Fiction: THE SHADY LADY

Amita Ray
    Geilo in Norway is a small hamlet, home to a few thousand people. It is a gateway to two national parks famed to be the abode of Arctic fox and reindeer herds. Though I travelled extensively in the parks during the month of May for a couple of days, I was not fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of single Nordic habitat of either species. The season was not conducive for spotting one. But I had the unique experience of putting up in the century plus old, historically famous hotel THE BLUE PINES. Ornate works of art and rare artefacts on every wall, nook and corner adorned the interiors of the hotel. Together with it, the salubrious mountain air soothing my wasted and frail nerves, Geilo was the perfect retreat for health and wholesomeness away in wilderness.

    It was here that I experienced a rare incident in my life. So uncanny was it in nature that it makes me wonder in disbelief even now. I for one was sceptic about the existence of ghosts and dismissed them as figments of imagination that induce creepy feelings. The day before checking out of the hotel together with my companions I went out scouring the neighbourhood for the last time and returned after yet another disappointing trail in the parks. An early dinner over, I relaxed with a cup of coffee in the lobby overlooking the azure lake cuddling a stretch of green turf. The 8p.m. sky was dazzling bright, so unlike the sky I was accustomed to at that hour. The warmth of the sun skimmed the surface of the placid water body breaking into occasional flutter of ripples. Sipping my coffee, I gazed at the serene vista of utmost magnificence in half trance.

    “Hey, what are you doing here alone?” The interruption sounded a death knell to my trance. I turned back to see one of the members of my group with whom I was travelling smiling upon me. Soon the others trooped in, all in a mood of post dinner merriment. I had been moving around with this group of avid globe trotters for quite some time. A warm camaraderie bound us. Helping myself to a second round of coffee I relaxed on the sofa ready for a lively session of chit chat. Our conversation touched all aspects of our stay at Geilo when at one point of time Mona suddenly said, “Does anyone know that this hotel has a spooky tale?” The spirit of mirth which had reached its peak subsided as we looked at each other inquiringly. No one seemed to know it, neither did they believe it.

    “How do you know?” It was Mona’s husband visibly perturbed, to question first breaking the silence. Mona took out a pamphlet from her handbag and waving it asserted, “This pamphlet of the hotel says so.” Then from what she read out aloud we gathered that there was a lady who ambled through the corridors, walked down the stairs and lounges of the hotel many a late nights. Some had glimpses of this grey apparition but she got lost in thin air the very moment it was approached. The lady believed to be a legendary beauty of her time put up in the hotel decades back, approximately about the time the hotel came into existence. She was to get married with her beau in the hotel. Unfortunately he didn’t turn up to tie the nuptial knot. The heartbroken lady took her own life in the room she had put up.

      There was a tussle for the pamphlet after she had finished reading the story of the lady described with the qualifier ‘shady’. It seemed as if reading the story again would do away or strengthen all the doubts that shrouded the possibility of such an incident. At the same time a creepy wave ran down each of our spines, apprehending whether the room allotted to any of us could be the venue of the lady’s tragedy. Overcurious to know the number of the room, one of our companions rushed to the reception counter and came back with the information that the room number was twenty one. To our relief we learnt that it was never let out. It had been under lock and key from that eventful day and was occasionally opened for cleaning.

     True, we did breathe a sigh of relief. But fear is infectious which is difficult to shrug off. Even a die-hard sceptic like me found my throat parched and hands getting limp. But the story triggered a debate over the plausibility of such eerie tales which do their rounds mostly as fodder for a man’s craving for the paranormal. There were not many non-believers in our group and when the debate intensified and culminated to a peak someone declared that it was past eleven p.m. I raised the curtain and looked out of the window. The dazzling sunshine had mellowed; it lingered like the blush on the cheeks of a coy bride.

       The group dispersed bidding good bye to each other. They all retired to their respective rooms while I chose to sit there for a while observing the two receptionists at the counter engaged in their work. I wondered whether they had a brush with the shady lady! I held them in reverential awe from a distance thinking how they had dared to work in night shifts of a haunted hotel.

   I approached them and hesitatingly asked, “Hello, if you don’t mind, I wish to know whether the story of the shady lady mentioned in the pamphlet is true.”

    “It’s true Mam.”

     I ventured without suppressing my impish inquisitiveness, “Well did anyone of you have a first-hand encounter with her?”

      One of them shrugged and said, “Well we have joined of late but some of our predecessors had.”

       So there it is! I consoled myself. All the ghost stories I have heard so far were narrated as experiences which they had heard from someone else. I have never heard a single person vouch such a nebulous presence based on personal experience. I assured myself that though the incident of a lady taking away her life in the hotel room was true, the rest was figment of someone’s imagination to give a spooky twist to the tale.

    I glanced at my watch. It was almost midnight. Humming a lilting tune I jogged up the stairs as I am averse to using the lift. I sauntered down the long deserted dimly lit corridor as almost all the inmates had by then hit the bed. The hotel to preserve its century old heritage had vintage padlock with antique keys to every room. I took out the keys to my room and inserted it in my lock to open my room.  Inspite of all my efforts the lock refused to succumb. So engrossed and impatient had I become at the fag end of the day that I didn’t notice when a lady had appeared and was standing by my side.

     “Can I help you?”

      Unmindful and a bit confused with my futile efforts I said without looking at her, “Oh yes! Please do! Something seems to have gone wrong.” I handed over the keys to her. It was only when the lady got in action that I got a view of her profile and marvelled at her beauty. A musty smell filled the closed corridor. What intrigued me was how a paragon of beauty could smell so mouldy. I wondered what perfume she was using! It was just a moment’s effort on her part. To my great relief the lock yielded but my absentmindedness lingered. I thanked her and asked, “Which is your room?” I found that she had left by then. Throwing the answer “Next door” at me without looking back at me she seemed to diffuse at the bend of the corridor as if she was in a great hurry. 

     Entering my room I flung my handbag on the bed, threw myself flat on my bed. Dangling my fatigue worn legs and kicking off my shoes I said to myself, “Oh what a day!” It was a day of yet another disappointing trail, madness with friends and ghost stories. In that relaxed frame of mind it suddenly struck me that the beautiful lady with a musty odour had said that her room was next to mine. The next door was just down the bend of the corridor. Oh My God! That meant that her room number was twenty one since mine was number twenty and Mona and her husband was in number nineteen.  Horror stricken I at once leapt up, barged out of my room and banged on Mona’s door frantically. Mona’s husband opened the door and found me jittery with my eyes almost popping out. Mona had almost fallen asleep but seeing me sat up on her bed wide awake. Asking me to calm down Mona offered me a glass of water. Holding my hands still trembling she sat down on the sofa for a long time waiting patiently for me to speak.

       With my heart pounding under my breath I narrated my experience still unsure whether it was a vision or a real incident. But how could it qualify as a vision? It was only because she had opened the door that I was able to enter my room. Moreover the words “Next door” still rang in my ears.

       The incident had left me totally shaken and it was next to impossible to enter that room and sleep there alone. Mona went with me to lock my room. Rejuvenated with a peg of brandy I slept with Mona in her room while her husband had to curl up on the sofa for that night. Thank God, the next day was our day of departure!

     And friends…here am I narrating a real incident of my life in the first person…I who have always been disdainful of people who believed in ghosts and dismissive of spooky tales…

     Yes, twenty one will always remain an ominous number for me.

2 comments :

  1. The story has been beautifully written by the writer in a very fluid & lively manner...always enjoy reading her works.

    ReplyDelete
  2. ah, great read, finished the same at one go. great spooky write. enjoyed dear author.

    ReplyDelete

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