“What’s up? What happened?”
“Ah’m no saying anything. Do me a favour and walk down the corridor to the first lounge.”
JC was a wee Glasgow hardman who’d run with Jimmy Boyle’s razor gang when he was younger. Then he did a stint in The Royal Marines. Someone as tough as him walking into the porters’ lodge looking as white as a bottle of milk, his hands trembling, freaked me out. Something had happened which had badly shaken him up.
I glanced at M, the waitress keeping us company in the porters’ lodge, and shrugged, before stepping out into the long lobby whose plush red carpet stretched for about a hundred metres from the hotel’s main entrance, passing two lounges and a sweeping ballroom staircase, before it ran out at the hotel’s bar.
I’d barely taken a couple of steps when someone stuck an ice dagger in my ribs. My bones chilled from the inside, the sensation spreading quickly throughout my body, and a phantom sergeant major ordered the hairs on the back of my neck to stand to attention. The impact was so sudden it took my breath away. Admittedly, I had a fertile imagination which hadn’t been helped by recently reading Stephen King’s The Shining – a foolhardy choice of book to help pass nights working as a night porter in a three-story Victorian hotel, only operating with a handful of staff, which was closed to the public for the winter. Sure, there were places where the hairs regularly stood up on the back of my neck, and I quickened my step when I passed – one room in particular on the third floor, and also the ballroom toilets where a coach driver had done an Elvis – but the hotel foyer wasn’t one of them, even when it was devoid of guests. I reached the first lounge and tentatively put my hand on the handle leading into it. A sense of foreboding swamped me, as if something terrible would happen if I stepped through the glass-panelled door. My nerve broke, and I scampered back to the porters’ lodge, no doubt looking pale and trembly.
I told JC how I’d felt.
“Aye, that’s exactly what happened to me,” I could see the fear in his eyes as he spoke. JC would happily send a Glasgow kiss winging its way to someone twice his size, but whatever was going on in that lobby had scared the shite out of him.
“Get away,” M laughed nervously. “You two are just winding me up.”
“No, we’re no,” I insisted. “There’s something no right out there, something strange is going on.”
For ten minutes, the three of us sat in silence in the small room, all eyes fixed on the door leading to the lobby, as though we expected something to appear in its frame.
“I cannae stand it here any longer,” JC snapped. “Let’s go to the kitchen, it’s brighter and warmer there.”
Although I really didn’t want to enter the lobby again, the oppressiveness of the porters’ lodge was too much to bear, the sense of dread had seeped in to sit alongside us.
The three of us walked in single file along the lobby, the icy chill taking hold of my body again, until we reached the swing door entrance to the industrial-sized kitchen.
The gleaming steel units, warmth from ovens you could park a small car in, and bright strips lights held none of the features of the antique Victorian features beyond its doors. Hotel kitchens are not the sort of places ghostly spirits wander. It immediately felt better, safer. JC made us all coffee, and I felt my shredded nerves begin to pull themselves together again.
And then JC heard bells ringing.
“Do you hear that?”
“Naw, what?” I asked, shredded nerves starting to unravel again.
“The bells?” M said. “I can hear them. Out the back somewhere.”
I couldn’t hear anything, except the comforting hissing from hot pipes now and again. There were no bells.
“Are you two taking the piss?” now it was my turn to think I was the victim of a prank. The haunted look in JC’s eyes told me otherwise.
“You know … it wasn’t his fault,” M smiled, then continued. “People think it was, but it really wasn’t.”
“What are you talking about?” JC looked at her as though she was mad.
“He just wants you to know. It wasn’t his fault. It’s important you know that.”
“You better no be messing around,” JC barked, unamused.
“He had to do it, he had no other choice,” M ran a hand through her hair, and shook her head. She wasn’t looking at us, she was staring blankly off into the distance. “But it wasn’t his fault.”
“You better stop it, M, this isnae funny,” JC growled angrily, but his voice was as shaky as I felt.
I couldn’t speak. My tongue was paralyzed. I just stared at M, transfixed by the bizarre words coming out her mouth, and frightened because I could see from her glazed expression she wasn’t M, she was somebody else.
“Why are you two staring at me like that,” M’s tone changed again. “You’re scaring me.”
It was if M had just woken up.
“Why did you say those things?” JC asked, his eyes fixed on the bemused waitress.
We repeated what she’d said, asking who it was she was talking about. She insisted she had no recollection of anything. All she remembered was coming into the kitchen, sitting down, and JC making us all a coffee.
There is no dramatic conclusion to this story. The bells simply stopped ringing, not that I’d ever heard them in the first place, and the oppressive chill dissipated. When we returned to the porters’ lodge, the lobby was back to being the lobby again. There was nothing threatening or scary about it.
Friends and colleagues were sceptical when I told them what happened. Many thought JC and M had played a trick on me. But they hadn’t been there, seen what JC and I saw, experienced what we all felt. I can’t explain what happened that night. But I did, and do, believe JC and I witnessed somebody being possessed, thankfully for only a very short time.