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Retold tale

My aunt used to work as a drug rep for Glaxo—it was because she was pretty and used to be a nurse, so she’d go round the country and seduce doctors (sell them things—like phenobarbital). It’s called work. Now, I have told you this story before but like all yarns it should be told again from time to time—and, like all yarns, sceptics will pick at the way it is told over and again, just like they pick at all those religious stories; and yet just because it gets richer in the retelling doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

One night, my aunt stopped in a hotel in Henley-on-Thames. The hotel overlooks a graveyard; and, indeed, if I am very much mistaken, so did the room my aunt had. When she arrived it was already quite late, so she decided to run a bath—although from the moment she went into the room it did not feel “quite right”, as if she was somehow watched. Nonetheless, she sank into the bath—which was warm and deep. As she lay in the bath, she began to feel a force push her down—it was almost imperceptible at first, yet soon it grew stronger and stronger until she was forced almost under the water (already clouded with perfumed soap, I imagine).

She tried to rise from the bath, but she couldn’t do it. She was stuck, right there—with invisible hands on her shoulders that pushed her down and down into the cloudy water. At last, she managed to hook the chain on the bath plug with her toes and pull it up—it took a few tries, you know how the plug will snap back down due to the water volume above? It was so in this case too, a real Hollywood race against time—will the pretty maiden get her toes round the chain? For a few moments (heart-stopping), we don’t know—we only know she’ll squeal and pant as she does so (as the waterline meets her chin).

So my aunt hooked the chain round her toe and drained the bath—she lay there and shivered, because you know how cold it can be in a drained bath, don’t you? You remember that sensation from when you were a child, when your mother went to get the towel and you had to wait. The porcelain feels sharp in the wet and cold—moments before, it was comfort and yet now it feels like it could slice you…

She lay there, because “the hands” still held her down. At last, she hooked her legs, one by one, from the bath, just over the side, and levered herself up—one leg after the other. And then she dried herself and prepared for bed—and all the while felt watched in that dark room, that dark room in Henley-on-Thames (that overlooks a graveyard).

When she turned off the light, the sensation that she was watched grew more intense. She felt there were many eyes on her in the bed. So many eyes—as if a crowd had gathered round her to watch. She fell asleep and dreamed the crowd was round her—and in her sleep she felt that she was lifted and carried to the bed, lifted and carried to the bed, lifted and carried to the bed…

At last, it became too much—the eyes were too intense, the sensation was too intense. So she went down to the reception and asked for another room, and they said, “Oh yes, we often have problems with that room,” and they showed her to a smaller room, more like a box-room, not so luxurious at all (for the staff, really), where she spent the night in peaceful sleep.

The next morning, they explained that many people left the room (some left the same night, refused to stay in the hotel even, and never came back)—many people, men and women, complained about the room. This was the story they told: there was a maid in the hotel who drowned herself in the bath in that room—and when they recovered her body, they laid it out on the bed, laid it out on the bed, laid it out on the bed….and everyone stood round it to watch.


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