Original Photo by Carlos Pacheco
A few years ago, while on a road trip, I glimpsed a sign advertising a motel that I’ll call the Red Rim Motel, because that’s close enough, and will give you some idea of why I did a double-take. The name of the motel made me immediately think of Red Rum, which is murder spelled backward and an allusion to the Stephen King novel and Stanley Kubrick movie The Shining.
Mirder, I thought, getting chills as I passed the Red Rim Motel sign, resolving never to stay there.
I’d never seen or read The Shining. Once when I was about ten, my older brother described scenes from The Exorcist and I lay awake paralyzed by terror for many nights afterward. That experience was enough to deter me from horror movies forever, except for a brief regrettable lapse when I was seventeen and went to see The Changeling. For weeks afterward, I woke repeatedly, a red ball that had once belonged to a drowned boy rolling down the staircases of my dreams.
I’m fascinated by ghost stories, and I recently wrote one, and then, given my horror at the whole horror genre, was somewhat perplexed one day to find that my forthcoming novel, Following Disasters, was number 4544 on Amazon’s books>literature and fiction>genre fiction>horror>ghosts bestseller list. It had never occurred to me that a ghost story might be seen as a subcategory of horror. But I was also pleased when, while reading the galleys aloud to my daughter, she shuddered and said, “This is creepy.” I decided that I had matured beyond my inability to handle scary movies and went to see Ten Cloverfield Lane, missing the last thirty minutes because my eyes were closed.
Over the years, friends have alluded to The Shining, about a family stranded at an isolated hotel in which the words “red rum” are apparently an important plot device. According to Urban Dictionary, “redrum” works “on many other levels, being suggestive of bloodshed, wrath, inebriation, violence, a force that consumes people’s lives like some satisfying drink, and something used to subdue the Native American tribes that form a subtext of the film.”
I wondered if the owner of the Red Rim Hotel was sadistic, wickedly funny, or simply unaware of the cultural baggage of the hotel’s name. Since I wasn’t about to stay there, I checked out customer reviews of it on Trip Advisor. What struck me was the utter glee people took in describing its flaws, their pleasure in just the right detail or metaphor. There were frequent comparisons to the Bates Motel, but oddly, I thought, none to The Shining’s Overlook Hotel.
Various customers recalled the Red Rim’s bad smell, the creepy desk clerk behind bullet-proof glass, the beat up old washing machine and herd of feral cats in the parking lot, the smell of cat pee, the dirty rooms, the boot marks where a door had been kicked and then lamely repaired with duct tape, a wrinkled, torn poster for a 1990s crime movie that got really bad reviews, the pillows that were so flat you couldn’t see they even existed when the bedspread was pulled up over them, and the mattresses that sagged so badly that sleeping on them was like trying to stay perched atop a log.
“Really, really creepy,” reported one evaluator.
“Worst motel stay EVER!” complained another.
No one, however, reported seeing the words “Red Rim” written in lipstick. No one found piles of paper on which was typed repeatedly, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” There were no reports of hedge mazes, creepy twins in matching dresses, or waterfalls of blood.
Since I had no plans to ever stay there myself, I convinced my brother, who harbors a fondness for haunted hotels and quirky tourist sites and who owed me for that whole Exorcist episode, to spend a night there instead.
He later reported driving across a bridge and down a lonely country road, following signs to the Red Rim Motel. The room he checked into seemed okay except for the sink in the little bathroom that turned itself on, then off. He heard scurrying above the ceiling, and a woman next door periodically screaming. But no one chased him with an ax. The words Red Rim didn’t appear on the bathroom wall in order to spell out Mirder in the mirror. Of course I was happy that my brother got out safely, but a little disappointed that his stay was so lacking in drama.
Schmoop tells us that “Red Rum” isn’t so bad. It is, it claims, “The reverse of murder. It’s murder averted, murder that doesn’t come to pass. Redrum is the possibility of the reverse of murder—life.” I am very happy to report that my brother was reverse murdered at the Red Rim Hotel, in that he is still alive. But I still don’t plan to stay there any time soon.