During the last week of October 2019, my husband Rex and I decided to go on a road trip down the south coast of New South Wales for nine days. Our last stop, on the way back to Sydney, was at a small idyllic coastal town within the Kiama hinterland.
The moment we drove up to the large timber-framed house on the hill, I had the urge to get Rex to keep driving until we got home. The afternoon sun was shining and the whole place looked well-maintained. But I did not feel welcome. There was just something 'off', something unsettling. Rex was surprised at my instant dislike because I had no problems with the other places where we stayed. But since he was too tired to drive any further, we decided to give the place a chance.
We went down the steep gravelled driveway to the two-bedroom cottage, which was built in the shape of a long rustic-looking building similar in design to the main house and nestled among lush cabbage tree palms. It was fronted by a wooden veranda that spanned the entire length, overlooking green meadows in the valley below, dotted with grazing black-and-white Friesians. Each bedroom suite had a separate entrance, with sliding glass doors that led out to the porch. The main wooden door with its antique lead glass detailing was in the living room that separated the suites.
While Rex carted our bags from the car, I took our cooler bag of groceries and drinks to the fridge. I caught a flash of white to my right and looked up to see a figure pass by the living room window outside, moving quickly from left to right. It seemed to be a woman in a white dress with short dark hair. For a moment, I thought it was my own reflection but the figure was slimmer than myself and the hairstyle was different. Mary, the woman who ran the place, had shoulder-length hair. I had only seen her about ten minutes ago and she had been wearing a black-and-white print blouse over light-coloured pants. As I stood there staring for about a few seconds, the figure slipped away and I lost sight of her.
There was no one staying in the other suite and the direction that the figure was walking did not lead anywhere. The main house lay in the opposite way. Another curious thing was that those wooden floorboards creaked loudly whenever any weight was put on it. Yet that woman was uncannily silent on her feet.
I went to the kitchen and craned my neck out the window, hoping to see if the woman was going to walk towards the back of the cottage and I would get a better look at her. Maybe there was another shortcut to the main house. But no one appeared around the corner.
Then, I noticed this awful stench of rotting vegetation, stagnant water and mould. It was coming from the kitchen sink. I assumed it was probably a blockage somewhere and boiled a kettle of water to pour down the drain. After I did that to both sinks, some of the distressing smell still lingered and I told Rex that we would have to report it in the morning. But it was most peculiar that Rex and I did not smell anything unpleasant when we first arrived, while Mary was explaining the rules for the kitchen use.
She had told us that there was fresh water in the fridge for us. But the red frosted bottle I found in the fridge door was almost empty. I took a tentative sip as I was really thirsty. It tasted strange so I spat it out. The contents looked a tinge greenish when I poured it down the sink. Not stagnant or stale. Almost herbal, reminiscent of jasmine tea. Maybe something from the previous occupants?
I kept thinking that the kitchen floor was sticky. But later, I was walking around barefoot and thought to check the soles of my feet. They were fairly clean. Somewhat surprised, I touched the floor again with my bare feet and found that the slate tiles were okay after all. It was odd how I got the impression it had a 'dirty' feel to it.
That night, I was checking around the bedroom before turning off the lights and went to the spare bunk bed in the alcove at the far corner. I saw a wispy shadow dart off from the corner of my right eye. It was not anything scary. But I felt warned to be on my guard. When I went to bed, I said a prayer for protection and to be left in peace.
It must have been almost midnight, when we were startled by the small bedroom window above the bed crackling loudly, twice. Yet the large sliding glass doors did not make a sound and the weather that day had been mild. The temperature only noticeably dropped when it was close to 4am and it did not make the glass crackle when it contracted. This happened on both nights at around the same time.
But I felt strangely reassured each time the glass crackled. It was as if someone rapped sharply on the glass to chase something off. I had the comforting thought of a guardian spirit. After all, I did pray for journey mercies and safety on the trip...
In the morning, I could not smell anything from the kitchen sink so I made no mention of it. It was a relief to have breakfast at the main house, where everything felt 'cleaner'. Mary's husband, Anton, said he had built the house and cottage almost thirty years ago on an empty stretch of land. They had been running their place as a Bed-and-Breakfast for over twenty years. The house was located on higher ground, while the guest cottage was set on the side of the hill, sloping into a valley.
Once, the whole area had been rainforest leading down to swampy land. Wet and damp. Wait a minute, that mouldy smell?
At breakfast on the last day, I asked Anton if the neighbours were allowed to take a shortcut through the place or did Mary come by the cottage again the day before. But the neighbours were not allowed onto their property, nor was there any easy access. Mary had gone to play croquet immediately after she left the cottage. Anton confirmed that she did not own any other white clothing. There were no other guests staying at the property.
Could that have been Mary in her croquet uniform? The uniform design was unlikely to be a sleeveless dress though. We did not get to see Mary again because she had gone into town for a few days after her croquet match. Still, if she had returned to the cottage for whatever reason, it was at remarkable speed because the main house was at least a brisk five minutes' climb up the hill. She would have to change, make the trek back down and not make the floorboards creak when she walked past the suite.
Anton insisted that the figure I saw had to be his wife. He was quite emphatic about it and began to sound agitated. Not wishing to upset him any further, I dropped the matter. But I did think that anyone coming from the house at the time would have had to walk past Rex, who was unloading our bags from the car and onto the veranda. He did not see Mary or anyone else.
On the morning we left, I felt the place was perfectly normal. No smell and everything felt fine. Was it some naturally occurring phenomena after all? Or did my hot water down the sink served as a form of cleansing, along with the prayer I said over the place?
I have no idea whatever it was that I sensed. But I do know that we will not be going back to that cottage.