Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

Weird things happen in London. It’s the next to last full day of our Magical History Tour and this morning Joe and I woke up to a terrifying experience.

We’re staying in a lovely studio apartment in the Notting Hill area, which, if you don’t know, is a particularly posh area of London–very safe and secure and clean. The place itself is lovely– very simple and very modern and comes with a kitchenette. The bathroom is compact, but functional, and we have one burnt orange accent wall decorated with a David Hockney print. The foyer in the entrance hall is likewise decorated with modern-styled art, and a few orchids arc gracefully in front of stained glass windows. In our flat, on the basement level, the walls are fairly thin, so we can hear, to some extent, the comings and goings of our temporary neighbors, but fortunately that’s not unlike home.  Aside from a few thumps and bumps, most of what we can hear is through the bathroom– I suspect the vents are linked– so we close the bathroom door and it’s been little bother.

Until this morning.

After several days in a row of getting up for early morning breakfast, driving, and adventures, Joe and I were taking advantage of a flexible schedule for a few days and were having a bit of a lie-in. Everything seemed fine. We dozed in and out as people stomped and tromped about, conducting their usual activities (It is a work day, after all.). And then I found myself suddenly awake, aware of a loud thump at the door– a single loud thump and then, a second later, a single quieter thump. This alone is little cause for alarm, but it was followed by very clear, very loud, sustained inhalation, like someone smelling something very deeply. This went on for long minutes. It was very clear– immediately outside the door, as if something was taking huge nosefuls, mouthfuls, lungfuls of air from our doorjamb. This sniffing continued loudly, only ever right outside our door. It never moved on to the other doors in the hall, and it wasn’t in the center of the hallway. It was barely inches from our door. You could hear the tiny vibrations made by the unknown creature’s nose hairs as it sucked in deep draughts of air from just a few feet away, as if it was trying to take an especially deep breath through a thick pillowcase, over and over.

Joe and I were paralyzed, afraid to move lest the creaky bed we were laying in betrayed our presence. Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t see what was making the noise without unlocking and opening the door. There is no peep hole, no chain or bar which would allow a narrow, marginally secure, opening of the door. There’s just the door, the single deadbolt [which, at the moment, seemed woefully inadequate] and the mysterious heavy breathing behind it. It could be anything.  And so we were reduced to the only reaction one can have in the face of an illogical, irrational situation– an illogical, irrational one. We sat very still and very quiet and hoped it went away (we did stop short of pulling the covers over our heads). There was no logical explanation for the strange noises, who/what was making them or why. This was no inquisitive dog. Dogs do not take gaping raspfuls of air at mid-door level. They do not do it several times over. They are not that LOUD.

One of man’s biggest fears is the fear of the unknown, and I can tell you, not knowing the cause behind this unlikely, unexplainable sound was SCARY.

It– whatever it was– eventually went away, without leaving a clue to its identity or its purpose.  It was just there, taking its deep breaths from our door, and then it wasn’t. Joe and I were unfailingly awake now. We sat silently for a while after the noises had stopped, then wondered to each other about the strange event– in whispers at first, then louder as we grew more confident that who– or what– ever made the noise was now gone.

We now think the thumps on the door were very likely caused by the change in pressure from the opening of the door down to our level. The door did this several times as various people came in and out of the other flats on our floor. But it wasn’t the door’s subtle motion that scared us this morning.

Joe and I discussed the mysterious breather further at dinner and he revealed that it actually happened twice this morning– the first time, apparently, went on for even longer than the time I heard and the longer it goes on, the less rational and explainable– and the more terrifying– it becomes. Joe’s hard to rattle, but as we joked about it hours after the fact, it was with a somewhat nervous laughter. Even considering the possibilities throughout the day, neither of us could come up with a rational explanation for the sounds we heard.

As I write this, Joe is laying next to me, snoring loudly. The window is secured as much as a window can be, and the door is locked (Joe made sure it was the first thing we did when we came in this evening). The TV is off and the building is silent.

I’m about to brush my teeth and go to sleep. Hopefully tomorrow starts better than today did. It’s our last day and we’re hoping to make it a full one. Wish us luck. We might need it.