On February 2nd, 2016, I was paralyzed in the middle of the night. Frantically, I stretched my arms out toward my fiancé; trying to grab him, poke him to get his attention, slap his elbow – do anything so he could open his eyes and help me. But he didn’t.
This is the story of the two nights I spent in the Hawthorne Hotel.
It was the last week in January when the two of us, due to our dedication to sticking to our New Year’s Resolution of having more adventures, decided to take an impulsive road trip to Salem, Massachusetts. Neither of us had visited before, but we had heard about the ominous tone of the city. The irony is that we weren’t afraid…yet. It was about a five and a half hour drive to get to Salem. We had been driving nearly all day, laughing, cracking jokes, complaining that every time our GPS said we had only ten more minutes to travel down the interstate, it would tell us we had another 180 minutes to go. We watched the naked trees in Connecticut as they tried to bloom, how the roads twisted over stretches of beautiful acres, how brash New Yorkers’ honked their horns as we traveled through the tunnel.
And then we got to Salem around 9 o’clock at night. The town, as soon as you drive into it, is old and brimming with history. Yet, there’s this overwhelming sense of dread as soon as you make your way farther into town. It’s an eerie silence, like the town is a shell of its horrid history. The Hawthorne Hotel beamed like a fluorescent bulb down a dark, hardly busy street. It stood a few floors high, with rich artwork etched on its sides. A green awning spoke of olden days of wealth and fortitude, but something sent a chill down my spine as I gazed up at the fourth floor window from the back of the building; a feeling, I’d come to find out later that very night.
When we walked into the hotel, it reeked of old Hollywood glam. The bouquets towered in the center of the lobby. The musky smell of the carpets was a familiar fragrant of your great aunt’s living room; it was the kind of smell that made you understand there was history within these walls. The ballroom was empty, with musicians’ instruments sitting, begging to be played. They handed us our keys, and we walked toward the elevator, putrid with the smell of an alarming backstory; there was an overwhelming muskiness, as if there was a man standing in there beside us as we took our trip three floors up.
When we got off the elevator, the entire floor was quiet. I’m not talking a peaceful quiet – I’m talking dead silent – like we were the only two living souls wandering down the twisted halls, covered in floral wallpaper and floral carpet, expecting twin girls to be standing at the edge of it. Our room was quaint – images of sailboats fighting the angry sea were placed atop the walls; the bed was soft, covered in a floral pattern I’d grow to despise. The furniture was old, and the bathroom ceiling was cracked. The room was not a room at the Hilton – it wasn’t going for the effect of luxury, it was going for the effect of history. That room – our room – it had a story to tell.
And it was going to.
When we placed our bags down, we hurried downstairs to grab some dinner. We walked down the silent streets of Salem, sticking our faces onto the glass of witchcraft shops and psychics, and we wondered if the town was so eerily reserved because it was their off season; perhaps people didn’t really live here as much as they visited when all Hallows Eve came to light.
When we got back to the hotel, we asked one of the staff how many people were staying in the hotel that night. “Three,” he replied. “Let’s see, there’s one on the first floor, and two on the third floor.” My fiancé and I were on the third floor of the hotel; we were safe. “You guys are on the third floor, that’s good – that’s not where the hauntings happen.”
We exchanged glances and looked toward the staff member, begging him to explain. “There have been reports of a woman roaming the halls of the fourth floor. There’s also been rumors of water turning on and off in the middle of the night and a little boy’s laughter.”
He said these things so casually, like they were normal – like they were something not to be afraid of. “But, as I said,” he started, “those reports are on the fourth floor only. You’re good.”
We got back to the room, and laid down in bed, flipping on the television that had a handful of channels, some of which didn’t even come in clearly. Around 11:30 we had finally fallen asleep. I had kept waking up because of how cold it was in the room. I’d hoist the covers higher on my chin, feeling the cold chill of ….something freeze my body. I’d duck in closer to my fiancé’s arms, rest my head on his chest. He was out cold – nothing was waking him – and nothing would wake him as I was about to discover.
At 2:39am, I was startled awake. I felt this heaviness in the room – this feeling that made all the hairs on your arms stand up – this feeling, it wasn’t safe; it was something heavy, something in the room, with us, and I was awake – vulnerable and ready for the picking. I felt every nerve in my body rattle. I felt petrified – something was near me, it was sitting there, looking at me – I could feel it, feel its eyes on me, but there was nothing there. I couldn’t see it. I flew into a panic, and lifted my arm up to touch my fiancé, to wake him up so I wouldn’t be alone, so maybe he could protect me. But, I wasn’t lifting my arm – I couldn’t move a finger. In my head, I was raising it with no effort, but my body was frozen, paralyzed by an unknown presence.
So, I tried to speak. In my mind, I’m screaming for him. I’m shouting, “John, John, John, wake up, help me!” but my lips were frozen solid. It lasted for minutes; I was unable to move, unable to yell, I was paralyzed until whatever it was, whatever presence had overtaken me decided he was done. The next morning I was terrified to use even the bathroom by myself; I felt tortured and exhausted and terrified as to what in the hell had happened – what was it? And, I didn’t know, if it might have come back that night.
After our day of excursions, we saddled back in bed for the second night – our last night in the hotel. I was too paranoid to sleep. I kept wanting to watch something comical to keep my spirits light, to take my mind off the impending actions at 2:39 in the morning. The lights switched off and I tried closing my eyes, but I was awake, hearing nothing but the crippling silence of the abandoned rooms that surrounded us. I eventually succumbed to my exhaustion, but then – around 2:45 in the morning – I heard someone using our bathroom. The toilet sounded like it was flushing, and the running water lasted a few moments, and then quickly shut off. It seemed like the light was on, though my eyes were too groggy to tell. I rolled over, suspecting nothing but John coming back to bed.
But John was already lying next to me. He hadn’t been in the bathroom – but someone had. Was this the little boy? Was he playing around, or was someone desperately trying to get my attention? I stayed up, my eyes buried beneath the musky, floral comforter for the rest of the morning, tucking my feet underneath the covers, blocking anything that could get to me – cutting off the noise so I wouldn’t hear laughter, so I wouldn’t hear someone breathe, “Hello,” in my ear. The morning came, and I packed my things and hurried downstairs, where people were eating breakfast, elevators were racing to the next floors – like it was just an average, working hotel.
But, it was so, so much more than that.
The rumors say that the fourth floor of the Hawthorne Hotel is alive with spirits. But they’re wrong – there were spirits in our creaky room at the end of the hall on the third floor. And they had a story to tell. I just regret that they knew I was listening.