For years, friends have been telling me I should set the following story down on paper. I have told it many times, and even for myself it has never lost its power to set my skin crawling.
In a strange way, I’ve always been fearful that writing it down will somehow give a fresh life to the horror. As Shakespeare (a lad, like me, from Stratford-upon-Avon) wrote on the power of words: “So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”
I don’t mind admitting to have said a little prayer before embarking on this account.
I should also mention that I’m legally limited to what I can say. An epilogue to this story would describe how my colleagues and I — ragged, sleep-deprived and terrified — were obliged to sign a strict undertaking never to reveal what we had just lived through. We were all happy to sign, as though we could draw a line under what we had experienced. I continue to respect this undertaking, and so names have been changed throughout, and I have been deliberately vague about the exact location of the haunted hotel.
The tale begins
I had been working in Malaysia for about ten months — it was my first proper job. My task was to set up and run the recreation department of a brand-new 330-room five-star beach resort. This included building an 18-hole golf course, developing a 64-acre jungle reserve and attending to the 1001 other things necessary to create a world-class holiday destination.
I was offered the job while working as an intern at a top Beijing hotel as part of a travel and tourism degree. I was coming towards the end of my year-long contract and was preparing for my return to university.
One afternoon, I was quietly putting the finishing touches to a new ice cream menu when I received a call from the Big Boss’s secretary. “Mr Big wants to see you in his office in ten minutes,” she said.
Oh dear. This wasn’t good. What had I done? My recent past flashed before my mind’s eye, and I soon had a list of possible misdemeanours as long as my arm. So, it was with a beating heart that I knocked on the thick wooden door of his office.
“Come in, sit down,” he said. I tried to remain cool and composed as he finished off some paperwork. This done, he sat back with a sigh, and fixed me with a searching look. There then followed a brief interrogation. What were my plans? Was I happy in the hospitality industry? How did I see my career developing?
I told him I was planning to finish my course, and would then start applying for jobs in the industry. He wore an awkward look as I was saying this, which again started alarm bells ringing – had my university heard about my escapades in the Chinese capital? Then the conversation changed direction, and he told me he had been promoted to general manager of a new beach resort on the Malaysian island of Borneo. He showed me artist’s impressions of the complex and described what I could see would be one of the world’s most impressive resorts. So, why was he still acting awkwardly? He hesitated for a while, and said he needed a recreation manager, but, of course, if I needed to return home and finish my degree…”
Suddenly, I understood what he was driving at, and leapt to my feet to accept his job offer with a handshake. University could wait.
Everything was going according to plan…
There were just six weeks until D-Day – the opening of the resort. I had employed 32 full-time staff, three assistant managers and a whole army of workers – Malay, Indian and Chinese – from the local area. Of the 457 staff at the resort, I was the only ‘orang puteh’, or white fella.
Things were coming along nicely, with riding stables, water sports centre, gym, massage rooms, swimming pool, kid’s club, obstacle course, nature centre, tennis courts and much more taking shape. I was loving the job, but it was hard work, and a lot of responsibility to heap on my 22-year-old shoulders. It was genuinely frightening to think that in a matter of weeks our 420-acre site would be welcoming some of the world’s most discerning, and demanding, tourists.
One day I was teaching my staff about the complexities of Japanese etiquette. I was leading the session in the gym, a pleasant air-conditioned room with a view over the swimming pool and gardens. As we were still waiting for the kit to arrive, it was the perfect place for a nice, relaxed training session.
I’ll admit I was a bit hazy on the finer-points of the subject, but for my staff the intricacies of bowing, business card presentation and noodle slurping were all new, and there was a lot of fun and laughter as they got to grips with the basics.
I was just hitting my stride when – oomph! – something hit me like a sledgehammer. It felt as though some force had ripped out my insides and left me a hollow shell. I leaned heavily on the table, determined not to collapse in a heap. I couldn’t speak, and stood, struck dumb, in front of the confused faces of my staff. I seemed to lose all sense of time. Had I been standing there an hour, or just for a second? When I managed to find my voice, I asked my assistants to take over while I went to my office to recover.
I soon felt better, but still had no idea what had just happened. I got up to return to the training when my pager went off – it was my immediate boss, Mr Lee. I called him on the walkie talkie. “Where’s Tommy? Where’s Tommy?” he demanded. “I need him over here. Right now!” I had never heard Mr Lee so much as raise his voice, so from his tone I knew something major was happening.
As I approached Tommy’s team, he immediately ran towards me with a look of concern, as though he knew exactly what was happening. I thought the worst – what had he done? He knew I was coming for him about something that had set my boss shouting down a telephone. Normally such a cheerful chap, he fell into step beside me with hang-dog look.
Tommy had been one of my more controversial appointments – a plump 34-year-old in charge of a fitness centre. But despite being no Charles Atlas, he was perfect for the job, and I had argued his case to my superiors. As we walked I asked him what was going on. “Tommy, unless you tell me, I can’t help,” I said. “What’s happened?”
He stopped, and gave me a sidelong look. I could see he was struggling to find the words. “You know when you felt strange just now, well it was…”
He never finished the sentence – my walkie talkie crackled into life and Mr Lee’s voice shouted: “Where’s Tommy! Come on, make him run! Get here now!”
The horrors begin
We were both out of breath when we rounded the corner and saw Mr Lee straining for the sight of us. Without a word, he gestured for us to follow him into the hotel’s housekeeping department.
We stopped outside a door and – ashen faced – Mr Lee gently knocked. Things were getting stranger and stranger, bosses don’t wait to be called into rooms by their staff. I was just digesting this odd behaviour when a the silence was pierced by a woman’s scream. It was a deep, gurgling sound of pure terror and torment, and my blood ran cold.
After the scream had diminished into a series of choking sobs, I heard the head of security, Captain Wee, speaking through the door. He had dropped his usual no-nonsense military manner, and in almost a whisper he asked: “Who is it?” Mr Lee gave our names, and we were told to enter through another door on the far side of the room. Again, an ear-splitting scream erupted from beyond the door.
By now I was sure that Tommy – always so kind, and calming, and helpful – had done something terribly, terribly wrong.
When we entered the room I was surprised to see several members of the resort’s senior staff standing in silence and staring down at the floor. I followed their gaze, and saw a young girl from the housekeeping staff lying on a duvet. Her eyes were drawn up into her head and she was writhing around as though in great pain. Now and then she would arch her back and throw her head from side to side, gurgling some incoherent phrase again and again.
As I was taking in the scene, Tommy rushed forward and made the sign of the cross over the girl and began to mutter in a gentle but insistent tone. Then he moved to a corner of the room where three other staff members were waiting. The four joined hands and began to chant, moving in a clockwise circle. With a jolt of recognition, I realised from my few years of learning the language at school that they were speaking in Latin. I watched, bewildered, as their chanting grew louder and more intense, and their strange circular dance increased in speed. All the while the girl was thrashing around on the floor, as several staff knelt around her trying to hold her still.
My mind was racing at 100 miles-a-hour as I finally worked out the words the girl was growling out again and again: “Give me blood! Give me blood! Give me blood!”
To be continued…