Classics Translated

The Pale Man

Julius Long, first published in Weird Tales magazine, September 1934; translated to Modern English, otherwise exactly the same. 



If you would prefer to hear this tale narrated, my very good friend, Danie Dreadful did another amazing job with this one! Here’s the Youtube link, and if you enjoy scary stories don’t forget to subscribe and check out her other videos!
Cover of Weird Tales September 1934 issue

An odd little tale, about the eccentric behavior of a strange guest in a country hotel

I have not met the man in room 212. I don’t even know his name. He never visits the hotel restaurant, and he does not use the lobby. The three times we passed each other, we did not speak, but we nodded politely. I would really like to meet him; it is lonely in this depressing place. With the exception of the old lady down the hall, the only permanent guests are the man in 212 and myself. However, I should not complain; this complete silence is exactly what the doctor prescribed.

I wonder if the man in 212 also came here to rest. He is very pale, but I do not think it is from an illness; overall, he seems rather healthy. He is tall, has excellent posture, and a brisk, athletic stride. His paleness must be hereditary, or he would tan under this burning, summer sun.

He must have driven here; I am certain he was not on the train that brought me, and he checked-in shortly after myself. After a brief rest in my room, I was walking downstairs when he was coming up. It is odd the bell-boy did not escort him.

With so many vacant rooms, it is also odd that he chose 212 at the far end. The building is long, narrow, and three stories high; the rooms are all on the east side since the west wall is flush with an old business. The dull corridor – with its stiff, bloated wallpaper – smells musty, and the dim light bulbs make it feel like a tomb. Disgusted by this hallway, I insisted on having room 201; it is located at the front and has a southern entrance. The clerk – a disagreeable man with a Hitler mustache – was reluctant because it is usually reserved for his more profitable short-term clients. Unfortunately, my stubbornness has made him an enemy.

If only I had been as assertive thirty years ago! I would be a full-fledged professor instead of a broken-down assistant. The casual way the president of the university recommended my vacation still hurts. There is no doubt he acted in my best interests; the people controlling my poor life always do.

Oh well, the summer’s rest will probably benefit me considerably; it is nice to be away from the university. There is something very satisfying about the absence of graduate students. If only it were not so lonely! I must find a way to meet the pale man in 212. Perhaps the clerk can make arrangements.

I have been here exactly one week, and if there is a friendly soul in this miserable little town, we did not meet. Although businesses eagerly accept my money, they deliberately avoid even the most casual conversation. I fear I will never be accepted by them unless I can arrange to have my ancestors recognized as local residents for the last hundred and fifty years.

Despite my cold reception, I go out frequently – secretly hoping to encounter the pale man. I wonder why he left 212; surely there cannot be much gained by moving one door closer to the front. I noticed the change yesterday when I saw him exiting his new room.

We nodded again, and this time I thought I detected a sinister satisfaction in his gloomy, black eyes. He must know that I am eager to speak with him, yet his demeanor discourages introductions. If he wants me to do all of the work – he can forget it; I am not the type to chase after anybody. The surly clerk’s shyness has been enough to stop me from questioning him about the mysterious guest.

I wonder where the pale man gets his meals. Instead of dining at the hotel, I have been going to restaurants in town. At each one, I asked questions about the man in 210, but no one remembered serving him. Perhaps he knows people living in this town, or he may have found a boarding-house; I must learn if there is one nearby.

The pale man must be difficult to please – he changed rooms again; I am baffled by his behavior. If he is so desperate for a more conveniently placed room, why not move to 202? It is the closest to the front they have available.

Perhaps I can use his relocations as an excuse to start a conversation. I might casually say something like, “I see we are closer neighbors now”… but that is too obvious; I must wait for a better opportunity.

He did it again; he is now in room 209. I am intrigued by his little game; I waste hours trying to understand the point. What possible motive could he have? It must be annoying for the hotel staff; I wonder how our combination bell-hop/maid feels about preparing four rooms for a single guest. If he were not totally dense, I would ask him – but for now, I am too exhausted to attempt such a draining conversation.

I am tremendously interested in the pale man’s next move. He must either skip a room or stay where he is because the old lady lives in 208. She has not budged from her room since I have been here, and I doubt she plans to.

I wonder what the pale man will do; I await his decision with the nervous excitement of a race-track junkie the night before a big race. After all, there is nothing else to do.

Well, the mysterious guest was not forced to remain in 209, nor did he skip a room. The lady in 208 simplified matters by conveniently dying. No one knows the cause of her death, but the general assumption is that she died of old age. She was buried this morning, and I was among the curious few who attended her funeral. Upon returning home from the mortuary, I saw the pale man leaving her room; he had already moved in.

He favored me with a smile, and I have tried in vain to decipher its meaning – it must have some significance. He acted as if there were a secret meaning that I failed to appreciate; though, perhaps his smile was meaningless after all, and only ambiguous by chance – like the Mona Lisa’s.

My man of mystery now resides in 207, and I am not surprised in the least. I would have been astonished if he had missed his scheduled move; I have almost given up trying to understand his eccentric behavior. I do not know a single thing more about him than I knew the day he arrived. I wonder where he came from – there is something indescribably foreign about him. I am curious to hear his voice; I like to imagine that he speaks the language of some far-away country. If only there were some way to trick him into a conversation! I wish I possessed the abundant confidence of a college boy – one capable of introducing himself to distinguished people without hesitation; it is no wonder that I am only an assistant professor.

I am worried; this morning, I woke up lying flat on the floor – fully clothed. I must have collapsed from exhaustion after returning to my room; I wonder if my condition is more serious than suspected. Until now, I have ignored the fears of loved ones. For the first time, I remember the prolonged handshake of the president when we said good-bye at the university; he obviously never expected to see me alive again.

Of course, I am not that sick; nevertheless, I must be more careful. Thank heaven I have no children to worry about; there is not even a wife since I was never willing to exchange a bachelor’s loneliness for a husband’s loneliness.

I can sincerely say that the prospect of death does not frighten me; speculating about life beyond the grave has always bored me. Whatever it is – or is not – I’ll try to get along.

I have been so preoccupied with the sudden turn in my own life that I neglected to make note of an extraordinary incident; the pale man has done something astounding! He skipped three rooms and moved all the way to 203. We are now very close neighbors and will meet more often; my chances for an introduction are much better.

I have confined myself to bed during the last few days and my food has been delivered. I even called a local doctor, though I suspect he is a quack. He looked me over with professional indifference and told me not to leave my room; for some reason he doesn’t want me to climb stairs. This bit of information cost a ten-dollar bill which he fished out of my coat pocket as instructed; a pickpocket could not have done it better.

The doctor was not gone long when the clerk visited; he feigned a show of kindly concern while suggesting I go to the hospital. It is supposedly very modern and all that. With more firmness than I have been able to muster in a long time – I told him that I intended to stay, and his posture stiffened as he departed with a gloomy frown. The doctor must have paused long enough to tell him a pretty story. Obviously, he is afraid I will die in his best room.

The pale man is up to his old tricks. Last night, when I walked down the hall, the door of 202 was open. Without thinking, I looked inside; the pale man sat in a rocking-chair, idly smoking a cigarette. He looked into my eyes and smiled that peculiar, ambiguous smile that has so deeply puzzled me. I moved on down the corridor, not so much mystified as annoyed. The whole mystery of the man’s behavior is beginning to irritate me; it is all so silly and pointless. I feel that I will never meet the pale man, but – at the very least – I am going to learn his identity. Tomorrow, I will ask for the clerk and interrogate him.

I know now… I know the identity of the pale man and the meaning of his smile. Early this afternoon, I summoned the clerk to my bedside. “Please tell me who the man in 202 is!” I asked abruptly.

The clerk stared, tired and confused. “You must be mistaken; that room is empty.”

“But I saw him only two nights ago! He is a tall, handsome fellow with dark eyes and hair; he is unusually pale and checked-in the same day as myself.” I snapped in irritation.

The hotel man regarded me doubtfully, as if I were trying to play a joke. “But I assure you there is no such person here. As for his checking-in when you did – you were the only guest registered that day.”

“What? I’ve seen him twenty times! First he had room 212 at the end of the corridor. Then he kept moving toward the front, and now, he’s next door in 202.”

The room clerk threw up his hands. “You’re crazy!” He exclaimed, and I saw that he meant it.

I immediately shut up and dismissed him. After he left, I heard him rattling the knob of the pale man’s door. There is no doubt that he believes the room to be empty.

That is how I came to understand what happened over the past few – including the significance of the death in 207; I even feel partly responsible for the old lady’s passing. After all, I brought the pale man with me, but it was not I who set his path. I cannot explain the mystery of why he chose to approach me room after room through the length of this dreary hotel, nor why he chose to visit the old woman.

I suppose I should have guessed his identity when he skipped the three rooms on the night of my collapse. In a single night, he advanced until he was almost at my door. He will be coming to inhabit this room – his ultimate goal – soon. When he comes, at least I will be able to return his smile of grim recognition.

Meanwhile, I must only wait behind my locked door.

The door slowly swings open…

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