There is a small town up in the Tyrol, in that mountainous ridge that straddles the Southern reaches of Germany and Upper lands of North Italy, called Vipiteno (in Italian) and Sterzing (in German). It sits right on the frontier between the two countries and is divided by more than language. Some treated you better if you spoke in Italian, others , if you spoke in German. You couldn’t tell till you’d tried one of each. Things may have changed since I was there with my parents.
We stopped off there for a few nights, and, on the recommendation of a friend originally from the town, we stayed at the oldest inn in the place; I think it was called something like Das Krone – but whatever its name, it had been standing there, as a wayside inn, up in the mountains, for five hundred years – and in the same family for all that time. This seemed an impressive fact to a child who had spent no more than three or four years at a time in any one country, and, combined with a family love of history, made me curious to know more; over dinner in the timbered restaurant on the ground floor, I looked up at the portraits on the wall over the fireplace at the far end. A man and a woman, early to mid-nineteenth century – possibly even earlier …surely they were ancestors of the present inn-keepers. What might have been their history? What their names ?
The inn had expanded, there was a modern building across the road, only three years old, built mainly to accommodate coach parties. We were staying in the old building, my parents in one room nearest to the stairs, I in another a little further on.
The upper floor had a narrow winding corridor, with the rooms leading off from it – lit with warm, glowing lights, comfortable and welcoming.
Full and glowing after a (probably over-rich) hearty dinner, I drifted off happily; we had spent a fascinating time in Venice, had chatted and giggled at dinner and were anticipating a couple of days exploration of Vipiteno. All was light and cheery. I slipped into sleep in a haze of comfort.
I awoke a few hours later,suddenly, in the dark, and petrified. That over-used expression ‘paralysed with fear’ comes to mind; yet how else to describe the sheer impossibility of movement owing to the cold terror that has taken hold of your whole body ?
Indigestion, I hear you suggest. Over-excitement, says another. Pooh, over-active imagination, from the gentleman at the back there.
It may well be so – yet those three are no strangers to me, and I think would have resulted in similar effects often enough for me to have already drawn such a conclusion, if such indeed were the case. I had not before, nor have I since, experienced such a sensation, such a terrifying feeling ; – of someone sitting on the end of the bed.
My feet were tilting – in the unmistakable way that feet do when the mattress is sat on; and this I believe was what had awoken me.
It can only have lasted a few seconds – yet it seemed an eternity before I could stretch my hand out to switch on the light. Finally, I managed to do that – and kept my eyes tightly shut. That welcome glow, through my eyelids , was not enough in itself to reassure me. I had no intention of opening them – I felt most strongly that to do so would be a serious mistake, that my very sanity would be at risk if I dared to open them.
Gradually – oh, relief! – gradually, the weight lifted and dissipated. My feet returned to a normal position as the mattress lightened. But dear heavens, it was slow in going – and still I kept my eyelids tightly shut. I did not want to see, I could not bear the thought of what I might see, at the end of the bed – until finally, all sensation of weight had gone completely. How long did that take ? Again, probably no more than a matter of seconds – yet how interminable even seconds can feel, dragging on as a plough through thick mud ….
Now I could open my eyes – only because I was finally convinced that the room was empty. Not before. Now. You see, there was that sensation, powerful enough to convince me that there was a presence, a presence I did not wish to see, and that I would be unable to move until that same presence had withdrawn.
I looked at the clock. Close on three. There was no prospect of going back to sleep that night. I got up and crept down the corridor as far as my parents’ room, then peered about, loath to wake them. There were comforting small night lights on. The corridor remained lit all night, which was a blessing. But I did not see how I could wander up and down the corridor all night. Nor had I any wish to remain in the bedroom.
I got dressed and went downstairs. By that time it must have been nearly four in the morning. I sat on one of the old wooden chests in the hall; I felt unafraid downstairs. I looked about me, at the furnishings, the great dark shiny floor, the stairs. I waited until the light changed, when dawn, so very welcome, finally broke, and the cleaning ladies came into the hall and started vacuuming, dusting, chatting …
I do not know if they commented on my being in the hall at such an early hour – I don’t know if they even saw me. That same day however, we were moved to the new building across the road. Perhaps that had been part of the original arrangement; it was certainly a surprise to me. I was in a sense sorry not to be in such a wonderfully old building – but I was also relieved. I slept well that night, as far as I can remember. I certainly was not troubled by the feeling of someone – or something – sitting on the end of the bed (mind you, I think I left the bedside light on!)
As I have already mentioned, I have never had such an experience anywhere else before or since.
The inn (or hotel, I suppose it should be called) was later converted; I believe there are shops now on the ground floor; the upper floor all shut up.
I have since wondered, when researching Elizabethan travel , as to how many might have passed through those inn doors – and how many passed out again. Did one or two of them disappear overnight? In those times , highway men, robbers and thieves roamed the area, and attacks on travellers in lonely inns were not infrequent. How many secrets might such a building as that mountain inn hold ?
And then I look at a painting by Fuseli, and wonder again ….