Original illustrations by Harut Tumaghyan.
Translated by Nazareth Seferian.
Mr. and Mrs. Verdyan were happy and, every time the landlord looked the other way, the husband would give his pregnant wife a thumbs up, grinning gleefully. The landlord, in turn, would make sure he displayed his smile of satisfaction only when he had his back to the buyers, just to make sure they did not suspect anything.
“There you go,” the notary finally said, pushing the contract to the middle of the table.
When the husband winked at his wife and picked up a pen, the notary asked offhand, “Aren’t you wondering why the house is so cheap? Real estate is very, very expensive these days, after all.”
“No,” Mr. Verdyan responded casually. “That’s what house hunting is like – someone gets lucky sometimes, other people don’t. It can never be a good sale for both sides.”
“But, you know,” the notary was overcome with sincerity as he glanced at the pregnant woman’s belly. “A person’s home should be as pure as his soul, but there are evil forces and ghosts almost pouring out of the windows of this place, like a river flooding in the spring.”
“Did anyone ask you for your advice?” the landlord interrupted angrily after a few seconds of soft mumbling to express his displeasure. “Why are you trying to sink this deal? All you have to do is stamp the contract, so let’s stay quiet and do that, shall we?”
“If those forces were really that evil,” Mr. Verdyan had paused for a moment, “Then they would have reduced the house to ruins after all this time. But that house has been standing for so many years…”
“Fifty years, fifty,” the landlord said quickly, “And not a single stone has been dislodged, not even from the wall around it…”
“But tell them, tell them how many people have owned the place before you… Misak spent two nights there and died unexpectedly, Anushavan ended up with a burst gallbladder, they say it was caused by a sudden scare… That Haykuni couple divorced for no reason, not to mention your own aunt who got that house for free from the village council because she was a refugee from Karabakh but is now in a mental institution…”
“She was traumatized by what the Turks did to her, don’t blame that on any evil forces…” the landlord explained and turned to the buyers. “Please ignore everything he’s saying. There are people out there that simply cannot bear to see someone else have some good fortune… All he wants is to keep me from making a little money, that’s all.”
“Why would I care about your money… this is the truth… you see?” the notary pointed at the pregnant woman’s belly. “Children will be living in that house too! Oh, and by the way,” he glared piercingly into Mr. Verdyan’s eyes, “They even brought a priest there and he blessed the house, sprayed it with holy water, but it didn’t help at all.”
“I don’t get it, why are you acting like this is your problem?” the landlord said, his frightful gaze resting on the pen that had been rendered motionless.
“Don’t argue,” the buyer calmed them down. “I know that ghosts and evil spirits have possessed that house. It’s always that way with houses in valleys… and that house is in a valley, after all.”
“And you’re buying it anyway?” the notary’s face expressed surprise, his gaze now turned to the pregnant woman’s face.
“We’re not buying it to live there,” the woman explained.
“We’re launching a business… Horror Hotel!” the husband informed them, excited by the idea. “People that love horror will come and stay there, freezing in fear and trembling with terror… We’ll make a ton of cash, basically. And the best part is that every cent will be pure profit. My employees will be the evil spirits and ghosts. Isn’t that amazing? They won’t ask me for food, clothes, salaries, not even for vacation days… I won’t have to deal with trade unions or pension funds…”
“What if they are angry with you for taking their house away from them?”
“But I’m not taking it away from them. They can keep staying there and treat the guests any way they like… I’m giving them an opportunity to express themselves. I won’t even renovate the place… They’ll pour into the rooms through the cracked walls and twisted pipes. As you say, they’ll flood right onto the customers… Can you imagine that? Anybody with a love for extreme experiences will go crazy about this!”
“Yes…” the notary sighed with concern as he stamped the contract. “What has this world come to? There are crazy people everywhere, it is a rare thing to see a normal person nowadays.”
Even before they had registered the name of the hotel, the Verdyans launched a big advertising campaign. The video that was constantly on everyone’s TV screen called on customers to “Experience Hell while still alive,” and asked them “Have you ever wanted to have your own personal ghost?” using all kinds of other expressions, pronounced by a manly voice actor. Soon, there was such a large queue of people lining up to try this service that customers had to register months in advance. There were even those that did not want to sleep in the bedrooms of the house. They preferred to occupy the collapsing attic so that they could experience the paranormal beings from as closely as possible.
The Verdyans would assign people to their rooms before darkness fell, provide them with food, and leave Horror Hotel just before dusk. “This is when the real fun starts,” Mr. Verdyan would tell each of the guests just before leaving at sunset. “You will be all alone with the ghosts from this point forward, so defend yourselves any way you can…” And when they would hear the shouting and screaming from Horror Hotel even before they were halfway out of the area, the husband would give his wife a gleeful look, “Thanks be to God, another satisfied customer.”
“Yes,” his wife would respond. “What wonderful evil spirits, they never let us down, never take a sick day.”
And they would go home, thinking about how they would transfer the day’s profit to their bank account and calculate the interest that would accrue.
The villagers, who had so far been afraid of even taking their animals to pasture in the valley, shook their heads with envy. “How come we never thought of that? We had such a wonderful resource and we willingly gave it to someone else, and real cheap at that!”
“A smart guy can even turn evil spirits into a source for good, while we can’t even benefit from our many saints!” They would say such things to each other remorsefully.
“We don’t need that kind of money,” but there were those that were not envious, “Nor do we need that kind of screaming. Those horrified guests shout so loudly that you can hear them from kilometers away!”
“For the love of God,” sighed the ones with the most life experience, “People have suffered a lot more for the sake of money…”
And then, a child was born to the owners of Horror Hotel. For a mother, the child’s best age is when it is still in the womb; as soon as it is born, its needs are born with it. The hotel owner’s wife would no longer be able to help her husband with work if she had to stay at home with the baby. So they were forced to bring the baby with them to Horror Hotel. At first, the baby’s crying, then his laughter and the clicking of his toys caused the evil spirits to gradually leave the notorious house. “We’ll go bankrupt if this goes on,” Mr. Verdyan was worried. “What can we do? Evil spirits have always feared life,” his wife sighed. And then, one day, the house was empty – all that was left were the people. And, as a stroke of bad luck, a bus full of people arrived that very day. Mr. Verdyan looked at them with regret, spotting the frightened but resistant expressions on his guests’ faces. They were in the mood for a good scare, already jittery at the thought of coming into contact with ghosts… And the money, the money… It would be so horrible to lose all that. Mr. Verdyan did not miss a beat. He walked up to the group and smiled at them, saying, “Just one night… staying any longer than that could be dangerous… Please give me your passports…” He carefully registered their details and returned the documents. Then he gave them some advice as he handed them the keys to their rooms, “Don’t go up to the roof, the old hag living there will chew you up and spit you out in a second.I’d suggest that the ladies stay on the east side so that they can get the first rays of the sun and free themselves of the ghosts’ clutches.”
“The cellar? Oh no! Even I never dare to spend a night there…”
And his trick worked! The people never realized that the spirits had left, and customers kept coming, bringing their own fears and ghosts with them. They would go into their rooms and scream and shout in terror all night, suffering at the hands of evil spirits and clamoring for help, throwing their shoes at them in defense, then feeling liberated and satisfied in the morning as they returned to their everyday lives. The owner of Horror Hotel continued to cunningly distribute his guests into rooms, give them the keys and some friendly advice, “Don’t go down to the cellar, don’t go up to the attic…” Sometimes, he would have bouts of insomnia and, in the middle of the night, he would look out the window of the house he had rented, staring at the hotel. Hearing the sounds that came from there, he wondered whether that house had ever truly been possessed by ghosts and evil spirits. Perhaps it had been the same way from the very beginning – people had exiled their own ghosts and fears there, in an attempt to avoid coming face to face with them…