to discover the bathtub taps going full tilt. The room is steaming up. It is 4.15am.

Graeme silences the taps and pulls the lever to release the drain plug. It doesn’t respond: jammed in some way. Graeme crawls back to bed since the bathtub is not overflowing. He’ll attend to it in the morning.

This second dream recurs the following night. As he wakes, again at 4.15am, the taps are thundering away. Graeme can’t understand it. He’d checked them scrupulously before going to bed. This time he’s up more swiftly, worried about an overflow.

He spends the rest of the night in a hallucinatory state. The rumors he’s heard suddenly seem more plausible, especially the ones about a suicide in the bath. Could the tub possess some sort of malevolent consciousness, like a Stephen King monster? Could the naked girl be its handmaiden, a mermaid of some kind who entices people into the bath in order to drag them under?

As on the previous night, by morning the water has drained away, as have some of his more irrational thoughts. Though Graeme has been reluctant to mention these supernatural events to anyone else, the jammed plug mechanism, at least, is something he can get fixed.

After breakfast he seeks out Arthur, the hotel’s handyman. Arthur is the only member of staff Graeme has never dealt with, partly because the man is a law unto himself. He lives in a subterranean realm and certainly doesn’t encourage visitors. What’s worse, he has been there for years, longer than anyone else except Mr. Venables himself, and the two are “thick as thieves” he’s been informed. Arthur, it is said, answers to no one but the illustrious Mr. Venables.

Graeme discovered this when he tried to solicit Arthur’s help with the Christmas decorations. But this is different: an emergency, and Graeme knows he would have Mr. Venables’ blessing. As a backup, Graeme takes along some maintenance forms he’s had pre-signed by his boss.

Eventually, Graeme locates Arthur in the basement. He’s sitting next to the boiler with his feet up on a table, his upper half hidden behind a newspaper.

Arthur is not happy at being discovered. He lowers his paper with a grunt. When Graeme explains about the faulty bath outlet, Arthur promises to attend to it, but says he’s “a lot on.”

And then Graeme adds that it’s in room 39. The older man’s demeanor changes; he stiffens. Arthur’s paper rustles as his fingers shake.

“Emergency,” Graeme repeats firmly, dropping one of his maintenance forms behind Arthur’s newspaper defenses.

Back upstairs, Graeme wanders out to the portico, mesmerized by the heavy flakes of falling snow. After the heat of Arthur’s subterranean lair, it is refreshingly cool. The snow is coming down steadily. It has already begun to gift-wrap the cars and street furniture. Graeme smiles. Such a fall can only enhance business, he knows. Guests will stay in, drinking and eating their way through the Christmas break.

As he makes his way back inside, Graeme suddenly senses a presence beside him, though he’d spotted no one approaching. A tallish young woman is there. She’s wearing a short, dark-blue jacket and black bucket hat, beneath which her brown hair is tucked.

“This is the Excelsior, isn’t it?” she asks. Graeme nods. “I wondered if there were any job openings?” She has a strong face with striking cheekbones. Her voice is unexpectedly rich and resonant. Graeme is startled at how attractive he finds her. What is happening to him?

Normally, he would refer potential staff to the office, but something about this woman makes him hesitate. He wants to prolong their interaction, to understand the way he feels.

He leads her into the restaurant, now quiet after the breakfast rush. They go through the usual questions about her experience of hotel work, her schooling and qualifications. Later, though, Graeme will recall only that her name is “Krissy with a K.”

What is it about her that he finds so alluring? He tries to parse his feelings but, once again, fails. Clichés prevail. He just knows he wants to keep her talking so that he can continue to gaze at her, bathe in that delightful smile, wallow in the bottomless pools of her eyes…

To prolong their interaction, Graeme suggests a tour. He proposes they start at the top and work down. But he steers her past the lift to the stairs. He wants to avoid encountering others. He wants Krissy all to himself.

In the stairwell, he hangs back, savoring the graceful sway of her figure. But there is also something not quite right about her. Is it her dress? Her blue jacket suits her, but it’s too light for this weather—unless she came by car. Her cotton pants as well: far too thin, although Graeme is enjoying the way they show off her glutes, rhythmically flexing. He could almost reach out and…

It’s not long before they’re both strolling along the top corridor, passing his own room. Should he let her see it? He’s aware that room 39 is not typical—apart from the fact that it’s strewn with his personal belongings—but he can’t show her any of the other rooms because he hasn’t checked Reception to see if any are vacant. Besides, he hasn’t his passkey.

Krissy, though, is undeterred. She gestures towards his door, asking to see inside.

“Of course,” Graeme says.

The room, he is relieved to see, is not too untidy. He closes the door behind them, only to be confronted by the scent of his ghostly visitor. He’s surprised. He thought he’d got rid of her distinctive aroma.

When Krissy remarks, “Someone’s already in this one,” he thinks she must have noticed the smell, too. But it’s his clothes she’s indicating, suspended on hangers around the picture rail.

“Ah! No worries,” he chuckles. “Those are, um…mine.”

As their increasingly intimate chat proceeds, Graeme suddenly becomes aware of the sound of water. He groans and moves towards the en suite, swinging the door wide. He stares at the liquid cascading over the side of the tub. Once again, he rattles the plug mechanism. It won’t budge. He tries to turn off the taps, the spouts of which are already submerged. The taps are also jammed, immoveable.

As he leans over the bath, his arms now weak from straining at the taps, he experiences a sudden sense of despair. It has nothing to do with the plumbing. It is Krissy’s presence that rattles him.

His whole sense of identity seems to be in flux, as fluid as the water streaming beneath him. As this sensation grips him, he feels the pull of the water brimming over the edge of the tub. It’s not as if anyone’s trying to pull him under; rather, it’s something he half wishes upon himself. “Perhaps I’m neither straight, nor gay, or even bi,” thinks Graeme. “Perhaps…I’m nothing.”

Inches beneath him, his reflection—distending, breaking up, recasting itself into different shapes—taunts him. Graeme feels his head drooping, about to merge with this mirror image. But then he suddenly recalls how his father once forced his head underwater in an attempt to scrub off his mascara.

“Oh, no you don’t!” Graeme says decisively. He stands up, expecting to see Krissy alongside him, but she’s disappeared. Perhaps gone for help, he surmises.

Shaking off his recent mood, Graeme throws some towels on the floor and looks round for a receptacle of some sort. He remembers the flower vase next door. He fetches it and energetically ladles water from the bath into the toilet, feeling like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

As no one else appears, Graeme phones Arthur direct. No civilities this time; he orders Arthur up pronto, though he does emphasize that it’s at Mr. Venables’ behest.

Armed with a bag of tools, Arthur appears with surprising alacrity. He too looks different, ashen and vulnerable.

“Did you see—?” Graeme begins.

“You’ve ’ad a visitor, ’aven’t you?” Arthur interrupts him. His tone is part accusatory, part remorseful. “I know that stench.” He says no more, shuffling through to the en suite.

Graeme leaves him to it. He phones the office and explains what’s happened, suggesting that the rooms beneath 39 be checked out.

It is only a few minutes before Arthur staggers back from the bathroom, arms and face dripping. In his hand he holds a silver chain. “There,” he says, dropping a slimy bracelet into Graeme’s hand. “That’s what’s jamming the mechanism.” Arthur’s hands are again shaking, Graeme notices. Is it the cold water?

Sitting on his bed, Graeme looks up at the older man, who suddenly appears broken. The water running down his face, Graeme realizes, is not from the bath. Once again, Graeme recalls the rumors.

With this chain in his hand—which Graeme recognizes as like the one worn by his dream walker—he starts to take more seriously the notion that the room could be haunted. The thought does not scare him. He simply needs to understand. Somehow, he knows, Arthur is involved. Had he attacked some young woman in here? Could he have drowned her in that very tub?

Graeme tries to articulate his thoughts: “So she—,” he begins, but gets no further. Arthur once again interrupts.

He!” shouts Arthur. “My son. He!” He flops down on the bed beside Graeme, gesturing for Graeme to look at the chain.

Brushing the greenish patina from the identity plate, Graeme reads: “Christopher, Love Mum and Dad.”

Arthur, eyes fixed on the floor, tells Graeme about Christopher, whom he spurned when the boy told him that he should’ve been a girl; that he was going for gender reassignment. Arthur tells Graeme how depressed and confused his son had been, and how he, Arthur, his one-and-only Dad, had refused to listen. How his son, desperate and lost and lonely, had booked in here, into this very room. How he had ended his life in that very bath. How his wife, Susan, had blamed him, and left him. How his other two children wouldn’t speak to him.

“Six years ago this Christmas,” Arthur concludes, his belligerent tone briefly reasserting itself. “And on this of all soddin’ days, you call me up to fix the bath!” He falters in sobs and tears.

Graeme is stunned. He’d got it wrong. Christopher was…a boy! He can’t suppress the smile that briefly lights up his face.

Graeme stands and places a tentative hand on one of Arthur’s heaving shoulders. “It’ll get better now that you’re…letting it out.”

Graeme realizes he’s babbling. He thrusts the chain back into Arthur’s hand: “Krissy’s,” he says, immediately biting his tongue as he tries to morph the word into “Chris-topher’s.” Graeme’s own, profound sense of relief is making it difficult for him to focus on Arthur’s tragic loss.

“You mean well,” begins Arthur, “for one of those.”

“All right, Arthur!” interrupts another voice. Mr. Venables stands in the doorway.


The following morning Graeme wakes early from an undisturbed night’s sleep. Venables had offered him another room—despite the hotel being full to capacity—but Graeme turned him down. He’s content where he is, subject—as he pointed out—to a lick or two of paint being applied.

This morning Graeme feels in need of something more immersive than a shower, but he certainly doesn’t want to use room 39’s bath. He goes down to the hotel pool instead—closed to guests at this time of day—and swims till his body feels unknotted and liberated.

Back in his room, Graeme pampers himself with some Dior Sauvage before picking out his rose-washed pink suit, which he wears over a buttermilk shirt, paisley tie and matching pocket square.

On his way downstairs, he catches sight of the housekeeping staff at the end of the corridor and quickly conceals himself in their linen closet. Donning the regulation mob cap and tabard, he awaits his moment before leaping out, posing dramatically. Squeals and giggles ensue, despite the unsocial hour.

At Graeme’s insistence, they join him outside the closet for a collective selfie. It’s one he’ll always treasure. And later in the day, he’ll forward it to friends and family, adding a few carefully chosen words.

One day, he might even send his father a copy. But not for a while yet.