The sinister, scarred visage leered at Mary as she cowered in the darkened hall, her hand held firmly over her mouth.
“Now, next time I see you, missy, you better have a fat wad of bills in your hand to give me, or else…you’re gonna work off your debt to me lying on your back, if you know what I mean. I’m the fellow around here that protects vulnerable young things like yourself; lot of bad men around here just itching to take advanage of a sweet young thing like you! I know, because I happen to be one of ‘em!”
He put his grizzled, leering face close to hers, so she could smell the cheap whiskey on his breath. His face looked like a hundred miles of rough road, old and battered,a nd his teeth were broken. His eyes were bloodshot and full of insanity.
“Oh, oh you monstrous man, I can’t believe what you’ve just said to me!”
She pounded him on the chest with one of her thin, white wrists, but he was like hitting solid brick. He laughed, grabbed her wrist, and snarled, “Well, looks like we have a might fiesty filly right here. Well, looks like someone’s got to break you in, teach you some manners> I reckon that someone will have to be me!”
He grabbed her wrist and twisted. With a wrenching cy she broke away from him, running down the dim hall back to her room, withhis booming footfalls and laughter echoing behind her. She slammed the door, flung herself on her bed,a nd began to cry. In a few moments, she got up, wiping her tears from her eyes,a nd walked over to the window. She parted the filmy drapes, looking up and down the cold dusty street for some sign of her husband.
Her husband had brought her, like some grim hostage of fortune, here to Skagway, Alaska, an inhospitable, rough and tumble town that had caught “gold fever” quite recently, transforming almost over night into a filthy, lawless but undeniably bustling and excited boom town of men, both young and old, come to seek their fortune.
And would they ever find it? Not all of them, she knew But her husband had been so determined, and it meant so mych to him, she didn’t feel she could refuse. He had gone off and left her at this forsaken hotel, the “Golden North,” with a promise that he would return a wealthy man. But that had been some time ago, before she had gotten sick.
She dreaded tonight; she knew the saloon downstairs would be bustling with drunken, leering oafs, like the degenerate wretch that had just tried to accost her. The piano music and drunken singing would float up from below, a dull rumble, and the painted hussies in their finery would strut around the room, hangin off of the rough, lusty men playing cards. It was no secret what THOSE women were really up to.
She coughed loudly into her kerchief. She drew it away from her mouth, looked at the spot of blood in the white center. Oh! she was terribly ill. Her wracking cough could be heard all day and night; she was certain it would disturb the other guests. (Of course, she also realized, many of them were too preoccupied with drink and gambling to much care about some woman coughing down the hall.)
What to do now about the threatening man she had encountered out in the hallway? Would he return to torment her? She didn’t know.
I’ll just stay inside her, until my husband returns, she thought to herself in desperation. Skagway was a den of criminality and vice now, such men as the one who had threatened her living and dying in the shadow cast by the new found mania for GOLD. Gambllng, prostitution, vice of every kind were as common as corruption. No, she could expect no help from the law.
She put her face in her pillow to stifle another cough. She had one friend in the entire establishment, a native Alaskan servant who brought her her meals. otherwise, she wouldn’t DARE to leave this room again, not until her husband returned.
If he ever did return.
Alas, a happy reunion was not to be.
The poor girl (we can call her, as a matter of convenience, “Mary”) grew more and more desperately ill, day by day, the pneumonia slowly draining the life out of her. She had no money to see a doco, and, even if she had, it is most unlikely he could have done much more than made her comfortable on her way to the casket. Finally, on a day unrecorded by history, she gave up the ghost. (Or, if later accounts are to be believed, the ghost more properly gave up her.)
The town of Skagway unceremnoiusly buried her in an unmarked grave. Perhaps her husband later found the location; we aren’t sure. Certainly, some city official, no matter the level of apathy and corruption, would have been kind enough to take the unfortunate man to the grave site, so he could get some closure.
The young husband cursed himself. Oh why! he fumed; why had he been so cursed with rampaging greed? (Cultured snobs and movie afficianadoes will recognize the faint hint of the themes that drove Erich Von Stroheim’s silent movie epic Greed (1924), a movie based entirely on the novel McTeague by Naturalist novelist Frank Norris. In that sorry tale, a man lets his greed for his wife’s squandered lottery ticket drive him to insanity and ruin. Culminating, as it were, in the murder of his wife. But I digress.)
The young man left Alaska a pale, wan shadow, vowing never to return, and is lost to the rest of this narrative.
His wife, however, decided to remain at the location of her untimely demise, a resident spirit prowling the creaking floorboards, and dim, shadowy halls of the tottering old hotel. As of the early Nineties, the Golden North still stood, an historic reminder of the short-lived “Boom Era” of old Skagway.
Visitors to haunted Room 23 (and we could write an essay on how often that particular number crops up in stories of the unexplained!) often complain of a suffocating feeling when entering the room, as if their lungs have been dipped in cotton, or the air pressure is conspiring to choke the life from them…
And they complain of weird sobs and howls, and we’re sure, many other unsettling anomalies as well.
Room 23 is never rented out to guests. Mary is the permanent resident there, often seen looking out the window by credible witnesses, still searching apparently, for her long-dead husband to come riding home.