COL­UMN

Ghosts don’t ex­ist, but some­times things hap­pen that are dif­fi­cult to ex­plain, says Cyril Klop­per.

Go! Camp & Drive - - CONTENTS -

Idon’t be­lieve in zom­bies, were­wolves or ghosts. For me, those things equal little green men in fly­ing saucers. But still, I’ve had a few fright­en­ing en­coun­ters that I still can’t ex­plain. The first one hap­pened when I went to seek my for­tune in Lon­don, Eng­land, in my twen­ties. I worked for a few weeks as a trav­el­ling se­cu­rity guard un­til I could find a more lu­cra­tive job. One of my shifts was in a chil­dren’s hos­pi­tal built dur­ing the Vic­to­rian era. The hos­pi­tal closed a few years be­fore and my job was ba­si­cally to keep van­dals from trash­ing the gov­ern­ment build­ing at night.

I pa­trolled the dark wards late at night. My weak flash­light lit up old chil­dren’s draw­ings – crayon on yel­low-stained pa­per – against the walls. Empty beds stood un­touched in neat rows be­neath se­cured win­dows.

Some­where in front of me in the dark I heard the pat­ter of tiny feet. I swung my flash­light in the di­rec­tion of the sound, but there was noth­ing. Be­hind me I heard a child gig­gling. Damn pranksters! I marched through the ward, ready to grab a teen by his ear and con­fis­cate his spray paint, but there was noth­ing. The gig­gling fol­lowed me through the hos­pi­tal. Ev­ery time I stopped, the sounds also stopped. When I re­sumed my pa­trol, so did the gig­gling, and rather wor­ry­ingly the num­ber of voices also in­creased. My march­ing changed to a jog – and this very quickly changed into a full-on sprint. The gig­gling and pat­ter­ing were close on my heels while I raced past cribs in a ma­ter­nity ward to the front door on the ground floor, where the sounds sud­denly stopped. I com­pleted the re­main­der of my shift out­side in the park­ing lot. Was it the rest­less souls of the dead chil­dren? No, I re­alise to­day that it was only my imag­i­na­tion that got the better of me.

THERE WAS, HOW­EVER, TWO IN­CI­DENTS RE­CENTLY, a cou­ple of days apart, that I can’t at­tribute to my imag­i­na­tion.

In 2016 I rode from Cape Town to Le­sotho on a mo­tor­cy­cle. On the first night I de­cided to overnight close to the bor­der and the ho­tel in Lady Grey seemed

like as good a place as any to sleep. It was al­ready dark when I rode into town and the ho­tel’s re­cep­tion­ist wel­comed me warmly with an of­fer of cof­fee and rusks. I also got to choose which room I wanted to stay in be­cause I was the only guest. By 9 pm the re­cep­tion­ist knocked on my door.

“I’m go­ing home now, sir. I’m lock­ing the door but I’ll be here early to let you out.” “What? I splut­tered. “Are you lock­ing me in?”

“Yes, but don’t worry. You’re the only guest here and you’re wel­come to ex­plore the ho­tel as you please,” she added.

I was dead tired – it was a long day on my mo­tor­cy­cle and I ba­si­cally passed out as op­posed to fall­ing asleep. Shortly after mid­night I awoke... and I im­me­di­ately felt un­easy. In the dis­tance I heard foot­steps ap­proach­ing – not the sound of a sly thief sneak­ing around but also not the care­free march of some­one who be­longed in the build­ing. They were heavy foot­steps, like a man’s, with a rhyth­mic foot­fall. Doof, doof, doof...

The foot­steps came closer and closer and stopped out­side my door. I lay frozen. Soft moon­light shone through the lace cur­tain, just enough for me to see the room door heav­ing. Some­one on the other side was re­peat­edly push­ing and re­leas­ing it, push and re­lease. The move­ment re­minded me of the up­per body of a sleep­ing dog. The per­son on the other side didn’t turn the han­dle.

“Hello, is some­one there? I asked in a husky voice, but it come out a few oc­taves higher than I had planned. The door stopped mov­ing. I lay and waited for what felt like an eter­nity for a re­sponse, but none came. After a while I de­cided that my imag­i­na­tion was yet again run­ning away with me. I turned on my side to sleep.

But sleep evaded me and ev­ery now and again I checked the time on my cell­phone. About half an hour later I heard soft breath­ing out­side the door. This time my nerves were com­pletely shot and I was ready to jump out of bed, storm to the door and con­front who­ever was on the other side of it. Sud­denly the floor­boards in the hall­way creaked and the foot­steps moved away and faded in the dis­tance. I care­fully opened the door and peeked out into the dark pas­sage­way, but there was noth­ing. The next morn­ing I asked my host­ess about my vis­i­tor. Her an­swer? “Now you know why I don’t sleep here...”

THE NEXT NIGHT in the Sehla­bathebe Na­tional Park in Le­sotho I looked for­ward to overnight­ing in their new lodge. But when I ar­rived there was not a soul in sight. I parked my bike and walked to the lodge’s main build­ing. All the doors were locked. I peered through the win­dows into the empty din­ing room: There were ta­bles and chairs, but no guests. All the bun­ga­lows were fur­nished but they were oth­er­wise empty.

“Can I help you, sir?” a voice mum­bled be­hind me. Only after I got my voice back and un­clenched my jaw could I turn around to see what gave me such a start. A Sotho man dressed in a red T-shirt and brown slacks stood not a me­tre from me. How did he man­age to get so close with­out me hear­ing him? His ex­pres­sion was dull, his back slightly crooked, and his arms hung limp at his sides like a mar­i­onette be­tween shows. I asked if I could pitch my tent in the camp­site but he in­sisted that it was too cold at night to camp and that I should rather sleep in a bun­ga­low. Just as in Lady Grey I was the only guest, but be­cause of my ap­par­ent in­abil­ity to learn my les­son, I agreed. While I car­ried my bags to the bun­ga­low the man with the crooked back and limp arms stood to the side gawk­ing at me.

I later took my cam­era and went for a walk in the moun­tains to pho­to­graph the beau­ti­ful park. From afar I could see the man stand­ing there look­ing at me. When I looked back, he had shifted po­si­tion. First he was at the main build­ing, then at the bun­ga­lows, and then some­where on the grounds near the lodge. When the sun started set­ting I am­bled back to the lodge. The man was gone. In my bun­ga­low I fried some baked beans and soya mince in a pan on my gas stove. As I looked up, I saw the man right up against the win­dow, look­ing at me. “Flip!” I shouted (okay, I used a different ex­cla­ma­tion). The limp man sim­ply turned and walked away.

After din­ner I locked the door and got into bed. At about three in the morn­ing I awoke with a start, re­mem­ber­ing that my GPS was still mounted on my bike’s han­dle­bar. I couldn’t af­ford to lose it since there were count­less moun­tain trails that I had to nav­i­gate. In my long johns and rid­ing boots I walked out the door. It was freez­ing out­side and frost crunched un­der­foot. I was glad not to be camp­ing. There stood the limp man... Through the dark and icy cold we stared at each other for what felt like an eter­nity. I care­fully re­moved the GPS from my mo­tor­cy­cle and slowly backed away. I bolted the door to my room and started pack­ing. As soon as the sun reared its head, I’d be out of here.

Three hours later, as dawn broke, I heard the dron­ing of an en­gine. A bakkie with two oc­cu­pants stopped out­side the main build­ing. The limp man was nowhere to be seen. The driver in­tro­duced him­self as the lodge’s care­taker. With him was the chef. They were away all of yes­ter­day to buy pro­vi­sions. I ex­plained that the night­watch­man gave me per­mis­sion to sleep in the bun­ga­low.

Their re­sponse gave me the chills: “What night­watch­man?”

The foot­steps came closer and closer and stopped out­side my door. I lay frozen. Soft moon­light shone through the lace cur­tain...

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