“Number 13” is a horror story by the English medievalist and author M. R. James (1862–1936), written in 1899 and first published in Ghost Stories of an AntiquaryCollection of eight short stories by the English medievalist and author M. R. James, first published in 1904. (1904).[1]

The story is set in the Danish town of Viborg, and is told as a third-person narrative by the cousin of the main protagonist, Mr Anderson.


Anderson is engaged in researching the church history of Denmark, and is visiting Viborg because he was learned that in the Rigsarkiv of Viborg[a]Viborg’s records office. there are papers relating to the last days of Roman Catholicism in the country. When checking at the Golden Lion, one of the few buildings not destroyed in the great fire of 1726, Anderson explains to the landlord that as he expects to be spending two or three week in the establishment he needs a room large enough to serve as a study as well as a bedroom. At the landlord’s suggestion, he looks around the inn and chooses room 12.

Man breaking in to room 13

After settling in, Anderson goes down to supper, where, as is the custom in Danish inns, there is a large blackboard displaying the room numbers and the names of the guests occupying them, but there is no room 13 on display. Some hours later, returning to what in the semi-darkness he believes to be the door to his room, the handle refuses to turn, and on glancing at the number he sees that it is 13. On entering his own room next door, he is struck by how much smaller it now appears in the dark.

Anderson asks the landlord why so many hotels in Denmark have no room 13, yet his does. The landlord replies that his hotel has never had a room 13. Anderson asks the inn-keeper to visit his room that night, to share a cigar and look at some photographs of English towns. While talking, they hear ominous singing in the room next door, before the occupant of room 14, Herr Jensen, bursts in, asking them to kindly desist. The three men go out into the corridor to investigate the source of the noise, and see that the door to room 13 has reappeared, and decide to break it down. While they are waiting for servants with crowbars to arrive, Jensen is standing with his back to the door of room 13, when it opens and an arm comes out, clawing at his shoulder: “It was clad in ragged, yellowish linen, and the bare skin, where it could be seen, had long grey hair upon it”.

As the servants set to work with their crowbars, the door disappears, and they strike plaster:

An early cock in the yard beneath was heard to crow; and as Anderson glanced in the direction of the sound, he saw through the window at the end of the long passage that the eastern sky was paling to the dawn.

The following morning a part of the floor of room 12 closest to room 14, is removed, revealing a small copper box containing a neatly folded vellum document containing about twenty lines of writing. But none of those present are able to decipher its contents, or even determine what language it is written in. The story ends with a hint that the document may have been an ill-advised contract with the Devil.


“Number 13” has been adapted for television as an episode of the BBC’s A Ghost Story for Christmas series, starring Greg Wise and broadcast in 2006.[2]

See also


a Viborg’s records office.



External links