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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Visitor

I'm really not a fan of horror, gore, or anything really creepy. Halloween and scary stories are just really not my thing. I get creeped out if I watch a Nightline murder investigation for more than 5 minutes.

Recently, a friend, former neighbor, and now writer shared a spooky story about a true experience while staying in a hostel in Europe. It reminded me of my spooky hostel experience from when I interned in northern Chile, and so I had to share this true spooky tale in the spirit of Halloween.

The Visitor

The bus pulled in at around 4:00 am, surprisingly ahead of schedule. We weren't supposed to have arrived for another two hours. I guess the red-eye trips were taken quite literally in the bus industry; I left red-eyed and I certainly arrived red-eyed.

I squinted my eyes forcefully, trying to squeeze the stinging out, as the lights of Antofagasta pierced through the curtains. I parted one curtain slightly and peered out to the slumbering city. A morning fog had crept in with the ocean breeze, giving the dirty street lamps an eerie aura as they shone through the fog and danced on the bus window. I slid the curtain closed and shut my eyes, wondering what I would do in the dormant city as I waited for public transportation to start running. Would I be safe wandering around? I had packed light for the weekend; could I possibly walk to the hostel from the bus stop? Would anyone attend me at the hostel?

In my groggy, half-conscious state, I panicked as I imagined myself wandering the streets of Antofa with my backpack full of my belongings. I saw myself running up its steep main avenue, Sucre, as I once did on my mission, only this time I was pursued by a pack of stray dogs. One of the dogs lashed at my feet, I turned, hoping the confrontation would throw it off, but it was to no avail. It lunged and snarled at me. I could almost see the dust rise from its mangy lion-like mane with each charge it made at me. Dirt rose from its feet. Dirt. Everywhere there was dirt.

The image of rising dirt transitioned me from the dog to my first arrival in Antofagasta. The plane descended and I leaned over from my aisle seat to peer out the window at the ocean on one side of the plane, and mountainous dirt on the other side. It was surreal, like landing on the moon. I was expecting dry, but I never imagined mountains of dirt with no vegetation at all. It was beautiful.

My dream state faded as I felt the bus roll to a stop. Reality set back in, which thankfully was more peaceful than my imagination. I quickly grabbed my things and filed into the line exiting the bus. An cool breeze welcomed me as I exited; it was overcast. I knew no rain would fall, it never did. A heavy misting was all we ever really got in Antofa. The low sea clouds sat on the coastal dirt mountain range and I pondered their looming shadows as I plopped down on a bench to wait for my friends who had traveled with me. Fortunately, I was not traveling alone.

We gathered at the bench and discussed our options. We were staying at a hostel that was once a Catholic monastery, and it was at the edge of the north side of town. It would be too far to walk, and probably too dangerous to walk. Why had we decided to stay there? Recommendation from one of my friends' father. It couldn't be too bad, right? After deliberating we decided to stay at the bus terminal for a little while until public transportation started. For the next hour and a half, I sat shivering listening to the hypnotic rhythm of the ocean in the distance. My eyes plead desperately to close, but they were forced open to watch the soft light fall upon the city as morning settled. The tall colonial shapes of wooden houses and buildings downtown with their eccentric color schemes were magnificent; I could not help but look as they received the first light of morning through dissipating fog.

The microbus ride to our hostel was uneventful, as was our arrival. Apparently the hostel was still run by the Catholic church, because a nun greeted us and showed us to our rooms. It turned out that we had an entire building to ourselves, which was not much more than a long hall lined with about thirty rooms with a bathroom at each end. I took one end of the hall at one end and the girls took the other. Twenty-nine rooms separated me from everyone else.

I walked down the long hall, which reeked of turpentine and old wood muted with dust, until I reached my room next to the old musty bathroom. With a shiver, I thought to myself that I was glad I would only be here for the weekend. Entering my room, I sat my backpack down on one of the two twin beds occupying the habitation and slipped under the wool blanket and sheets of the other.

I slipped into a deep sleep for a couple of hours and hardly noticed the soft light of the morning intensify with the early-afternoon sun. The room temperature seemed to be oblivious to the afternoon sun as well. Besides myself and the two beds, a biting chill also occupied my room. Perhaps it was the bathroom next door, but I couldn't help but think of how unnatural the cold felt even as I lie there under heavy covers; like icy fingers.

I didn't sleep as long as my friends and so I took some self portraits on the grounds while I waited.
Gotta love cameras with timers.

We spent the rest of the day visiting old friends. Though I had arrived with friends, we split up to visit our respective groups. I didn't think at all of my room until later that night when we met up at the rusty iron gate outside of the hostel. The sparse trees on the grounds gave the sterile, rectangular shapes of each of the buildings a supernatural air. The blue light of the moon produced silhouettes of the small waxy leaves as they rustled with the breeze.

Rustling leaves and crunching dirt were all we heard as we made our way to our building on the far side of the compound. We stopped at the entrance as one friend fumbled with the keys and I saw the moonlight dancing across shards of broken glass which were cemented to the top of the cinder block wall surrounding the reformed monastery. I didn't think much of it, we weren't in the best part of town and even in better parts of town a wall adorned with broken glass bottles was commonplace. It was silly, really. The glass wasn't much of a deterrent for determined looters and loiterers, it could be chipped off and then the smoothed surface was easily scaled with the aid of a thick blanket or jacket.

Finally the key fit and the door opened. Icy fingers welcomed us as we walked into the small foyer adjacent to the long hallway. How had the temperature dropped 20 degrees? Despite being overcast, the day was pleasant and warm, yet the building maintained its frigid temperature despite the absence of an air conditioning unit. I attributed the cold to the fact that the bathrooms were cold and moist and the floors were concrete. With a shiver, we mumbled our good nights and hastily made our way to our rooms. I turned left down my end of the hall and my friends turned right to their end.

Perhaps it was the lack of sleep or the shadows from the trees dancing in the breeze outside through the window, but as I turned and looked to my room at the end of a dark hallway, I thought I saw a shadow slowly pass from one end of the bathroom to the other. Any hint of fatigue vanished in a wave of adrenaline. I turned the other way and quickly walked down towards my friends rooms, turning my head frequently towards where I had come to verify that I was not being followed.

A quick investigation by all of us verified that only we were staying in the building. No one else and nothing else was there. It must have been my drooping eyes and shadows from the moonlight playing tricks on me.

Now in my pajamas, I brushed my teeth in that musty bathroom, shivering and fighting off goosebumps as I recalled what I had thought I saw in this very space from across the hall. At that moment, I pledged to myself that I would not be making any late-night bathroom trips that night. I turned off the light and shut that door tight as I left, hoping to trap any lingering apparitions in there where they belonged.

I could hear my friends at talking at the other end of the hall, they were playing a card game. They had chosen rooms across from each other, two sleeping in each room. Their doors were open and the light from one room crossed the hall to the other room. I decided to make a quick visit to confirm plans for tomorrow and to apologize for the fright I had caused.

Walking down the hall, I heard them laughing as they played. They heard my footsteps and invited me to play, offering me a chair. I agreed to one round and we took the game to the hall because the room was too small to accommodate all of us with our chairs. We sat in a circle, joking as we played until two of my friends suddenly fell silent.

In the circle we had formed to play cards, my back was turned to my end of the hallway. I was the only one unable to see why the two had fallen silent. But I didn't have to guess.

One friend saw the shadow cross from one side of the hall to the other and the other looked up to see the shadow cross again the other way. It was if it were pacing across the hall from one room to the other. Once the first two stopped talking, the other two looked and saw the same thing. The apparition was going from my room to the room across the hall.

A chill ran down my spine. We gathered the chairs and hunkered down in one room with the light of the other room still on. Of one thing we were sure, it was not a person; at least it wasn't a living person. But there were no lights or windows in the hallway that could have cast a moving shadow, it was real, it was something; something that had the form of a person.

And to think I had brushed my teeth right next to where that thing was walking back and forth, potentially messing with my stuff! (I've gotta lighten the mood somehow, I'm creeped out.)

After devising stories about a poor monk enduring eternal solitude in my room down the hall, we decided we could deal with spending the night there. However, just because I could share the building with it doing its creeper thing down the hall, I wasn't about to share a room with it. I stayed in one of the other rooms, closer to my friends and was grateful I had not traveled alone.


McKenzie said...

Ewwww! Creepy. I don't like those stories. Let's hope that others visiting didn't have the same thing. But what if you'd stayed alone...!

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