I flew a wide-body aircraft for four years. In other words, I spent four years camping out in more hotel rooms than I care to count.
Spending that amount of time in hotel rooms mandates bumping into a ghost or two. It’s the law of probability.
Forces unknown arranged such a meeting at a dingy airport hotel in Incheon, on the outskirts of Seoul.
This hotel, its name of which I will obscure, lies a short drive from Incheon International Airport. Due to its convenient location, airlines love
dumping housing their crew there.
Everywhere in this hotel, from the gym to the cafe, I’ve met airline crew from all around the world. The Americans with their brassy attitudes. The Japanese with their disciplined demeanour. European accents I can’t place.
Also the Vietnamese. Which is where this story begins.
I have great respect for the crew from Vietnam Airlines. They are polite, down-to-earth people… although one of theirs killed himself at this Incheon airport hotel.
He fashioned a DIY noose with towels, muttered sweet goodbyes to this goddamn world, then left the hotel, left Incheon, left this world, and left his physical body forever.
His suicide was the start of the rumour mill, or maybe it was the fuel to the already existent whispers — of the ghosts that haunted the hotel.
When rostered to fly to Incheon, some cabin crew I knew made arrangements ahead so that they had someone to bunk with. To be stuck sleeping alone there was a giant no-no.
One girl requested a room change because the ghost in her room was playing with the cupboard door while she was trying to nap.
Even a serious, no-nonsense captain was reduced to shivers when he described to me how the ghost had stolen his wing pin. The hotel staff, learning that the ghost was up to its antics again, helped him comb the room.
Another guy, a fellow first officer at that time, encountered a ghost in the wee hours of the morning. He rushed out of the room in his pajamas and down to the hotel reception where he pleaded for another room. All the rooms were full then, so he waited on the sofa in the lobby until the sun rose and a set of crew checked out.
It sounds a tad bit dramatic, but this hotel did have a reputation for being haunted. It induced a certain fear.
But not me. I’m that cocky bitch who scoffed at the stories about ghosts.
Until one day.
It was early in the morning, about 4 am Korean time. I was sleeping in a tank top and tattered shorts, as one should be at that ungodly hour.
Like many hotels, the room I had was furnished with a queen-size bed, placed in front of a television set. Next to the bed was a bedstand with an alarm clock, a notepad and pen (which I planned to pocket for flight plans), and a remote controller to the TV. A pretty standard hotel setup.
The comfy hotel bed was what my tired back needed. I was getting all the rest I could before the coming late-morning departure.
Between REM cycles, I stole a look around the hotel room. Nothing bothered me; this was routine.
As I twisted my body into a more comfortable sleeping position, a light click caught my attention.
Still drowsy with sleep, I glanced around blindly.
My eyes fell on the TV screen before me.
Just as I was about to ease back into my slumber, a flash of light gushed into the dark room, followed by muffled noises.
The abruptness of the moment caught me by surprise.
THE TV HAD TURNED ON BY ITSELF.
My sleep-laden mind took a moment to react. A buried instinct told me that this was not normal.
Reaching out for the TV remote by the bed, I jabbed at the power button to turn the screen off.
But it did not work.
Franticness built up in me. Why wouldn’t the darn thing work? I kept punching the button, but the TV continued to project at me.
I rolled out of bed and stumbled to the TV.
Reaching behind the device, I searched for the “life force”.
With one giant yank, I ripped the plug out of the socket.
One second. Two seconds. Three seconds…
Finally, the images on the screen fizzled out, leaving behind a blank screen.
“The TV was on a timer. Stupid timer,” I muttered.
I snuggled back under the covers. “Stupid timer.”
During check out, I approached the receptionist in my uniform, suitcase by my side, and peak cap under my arm. I handed her my key card.
“The hotel puts the TVs on a timer?” I asked the well-groomed Korean girl behind the counter.
“Huh?” she asked with that trademark Korean sing-song intonation.
“The TV turned on by itself. I’m guessing it’s the timer. This hotel uses a timer on the TVs?” I asked.
Her eyes widened as her lips parted in slow motion. “N-no. N-no timer.”
I missed a beat, but barely. I offered her a confident grin. “There is a timer. Your hotel uses a timer on the TVs,” I insisted to the bewildered hotel employee.
During the flight, I told my colleagues about the TV timer. They, in turn, looked at me with wide eyes and baffled expressions.
“Timer,” I assured them.
“It was a timer,” I repeated several times to convince them. They needed convincing, not me.
“A TV timer,” I told myself the next time I checked into that hotel, received my key card, and traipsed through the dim corridors to my room.