I dreamt I went to Manderley again, Part I
Update: This is the first part of a two-part story. Once you’ve read this one, part two is here.
Ever since I got back from my trip to New York the most common question has always been “what was the best part?”
I can say, without any shred of doubt, that the best part of my trip was my — for lack of a better word — “experience” at Sleep No More.
For starters, I can’t even begin to categorise what Sleep No More actually is. It’s an off-Broadway show, but I feel like calling it a “show” is playing down all of its other elements.
- It’s part theatre, but instead of sitting to watch, sometimes you’re running.
- It’s part highly-choreographed dance, but still somehow highly improvisational.
- It’s part video game, but it’s happening in real life, right in front of you.
Before I was even aware Sleep No More existed, the first contributing factor in my yearning to go was Michael, my travelling partner, who’d been the year before, and talked about it to me for weeks afterwards. Although my first exposure to the show was vicariously through his stories, I’ll leave those for him to tell. Having said that, a very large part of my decision to choose New York as my holiday destination in the first place, as well as bring him with me, was because of those stories.
The Wikipedia page for the show quotes a reviewer who claims the show draws upon a wide range of media, and references Bioshock (one of my favourite video games), Lost (one of my favourite television shows), and Inception (one of my favourite movies). That alone made this show the single most on-brand thing that exists as a confluence of all of my interests.
What follows is a ten-part story of one of the most interesting nights of my life. Each part is roughly a two-to-three minute read.
- Part I: What I Knew (Wasn’t the Half of It)
- Part II: The Night Of
- Part III: Purgatory
- Part IV: The Red Woman
- Part V: What We Are
- Part VI: The King
- Part VII: What Lies in the Forest
- Part VIII: Tea, for Two
- Part IX: Reunited
- Part X: The Secret of Her Sadness
Part I: What I Knew (Wasn’t the Half of It)
Here’s the cliff-notes of what I knew about the experience before I went in:
- Events take place in an “abandoned hotel” called The McKittrick Hotel, which is not actually a hotel, but three warehouses combined into a five-or-six storey performance space in New York’s Chelsea district.
- As an audience member, you must wear a mask, and are not allowed to speak. The actual characters in the story are the people you see who aren’t wearing masks. You can see a scene take place between two characters who might have an argument and storm off in different directions; you can follow one or the other, or you can just stick around and rifle through drawers and explore the environment.
- The experience goes for three hours, during which you can move up and down through the five floors at your will. You can go wherever you want, whenever you want; there are over 100 rooms to explore. The story loops three times, with many simultaneous things happening on different floors — so if you encounter something you’ve seen before, you can follow a different character when the scene ends, or find something else entirely.
- If you are brave, it’s possible that you might experience a secret scene that only you get to see.
The story itself is a mix of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Hitchcock’s Rebecca, with a bit of Vertigo thrown in as well. I didn’t know anything about Rebecca or Vertigo, and I’m also slightly ashamed to admit I knew next to nothing about Macbeth. Having said that though, I watched a 5-minute summary of Macbeth on YouTube beforehand, and that was enough for me to be able to follow along with at least those elements of the story.
And so, with everything organised, I eagerly waited for the day to arrive. I’d booked our tickets for a late Wednesday night — 10pm to 1am — and on Wednesday morning, I received an email from The McKittrick Hotel.
It was entitled In Anticipation of Your Visit, and detailed some general rules for the evening. We encourage comfortable footwear, the email said, which made sense, as I knew I’d be on my feet for three hours, and sometimes have to run in order to keep up with a character.
We strongly recommend contact lenses over spectacles. All guests will be required to wear a mask while inside the hotel for Sleep No More. This made me slightly nervous. I don’t wear contact lenses, only glasses, but I figured in the worst case I’d just take my glasses off.
The email went on — Reservations are encouraged for dining … coat, purse and bag check service is available for $4 per guest … strobe lights, haze, and laser effects occur throughout the hotel … and then, one dot-point that really caught my eye:
Guests may encounter intense psychological situations.
Part II: The Night Of
Around 8.30pm the night of the performance, Michael and I caught an Uber to The McKittrick. When we got there, I saw … nothing. The McKittrick looks like a generic New York warehouse; if you didn’t know what you were looking for, you wouldn’t give it a second glance.
A single bouncer stood outside the main door, but other than that, there was no indication that anything was here. Michael and I wandered out to get what ended up being a dinner that was way too expensive for what we got (classic New York), and when we got back at around 9.40pm, there were a large number of people waiting outside. We got in line and waited.
“Are you nervous?” Michael asked me.
“Yes! I’m fucking terrified,” I replied. “I hate sitting in the front row of a theatre. I don’t like people looking at me.” The fourth wall was my protection, and I knew here it would be gone. I’d heard rumours about what happens when one of the actors chooses you for a one-on-one, and there was just no way I wanted any of that.
“This is different. You’re going to love this.”
Eventually the bouncer walked up the line checking IDs, and then the doors opened and an incredibly epic and very loud Bernard Herrmann orchestral score started pouring out:
We filed in, checked in our coats, and found ourselves standing in a long, black, featureless hallway I could barely see the top of; while the above score blasted out of unseen speakers. Eventually we made it to the “check-in counter” of the hotel — the only feature at the end of the otherwise empty hallway, ornately designed like a golden old-school help-desk, the kind you’d see at a station, where you’re separated from the staff by a window.
“Welcome to The McKittrick Hotel. May I have the name associated with your reservation please?”
We told him.
“And the two of you have come together?”
He very deliberately drew two cards from separate dealing shoes.
“These are your room keys; present them when required. The entrance is just to your right. Enjoy your stay.”
I looked at the card I’d been handed. It wasn’t a traditional hotel room key, but a custom-designed playing card — the 3 of hearts. I asked Michael what he had. It was a 2.
“Looks like we’re not going in together then,” he said. “Come on, this way.”
I followed him through the opening we’d been directed to by the attendant. After climbing some stairs, we found ourselves in a much narrower and incredibly dark hallway. It was completely featureless, with the only lighting provided by tiny LEDs in each of the corners, covered with panels to throw their light up to the walls to indicate where you had to turn. We banked left almost immediately, then right, then left, the claustrophobic hallway seemingly looping around back on itself until I had no sense of what direction we were facing any more, the music from earlier fading the further in we got.
Just as it seemed we’d been in the hallway for way too long, we all of a sudden turned the last corner to find ourselves in an incredible 1930’s style jazz bar — The Manderley.
Part III: Purgatory
The bar was packed, but the atmosphere was amazing. The long, twisty hallway acted as something of a time corridor, and although I was out of place in my jeans, Vans and Hurley shirt, I truly felt like I was standing in something out of The Great Gatsby. Two bar staff were shouting something of an advertisement for the absinthe they were selling, a man in a tuxedo with slicked-back hair was standing in a corner sipping a cocktail, and a tall, beautiful woman in a red cocktail dress was making her way through the crowd, gently touching people on the shoulder and chatting to them.
Michael and I wandered around the room a little bit, but there wasn’t much to see — a grand piano, drum kit and classic bird-cage microphone were set up on the stage, but there was no band — and as the room filled with people there weren’t many places to sit, either. We took up residence in a corner of the bar and waited.
The man in the tuxedo got up on stage, introduced himself, took a large sip of his cocktail, and then:
“Take out the room cards you were given earlier; and if you have an Ace, I want you to follow me now.”
A random smattering of people followed the man off to the left as he walked off the stage. Michael poked me.
“Looks like he’s going to call them in order. I have a two and you have a three; do you want to swap, so you can go first?”
“No, it’s fine,” I said. “But when it’s over, let’s meet back in this corner.”
“Cool. Don’t forget, if we find each other in there …”
I nodded. We’d both agreed beforehand that because there was so much to see, that if we ever encountered each other that we should split up. That way, in the three hours we had, we’d have six hours worth of content to tell each other about. Between us, rather than seeing one sixth of the available 18 hours of content, we’d maximise our money’s worth by at least seeing one third of it.
Suddenly the man in the tuxedo was back on the stage again.
“Deuces, follow me.”
“See you on the other side,” Michael winked, and then I was on my own.
Part IV: The Red Woman
It wasn’t long before the man in the tuxedo was up on stage again, commanding everyone with a three to line up. I got in line and followed as it shuffled around the bar. At this point I realised people who’d come in and hadn’t heard the announcement were just getting in line, even if they had a card much higher than what had been called.
We snaked past where the lady in the red dress was sitting, and then all of a sudden stopped. I was about five people away from the front of the line.
“I’m sorry, my love,” she said in a sultry tone to someone in front of me, “you can’t take your drink in there. But if you want to give it to me, I’m more than happy to finish it for you.”
I grinned at her, and she looked at me and gave me a wink.
The tuxedoed man called down the line from the front. “I can fit one more person in at this stage,” he said. “Is anyone by themselves? A lone traveller, as it were?”
Silence, as everyone ahead of me clutched hands tightly with the people they were with. I raised my card.
“Oh!” said the lady in red, “My friend here has a three!”
“Excellent … bring him up the front!” he said, and then disappeared.
The woman stood up, gently sat her glass down on the table, placed both hands on my shoulders and led me to the front of the line. As we moved, she leant forward and whispered in my ear:
“Stay brave in there for me, okay?”
I nervously exhaled, quite loudly, and she giggled. She walked me through a set of curtains, into a tiny room where there were about twenty other guests. Once again the room was barely lit, and it was very difficult to see. The tuxedoed man was inside, handing out the famous masks to everybody.
“It’s imperative that you keep these masks on throughout the entire performance,” he was saying. “Anonymity here … is a virtue.”
He handed me my mask, and I put it on. It didn’t quite fit over my glasses, but it worked just fine. He then disappeared back out the curtain, presumably to summon the next group, leaving us with the lady in red.
“There is to be absolutely no talking once you are inside the hotel,” she said as she wandered the room, restating the rules we already knew.
Keep your mask on at all times.
“And if at any point it all gets a bit too much, feel free to come back to the bar and find me. We can have a drink … if you’re paying.”
She suddenly kicked the wall behind her, which caused everyone to jump. There was a low rumbling noise.
“If I had to give one final piece of advice: be bold, and be brave.”
The rumbling noise stopped, and the wall opened up behind her to reveal a freight elevator.
“Hello my dear,” said a new voice, and at that point I realised there was a man in the lift, who would presumably be the person responsible for randomly distributing us throughout the five floors.
The lady in red stepped aside, and everyone filed in. I was one of the last in.
The elevator operator and the woman exchanged some pleasantries, if by “pleasantries” you can imagine inane small-talk that was somehow absolutely dripping with flirtation and sexuality.
The doors began to close, and I took one final look at the lady in the red dress. It was so dark that I couldn’t make anything out except her vague silhouette.
“Good luck,” I heard her say, and the doors closed completely, plunging the twenty of us into pitch-black darkness.
That was the last I ever saw her.
Part V: What We Are
As the elevator rumbled up and the twenty of us stood in the black void, the lift operator again reiterated the rules. But he also explained an additional element that no one had mentioned to that point: there are people dressed entirely in black, wearing black masks (from this point on, I will refer to them creatively as “black masks”). These people are dotted around the space and are approachable for help if you need it.
I recalled a story Michael told me where on his first visit he’d approached a black mask and asked them if it was okay for him to be standing where he was. Apparently, they said nothing. I figured they only helped you if you really needed help.
“As I’m sure you will have heard tonight,” continued the operator, “it’s important you remain anonymous in here. Do not under any circumstances remove your mask. And finally …”
The elevator ground to a halt.
“… fortune favours the bold.”
The doors opened. One person, a youngish-looking man, stepped out. His girlfriend, who up to this point was holding his hand, started to follow him.
All of a sudden the lift operator’s arm shot forward, stopping her from exiting. She squealed a little and jumped back, letting her boyfriend’s hand go in surprise as the bellhop pushed a button and the doors slammed shut, leaving the boyfriend on that floor by himself.
The lift rumbled into action again, and I now had no idea whether we were moving up or down. The doors once again opened; the girl got out, followed by another guy and then me.
We were in a hallway, but this one wasn’t featureless like all the others I’d seen so far. It felt like a hallway you’d see in an ornate mansion, with framed paintings, chairs and desks. The two people in front of me peeled off into different directions, and for the first time I was truly alone.
Like in the entryway, orchestral music was blasting throughout the space, which I recognised as one of the tracks from Psycho. I passed a mirror, forgetting I was wearing a creepy-looking mask, saw myself in it and jumped. Then I caught the reflection of a figure standing behind me in the corner and double-jumped; I turned around and saw a black mask standing there, motionless.
Moving on, I spotted an open door ahead of me with what looked like a baby’s cot inside. Walking towards it, I realised it was a child’s room. I could see inside the cot as I approached it — there was nothing in there — and then I got inside the room.
There were maybe fifty crudely-made hessian dolls hanging from the ceiling. I reached up to touch one; it swung ominously.
Right at that point I heard a movement behind me, and turned around just in time to see someone walk past the door. I thought nothing of it until I parsed what I’d just seen and realised that that man was not wearing a mask.
My first character!
I darted out after him. He walked with an intense purpose; dressed in formal wear, I followed him along the hallway until we rounded a corner into the first sight that truly impressed me.
We were in a street. Both sides were lined with shop-fronts, but they were all able to be entered. In the brief glimpse I got during my chase of the mysterious man I saw a candy shop and a taxidermy.
The man entered one of the shops, closing the door behind him. I followed, opening and closing the door of my own volition — it felt intensely wrong to do so, but the man seemed completely unaware of my presence. He took a seat at a desk, opened a drawer, and started shuffling through papers, studying them closely. I watched him for a moment, whilst also trying to understand the room I was in.
It was an office, for all intents and purposes, but so incredibly detailed that one could easily spend an hour just exploring it. One side of the room sported an open (but empty) coffin, with a note nailed to the side. I leaned in to read it —
— and without warning the man was up, leaving the room. I hesitated for a second. Should I stay and explore this room, or see what he gets up to?
Figuring that I had plenty of time to come back here, I followed him.
His path took us back out into the “town square” where I first saw some other audience members starting to trickle in. As the man walked, he paused momentarily, looked at one of the audience members, and then shook his head and continued on, as if he thought he’d seen something, but ultimately decided it was nothing.
That moment was a big one for me, because that’s when I finally understood what I and all of the other audience members were.
We were ghosts.
Voyeurs in the night. Following silently, always watching, never interfering. Faces hidden, figures in the dark, those which you think you hear and see but decide you must be crazy. In the context of the performance, we were literally ghosts.
And I would soon find out that some characters were more in tune with the supernatural than others.
Part VI: The King
The man led me and about five other ghosts into what appeared to be a morgue, where a woman in a green dress was lying motionless on a table in the middle of the room.
He began to inspect the woman. First he picked up her right arm, holding it with both hands, looking down the length of it as if inspecting how straight it was. Then he did the same with her left leg, angling it back and forth, testing its mobility. He did this for a while, moving around her, sizing her up. Because it was obvious that this woman does not simply lay here for three hours allowing herself to be felt up by random men, I knew I had to stick around to watch what happened.
He straightened her leg and pushed it in such a way that caused her entire body to slide along the table. He then pulled her in the opposite direction, then rolled her over, then pushed her again, then spun her; getting more and more violent each time, until eventually he picked her up and was spinning around the room with her limp body in some kind of sickening waltz.
They waltzed for a few moments until he dipped her, as some sort of finale, right in front of me …
… and as her head fell back, her face upside down relative to mine, her eyes snapped open and she gave me a wicked grin. I jumped, and may have even yelped in surprise. The man pulled her back up …
… and all of a sudden, she head-butted him, and it turned into a full-on fight. He stumbled back as she pushed him onto the table, climbing up onto his chest, slamming her fist down as he rolled his head out of the way.
Their fight was dance-like; it went up against walls and all over the room. But it was over as quickly as it began. Both characters left the room, followed by all of the other ghosts. I chased the woman for a little while, but she ran towards the stairwell flanked by 20 or so ghosts she’d picked up along the way, which caused a bottleneck I knew would make it difficult for me to catch up with her.
Instead I decided to explore the floor I was on a bit more, in order to try and get an idea of the layout of the place. At this stage I still had no idea what floor I was even on. I came across a room which looked to be a speakeasy bar, containing a pool table and a circular card table, around which were three men playing cards, with three or four other ghosts dotted around the room.
A light hung all the way from the tall roof above them to just above their heads, and it was swaying in all directions, like it had been pushed. It created an amazing effect, throwing each of the men into the light in turn. I watched for a few minutes while they played their game (which, for the life of me, I couldn’t at all figure out the rules of), until one of the men was dealt what was clearly a losing card — a King.
He picked up the card, along with a hammer and nail from the table, and walked over to the wall, where he proceeded to nail the King to the wall. Very Shakespearean indeed. It wasn’t until he did this that I noticed the wall was absolutely covered in Kings that had all been nailed there; there were hundreds of them.
I caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye and saw a black mask enter the speakeasy. She stood silently in the corner, ignoring the action and instead facing outside.
Eventually, all of the players bar one left the room, who began to clear up the card game. I then noticed that I could hear the thunderous noise of a large crowd approaching, and they were all running.
The noise reached a crescendo as a man who was clearly a main character burst into the bar. The black mask jumped into action, allowing the man to pass but funnelling the incoming crowd to the back of the room to watch the scene that was about to unfold.
The sheer amount of ghosts who entered the room following this man (around sixty of them) made it immediately obvious to me that this new man was Macbeth.
Macbeth and the man got into another elaborately and impressively choreographed fight/dance scene. They threw each other over the bar, up and over the pool table, and used the entire space they were in incredibly effectively (it was immediately obvious why the black mask had funnelled everyone to the back of the room). Each musical stab highlighted an impact as they fought, and swelled with intensity as the fight became more and more deadly. Macbeth threw the man against the wall of kings; several of the cards fell off and fluttered to the ground.
He then grabbed the man, dragged him behind the bar, and bludgeoned him to death out of sight of all of us ghosts.
When he reappeared, he was covered in blood. He ran out of the room, and most of the ghosts followed him. I later discovered I’d just watched Macbeth’s murder of Banquo.
Part VII: What Lies in the Forest
I headed up a floor to find myself in what looked to be a hospital. Neatly-made beds lined each wall, but one of them appeared to have something in it; I approached it slowly, thinking that something might jump out at me, but I just had to know what was in there.
I carefully and slowly peeled back the sheet.
It was potatoes.
The bed was filled with potatoes.
After exploring a bit I looked out of a window and was somewhat shocked to see that at least half of this floor was a forest made of dead and twisted trees. I found my way into it (I later realised I could have just climbed through the window) and started making my way through; not only was it literally a maze, but it was incredibly dark and difficult to navigate due to having many dead ends.
But through the branches I could see a kind of beacon on the other side of the forest — there was some kind of structure with light absolutely streaming out of it — so I made that my goal.
As I rounded the final corner of the maze, I realised that the structure was a rounded hut, with warm light pouring out of the window and open door. Upon the steps leading to the door was sat a woman in a matron’s outfit, and surrounding her were maybe three or four ghosts.
I approached the hut and stood roughly the same distance from her as all of the other ghosts, waiting to see what she would do; what her scene was.
I was not expecting what happened next.
She was looking at all of the ghosts surrounding her. For the first time, I witnessed a character truly “see” us. Her eyes met the eyes of each ghost in turn. She held eye contact with each one until they looked away – and when they did, it was like they didn’t exist to her anymore.
She looked at me.
I looked back at her. We stared at each other, both of us unblinking, for an incredibly long time.
Right at the moment societal norms told me I should look elsewhere, the voice of the Red Woman from the Manderley echoed inside my head:
“Be bold and be brave.”
I held the Matron’s gaze. It felt like an eternity. She tilted her head slightly, considering me.
Again, the introvert inside my brain was screaming at me to stop looking. But then, I remembered the final words of the elevator operator:
“Fortune favours the bold.”
I became determined to be the one who didn’t look away. At this point, it had easily been twenty, maybe thirty seconds.
And then, in slow motion, the Matron extended her hand towards me.
My mouth ran dry and my heart was pounding. I can’t explain what I was feeling. I was super anxious at the thought of having the attention of people I didn’t know drawn to me (all the other ghosts were looking at me now), but my curiosity was somehow beating that anxiety into submission; I had to see how this would play out. The fourth wall that had always protected me in the past was well and truly gone now. This was the moment when I had to get the hell over that fear.
I stepped forward and placed my hand in hers.
Giving my hand a gentle squeeze, she stood up and led me inside the hut, closing and locking the door behind me. She walked over to the window and closed that, too.
Banging noises started coming from the door; the other ghosts were trying to get in. They couldn’t.
Then, the Matron turned to me, gently lifted my mask off my face, and for the first time since I got off the lift, I heard someone speak.
“That’s better,” she said.
Part VIII: Tea, for Two
I couldn’t believe it. It had been less than forty minutes, during my first ever visit to Sleep No More, and I was experiencing one of the legendary one-on-ones that only a tiny fraction of people get to see.
The Matron sat me down in a chair, smiling kindly at me. She turned around to her table, poured a cup of tea, and handed it to me, sitting atop a saucer.
I took the saucer in one hand and reached for the handle of the cup with the other, to take a sip — but before I could pick it up, her hand once again gently took mine and guided it back down to the saucer.
Unsure of what she wanted me to do, I sat there holding the saucer with both hands. She smiled at me again, produced a tea spoon, and scooped up some tea with it.
She then proceeded to spoon-feed me the tea.
She rested her fingers gently under my chin, tilting my head back, as she poured the first spoonful into my mouth. It was lukewarm, and not exactly pleasant, but she seemed so eager for me to enjoy it.
She fed me another spoonful, smiling warmly at me the whole time, as if she was — and I’m not sure, but — almost proud of me?
Then, she took a third spoonful, and on its way to my mouth, she spilled it down my front.
She gasped — as did I — and whipped the cup and saucer out of my hand. Producing a towel, she patted my shirt dry, and then my face, scoffing the whole time, like she was ashamed of herself, avoiding my gaze. I smiled at her, the same way she’d smiled at me up to that point.
As soon as she saw me smile, she stopped, smiled herself again, took both of my hands in hers and sat opposite me.
“Once upon a time,” she began, “there was a poor child … with no father and no mother.”
As before, she looked directly into my eyes, and didn’t break the gaze.
“And everything was dead,” she continued, “and no one was left in the whole world. Everything was dead.”
Her smile faded, ever-so-slightly.
“And the child went and searched day and night. And since nobody was left on the earth, he wanted to go up in to the heavens. And the moon was looking at him so friendly.”
Her hands gripped mine just a fraction tighter.
“And when he finally got to the moon, the moon was a piece of rotten wood.”
I began to realise that the music I could hear was slowly beginning to turn sinister as well, perfectly in sync with the Matron’s story; the hut had its own soundtrack that only the two of us could hear.
She leaned forward, letting go of one of my hands, but tightening the grip of the other. Her free hand found its way to my arm, and her voice became a low whisper.
“And then he went to the sun. And when he got there, the sun was a wilted sunflower. And when he got to the stars, they were little golden flies, stuck up there like the shrike sticks ’em on a black thorn.”
The music began to intensify, and the hut seemed to get just that little bit darker.
“And when he wanted to go back down to Earth, the Earth was an overturned piss-pot.”
The smile was completely gone from her face now.
“And he was all alone. And he sat down and he cried. And he is there to this day … all … alone.”
Whilst still holding my hand tightly, the Matron began to lean back in her chair, breaking eye-contact with me for the first time since her story started.
It was like she was about to have a seizure. I didn’t let go of her hand, but her back began to arch as she leaned further back away from me, her eyes rolling into the back of her head. It was getting harder for me to hang on to her without getting out of my seat. The strings of the orchestra were crescendoing like they do in a horror movie, getting more and more intense, as the pitch just got higher and higher.
Just as I was about to have to stand to avoid falling out of my seat, the music stopped and she shot forward. Within the space of a second she’d grabbed the back of my neck with her free hand, and brought her face to my ear.
“Blood will have blood, they say,” she whispered, letting go of me and falling back, breathing heavily, into her seat.
There was a long silence.
“Are you o-” I began to ask, but the Matron once again took my hand in hers, turned it over and started to trace along the lines in my palm with her finger.
Seemingly noticing something of significance, she paused, brow furrowed, as if something had disturbed her greatly. She then composed herself and smiled at me with a big warm smile once again. We stood up together, and she hugged me, tightly. After we broke apart her smile faltered a little, as if she was incredibly sad about something, but putting on a brave face for my benefit. She placed a hand gently on my chest for a few moments, then patted me gently on the arm before walking over towards the door.
Picking my mask up off the table, she helped me put it back on. She checked that I was good to go, making a fuss about ensuring I hadn’t left anything behind, and unlocked and opened the door.
All of the ghosts from before were gone. She held my hand while leading me down the first few steps, but let go before stepping out of the door.
When I got to the bottom of the steps I looked back up at her. She smiled back down at me, bathed in the warm yellow glow of the hut which now spilled out into the trees.
I took a few steps, and then, unable to resist, looked back again. She was still there, smiling. I gave her a wave; she waved back.
I took a few more steps, and suddenly all of the light went away, leaving the forest dark again. I spun back around to look at the hut. The door was closed, the lights were out, and I was alone in the forest.
Part IX: Reunited
I exited the forest and attempted to go up one floor, but a black mask standing in the stairwell stepped forward and shook her head; you can’t go any higher.
This was good information; I now knew I was on the fifth floor. I’d heard rumours of a secret sixth floor, but I knew I wouldn’t get up there by attempting to bypass the black mask, so I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to try and see it some other time.
I decided to head all the way downstairs so that I could fully explore the floors from the bottom up.
I made it down to the bottom floor, to encounter a large group of ghosts surrounding a few characters. One of the ghosts looked at me and waved. I’d found Michael!
I joined him in the crowd, frantically trying to sign-language to him somehow what had just happened to me with the Matron, but I couldn’t get it across. Figuring there was plenty of time for that later, I took in the room; it was incredibly dark, and there were nine trees in the centre of it, standing like rows of Christmas trees. One of the women in a flowing dress walked up to the tree, grabbed its branches, and started to spin it — I then realised that all of the trees were on castor wheels, like office chairs. Like it was her dance partner, the woman spun around and around with the tree until she’d moved it to the boundary of the room.
Her and another character did this with each of the trees in turn, until they had completely cleared the centre of the room and it became clear that we were in a grand ballroom. The lights began to become warmer, and more characters (flanked by dozens of ghosts) began to appear.
As the woman we’d been watching finished moving the final tree into a dark corner near the stairwell, she disappeared behind it. Michael ran after her, thinking she was headed off for another scene, but she suddenly reappeared from behind the tree and extended both of her hands towards him.
He placed his hands in hers, and she pulled him into a slow waltz. I was torn between watching them and watching the other characters pour in; they all started to slowly dance with each other, but Michael and the woman were in their own little world off in a dark corner. She was holding him close, her face mere inches away from his still-masked face, with both of her hands on the back of his head. As the final group of characters assembled and a new Glenn Miller song began to play, she leaned in, whispered in his ear, kissed his hand, and joined the main group.
He slowly walked back over to me, stunned. I could see by the deep breaths he was taking that his heart was pounding similar to the way mine was when I left the hut. I chuckled, patted him knowingly on the arm, and we watched the scene together.
The twelve assembled characters performed another amazingly choreographed dance scene in the middle of the ballroom, involving many furtive looks and drippings of jealousy. One character collapsed at the climax of the scene, and all of a sudden nearly everyone scattered. Michael ran out, after the woman he’d danced with earlier.
There was only one person left; a brunette woman in a blue dress. She fell to the floor and began to convulse, crawling around the floor like some kind of spider. The best thing I can compare it to (and the first thing it reminded me of) is a YouTube video I saw once of a tarantula shedding its outer skin.
After a little while the convulsions stopped, when the woman noticed that some of her hair had escaped her tightly-formed bun. She began to pull at it, and as it became taut she yanked once more and pulled all of her hair off.
I finally realised who this newly-bald woman was; she was one of Macbeth’s Three Witches. I’d later discover that one of the other two witches was the woman who’d had the slow dance with Michael; the third, a boy.
Suddenly a bearded man appeared, and tossing her wig to the side, the witch and the man began to fight each other. Part supernatural, part ordinary violence, and all dance, the two clashed as an epic orchestral score filled the entire ballroom.
The witch finally killed the man with a kiss, and ran off, followed by almost all of the remaining ghosts.
I checked my watch; it had been an hour since I checked into the McKittrick, and, for me, the second loop of the story was about to start. There was still plenty to be done; so many of the characters I saw during the ballroom dance were ones I’d not yet encountered, and I was excited to explore as many of the over one hundred rooms of the McKittrick Hotel as I could.
I took a deep breath and ran after her.
Part X: The Secret of Her Sadness
After the show was over, Michael and I met in the corner we’d originally agreed upon, and during the slow walk out of the hotel with hundreds of other people we excitedly debriefed each other on everything we’d seen.
We’d run into each other four more times during the final two hours, but adhered to our agreement and deliberately went in different directions afterwards. Our Uber driver hid his confusion very well, as we filled each other in about opening desk drawers and finding dead ravens, creepy telephone calls, and so many boobs, dicks and butts.
During our debrief I realised I’d missed out on so much; I wasn’t too worried though, because I knew that someday soon I would definitely come back.
On our way out I purchased a book about the show. Once we were back at our hotel I excitedly flipped through it, expecting to see a scene list or some detail on the story, but of course the vast majority of the secrets had to stay within the walls of the McKittrick — the book contained a little bit of vague writing about the production process, but the majority of the pages were filled with set and cast photos and credits.
Slightly disappointed, I flipped backwards through the book, taking in the photos this time, until I saw one which was a diagram of a hand. The hand had a series of lines drawn across it which I recognised immediately, and all of a sudden I had a flashback to the hut in the forest, where the Matron had grabbed my hand and traced the exact same lines with her finger.
The caption under the diagram read, in Olde English:
A certain little crosse in the end of the midle natural line, opposite to the midle of the midle finger or the Ring-finger, signifieth death within a year, or there abouts.
Update: In 2018, I went back. Twice. Read Part II of the story here.