I almost jumped out my skin. I mean it, I nearly jumped! Just imagine how it felt. After 400 years of wandering the earth, without being noticed by anyone. And all of a sudden…
I had gotten used to the comfort that comes with being invisible, believe me. The freedom to go wherever you want, whenever you want. To take whatever you want and do exactly what you want to do. No rules, no remorse, no consequences, and no penalties. Only for someone to catch me in the act when I least expected it!
Yes, I admit it. I had snuck into someone else’s room. It’s something I do quite often. Pretty amusing, if you ask me. It’s difficult to have dinner delivered to an empty room. But to order room service to an occupied room – and to play a little trick on the guest as he stares wide-eyed at the deliveryman – that’s a whole different story. But in this case, it was actually a she.
And she was tapping me on the shoulder.
“Excuse me miss, am I interrupting you?” she asked with a stiff look on her face. She must have thought I was a hotel staffer, or something like that. If she only knew…
“M…Me?” I stammered. There’s no possible way she could have seen me! I’m just a character from a book. No one can see me, other than the other storybook characters themselves and their authors, as well as the other spirits that inhabit this realm.
“Of course, you! Who else would I be speaking to?” she asked sharply.
Well, in for a penny, in for a pound…
“I…I mean…” I still didn’t know what to say. I was totally dumbstruck. She couldn’t be seeing me! My first reaction was one of absolute horror, but I took a breath as feelings of hopeful optimism began to bubble to the surface. If there were people out there who could actually see us, then something must have changed. Something must have changed the rules of my in-between world and it suddenly occurred to me, without any logical reason, that this woman might be able to help me. Maybe, just maybe, my 400 years of wandering was finally over.
But she didn’t seem to share the same idea. Her face transformed from a stern expression into something more unpleasant as a look of nervousness had started to spread across her face. “Alright, I don’t know who you are, but leave here at once or I’ll call the front desk.”
I sniffed an opportunity. When else would I get the chance to test this new hunch, if not now?
“Go ahead,” I told her as my confidence returned. I allowed a gentle smile to spread across my face. “I won’t leave your room.”
The owner of the room – a woman who looked to be in her 30s with the height of a seventh-grader and a short blonde bob of hair – looked back at me with absolute contempt. Like I was a cockroach that had just crawled into her bed, and she was pointing me out to the hotel’s general manager. It went on like this for several moments. Then, she picked up the phone and called down to the front desk. She blurted out a message about an unwanted guest in her room and demanded that the hotel manager come immediately.
While we waited for him to arrive, both of us stared at each other in silence. She stood expectantly at the door, while I took a seat with my arms crossed at a table under the window. In front of me sat the women’s half-eaten dinner and a glass of wine.
When the hotel manager finally arrived, I stood.
“This women doesn’t want to leave my room,” she said unceremoniously as she pointed in my direction. The manager looked to where she was pointing. The trajectory of his gaze traveled over a beautiful, massive carpet and centerpiece table made of dark wood to the window, under which several smaller chairs had been arranged. To a spot where…there was nothing to see! I could see it in his eyes. He had a glassy look about him as his gaze went straight through me into the large English park that surrounded the manor. It was a look that I knew far too well.
“Madam,” he began gently and compassionately to the owner of the yellow suite. “I’m not sure I understand you correctly. What woman?”
The blonde woman looked at him in disbelief. “Are you kidding? The woman that’s standing directly across from you. Are you blind?!”
I burst into laughter. The owner of the room wasn’t too pleased with me.
The manager nervously scratched his chin. “Madam, I’m sorry but I do not know what you’re talking about,” he said in a slightly more adamant tone. There was no one before him, and he was clearly beginning to question to mental health of his guest.
Evidently, she noticed this too as she grew even more determined to convince him.
She strode in my direction and stood right next to me. “Now do you see her, or do you need a better eye doctor?” she asked.
The manger stared sharply in my direction, but it was more than clear that he couldn’t see me. Part of my theory had been confirmed, while a part remained unanswered. This woman could clearly see me – but clearly others could not. Both a positive and negative development, as a) I would have to learn to get along with her, which was probably going to be difficult as we hadn’t gotten off to the best start, and b) something had clearly changed in my world that I had yet to fully figure out. For what reason had this woman been chosen? Why could she see me while others could not? A shout brought me back from these thoughts.
“So I’ll have to physically show you who we’ve got here. Since you’ve got such poor eyesight, I’ll have to bring her right in front of your face!” she yelled angrily as she went to grab ahold of my arm. But right at that moment, the physical laws of my in-between world returned. Her hand flew right through my hand as a knife passing through butter. She didn’t even make contact with me. Only air could pass through me, as I didn’t exist.
The spritely woman, after her failed attempt to grab my arm, stopped, instinctively shook her head, and tried again. Her hand flew through the air and fell to the side of her body, flopping like a fish out of water. She looked at me helplessly, and then at the hotel manger.
“You…you don’t see her?” asked the owner of the yellow room to the hotel manager. Her voice was no longer resolute, but uncertain. As if she wasn’t sure what to believe.
The hotel manager was of the exact same opinion. “No, madam, I do not see anyone,” he said calmly. He had a look of compassion in his eyes as he noticed the half-eaten dinner on the table. Next to the plate of pasta sat a glass of red wine.
The woman could tell what he was thinking to himself. “No…I’m not drunk,” she pleaded. “I just returned and she…” she trailed off. She understood that it made no sense to carry on. He surely had no idea what to think either.
“Please take a rest, madam,” said the manager as he exited the room. In the doorway, he turned back one last time, offering a worried look to the young woman with beautiful, youthful features. “If you need any further assistance, just call the front desk.”
The woman nodded. As the door to her room slammed shut, she turned towards me. This time her face was more frightened than angry. “Just who are you, for god’s sake?” she pleaded.
For a moment, I had the uncomfortable feeling that maybe this woman was indeed just talking to herself.
“I’m Julia Capulet,” I answered.
The woman nearly choked. She burst into laughter, and looked at me with even more amazement. After some time she looked over at the wine on the table. She reached for it tentatively, as if she was afraid that it wasn’t really there. She grabbed ahold of the glass and took a gulp in relief as she turned back towards me.
“Okay, one more time, who are you?” she asked, this time a little bit more forcefully.
“Like I told you, I’m Julia Capulet.” It looked like she was ready to let fly with a barrage of curse words, so I held up my hand to silence her.
“Look, I know you don’t believe me. But remember when you just tried to point me out to the hotel manager, who couldn’t see me and thought you were crazy? Should you really be dismissing me just yet, hmm?”
The owner of the yellow suite started to frown again. She didn’t believe me, but at least she was listening. So I began to explain. “How could I… well, I’ll keep it short. You know, Shakespeare didn’t quite get the facts straight. The real finale of Romeo and Juliet didn’t play out like version he told in his story. I may be a literary figure, but I’ve got my own destiny. And so does every other literary figure ever created, after they’re brought to life on a piece of paper. When our official story comes to an end, and our authors haven’t killed us off, we carry on here, among all of you. Invisible, hidden in this in-between world. In an existence that parallels your own, we live side-by-side with other characters – as well as with those classic spirits you call angels, demons, and ghosts. Occasionally we’re able to interact with your world, and from time to time, you’re able to interact with ours. Ghosts and spirits aren’t responsible for all those inexplicable practical jokes, you know – it’s actually us literary figures. Things get kind of boring after 400 years of wandering around, so we’ve got to find ways to…” I could see that my monologue was starting to bore her as well. She hadn’t believed a word I said. I could see it on her face. “Very well,” I started again, “what would it take to convince you?”
The woman just shook her head in amusement. “First of all, you’re just a figment of my imagination. I’m hallucinating and now I’m talking to myself,” she wearily replied.
I refused to give up. An opportunity like this only comes once every 400 years – at least in my case! So I picked up her cellphone from the table and handed it to her.
“Open the camera,” I told her. She did. “Now point it at me and take a photo.”
The blonde woman adjusted her phone in my direction and looked down at the display. There was nothing on the screen except for the dinner table and a view of the garden through the window.
“But, how…” she stammered.
“And this,” I told her as I picked up the plate of pasta. By the way, the food looked delicious – I could hardly wait for the pasta to cool down before wanting to dig in!
My new friend stared in disbelief at her phone. Her senses were strained as she tried to understand why the plate was levitating in the middle of her screen.
“Do you want to take a video as well, or do you finally believe me?” I asked her.
The woman shook her head. She was speechless. I poured some more wine into her glass on the table, which she accepted without hesitation.
“So you’re not kidding?” she asked, unsure of herself.
“No, I’m not kidding.” I tried to calmly continue. “In over 400 years of wandering this earth, you’re the first human who can see me. You see, I’m a little lost…” I said, unable to mask the sadness in my voice.
This strange set of circumstances had suddenly brought us together. We smiled shyly at each other, as I took the opportunity to connect with my first human ally.
“What would you say to dinner together, a bottle of wine, and some decent conversation?” I asked her innocently, but with a glint in my eyes.
At the mention of wine, the woman seemed to come back to life. “Sounds like a good idea to me,” she said as she picked up the phone and dialed reception. She requested the salmon with grilled vegetables, a bottle of rosé, and two sorbets. If the reception desk thought it strange that a guest would order a second dinner only half an hour after their first – along with a second bottle of wine and two deserts – they didn’t let on. But the woman was seeing spirits, and things were not as they appeared…
The food looked amazing and tasted even better. Have I mentioned that I adore old manor homes that had been converted into luxurious hotels? The culinary experiences they offer are just one of the reasons. Trust me, the fine dining at these sites is truly an experience in and of itself. While I savored the ink pasta, my human company for the evening uncorked the second bottle of wine.
As we enjoyed the dishes prepared by the fine chefs at the Mojmírovce Manor-house, we dove into deeper conversation. I learned that the woman’s name was Natalia Dasova and that she works as a journalist. Just like me, she was traveling from estate to estate, but not in search of her Romeo. She was reporting on hoteliers, renovations, fine dining, events, and the history of these long-standing sites. Although it seemed like a never-ending vacation to me, she insisted that she often collapses into bed every night dead tired, and that she rarely has a chance to fully enjoy the splendor of these hotels.
I explained why I had broken into her room, and what exactly I had been doing. And I admitted that it wasn’t only her room, but many other guests’ rooms as well. I tried my best to describe the basics of living in my version of purgatory, and detailed some of my own experiences in this in-between world. I was trying to get back into her good graces.
And then our conversation turned towards books. Oh brother. Our discussion went on and on well into the night. It was four in the morning when we both yawned and looked at the clock in horror. Natalia suddenly turned to the hallway as if she had heard steps coming our way. I assured her that it wasn’t the hotel staff coming to check on her, but rather the ghost of the White Lady herself coming to pay a visit 😀 She almost leapt out of her seat in fright. I let her worry for only a moment, as I told her that the White Lady was in fact a lovely woman and that I had had lovely conversations with her every night since my arrival at the hotel one week ago. This is an advantage of living in the in-between world. You get to meet interesting souls who never hold anything back. No games, intrigues, or power struggles. Just untold stories. And untold suffering.
I don’t know how we managed, but there in that yellow suite we found a couple of hours in the morning to rest. Natalia slept in the large king-sized bed while I curled up on the couch. I was famished when we finally woke up, so I asked Natalia to order breakfast for two, and afterwards she went with me for a swim in the hotel’s pool. Did I mention that the Manor-house has a huge 25-meter pool? Such a divine experience…
Natalia finally gave in and joined me for a long-deserved trip to the wellness center after our swim. Word had traveled fast around the hotel about the seemingly crazy journalist, and the wellness attendant at the entrance looked Natalia up and down with a look of pity. “Be sure to relax, madam,” he stressed to the attendant offered her a towel. Natalia took her towel and stood for a moment in the entrance to the hotel’s brand new wellness center before heading in. Her new-found invisible friend followed right behind her.
“Thanks,” I said as Natalia beckoned for me to join her in the preheated hell of a Finnish sauna. We didn’t last very long, as we preferred the airy grounds of the English park. Swings, daisies, a beautiful horse stable, and peacocks. Here and there a fine statue. Benches, a fountain. Natalia had placed a handsfree set in her ear before her jaunt with me around the park to dissuade people from thinking that she was talking to herself. How easy it is these days to avoid looking like a fool, right? 😀
Our second day together came to a close around mid-afternoon as the journalist had to get back to her work. She had a meeting planned with the hotel’s director to explore the Manor-house’s history and that the stories behind it. While the pair were speaking and strolling around the estate, I followed along silently. The poor journalist was struggling to avoid looking my way in the presence of other people. She was determined not to react to my facial expressions. Especially when I made some funny faces in her direction.
The charismatic director took her snickers as encouragement as he talked on and on. He showed the journalist to a hallway decorated by a painter in the theme of folk tales.
We passed the presidential suite and the many paintings on its walls, which had to number in the hundreds. The Manor-house could rightfully be considered a gallery. Wonderful pieces of art decorated both restaurants and lounges as well as the hotel’s historic corridors. But only one of these hallways was special to me. I had to try to avoided being spotted by the crowd that had assembled on the walls of this corridor. A tremendous number of spirits, who were gathered and cheerfully babbling to each other. While the hallway appeared empty to most guests, my eyes spotted notable figures like Tesla, Einstein, Pythagoras, Kafka, Pushkin, Rousseau, and Freud. Dozens of the greatest minds from around the world, from vastly different cultures, were meeting here in our in-between world and discussing various topics. They called it the Hall of Tolerance.
There, as the live-in-the-flesh journalist stood unknowingly next to the spirits of several historical greats, a thought occurred to me. What if… what if she’s able to see because she’s written about me? What if she could somehow affect my own story? That’s exactly what an author does, only my author is Shakespeare. The unreachable, long-dead William Shakespeare, who had taken too many secrets with him to his grave. I’ll reveal one of them to you soon, but not today. Today I’m only interested in Natalia. We still haven’t figured out why she’s able to see me. I had encountered her even before she spotted me in her room the previous night. She didn’t seem to be anyone special. And yet…
“We’ve reserved an hour for you on our shooting range as well as a wine tasting, if it suits you?” asked the director. Natalia initially protested but was eventually talked into it. As we headed back to her suite together, she admitted that she had never been a big fan of guns. But not even 30 minutes later she’d discover that this was just a simple prejudice. Waiting for her at the range was an experienced teacher with a patience of steel, ready to encourage her and bring out the secrets of her inner confidence.
“Women make the best shooters,” he said as he stroked his moustache, similar to the ones we had seen in paintings of Hungarian noblemen. Perhaps he himself was the reincarnation of Count Hunyadi, who had ordered the construction of the Manor-house himself.
Natalia took about half an hour to go over his instructions, learning to always treat her weapon with respect, but adrenaline was clearly pumping through her veins. For a moment I was sorry that I couldn’t join in the fun. I’ll be sure to come back to the range later, once everyone’s sound asleep, and take my own turn. I focused intensely on Natalia and the instructor to learn exactly how to handle the weapon.
The journalist was completely relaxed as she straightened her arms in front of her. She pointed the loaded gun at the target, her eyes lining up the front sight and the eyesight. With the sights aligned, and a hazy image of the black target far in the distance, she slowly pulled the trigger. She didn’t even know when the gun was going to fire. And that was exactly the trick – she handed the shot over to trust. Letting her subconscious mind work without any resistance from her muscles. Then came the boom. Luckily my ears weren’t hurt, as I wasn’t wearing any ear protectors like the two humans were.
The instructor pushed the button and the target traveled the 10 meters back to us. As it approached, the journalist stared at it in awe. A large hole was carved out of the target’s nine-point zone, nearly a bull’s-eye. The instructor turned to her happily, saying “I told you so.”
Then, they reset the target and she fired off several more rounds. All her shots landed in the black part of the target, not once missing her mark. She strode like a peacock back to her room, proudly carrying her victorious target in front of her. Her mind was racing. She had to put her thoughts onto paper.
“Wait a minute,” she told me. For a few minutes she tapped furiously into the keyboard, and then she turned the screen towards me. It’s worth it to share with you:
“Shooting is like achieving a life-long goal. You know that out there, somewhere in the distance, is your target, but it appears vague in your sights. You must focus on what’s directly in front of you. To stand upright, facing your challenge with your best aim. If you’ve done what you’ve had to do, fate is all that remains as you pull the trigger and hope for the best. If you only focus on the target way off in the distance, you’re sure to miss. But if you follow your step-by-step instructions, and add a bit of luck, there is no chance for you to miss your target. Even if you think you’re a lousy shot – it’s often because you’ve learned the wrong technique. And after you master their technique, each shooter has got to have a bit of luck…”
Hmmm. I looked at her in silent admiration. Writing suited her. You could tell she was a journalist. However, there was something else on my mind… I couldn’t let it rest.
Time had flown by and she had to leave her room for the wine tasting. This time, I let her enjoy the tasting on her own as I wandered throughout the Manor-house. For just a second, I snuck into the kitchen and swiped one of the chef’s fantastic chocolate soufflés. Today, he won’t be the only one in the hotel thinking that someone’s played a trick on him 🙂
Natalia finally returned after a couple of hours, triumphantly holding a carton of rosé wine in her hands from a local vineyard. It was my favorite – Andrejka. A wine fairy in a pink dress. A top quality brand with a unique, semi-sweet taste. We opened another bottle to share for the evening.
“Capulet, you’ve turned me into a fool and an alcoholic,” laughed my new and unexpected companion. Who would have thought that a journalist and a literary figure would find themselves together in between worlds?
The lost Julia. This became her new nickname for me.
While we were discussing her work as she showed me some of her articles on historic hotels, I grew interested in some articles she’d written on the romantic ambience of some of these sites. It was there, in her reporting, that I spied mentions of a Shakespearian romance, a balcony like the one from the story of Romeo and Juliet, and the literary lovers from Verona.
She had written about us. About me and him. Thoughts of Romeo flooded my mind as I grew melancholy. I missed him. I missed him so very much.
A knock on the door distracted us from our conversation. It was quite late in the evening. Natalia got up from her computer and went to open the door to her yellow suite. In the doorway stood the night receptionist, who handed to her what seemed to be a ticket.
“You have a message, madam,” he said as he turned away from the door. Natalia closed the door behind him and turned in my direction. When she opened the tiny envelope, she frowned for a moment. Then she handed it over to me. I looked down at the rough parchment, littered with barely legible letters.
The message was for me. It was another clue.