One of my weirdest run-ins with the Other Side happened in London, 2000. I still don’t know how to classify it. Nothing like it’s happened since. What makes it super odd is that the SAME thing happened to my mom when she visited in early 2001.
In the exact same spot. A whole year later. And I hadn’t told her a thing.
Christopher and I were still dating back then. He knew the West End as well as any cabby; and on days out we explored pubs, markets, museums, and parks. Proud to show me his city, he dragged me around London’s alleyways by the hand, always walking faster than me. One afternoon he took me to a stunning old pub called Lord Moon of the Mall.
London has a gazillion beautiful pubs, but this one’s probably top 10. It wasn’t one of those low-beamed ceiling, crackling fireplace, pint-with-the-neighbor cozy kinda pubs. No. We walked into an expansive room of a hundred small tables canopied by towering, ornate ceilings and grand, arched doorways. Patrons unwound beneath giant bookshelves and the watchful eyes of portrait Noblemen, peering from their giant gilded frames.
We ordered beer from a long, polished bar and found a cushioned spot in the back room. A barkeep removed empty pints and dirty ashtrays from our table so we could get on with our date. Back then we were still getting to know one another, so we talked about everything but the future we didn’t realize we’d share. I wasn’t in touch with my ‘gift’ yet, so we didn’t talk about that either.
A few beers in, I had to pee.
The loos were downstairs.
I distinctly remember walking downstairs happy happy. Up there was a guy I REALLY liked, and here we were, out on a beautiful day in London’s belly.
I descended a narrow, carpeted stairwell then reached a little hallway.
And that’s when it happened.
The din of a crowded pub, the entire world around me — GONE.
Sadness consumed me whole. It was dark. Women were crying. Reaching out. But not just women. Wailing. On both sides of me. It was too dark to see. They felt hidden, forgotten. Their collective, profound desperation entered my cells. I was still present me –I mean I wasn’t someone else from another time– but the pub was gone.
I stood there frozen, eyes filling with tears. (Sometimes now, when I’m deeply tapped in, I sorta get sucked in a daze while getting info.) It was like that in that downstairs hallway, but body-wide. I physically couldn’t move.
Annoyed Londoners skirted around me. The noises came back. Clinking glasses, laughter upstairs. Christopher!
The sadness sucked away. Like a vacuum. The darkness gone. Just like that.
And I was TOTALLY in the way. I shuffled to the bathroom stunned, like what in the F dash dash dash just happened?!? My confusion amplified by having been extremely jolly just moments before, upstairs chatting with my future husband. Now tears streaked my cheeks, my senses fatigued by something horrid –I suspected–from a long time ago.
And yes, I was sober.
A year later, my family came to visit, and we took them to that pub. What happened before wasn’t really on my mind. –Not until we had to go the bathroom.
Mom and I walked downstairs.
We reached the hallway.
She paused, a strange look on her face.
I didn’t say anything. I kinda just waited for it. Thankfully, it didn’t remove her from the premises.
“I don’t like it down here,” she frowned. “Do you feel that?” She looked up and around, touching the dark wood panelling.
No, I didn’t. Not this time.
“Let’s go,” she shuddered, pulling me into the bathroom. “I don’t like it down here.”
That was 15 years ago. I called her this morning to ask if she remembered that day. She did –a bit.
“I didn’t like it at all,” she recalled via FaceTime. “I felt apprehensive walking down there. Then immediate fear. It was dungeon-like, I remember.”
Now, I’ve visited that pub several times since then. That creepiness only happened once. And I still don’t know how to define it.
I don’t know the history of that building, nor the land it was built on. God knows every patch of London has a past. Maybe someone reading knows.
Also, selecting an image for this post was difficult — a picture of the pub would conjure a warm fuzzy desire for cold beer and international travel, so that won’t do. Plus, I never ‘saw’ those trapped, wailing people.
Feeling was enough.
Author’s note: I’m visiting London next month. Maybe I can pop in and snap a photo of that hallway.