Our fascination with ghosts begins in our earliest years. Perhaps as children we are more open to specters lurking just beyond our everyday reality, and as adults we begin to tune them out. For the kid in you, here are three more haunting experiences to keep you wondering…
Onzain, France, 2005. The Domaine des Hauts de Loire is a magnificent hostelry hidden in a vast private park, a member of the Relais & Chateaux chain of luxury inns across Europe. The grand old chateau is surrounded by towering trees and graveled walkways, and a broad terrace offers guests the ideal spot to enjoy an evening drink or satisfying breakfast as one looks out over the lawns and the large pond. Best of all, the famed chateaux of the Loire Valley are all just a short drive away.
But late in the evening, when the last rays have faded from the sky, when the stars begin to work their magic on the parkland below, and shadows shift in the encroaching mist, take your partner by the hand, leave the terrace, and stroll out into the darkness. Think of the many who have experienced this place in centuries past, the lives which have seen love or sorrow or suffering where your feet now tread. And you might just see what my sister-in-law witnessed when the four of us stayed here:
The spectral figure of a solitary woman clothed in a billowing white dress, stumbling along the far side of the pond to throw herself into the waters and escape her troubled life, leaving nothing but sorrow and her phantom image behind.
Berlin, Germany, 1979. A modest four-story hotel on the Kurfürstendamm, one of the few structures to survive the destruction of the city in the final days of Hitler’s Reich. Snow falls outside, and I stand at my third-floor window beside one of my room’s twin beds, staring out at the swirling flakes. A solid thump rocks the window, yet nothing appears in the courtyard outside to explain what caused me to step back in surprise. I sleep fitfully, troubled by strange dreams.
Blaming my bad night on jet lag, I shave the next morning at a basin, staring into a mirror on the wall. A woman’s voice utters my name, clearly and distinctly, and directly behind me. Beyond my image in the mirror I see no one, so I turn abruptly, expecting that somehow a maid has entered my room. There truly is no one there. And I realize the old wooden floorboards would have announced a visitor long before she reached my back.
At breakfast I recount my experience to the students in my tour group. One girl who admits to a psychic gift suggests we all return to the scene to see what she senses. Once in the room she walks directly to the window where I had stood the evening before, and she shudders. “Something very bad happened, right here,” she states with eerie assurance, and points to the spot where I had slept.
The next evening I sleep in the other bed on the opposite wall, as far from that spot as possible.
Bamberg, Germany, 1984. Our six-member family group is traveling across Germany and Austria. My wife and I and a sister and brother-in-law are accompanying my parents on a last tour of Europe for my ailing father, who lived and loved, reported and spied during the rise of the Third Reich and the desperate days of World War II.
We arrive in Bamberg in the late afternoon and park our VW van in a lot adjoining a hotel. My brother-in-law and I walk toward the inn to inquire about rooms when the wrenching cry of a woman in great suffering splits the air. We question what we truly just heard, but there is no further agonizing cry, no other sound out of the ordinary.
Three rooms are booked for the night, all side-by-side on the same landing of the second floor. After dinner we retire for the night. My wife and I are in the room on the right. The center room holds my parents. Our sister and her husband reside to the left.
I am jarred out of sleep by a great ruckus out on the landing, and recognize my father’s voice calling out in fear and distress. He is at the stairway, trying to run down and out into the night, screaming that everyone is trying to kill him. My mother, who has tried to restrain him, is drenched in sweat and her heart misfires. She can barely stand as she struggles with tachycardia. My brother-in-law is attempting to bring my father to his senses with words of reassurance, since he is the only one my father seems to believe is not trying to harm him. My sister, having jumped quickly out of bed, is light-headed and collapses in a faint at her door.
And all the while, strangers are struggling with racks of fur coats as they fight their way up the stairway in preparation for a fur show scheduled at the hotel for the next day. The furriers stare at our strange gathering as they race past, but say nothing and move on their way.
Gradually, my father is brought to a clearer mind, my mother is back in bed, her racing heart calmed enough for her to breathe normally again, my brother-in-law—his great service done—returns to my sister in their room, and I tell my wife that I will spend the rest of the night in a chair by my parents’ bedside, just in case.
My wife—never one prone to nightmares of this kind—dreams horrifying images of blood-soaked walls and sharp, bloodied blades entering the room from all directions.
In the morning we sit below in the breakfast room and try to speak of other things. The waiter brings coffee and asks how we slept.
“A bit troubled,” I say.
He bends close to whisper: “You do know this was Gestapo headquarters during the war?”
Copyright 2013 Patrick W. O’Bryon