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It’s midnight and I’ve turned out the lights. My entire body is aching and all I want is to get a good night’s sleep.
The pillows are large, the blanket is thick, and the air conditioning is blasting. For someone who likes to be curled up in a cold room, conditions couldn’t be more perfect.
But I can’t escape a feeling — a feeling that I’m not alone. Something is here.
And then I feel it. It’s a presence on the left side of my waist, expanding up and down my body. Not hot or cold — just there. As if something is curling up and spooning me from the side.
Do you like that? I bet you like that.
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I’m not supposed to be here.
I arrive in Kotor aching and exhausted, my body destroyed from four days of partying at a music festival. My head throbs; my voice is gone; my hot pink toenails are chipped and ragged from four nights of dancing on Budva’s rocky beaches.
Kotor would be a place of healing, I had decided. I fell in love with this seaside Montenegrin town three years earlier. This walled, red-roofed city is perched on the turquoise Bay of Kotor, arguably the most visually spectacular place on the planet, surrounded by gray-green mountains.
Uncertainty brews from the moment I enter the town. Upon check-in at my apartment, I learn that the promised wifi actually belongs to the hotel across the street — wifi I can only access while leaning out the window, waving my phone in the air, trying to catch a faint whiff of signal.
I notify Airbnb, and they’re good about it — this constitutes a deceptive listing. Within half an hour, they’ve found me a new apartment for my five-day stay. A nicer apartment, and a more expensive apartment. Set deeper in the town, a stone’s throw from where you start hiking to the fortress.
I drag my suitcase up four flights of stairs into the apartment and break into a grin — this place is SO much fancier. It’s modern, recently renovated, and clearly very expensive by Montenegrin standards, though not without a bit of Adriatic kitsch. The living room has a leather couch; the kitchen is outfitted with stainless steel appliances; the bathroom has a glassed-in shower.
I go out for pizza, picking up detergent and ibuprofen on the way home. Then the first night begins.
I’m lying on the left side of the bed, feeling the presence spread from my waist to my shoulders and my ankles. It wants to be close to me.
You like that? it says. You’re alone now. I bet you’d like it if there were two of us.
Suddenly I feel another presence appear on my right side. It’s still the same being, just in two different parts. I feel a tingle run up my left side as another runs down my right side.
It’s surrounding me from both sides, sandwiching me between its selves. I focus on breathing slowly.
The next morning, I think about how strange that was. I had never felt anything so vividly eerie.
Years ago, back when I lived in Somerville, I remember when a creature crawled on top of me in my sleep. I felt paralyzed — it was as it someone was suffocating me. An incubus or succubus.
That was a spasm compared to what I experienced in Montenegro.
This is the closest I’ve come to experiencing a ghost in real life.
The next day, I lounge around the apartment, browsing my phone and attempting to blog a bit, leaving only to get more food.
I go into the kitchen and see a large white moth on the table, four inches wide. Startled, I leave the kitchen and close the door. Not my problem.
When getting ready for bed, I wonder whether I’ll experience the same ghostly feelings again.
Maybe you slept on their side of the bed, I tell myself, willing to rationalize anything. Try the right side tonight.
And I do.
It doesn’t take long before I feel the familiar presence curling around me.
You think I wouldn’t be here? This is my spot.
The ghost feels like tendrils tonight, rather than a singular expanding presence. I feel them unfurl and stroke along my body, running up and down and across every inch of me. I lie there, squeezing my eyes shut, terrified of what might await me if I open them.
Sleep comes eventually.
I wake up at 7:00 AM and hear a voice: It’s time to get up. I get up, half-asleep, and wait outside the closed bathroom door.
Just give me a minute.
Someone’s in there; I’ll wait until they’re done. After five minutes, I put my hand on the wall to steady myself and jerk awake with shock.
WHY ARE YOU WAITING FOR SOMEONE, KATE?! NOBODY’S HERE.
My heart races as I open the bathroom door. I was SO convinced that there was someone in there. I check throughout the apartment — no, nobody else is there, and the doors are all locked.
This has become too big for me to handle myself.
I post a Facebook update. Okay, people. This is going to sound crazy, but after two nights here, I’m pretty sure my Airbnb rental here in Kotor is haunted. I go on to describe the experiences of the past two days.
My blogger friends’ responses run a colorful gamut.
The next responses are a bit more measured.
My friend Katie has a suggestion. “This may sound totally creepy, but ask them what they need. Sometimes a presence just needs help doing something they can’t. Once done it will leave. If you are totally creeped out get and light incense and ask it nicely to leave.”
My friend Keith agrees. “When in a situation like this, I always just say out loud that I’m there as a traveler, looking for a place to rest, that I come in peace, and that I’ll be gone soon. Always helps. Good luck with the ghost.”
They have a point.
Should I wait until the ghost makes itself known at night? No. I decide to start that afternoon.
“Hello,” I say. (Who randomly says hello to a ghost?!) “I’m sorry to disturb you. I don’t want to bother you. I’m here as a traveler. I just need a place to stay for a few nights. I mean you no harm. I’ll be gone soon.”
This becomes something that I repeat over the next few days. I constantly reassure the ghost that I don’t want to hurt it, that I come in peace, that I’ll be gone soon. Each time I don’t get a response.
I reenter the kitchen. The giant white moth is still there. This time I scoop up it up and carry it outside, perching it on the balcony. Maybe it spoke through the ghost. Maybe it wanted to be free.
It didn’t. The ghost is still there on night three. This time, it whispers nonsense in my ear as I’m on the verge of falling asleep.
I’m sleeping diagonally, corner to corner. It makes no difference. This ghost can fit anywhere.
Later, I get a notification from my notoriously level-headed sister: “Carbon monoxide levels can cause very vivid and scary hallucinations. You mentioned the windows were all shut due to using AC. Might be a good idea to ventilate the place, even if it’s hot out. From wikipedia: Carbon monoxide poisoning has also been implicated as the cause of apparent haunted houses; symptoms such as delirium and hallucinations have led people suffering poisoning to think they have seen ghosts or to believe their house is haunted.“
And for the first time, it could be a plausible reason for my haunting.
I message the owner: “Has anyone staying here noticed anything about a ghost or other presence in the bedroom? I NEVER see ghosts in places, and I’ve been traveling full-time for nearly five years. This is the first one. But we’ve had so many encounters that I’m convinced there is a ghost in here. It sleeps next to me and touches me. It even talks to me and tells me to get up in the morning.
If not, I BEG YOU, please check the carbon monoxide levels in the apartment. My friends and family showed me that high carbon monoxide levels, which can kill you, start by giving people hallucinations and many people hallucinate ghosts being in a haunted place. This is very common.”
His response: “I don’t know what to say regarding your hallucinations about the ghosts. There has never been the case where my guests saw or feel anything similar to this.
The building is situated in a very quiet part of town and no one has ever b about anything.
Sorry because of it.”
That night I leave the windows open, roasting in the Balkan heat. I’m taking no chances.
The ghost tickles my sides.
“Not now. I’m not in the mood,” I say out loud.
The ghost disappears.
Something has shifted. We’re on even footing now.
I wake up at 5:30 AM to hike to the fortress overlooking the city. It’s one of the most spectacular views you’ll see anywhere in the world, especially as the sun rises.
I did this on my last visit to Kotor, also early in the morning. Nobody is there to take my money so I climb straight up to the top.
And I watch the colors turn from this…
Kotor is the most beautiful place on the planet.
I practically skip down the mountain before returning to my apartment.
“I did it!” I exclaim to the ghost. “It was so beautiful this morning. The colors were PERFECT. Were you able to see that, or are you stuck in here?”
The ghost doesn’t respond.
“You know, I wonder if it was you who woke me up this morning,” I say. “I never wake up that early on my own.”
I take a nap that afternoon. The whole time, the ghost keeps reminding me to turn onto my other side so I’ll be fully rested. I follow orders.
On my final morning, it’s time to leave Montenegro and head for Serbia, my final Balkan country, where a far less haunted apartment in Belgrade awaits me.
I look around the bedroom and feel overwhelmed by emotion. How could I ever forget the past five days? This spectral presence?
“Thank you for letting me stay here,” I say softly. “I’m leaving now. I appreciate the kindness you’ve shown me. I hope you’re able to find peace.”
I can’t just leave. I need to do something for the ghost. Something meaningful.
I take my purple dress and fold it into a rectangle.
“This is my favorite purple dress,” I say. “It’s falling apart and I can’t wear it anymore. I’m leaving it with you. This has gone around the world with me. I wore it swimming in a cave in Thailand and on top of a mountain in Norway.
“I don’t know what you’d do with it. It’s not like you can wear it or anything. Just know that this is something that means a lot to me, and I want you to have it.”
I breathe in deeply and close my eyes. The ghost knows better than to make any overt moves now. It would be too obvious.
I drag my suitcase down the four flights of stairs and make my way toward the medieval gates. Leaving the most perfect town of Kotor, the most bizarre accommodation experience of my life.
I turn and look back over my shoulder, the stone building in the distance, pressed up against the mountains. One last glimpse.
I feel a tingle along my thigh.