133. Oppression (III)
Updated: Jan 28
My family is partly Welsh and like all Celts they have a strong strain of superstition; my grandmother would walk the lanes outside her Welsh village as a child seeking for fairies and, when staying in an old monastery, woke one night to find a hooded monk looking down on her. It is a Celtic trait: the Anglo-Saxons do not really hold with this sort of thing, seeing it as the primitive superstition of the Irish and the Welsh. So perhaps what follows is merely a reflection of our primitive racial nature—or perhaps it points to something quite malevolent, quite beyond us.
The hotel my aunt checked into that night in Henley-on-Thames is set slightly back from the river where, every year, the Oxford-Cambridge boat race takes place. It was probably built around the 18th century and overlooks a graveyard behind a church. I have walked by it quite a few times myself and it always has the look of a rather gloomy place, though not overly sinister. It is, in short, one of those hotels that feels a little bit wrong, and I am sure that we have all stayed in such places at one time or another.
Arriving there in the evening, being a travelling drug rep, my aunt decided to have a bath. There was nothing particularly unusual about the room, being as it was medium-sized, though with some very low beams, quite oppressive, as is often the case with older buildings. The sinister events began when my aunt decided that she wanted to get out of the bath, for she found that—try as she might—she could not get out of the tub. This was not mere drowsiness; she was quite awake and actively trying to force herself from the bath. What she felt, quite distinctly, was what seemed to be two hands forcing her down into the tub. The hands were planted firmly on her shoulders, and when she tried to raise herself from the tub, the invisible hands pushed her down—as if trying to get her completely under the water.
Tiring of the struggle, my aunt looped her foot around the plug chain and, with an effort, managed to pull the plug clear. The bath water drained away, leaving nothing but the foam residue. Still, the invisible hands kept my aunt pressed to the tub. She finally looped her legs around the edge of the bathtub and levered herself free. She then dried herself and prepared for bed. As she turned off the lights, she had a distinct impression of being watched; but, nonetheless, beneath the oppressive ceiling beams, fell to sleep. As she fell asleep, she had the feeling that there were people gathered around her bed, watching her and looking over her. If she turned the light on, there was nobody there. Deeper into the night, the sensation of being watched turned into the sensation of being lifted up and carried across the room, then laid on the bed; a sensation that, at last, became too strong—even with the lights on—and my aunt decided, around four o’clock in the morning, to find a new room.
She went to the reception desk where the staff expressed no surprise that she wanted to change room, although the only alternative was a small box-like room. There my aunt spent a peaceful remainder of the night. In the morning, the receptionist explained that it was not uncommon for people to ask to change from the room my aunt stayed in. Indeed, once a guest left the room and refused to spend the rest of the night in the hotel at all, leaving in the small hours of the morning. As the receptionist was willing to describe, in the light of morning: “What happened was, during the late 19th century, in that room, was that a maid killed herself in the bathtub—drowned herself—and they laid her on the bed for the doctor and everyone to see…”