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Around The Campfire

Around The Campfire | From the Skirvin, With Love

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Dear Mr. Kupchak,

It is with my sincerest apologies that I send this letter. I have sent it to you—rather than Mr. Buss—because you see the players more often than he, and it is to them, of course, that my sympathies are directed. I will relay the story to you in full here—no doubt you’ve heard about it on the morning news, but I was with one Mr. World Peace for the entire night in which the bizarre events unfolded. I will omit no detail.

Allow me to begin.

It was after a team dinner, on the night of October the 29th—as you know—that Mr. World Peace returned to the Skirvin. It was quite an unseasonably warm night to be sure, but that did not persuade any members of your team, as far as I am aware, to experience the nightlife of our fair city. Indeed, it seemed as though our grand hotel’s reputation had insidiously wormed its way into the collective mindset of the players.

One, I am told, even opted to stay at an alternate hotel.

Under ordinary circumstances, I would deem this unnecessary. But as things stand, I fear I cannot fault him for his decision.

Mr. World Peace was one of the last to return to the lobby, and he lingered there for a bit beneath the high chandelier. That was where I first approached him, noticing that he was alone, and asked whether or not he was enjoying his stay, and if he would prefer me to lead him up to his room on the tenth floor myself.

But Mr. World Peace merely shook his head and mumbled something about needing a drink, so I escorted him to the hotel barroom.

The barroom was nearly empty, with just a single elderly man sitting by himself at a table against the wall. Mr. World Peace and I made our way to the bar and sat upon the leather-covered stools. A red-haired man in a dark pinstriped suit complete with striking red tie sidled over to us from behind the counter. He looked at Mr. World Peace and smiled.

“Good evening, sir,” he said pleasantly.

The backlit liquor cabinet glowed behind him effulgently, making his red hair even more striking in the otherwise dim lighting.

“Evening,” responded our guest gruffly. His hands were folded on the counter, and I noticed for the first time how large they were. And, for a basketball player, they were not even that rough.

“What can I get you?” asked the bartender.

“Budweiser, please,” said Mr. World Peace. He had a dazed sort of look on his face as his blue eyes gazed into the distance. He had been that way in the lobby, too.

Evidently, I was not the only one to notice.

“Something bothering you, sir?” asked the bartender as he placed a chilled bottle on the counter in front of Mr. World Peace.

But Mr. World Peace shook his head. “Nah. No.”

He lifted the Budweiser to his lips and took a long draught, his eyes closed for the better part of ten seconds.

I watched him.

When he finally put the bottle down, he said: “All right, so maybe there’s something. I’m staying on the tenth floor.”

The bartender smiled and nodded, sympathetically.

“Ah,” he said. “I see.”

Mr. World Peace shifted in his seat uncomfortably.

It was strange to see a man so chiseled and large rattled by rumours. He certainly did not look like one to be afraid of much. His jaw was set, and his grey suit bulged at the arms. And yet, if one looked long enough, one could see a flicker of fear in those blue eyes, vibrant as a gaslit flame.

“I’ve heard the stories,” said Mr. World Peace. “I know that this place is supposed to be haunted. And the tenth floor especially. Do you think it is, mister, uh …”

“Call me Ralph, sir,” said the bartender.

“Ralph. This place really haunted, Ralph?”

Ralph the bartender produced a surprisingly clean rag from beneath the counter and began to wipe away at any and all spots he could see. He looked thoughtful as he did so. After a moment of wiping, he replied.

“How about I tell you the story, and you can decide for yourself,” he said, glancing up at Mr. World Peace. “Because I’m obligated, as a hotel staff member, to tell you that this hotel is a fine one. And that is true, you know. You don’t find many other hotels with as much history and gravitas as this one. But I would be remiss to ignore your concerns.”

I stiffened but held my tongue. Ralph did not even look at me.

“Well,” Ralph began, “as I said, this hotel has history. It opened in nineteen-eleven, with two hundred and twenty-five guest rooms ready to be filled. Back then this place was owned by the founder, W. B. Skirvin, who was a bit of a rapscallion if I may say. Lots of rumours that he was a drinker and a womanizer.”

“Functioning alcoholic.”

It was the first time the elderly man at the table near us had spoken. I had almost forgotten he was there. He had grey wispy hair and thick glasses. He wore a black suit with a black tie and black leather shoes. A black cane leaned on the table beside him.

I squinted. Something about him seemed familiar, and something about him caused a sudden flare of anger in my chest.

Ralph squinted, too, as if he couldn’t see the man perfectly clearly.

“Right,” he said, slowly. “Functioning alcoholic. Sure. Anyway, Skirvin owned the place until nineteen forty-five. Now, the Skirvin originally only had ten floors. Didn’t go any higher until the additions were built between the first world war and nineteen-thirty. The tenth floor was notorious for troublemakers. It was supposed to be a place where salesmen would sell stuff like suits, but mostly it was just a space for gambling and, um—”

“Vice?” Mr. World Peace offered.

“Vice,” Ralph agreed. “Good word, sir. Now, there was this maid who serviced the tenth floor. Her name was—”

And then something bizarre occurred. It was as if someone had muted Ralph, as if he had suddenly lost his voice. I could see his lips moving, and it looked as if something should be coming out, but there was nothing. I strained to hear, as did Mr. World Peace, but Ralph merely coughed and said “Excuse me” and poured himself a tall glass of ice water.

After a few gulps, he went on: “So she serviced the tenth floor. Turns out, Skirvin had a thing for her. Like I said, he was a womanizer.”

At this, I thought I could hear grumbling from the old man.

Said Ralph the bartender, “But there was a problem. Skirvin was already with this other woman, and everyone knew it. She was his bookkeeper and assistant. Her name was Mabel Luty. So while Skirvin and Luty were together, he was messing around with the maid, too. And he got her pregnant—the maid, that is.”

At this, Mr. World Peace’s eyebrow raised.

Ralph went back to subconsciously cleaning the counter with his rag. “When Skirvin found out he got her pregnant, he locked her in a room on the tenth floor, where no one would notice her missing since she serviced it. Poor woman was stuck up there for ages until she finally had the baby. But she was driven insane by the idea that she would have to raise her kid under such circumstances, so she did the only thing she thought she could: she jumped.”

“Jumped?” echoed Mr. World Peace.

Ralph nodded. “Jumped. Like a goddamn skydiver without a ‘chute. Took the kid with her and everything.”

“Jesus,” breathed Mr. World Peace.

I sat still and said nothing, staring at the reflections in the bar counter. I knew the story, of course. I knew it just as well as Ralph.

“Yep. All happened around nineteen twenty-eight or so. That’s where the stories come from,” said Ralph. “And now we have people come stay here and say that they hear stuff in the night. Sounds, mostly. Always on the tenth floor. In the hallways. In rooms. A woman laughing. A baby crying.”

Now Mr. World Peace seemed exceedingly uncomfortable. He rubbed his temples and sighed, leaning forward onto the counter.

“I have a game tomorrow, man,” he said. “I can’t be worrying about this stuff. This is ridiculous.”

Ralph shrugged and offered a consolatory smile. “They are just rumours, after all. I’m sure nothing will happen to you tonight. Hey, I have an idea. Why don’t I send for an attendant to go up to your room with you?”

Mr. World Peace nodded, a bit of relief showing in his face. “I’d like that. Thanks.”

While Ralph was sending for the attendant, Mr. World Peace drained the last of his beverage and set the empty bottle back down on the counter. I noticed that there was a slight shake to his hand.

When Ralph returned, he had brought a young man with him, one of our most recent hires. He was strapping and tall, with brown eyes and brown hair and brown freckles. His bowtie was slightly askew.

“This is Kevin. He’ll go with you to your room. I do hope you enjoy your stay, sir,” said Ralph.

Mr. World Peace thanked the bartender and rose, following Kevin back towards the lobby. As we were leaving, Mr. World Peace turned to look back once more and I followed his gaze.

The elderly man was still sitting in the same place, silent and alone. He was watching us as we left.

When we were back in the brightly lit lobby, Kevin led us over to the elevator. It was late now and there was no one about save for the employee at the front desk. Kevin pressed the down arrow button to the right of the elevator doors and it lit green.

It was then that Mr. World Peace gave a panicked grunt of horror.

Both Kevin and I turned to him and asked what was the matter. But his blue eyes were locked onto something at the far end of the room, above a seating area meant for waiting guests. His finger was raised and his skin had paled somewhat. He looked as if he was trying to find the right words.

I turned to look.

What he was looking at was a painting. The painting was a portrait of an unsmiling elderly man. He had dark wispy hair that was beginning to grey at the edges. He wore a thick pair of glasses as well as a black suit, black tie, and black shoes. He was painted sitting in a large chair, and leaning against the chair beside him was a black cane.

“That’s W. B. Skirvin, our hotel’s founder,” said Kevin. “Are you all right, sir?”

The look on Mr. World Peace’s face was one of pure dread, but to his credit he swallowed  his fear and, after a moment, turned away from the image. He inhaled and exhaled a few times meditatively, and both Kevin and I waited patiently.

Admittedly, I felt that same anger resurface in my chest at the sight of the portrait, but I kept to myself.

After a few moments, Kevin said, “Tenth floor, was it?”

Mr. World Peace nodded and we stepped into the elevator, and then we rode up to the tenth floor.

The tenth floor hallway was long and empty. The floor was covered in a lavish crimson carpet, and as we stepped out onto it there seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary that could be considered bothersome to anyone. The hall was well lit, and about ten feet away stood a little table with a potted petunia upon it. Every once in a while there were pictures hanging from the walls. Thankfully, none of them were of W.B. Skirvin.

“Which room are you in?” Kevin asked.

“Room eight hundred and thirty-five,” Mr. World Peace replied.

We started down the empty hallway.

At first, nothing seemed to be amiss. While it was unusually quiet, there was almost a pleasantness to it—a lived-in feel. Indeed, I felt as though the floor was rather homey. The only thing that one could say felt unnatural was for how long the hallway stretched on. It felt as though we were walking forever, headed into something unknowable and distant, and to get there was almost an unreachable journey. We passed door after door, potted plant after potted plant, footsteps soundless on the crimson carpet.

And then a low hush began.

It was impossible to tell precisely which direction it was coming from. It sounded like someone had left a tap on, and water was rushing softly. It seemed to be coming from above us and below us, and definitely from beside us. As we walked, the susurrus became louder and more definitive, with a crackling, creaking quality becoming apparent.

“Voices,” muttered Mr. World Peace after a moment. “Those are voices. Do you hear them?”

Both Kevin and I nodded, though Kevin was more pale than I must have been.

He said, “These rooms down here … No one is supposed to be in them. They aren’t booked.”

Mr. World Peace slowed and paused. Then he moved over to the nearest door and pressed his ear to it, motioning for us to do the same. Slipping over to him, we turned our heads sideways against the door and listened.

The rushing water sound was much louder now, and definitely coming from this room, if not all of the rooms. But it was also, as I had noticed earlier, more definitive. Now so much so that I could understand what was going on. There were two voices, and they were speaking at the same time. Or, at least, one was speaking. The other seemed to be singing.

The first voice, the one that was speaking, was female, and was at the volume of a loud whimper. It was repeating itself.

It said, “Hush now, darling. Do not cry. Daddy is coming to take us away. Hush now, darling. Do not cry. Daddy is coming to take us away. Hush now, darling. Do not cry. Daddy is coming to take us away.”

The sound of a rocking chair creaked with movement.

The other voice, the one that was singing, sounded like that of a small child. But there was something amiss in the voice—there was no joy in the singing, no youthful optimism. Instead there was nothing, only monotone, and an achy tiredness.

It sang:

Alone on ten all dressed in blue,

Daddy don’t love me,

He’s left me forever, it’s true.

Daddy don’t love me,

And now your time has come, it’s due!

Daddy don’t love me—

I see you.

I glanced at the other two men. Mr. World Peace’s eyes were wide, but his was a controlled fear. Kevin, on the other hand, was shaking uncontrollably and his skin had turned the colour of expired milk.

Suddenly, all of the sounds inside the room ceased. Dead silence. I pressed my ear harder to the door.

“I see you.”

We all leapt backward simultaneously, retreating to the far wall. We did not say anything to one another, and we did not need to.

The whisper of the child had been so close that it had tickled my ears.

And now the hallway was quiet again, as if there had never been a disturbance.

We walked further down the hallway, not saying a single word to one another. Kevin led at a brisk pace—which was not hard for Mr. World Peace to match with his long strides—and presently we arrived at room eight hundred and thirty-five.

“Here you are, sir,” Kevin croaked. He sounded like someone had stepped on his windpipe. He tried, then, to look Mr. World Peace steadily in the eyes, though I could see the trembling in his lower lip. “I’m quite certain that was nothing of concern. Just someone who ended up in the wrong room, probably. I’ll let the front desk know. Good evening to you.”

And with that, Kevin departed, moving at a stiff but frantic pace back towards the elevator. Both Mr. World Peace and I watched him go, and we said nothing.

After the elevator doors closed, I turned to Mr. World Peace and asked him if he wished me to say the remainder of the night with him. I felt it was my duty as hotel manager, for what we had just heard would certainly have been enough to put anyone off of staying on the tenth floor.

He did not object, and so we entered the room together.

Mr. World Peace was staying in a single suite. It contained a king-sized bed, a black wooden dresser directly across from it that was topped with a forty-inch flatscreen television, and a comfortable-looking chair in the far corner that stood beside a large, curtained window. There was a closet to the left of the entrance, and just past the bed—on the left side—there was another door that led to a bathroom.

It looked completely ordinary. Cozy, even.

While Mr. World Peace got himself ready for bed in the bathroom, I fluffed an extra pillow and snuggled up on the chair in the corner. It would be easy to see everything from that spot, and so if anything strange were indeed to happen, I would be the first to identify it.

After a while, Mr. World Peace reappeared and crawled into bed. He rolled around for a few minutes, getting comfortable, and then reached out and shut off the bedside lamp. He rolled back over again, and was quiet.

All was dark.

I had thought to stay awake after the initial incident in the hallway, but it had had perhaps the opposite effect of what you might imagine. I felt excessively tired, and at some point—for I know not precisely when—I passed into slumber.

What woke me were two things. First, the chiming of the clock that hung upon the wall above me. It was one o’clock in the morning. Second, Mr. World Peace saying something aloud that sounded somewhere between groggy and panicked.

Then he spoke again, more alert this time: “What is that noise?”

I heard it then—it was coming from out in the hallway, but it was as if it were abnormally close to the suite’s door. The sound was high and humourless, echoing throughout the length of the hallway and hammering on the door. It was without mirth, and yet it rang on and on as though it could not stop itself. It continued to grow louder and louder, and soon I could see Mr. World Peace covering his head with his pillow.

“Make it stop,” he moaned.

The laughter of the child rang in my ears and, though muffled, sliced its way through the suite.

Getting to my feet, I approached the door. When I reached it, the laughter ceased, as if I had triggered its end. The silence was nearly as deafening as the laughter had just been.

“Is it done?” Mr. World Peace breathed into his pillow behind me.

I took a look through the peephole to see if I could spot the source of the disturbance.

A green eye stared back at me.

I started and took a few involuntary steps backward from the peephole. I could feel the surprise and dread rushing through me. A rarity.

I stepped forward and looked again.

Nothing. An empty hallway that appeared as unassuming as ever.

By the time I returned to the chair, Mr. World Peace was asleep again. I could hear his soft snores gently wafting about, and slowly things seemed to return to their basic ways. The eye in the peephole almost seemed a dream, and the sound of laughter was not to be heard.

I stayed awake for a bit longer this time, waiting and waiting. But nothing happened, and it seemed finally that we would survive the night without any further oddities. And so, once more, I allowed myself to cross into the dreamworld.

I do not remember what time it was when I awoke next. All I know is that the room was still dark, and that it was still night. I do not even know what it was exactly that woke me the second time, but whatever it was—whether it be natural instinct or unnatural—I wish it had left me to slumber on.

My eyes opened to Mr. World Peace, no longer alone in his bed. There was a figure on top of him, its back to me, leaning down over him as if kissing him. The figure was dressed all in silver, with silver hair and silver skin. Silver blood flowed from beneath its silver gown, dripping eldritch drops onto the comforter. The ghost-woman was transparent, and yet I could see all of it.

I shifted in my seat just slightly, and was able to see Mr. World Peace’s face for the first time.

I had been right. They were kissing. Sort of.

Mr. World Peace’s face was contorted and grotesque, mouth unhinged to a nearly impossible width. Wisps from the ghost-woman’s lips seeped into the chasm of his open mouth, and his eyes were rolled back so far in his head that only the whites were showing. He was motionless, though there was a weak, guttural groaning sound coming from him. His fingers were curled tightly into the sheets.

I tried to make a sound, but found that I could not. It was not for fear, but something else. It felt as though I were gagged. It tasted thick and gaseous.

I turned my head to the left. The face of a child stared back at me. One half of its face was completely normal—the face of a newborn infant—the other was bloody and decayed to the point that its cheek had partially melted away and I could see the tiny teeth that lay beneath. It had a smoky finger to its lips, and its pale eyes were glittering. Its other hand was shoved into my mouth.

“It’s time to let mommy and daddy play,” it said in an adult man’s voice.

From the corner of my eye, I could see the ghost-woman throw back her head in ecstasy. A too-wide smile that nearly split the child’s face grew before me, and I tried again to make sound but could only choke on whatever it was the child’s hand was made of.

I shut my eyes.

When I awoke, sunlight was pouring in the room from the window beside me. Mr. World Peace was gone, and I took a quick glance at the clock on the night table.

It was at this point that I realized I had slept in far too late, though you might forgive me due to the events I have just related to you. I turned on the morning news and saw Mr. World Peace’s ragged face, explaining to a reporter in hasty and blunt terms what had happened.

I then took to pen and paper to write you, Mr. Kupchak, directly, for I felt that an email would somehow be simply too formal. This is written by my hand, to you.

Again, I wish to personally apologize for the nightmarish events that your Mr. World Peace had to endure. They are all true, as he says. Or, at least, both of us were subject to the same eccentricities that inhabited the tenth floor, whether we were both hallucinating or not. I can, however, assure you that no real harm came to him last evening, and that our hotel staff has added additional security.  

I do hope that these events do not change your mind about having your team stay at the Skirvin whenever they are in Oklahoma City.

Yours,

E. Skirvin

Skirvin Hotel Manager

 


Mitch Kupchak looked up from the letter and rubbed his eyes. He exhaled through his nose and shook his head. His heart rate was beginning to return to normal now—it had been thumping as he read, he realized, and that bothered him.

The door to his office was open, and a tall man dressed in a purple and gold uniform passed by.

“Hey,” Kupchak called, but his voice was hoarse.

He got to his feet and hurried to the door, peeking around it. Metta World Peace was walking down the hallway—it looked as though he had just finished practice. He was sweaty all over and the fat number thirty-seven was sticking to his back like it was glued on.

“Hey, Metta,” he called again, louder and more purposeful this time. “I saw the stuff about the hotel on the news this morning.”

World Peace turned around, a bit surprised at first to see Kupchak standing there, and then he nodded.

“Yeah, man,” he said. “That place was freaky. You heard what that ghost did to me? Groped me. Touched me in the wrong places. No way I’m going back there. You’re gonna have to talk to Jim about it, or I’m just gonna pay for another hotel each time we go.”

Kupchak ran a hand through his grey-white hair. “I’ll have a talk with Jim about it. Listen, I just got the letter. Are you okay?”

“Letter? What letter?”

“The one from the manager of the hotel. They said they were with you the entire night.”

“I was alone all night.”

A silence fell between the two men.

Said World Peace, “Who sent the letter?”

“An E. Skirvin.”

World Peace’s face went pale. “She’s not the manager of the hotel. The guy at the hotel bar told me about her. She was the owner’s mistress—Effie was her name. She jumped off a tenth floor balcony with her kid.”

Kupchak could feel the fear building in his gut. It was amplified by the looked on World Peace’s face. It took him a moment, but the Lakers player was able to get out one last sentence—Kupchak had never seen him so afraid in all the years he’d known him.

“She’s been dead for eighty-eight years.”

Joshua is Editor-in-Chief at Press Basketball. His love of the sport started with watching a LeBron James game in 2003, and he quickly took a shine to his Canada-based Toronto Raptors. His NBA-related words have been found at Hoops Habit, NBA.com's HOOP magazine, and Raptors Republic. He loves words with a passion and is always writing. Joshua is a published author, poet, sportswriter, and film critic.

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