Christmas at the Phantom Hotel
Christmas Eve 1962
It was approaching 10pm when the lorry dropped me off around twenty miles south of Scotch Corner on the A1. White flakes of snow had just started to appear from out of the black sky and the driver seemed concerned about leaving me at such a desolate spot. I told him ‘not to worry’ and gave him a reassuring wave as he drove off through the thickening curtain of snow. I remember just standing in the amazing silence of it all – apart from the soft hiss of the falling snowflakes. The driver had no need to worry however – I was seventeen and therefore immortal…….
…….I must have stood for around half and hour, when it became apparent that my chances of hitching a further lift to Durham before daybreak were slim. It was also becoming painfully apparent I was starting to freeze.
Squinting through the snowflakes, which were now falling heavily, I could just make out the square light of an upstairs window, in the blackness beyond the other side of the road. It seemed a little odd I hadn’t noticed it earlier, but I reasoned that whoever lived there, must have switched on the upstairs lights as they were going to bed.
I carefully picked my way across the deserted carriageways and eventually found myself at the entrance of what seemed to be a farmyard. I hesitated for a moment, but crossing the carriageway had shown me how my legs were seizing up in the sub-zero conditions and I knew I had to find shelter at once.
I knocked on the farmhouse door – softly to begin with and then with increasing force – nothing. I then carefully tried the door-handle and for the first, but not the last time in my life, it turned and the door opened…
…onto a small porch, leading to a steep flight of stairs. I slowly climbed the stairs, eventually finding myself in a corridor of bedrooms. Every room had been cleaned and prepared, as if for a guest – but every room was empty, with the door to each room left open. I can remember choosing the second from the last room at the far end of the corridor and sitting on the side of the bed, until my shivering had subsided. I was relieved that a sad end in the snow was no longer on the cards, so that worry was at once replaced with a different concern.
My new worry was a lack of money, other than a few coppers. I was a young student and I knew I could find myself in trouble if I was found sleeping in a room with no means of paying for it. I reluctantly crept downstairs and called out several times, even going carefully around the unlit breakfast/dining room, to see if I could find anyone. The hotel was empty.
It may have been empty, but thankfully it was warm. I had been thumbing lifts for over twelve hours and the combination of fatigue and warmth had begun to make sleeping an urgent need. I returned to ‘my’ room – and slept.
I woke with a start at around 10am on Christmas Day. Everything was silent, except for the occasional wet-tyre sound of a car passing by. I dressed quickly – knowing I had to find someone and explain to them what had happened. Hopefully they would then accept my home address, together with a promise of the rent being sent by post. I searched the house and the yard outside, but there was no one.
Looking back, I feel a little guilty that I didn’t leave a note, but everything had begun to feel a bit otherworldly and oppressive. I needed to get away from the building, as I knew that in some undefinable way, I was no longer welcome.
Fine rain was falling as I crossed the A1 to the northbound side. as I reached the grass verge, a car stopped beside me. An hour later I arrived home.
I have driven past the spot where the lorry-driver dropped me, many times over the years, but I cannot find the farmhouse hotel. Was it demolished? Or did it simply fade, like the village of Brigadoon – melting and dissolving with the night-snow.
So was I just lucky, or were there other forces in play? There have been a few ‘narrow squeaks’ in my life and each one had a flavour of ‘spiritual protection’. If I personify that protection, I find myself considering guardian angels and spirit guides. If I go beyond a three-dimensional view of God, I find myself in a state of harmony, together with the knowledge that generosity and help will be given back to me and greed and disharmony returned in kind.
If you have read The Angel of Inverness (next post down), you may have recognised the symbols of a gateway into a yard of danger with the safety of a house beyond, and a risky journey through the night, combined with an unlocked door and a haven of safety. The significance of this in my life is most relevant, especially as the symbols, although having a dream-like quality, also possessed an actual physical quantity, as I experienced them during my so called ‘waking’ hours.
Merry Christmas and Good Yule
click on the thumbnail to read “A Christian-Pagan Christmas Story” ~
celestial image at header ~ Wikimedia Commons