A lot of my friends consider me a fairly lucky person, but it sure didn't feel that way when I woke up in this hotel room with no memory of how I got there. Picture me, waking up in my underwear alone on a four-poster bed in a swanky luxury suite.
My first thought was "how much did I drink last night?
" and my second was "where are my clothes???
I sat up and looked back at the bed I just vacated, and felt something slide onto my feet. I looked down at the bunny slippers that were oh-so-helpfully placed at just the right spot so that I wouldn't have to set foot on carpet. Two embroidered pairs of eyes stared back from the golden yellow fuzz, four ears barely brushing my ankles as I stood up. I pressed a black little nose against the carpet and was surprised to hear a small honk
coming from the slipper.
Looking at the bedside table, I was surprised to find my wallet, keys, phone, and watch neatly lined up on the wooden surface, not a thing out of place. I turned on my phone, which was conveniently at 100% charge; 7:13 AM, no reception. My thoughts of shit, I'm already late for work
gave way to the elephant in the room... where the hell was I?
I tried looking around for clues and the longer I stood there, the more this place looked like something straight out of "The Great Gatsby,"
though not quite. Mahogany wooden furniture contrasted with a 52" plasma screen TV almost entirely set into the wall, flush with the purple floral wallpaper design. A coat rack obscured by an unfamiliar coat draped all over it and accented with a tophat stood right next to the curtained windows, which showed nothing outside but a drab white fog, offering me no clue as to where this suite exactly was.
There was a note beside my bed that I swear wasn't there before, and I unfolded it. It's been a while since I've had to read cursive, but here is what I could make out:
Welcome to the wonderful Hotel Non Dormiunt! We are glad you are enjoying your stay and hope to do business with you again!
We will be holding a light reception this evening at the hotel bar at 7:00 PM. Get to mingle with and know your fellow guests, especially those on your floor!
It must also be emphasized that guests will be unable to make reservations on the 17th Floor for the foreseeable future. It is officially Out of Order. No guests will be allowed to check into rooms on the 17th floor and the area is closed. Anyone who decides to visit the 17th floor does so at their own risk and the staff of the Non Dorminut claim ZERO LIABILITY for any incident that may occur. Please refrain from asking staff about why the 17th Floor is Out of Order. There will be no further discussion of the 17th Floor. Period.
Thank you and we hope you enjoy your stay!
I tried not to think too hard about how odd this note was and began to look around for my clothes. To my surprise, they had been sitting neatly folded atop a velvet ottoman, below which lay my shoes, socks tightly rolled up within. As I put on my pants and shirt I could not help but notice how clean they smelled, as if they were brand new. Clearly whoever brought me here took the time to launder my clothes, which was at the same time a bit weird and well-appreciated.
I made my way back to the bedside table to pocket my things when I heard a tinkling noise from behind me. Looking around for the source, I found a glass bell jar atop a counter; within was displayed a cube
with ornate yet alien gold filigree overlaid upon its wooden surface. It continued its melody, one that I didn't recognize yet at the same time, I did. I kept staring at the elaborate designs as if they were drawing me in, hypnotizing me to—
"I would not touch that if I were you, young man."
The voice broke my trance and I realized that, without even realizing it, I had lifted the glass bell with one hand, the other about to grab the music box. I looked to my right towards the window and saw the cloth on the coat rack rustle before the entire thing turned around.
It was a man, but not… quite? Many conflicting feelings began to race around my mind as I found myself staring at the other occupant. Had he been here this entire time? Is he a staff member of this hotel?? Was he the one to find me and tuck me to his bed last night???
Was that a snout? What's with his ears? Why is he yellow?
Who was he, or it? What
was that thing?
Was I dreaming?
I placed the bell over the now-silent box and pinched my neck. It hurt, which meant I wasn't dreaming. But it couldn't be real, right? Unless—
I cautiously stepped back, unsure how to react, and the man stepped away from the window, allowing the ambient light to show him a bit more clearly. He looked like a very fancy man from the neck down, dressed in a customised three-piece purple and dark grey tuxedo suit. His vest was adorned with gold metallic lines emanating from a clock motif on his chest, and trimmed with the same gold material, and lay atop a black shirt with a lime green necktie disappearing behind the clock. Instead of a matching purple coat, he traded up for a charcoal tuxedo jacket, tapering down to a swallowtail cut behind his shins, and what appeared to be a purple silk satin cape streaming from under the lapels and down his back. That was what I had first seen and assumed to be another coat on a rack. His gloved—or at least I was pretty sure they were gloved—hands caressed a black pearl-like knob atop a wooden ebony cane that twisted in a double helix to the floor.
His head however drew the most attention, seeming too real to be just a mask. It was that of a bear, but stylized, almost like I was looking at a real-life cartoon character. His eyes were significantly larger than what I would expect from a bear and seemed almost human-like, contrasting with the gold-colored fur that ended in a snout of indeterminate expression. To cap it all off, he wore a tophat, black or purple depending on how the light struck it, wedged between his two fuzzy ears. All in all he looked like he owned the place, and everything around me was his magic show or circus performance.
The man… bear... spoke once again, in a voice that seemed too perfect yet soothing. "Did you have a nice rest, Anthony?" I blinked. "Your driver's license, sir," he continued, as if anticipating what I would ask next. "Or would you rather me address you by something else?"
I swallowed, and spoke. "Y-yes. Um… just call me Tony. Who… what are you?"
He reached behind his back with his free hand and bunched up the silk before he sat down on a nearby armchair and tossed his cape behind its back before gesturing to the other chair in front. I obliged and he regarded me, never once blinking or breaking eye contact. "What I am is not exactly that important. But if you feel it more convenient, you may refer to me as Mr. Bear."
"Mister… bear?" I mumbled. "You're not… um"
"Human?" Mr. Bear finished, then chuckled. "Tough to get much more obvious than that."
I slowly nodded, having decided to just roll along with all this strangeness. "So what is this place? What is Hotel Non Dormiunt?"
Mr. Bear's smile grew a bit larger. "It is wherever you want to be, Tony. "
"I don't understand."
Mr. Bear gave a quick nod in acknowledgement, looking as if he's had to explain all of this at least 50,000
"They rarely do. In fact, not even I am fully knowledgeable of the nature of this little pocket of reality." He slouched back and rested his hands behind his hat. "I can tell you what I do
know, but first, let's talk about you."
I wasn't comfortable with being put on the spot like this and tried to find a way out of this madness. "I, uh, I dunno man. I mean, thanks for letting me stay the night I guess but I'm already late for work, and—"
"Oh? What line of work is this?"
"I'm the tech support for a local art gallery downtown. I think it's called the Eclipse or something."
The bear's eyebrows rose as if mimicking the expression of surprise. "You work at the Ecliptic Gallery
??? Well, that certainly explains a lot."
We sat in silence for a few moments, Mr. Bear now looking at nothing in particular, as if not at me, but through
me, as if he was not quite sure what to do.
There was a knock at the door, and Mr. Bear snapped his head in its direction before he was on his feet to answer. I couldn't see who or what he was talking to, since he was essentially blocking my view, and I couldn't quite make out the ensuing conversation. Two voices, clearly in no language I ever heard of, probably one that wasn't even human. I wasn't entirely sure which one was his and which was the other's. He gave a quick nod and waved the visitor off, before closing the door and turning to regard me.
"That was the Maid. She needs to service this suite. Shall we take a quick walk?" I quickly got up myself, and he smiled. I was basically ready to leave and I'm pretty sure I hadn't forgotten anything. Mr. Bear opened the door wider and let me step out before smoothly exiting himself. He nodded to someone behind me and I turned around to encounter the person who Mr. Bear had spoken to.
She—well I guess they were a "she"? I couldn't tell—stared at the both of us with a smile that didn't extend to her eyes. If I had to describe her appearance, think of the Adjudicator
from John Wick 3
and you get a good idea what I mean. Her smile momentarily faltered when she looked at me, but returned with a nod of her own when she regarded Mr. Bear. With a similar fluidity, she entered the suite, which was numbered 260 and was at the end of an ornate hallway, and closed the door behind her. "I see you have a lot of questions, but I would appreciate it if you saved them until the end, that is if by then you still even have any."
Mr. Bear turned to look at me and I nodded in acknowledgement as we began to stroll down the hall, one that looked like something from The Overlook but without the creepy kids or all that blood.
"No one truly knows how or when this hotel came to fruition; as far as the locals will tell you, the hotel has always been there. Many will argue that the hotel first surfaced in Moscow during the October revolution of 1917. Others claim it was originally an inn from the bayous of Louisiana. Sightings in London, Madrid, Manila, Belfast, Dallas, Warsaw, Berlin, Hanoi have all been reported, oh and of course in all 50 United States.
"A pattern I have noticed is that it has a strange habit of popping up at rather important, often tragic, junctures in history. In one instance, survivors of the 9/11 attack holed up in here; same thing happened during the Kennedy assassination in Dallas. Strangely, even older forms have been recorded in places as unlikely as Roanoke, Pompeii, even as far back in time as the destruction of Santorini. Earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, plague, you name it, it's shown up nearby.
"Now, the forms it may have manifested up until the early 20th century usually were consistent with the styles of the time, but ever since 1913 it has taken on a classic retro luxury roaring 20s design. Much of its decor is inspired by the early stages of Art Deco, though as you probably already know, it has kept up with the times sufficiently to ensure that guests are provided with modern amenities.
"However, what stands out more than anything is that—though the retro luxury theme is something most visitors agree upon, no two guests can ever seem to agree on the exact details of the hotel. The way you see this place"—he made a sweeping gesture down the hall we had turned to—"may be one no one will ever lay eyes upon again. These anecdotes and repeated sightings throughout my travels fascinated me; I had wondered if the hotel functioned similarly to my original place of business."
He stopped and turned to look at me in the eyes, his own tinkling with a silver flash of excitement, as if this was always his favorite part of the story. "I believe that my visits and experiences, along with the anecdotes I have collected over the eons, all but confirm the dominant theory I hold regarding this place."
I said nothing in response, and his face returned to its neutral mask, clearly hoping for a question I didn't feel like giving. We just kept walking and rounded another corner when he spoke up.
"Am I allowed to assume that you know of the concept of a multiverse? Alternate timelines, parallel dimensions?"
"Um, I guess? I mean, I watched Into the Spider-verse so…" I trailed off and he nodded. I think I knew what he was getting at.
"So this hotel…"
He nodded again.
"Yes. It is my belief that this hotel exists in multiple realities, multiple alternate universes. It is a nexus point where they intersect, and it is all thanks to these thousands of rooms." He gestured at the doors before continuing. "This hotel is one of the safer such intersections, at least relatively. Lots of interesting things happen, as would be expected for such a juncture. Such phenomena have also been documented at The Ryce Property and Grovewood & Co.." He gave a quick nod in my direction.
"You run IT for the Gallery, correct?"
"Well, think of this place as the backdoors of reality. Programmer access."
I processed what he was talking about before asking the next question on my mind.
"And are you a 'programmer'?"
Mr. Bear smirked and paused before answering.
"I have done some spectacular favors for the management. In gratitude, I have been allowed to use this area as a safe spot. That allows me to accommodate people who wind up where they definitely aren't supposed to be."
"And how do they wind up… um… where they shouldn't be?"
"It really depends on the circumstances. Reality is like a fabric,"—he reached over and gave a small swish with his cape to emphasize his point"—and sometimes, that fabric becomes threadbare, frayed, even outright torn. Things tend to slip through those rifts from time to time, and occasionally, I find something—or someone—interesting in my travels."
He paused and turned to me as if waiting for my reaction. "Nearly 2,200 people go missing every day in the contiguous United States alone. Sometimes they fall into these rifts, sometimes they actively seek them out for adventures. These rifts could be anywhere and can take any form. Most end up somewhere in some dull Backroom in between realities, though I have encountered more interesting examples. Why, I remember this one little boy who found one at a pizza place's old ballpit. At first, crossing a 30-year gap seemed pretty fun and livened up his routine, but then something else came along for the ride and it was not as fun anymore."
We made our way towards the elevator and as he pressed the call button he suddenly spoke up, answering the question we both knew I had before I even thought of it. "You were attacked after wandering the halls of the Gallery after closing hours. Fortunately I did not allow… let's just say them, to touch you. Unfortunately, their forms were too much for your mind to handle and you fell unconscious in my arms. So I had to take you here to recuperate."
I remembered the nightmare now, or what I thought was a nightmare. The feeling of wandering backrooms upon backrooms that never ended, the unseen things chasing me, nipping at my heels; now that I think of it… I also remembered him. He saved my hide.
I gave Mr. Bear a dirty look before blurting out, "wait, so you stripped me to my bare ass???" He nodded without really acknowledging my question. "My primary directive is to provide service, and so I did."
"Does 'providing service' give you the right to jack off while watching me sleep?"
"I possess neither the desire nor the ability to envision unclean thoughts about humans. Furthermore, seeing that I do not possess any genitals, I consider your outburst illogical and without merit for further consideration."
"So what are you exactly?? Some kind of robot???"
He turned his head towards me, his motion suddenly seeming more unnatural and forced. "I think the term that your world would use is animatronic. Clearly, however, I am a class far different from what your world would know."
As I let his words digest, the elevator dinged and opened. He continued staring at me and held the door open, signaling me to get in before he entered as well. He pressed one of the 19 floor buttons—for some reason the 16th floor was immediately followed by the 18th—and our elevator began to go downwards. I wasn't even upset, I was just in a daze. So many weird things have happened so far, yet on hindsight, the signs seemed so obvious. The way that he sat unmoving like a statue as asked me questions in his suite, not even uncrossing his legs for so long, how he never seemed to breathe or need to, the way everything he did seemed too perfect. The Runyonese way that he talked, the way he walked… was he also part of this hotel?
The discomfort of being stuck in an elevator with some Disneyland Terminator droid didn't last long, as we entered the grand lobby and he sauntered towards the reception, pausing to look at the windows and exits leading out. He gave a frown and as I followed his gaze, I saw that the windows and door were also fogged up white, leaving me unable to see anything outside the hotel. I had an idea what that meant and didn't like it.
Ignoring the "Back in 8 minutes" sign posted on the table, he pressed the buzzer once with a single tap, and was met with only static from the intercom. He froze, waiting for a few seconds more, then turned around. I followed and was surprised to see a small bellboy.
"Are we due for conjunction any time soon?" Mr. Bear asked.
The bellboy shook his head and then looked at me before opening his mouth to reveal he had no tongue.
"Well, this gentleman would like to be returned to his original timeline. Would that be doable via the normal channels?" The bellboy gave a shrug, which did not please Mr. Bear. He closed his eyes and gave a small sigh, or at least an imitation of one. "I see. Is the emergency exit still stable?" To my surprise, the bellboy now stared wide eyed in a split second burst of fear before he nodded and turned, beckoning us forward.
We followed and he pulled out a golden skeleton key from his pocket as he made his way towards a door at the end of the hall reading "PRIVATE." As he unlocked the door and removed the key, Mr. Bear had both hands on some kind of mechanical device, one hand holding it in his palm, the other carefully twisting the crown. Looking closely at it, I could see it was a pocketwatch, though not one like any I'd ever seen. Instead of 12 numbers, it bore the letters of the alphabet and a single arrow, which was pointing to various letters in turn, each time causing the appropriate slider to click once. Feeling satisfied, he snapped the watch shut and grabbed his cane, which somehow had managed to balance on its end unsupported and was now beginning to vibrate.
"Um… what are we doing?"
I thought I could hear the whirring in his mechanical skull as he processed the question. "There is a secret way out, but it is... quite exquisitely dangerous. It is the only way to open a gateway back home that will not instantly collapse before you get the chance to go back yourself."
He placed the watch against the door and it began to sink into the frame and disappear, wires streaming from it like golden worms, arranging themselves into enigmatic patterns. I felt a sting on my scalp and as I reflexively went to rub my head, I saw Mr. Bear dropping a few strands of hair—my hair—into the pearl knob atop his cane. The pearlescent texture dissolved into a transparent sphere with black clouds roiling within, forming all kinds of odd spiral shapes, like tiny black galaxies.
"Inside this building," he explained, "there is a floor where no elevator can go, where no stairway can reach. You probably already know what it is."
"Floor 17," I said, coming to a conclusion I knew was as ridiculous as everything that had come to this point. "It's closed to guests, isn't it?"
Mr. Bear nodded. "For good reason." He touched the pearl to the web of wires embedded into the door and the storming insides sent a jolt I could feel surrounding me and this hotel, as if the entire location had shifted by a foot.
"You have to understand, the artifacts I have activated enable that floor to be safely traversed, but only for a small window of time. Once we enter, there is no going back, and you must do exactly as I tell you. Obviously you know by now that this hotel is not what it looks like. Understand that the geometry of this hotel will begin to warp and deceive you. Passages may occasionally open and close, the layout may change unpredictably, and the denizens will try to target you for purposes you are much better off not knowing. You may see other people, but whatever you do, avert your eyes from them. They are the remnants of previous guests foolish enough to enter this floor unprotected. Once this door opens, we have precisely 314 seconds to locate room 1799 and use it to open the way back to your home. You cannot, CANNOT, allow anything to distract you, am I clear?" He held out his hand for me to grab.
I nodded apprehensively and took it, feeling the oddly soft and warm sensation of grasping a mannequin's hand. With his other hand, he tapped the pearl on the doorknob and it opened on its own.
"Time to go home, Tony."
I think I now know why Floor 17 is closed…
More accurately, I know why it was never finished.
The area we emerged into was definitely much different than the one we had started in, and smelled of decay and a bit of a coppery tinge I didn't want to think about. All of the partition walls were gutted, which meant that we had walked into an open area from what was presumably the stairwell. The support columns stood crumbling across the vicinity and I began to wonder how they could still hold the floors above. Rows of lone doors lined the area like silent guardians.
What really took me by surprise, however, was the windows. While the rest of the windows I had seen were all whited out in an impenetrable fog, these windows showed nothing but a black void. It would have been impossible to see anything if it weren't for a reddish light spreading throughout the floor. I gazed at its source and immediately felt a sense of déjà vu. There, off in the distance, was a gigantic plus sign, unfathomably large yet incomprehensibly far away, and it was glowing red as if it were hot metal.
I'd heard of this place. I'd seen the urban legend of this other world that was present when one typed in a specific sequence of buttons on the elevator. Could this be the same realm? I looked at Mr. Bear, relieved that our search would be relatively easy. Home was so close now! But his face wasn't smiling.
"Stay focused, Tony," came a low monotone voice that didn't seem to come out of his mouth, but rather from a speaker. "They know we are here and they do not appreciate trespassers."
"And what are they exactly?" I whispered.
"Things that occupy the space between worlds," came the reply. "Bad things. Far worse than what ambushed you at the gallery."
I nodded and began to hunt for clues while Mr. Bear stepped ahead of me. He did something with his hands and produced a soft white ball of light. He shined it in the direction of one of the columns and I could make out some graffiti marked in red, no doubt left by whatever construction workers were working here in order to remember how each room was supposed to be allotted.
<- 1726 - 1750 1701 - 1735 -> Probably a typo. Most likely the rooms to the right ranged from 1 to 25 while the rooms to the left ranged from 26 to 50. We turned left, counting the doors as we progressed.
1726 I could make out a low droning or rumbling noise as I continued following Mr. Bear, who now seemed to glide an inch off the ground, no doubt to traverse as quietly as possible. Whispers could be heard behind the empty doors, and my ears began to ring with some sensation of pressure.
1740 Giggles could now be heard, and small shadow-like figures peered out of impossibly small hiding places. I did my best not to acknowledge them and keep going, which was pretty hard itself. I began seeing double, which meant that either it was messing with my head, or worse…
1761 Carefully, we made our way when the ambience was drowned out by a metallic groaning noise, like a boulder being rolled. I felt myself losing my balance and clutched onto one of the door jambs to not fall over… only for my hand to hit wallpaper. I looked around and both of us were standing in a lightless hallway, carpet where the cracked concrete used to be. Mr. Bear had also frozen in place, holding an arm out to prevent me from getting past. "too soon, it's too soon," I heard him murmur. There was a sudden lurch forward and I felt myself falling, only for him to lash out and grab me by the scruff of my neck. A vase flew past us down the hall as if it had suddenly turned into a vertical shaft, and shattered against the far wall in front—er, below—us.
Mr. Bear grabbed my palm with his other hand and shoved me into one of the door frames, wedging me against the jamb, and the light on his hands turned blue. It was like watching a real-life Doctor Strange, as the sounds of clockwork ringed all around us, and the gravity began to shift back to normal. I jumped back down, my knees painfully hitting a wood floor, and I let out a yelp, and a hand was suddenly at my mouth. Mr. Bear lifted me against the wall just in time to hear a guttural growling from somewhere behind us. I turned to look and I still can't quite make heads or tails of that… thing…
It was a hulking translucent smoke-colored animal, though not entirely organic. I could best compare it to something that was part animal, part machine, part ghost, and all evil. It filled the area behind us and was sniffing the air with its doglike nose, which sat upon a black snout. It reminded me of Mr. Bear's own head, except this one was much more dilapidated and bigger. It had large puffy cheeks, exposed blackened gums, a squarish muzzle, and a wide mouth ringed with long, sharp teeth. Its claws ground against the concrete, leaving wide gouge marks as it tried to maneuver the cramped space.
I'd hoped that it hadn't noticed us, but something stout and metallic hit the floor with a loud clatter at my feet. The key to room 1799 had fallen out of my pocket, and Mr. Bear looked at me with an unfeeling mask that nonetheless conveyed disappointment. The creature's red eyes snapped in our direction before it let out another low growl, then it roared, its jaws distending as if its head were split open at the mouth.
The hulking wraith roared once again and charged at us on all fours with blinding speed, smashing doors and splintering frames like toothpicks, all while the area continued to fade and glitch out. I rolled aside and barely registered the sickening crunch as it collided headfirst into one of the stairwell columns. It backed up, shook its head and twisted backwards upon itself to continue chasing us. I looked at Mr. Bear, who was spinning his now-glowing cane like he was in color guard. He pointed the pearl end at the creature and a long plasma bolt shot out of the pearl like he was casting a fishing pole or a whip. The glowing tendril connected with the monster and it wailed in pain as the plasma bolt burned its upper body.
I took the opportunity to grab the key and hightail it towards finding the door to room 1799, praying to whoever god that was out there that there weren't any more of the monstrosities. The hallway began to flicker and shift between various styles and decor all at once, sometimes looking like a burned, dilapidated floor or a plain old Holiday Inn; one time, it even shifted into a roiling tunnel of screaming faces and arms that crunched underneath my feet as I kept on running and hurriedly scanning the door numbers. Roars and thundering crackles blasted through the air as Mr. Bear fought the thing off.
Rounding a corner, I nearly collided with something big and scrambled backwards away from a second monstrosity blocking the way. It was smaller than the first, but still dominated the hallway like Goliath. This one was in worse condition, its dirty golden segmented body covered with fuming purplish moldy tendrils, two silver eyes staring from its rotted, grinning face. The tattered remains of two long ears—one bent and deformed, the other a half-torn stump with wires sticking out—twitched upon its head like antennae as it regarded my puny self.
Its mouth opened up to reveal a screaming withered corpse staring back at me and it let out a breathy, hissing snarl before advancing. Thinking quickly, I got up, kicked down a door and emerged back in the gutted concrete shell we started in, the giant not far behind. I cut across, desperately trying to escape and hoping I didn't run into more of these things. I kept looking back and the giant was gaining on me, so I kept running.
Suddenly, I was knocked down with a mighty crash behind me and found myself being grabbed by the neck. I swung my fists at whatever had gotten a hold of me, only to be blocked by Mr. Bear's cane. His clothes were getting wrinkled, dusty, and disheveled from all that exertion, but beyond that, he didn't have a single scratch or tear on him. We stared at the destroyed area behind us and caught a glimpse of the bigger monster swiping the smaller one to the ground before clamping down on its head with its fangs and twisting it right off, cutting off its metallic squealing instantly. We hightailed it, trying to put some distance between us and that thing once it finished ripping its prey to pieces.
My heart was pounding as I raced ahead, key still clutched in my fists. I felt it begin to get hot and I looked at the doors ahead. 1789… 1790… 9 more doors and I was going to be home free! The whispering and voices I'd barely heard when we first got here turned into cacophonous jeering and screaming, threatening to overwhelm me before the monster did. With a newfound energy I sprinted forward, only to hear pounding footfalls and roaring close behind. NO! NOT NOW!! NOT WHEN I'M THIS CLOSE!!! I scanned my head left and right and that's when I saw it.
1799 I didn't know how, but I knew that if I got there before it did, it would be my ticket out of this hellhole. The screams reached their crescendo as if the nightmare had barreled through a panicking crowd, and I felt a flash of light as the thing roared in pain. Mr. Bear had slashed the thing in the face with his cane and the cut mark was glowing red hot as its head threatened to split wide open.
I won't ever forget Mr. Bear's final words as he held off the monster: "You know what to do! See you on the flipside!"
I jammed the key into the keyhole, praying inwardly that by some miracle this worked, and was unbearably relieved to hear the resounding click.
That's when everything fell silent.
The shadow beast Mr. Bear had been fighting squealed and turned tail into the darkness as the door to room 1799 began to glow white and produced a steady gust of wind that got stronger as the door glowed even brighter, blowing away the dust that had once settled in this decrepit place.. Mr. Bear reflexively held onto his hat while his cape and jacket billowed in the now-gale force wind and I found myself blinded by the light and buffeted by some force that was now beginning to pull me in. I didn't fight it, I just let myself merge into the light, become the portal. I did it. I was free from this nightmare, I—
I found myself standing in front of my apartment complex, not quite sure how I got there or why I was just standing there doing nothing. I checked my watch; shit, I was going to be late for work. Cursing, I dialed for an Uber and instructed him to go to the Ecliptic Gallery downtown. The driver got me there in good enough time and I clocked in to the back. My boss was ready to chew me out for tardiness but he must have seen how I looked because he simply pursed his lips, nodded, and motioned for me to get my butt in the back office, to which I obliged. I know that face. It's that face he makes whenever he has to deal with coworkers dealing with the Gallery's weird shit.
Life mostly returned to normal. I did my daily routines, followed the rules, and nothing strange happened to me. I almost began to dismiss this whole experience as some fever dream, hell, I'd almost completely forgotten after a few weeks.
Which brings me to now. It's amazing how a simple gift could so drastically upend everything you thought you knew about this world. How something so seemingly innocuous could make me tremble with anxiety, no longer able to lie to myself and think that everything is going well (when it isn't). I couldn't sleep for weeks after my boss handed me a padded package one day.
It contained a box. And inside that box was a golden key, engraved with a single, three-digit number:
260 If it were up to me, I would never set foot in that cursed place ever again.
But it isn't.
And next time, I need to be ready.
The Hotel Non Dormiunt truly lives up to its name. If you ever find yourself some place you aren't supposed to be, if you ever find yourself totally and hopelessly lost… if you see a hotel bearing those three words in the distance, give it a gander. If you're lucky enough to find a receptionist, ask for Mr. Bear in Room 260. Pray that he is there and that he's in the mood to guide you home.
It may be your only hope.
The 50,000 Contest