All the Spirits in the Place
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~
I always liked staying in a good hotel, even one that was falling apart and hadn’t seen a paying guest in fifty years. The Hotel Argyle was on the riverfront, in a cluster of other derelict buildings. It was twenty stories tall and could be seen from a long way off because the hotel name had been painted in huge letters on the side of the building. It stood as a symbol of urban blight. There’s nothing spirits love more than urban blight.
I walked into the lobby of the Argyle and was surprised to see a ghostly apparition at the registration desk. He seemed to be made of purple-and-green smoke. He gestured to the registration book and I knew what to do. It must have been somebody’s idea of a joke because spirits don’t use the names they had when they were alive. I made a little mark on the book. That seemed to satisfy him because he smiled his grotesque smile and gestured for me to take the stairs.
There were many vacancies at the Argyle. I would venture to guess that I could pick almost any room, on any floor, and it would be vacant. I went all the way to the top floor, the twentieth, and found the room I wanted at the end of the hall. It showed no signs of occupancy, so I took it as my own.
I was a tired old spook. I had traveled a long way to get here. I needed a rest, so I was happy for that reason that the hotel was quiet. The other spirits in residence were probably sleeping, since it was the middle of the day and the sun was shining brightly. If there’s anything a spirit hates, it’s bright sunlight.
I stared out the window at the skyline of the city for a while and then, hovering near the ceiling, I went into a trancelike state, which was as near as I ever came to sleeping. As long as I’m not disturbed, I can stay in this state for years at a time, but, of course, when you’re a spirit, a year means nothing. We think in terms of eternity. Time has no meaning.
In this trancelike state, I thought of—dreamed of—many things. I had been in the spirit world now for eighty years. I was only thirty-five when I crossed over. I had two wives when I was alive. I regret that I wasn’t very kind to either of them. I had a drinking problem. Luckily there were no children. I would have been a terrible father.
After my divorce, I had no job and no money, so I went back home to live with my mother. She and I never understood each other. We fought constantly. I should have known better, even if she didn’t. She nagged me about my drinking; she thought I could stop if I only tried. She wanted me to go to church with her the way I did as a child. She thought if I just read my Bible I’d be the kind of man God wanted me to be.
I got a part-time job driving a truck. I was never that keen on driving. I hated it. All my organs were pickled in alcohol. One hot July afternoon, my hundred-proof heart stopped when I was parked on a street downtown. I took off my shoes, put them side by side, laid down on the seat, and died. I knew I was dying and I didn’t care. I thought it was the best thing that could happen to me.
When I found myself in the spirit world, I was surprised there was any kind of existence after death. I thought it was punishment for all the bad things I had done. Everybody else went to heaven, I thought, but not me. That, of course, wasn’t true. The spirit world is teeming with spirits who never made it to heaven.
That night I met two of them. I was going out for a little city night life when I met them in the lobby of the hotel. I remembered them from before, a long time ago, in another incarnation. They went by the names Jocko and Howdy. They recognized me immediately and I them.
“We heard you were here,” Jocko said. “When did you get in?”
“A few days ago. I’ve been resting up in my room on the top floor.”
“We were just going out to do the town,” Howdy said. “Why don’t you join us for old time’s sake?”
“I’ll go if you promise not to scare me too much,” I said.
On our way downtown, Jocko, Howdy and I walked side by side, as if we were living instead of dead. Howdy made a show of knocking people out of the way but, of course, they didn’t know he was there because he was invisible to them and, also, they were solid and he wasn’t. It’s only fair to mention that we met a few other spirits, but they were mostly in haughty groups and didn’t pay any attention to us. Howdy would get into a brawl with some of them if he could. He was a brawler and a mischief-maker.
On the way downtown, I asked Jocko and Howdy if the Hotel Argyle was a good place for a spook to live.
“It’s dead most of the time,” Jocko said.
“What do you mean?”
“Not much action there, man,” Howdy said.
“It seems perfect to me,” I said. “An abandoned hotel on the riverfront of a major city. Doesn’t it abound with ghosts?”
“Yeah, but ghosts are boring if they’re not doing anything,” Jocko said.
“So, you’re saying the ghosts in the hotel are all retired?”
“Well, something like that.”
“Don’t they like to scare little girls? Make them scream?”
“Yeah, but that’s the point. There aren’t any little girls to scare. What’s the fun of having the ability to scare people if there aren’t any people to scare?”
“You have to find out where the people are and scare them where they live,” I said.
“The people who own the hotel should turn it into a haunted-house attraction for Halloween,” Jocko said. “A lot of people would pay good money to tour a vintage hotel full of real ghosts instead of fake ones.”
“The people who own the hotel are dead,” Howdy said.
“The city owns the hotel,” Jocko said. “They’re just waiting for the right time to bring in the wrecking balls.”
“If they tear it down, they’re going to put a lot of ghosts out of a home,” I said.
“Not so many. Most of the spirits moved on a long time ago. Only losers stay at the Argyle now.”
“I was just beginning to like the atmosphere,” I said. “I had to leave my last home because a vengeful witch started throwing fireballs and burned the place down.”
“You have to watch out for those fireball-throwing witches!” Howdy said.
“The best way to deal with them is to cut off their heads and then burn their bodies,” Jocko said. “You have to be sure to remember to burn their bodies because some of them can go on living without a head.”
“Here, now!” Howdy said. “Let’s stop talking about witches and have some fun!”
Howdy was one of those spirits who engage in mayhem. He caused two cars to collide and then doubled over with laughter. When I asked him how he did it, he said it was a secret he learned during the war.
“What war was that?” I asked, but he didn’t answer me.
We couldn’t go to a bar or a restaurant and sit at a table the way other fellows do, so we walked all over downtown. We went into a movie theatre and watched part of the movie that was playing.
“I don’t like this movie!” Jocko said after a while. He then caused the projection equipment to break down when the movie was halfway through.
“That’s the way it’s done,” he said, laughing hysterically.
We entered a library and did some moaning and then we pulled down some shelves of books. Pretty tame stuff, but spirits have to make their own kind of fun.
Next we went to a dance hall where men buy tickets and use them to dance with weary-looking dames. It was a sorry-looking spectacle. I don’t know which was worse, the men or the women. What fools these mortals be.
We stood apart from the crowd against the wall. Knowing we were watching him, Howdy made as if to cut in on certain dancing couples, but he only brushed up against the ladies. They could feel it, of course, but not see it, so they were confused about what was happening to them. Some of them thought somebody was playing a trick on them. Maybe some of them knew it was spirits, but I doubt if any of them were smart enough to figure that out.
After the dance hall, we went to the oldest and biggest cemetery in the city. There were some really old corpses there—Civil War and before. The place needed some livening up. We built a small fire and joined hands and danced around it. We moaned and sang and chanted. Soon we had a couple of dozen spirits gathered around. They were delighted we were there. They were happy to join in any kind of foolishness. They danced and sang and were happy.
Howdy, always the smooth operator, found himself a lady spirit. She was wearing a long, flowing white dress and a tiara on her head. She looked like a queen. She made eyes at Howdy, he made eyes at her, and then they joined hands and went off together into the darkness.
“How will we find him when it’s time to go?” I said to Jocko.
“Don’t worry about Howdy. He’ll make short work of her.”
We made merry in the cemetery until the first traces of dawn began to light up the eastern sky. Then the spirits reluctantly began to drift back to wherever they came from. Surprised that the night had passed so quickly, Jocko, Howdy, and I went back to the Argyle. It had been a most enjoyable evening.
We returned often to the cemetery, where we made some good friends. The spirits there were always happy to see us. We brought the good times with us. I had never had so much fun before.
I began spending all my evenings with Jocko and Howdy, resting in my room at the Argyle during the daylight hours. We took in all the attractions that the city had to offer. We spooked people left and right, sometimes causing them to doubt their own sanity. Howdy was a spirit who enjoyed mayhem, such as causing traffic lights to malfunction or streets to flood for no reason. Because we were with him, Jocko and I were more often than not willing to go along with him.
In the winter we had some excitement at the humdrum Argyle. A team of paranormal investigators set up shop in the old ballroom on the tenth floor. They were investigating the existence of life after death. It gave us all a good laugh.
All the spirits in the hotel were excited at the prospect of proving, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they had lived and that they went right on living after they died.
The psychic investigators (or ghost-hunters as they came to be called) had ultra-sensitive sound-recording equipment that would pick up the sound of a mouse breathing. They all left to go home at night but left their sound-recording equipment running to pick up every infinitesimal (ghostly) sound. In the mornings when they returned, they listened to what had been recorded during the night.
From the first night, all the spirits went to the ballroom with messages for the ghost-hunters. Some of them sang songs or recited poetry. Others laughed, moaned, or gave out with nonsense words of their own devising. Some of the spirits swore or made farting sounds. It was a lot of fun for everybody and a way to express our disdain for the living.
Regardless of what they said about the Argyle, I was beginning to like to and to think of it as home. And then something bad happened, and it wasn’t the wrecking balls, either. A fire started on one of the lower floors and soon spread to every floor. When all the spirits in the place realized what was happening, they all escaped out the windows. We all gathered outside and watched the place burn like a torch and collapse in on itself, all twenty stories. Whatever the cause of the fire, it saved the city a lot of trouble.
Jocko, Howdy and I bucked up the other spirits and urged them not to be downhearted. We had a plan.
We took them all, a procession of two hundred spirits or more (like a parade of the dead), to the cemetery, where we had been made to feel welcome before. All the spirits in the cemetery were delighted we had returned and had brought along lots of new friends. Everybody was welcome. The old cemetery had everything a spirit could want, and more.
Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp