By Jussi Marttila, ©2001.
The rain is pouring on the dusty suburban streets of Helsinki. July is as always in Helsinki, alternating with pouring rain and baking sun. The summer night is quieter than usual, all one can hear is the ubiquitious silent roar of traffic from the downtown area and the sound of rain falling heavily on the pavement outside the bar. The bar, which is your typical Helsinki suburban pub, grimy, smelling like old cigarettes, smelling like unemployment, smelling like welfare checks, smelling like spilled beer on the plastic tabletops, is almost empty. The clock strikes half past one, signaling that soon it is time to go home.
The fat old barkeep has already turned off most lights and locked the door. In the table next to the back wall and the emergency exit, two guests of this establishment are sitting. Both of them are wearing jeans and dress coats, like any middle-aged Finnish men out for a night of serious drinking and getting laid by odd women. Tasting the last drops of his cheap lager, the other man grimaces and throws his cigarette butt into the remains of the beer. Then he continues.
“So, we didn’t really expect anything more than a failed business with a bad reputation. I mean, a hotel meant for 400 guests, smack in the middle of nowhere. In the Northwestern parts of Finland, and we all know there ain’t anything to see there. However, there was a few warning signs. First, there had been a spree of murders sometime in the thirties, which was never solved. Second, the Finnish FBI…what would you call them, Ylönen? Ah, the Central Criminal Police, developed an interest in the hotel a couple of years back. We at the embassy had heard that your department too had, now and then taken an interest in cases which were… disturbing.”
Markku Ylönen, the other man looks across the stained table at the man sitting there to him. A clerk at the US Embassy, the man was just known by the name Frederick. A code name, no doubt. And, Ylönen would bet, he was definitely not just a clerk.
“After those policemen had disappeared, I sent some information to the higher-ups in my organization. The next day I got orders from them. Go there, they said, investigate and if you need to do it, torch the place.
“So, I gathered my stuff and told the ambassador I was going up to Vaasa for a holiday. I rented a car and drove there. And, let me tell you, I had the bad-mojo heebie-jeebies right from the beginning. You’ve seen pictures of the place, right? They don’t do the place any credit. The hotel is four stories high, a Functionalist fortress from the thirties. The entire building is gray and it’s shaped like a big H-letter. No real outside decoration or anything, the place looks like a bunker. Just gray concrete and windows. Smack in the middle of fields ten miles wide, with nothing else around. The builders must have been crazy.
“Inside, the place was like a decadent Ritz. Big rooms, chandeliers, oak, mahogany, you know. Everything covered in dust. No one had been to the place since 1991, when some chain of hotels bought the place and decided to turn it into a tourist attraction. Sent some fifty-odd workers to clean up the place as it hadn’t been in use since the sixties. A year later the workers were finished but only 4 of the original crew remained there. All others had left the place, were fired for alcohol abuse, things like that. I did some checking and today, only the four who remained there live. All others of the original crew have died or disappeared. Suicides, accidents, mental illness.
“Breaking and entering was easy. The locks on the front doors where easy enough to bypass, but when I entered, I freaked out. I told you about how dusty that place was. In the dust, I could see the tracks of those two detectives who had been sent here- and had vanished from here. Guess I don’t need to tell you I checked by gun in the lobby there. I would have given my mortal soul to the devil if I could have just turned around and left. But we all know you don’t do that. There is never that option.
“I’d advise you to do some detective work around the police department, because you’ve got some director there who knows something about the weird shit, because there was someone who hushed up the disappearance of those two detectives and that isn’t easy to do. My guess would be that he is either afraid of a public shitstorm or than he tries to keep people away from there.
“I started by tracking down the rooms the policemen had kept their stuff in. Someone had slashed their mattresses and broken the big mirror in the room. No notebooks, laptops, recorders or cameras were to be found. It was in the third floor, in the east wing of the building. Further down the corridor, I saw that there was another opened door in the same corridor. I went there to check it out and I do hope that the thing that happened there was just my imagination and nerves dancing the jig.
“Outside Room 323, I saw that there were these enormous scratches in the panelling, like a six-foot cat had tried to get in. Dumbshit me didn’t turn away and run but instead, I went in. I found there a SPAS-12 shotgun, one which had been in the trunk of the car the policemen had. The shotgun was empty and there were empty shells on the floor and the room stank of a firefight. No damage had been done to anything in the room, but there was some buckshot on the floor. No much, just four-five shot. Disturbing, you could say?”
Frederick laughed without humor and continued.
“Then I took a look at the bed there. The bed was made but on the sheets, there was this big, moldy spot. The general shape of a man, I hope that I wouldn’t have thought of that. I turned around and started to walk out because I didn’t want to spend a moment longer in that room. Then it happened.
“I saw a glimpse of myself in the mirror. For a moment, I thought that I saw something else there. Something wearing my clothes, something with gray wispy hair and dead, gray skin, the lips and cheeks cut away to reveal teeth in something that reminded of a grin. Oh, god…
“As quickly as I could, I left the third floor and ran down the staircase, echoes chasing me down. I stopped on the way when I saw an odd-looking painting on the staircase wall. It showed a mountain lake at sunset. Very serene-looking but there was something wrong with the picture. First I didn’t see it but when I went closer, I saw that there was a small figure standing on the shore. A man, dressed in yellow rags.
“Back in the cavernous lobby, I thought I heard something. A tinkling sound, like crystal wine-glasses touching each other. It came from the restaurant. There it was even more dusty than in the rest of the hotel. I made my way there and on the bar, I saw it. A glass of brandy. Without thinking about it, I took it to wash the dust from by throat, to speak literally.
“Once I had emptied the glass, I got drowsy. I sat down in the lobby on a red couch that was wrapped in plastic and I fell asleep. The dreams were beautiful. I saw myself in the ballroom of the hotel, dancing with a woman I could never have, but for this one moment I could have. A great man in a yellow robe had given me this blessing. But there was a price to pay.
“I was on the bottom of the ocean. I saw thousands of wrecked ships, a thousand men gnawed by fish, gold bars, anchors, heaps of pearls, precious stones, jewels. Some of them were in skulls, and in the eyeholes, the reflections of gems that mocked the bones that were scattered by. Oh, what a pain it was to drown!
“I dreamt I woke up in a strange bed, with a strange creature groaning beside me. I was a soldier who was bayoneted and left to die in the mud. I was a sick child abandoned by his mother, left to die in the curb of some strange city.”
Tears were now running down the cheeks of Frederick. He took out a tissue and wiped his eyes.
“I found those policemen. Two sets of footprints led to the fields. One of them was lying face down in the field, about half a kilometer from the hotel, pistol in his hand. He had been killed, trying to escape. The magazine of his pistol was empty. He had been hit with a hammer in the head, the knees, the elbows, his chest. Not a single wound was immediately fatal. He must have lay there for hours, in pain and hoping to die soon. Not able to move an inch.
“The other one… He was in the attic, hanged. Suicide or something else… don’t ask me. All I know he had ripped the flesh off his cheeks to reveal his teeth. He smiled at me. There were these pieces of flesh scattered about… I don’t know how I could explain it but when I looked in his dead eyes, I thought I saw satisfaction in there.
“After I found the corpse on the attic. I decided to torch the place. Before I had left the embassy, I had put some thermite grenades in the trunk of my car. As I went to get them from there, I saw movement on the terrace outside the entrance. There was the man in yellow rags. He gestured to me to come closer. I froze. It took all the strength I had just to get into the car and to drive away. It took hours to drive back here. As soon as I reached Helsinki, I went on a drinking spree. It didn’t help. I still see the rags in my dreams.”
Ylönen stood up and left the pub. Frederick followed him, pale and trembling. Outside, Frederick spoke up for the last time.
“Listen, I want you to take care of the hotel. It needs to be burned. To the ground. I cannot go back there. But I know I will. So, take this and send email. You need to get in touch with my people. I failed them. The rag man is after me and I don’t want to see him any longer. At my place, I got a bottle of vodka and my service piece, and the old song says that suicide is painless so… It’s time to go back to the big nowhere.”
Accepting the piece of paper where there was scribbled an email address, Ylönen shook hands with Frederick, not saying anything because there wasn’t anything he could say to the man. Ylönen walked away, leaving Frederick standing in the hollow glow of the streetlights.