WHEN I WAS EIGHTEEN, the summer between high school and college, I traveled across Europe without family or friends. A fantastic trip that started in London took me through Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, France, Monaco and Spain. It was an overwhelming trip filled with adventures that ultimately spoiled me for a sedentary life. I also experienced something close to horror in the heart of ancient Europe.
My journey to Italy by bus took me to Venice, Florence, and then Rome. The trip from Florence felt long. I remember being very, very tired, but I was sitting with a fifteen-year-old girl who did not want to sit with her parents, but wanted to keep me awake by talking the entire way. I arrived at the hotel late afternoon, and per usual, the Americans were given rooms on the first floor however I was given keys to a different wing on the third floor. I felt like I had been singled out and made a statement about it, but since I was traveling alone and exhausted, I took the keys, picked up my bags and headed towards my room. When the elevator doors opened to my hall, I stepped out into darkness. There was no hallway lighting, just a window at the end of the hall. I turned to go back on the elevator, but the doors had closed. Squinting to find my door, I did recognize that this wing was a part of new construction, and maybe, I thought, it wasn’t finished. Finding my door, I opened it and was struck by a foul smell. My first thought was to open the window and hurried to do so, but was stopped in my tracks seeing burnt remains of some animal on the window seal. I backed away from the window, bumped into my bag, and then stumbled out the door into the dark hallway. I looked towards the elevator and then to the window where I saw a woman in a gray frock coming towards me. I tried to explain my situation but had not completely comprehended it. I simply said something incoherent like the room smells, and there’s a dead animal on... But before I could finish, the woman walked directly to the window, opened it, and pushed the corpse off the ledge. She told me the smell wasn’t bad, that it would pass, and as quickly as she had come in the room, she left. I remember feeling very defeated. I looked at the open window, sat down on the side of the bed, and fell backward, arms straight out and eyes closed. I sighed slowly and spread my fingers, palms down on the bedspread. I sensed it was not properly made and something more; there seemed to be something on the spread. I opened my eyes, sat up and in my grip were long black hairs. The bedspread was covered in what looked like long black hair. Totally grossed out, I left everything and ran back downstairs to the concierge. And even though I was tired, angry, and disgusted, I felt like I was a spoiled American lying to get a nicer room. Smelly room, dead animal, strange woman, it all sounded like a lie. The concierge told me there were no other vacancies and I would have to stay in the room. I didn’t know what else to do but turn around and go back to the room. By the elevator, I ran into the young girl and her parents. I told them what had happened and asked them to come up to the room. They did. The room still smelled. I walked to the open window to show them the carcass three floors down. The remains were gone. I instantly felt like I was making it up again. But there came a small frightened yell from young girl in the bathroom. Blood, feces, or some bodily fluid had been smeared on the mirrors and walls. The mother called for us to come back into the bed area. She was backing away from the bed, her mouth covered and the other hand was pointing to a box on the lower shelf of the nightstand. Inside were remains of whatever it was that had black fur. We left immediately; the man took on my plight with the hotel staff and our small group started telling everyone who came into the foyer. I did get a much better room.
That evening I saw strange shapes in shadows, faces in smoke, and hands reaching for me from the corner of my eye. I had vivid nightmares of people dressed in gray standing above my bed. The following afternoon, I was in a bistro with a group of Italians who told me about satanic cults who cursed hotels built on their unholy grounds. I had evidently checked in after one such ceremony had just taken place. Was I put in the room because I was traveling alone, was the woman in gray a hotel employee or a cult member, and what would have happened to me had I been forced to stay in that room? This experience haunted me for years, and, to this day, I feel uneasiness when I tell the story. JOE