Matt Gemmell

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Weekly Short Story: The Hotel

writing, fiction & once upon a time 4 min read

On Monday mornings, I send out a story via email: ultra-brief tales of 1,000 words or more, usually in genres including science fiction, horror, and the supernatural. Those stories collectively are called Once Upon A Time. I’ve also published three ebooks and one paperback anthology of those stories so far.

I’d love to have you as a subscriber to the weekly free story. You can subscribe via email here, or use the form below. Unsubscribe any time, from the link in every issue.

This week’s brief tale is inspired by mathematics, just in case you were in any doubt about just how much fun I used to be at parties. I’m kidding, of course; I almost never went to parties.

Large numbers are weird things, and you quickly get into a realm where the human mind can’t really grasp what it’s talking about. It’s part of a writer’s job to imagine the details of some of that stuff on your behalf — and also to conveniently ignore the parts that don’t fit the narrative.


I’ve been staying here for some time.

At present, by which I mean today, my room number is 1,728,394. I’ve been in many lower-numbered rooms before. The ebb and flow of guests is constant.

I imagine that they come to partake of the variety of tourist attractions in the city, though I confess to no longer remembering what any of those attractions actually are. I assume there are museums, and galleries, and venues, and outdoor spaces, and restaurants, and boutiques. I assume I’ve even visited some of them myself, either on this trip or on a prior one.

I no longer remember the name of the city either.

The hotel is vast. I do have a vague memory of my first arrival. It was a cloudy day of the kind that promised rain before long, and I happened to glance upwards at the face of the edifice. I could not see the top, shrouded in mist as it was. And then I went inside.

The reception area, which I have not seen since I arrived, is decorated much like the rest of the building: all in subtle and elegant shades of bronze and silver and gold. Muted, with only a hint of sheen, so as to create an air of both luxury and also reassurance. The staff are immaculately uniformed and impeccable mannered, and there are a great many of them. I have, I confess, taken no particular pains to learn any of their names, in large part because I cannot recall if I have ever seen the same person twice.

Housekeeping is a true marvel, and ought to be the envy of other hotels the world over — if indeed there are any other hotels in the world. I assume there must be, but I can’t quite recall. In this hotel, at least, I have never yet been disturbed by cleaning staff at my door. But I have also never yet returned to my room without finding it wholly refreshed and replenished. Come to think of it, I don’t believe I’ve ever laid eyes upon a single member of what must be a truly prodigious body of housekeepers. These silent and unseen workers are an enormous credit to the establishment.

There are a great many restaurants here in the hotel, and libraries, and gymnasiums, and swimming pools, and so on. I don’t entirely recall whether I’ve ever dined in the same place twice, but I have never once had any trouble finding an enticing location for a meal. Likewise, on the infrequent occasion that I make a special request by calling down to the front desk, it is always met with courtesy, precision, and promptness.

I have taken to sleeping through some of the afternoon, and then again after dinner, and I do take care to pack my suitcase in the late evening every day. I lie down in my clothes at that time, turn out the light once more, and allow myself to doze as I wait for the ever-punctual knock on my door at midnight each and every night.

Room change, the voice says, politely and efficiently, before slipping a beautifully printed piece of hotel stationery under the door. I’ve occasionally hastened to see if I could speak with the staff member who woke me, but I find the corridor always empty. In any case, I simply pick up my luggage and the card bearing my new room number, and I proceed there without any delay. I find that if I leave my unpacking until morning, I can be back in bed — albeit a new bed — before I’ve fully awakened.

In most cases, at least. Sometimes, the room assignment is more distant.

All evening the coaches arrive, trundling down the broad boulevard and entering the vast turning circle which punctuates the hotel’s grounds. Out stream the guests, and in they come. Never a single one turned away, and why would there be? The hotel, with its renowned H logo set in a charming stone sculpture above the main entrance, welcomes all who wish to stay.

I’ve tried to reach the reception area again, but every elevator I’ve encountered has no button for the ground floor. It hardly seems to matter, when each and every one of my needs is so superbly catered for. I once called down to ask for a recommendation as to an orchestral recital, and it transpired that one was taking place in the hotel’s own concert hall, barely a minute’s walk from my room for that day. I had a wonderful evening. Likewise for the hotel’s observatory, and its aquarium, and its botanical gardens. A modern miracle that such things can all be contained within an urban structure, indoors, and even upon floors at great height above street level.

A fanciful and whimsical part of me occasionally wonders why a person would ever want to leave such a place, and then I laugh to myself at the indulgence of the thought. I’m sure I must have a family to return to, and a job, and a home somewhere out there. Surely I do. And I shall see them all again once my stay at the hotel is over, and indeed I’ll bring my family back here to see the wonder of it for themselves.

In the meantime, I look out of my room’s generous window, and I peer downwards at the boulevard far below. Still they come. Infinite coaches, each carrying infinite guests, arriving on every one of infinite nights. The Hilbert turns none away.

A new room assignment each evening, to fit the new visitors, and each time a room never before seen. They all appear to be factors of prime numbers, as I’m dimly aware, reflecting the infinity of rooms within.

I think I might have been a mathematician. Before arriving here, I mean.

But I can no longer quite recall.


That’s all for today. I hope you enjoyed this brief tale. If you have any thoughts or questions; I’d love to hear from you; you can find me on Twitter.

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Have a wonderful week, and thanks for reading.