The 9th Room
It was, as far as I can ascertain, in the year of 2013 that a most distressing event happened in my life. I can only tell you the year in which this tale of mine befell my simple and rather calm life, for I do not know exactly the month or day due to this disquieting event.
I was taking my degree in History and Archaeology and I had an important research work to do. There were specific books and documentations on a library far from the city where I lived and study, therefore, I had to spend some time away to be able to do my work. I will not go into details about such studies, for I fear it is a rather dull subject to the reader and it has nothing to do with the strange events I’m about to describe.
I went by train. It took me a bit less than seven hours to arrive into this town where the library was. I had never set foot in this place, nor had I any connections to it. I had only the address of the inn where I was supposed to stay and the name of the street where the library was.
Night fell swiftly when I arrived. The last fiery colours, before the world is consumed by utter darkness, calmly faded in the edge of the world, slowly blending with the gloom. A keen wintry-wind blew and whispered moans in the hollow trunks of trees. Upon stepping in the train-platform, I took a deep breath and clung to my luggage, for I was completely alone and had a few more miles ahead of me till I reached the town.
Glowing in the distance I could see the ruined medieval walls which once protected the town. I hastened to reach safety and light; considering that the road between the train station and the town had no illumination and I felt a heavy presence looming in the darkness, pressing its icy talons on my shoulders and cold breath on the back of my neck.
The entrance to the town was by an archway recently built on the granite walls. The streets were empty, but the shadows of the townsfolk were reflected upon the yellow lights of each window. The names of the streets had long faded from the stone slabs on important buildings, but fortunately a police officer, making the night patrol, gave me indications to where I could find the inn.
I walked on up a gentle slope, passing a few old stone houses, and there it was! – The “Polycarp inn”. It had to be, because it was the only building with its front door opened at this time of night. There was a sign with the name of the inn beneath a lamp, but the lamp was broken and I could barely see in the dim what was written in the sign. Had not been for the hazy light streaming out of a window, I would never had noticed the sign.
The innkeeper was a very gentle and friendly woman in her mid-seventies. Her left leg was lame, but even so she went up the stairs to take me to my room and explain me the plumbing problems and that I couldn’t turn on every light at the same time I turned the central heating system. I prided myself on being a keen observant, so I had noticed in the reception board that there were no Odd Numbers; the rooms had only Even Numbers and so mine was the number ten. And there it was right where it was supposed to be; the last room at the end of the corridor – the number ten.
I could barely sleep the first night. The person on number eight was very restless, it seemed. The room was right next to mine and it seemed the walls were very thin, so I could hear the person sobbing and walking from one side of his chambers to the other, barefooted, making that irritating pum pum pum sound echoing in my ears. Just a bit before the break of dawn, the sound had come to an end at last. Finally all was at peace and I shut my eyes for a brief moment. But someone was battering at my chamber door, calling everyone aloud, shouting that breakfast would be served in the common hall.
I dragged myself downstairs. I sat and ate and went back upstairs to have some sleep. As I thought of myself as being a keen observant, I had noticed that everyone at the table was as exhausted as I was. Most of them were completely aloof to the fact that there was food in front of them and that the sleeves of their robes were soaking inside their plates filled with milk. It seemed that I wasn’t the only one that had a rough night. My brain was still sound asleep, so my observing skills were not yet acute enough at that time of the day and I wasn’t able to tell which of those standing there was the person on number eight. All of them had their eyes touched in with a burning red. Weeping or lack of sleep seemed to stain the eyes in the same manner.
It was past midday when I left my room again and went to do some research at the library; for that was why I had come to this forsaken town in the first place. I brought some books with me back to the inn so I could do my work at my chambers, alone, in peace and quiet. I was arriving at the inn when I looked up and saw the window to my room. Next to it was the window of number eight; red shoes on the window ledge – a woman’s shoes. So number eight was a woman; I could have sworn that by the barefooted-sound and the crying that it was a man. One can’t definitely trust everything he hears.
I went upstairs to my room. I tried to put the key on the door lock of my chambers but it simply didn’t fit. Inside my room, or what I thought it was my room, I heard the sound of footsteps and voices talking in whispers. Then all sound ceased and someone, barefooted again, came running towards the door and there it stopped. I noticed that it had grabbed the door handle and was trying to pull it, or push it, I’m not certain. I had the sensation that it was trying to get out. I was startled to hear that there was a low moan by the door, the person had its face leaning against the door and I could hear a rapid breathing as well. I looked up and noticed that the number of the door wasn’t mine, nor was it the number eight. It was clear to my sight that there was a nine hanging above the door. For a man who thought of himself as being a keen observant, well, I felt ashamed of myself that moment. My room was clearly the last one and not the one I was trying to get into. I apologized to whoever was inside number nine, and went back to my room as fast as I could so no one would see the stupidity that I had made. One cannot trust half of everything he sees.
At my room, after pondering about my previous encounter with the wrong door, I remembered that there were no Odd Numbers in that inn, so number nine couldn’t possibly be there. But what was I thinking? No, no. I obviously had seen it just then, and certainly the day I had arrived at the inn I hadn’t see it right in the reception board. I had been tired from the train journey and was a bit afraid, I confess, when I got to the town. Yes, that was it, I definitely didn’t notice that there were rooms with Odd Numbers. So much for my observation skills . . .
That same night, and the three nights after, the same moaning and sobbing sounds from number eight – well, from number nine, that is – were still heard. The person inside that room seemed to be dancing in one of those nights. At my fifth night in that inn, I heard a horrible muffled voice, seemingly singing a most dreadful melody. It stopped when someone came banging on my door.
“Who is it?” Said I, afraid to get up and go to the door.
“Your neighbour next door!” A woman shouted.
I went to the door to see what the woman in the red shoes wanted with me. It was clearly her, for now I was convinced that the person on number nine was really a man by the terrible sounds he made. The woman sounded a bit upset. As I opened the door, she spoke to me in a manner that I thought she was going to strangle me. I was very angry by that peevish tongue of hers and the way she addressed me. I was also very tired and with little patience for foolish questions.
“What on earth are you doing in there?!?” She asked me. “Could you please . . .”
When she was about to tell me to stop doing whatever I was doing, I deem, the crying or singing voice was suddenly heard for brief moments, and then dead-silence fell. Only a few seconds later the voice was heard again, seemingly to laughter, laughing at himself in a rather crooning way.
The woman looked at me with bulging eyes. A white fear struck her. Her lips were white, her skin was pale and she started to shake. Had she been a mirror, I would have seen my own reflection similar to her current state of fear.
I told the woman, as she could perfectly hear, that the sounds came from the person whose room was between ours. Then I realised that she was even more frightened when she looked to where, supposedly, the door of number nine was. I peered to see if the person of number nine was on the corridor and what kind of hideous look he had to frighten the woman so. My heart sank into a profound void inside my bowels when I noticed, to my horror, that there was no door at all. There was only number eight and my own room – number ten. Yet, inside the wall between our rooms, the sounds continue.
I and the woman went to get the innkeeper. In the process the sounds inside the wall had died away. Even so, the three of us stood for a while facing that wall, waiting. At first we heard nothing at all, and the innkeeper was about to say we were both barking mad when we heard someone. We heard a faraway sound of someone screaming, and then another person, not too far off, gurgling and groaning. Then we heard someone else, nearer the wall, laughing out loud. Clearly it wasn’t the same person – I don’t think it was a person at all by such sounds. There was the sound of feet going down some stairs and coming back up, and then a heavy door shutting and all was quiet again. Morning was about to break.
I wanted to forget all about it, because if I couldn’t, I would never be able to sleep again. But, we had to get to the bottom of this. Was there something, or someone trapped inside the wall? Going mad by the lack of food and drink? Shut in the darkness of some old chimney? After hearing such sounds, it wasn’t likely that these questions had some truth in them.
Everyone in the inn had been troubled by those sounds, but they were too afraid to speak of it or come out of their chambers to see what was going on. At lunch, we all agreed to check where did these sounds came from or if there was a way into the inside of that wall, for it clearly had stairs inside. In fact, there really had been a way as I had suggested. In the cellar, where the innkeeper had made the laundry room, there was a very large pillar, larger than any other supporting the building. In such pillar there was a granite stone with Latin inscriptions. This stone had been placed where a door had been. Well, I’m not an expert on Latin, but I always keep with me a Latin dictionary to aid me when I’m doing a research for archaeological works about Romans. Thus, this is what was written on the stone: Hinc natus est et hinc habitare. I had translated this to “born here and here to stay”. But at the base of the pillar another thing was written: Pervetus Umbræ. For this I had no need for my dictionary; I knew exactly what it meant, though everyone was shouting and asking me to see in my dictionary what it meant – but I didn’t want to tell them. Eventually I spoke. Pervetus means “old” or “ancient” and Umbræ is the term used for “shadows”, but not just any shadows. Umbræ are the shadows of the dead.
We took our time trying to break the wall around the stone to be able to take it away and get in. We were so much concerned with our findings and all that process that we hadn’t noticed that night was advancing with haste. We were talking with each other when there was the sound of metal hinges creaking. We were silent. Then there was the sound of a door slamming and hastily feet coming down the stairs to meet us. We all ran outside into the street more quickly than I can write these words or could have spoken them.
I spent the rest of my time in that town on another inn just outside the town walls. I heard that the police was able to enter that pillar, and found a large wooden coffer. Inside the coffer there were animal bones and fur, a rusty dagger and a book, a very old book with a black leather cover with words cut on it. They came to me to see if I could tell them what was written inside the book, but not even I nor the oldest of my archaeology professors could tell what kind of language was that. However, I could see that the dagger was made of copper and dated back to the middle Bronze Ages. Even before the romans had come to that place, but they clearly had an encounter with whatever had been born there and was there to stay.
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