Having completed my first tour of the century old building, now known as the Preston Springs Gardens, my brother, best friend and I each carried with us a sense of relief upon walking out the rear service doors. Though I carried a little something extra, something I would come to regret soon enough.
Beaming proudly and with the naïve confidence of a young husband who should have thought through his choice of gift a little further, I presented the beautiful fluted vases to my now ex-wife (though the vases we hardly the reason we’re no longer together). Her reaction was somewhat diminished from the one I imagined when I plucked the opaque glass ornaments from the pile of rubbish inside the old hotel. Though, in hindsight, I can see where I went wrong. One man’s garbage can be another man’s treasure, but it seldom is the treasure of his wife…to her it’s still garbage.
To appease the look of disappointment that I’m sure was growing on my face; she graciously cleaned the vases and placed them on our main bathroom windowsill, to await long stemmed roses, which I was now expected to provide. Little did I know that I would have only a small window of opportunity to do so.
While I held the position of caretaker at the hotel, my wife and I resided in the detached servant’s quarters, which was the run of a small two story home, situated just next to the hotel. It was cozy accommodation, but it served our needs quite nicely at the time.
The windowsill in question was quite large, approximately six inches in depth and more that three feet long. It was topped with a wooden sill plate, which was laminated with a melamine sheet (what can I say, it was a classy joint). Having been built around the same time as the hotel, and seldom updated, the home was sturdy and utilitarian in nature, and we had no reason to believe that the vases would be in danger on that sturdy shelf of a window ledge.
Time passed fairly quickly, the move was uneventful, cleaning, renovating, assessing the property and securing the hotel to my satisfaction. I spent many hours inside the old building during the first few months of our two year stay, securing doors, boarding up windows, cleaning graffiti and just generally patrolling the grounds. I came to find the old sits baths embedded in the garden hill, just behind the hotel. Large oval cement pools which were once filled with heated sulphuric water from the bowels of the hotel. Guests would venture from their opulent rooms to the garden, by way of a short iron bridge connecting the garden to the fourth floor, and they would partake in the so-called healing effects of sulphur water baths. I can only imagine what it might have smelled like, though it’s hardly a drastic difference from people today, injecting poison into their faces, all in the name of aesthetics.
The hotel became familiar, and places that once bore trepidation in me, now felt comfortable; I would walk the grounds, travel the hallways and descend into the bowels of the building without the slightest thought to what else might be there with me. Except that is, for those rare occasions that I needed to visit the top floor.
Many who are familiar with the hotel, and who have heard some of the stories told over beer at the local pub, are also familiar with the figures that stand in the windows on the top floor, those figures that illuminate the stale air inside those old walls at night. It should be noted that well before my arrival at the hotel, all electrical power had been severed to the upper floors, save for the necessary smoke detectors, which had been installed in recent years, and were powered by a separate electrical system. Even so, many people have reported lights shining brightly from the windows on the top floor.
I avoided the top floor if I could, it was the remnants of the original service quarters, and in recent years it had been the residence of elderly dementia patients, as it was the easiest floor to secure.
At some point in the past there had been a leak in the roof, and the resulting water damage was never adequately repaired. This effectively turned what might once have been a decent and welcoming area into a place of nightmares and horrible fantasies; peeling paint and perpetually wet walls, cold even in summer months and a heaviness to the air that made breathing difficult at the best of times.
Thankfully there was no outside access to this floor, so my work seldom required me to spend more than a few minutes at a time in that place.
As I became more familiar with the grounds, I began to notice odd occurrences all around the property. Tools would go missing and after a search would be found right back where they were supposed to be. Doors would open and close without assistance and occasionally I heard what, to this day I will swear, was the old decommissioned iron and brass mechanical elevator rising between floors.
Some things were innocent enough to pass off as a weird coincidence, and some I eventually discovered were the work of air currents and drafts through the old building, other things I’ve yet to explain.
A short while after moving in, my wife gave birth to our first son, and life for me changed for the better. We adapted what I had once used as an office to be a modest nursery and began our life as a family.
Soon after bringing my son home from the hospital, both my wife and I noticed strange things happening inside our little house. One Saturday afternoon, after returning from a quick trip to the market, I sat in the kitchen as my wife began putting away our fresh groceries. We talked and laughed about little things and scarcely noticed as a new loaf of bread lifted off the kitchen counter and slowly floated across the kitchen, coming to a rest on the dinette table next to me.
I was unnerved, to say the least, though my wife was not surprised. She explained that she had seen the same thing several times since we moved in and began to tell me of the spirit she believed was sharing the space with us. She told me of waking in the middle of the night to feed our son and finding his toys dancing above him as he watched with glee from his bassinette. She told me of the woman she’d heard through the baby monitor, and had initially dismissed as an intercepted signal from some other nearby home.
My shock at this news was tempered by the strange experiences I had, and when we began to compare notes, a striking similarity came to light. We discovered, to our own satisfaction, that there were two different entities at work; one we believed was a woman, possibly a nurse of chief medical attendant for either the first nursing home, or from the original hotel. She seemed nurturing and caring, and made us both feel welcome.
The second was mischievous and spiteful, and gave us the distinct impression that we were not welcome. It was this second entity, we believe, who did not appreciate our adoption of artefacts from the hotel.
Less than three months since our move in, our beautiful vases stood, empty on the window sill, and each time I noticed them, I felt more and more guilty for not fulfilling my promise. That guilt finally won over and on one cold January day, I purchased two long stem roses from a near by flower shop, and placed one in each vase as a surprise for my wife.
She was surprised (which I’m not sure is a compliment to my romantic habits), and late as I was, the romance of it won her over for the night. That feeling was short lived however, as early the next morning; we were awoken by a loud crash and the sound of a thousand glass pieces bouncing across linoleum.
I raced to the bathroom, my expectations not yet formed, I was ready to confront an intruder, though not the one I found.