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Literature / 1408

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A short story written by Stephen King 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 upon something much worse than a ghost in the titular room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel in New York City.

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 melting, rotting cave full of swoops and mad tilts."
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: It is likely that the people who have jumped out of the window of 1408 did so to escape the Eldritch Abomination within before it could take them.
  • 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 intact but 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 — as he puts it, any amount of ghosts could have paraded past Mike without him ever noticing, but the thing in 1408 does not care if you believe in it or not. Unfortunately for Mike, Olin is right.
  • Dead Guy on Display: A variation. Once the paintings in the room change, a group of people can be seen on the boat. Mike somehow becomes aware that these people are the room's victims. And while their physical bodies have long been disposed of, it's hardly a stretch to think that some part of them may have indeed been forever claimed by the room.
  • Domain Holder: Outside of his office, Olin is an inconsequential little man who is completely dominated by Mike. Inside his office, he suddenly acquires a powerful presence and personality, to the point that Mike spends the entirety of the interview on the defensive, and Olin even manages to make him seriously reconsider his decision to enter 1408. Of course, unlike the titular room, Olin's office is completely mundane (at least probably, one never knows what kind of long-term effects being exposed to an Eldritch Location can have on a man and his surroundings), but its effect on Olin's composure is so drastic that it evokes this trope nonetheless. And then of course there's whatever abomination has made Room 1408 into its lair.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Olin was telling the truth when he said the room doesn't have ghosts. "At least ghosts were once human. The thing in the wall, though... that thing..."
  • 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 prefers its prey raw and 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.
  • Mind Manipulation: Whatever is going on in 1408 is at least partially, if not completely, a mental effect. The easier one's mind is to undermine, the faster 1408 will manifest its full power. Anything that increases a person's morale can stave off the effects of 1408 a little - groups of people fare better than people alone, and good friends fare even better. However, as noted by Olin, disbelief in the room's power does not help and actually makes things even worse. Presumably because an unbeliever will not bother with putting up mental defenses until it's too late.
  • Number of the Beast: See Evil Phone's quote above. "Six! Six! This is goddamn fucking six!"
  • 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."
  • Only in It for the Money: Enslin started out his career trying to write things that he sincerely believed in like poetry, but it didn't grant him any success compared to his books about supernatural investigations, which he approaches very cynically and with no belief in the possibility that any of it could be real.
  • Paranoia Fuel: invoked 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 confuse (and terrify) 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: The Evil Phone in the room was correct when it said "Even if you leave this room, you can never leave this room"; 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.
  • Soul Eating: Implied. The victims of 1408 seem to die of "natural causes" such as heart attacks, their bodies intact, but there are strong implications the room eats its victims in some way, especially with the imagery of the paintings and the menu turning into an illustration of a boy being devoured by a wolf.
    If not for the matches with CLOSE COVER BEFORE STRIKING written on the front, he would have died in 1408, and his end would have been unspeakable. To a coroner it might have looked like a stroke or a heart attack, but the actual cause of death would have been much nastier. Much nastier.
  • Spooky Painting: The evil room features several framed pieces of drab hotel art (a woman in an evening gown, a boat and a poor-quality still-life). At first, they seem mundane if somewhat off-putting. They later 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, Orpheus, and wolves on the turnpike.
  • Thin Dimensional Barrier: Room 1408 is where mundane reality intersects too closely with something awful.
  • 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.
  • Twin Telepathy: Invoked. The pair of maids best capable of resisting 1408 consisted of twins.
    Olin: The bond between them seemed to make them... how shall I put it? Not immune to 1408, but its equal... at least for the short periods of time needed to give a room a light turn.
  • Weirdness Censor: Brought up by Olin during his conversation with Enslin. Olin believes that the reason Enslin has never encountered a ghost, despite spending a lot of time in supposedly haunted places, is because he does not believe in them. He also says that this will not help Mike in Room 1408, and he is absolutely right.