It was sometime in late October or early November 2003, my husband and I had been invited by friends to attend their daughter's christening in Oberon, in the central tablelands of New South Wales, Australia. When we set out on our trip, there were reports of black ice along the way on Bells Line of Road up in the Blue Mountains. This was unusual because it was already late Spring (seasons are the other way round in the Southern Hemisphere). Black ice forms when the air gets cold enough on the road surface and it is raining. It is a treacherous clear icy glaze, impossible to see on the black-colored road, much the same effect as a diesel fuel spill. As driving under those conditions was dangerous and we had been traveling all day, we decided to break the journey up by spending the night at the Comet Inn in the village of Hartley Vale, in the Blue Mountains.
It was a pleasant, historic inn established during the time when the shale mines were still open in the 1800s. We had dinner at the pub downstairs, which was a cozy, welcoming place filled with local memorabilia from the early settler days. Despite our best intentions of having an early mark, we wound up staying until early hours of the morning, chatting with the woman who ran the inn/pub and the bartender. It was well after 2am when we finished our drinks, both of us by now feeling in a mellow state.
The room we were given was on the first floor, up the short flight of stairs and around the corner to the left. I can't really describe the room too well, being quite well and truly tuckered-out by this stage. I think it was furnished in the early colonial-style, probably from the 1880s or thereabouts. An old-fashioned lacy wedding gown hung on one wall. The room felt a bit crowded, with heavy, ornate dark wood furniture crammed into a small space. The bed with its mile-high mattress was too tall for my short legs and I could have done with a stepladder getting into bed. A dresser with a tall mirror was positioned really close to the right side of the bed where I slept and I had to squeeze past it to reach the bed. At the same time, I had to be careful not knock off the various porcelain knickknacks displayed on the dresser or the vintage-style (brass, I think) touch-sensor lamp.
My husband, having done all the driving that day, fell asleep in an eye blink. But sleep wasn't on the cards for me. I had come down with a gastro bug the day before we left home and all the rich food at dinner, washed down with alcohol, wasn't agreeing with me. Before long, to my dismay, I had to get up again and make my way to the "necessary" room.
Thick blackout curtains hung at the windows, so once the lights were off, the room was pitch-black. I bumped my knee, then my arm on the corner of the dresser, fumbling around to find the brass lamp, hoping I didn't break anything too valuable or irreplaceable in the process. I remember muttering irritably to myself: 'Where's the stupid light?'
A faint silvery-green glow appeared near at hand and I thought with relief, 'Oh goody, here's the lamp'. So I tapped the lamp once more to brighten the light, proceeded to do what I needed and climbed back into bed.
By now, I was purged of all alcoholic effects. My forehead was clammy and I felt as strung-out as a wet linguini. Feeling miserable, I grumbled to my husband, 'I don't feel so good'. He slept on, totally oblivious. By now, I felt too weary even to raise my hand to push aside the sticky strand of hair lying across my forehead, so I just made a feeble attempt to blow it off.
Then, I thought I felt a breeze pass over my brow, stirring my hair. It was barely a wisp of air. I thought someone whispered to me: 'There, there'. Huh? I blinked, but the room was too dark to even see my hand before me. Shrugging it off as my imagination, but strangely comforted anyway, I was finally able to sleep.
The next thing I knew, my husband was moving around in the room, getting ready for breakfast. Still hazy from lack of sleep and positively seedy, I touched the lamp and it occurred to me how the light was another color, amber-yellow now, instead of pale silver-green. So I played around with the different light settings on the lamp by tapping it several times in a row. Tap, dim light; tap, brighter light; tap, full light; tap, light off.
My husband asked me, 'What are you doing?'
I replied, puzzled, 'The light's the wrong color.'
So I told him about my experience and wondered if it could have been a street light from across the road or a passing car at the time. But my husband reminded me that the window curtains were called "blackout" for good reason. The curtains had been drawn when we went to bed and no light could be seen from the street. He also pointed out that there were no street lights outside the inn or across the road.
We were still discussing the reason for the mysterious light source as we sat at the breakfast table. When our hostess and bartender heard about our story, they exchanged strange looks. So we pressed them for further details and they told us the story about the room.
Apparently the room that we slept in had belonged to a young wife (they told us her name, but I've forgotten it) who lived in the house at the time, probably in the 1800s. Tragically, she died in childhood in that very room while her husband was away from home. The wedding gown hanging up in the room had been hers.
Other guests in the past have experienced various things being moved around in the room or doors/drawers slamming. Once, a well-known Australian celebrity (better not mention his name) spent the night there while he was filming a fishing show in the area. He was woken up when the foot of the bed was shaken violently (guess she really wanted his attention). Although booked in for a few nights, he refused to stay any longer and promptly packed his bags and escaped the next morning.
When I think on that breeze, it seems more and more to me as if a cool hand had gently brushed my damp hair back off my forehead. Was it a product of a fevered imagination? Who knows? But it's nice to think that someone gave me comfort when I was feeling ill.
We never had the occasion to visit that part of the Blue Mountains again. I don't know if the same proprietor runs the Comet Inn. But the place is still there if you are traveling through the area. Have a schooner at the pub. It's worth a visit.