Friday 23 June 2017

A scary story for the night

Moray Firth is an area I had not visited for a long time during my stay in Scotland. On this particular weekend a storm was battering Scotland and the west coast was taking a nasty hit. So I re-planned and decided to visit this sunny part of Scotland instead. My base would be Cullen. Called up the Harbour Hostel for booking a bed, but there seemed to be no problem with availability. They told me to just turn up.

If you have been to Cullen Harbour Hostel, you will know that this is an independent hostel with an open door policy. You check in yourself. There are no locks and it’s open 24x7. However, when I reached, the front door seemed to be jammed and I had to wait for the staff. Eventually, someone turned up and I was let in. I don't know if he was the manager as he didn't give me a straight reply, just mumbled something about staff unavailability. He was fidgety and felt very creepy.

After handing me a wrap-around ‘sleeping bag’ and showing me around, he disappeared.

The dorm was set out in two rooms, one leading into the other, with a connecting door between them. For the sake of privacy (it's a mixed dorm) each bed had its own personal curtain. There were about 10 beds in the first room. The inner room was also set up similarly. But it was completely dark, probably no windows in there if I remember right, and I couldn't see. The common bathroom was located outside by the hall. With no one else in the dorm, I was spoilt for choice and selected one of the beds in the outer room by the window. I kept my backpack and went for a walk around the coast. Was hoping to get some decent shots of the Bow and Fiddle rock in Portknockie, about a couple of miles away.

After a brilliant day by the coast, I returned in the late afternoon. The place was still quiet. No one had turned up it seemed. I made a quick pasta supper in the kitchen. The place was warm and smelled nice from the wood burning stoves. Someone had lit them up while I was away. The lounge had a piano which I tinkered with for a while. I looked around at the odd pieces of decoration in the lounge and finally relaxed with a book on the couch. There wasn't another soul around. About ten I decided it was time for bed. I had the whole, massive place to myself, or so I thought. As I walked through the door of the dormitory, I realised something. It was quiet. Very quiet. The only sound I could hear was of the raging sea. It had been a dry but windy day and the wind was getting stronger.

The dorm was not as warm as the lounge and it was pitch dark when I came in. I switched on the lights, a couple of low voltage incandescent lamps came on, trying their best to diffuse their faint glow through the rows of textile hanging around the beds. It was difficult not to imagine someone lurking behind them. I stopped my brain from going into an imagination overdose. The inner room was dark. I didn't feel the urge to look inside so quietly went up and shut the connecting door. 

Picking up my night clothes, I closed the dorm door behind me to get washed and changed. After five minutes I was back from the bathroom. I opened the door and stood there, unable to move, frozen. There, right in front of me, the connecting door was wide open! Maybe there was a boarder who had arrived quietly, unnoticed. After all, there weren’t any locks to keep people away.

'Hello' I could only manage a feeble whisper, but got no response. With shaky hands I started pulling back the curtains, first my dorm. It was clear. Then gathering courage stepped into the second one, fumbled, but managed to switch on the lights. The glow from the incandescent lamps wasn't enough to cut through the darkness. I took a deep breath, then walked in, gingerly starting to move the curtains.

I switched off the lights and closed the door again behind me, this time making sure it was tight. The inner dorm was empty as well. I was confused, trying to convince myself that I had never closed the door. I couldn't get myself to switch off the light in my dorm for the night. I was still shaking. Keeping one lamp on I crawled under the covers. By now the storm was raging outside. A vision of Norman Bates doing a curtain rip-through kept playing in my head. Eventually, I fell asleep.

The sun was out and the sky was blue when I woke up, though it still looked windy. The connecting door was tightly shut as I had left it. Last night felt unreal in the safety of day light. I was to walk to Portsoy, about six miles from Cullen and get the bus from there to Aberdeen, then the train back to Edinburgh. An early start was on the cards. I started to go to the bathroom but at the dorm door realised I had forgotten my toothbrush. Starting to return to my bed, I released the door behind me. As the dorm door closed sharply with the spring pulling it back, the air was sucked out of the room. With that, the connecting door was opening slowly.

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