THE OTHER LODGERS
by Ambrose Bierce
"In order to take that train," said Colonel Levering,
sitting in the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, "you will have
to remain nearly all night in Atlanta. That is a fine
city, but I advise you not to put up at the Breathitt
House, one of the principal hotels. It is an old
wooden building in urgent need of repairs. There are
breaches in the walls that you could throw a cat
through. The bedrooms have no locks on the doors, no
furniture but a single chair in each, and a bedstead
without bedding--just a mattress. Even these meager
accommodations you cannot be sure that you will have
in monopoly; you must take your chance of being stowed
in with a lot of others. Sir, it is a most abominable
"The night that I passed in it was an uncomfortable
night. I got in late and was shown to my room on the
ground floor by an apologetic night-clerk with a
tallow candle, which he considerately left with me. I
was worn out by two days and a night of hard railway
travel and had not entirely recovered from a gunshot
wound in the head, received in an altercation. Rather
than look for better quarters I lay down on the mattress
without removing my clothing and fell asleep.
"Along toward morning I awoke. The moon had risen and
was shining in at the uncurtained window, illuminating
the room with a soft, bluish light which seemed, somehow,
a bit spooky, though I dare say it had no uncommon
quality; all moonlight is that way if you will observe
it. Imagine my surprise and indignation when I saw the
floor occupied by at least a dozen other lodgers! I sat
up, earnestly damning the management of that unthinkable
hotel, and was about to spring from the bed to go and
make trouble for the night-clerk--him of the apologetic
manner and the tallow candle--when something in the
situation affected me with a strange indisposition to
move. I suppose I was what a story-writer might call
'frozen with terror.' For those men were obviously all
"They lay on their backs, disposed orderly along three
sides of the room, their feet to the walls--against the
other wall, farthest from the door, stood my bed and
the chair. All the faces were covered, but under their
white cloths the features of the two bodies that lay
in the square patch of moonlight near the window showed
in sharp profile as to nose and chin.
"I thought this a bad dream and tried to cry out, as
one does in a nightmare, but could make no sound. At
last, with a desperate effort I threw my feet to the
floor and passing between the two rows of clouted faces
and the two bodies that lay nearest the door, I escaped
from the infernal place and ran to the office. The
night-clerk was there, behind the desk, sitting in the
dim light of another tallow candle--just sitting and
staring. He did not rise: my abrupt entrance produced
no effect upon him, though I must have looked a veritable
corpse myself. It occurred to me then that I had not
before really observed the fellow. He was a little chap,
with a colorless face and the whitest, blankest eyes I
ever saw. He had no more expression than the back of my
hand. His clothing was a dirty gray.
"'Damn you!' I said; 'what do you mean?'
"Just the same, I was shaking like a leaf in the wind
and did not recognize my own voice.
"The night-clerk rose, bowed (apologetically) and--well,
he was no longer there, and at that moment I felt a hand
laid upon my shoulder from behind. Just fancy that if
you can! Unspeakably frightened, I turned and saw a
portly, kind-faced gentleman, who asked:
"'What is the matter, my friend?'
"I was not long in telling him, but before I made an
end of it he went pale himself. 'See here,' he said,
'are you telling the truth?'
"I had now got myself in hand and terror had given
place to indignation. 'If you dare to doubt it,' I
said, 'I'll hammer the life out of you!'
"'No,' he replied, 'don't do that; just sit down till
I tell you. This is not a hotel. It used to be; afterward
it was a hospital. Now it is unoccupied, awaiting a
tenant. The room that you mention was the dead-room--there
were always plenty of dead. The fellow that you call the
night-clerk used to be that, but later he booked the
patients as they were brought in. I don't understand
his being here. He has been dead a few weeks.'
"'And who are you?' I blurted out.
"'Oh, I look after the premises. I happened to be
passing just now, and seeing a light in here came in
to investigate. Let us have a look into that room,'
he added, lifting the sputtering candle from the
"'I'll see you at the devil first!' said I, bolting
out of the door into the street.
"Sir, that Breathitt House, in Atlanta, is a beastly
place! Don't you stop there."
"God forbid! Your account of it certainly does not
suggest comfort. By the way, Colonel, when did all
"In September, 1864--shortly after the siege."
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~