A Short Story by Cameron Brtnik
Inspired by a stay at a hotel in Vietnam
There was no WiFi password written anywhere… only a sign that read “Free WiFi” on a faded piece of paper on the wall. “Shit,” I said to myself. I was too lazy to walk the four flights back downstairs to ask. “Well, looks like I’ll be drinking this bottle of vodka on my own and without any entertainment,” this time only thinking it (as saying it would mean I am crazy, which I don’t believe I am..yet). I was living in Vietnam, on a trip up north to explore and reputable hills and valleys of Sapa. That first night I checked into the “Hoang Nam Hotel” which I believe translates to “no name hotel.” It was around the time of the Mid-Autumn Festival and I could hear the sounds of kids’ drums beating outside. It seemed to imbue a rhythm into this normally stagnant and soulless town. Some kids had taught me earlier how to play a traditional beat, and I got pretty good at it, but the kids were better at it, they didn’t have to think, their hands just moved, the sticks an extension of them, the drum just an obstacle reflecting their own heartbeat: youthful, voracious, animalistic. I bought a bottle of vodka and slowly walked back to my shabby hotel room. The aircon barely blew – I had the aircon setting on 19° but all it did was gust around musty, stale month-old air, like the air kept memories of its past tenants, like a fly on the wall, did not like what it saw, and the beast was bitter, no one ever thanking it for cranking out 50,000 kilowatts of power a day, pushing itself to the limit, like a fighting cancer patient, never giving up, yet nobody ever noticing its pathetic existence… With unrealistic hopes I turned the setting to 18°.
After checking in, the lady at the front desk – I guess she was an employee, although if she wasn’t working there I could have just as easily checked in – led me upstairs to my room. Upon hesitantly entering the room, the lady pushed ahead first, armed with a bottle of air freshener that she used, without restraint, to spray the entire room like she was covering the stench of a rotting corpse (although it smelled fine, if not a bit musty). After it seemed like ages, she scuttered out so I could bask in the emptiness of the room…
I made a routine inspection: There were chips in the fake marble (probably asbestos) floor tiles, cigarette burns in the chair, stains on the white sheets (why white? These types of hotels should probably just go with a dark grey or off black), a missing dresser drawer, an unidentifiable crusted-on condiment in the fridge (unplugged), a woman’s hairs on the bathroom floor, burnt out bathroom light bulb, NO toilet paper, limestone stains on the bathroom door, in the window sill two q-tips and a used bandaid, a dusty 20’ TV (albeit a flat screen, now we’re talking luxury!), trash bin minus the bag with some gluey substance on the bottom, dirt smeared on the pink walls (that’s right; pink), lipstick smudges above the bed’s headboard, dust-coated fan with half the cage missing… I could go not, but you get the point. All this included for a paltry 200.000 dong! ($8 US)
I couldn’t count how many times I’d stayed at hotels like these..they all blurred into one. You get used to it when you’re traveling in Asia. There’s a difference in (or lack of) standards compared to, let’s say, your standard roadside motel, like a Comfort Inn without the comfort. But “when in Asia,” I guess. Halfway through the bottle of vodka I was feeling tired and getting blurry-eyed (alcohol is an excellent creative fuel..until it isn’t). My brain wanted to write more, but I could feel my body inch toward the bed without me trying. I loaded up some streaming site to watch the last remake of Friday the 13th, which actually got decent reviews..but didn’t make it past the opening credits…
…I awoke to a sound that I was sure came from the adjoining room but, half-awake, it just as well could’ve come from my dream. It was a loud THUD! that sounded like someone dropped a heavy hammer in the room above me..or the satanic sounds of old piping. Maybe someone rolled out of bed? My mind starting racing, making up excuses for such a sound late at night.. Someone dropping their bowling ball on the floor; a dead prostitute being pushed off the bed; an old chandelier, dangling by its last stringy wire, finally falling from the ceiling..but I didn’t hear it again and peacefully dozed off… for what must’ve been less than a minute before the sound woke me up again -THUD! I thought about getting a broom and banging the ceiling to communicate whatever weirdness was happening up there to stop..but thought better of it; if it was a psycho he might come down and hack me up to bits. I wouldn’t be surprised in this hotel… I decided if it happened again I would go downstairs to complain to the lady at the front desk – not that she’d be any help; she was probably the one making the noise. As I got ready to pass back out – THUD! I heard it again —-but this time right outside my door.
“What the fuck?” I said out loud (when you’re scared you don’t care if you sound crazy). I slowly moved to the door and flipped on the light switch and said, “Hello?” to probably no one. I opened the door and… nothing. But the sound sounded so close… THUD!There it was again, but..it sounded like it came from inside the room. “Impossible…” (inside thought) My heart was beating so loudly it was nearly as loud as the THUD. I turned around and… nothing. THUD! Again, this time from..the bathroom? My whole body was hot and sweating from, what, fear? “It’s gotta be the pipes,” I thought. The hotel was old as shit after all. “Maybe the old hotel owner’s ghost is haunting the place,” and at that thought I snickered out loud. THUD!!! again in the bathroom. I was hesitating..but finally walked forward toward the bathroom door. I looked at the reflection in the mirror but…nothing. THUD!!!! This time my bed rocked, and I automatically jumped back. I bolted for the front door and it slammed shut. Suddenly the lights when out… THUD! THUD! THUD!!! THUD!!!
Suddenly I felt something touch me: slimy, wet, yet ethereal, ghostly… “This is a waking nightmare,” I tried to convince myself while in a state of full-on panic…. Suddenly a voice spoke from the darkness.… ”WHAT IS THE WIFI PASSWORD?” “Umm..88888888!!!!” I yelled into the darkness (most passwords in Vietnam were eight 8s because 8 is a lucky number that means wealth and fortune. Why I didn’t try that earlier, I’m not sure..). After a brief moment, the voice simply said, “THANK YOOOU,” and disappeared, along with the THUD. The next morning I checked out, never to return to the hotel with no WiFi again.
Read the review of “No Wifi” by literary critic Virginia Kyriakopoulos here: https://cambrtnik.wordpress.com/2017/10/04/no-wifi-a-critique-by-virginia-kyriakopoulos/
Cameron is a fiction writer currently backpacking through the beautiful and magical country of Vietnam