This post was written by my husband Lance. It takes place in Schenkenzell, Germany, population 1,795.
I have a great idea for a horror flick. It will feature a young couple, let’s say Americans, who are traveling in Europe. After spending some time in a big city they decide to venture off the beaten track. After a little research, they book hotel in a tiny village deep in the heart of the Black Forest. The setting for multiple Brother’s Grimm fairy tales, the scenery is said to be spectacular.
During transit they are waylaid. By the time the reach the town, the sun has long gone down. They step off the train close to midnight. It starts to softly rain. With massive backpacks strapped on their backs, the young couple blunders through the darkness looking for their accommodation. They take several wrong turns in the blackness. Finally they shine a flashlight on a sign that reads “Gastof Sonne.” This is it.
They pound on the door. No answer. They knock again. Still nothing. Looking at each other, they knock again, this time with a little desperation. They circle the building. It is a grand hotel, large in stature and at least two stories high. But there is no sign of anyone inside. Dumbfounded they jaunt down the street to a lit hotel. The kind inn keeper seems surprised. He mumbles that Hotel Sonne is closed, that perhaps the young couple is thinking of another hotel with the same name in another town. The couple insists they have the correct location and produce a phone number. The kind inn keeper shrugs and calls the number. After a short but congenial conversation the inn keeper informs them that the owner will let them in. He warns in elementary English, “If it doesn’t work out, you’ll be back.”
Relieved, the duo heads back up the road through the night to Hotel Sonne. But the Sonne remains stoic. Not a sound or flicker of movement issue from the grand hotel. They investigate further. Their flashlights reveal the hotel has another massive wing they hadn’t noticed before. Peering inside the windows, rooms are full of furniture but still seem empty. The entire building seems to have been out of use for an extended period of time. Unsettled, the couple gives up and returns to the previous hotel, which luckily has a vacant room.
In the light of day the couple returns to Hotel Sonne with high hopes. The outside is colorful but there are still no signs of activity or people around the building. They try one of the doors again. This time it opens. They step inside a parlor area with a bar and several booths lining the walls. It is elaborate but clearly outdated. An odor of mold washes steadily into their nostrils like a wave sweeping up a beach. This time someone is there. A German man with a short, wiry figure. His hair is black and grey with tight curls that shoot out of his head opposite both directions of the part which runs perpendicular to his forehead. His teeth are small and several are discolored. He is eager to please, strange in his mannerisms, and speaks almost no English. The couple reluctantly smiles at him. He smiles back. They communicate they arrived last night. He appears to understand. Excitedly he pulls out their booking and informs them he can reduce the price because they will now only be staying two nights. He stares up into their faces searching for approval like a puppy dog. Relieved they don’t have to pay for a night they didn’t use, the couple exchanges a look of relief. He laughs with them.
The German host then places a key with a heavy brass rectangular weight in the young man’s hand. One side reads “Hotel Sonne” the opposite a number “6” is engraved. The room number. The host signals the couple to follow him. As they do they begin to notice their surroundings. The decor of the hotel is made to look old-time German but even through this facade it is evident everything has remained undisturbed for perhaps a decade. The lighting is poor. Only a few dim lights cast an orange hue on the wooden floor boards. Long skinny rugs outline walkways. In each window sill several porcelain dolls face inward, gazing at the couple. Three steps forward two more dolls, also watching. Yet anther doll looks down on them from a high cupboard perch. A tiny stroller sits next to the great iron fireplace, inside rests another doll, face down.
The German host leads the couple on through the crowd of silent spectators. The room leads to a hall that leads to the foot of the stairs. The stairs creak, each one. Not just a little crackle, the kind of creak that intensifies in both duration and volume with added pressure. A chorus of wooden moans issues as the three climb to the second level. At the top of the stairs the couple’s room is directly to the right. The lighting on the second level differs only slightly — it is darker here. To the right of their room is a door marked private with an old brass key resting in the lock. This room surely shares a wall with their own. On the left is room number 7. The host opens door number 6.
The room is brilliant. Natural light streams through the windows making the yellow and purple decor pop and contrasting the pervasive darkness so rampant in the rest of the building. Their host asks if they like the room. The couple, pleased the room is not in the same state the rest of the hotel is in, nods yes, while trying to shake off the odd feeling seeping into the back of their minds. They drop off their bags and lock the door. Back in the parlor the host asks when they will return for the day. 5pm? He asks them by raising five digits on his finger. Not wanting to get locked out again, the couple tells the host 10pm just in case. The host mummbles in German for a bit then secedes. The man then asks if their room key can open the parlor door via charades. The host replies: “nine.” The young man then asks if he can take the key to the parlor. The German host raises his pointer finger “There is only one.” If and when they return for the night, they will not be locked out — but locked in.
They leave for the day. The German host, smiling, watches them as they leave.
Five comes and the couple returns to freshen up before grabbing some dinner. They enter the parlor door, and as they turn to walk up the stairs, a distinct “Hallo” beckons them to turn. They find their host seated in a booth directly facing the door. There is no phone or book or computer on the table in front of him. Just his hands resting with interlocked fingers. They wonder how long he has been sitting, just sitting, watching the door and waiting. Startled, the couple returns the hallo with a hello and bounce up the creaking xylophone to their room. Alarmed with the German’s behavior, they make the chilling realization that they are the only guests they have seen thus far. On second thought, they have not seen any staff either.
The young woman worries. She insists that the place is too creepy and she feels unsafe. The young man asks “Where would we go?” Silence ensues. Then they hear creaking. Slowly, up the stairs. Then down the hall right by their door. It stops. A key grates in a lock. They both stare at the door. They hear a door swing open then shut. The private room. More creaking just beyond the shared wall.
The young man turns to the young woman “Okay, let’s get out of here!” The couple quickly arranges accommodation and silently pack up their things. They strap on their massive packs, stealthily unlock their door (yes from the inside) and silently creep down the hall. But each stair groans under foot insisting them to break into a frenzied flee from the premises. They pass the porcelain dolls onlooking faces and arrive at the parlor door. Escape seems inevitable.
The young woman wants to formally check out. The young man gives her a puzzled look. She continues: “I mean there are two of us, what could he do?” The man thinks… “Well he could stab us both to death” he posts in half jest. But reality presses him. “I guess” he concedes. A few steps away he picks up the bell their German host left for them to call him. Yes an old brass bell – with a wooden handle. With a little trepidation the young man picks up the bell and rings it.
Metal striking metal travels through the parlor echoes in the massive, yet barren dining room directly next door. Nothing. They wait. “Let’s write him a note,” the young man says. The young woman jots down a few things down that the host can almost certainly not read. They place the key with it’s heavy weight next to the brass bell and note. They wait, and then they turn to go.