Whether you are a frequent tourist or an armchair traveler, few of us have not at one time or another envied tour-leaders, who get to visit so many dream destinations. To our mind, they only have to put up with the petty complaints of the group. But for one Maltese tour-leader, a trip to one of Europe’s most picturesque spots, a place he had often visited before, was nothing short of a nightmare.
It was a warm, summer night in July. On Saturday night, he went to bed at around quarter to midnight, in a hotel he had visited often before. He left the small bathroom light on, just the one over the shaving mirror: a trick he had picked up over the years. Being a tour leader meant he had to stay in many different hotels, and the light helped him to find the bathroom in a strange room.
At about 1:30 in the morning he woke up and found that all the lights were on in the room: the ceiling light, the bedside table lamps, the main bathroom light, even the corridor light by the door to the room.
He didn’t really think anything of it at the time. “How silly of me. I must have left everything on,” he thought to himself. He just turned everything off and went back to sleep.
To this day, he has no idea how much time passed, perhaps just a couple of minutes. All he knew was that when he woke up the second time, the bedside lamps were on. Everything else was off. This time, he could distinctly remember having turned them off. A cold shiver of fear ran down his spine. But he shook it off – he was a grown man who often stayed at hotels on his own after all, and anyway, he was not convinced that he wasn’t dreaming. In a moment of inspiration, he decided to write down on a piece of paper: “I switched off all the lights in the room.”
But by then he was well and truly spooked and decided to try the opposite: turning on all the lights once again. He pulled the sheets up over his face and closed his eyes. The reassurance worked, and he dropped off again. But the July warmth made it too uncomfortable and he pulled back the bedding. All the lights were off. Every single one. The room was in total darkness.
He suddenly realised what people meant by the expression ‘to have your blood run cold.
Suddenly lying there in the dark, he could feel the breath of a large animal against his cheek, possibly a large dog. In the stillness, he swore he could actually hear it panting. He was completely terror stricken, his throat so tight he was unable to shout or scream. He tried to make a sound but couldn’t.
All of a sudden the lights came back on. The room was empty.
As soon as his breathing got back to normal, he called the receptionist. It seemed to take an eternity for the telephone to be answered, but when the young man from downstairs answered he didn’t know what to say to him, feeling foolish once the lights were on again.
“Yes, sir, what is wrong?” he asked.
“Something is wrong with the lights – they keep going on and off and there are things happening that I am not really happy about,” the ashen-faced tour leader said. “I’m coming downstairs.”
He put the receiver back on its cradle, put some shorts on, and stopped only long enough to wash his face in the bathroom, still able to feel the warm breath of the animal there. He had no shirt on, and didn’t even give a thought to his luggage. But as he came out of the bathroom, there was a sudden furious banging on the door of the room. He thought the door would come off its hinges.
He had to get out of the room, and the door was the only way out. After taking a deep breath, he found the strength and courage from somewhere to fling it open. There was nothing there. The corridor was silent, its deep carpet giving no clues. He staggered out, flicking his head this and that way to make sure there was nothing creeping up on him.
Even the idea of getting in the lift, where he would be trapped, was too terrifying.
He crawled down all four flights of stairs in shock. He has no idea how long it took.
All he knows is that by the time he got downstairs the receptionist was openly laughing at the sight of a grown man on hands and knees, seemingly terrified of the dark.
“What’s wrong?” he said.
He told him about the banging, his voice sounding strange and hollow. The young man shook his head and smiled again. ” Oh, that was probably an old man or something knocking on all the doors.”
Standing in the well-lit reception, his story seemed plausible. “Come on,” the receptionist offered. ” I’ll take you back upstairs.”
“Forget it. There is no way you will get me back in that room. You can keep the money I paid, but I want to check out straight away. I don’t want to set foot in this hotel ever again.”
To this day, the tour-leader is convinced that the terror of that night was not a dream. When they went up to get his bags, they found the note he had written to himself: “I switched off all the lights.”
Eleven months later, he had to go to that village again. The hotel was all locked and shuttered. Was his experience just a practical joke? Or was it the reason that the picturesque hotel closed down? He will never know …
This post was written by Albert Saliba