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Room 286

About Sayanta Goswami

Sayanta Goswami is the author of several short stories including, You've Been Notified, published in the Spring 2019 issue of Remington Review, and 'Want to Hear a Story?,' published in the Spring 2019 issue of Verse of Silence. His works have also been featured on Juggernaut Books Writing Platform and The Kolkata Review. When not writing, he reads or watches movies.

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Prologue :

 

Ever since I was a writer, I dreamed of giving speeches, traveling to places, and living in luxurious hotels. As I stood now in front of the Hotel Empire, in Dr. Zakir Hussain Marg, New Delhi, I saw that dream come to life. And it was all because of my new book, Room 286; six months since publication and it still was on the Bestseller list.

 

Part 1

“Welcome to Hotel Empire, sir,” said the employee who opened the door for me. I came here to work on my next book. I nodded to the man, casting a glance out of the corner of my eyes. I was about to look away when a realization struck me.
“Have I seen you before? You look familiar,” I said.

The man – tall and handsome in his white shirt and black trousers – smiled. “That would be an honor, sir. But I don’t think so.”
I stared at him for one extra moment and proceeded to the reception. A girl in her early-twenties greeted me with a warm smile. A black LED TV hung on the wall behind her. I checked my watch to see it was 11 pm.
“Welcome, Mr. Chatterjee! We have your reservation.” She glanced at her computer, looked back up and handed me the key. “Room 286, sir. We’ll take care of your luggage.”
Where have I seen her?
“286? You guys have read the novel, haven’t you?” I asked, bemused.
“Who hasn’t? It’s our gift to you,” she smiled back.
I’ve heard that before, but where?
I took the key and walked across the lobby to the lift. Halfway up, a middle-aged man in a dark grey three-piece suit caught up with me.
“I’m Rajeev Awasthi, sir, the manager of the hotel,” he said.
Why the hell does everyone look like I’ve seen them before?
Once the pleasantries were over, he pointed to the laptop bag in my hand. “Let me call someone to carry that for you.”
“It’s okay. I can carry it myself, it’s just a laptop and a few notes and stuff,” I said. These were the things that were the closest to me. To hand them over to someone else – even for a matter of seconds – didn’t go well with me.
“I assume you’ll be staying a couple of days with us, sir?” He asked. I have never heard such an earnest tone before.
“Yeah,” I was too tired to make a conversation. It had been a long day! My headache was killing me. The only thing I wanted right now was sleep.
Mr. Awasthi pressed the button to open the elevator door. It opened with a soft ding sound. I walked inside and turned around to face him. “Alright, see you in the morning.”
“Hold the lift, please!” said a man before Mr. Awasthi could speak. He dashed into the elevator, almost colliding with Mr. Awasthi. A woman in her late-thirties followed the man. The door closed, leaving Mr. Awasthi too startled to say anything.

 

Part 2

“You’re Arpan Chatterjee, the writer!” exclaimed the man. I turned my head to look at him. He didn’t look like he could afford to stay in this hotel. The woman – probably his wife – curved her lips in a way that could be considered a meek smile, if one tried really hard. “I’m Subodh Bose and this is my wife, Kabita.”
“Which room are you staying in?” He asked again. Once I told him my room number, his excitement rose higher. “We’re on 285, how lucky!” He said and elbowed the woman beside him.
“Yes, we’re very lucky,” said the woman in a barely audible voice.
“You’re here for business or pleasure?” I asked out of courtesy.
“Pleasure . . . pleasure,” said Subodh. His wife gave an imperceptible nod. The way she stood, a little hunched forward, hands drawn close to her body, gave off the impression of an intimidated lady. Her eyes resembled those of a deer who just found out a tiger has her under his paw.
I know that body language, don’t I?
The lift arrived on the second floor. Subodh Bose stepped onto the corridor and turned back.
“Welcome,” he said to me extending his hands. I chuckled and came out of the elevator. The corridor was well-lit. Wooden doors adorned the walls on both sides. Subodh shook my hand and both of them disappeared into their room. I shifted my bag onto my left hand and inserted the key into the key slot. One swift turn and the door was unlocked. I pushed it open and jumped backward. A gasp escaped my throat.
There was a severed head lying on the floor in a pool of blood!

****

“What happened, Mr. Chatterjee?” Subodh was asking me. He had come out of his room, listening to my squeak. His wife peeked from behind the door.
“There is a . . .” I began to say but stopped midway as my eyes returned to the place where I had seen the head. The floor was empty! Not only the severed head was gone, but so was all the blood.
Subodh kept looking at me for a few seconds; as my expression changed from fear to disbelief, he spoke up. “Something scared you?”
“Huh? No, it’s nothing. I’m sorry,” I said. I must have been really tired. I looked around, scanning all the other closed doors. “Is there no one else on this floor?”
“No, it’s just us, and you.” He grinned, showing his yellowed teeth. “That’s the case for all the other floors as well.”
“Isn’t that a bit strange?”
“Not at all. It’s not the season. And not everyone travels to give speeches.”
I forced a smile. My head was throbbing with pain. After they went into their room once again, I entered mine. A bright white filled the room as I switched on the light. There was a king sized bed in the middle with blue linen spread neatly over it. A huge LED TV hung on the wall opposite the bed. On the farthest corner of the room, there was a moderately large writing table. A few things were placed on it. I walked closer. A bouquet of red roses lay on the middle, in front of it there was a set of moisturizers and lotions, a card, and an exact replica of the first edition of my book, Room 286. I smiled. I picked up the card first. There – in neat handwriting – someone had scribbled down the following:
To our favorite author,
Welcome to our hotel! It is our great honor to be able to serve you! We hope you enjoy your stay with us.
P.S. – The replica of your book is made of chocolate and is perfectly edible. Let us know how your creation tastes.

There was a smiley drawn at the end of it. My lips curved into a smile. I placed the card back on the table and picked up the replica. I took one small bite, still suspicious of its digestive status. It tasted delicious. Maa should know this. She will be delighted. I took out my mobile from my jeans pocket and dialled her number. After a moment of silence, a mechanical voice spoke up.
The number you’re trying to call belongs to another world! Please try later.

Part 3

I stood there, dumbfounded. Did I hear it wrong? I must have. How else could anyone explain that? I circled around the bed and sat on the edges. Putting the mobile on the bedside table, I went to the bathroom. I came out wearing a white t-shirt and black shorts and slid under the blanket. The winter in Delhi is harsh. Being from Kolkata I was not accustomed to such extreme cold. With the blanket up to my neck, I lied down on my back. My head continued to hurt. A couple of minutes ago, I would have gone into sleep instantaneously, but ever since seeing that severed head and hearing those words on the phone, it had eluded me.

 

I turned to my sides, returned to the previous position, crossed a hand over my eyes – but nothing made a difference. I turned my face to the bedside table and switched on the lamp. The bag with my laptop and notes lay on the table. I stared at them for a while and then decided to work instead of tossing and turning in bed.

I propped myself up on the pillows and reached for the leather bag. Opening it up, I took the laptop out. I waited a moment, tapping my fingers on the device, and put it back inside again. Instead, I took out a bunch of loose papers and a pencil. It was my habit to draw the characters before I set out to write anything. Seeing their physical features – the way their eyes look, the setting of their teeth – helped me establish a deeper connection with them. The hotel was completely silent, except for the sound of the lead rubbing on the paper. After what I thought to be an hour, I felt dizzy. I craned my neck to see the time on my wristwatch placed on the bedside table. It said 11 pm.

But how can that be? I came here at 11! And I drew alone for at least an hour.

I checked my mobile. It showed the exact same time. Ever since I came to this hotel, nothing seemed normal. Everyone had familiar faces, but I couldn’t figure out where I have seen them. I saw – or thought I saw – a severed head that disappeared, that voice on the phone, and now this! What the hell was happening! My head hurt even more from all the thinking. Deciding it would be best not to dwell on the issue, I put the papers on the table, placed the mobile and wristwatch over them and went to sleep.

Part 4

Father Father Father . . .
Father Father Father . . .

Voices woke me up. It took a moment for the haziness to wear off. I found myself sitting up on the bed. Soft rhythmic snoring came from the adjacent room, Someone was having a peaceful sleep. Other than that, I couldn’t hear a single sound. But I could swear I heard voices. It didn’t feel like a dream, it felt like they were calling me. Who were they? Why were they calling me Father?

I half-turned to the left to check the time. As I looked, I realized something was wrong. The wristwatch and the mobile were at their place, but the papers weren’t. I found them to be on the floor, someone had torn them apart into shreds and strewn them across the floor. On the wall – written with fresh blood – were three words.
YOU ARE OURS . . .

Someone was here! Someone broke into my room and did this. A chill ran down my spine. Jumping out of bed, I ran across the room to the door. I came out onto the lobby, went back inside the room again, and brought my mobile. I dialled Mr. Awasthi’s number. He picked it up on one ring.
“Any problems, sir?” He asked in a polite tone.
“Someone broke into my room and messed my stuff! Where the hell was your security?” I said in a tone that was way too loud for me.
“I’m coming,” he sounded calm and composed as ever. Within five minutes, I saw his overweight frame around the corner.
“What’s wrong, sir?” He asked. If he was worried about the break-in, his face didn’t show any signs of it.
“I woke up in the middle of the night and saw someone had torn my sketches apart and scattered them across the floor. Not only that, they wrote something on the walls; with blood.”
“Let’s go see them,” he said and motioned with his hand. Walking toward my room, I cast a glance to the one next to it. Even with all the noise, Subodh hadn’t opened his door yet.
Mr. Awasthi stopped in front of the door and bent down to check the locks. They didn’t look like they had been tampered with. He looked up at me with furrowed eyes for a second and averted his gaze. I cleared my throat. He pushed the door open and went inside. I followed hurriedly.
“Look to your right, on this wa –“ I pointed toward the wall but my hand stopped mid-air. The words were gone! There wasn’t a single drop of red in the bare white wall. It was like the way it was before. My eyes widened as my mouth fell open. The papers were stacked neatly, one over the other, on the bedside table. It looked like they hadn’t been moved after I put them there.
“There’s nothing,” Mr. Awasthi chuckled. He ran his right palm over his face. “Must be a nightmare.”
“I swear it was there. Someone wiped it clean, they must have!”
“You said there were papers all over the floor. I don’t see any either,” he said.
“Look, I’m not lying,” I said in a meek voice.
How could anyone clean the whole room in such a short span of time? I was gone for 5 minutes!
“I’m not saying you’re lying. All I’m saying is you had a bad dream.”
“It wasn’t a bad dream, damn it! They were even calling me,” I yelled.
“Who? And how did they break-in; the lock is intact?” He asked, raising his eyebrows. I shrugged.

“It can happen. You’re a writer. Sometimes when you get too close to a story, it can start to feel real.” I scoffed.

He was referring to my book that was written on the same subject. Now even a hotel manager is going to lecture me on a writer’s life! Along with this thought came another one.
11 pm . . .
It’s been 11 pm for so long, just like it was in the book!
A possibility – impossible yet plausible – dissected my mind in a lightning flash.

 

Part 5

Room 286 . . .
Familiar faces . . .
I felt my stomach turning into a hollow space. The drumming in my chest had become quite apparent. I swallowed, my Adam’s apple rising and falling.
“Anything wrong, sir?” Mr. Awasthi asked. In his voice, there was concern. But in his eyes, behind the veil of empathy, something else shimmered; it was the eyes of a serpent stalking its prey.
“No . . . nothing. I’m sorry to disturb you. Umm . . . I’m going to go sleep now,” I said, trying not to sound shaken. An unnamed fear was coiling around me.
“That would be my cue,” he said. He nodded at me and went out of the room. Once outside, he turned around. “What are those notes, if I may ask?”
“Something related to my next book.”
“You don’t need another book,” said Mr. Awasthi. All of a sudden, his face became stern, removing all the wrinkles. In his eyes, I saw a venomous gaze.
I forced a smile. While locking the door, I realized my hands were trembling. I waited for a couple more seconds, jumped back onto the bed, and took my laptop out from the bag. I destroy the sketches on papers when I’m done with a book, but I always keep scanned copies on my laptop as a memoir. I switched it on and tapped my fingers on my thighs as the machine readied itself to use. I opened the folder named Room 286. I opened the sub-folder Characters. All the characters of the book stared back at me from the screen.
No no no . . .
This can’t be happening . . .

These were the same faces I had been seeing for the past few hours. Hours that stopped at a single moment; 11 pm. I tried to grasp what was happening to me and failed. All the characters of my book had come to life and the novel is playing itself out, except this time I wasn’t the author, I had become the protagonist. How could something this bizarre happen to someone? How do I get out of this? Will the ending be the same as the book?

“I have to leave,” I whispered to myself. Breathing out through my mouth, I closed the laptop. In a matter of moments, I was ready to leave the room. I came out of the room with the leather bag in my right hand, not bothering to close the door behind me.
“Going somewhere?” A voice asked. I gasped. Turning around, I saw it was Subodh, another character from my novel I had failed to recognize until now.
“Yeah. I have an emergency, I need to go,” I said and started walking toward the lift. He called out from behind. I didn’t look back. Instead, I upped the pace of my walking. Once in front of the lift, I turned my head to see him coming toward me. I pressed the button to call the lift. Nothing happened. He was coming closer. I ran toward the stairs, turning to see one more time. He stopped at the lift and stared at me. Along with the evil, there was unimaginable grief in his eyes as though he was sad to watch me go!

Part 6

The girl – the one from my book – was still sitting on the reception. I hurried across the lobby toward her. She was startled a bit to see me come all dressed up and ready to go.
“I need to check-out,” I said without a delay. Her eyebrows furrowed, forming a crease on her forehead.
“Why would you do that?” She asked. She now sat upright, letting go of her relaxed gesture.
“I have a family emergency.”
She glared at me. Her eyes were fuming with anger. Looking into them, I ran toward the exit. I could see the door in front of me. A few more steps and I would be out into the real world, free from this horrible illusion. I sprinted. My fingertips touched the glass door when someone grabbed me from behind. I looked down to see strong, ice-cold hands wrapped around my stomach. I struggled under the hold but couldn’t make myself free. I felt a cold breath on my left shoulder. Turning my head, I saw it was the man who opened the gate for me.
“This can’t be true. You’re not REAL,” I cried out.
“Why can’t we be . . . Father?” I heard footsteps and moments later saw the figure of Mr. Awasthi emerging into the lobby in his slow and lazy steps; just as I had written him in the book.
“Because you’re my characters. You live in my imagination,” I said. I felt helpless, being in this bizarre situation.
“And if you believe in your imagination, it becomes your reality. You wrote that in the book, right? And you did, Father. You believed in us, that’s why we’re here.”
“No,” I said in a shaking voice.
“Yes. Your belief made us real. But we were incomplete without our creator; without you, Father. Well, we wouldn’t be anymore.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Be with your children. Join us. Become our own, Father,” he said and extended his hands on both sides. He turned his head to the left and faced the receptionist. “Bring it.”

Bring what?
The girl lowered down, I heard a clang sound. The man holding me pulled me up by my arms. Mr. Awasthi turned to us.
“Careful! He’s our father,” he said. The girl stood back up and held something shiny on her hand. My blood froze as I saw it was a knife. She wrapped her fingers around the black grip and gave it to Mr. Awasthi. He walked toward me, a cruel joy shining in his eyes.
He ran his index finger along the edge. Demonic laughter escaped his throat and filled the entire lobby. “I’m sorry! It’ll hurt, but only for a little while.”
I struggled in the arms of the man; my feet stomping, my body wriggling, trying to escape, but his grip was too strong for me. Mr. Awasthi came closer. I could now feel his breath on my face, it was cold as ice. The knife went high up the air and cut back through it. He drove the metal through my heart but it didn’t hurt. I saw his expressions change from satisfaction to bewilderment. Looking down, I could only see the black grip. The entire metal had gone into my heart but there was no blood. I didn’t feel any pain either. The LED TV over the reception came alive at this point, as though someone had jerked it to life with an invisible remote. A news channel flashed the breaking news.

Famous author Arpan Chatterjee died tonight at about 11 pm when his car was hit by a truck. The head-on collision killed the author almost instantaneously. The driver has been seriously injured and taken to the Delhi AIIMS. Police have arrived at the scene. The truck is nowhere to be seen.
Another demonic laughter rang through the entire lobby, except this time, it was mine.

Ever since I was a writer, I dreamed of giving speeches, traveling to places, and living in luxurious hotels. As I stood now in front of the Hotel Empire, in Dr. Zakir Hussain Marg, New Delhi, I saw that dream come to life. And it was all because of my new book, Room 286; six months since publication and it still was on the Bestseller list.

“Welcome to Hotel Empire, sir,” said the employee who opened the door for me. I came here to work on my next book. I nodded to the man, casting a glance out of the corner of my eyes. I was about to look away when a realization struck me.
“Have I seen you before? You look familiar,” I said.

The man – tall and handsome in his white shirt and black trousers – smiled. “That would be an honor, sir. But I don’t think so.”
I stared at him for one extra moment and proceeded to the reception. A girl in her early-twenties greeted me with a warm smile. A black LED TV hung on the wall behind her. I checked my watch to see it was 11 pm.
“Welcome, Mr. Chatterjee! We have your reservation.” She glanced at her computer, looked back up and handed me the key. “Room 286, sir. We’ll take care of your luggage.”
Where have I seen her?
“286? You guys have read the novel, haven’t you?” I asked, bemused.
“Who hasn’t? It’s our gift to you,” she smiled back.
I’ve heard that before, but where?
I took the key and walked across the lobby to the lift. Halfway up, a middle-aged man in a dark grey three-piece suit caught up with me.
“I’m Rajeev Awasthi, sir, the manager of the hotel,” he said.
Why the hell does everyone look like I’ve seen them before?
Once the pleasantries were over, he pointed to the laptop bag in my hand. “Let me call someone to carry that for you.”
“It’s okay. I can carry it myself, it’s just a laptop and a few notes and stuff,” I said. These were the things that were the closest to me. To hand them over to someone else – even for a matter of seconds – didn’t go well with me.
“I assume you’ll be staying a couple of days with us, sir?” He asked. I have never heard such an earnest tone before.
“Yeah,” I was too tired to make a conversation. It had been a long day! My headache was killing me. The only thing I wanted right now was sleep.
Mr. Awasthi pressed the button to open the elevator door. It opened with a soft ding sound. I walked inside and turned around to face him. “Alright, see you in the morning.”
“Hold the lift, please!” said a man before Mr. Awasthi could speak. He dashed into the elevator, almost colliding with Mr. Awasthi. A woman in her late-thirties followed the man. The door closed, leaving Mr. Awasthi too startled to say anything.

“You’re Arpan Chatterjee, the writer!” exclaimed the man. I turned my head to look at him. He didn’t look like he could afford to stay in this hotel. The woman – probably his wife – curved her lips in a way that could be considered a meek smile, if one tried really hard. “I’m Subodh Bose and this is my wife, Kabita.”
“Which room are you staying in?” He asked again. Once I told him my room number, his excitement rose higher. “We’re on 285, how lucky!” He said and elbowed the woman beside him.
“Yes, we’re very lucky,” said the woman in a barely audible voice.
“You’re here for business or pleasure?” I asked out of courtesy.
“Pleasure . . . pleasure,” said Subodh. His wife gave an imperceptible nod. The way she stood, a little hunched forward, hands drawn close to her body, gave off the impression of an intimidated lady. Her eyes resembled those of a deer who just found out a tiger has her under his paw.
I know that body language, don’t I?
The lift arrived on the second floor. Subodh Bose stepped onto the corridor and turned back.
“Welcome,” he said to me extending his hands. I chuckled and came out of the elevator. The corridor was well-lit. Wooden doors adorned the walls on both sides. Subodh shook my hand and both of them disappeared into their room. I shifted my bag onto my left hand and inserted the key into the key slot. One swift turn and the door was unlocked. I pushed it open and jumped backward. A gasp escaped my throat.
There was a severed head lying on the floor in a pool of blood!

****

“What happened, Mr. Chatterjee?” Subodh was asking me. He had come out of his room, listening to my squeak. His wife peeked from behind the door.
“There is a . . .” I began to say but stopped midway as my eyes returned to the place where I had seen the head. The floor was empty! Not only the severed head was gone, but so was all the blood.
Subodh kept looking at me for a few seconds; as my expression changed from fear to disbelief, he spoke up. “Something scared you?”
“Huh? No, it’s nothing. I’m sorry,” I said. I must have been really tired. I looked around, scanning all the other closed doors. “Is there no one else on this floor?”
“No, it’s just us, and you.” He grinned, showing his yellowed teeth. “That’s the case for all the other floors as well.”
“Isn’t that a bit strange?”
“Not at all. It’s not the season. And not everyone travels to give speeches.”
I forced a smile. My head was throbbing with pain. After they went into their room once again, I entered mine. A bright white filled the room as I switched on the light. There was a king sized bed in the middle with blue linen spread neatly over it. A huge LED TV hung on the wall opposite the bed. On the farthest corner of the room, there was a moderately large writing table. A few things were placed on it. I walked closer. A bouquet of red roses lay on the middle, in front of it there was a set of moisturizers and lotions, a card, and an exact replica of the first edition of my book, Room 286. I smiled. I picked up the card first. There – in neat handwriting – someone had scribbled down the following:
To our favorite author,
Welcome to our hotel! It is our great honor to be able to serve you! We hope you enjoy your stay with us.
P.S. – The replica of your book is made of chocolate and is perfectly edible. Let us know how your creation tastes.

There was a smiley drawn at the end of it. My lips curved into a smile. I placed the card back on the table and picked up the replica. I took one small bite, still suspicious of its digestive status. It tasted delicious. Maa should know this. She will be delighted. I took out my mobile from my jeans pocket and dialled her number. After a moment of silence, a mechanical voice spoke up.
The number you’re trying to call belongs to another world! Please try later.

To Be Continued in Part 3…

I stood there, dumbfounded. Did I hear it wrong? I must have. How else could anyone explain that? I circled around the bed and sat on the edges. Putting the mobile on the bedside table, I went to the bathroom. I came out wearing a white t-shirt and black shorts and slid under the blanket. The winter in Delhi is harsh. Being from Kolkata I was not accustomed to such extreme cold. With the blanket up to my neck, I lied down on my back. My head continued to hurt. A couple of minutes ago, I would have gone into sleep instantaneously, but ever since seeing that severed head and hearing those words on the phone, it had eluded me.

I turned to my sides, returned to the previous position, crossed a hand over my eyes – but nothing made a difference. I turned my face to the bedside table and switched on the lamp. The bag with my laptop and notes lay on the table. I stared at them for a while and then decided to work instead of tossing and turning in bed.

I propped myself up on the pillows and reached for the leather bag. Opening it up, I took the laptop out. I waited a moment, tapping my fingers on the device, and put it back inside again. Instead, I took out a bunch of loose papers and a pencil. It was my habit to draw the characters before I set out to write anything. Seeing their physical features – the way their eyes look, the setting of their teeth – helped me establish a deeper connection with them. The hotel was completely silent, except for the sound of the lead rubbing on the paper. After what I thought to be an hour, I felt dizzy. I craned my neck to see the time on my wristwatch placed on the bedside table. It said 11 pm.

But how can that be? I came here at 11! And I drew alone for at least an hour.

I checked my mobile. It showed the exact same time. Ever since I came to this hotel, nothing seemed normal. Everyone had familiar faces, but I couldn’t figure out where I have seen them. I saw – or thought I saw – a severed head that disappeared, that voice on the phone, and now this! What the hell was happening! My head hurt even more from all the thinking. Deciding it would be best not to dwell on the issue, I put the papers on the table, placed the mobile and wristwatch over them and went to sleep.

To Be Continued in part 4….

Father Father Father . . .
Father Father Father . . .

Voices woke me up. It took a moment for the haziness to wear off. I found myself sitting up on the bed. Soft rhythmic snoring came from the adjacent room, Someone was having a peaceful sleep. Other than that, I couldn’t hear a single sound. But I could swear I heard voices. It didn’t feel like a dream, it felt like they were calling me. Who were they? Why were they calling me Father?

I half-turned to the left to check the time. As I looked, I realized something was wrong. The wristwatch and the mobile were at their place, but the papers weren’t. I found them to be on the floor, someone had torn them apart into shreds and strewn them across the floor. On the wall – written with fresh blood – were three words.
YOU ARE OURS . . .

Someone was here! Someone broke into my room and did this. A chill ran down my spine. Jumping out of bed, I ran across the room to the door. I came out onto the lobby, went back inside the room again, and brought my mobile. I dialled Mr. Awasthi’s number. He picked it up on one ring.
“Any problems, sir?” He asked in a polite tone.
“Someone broke into my room and messed my stuff! Where the hell was your security?” I said in a tone that was way too loud for me.
“I’m coming,” he sounded calm and composed as ever. Within five minutes, I saw his overweight frame around the corner.
“What’s wrong, sir?” He asked. If he was worried about the break-in, his face didn’t show any signs of it.
“I woke up in the middle of the night and saw someone had torn my sketches apart and scattered them across the floor. Not only that, they wrote something on the walls; with blood.”
“Let’s go see them,” he said and motioned with his hand. Walking toward my room, I cast a glance to the one next to it. Even with all the noise, Subodh hadn’t opened his door yet.
Mr. Awasthi stopped in front of the door and bent down to check the locks. They didn’t look like they had been tampered with. He looked up at me with furrowed eyes for a second and averted his gaze. I cleared my throat. He pushed the door open and went inside. I followed hurriedly.
“Look to your right, on this wa –“ I pointed toward the wall but my hand stopped mid-air. The words were gone! There wasn’t a single drop of red in the bare white wall. It was like the way it was before. My eyes widened as my mouth fell open. The papers were stacked neatly, one over the other, on the bedside table. It looked like they hadn’t been moved after I put them there.
“There’s nothing,” Mr. Awasthi chuckled. He ran his right palm over his face. “Must be a nightmare.”
“I swear it was there. Someone wiped it clean, they must have!”
“You said there were papers all over the floor. I don’t see any either,” he said.
“Look, I’m not lying,” I said in a meek voice.
How could anyone clean the whole room in such a short span of time? I was gone for 5 minutes!
“I’m not saying you’re lying. All I’m saying is you had a bad dream.”
“It wasn’t a bad dream, damn it! They were even calling me,” I yelled.
“Who? And how did they break-in; the lock is intact?” He asked, raising his eyebrows. I shrugged.

“It can happen. You’re a writer. Sometimes when you get too close to a story, it can start to feel real.” I scoffed.

He was referring to my book that was written on the same subject. Now even a hotel manager is going to lecture me on a writer’s life! Along with this thought came another one.
11 pm . . .
It’s been 11 pm for so long, just like it was in the book!
A possibility – impossible yet plausible – dissected my mind in a lightning flash.

To Be Continued in Part 5…

Room 286 . . .
Familiar faces . . .
I felt my stomach turning into a hollow space. The drumming in my chest had become quite apparent. I swallowed, my Adam’s apple rising and falling.
“Anything wrong, sir?” Mr. Awasthi asked. In his voice, there was concern. But in his eyes, behind the veil of empathy, something else shimmered; it was the eyes of a serpent stalking its prey.
“No . . . nothing. I’m sorry to disturb you. Umm . . . I’m going to go sleep now,” I said, trying not to sound shaken. An unnamed fear was coiling around me.
“That would be my cue,” he said. He nodded at me and went out of the room. Once outside, he turned around. “What are those notes, if I may ask?”
“Something related to my next book.”
“You don’t need another book,” said Mr. Awasthi. All of a sudden, his face became stern, removing all the wrinkles. In his eyes, I saw a venomous gaze.
I forced a smile. While locking the door, I realized my hands were trembling. I waited for a couple more seconds, jumped back onto the bed, and took my laptop out from the bag. I destroy the sketches on papers when I’m done with a book, but I always keep scanned copies on my laptop as a memoir. I switched it on and tapped my fingers on my thighs as the machine readied itself to use. I opened the folder named Room 286. I opened the sub-folder Characters. All the characters of the book stared back at me from the screen.
No no no . . .
This can’t be happening . . .

These were the same faces I had been seeing for the past few hours. Hours that stopped at a single moment; 11 pm. I tried to grasp what was happening to me and failed. All the characters of my book had come to life and the novel is playing itself out, except this time I wasn’t the author, I had become the protagonist. How could something this bizarre happen to someone? How do I get out of this? Will the ending be the same as the book?

“I have to leave,” I whispered to myself. Breathing out through my mouth, I closed the laptop. In a matter of moments, I was ready to leave the room. I came out of the room with the leather bag in my right hand, not bothering to close the door behind me.
“Going somewhere?” A voice asked. I gasped. Turning around, I saw it was Subodh, another character from my novel I had failed to recognize until now.
“Yeah. I have an emergency, I need to go,” I said and started walking toward the lift. He called out from behind. I didn’t look back. Instead, I upped the pace of my walking. Once in front of the lift, I turned my head to see him coming toward me. I pressed the button to call the lift. Nothing happened. He was coming closer. I ran toward the stairs, turning to see one more time. He stopped at the lift and stared at me. Along with the evil, there was unimaginable grief in his eyes as though he was sad to watch me go!

To  Be Continued in Part 6…

The girl – the one from my book – was still sitting on the reception. I hurried across the lobby toward her. She was startled a bit to see me come all dressed up and ready to go.
“I need to check-out,” I said without a delay. Her eyebrows furrowed, forming a crease on her forehead.
“Why would you do that?” She asked. She now sat upright, letting go of her relaxed gesture.
“I have a family emergency.”
She glared at me. Her eyes were fuming with anger. Looking into them, I ran toward the exit. I could see the door in front of me. A few more steps and I would be out into the real world, free from this horrible illusion. I sprinted. My fingertips touched the glass door when someone grabbed me from behind. I looked down to see strong, ice-cold hands wrapped around my stomach. I struggled under the hold but couldn’t make myself free. I felt a cold breath on my left shoulder. Turning my head, I saw it was the man who opened the gate for me.
“This can’t be true. You’re not REAL,” I cried out.
“Why can’t we be . . . Father?” I heard footsteps and moments later saw the figure of Mr. Awasthi emerging into the lobby in his slow and lazy steps; just as I had written him in the book.
“Because you’re my characters. You live in my imagination,” I said. I felt helpless, being in this bizarre situation.
“And if you believe in your imagination, it becomes your reality. You wrote that in the book, right? And you did, Father. You believed in us, that’s why we’re here.”
“No,” I said in a shaking voice.
“Yes. Your belief made us real. But we were incomplete without our creator; without you, Father. Well, we wouldn’t be anymore.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Be with your children. Join us. Become our own, Father,” he said and extended his hands on both sides. He turned his head to the left and faced the receptionist. “Bring it.”

Bring what?
The girl lowered down, I heard a clang sound. The man holding me pulled me up by my arms. Mr. Awasthi turned to us.
“Careful! He’s our father,” he said. The girl stood back up and held something shiny on her hand. My blood froze as I saw it was a knife. She wrapped her fingers around the black grip and gave it to Mr. Awasthi. He walked toward me, a cruel joy shining in his eyes.
He ran his index finger along the edge. Demonic laughter escaped his throat and filled the entire lobby. “I’m sorry! It’ll hurt, but only for a little while.”
I struggled in the arms of the man; my feet stomping, my body wriggling, trying to escape, but his grip was too strong for me. Mr. Awasthi came closer. I could now feel his breath on my face, it was cold as ice. The knife went high up the air and cut back through it. He drove the metal through my heart but it didn’t hurt. I saw his expressions change from satisfaction to bewilderment. Looking down, I could only see the black grip. The entire metal had gone into my heart but there was no blood. I didn’t feel any pain either. The LED TV over the reception came alive at this point, as though someone had jerked it to life with an invisible remote. A news channel flashed the breaking news.

Famous author Arpan Chatterjee died tonight at about 11 pm when his car was hit by a truck. The head-on collision killed the author almost instantaneously. The driver has been seriously injured and taken to the Delhi AIIMS. Police have arrived at the scene. The truck is nowhere to be seen.
Another demonic laughter rang through the entire lobby, except this time, it was mine.

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