It was not a dark and stormy night, though Central was shiny and wet from an afternoon shower. The moon was full. I could see its reflection as I drove past watery brown potholes in the road.
There I was, driving back up to the Desert Sands. Back toward the motel that was supposedly haunted. The one I was supposed to sleep in.
I had called just a few days earlier to book the room.
"Thank you for calling the Desert Sands Motel?" The voice on the other end belonged to a small, heavily-accented Indian man named Mr. Shah. Uh. Er. Yes. Is Room 109 free? The haunted one?
"What is haunted?"
You know, bad spirits, ghosts.
"Ah, Room 109! But we repaint—all the walls have been repainted and there is no more there. No more mold!"
No, no; not mold. Ghosts.
"Eh ... I don't know. No, I have never heard."
No one has ever complained about Room 109?
"Any problem we give you refund. No one has asked for the money."
I picked up the keys the next day. The room was $35 ("I give you special rate!"), plus a $2 down-deposit for a remote control. From what I had read on ghostvillage.com, an Internet forum for first-hand paranormal encounters, I really didn't think I would need one:
“ ...We turned off the lights and tried to go to sleep on the two queen beds. The TV came on by itself blaring at top volume and as we watched, horrified, the volume went up and down as channels simultaneously changed.” [From "Poltergeists at the Desert Sands Inn"]
Wait; it gets better.
“That was when we ran from the room to the car.”
So, basically, I was scared shitless. And there was more to it than that. I found reports of flickering lights, possessed faucets, cold spots and a "horrific" wounded animal noise that intermittently brays out from the bathroom, all originating from that cursed corner room at the Desert Sands Motel. And in a moment of "Scooby-Doo"-like incompetence, I had volunteered to sleep there. Zoinks.
But I had a plan. If television has taught me anything of value when it comes to creepy, haunted places, it's that you always talk to the night watchman first.
In this case ("The Case of the Haunted Hotel," if you will), his name was Archie, and he had worked as the night clerk at the Desert Sands for almost nine years. He had lived there for a total of 23 years.
"As far as the TVs, the old RCAs are the cheapest, so they come on by themselves and they turn themselves off. No other brand does it."
Archie was a well-natured gentleman in his middle years, and far too pleasant for someone who makes his living working the graveyard shift at an East Central motel.
"It used to be when I was doing rounds at night, when I walked by, they'd come on and then they'd go off. And then I started noticing that it was only the RCAs; so that could be explained—I wouldn't consider that paranormal."
But what about the unexplained noises and the cold spots? What about the braying bathroom hell hounds?
"I'll tell you what I think," he said, punctuating the air with his index finger. "I think if you seek that sort of thing, you're gonna find it. And another thing is, if you're in a dark room and you've never been there before, and you hear all this noise—and you know how wood expands when its hot and contracts when its cold, and then you hear the water—well, you may think the place is haunted."
Fair enough. I thanked him profusely and headed out towards my tomb. Er, room.
Room 109 actually seemed all right to me, if a little cold. It was spare and drab, with two lumpy queen-sized beds, a bolted-down Magnavox television, a dresser and an end table. Though I'm not particularly religious, I was relieved to find a Gideon's bible in one of the drawers. A small constellation of blue-green mold dotted the ceiling above me. Nothing paranormal, though.
Then there was the bathroom; a respectable chamber with a working bath and shower combo, a toilet, a sink, and tiles that resembled the color of egg yolk. It was clean and bright. And for some reason, it freaked the bejeezus out of me. Just approaching the area made my adrenaline kick into high-gear. I was instantly hyper-aware of my surroundings and my heart began beating faster. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I could feel all the blood in my body rushing up into my head. I can't explain why. It was entirely instinctual. To me, that was almost scarier than any of the tangible things I had half-expected, half-dreaded.
So, yeah, I didn't run screaming from the building.
But I didn't look back, either.