The pool was closed. Drained empty and dry.
Jeremy knew this because every time he walked past, he checked. He undid the deadbolt and knob with the ring of keys that jangled from his waist and surveyed the empty room. The floaters were stacked against the far wall, the diving board removed, and nothing remained in the basin but moisture stains.
None of this explained how he could hear the sounds of people playing in the water from time to time.
Jeremy was never sure if it was only him. Thu, the laundry girl, refused to go down that hall, though this might have less to do with the pool than the deep pile of the carpet snagging her cart wheels.
The Virago had not been a bustling draw, even in her heyday before the stock market crash. No Virginia Rappe-like scandal within its Victorian doors, only a tradition of stockbroker’s children and minor socialites dropping by to view the ever-thinning herd of seasonal delights. Now self-help seminars rented out the ballroom and the cuspidor stood on its own little pedestal, placarded as any artifact should be.
Jeremy worked on his thesis at night and gave thanks daily that he wasn’t flipping burgers. The job was a job was a job. He couldn’t complain, hell, what was there to complain about?
He took a toolbox up to the fourth via the hallway.
Shouts. Squeals. A child begging wordlessly. A man’s voice: “up! Up! Up we go!”
The rattle of the keys. Jeremy popped his head in. Silence.
“Took you long enough,” Banks grumbled. Jeremy had to stand there while he finished the exact right crescent wrench from the box and closed the valve on the pipe shattered by a cover band’s third-rate antics. The pool room was quiet on the return journey.
Sometimes he felt like going into the pool. Just skimming off his clothes, laying in the empty basin and holding his breath. A wild fancy that never grew anything more substantial.
Jeremy wasn’t curious.
No, he was. A bit. It was hard not to be when the haunting was so insistent. He wouldn’t have to continue with his compulsive rituals if the room would just be quiet.
Jeremy bought a baby monitor and placed in the empty room. Forgotten, until weeks later Carthage brought it to the desk.
“Someone screwing around in there?”
The one in Jeremy’s bag hadn’t gone off once.
Working at a hotel carried its own brand of discretion. People wanted things when they wanted them, and it was up to you to provide them, short of a few measures. Discretion was less of a skill than it was a survival tool. Jeremy had to put out a few conversational feelers before he was satisfied he wouldn’t be sacked instantly for prying.
“So like…was someone murdered here?”
Carthage stopped wrenching at the pipe wheel. “Jeremy, I’m surprised at you! This is a four-star establishment. Of course someone’s died here. We might as well name the honeymoon suite heartattack hotel! But no, never in the pool. Apparently it was drained for maintenance and never reopened.”
“Well, a couple of reasons. I guess the biggest one was just that pools stopped being the in thing. Also, regrouting all that tile would be a bitch and a half. No, nothing sinister. Just inconvenient.”
Nothing sinister. That part made sense. It was never someone screaming or the eerie moaning of hell. It was laughing, shouting, the sounds of recreation. The sounds of leisure.
So what made it that way?
Banks caught him with his head against the door. “You feelin’ okay?”
Jeremy straightened up. “Fine, sir. Just thought I heard something.”
Banks snorted. “Great. Rats or ghosts? Neither we could use more of.” he thumbed the hall behind him. “The runner on three left a BM behind the TV, Rosa could use a hand.”
All rooms in the hotel had the same pageant of smells: bare feet, potpourri, bleach, and just a soupçon of shit.
Except the pool. The pool smelled damp. Though Jeremy put his hand to the cement, the tile, even the dry floaters, he never found any moisture.
“Nothing lasts forever,” Thu said, resting the neck of her beer on her lower lip, “everything is transient. This place used to be somewhere.”
“Now it’s nowhere?”
Thu ignored his smartass comment. “There used to be big parties here. High-rollers. Now we’re lucky if we get a few business men and some vacationing families. And in the future, who knows? It might become a palace again.”
Jeremy spun his bottle cap on the pavement. He sat on the box he was supposed to be breaking down. Thu stood, arms folded into herself, leaning against the building.
“Is that what you think is haunting us?” he heard himself asking, “the future? Or the past?”
Thu looked at him, smiling slightly. “Isn’t haunted a strong word?”
“What else would you call it?”
“You feel any cold spots? Doors slam shut on you?” Thu took a swig. “The only thing you’ve told me is you hear things sometimes.”
“That is the only thing,” Jeremy admitted.
“Well, have you ever considered the possibility that you’re completely bonkers?” she said jokingly. Thu lifted her body from the side of the building, rolling away from her hips upward. “If it gets one of those paranormal investigation shows here, have at it. Otherwise, why bother?”
Why bother. The phrase stuck with Jeremy the rest of the week. That was what this place felt like. Like it was between things and couldn’t be bothered to extract itself.
Sometimes he’d look down and find he’d written the exact sentence over and over.
Banks found him in the hall. “Slow this week, Jeremy.”
Jeremy couldn’t formulate a response, and so remained silent.
“Slow last week. Slow the whole month.” He sighed. “Might be cutting back staff soon.”
Jeremy nodded. Banks was gone before he could fully decide whether that upset him or not.
He entered the west hall. Laughing and splashing reverberated in a large, cement chamber. Jeremy removed his shoes and crept in his socks across the fleur-de-lis patterned rug. He dared to place his head to the wood of the door. The sound hushed, but did not stop.
A woman’s voice echoed through the door.
“What’s that, Violet? You seem to have come over a little queer all the sudden.”
“Oh, nothing. Only…I thought I heard something.”
“Really?” Laughter. “Oh, this old place is haunted to the core! One day they’ll have to close it on account of spooks.”
“Seems a shame. Such a lovely old place…”
“Are you coming back to the water?” splashes.
“In a moment.”
And the soft, almost imperceptible sound of someone, perhaps a woman, perhaps laying their head against the door from the other side. Listening.