I chose my hotel in Prague because it was in a cobblestone alley with one way in and one way out to the larger street near the old city center. It was quiet and conservative looking with colorful summer flowers in the wooden window boxes.
Upon entering the alley to the hotel there was an Indian shop with incense burning inside, which leaked out onto the street. It smelled of jasmine, musk and cinnamon, and was complimented by all the red, green, yellow, blue and orange lights in the shop which shone into the night through the thin golden threaded Indian veils covering the windows. Little statues stood guard on the lower window sills. The yellow Goldfish swam in a small tank above the cashier on a shelf in water with blue sand and grey coral . This place seemed right for my mood. The hotel I found was the “Hotel Londoner.”
I admit I was psyched because I assumed they spoke English there, which of course they did. I didn’t speak the Czech language. The owners seemed to be Indian, which didn’t surprise me. They welcomed me and then oddly warned me the hotel was haunted, especially my room, then wished me a good night. I thought that was some lovely British humor. I don’t mind voyeuristic ghosts. I came face to face with a ghost in a Belgium hotel once. That’s a story for some other time…
I settled into my room which looked like any other room in any European hotel. I was on the 3rd floor. Thank God for elevators. The bed was comfortable and the room clean. I unpacked , checked the closet cabinet (which is now my habit after my Belgian ghost incident) then lay down to rest after my long journey. I heard people speaking muffled , strange languages outside my room. I could also hear the ding of the elevator across from my room. I stood up and looked out my window with a view of the famous city square with its wondrous old Czech architecture, buildings and shops, people everywhere. I could see the Franz Kafka museum from my window. I noticed that,
ahhh yeah,mmmhhhhh…I retreated,
I spilled back onto the bed and soon fell asleep.
In my dream I took the elevator to the lobby bar for a drink. I entered the elevator cabin and pushed the “P” button which I assumed in the Czech Republic meant lobby. It seemed to take a long while until
…the door slowly opened to my mother’s funeral parlor. The smell of orchids was in the air. People walked around without making any sounds. Everyone was unsure how to act. Flowers and wreaths were pointing to the casket in the back. I walked in and there she lay in her casket, all waxy and dead. My mother was gone, dead, replaced by this bad doll in the box. My parents had been divorced for over 20 years. My father, who had not seen my mother since the divorce, was standing peering into her casket. It was strange seeing them together. I thought, they are finally together at last. My father did get the last word, I guess, but it wasn’t spoken to her.
Me. I was alone at the hospital, holding my mother’s hand when she breathed her last breath. She had long since stopped talking. The nurse asked me who she had been waiting for. I knew.
After her rattle, for some reason I looked up at the ceiling and said, „mom, go to the light.“ Why did I do that ?
I then closed her mouth and eyes.
That was the end of my mother.
It was surreal for me. I had seen enough,
I was uncomfortable. I returned to the elevator and I decided to continue down to the lobby, I wanted two stiff drinks after this too real detour.
The elevator kept going up however, then stopped, and the door opened to an old familiar room; my childhood bedroom. It was full of sunshine and it was Saturday morning. I was 10 years old, lying in my warm bed with my beagle snuggling up to me and I didn’t have a care in the world. I felt the only absolute joy I ever felt in my life in these few short minutes. I starred at how the sun reflected on my wooden bed,
reflected on my arm,
reflected on the dust particles
as they floated oh so slowly everywhere,
up and down, rising and falling.
I suddenly remembered that it was Saturday today, no school, and I was free, and the day was mine. There was no reason to get out of bed except for the call of some childhood adventures. I remembered it like it was yesterday. I was young, warm, safe, healthy, and innocent. Little did I know the joys and horrors that life would bring, that the future would bring?
Through my open bedroom door the shadowy elevator calls me to enter.
Literally, the elevator said „ENTER“ in a deep reverby sound. Shit. I didn’t want to leave my old room, the sunshine, the warmth, my dog, but I did. I entered the elevator. It went down. The elevator itself was just the typical metal box with buttons and a phone we all know.
Finally the door opened and I found myself in the village’s cemetery’s very small stone chapel, looking at my young wife’s casket, my two children by my side, in their finest clothes. Again flowers.
Around us sat my wife’s family. Surprising myself, a quiet moan escaped from me.
My anguished groan for my wife came out of me fully beyond my control; the sound of my wounded soul in that tiny room full of people. The reality of my lovely wife, my love, in this wooden container hit me. All the small German female children rushed to me and whispered words of support. They touched me too.The adults respectfully ignored my despairing sounds.
Standing at the grave, when they finally lowered my wife`s casket into the ground, my daughter broke down sobbing and held me. My son was next to me holding my hand, in shock, staring at his young mother deep in a dirty hole. My heart was and has been broken for my motherless children ever since. The world goes on – ding!
– and forgets but we three are seared by love and death. Bonded by it. I never cried at the funeral, I was way too medicated. I’m not sure I could have stopped crying, and my kids needed me together. I have cried since…
I’m back on the elevator and feeling a heavy sadness which I carry around my neck now, on my shoulders. Oh, how I wish I could feel the joy of that Saturday morning sunshine; the joy of my wedding and births of my children… Being in love with my wife, her feline ways, peals of laughter from wrestling my kids in the big bed, my beloved snowy forest during the snow storm, my dog in my lap with warm eyes of love, my mother caring, my father helping, my brothers, on and on and on and on…
The doors close, the doors open DING!
I awake in this strange bed in Prague and walk downstairs and go out into the night to find something.
I’m looking for ghosts. I want to see ghosts.
Prague, room 302 at some hotel, 2012
Out of the Dark Forest
I’m still alive, I think,
unless I’m a ghost.
I was hitching from Leipzig to Paris.
He was a French man, a somewhat dirty and unshaven driver, small and shabby. Creepy.
He spontaneously agreed to give me a ride; a ride with him the rest of the way to Paris where I needed to pick up my paintings from an exhibition I had there.
It was October.
He spoke broken English. I spoke no French,
(which may have helped me).
I really didn’t have a clue who he really was.
The day was sunny, mild and blue.
It was a great French day;
a great day to hitchhike.
It was around 4:30 pm when I met him at a gas station somewhere in France.
I quickly hopped into his little old car,
happy to have scored a ride.
We drove off to Paris on the main highway.
After some small talk, mainly about me and where I’m from, he reached over my lap and opened the glove compartment. He pulled out what looked like a bunch of passports.
They were, indeed, passports.
He handed me all 4.
The first pretty girl was his girlfriend who died falling off the back of his motorcycle, he said.
The second, his girlfriend who died in a car crash, he told me.
The third girlfriend died from a brain tumor,
He then said, “I’m so unlucky.”
I agreed he was.
The uneasiness started
then and only grew as the miles rolled on.
He was in possession of 4 or 5
young women’s passports.
Soon after showing me the passports,
the man said he wanted to take a faster shortcut to Paris.
It wasn’t really a question to me.
Excellent, thought I, get me outta here
I assumed we would cut through some charming French villages on secondary roads. Instead, we turned off onto an implausible dirt road off the main highway.
No, I thought. Not good.
But I kept silent.
Why we keep quiet is a mystery, perhaps because of our manners.
At first the road was out in the open, through a field. We rolled over the typical vivid green French hillsides until we finally reached the heavy woods.
There was an inescapable perception that the road narrowed.
It grew instantly darker as we entered the forest on the dirt road and drove on. The interior of the forest reminded me of some spooky Brothers Grim woods;
Hans and Gretalish.
The forest looked like the perfect place to hide something. It reminded me of a poem about God and perfection…
I still found the woods to be beautiful. Odd.
It was at this point my French driver shouted:
“ I donnt wan sue speeekk Ingliss hanymower! „
This was not a request.
Then silence… uncomfortable silence in the darkening forest.
I started to feel a small trickle of adrenaline in my body, my fight or flight soup
warming up, coming online.
Communication had now officially ended.
I pondered this because I knew I would surely have dire questions as we would get deeper and deeper into the forest.
I knew that I wouldn’t ask them, though.
It was now 5:00 pm and the sun was fading fast. The woods grew darker. Monsieur X also seemed tense, and I could tell he was in deep thought.
I noticed his lips moving.
He was rigid.
I myself had moved my hand to the door handle. A movement I’m sure could not have been missed by captor.
The car was slowing down. Slowing down.
I did not say a word. Was I going to die now? Did he have a gun? Was this really happening?
All these questions ran through my head…
Am I soon to be dead?
This was not the way it was supposed to go.
Maybe at that point I gave off some kind of male pheromones perceptible only to men facing off. Fear and crazy and ancient all rolled into some strange perfume.
Strong, male sweat and tight body language.
I possessed my own rage issues
and I was willing to fight.
There would be no begging or cries of mercy. I had my own perfect storm of crazy
as well. I was a big and powerful at that time, made road tough through my travels.
There is no substitute
for a nothing-to-lose stare.
That is all I gave him.
Something very primitive transpired between us then, I think. It’s a sort of inner calculus as to whether one can overcome, stop or kill the other guy or not; and with all its peripheral considerations, not the least of which were blood and dying.
I don’t think these calculations are the same when the victim is small, scared, weak and begging . I think between those two people it becomes just rushed blood lust, panic, and doom. Being overcome. Some type of ancient reptilian feelings. Snake like. Swallowing.
5:12 pm, the car was now moving
really, really slowly.
I entered a very strange and new place in myself. I was transformed, with very little preparation, into a killer myself.
Maybe my chauffeur could read my mind, or my body language. Or maybe he could see my hand on the door handle.
It was the moment of truth.
-we suddenly sped up!
Odd how these memories have come back to me as I write. Some I’m not certain of, like:
Did he say he had to hit one girlfriend with a shovel because she attacked him and would NOT leave him alone?
Did he really explain the two backpacks sitting on the backseat?
Did I not hear that on purpose?
Did I see more passports in his glove box than the 4 he pulled out?
Why didn’t I say “stop the car!!”
after the passport show? Hmm, why.
The road began to widen and we emerged out of the dark forest into the setting sun,
red and orange in the sky.
I wasn’t going to die.
I could hear and then see the highway now.
I saw tiny houses across from the highway.
I had no idea where exactly I was.
The Frenchman asked if I wanted to spend the night at his home, we could have dinner together. (A quick film of his filthy torture chamber basement ran through my head.)
I politely said no, my first words spoken since the order not to speak English was given. I sincerely think that had I broken that command and blabbered something, my story might have had a different ending. It could have been as simple as that.
It all came down to silence. I can be silent. Often to a fault. Sometimes one needs to be. Maybe one of the women in the passports may not have been able to spring over their nature, and started to beg or blabber under stress. That would have fed the killer’s evil.
Alas, who really knows?
I got out of his car at the side of the highway, and with darkness settling in now,
I watched him drive away.
I never did go to the police because:
A. I didn’t speak French and
B. I thought maybe my imagination was just too active.
“Jesus, what was that!” I yelled loudly to the starry, starry night. It was fully dark now.
I was now exhausted and I fell asleep on the side of the highway. It started to rain. I did accidentally sleep on an ant hill and was covered in ants the next morning.
I was worried what today would bring.
Am I still alive?
Am I a ghost now?
What happened back there?
Jump ahead 20 years and I’m teaching a student Business English in a café back in Leipzig,Germany. For whatever reason, we discuss the topic of hitchhiking and I tell him my story. He promptly whips out his smart phone and Googles French serial killers. Then he shows me pictures.
There he was:
I was shown a photo of serial killer
It was him way back then,
me and him on that strange ride.
I had never forgotten his face.
At that time, 1990, there was a reported serial killer leaving bodies of girls on the French highways. I had heard that. My French girlfriend told me to be careful hitchhiking.
I have often wondered if the murdered women, and maybe other men, may have been buried in those woods we slowly passed through. I wish I had now gone to the police back then, and have subsequently tried. He’s in jail, they are not interested anymore.
Maybe I could have helped stop more murders back then. Maybe locate bodies in the forest? That’s heavy; heavy on my soul now. And since then I have felt a dark light in my body, heavy.
Maybe the souls of the girls escaped inside of me, desperate to get out of the forest.
To get away. Safe at last.