1408 (short story)
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|Genre(s)||Horror short story|
|Published in||Blood and Smoke, Everything's Eventual|
|Publisher||Simon & Schuster Audio|
|Media type||Audiobook anthology|
|Publication date||November 1999|
"1408" is a short story by Stephen King. It is the third tale in the audiobook collection titled Blood and Smoke, released in 1999. In 2002, it was collected in written form as the 12th story in King's collection Everything's Eventual. In the introduction to the story, King says that "1408" is his version of what he calls the "Ghostly Room at the Inn", his term for the theme of haunted hotel or motel rooms in horror fiction. He originally wrote the first few pages as part of an appendix for his non-fiction book, On Writing (2000), to be used as an example of how a story changes from one draft document to the next. King also noted how the numbers of the title add up to the supposedly unlucky number 13.
The protagonist is writer Mike Enslin, who writes non-fiction works based on the theme of haunted places. His book series, Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Houses, Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Graveyards and Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Castles, prove to be best-sellers, but Enslin internally reveals some guilt and regret at their success, privately acknowledging that he is a believer in neither the paranormal nor the supernatural elements he espouses in these books.
Nonetheless, he arrives at the Dolphin Hotel on 61st Street in New York City intent on spending the night in the hotel's infamous room 1408, as part of his research for his next book, Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Hotel Rooms. At first Enslin is unfazed by 1408's morbid history. According to the hotel's manager, Mr. Olin (who has purposely left it vacant for over 20 years), Room 1408 has been responsible for at least 42 deaths, 12 of them suicides and at least 30 "natural" deaths, all over a span of 68 years. While remarking that he doesn't believe there are ghosts in 1408, Olin insists there is "something" that resides inside, something that causes terrible things to happen to people who stay within its walls for anything but the briefest periods of time, something that affects various electronic devices, causing digital wristwatches, pocket calculators, and cell phones to stop functioning or to operate unpredictably. Mr. Olin also reveals that due to the superstitious practice of never recognizing the 13th floor (the room is listed on the 14th), it is a room cursed by existing on the 13th floor, the room numbers adding up to 13 making it all the worse. Mr. Olin pleads with Enslin to reconsider, believing that a skeptic such as him is even more susceptible to the room's curse. Enslin is shaken, but his determination to follow through with his research and not to appear frightened before Mr. Olin wins out. Olin reluctantly leads him to the 14th floor, unwilling to accompany him farther than the elevator.
Enslin's problems with Room 1408 begin before he even sets foot through the door; in fact, the door itself initially appears to be crooked to the left. He looks again and the door appears to be straight - then he looks again, and it appears to be crooked, now to the right.
As Enslin enters and examines the room, and begins dictating into a hand-held tape recorder, his train of thought immediately takes unwelcome and chaotic turns - he compares it to being high on hashish laced with bug poison. He begins experiencing what may or may not be hallucinations; a breakfast menu on the night-stand changes languages; first it's in French, then Russian and then Italian. After that, it simply turns into an illustration of a wolf eating the leg of a screaming boy. Soon, the picture shifts back into the menu again, this time in English. When this ends, Enslin sees that the pictures on the walls have transformed into frightening visions (a still life of an orange becomes Enslin's severed head, Enslin sees pictures disappearing and reappearing, his feet sink into the carpet like quicksand, paintings come alive, etc.), and Enslin's thoughts become bizarre and incoherent. He tries to make a phone call, but only hears a nightmarish voice on the end of the line chanting bizarre phrases, for example, "This is nine! Nine! This is nine! Nine! This is Ten! Ten! We have killed your friends! Every friend is now dead! This is six! Six!"
Enslin sets his old "lucky" Hawaiian shirt on fire, while still wearing it, which breaks the spell of the room long enough for him to escape. As he collapses, on fire, outside the room, another hotel guest, who is getting ice from the ice machine, sees him and is able to put out the flames. The other guest looks inside the room and something about it is tempting him to enter, but Enslin warns him not to. When Enslin mentions that the room is "haunted," the door to 1408 slams shut.
In the aftermath, Enslin gives up writing. He has various problems stemming from his night in the room. These include sleeping with the lights on "so I always know where I am when I wake up from the bad dreams", removing the house's phones and closing the curtains at sunset, because he cannot stand the shade of yellow-orange that reminds him of 1408 before he saved himself. At the very end of the story, Enslin notes (as Olin expressed to him earlier) that no ghosts are in 1408, because ghosts were once living but now dead humans, while the voice he heard on the phone was horrifically inhuman.
Reference in other works
- Part of the drafts to the story were included in On Writing as a study of how King edits his work.
The Swedish film director Mikael Håfström developed a movie, 1408, based on the short story, starring John Cusack as Michael Enslin and Samuel L. Jackson as Mr. Olin. It was released June 22, 2007 and was a financial success in its opening weekend, taking in $20.1 million. The Bollywood movie Horror Story is based on this.