Checking Out

Busy days left me little option for work, so it was a blessing when I got hired on as a night receptionist in a top hotel.

In some spheres they call it the Graveyard Shift, and rightly so. The atmosphere is just short of haunting. But with coffee mug in hand and spotlight above your head, you survive the nights and look forward to crawling into bed the following morning.

The past Friday was no different, or so I was led to believe, but the late hours and a lack of sleep can do strange things to a person… It started off ordinary enough. The day shift team routinely went through the check-list; – counting and closing the register, gossiping about the clients, explaining any things of importance and finally handing over control to me.

Till 1am I was kept busy with people coming and going. After that, the only highlight was around 3am when the security clocked off for the night. From that point on it was simply just waiting for 7am to creep on by so that I could end my shift.

I started off the lonely night as I normally did – reading the online papers. Attempted hold-ups, man drowning, car accidents. Never really any good news.

I glanced at the clock and saw it was 4am. It was time for my first coffee. Shortly afterwards I cursed, having realized I forgot to refill my flask the day before. It was tempting to pinch some that had been left out for the early morning departures, but I refrained just in case management somehow got wind of it.

The minutes dragged by and drowsiness lurked teasingly over my shoulder. The monotone ticking from the overhead clock was of no help. Neither was the sound of the wailing wind outside. I told myself morning would come soon, but frustratingly not soon enough.

The light overhead blinked twice with two soft pops and finally went out. I groaned. Now the shadows seemed to creep out and take on all shapes and forms. I left a note for maintenance, a little annoyed it couldn't be solved sooner.

It was then that I thought I heard the elevator. I prepared to receive the descending guest, but for several minutes – nothing. Curiosity got the better of me, and I left my post to investigate. Curiously, the L.E.D. over the elevator door declared it was at the 4th floor. I shrugged, and put it down to imagination and turned to return to the front desk, when I noticed a man standing at the desk in the shadows. In a manner most unprofessional for a receptionists, I swore audibly with the sudden shock.

The man however showed no reaction.

I collected myself and tried to approach with an air of calm, but my pounding heart had already set the pace. An overwhelming discomfort crept over me and I could feel the goosebumps beneath my work shirt.

"Morning sir." I said, my voice unintentionally cracking with apprehension. He said nothing, merely stared. I stifled the gulp and urge to adjust my collar. The man was tall and lanky. I assumed we were of equal body mass should he attempt to overpower me, but in the darkness it was hard to tell. His clothes, a black T-shirt and jeans, clung tightly to him and his slick dark hair seemed to stick to his brow. Without uttering a word he raised his hand, holding out the small envelope that contained his room key.

"Checking out sir?" I asked, mainly hoping to get some verbal communication out of him.

Again. Nothing.

The shiver in my hands as I reached for the envelope was only partly due to cold. As my fingertips closed around it I felt it is strangely damp. Though confused, I thought nothing of it at the time. My prime concern was the mute standing before me. I was all too glad to get behind the front desk and put some obstruction between me and him. His gaze never left me, like a portrait's eyes which follow you across the length of the room.

I went through the usual procedure to process his check out. I called out his name and room for confirmation. As before, not a single sound. I hesitated no longer and finalized the departure. As I looked up to tell him all was in order, I was surprised to discover he was gone. I looked around hoping to catch sight of him somewhere, but for the first time the room was eerily empty. Furthermore, the revolving door hadn't budged. I knew for certain that the side doors were locked and the elevators were standing idly on some floor.

For some reason I held on to the key, placing it absent-mindedly in my pocket when I would normally have placed it back with the rest. The chill that I felt was brief, but long enough to make me yearn for home a lot more.

7am arrived soon afterwards. As the day shift arrived I eagerly went through the final procedures to close my shift. I was preparing to head home, looking forward to putting the strange night behind me, when my colleague asked me if Housekeeping had arrived yet.

I told him no, and couldn't stop myself from asking why.

"Need to tell her to lock up Room 413." He told me. "Poor guy drowned yesterday afternoon."

"413?" I repeated with surmounting apprehension.

"That's right." My colleague confirmed. "Relatives of Mr Gaulier will be coming by at some point to collect his belongings. To think, it was his last day here. How unfortunate."

With clammy, trembling hands, I reached into my pocket and recovered the little envelope. My colleague saw it and was instinctively drawn by curiosity. Though the ink had run, it was still legible for two pairs of eyes to make out.

RM 413 - MR GAULIER

"He checked out." I stammered.