Literature / 1408
One of Stephen King
's better short stories and an unusual variation on the classic haunted hotel room, 1408
tells the story of Mike Enslin, a professional supernatural investigator/debunker and horror writer who stumbles on something much worse than a ghost...
The story was included in the Everything's Eventual
collection, and adapted into a film of the same name
1408 contains examples of:
- Alien Geometries: The door to 1408 is first crooked to the left, then it's straight, then to the right, then both. Each time, it changed when Mike looks away. And the room itself also takes on some extremely alien geometries near the end. Mike finds "Moorish" the closest thing he could come up with to pinning a word to it. King's text calls it "a convex, rotting cave full of swoops and mad tilts."
- Bittersweet Ending: The room melts and distorts near the end, and is about to consume Enslin. Enslin sets himself on fire, and the room lets him leave. Enslin is saved by another hotel guest who happened to be walking by with a bucket of ice water. Enslin doesn't publish his story, the recordings are useless, and he has third degree burns, scarring him for the rest of his life. He retreats to a house in Long Island where he lives out a lonely life, has health problems, and is completely traumatized by his 70-minute stay in room 1408. Still, the room seems to be at least temporarily incapacitated, and Mike still fared much better than any 1408 guest prior to him.
- Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Inverted. Mr. Olin, the hotel manager, begs Mike Enslin not to stay in Room 1408, and says that after reading Mike's books about spending nights in supposedly haunted houses and castles, he gets the impression that Mike has absolutely no belief in the supernatural. Olin thinks that this will make Mike's stay in 1408 that much worse. Unfortunately for Mike, Olin is right.
- Creepy Painting: There are several in Room 1408, which of course each change from mundane yet off-putting to disturbing.
- Eldritch Abomination: The room doesn't have ghosts. Whatever's wrong with it was never human.
- Eldritch Location: It's a room that warps, melts, threatens you over the phone and may or may not want to eat you.
- Evil Phone: The phone shouts numbers at him in a voice that sounds like 'an electric hair-clipper that has learned how to talk.'
"This is nine! Nine! This is nine! Nine! This is ten! Ten! We have killed your friends! Every friend is now dead! This is six! Six! Eighteen! This is now eighteen! Take cover when the siren sounds! This is four! Four! Five! This is five! Ignore the siren! Even if you leave this room, you can never leave this room! Eight! This is eight! Six! Six! This is goddamn fucking six!"
- Fictional Colour: After a cleaning lady was momentarily locked up inside room 1408, she was rendered blind and could only see "the most awful colors" that she had no name for.
- Genius Loci: The room doesn't have anything evil in it. The room itself is evil. Considering the larger King canon, there's a good chance that it's a thinny.
- Hell Hotel: Room 1408 in the Dolphin Hotel. Only one room is actually a portal to something hellish, the rest of the hotel is quite pleasant and the manager tries his damnedest to make sure no one but he and a select few of the staff go into that room.
- Man on Fire: The way that Mike escapes from the eponymous room is by setting his lucky Hawaiian shirt on fire, and he speculates that the entity dwelling in the room had no interest in absorbing a burned man. Mike needs a few skin grafts but only avoids more serious injury because another guest on the same floor happened to be walking back from the ice machine, and he dumped his bucket of ice onto Mike's burning shirt.
- Morton's Fork: "Even if you leave this room, you will never leave this room." In other words, if he stays in the room, the evil presence there will torture him forever until he's crazy; if he leaves the room, the evil presence will stay with him, torturing him forever until he's crazy.
- Oh, Crap!: From Mike after the room service menu spontaneously changes content and languages, and shit starts to get real:
"I have to get out of here."
- Paranoia Fuel: Discussed in King's notes. King states that hotel rooms are inherently creepy due to the fact you have no idea who else has come and gone from them before you came, and who will come and go after. Any number of those people could have been sick or insane at the time they stayed, and several of them have probably already died.
- Savage Wolves: When Mike flips through the dinner menu, the thing changes in front of him every time he closes his eyes briefly. The last time it shows a young boy being Eaten Alive by hungry wolves.
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: Mike Enslin's stay in room 1408 becomes completely meaningless at the end. Mike survives after setting himself on fire, turning him into a shellshocked paranoiac. His tapes are full of nothing but incoherent ramblings that just confuses his agent. The room still exists, it will still claim victims, and even Mr. Olin's efforts to prevent anyone else from going inside are likely to end with his eventual death/dismissal as the hotel's manager.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Enslin becomes totally paranoid after his experience. He cannot sleep in strange places, he can't answer the phone, he can't allow any light from the sunrise or sunset into his room (as it reminds him of the colors in the room), and he is an all-around broken individual.
- Shout-Out: The Haunting (1963) gets two of them: one is a specific reference when Mike is thinking about the paintings changing, and the other is a subtle reference to "Mike's 70-odd (very odd) minute stay " in the room.
- Spooky Painting: The evil room features several framed pieces of drab hotel art (an ocean fishing scene, a fox hunt, a woman and a baby) that suddenly change to become menacing as the hotel room subjects the main character to more and greater horrors.
- Talkative Loon: Enslin becomes this while in the room. Listening to his minicorder recordings doesn't help anyone understand what happened in there — it's all bursts of disjointed yammering about fuming oranges, Oedipus, and wolves on the turnpike.
- 13 Is Unlucky: 1+4+0+8=13. And because of the way floors are numbered in the West, it's actually on the 13th floor.
- Uncanny Valley: Shades of this in the descriptions of the the still-life paintings (one of which was originally a plastic plum sitting on a plate, and only becomes a painting after he looks, turns away, and looks back) and the bed covers, innocuous objects that just seem off and give Mike a sense of revulsion and dread.