Room Full of Spooks
When I got home from school, my room was full of ghosts...again! They were being invisible, but I could feel the cold spots in the air.
“Did I speak to you ectoplasms about this, or did I not?” I asked the empty room.
Silence. The ghosts were dummying up.
“Rudolph Valentino! I can smell your lousy cigar!” There was a faint smell of cigar smoke, the trademark of the ghostly Valentino, so I knew he was among them. And my bedspread was rumpled. Probably they were sitting on my bed, playing cards.
“Look, you spectres—this is a young girl’s bedroom, not a club! Why do you have to hang out here all the time? You have an eight-story hotel to haunt. There’s a complete apartment reserved for your personal use. Why don’t you stay there? It’s the nicest one in the whole building.” The management had sealed off a large apartment because it was way too haunted for living guests to put up with. The hope was that if they gave the ghosts their own space they wouldn’t haunt the rest of the hotel so much. Some hope.
“We get bored,” Rudolph Valentino said. “It’s nothing but ghosts there.” “So you crowd in here so you can bore me, and stink up my room,” I said. I was mad. I really liked most of the ghosts, but a woman is entitled to some privacy. Grumbling and mumbling, the ghosts climbed out my bedroom window, made their way along the ledge, and climbed into the window of the apartment that had belonged to Valentino in 1927. I had been in the apartment lots of times. Like the ghosts, I had to climb out my window and go along the narrow ledge to get in, which was a little scary to do if you weren’t already dead.
The Hermione is not a regular hotel in the sense that people check in for a couple of nights or a week. It’s all apartments, some tiny and some quite large. People live in it for months at a stretch, or all the time. It was quite the fancy address when my father first came to Hollywood in the days of the silent movies.
You can see what a deluxe sort of place it was. It has architecture all over it. There are rough plaster walls, old-fashioned light fixtures made of hammered iron, fancy tile floors, and dark, heavy woodwork with carvings and decorations on it. There are tapestries that hang from iron things that look like spears, and a couple of suits of armor standing around. It looks like a movie set. It’s a combination of old Spanish California and the Middle Ages, with some Arabian Nights thrown in.
I have lived in the Hermione all my life. I know the old hotel from top to bottom. I have been in all of the apartments, the basement, the laundry, and the restaurant that’s been closed for years, and I know about the deserted tennis courts and the second, unused, and hidden swimming pool where the enormous turtle lives. I know things about the hotel that Mr. Glanvill, the manager, does not know. Chase, my favorite ghost, was the one who showed me where to find the master key someone had mislaid a long time ago. It opens every door in the place except the one to Valentino’s apartment where all the ghosts hang out, because the door lock is rusted solid. Chase is not the ghost of a person. She is the ghost of a black bunny rabbit. She has been sort of my own personal ghost since I was a baby. We are able to talk, which is something you can’t do with a living bunny. Chase changes size. Usually, she is bunny-size, but I have seen her get to be as large as a German shepherd dog.
Rudolph Valentino is the ghost most people would know about, because he was a big movie star in the 1920s—but the oldest ghost, and the one who should be most famous, really, is La Brea Woman. Valentino doesn’t compare to La Brea Woman for being distinguished. She is the only human whose bones have been pulled out of the La Brea Tar Pits. She lived about nine thousand years ago. She is the oldest human ever found in Southern California. Plus, she was murdered—someone knocked her on the head with a rock. We are all proud of La Brea Woman. And she’s a nice ghost. She’s shorter than I am, in her early twenties, and always has her hair in curlers and wears sunglasses with pink frames and fuzzy pink slippers. She is friendly and cheerful, and talks a blue streak in some ancient dialect that hasn’t been heard on earth in thousands of years.
I don’t know exactly how many ghosts live in the Hermione—at least a dozen, maybe more. Not all of them like to communicate—they just haunt, appear and disappear, walk the corridors—some of them moan, or cry, or make ghostly laughter. Chase is the only ghost with whom I can have a conversation. Valentino will exchange a few words with me—but that’s just his polite nature. Alsso, he may be nice to me because he knew my father in the old days.