Ghost stories are meant to thrill and entertain. They are meant to put the reader in suspense and send chills up their spine. But, if you’re like me, ghost stories or the movies they play ona TV around Halloween give you a chuckle and don’t make you want to walk down a dark hallway with your entire group of friends, just to be safe. I have recently been reading Modern Ghost Stories by noted women writers, edited by Richard Dalby. In doing so, I found a story that actually left me feeling a little jumpy. The story was called No. 17 by E. Nesbit. It starts out with a few men sitting around talking about mysterious things that have happened to people they know. One man tells a story that is far from thrilling and after, a man that is described to have a rabbit-like face speaks up and says he has a story to tell, but he doesn’t like telling it to people who don’t believe in ghosts. Intrigued, the men say they do believe in ghosts and press him to tell the tale. The man was once staying in a hotel where room number 17 was said to be haunted. Everyone who stays in the room is found with his throat cut, dead, with no explanation as to why. The man, feeling a little superstitious, decides to switch rooms, to room number 16, just to be on the safe side. Early in the morning, there is a knock on the door, someone saying they are the chambermaid bringing things that he could shave with (I’m guessing this was custom at the time, as this particular story was written in 1910). He starts to shave when he senses movement, and turns to see a gruesome-looking man sitting on the bed. The man has a slit throat. The story-teller recollects himself and discovers no one is in the room. Realizing this was actually room number 17, that the placards were switched, the man comes to find out that the other men that died in that room perished by slitting their throats with the razors provided after seeing the horrid man. The people listening to the story later question him as to why he didn’t cut his throat. He tells them he shaves with a safety razor. Then he says something that confuses me- he has actually reserved the same room again, as he does every time he visits.
What I don’t understand about this story is the last piece. When you know what goes on in this room and how many men have had their fate sealed in it, why would you go to great lengths and risk your life to reserve it? Oh well, I always do love a story that leaves me with questions, gives me a reason to go back and reread it to try and understand. More stories are to come, so look out!