Image Courtesy of: Pixabay

 

I’ve been here many years, stuck in this shambling place. Neither here nor there. So today, I’m going to tell you were it all began. And how I, Marie Dempsey, found myself stuck here on my eternal holiday.

Five years ago was my first and only holiday. It all started when I went to Croatia for a vacation with my two friends, Sheila and Macy. Both of them seem perfect – their toothpick bodies, professional makeup, designer clothing, and rich parents. Meanwhile, I was flawed. I had a chubby body, amateur makeup, hand-me-down clothes and thick blonde hair that’s constantly tangled. At least my parents were cool though, they both have strong work ethics.

I had been staying in a hotel which had a clean, sterile appearance that reminded me of a hospital. But every other guest seemed to enjoy the modern, professional design. As I navigated my way through the hotel for the eighth time that day, I noticed one elderly woman in particular. She stared at me every time I passed the foyer, eerie and bizarre. With barely a few scraps of wiry hair upon her scalp, she smelled like floral perfume that permeated the air around her. With an intelligent, wise gaze, she seemed to know more than you.

As I travelled past her, she peered after me with a grin on her face. I smiled back, out of respect and glanced at her once more as I passed. A moment later, I thought I heard someone call my name and turned around as fast as a snake. There was no one there and when I looked back, the lady was gone, her door closed. I put my dangling earphone back in my ear and went my own way. I had many questions about the intriguing woman, but who was I to ask for the answers?

When I arrived at the coffee shop, my two friends were spilling a stream of words from their mouths. Their conversation was boring and in honesty, I struggled to pay attention. My mind wouldn’t leave the elderly lady, it had only been two hours since I’d last seen her and questions still filled my mind. A slender, attractive waiter came up to our table with the bill. With sleek, black, long hair and straight teeth, there was no doubt in my mind that he was good looking. He gazed at me intensely, as though he had met me before. He passed me the bill and introduced himself, “Hi, I’m James. Nice to meet you.”

Embarrassment filled my gut, I’d never been the best in social situations and especially not when cute guys were involved. I greeted him back shyly. His body paused whilst his eyes searched my face, looking for something.

“You’re not staying at that hotel over there, are you?” he asked neutrally, eyeing the unpaid bill. “Yeah, I am” I replied nervously. He looked at me and smiled before walking away, bill included. “Ooh, he’s got a crush on you!” Sheila exclaimed.

“Go give him your number?” Macy giggled. Of course, my two best friends decided that James and I would be the topic of conversation for the next two hours. I’m not going to deny, the waiter was good-looking, but I still had my doubts. “What was he talking about? The hotel I’m staying at? What did he mean?” I fired the questions at my friends, but they just laughed and stared at me, entertained by my confusion. Shortly after, they lectured each other on football. My frustration grew as they refused to answer my questions, but I soon remembered that I didn’t need them for answers. I could find out for myself. I would, find out for myself.

Later in the evening, I was sprawled on my bed, the time being 10pm. A petrified look was carved onto my face and my sweat dripped down onto the bed sheets. My breath became shallow and my heart was pounding, ready to launch itself out of my body. I felt traumatised – why didn’t I research the hotel I was staying in before I blasted came here? The information I had found sent chills down my spine.

Online, there was a newspaper clipping. It was captioned: “Murdered Pensioner”. The report was horrifying, but it still didn’t answer many questions. It wasn’t until I saw the grey shaded photo that the air really left my body. There she was, an immortal image of the elderly lady, her wispy hair included. I thought my heart was going to stop.

If this lady was truly murdered, then why did I see her? Why am I the only one that noticed her? Why can I smell her? But if she was really going to cause me a problem, she would have done it by now though right? Right? 

After frantic worrying and serious hair pulling, I finally dozed off to sleep. Unfortunately my sleep didn’t last long as I was awoken to a series of footsteps coming from the corridor. As silently as possible, I crept out of bed and took a glass cup from the room’s kitchen. Crawling across the room, I set the glass rim upon the door and laid my ear to the bottom of it. Sobbing penetrated through the glass. It wasn’t the kind of sobbing signaling danger, it was more like the sobbing of a person completely alone in the world.

I set the glass on the table next to me and feeling brave, I placed my hand on the doorknob. Slowly it creaked and the door gave slightly. Barely ajar, I peeked through the gap and saw the entire hallway, but to my confusion…nobody was there.

My bravery hadn’t failed me yet so I boldly shouted into the darkness.

“Hello?”

Nothing but an echo whispered in reply.

Suddenly, the light started fluttering down the corridor, breathing life into a shadow. At first it was simply that, a shadow. But the longer I stared, the more it appeared to take on a shape of its own. There was only one way to describe its form, an animal if ever I saw one. At first, I speculated that it might be an ape, but my rational mind soon took control. Really? A wild ape in Croatia? In a hotel? I must be going mad. My thoughts quickly stopped in their tracks as the shadow started getting bigger. It was no longer a wispy shred of darkness, it was materializing into something far more tangible. Slowly it seemed to lumber towards me, groaning in its wake. My fear overwhelmed me, paralyzing me to the spot. No thoughts or prayers whispered in my mind, only blankness. A smell of musty old flowers tingled in my nose, distracting me slightly from the strange creature that headed towards me. The distraction lasted for a moment more before panic set in and I started to close the door.

I didn’t manage to close it in time, not before I saw its horrendous form in the light.

My eyes opened sharply to the light that blazed through my hotel room window. I didn’t remember falling asleep. Questions flitted around my mind when I suddenly remembered the strange shadow in the hallway coming towards me. Sweat dripped down my back as I flung myself out of bed to the door. I hauled it open and took a long look down the corridor. Everything seemed to be normal, nothing to suggest I had stood in that exact location the night before, or that a strange shadowy creature had come to terrify me. I exhaled a large lungful of air, breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. It was only a dream, nothing was there. I’ve been in bed all night. I comforted myself.

BRRRRR! BRRRR! BRRRR! 

My skeleton nearly jumped out of my skin as my ridiculously loud alarm clock buzzed its wake up call inside the room. Laughing at my own silliness, I mooched back inside and assaulted the snooze button.

Sitting on the bed, I tried to remember what the creature in my dream had looked like when it finally stood in the light. I knew in my heart that I recognised it, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember why. There was nothing. It was a complete blank. The only thing I remembered clearly was the strange whiff of rotten flowers that assaulted my senses. I realised I wasn’t going to remember anything more so decided to get ready to meet Macy at the local coffee shop.

Looking in the slightly smeared, thin mirror of my hotel room, I gawked at my naked self. All I could see was the useless fat I carried on my belly, the purple blemishes of my pale skin and pink stretch marks that lined my body. I grabbed my love handles, pulling at the useless skin and sighed. “I will go to the gym and I will lose weight” I whispered. Too bad the Croatian pizza wins the temptation battle every time.

While looking at my ghastly self, I noticed something strange in the background behind me. It was a chink of glass, reflecting the beautiful sunlight. Confused by its subtle brilliance, I went to investigate. There on the floor next to my bedside table was a glass cup, half broken, its sharp edges glinted at me.

Fear swept over me. “It was real. It wasn’t a dream. I did use this cup to listen through the door” I cried. No, no, no, no. It can’t be. Shadows don’t turn into things. How did the glass get here though? Why is it broken? What happened to me!!! 

As my mind hurried through all these questions, a sudden smell blew towards me. There it was again, rotten flowers, overpowering and musky like an old perfume. Slowly, slowly, the sound of a crying woman reached my ears. It was coming from just beyond the door. Anger started to penetrate my mind. How dare someone play tricks on me like this again! I flew to the door and opened it once more.

There at the end of the hallway, the old lady stood. I recalled the newspaper clippings from earlier on in the day before. Watching me carefully, she raised her wrinkled old hand and waved in a slow, purposeful manner. Suddenly, her shape seemed to change, growing long and dark. She melted into the shadows and realisation dawned.

It was her. It was her that visited me last night. 

Panicking, I ran back into the room. I realised I was still naked, completely bare to the world and threw on an old t-shirt and jogging bottoms. Frantically I rummaged for my phone and searched the internet: Croatian police phone number. Within moments, I had phoned the number that came up on my search. Thankfully, my call was answered.

“Što je vaš problem?” an operator asked. (What is your emergency?)
I informed the operator that I was a tourist who didn’t speak Croatian. He kindly reassigned me to somebody that knew English.

“Hello, you’s speakin’ to Ian Markov, ‘ow may I help ye’?” The male cockney accent was still hard to understand.
“Hello, Mr. Markov. Um..I don’t know where to begin. I’m a tourist and I’m staying at this hotel and well the things is…I-I keep seeing this creepy, elderly lady outside my door!” I managed to say.

“Theirs old peoples all ova’ th’ world. Both men and women. It ain’t no crime to be reported if yous’ lucky enuff’ to see one” he informed me, every word laced with sarcasm.

“Mr. Markov… she has been following. Stalking me! And what’s weirder still is that she’s believed to be dead! I saw it in a newspaper clipping online! You have to believe me sir, I’m not crazy!” Panic started to edge into my voice whilst Mr. Markov was as silent as a cemetery.

“Mr. Markov? Hello? You still there?” I murmured.
“Ye’ I’z ‘ere. That case woz’ closed ove’ twenty year’ ago. Please don’t be prank callin’ emergency services. You understand itsa’ crime young lady?”
My irritation and confusion was started to override my patience. “I am not joking sir, I promise! I keep seeing this smelly old lady outside my door! She keeps popping up everywhere I turn!”
“If that’s tha’ case, I’ll send over two officers to check out the buildin’. Sit tight and don’t’ open ye’ door to anyone ‘cept the officers!” he notified me before hanging up.

How will he know where to send them? I didn’t get a chance to tell him which hotel! Worry scratched at my skin nervously. Perhaps they can track my call, I concluded.

Sitting on my bed, I decided to email my Dad whilst I waited. I was closest to him, he paid for the vacation.

TO: SteveMcdonald@hotmail.co.uk 

SUBJECT: I’m still alive, don’t panic! 

Dear Dad,
Hope you and Mum are both well. Croatia is okay, really warm over here at the minute! 

Anyways Dad how is the business? I imagine it’s going well. If I am brutally honest I can’t wait to come back. Why, you ask? The people are worryingly weird here. I think I want to come home really.

Anyway, just checking in to let you know I’m alive and well.

Speak to you soon, 

Love.

M

As I was about to click the send button, a knock resounded on the door. That must be the police, I thought.

Sure enough, two police officers stood at the door, their eyes moving around the perimeter, shifty and paranoid. They seemed anxious and impatient.

“Hello madam, we are the Zagreb Policia. You reported an incident to us and we’d like to take a look around and ask a few questions if that’s okay” an officer greeted me. They walked in and quickly took a look around the room, as though they were waiting for something to appear. They then re-focused their attention on me.

“So we hear that an elderly lady has been bothering you. Could you give me a full description of this woman please?” The slender officer asked quietly. I relayed the woman’s appearance and the strange hauntings that kept occurring. The more I spoke, the more uncomfortable the officers appeared.

“I know you can’t tell me the whole story, but what happened to the old lady, what’s going on here?” I asked impatiently. It was the chubby officer that replied. He looked at me solemnly, then looked at his fellow officer. “Between you and me, I think you should try to leave the hotel as soon as you’re able” he murmured. His eyes never looking up from the floor.

“Why??? What’s going on? Why should I leave?” I squealed, impatient with their useless information.

“Just leave madam. Believe me, it’s for the best.” The slender one offered me. My anger was starting to get the better of me.

“I’m not leaving until you tell me what the hell is going on!” I gasped angrily.

Irritation seemed to leach onto the chubby officer’s face, a redness blushing under his cheeks.

“People go missing that’s why! Every year we get a strange call from a young woman, different every time. Every year they tell us about the strange haunting, the smell and the wire haired old bird. And every year, they go missing.” He fumed.

“We don’t know why, or how. They just do. So leave Miss, before anything happens to you, okay?” The slender officer tried to soothe.

I fell backwards onto my bed, about to have a panic attack. “Are you okay madam? Please sit up.” The chubby officer said.

But my eyes were starting to blur and my perception was fading. Darkness seemed to be swallowing me whole. A strong whiff of rotten posies entered my nose and my body started to shake. I don’t know where the officers disappeared too, but I knew I wasn’t alone. In my distressed state, I tried to open one of my eyes.

There she was. Rotten and old, standing beside my bed.

“Hush now little one, don’t you cry” she cooed.

I was never seen again. Not by the living at least.

But I’ve heard that you can hear me, crying in the hallway. If that’s true, I don’t advise you trying to reach me, for you might get stuck here too.

 

Samet Haxhiu

Samet Haxhiu

Samet Haxhiu is a keen writer of scripts, screenplays and fiction. Samet helped to co-write a short film with his friend, Andres Austin Bennett, who has starred in the BBC Three series “Bad Education”. Samet enjoys a diverse range of writers such as Stephen King, Jane Isaac, China Mieville, Ali Smith and many more. Samet also admires the works of Damon Lindelof and Aaron Sorkin in regards to screenwriting. By combining his passion for creative writing and English, Samet is going to continue studying English with Creative writing to an MA level [ Creative Management] at London Southbank University.