All of us have guilty pleasures. I'm not referring to anything illegal or maniacal that feeds the insatiable maws of countless true crime shows around the world. I'm talking about those harmless self-indulgences that we delve into from time to time -- the little physical or mental voyages we grant ourselves as temporary reprieves from the daily grind's tedium. Some of us keep those guilty pleasures strictly to ourselves. Others of us wave them from the tops of the highest flagpoles we can find. I suppose I fly my favorite guilty pleasure at half-mast, neither keeping it in the dark, nor going to any great measure to shield it from day's bright glare.
My guilty pleasure is exploring places renown for being creepy. So last April I booked a room at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. It's a gorgeous old hotel nestled against the Rocky Mountains, and is duly famous for its old-world charm and allure, and for being very haunted. It's also well-known for inspiring Stephen King to write "The Shining," which is my favorite of his many excellent novels. The story goes that on Halloween Eve, 1974, King and his wife stayed in the hotel as its sole guests the night before it was to be locked up tight for the coming long and bleak mountain winter. The Kings occupied room 217, a room which 20 years later allegedly scared actor Jim Carrey into the night half-naked after a mere three hours' stay following the first evening of filming scenes at the hotel for the movie "Dumb and Dumber." To date Carrey has never spoken publicly about what drove him from room 217 in the middle of the night. All we know for sure is after King's single night in room 217, "The Shining" was coursing through his veins, and he had no option but to write it all down.
I didn't stay in room 217. Because of "The Shining," you've got to reserve that room eons in advance if you want a chance to witness whatever King and Carrey and countless other guests have seen in 217 over the past century. I was a few eons short, so my room was two floors directly above 217. No ghosts harassed me during my tenure at the Stanley. None I saw, anyway. Sure, some doors opened without visible reason. And during a raging blizzard immense snowflakes blew through two big windows I kept open for my entire stay in a vain effort to keep my un-air conditioned room cool enough to be bearable. Yet for five days the temperature in my room never dropped below 78 degrees, even with the heat turned off and ceiling fans spinning and snow flying through my windows and piling on the floor at midnight. Not normal, granted, but I don't know if that constitutes "paranormal." Maybe extremely localized global warming explains it.
All that was bubbling in my head when I exchanged a few words with King last Friday night after the event celebrating his receiving the 2011 Mason Award at the Fall for the Book Festival at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. I signed a copy of my book, "Blood of the Moon" for him, and also handed him a copy of "The Shining" for his signature. I told him I bought my copy of "The Shining" at the Stanley's gift shop after I had a chance to duck into 217 while the maintenance guys were changing out the carpeting between guests. I mentioned I didn't see any ghosts in his old room. He laughed out loud while he scrawled his signature on my copy of "The Shining" and handed it back to me.
"I made all that shit up," King told me.
All of us have guilty pleasures.
I guess I'll have to wait till I run into Carrey to find out what I missed in 217 last April.