On the late evening of October 16th 2009, after a Green Day concert in Rotterdam, I returned to the hostel in Amsterdam where I happened to be staying. The concert had been great, and I came back to the hostel with a box of stirfry noodles I'd bought at the little shop near Rembrandt Square. This hostel was located in an 18th century building on one of the oldest canals in Amsterdam, held nearly 180 tenants at full capacity, and was popular for its proximity to the Red Light District.
I did not return to a full hostel. Rather, to a hostel that a couple and I had all to ourselves. They lived in an apartment on the top floor and I lived in a dorm room on the ground floor. We had it to ourselves because the hostel was closed for the winter lock down and at least two people had to live there in case the fire alarm went off. I'd been asked by the manager and had said 'Yes, of course!' to four months of free accommodation in the vivid heart of Amsterdam.
I placed the box with stirfry noodles on one of the tables in the lobby and went to the dorm room, which was just beyond the stair case, to grab my laptop and play on the internet for a bit while eating and before going to bed. I sat down at the table, opened the laptop, turned it on and waited for it to boot while eating. It was 0:27am on the clock in the lobby. Sitting by myself in that enormous place, with that high ceiling, and those sewage drains that produced clanking noises which echoed through the entire building, having it all to myself, I always thought how needless it was to have a house this big for yourself. The solitude was always there, but there was always noise. The metal water pipes, the wind that howled through, it was a spooky place that always seemed alive, even when there was nobody else. All the rooms upstairs were locked, but there still seemed to be an energy inside. The computer was ready for use and I went online.
The sound of two pairs of shoes, presumably hiking boots, echoed out of the stairway through the open doors into the lobby. Two men were jollily talking. Then a door on the second floor slammed shut, and the talking stopped.
I sat straight up and stared with a raging heartbeat at the open doors that had the stairway behind it. This was most strange. I ran to the monitor behind the desk and looked at the twelve little screens that recorded everything that went on everywhere, including the door that I'd heard. The reason why I was so certain that it had been the door on the second floor, was simply because I had been working there for a year and, sitting behind that desk, I had gotten to know the sounds of the building. The door on the first floor never slammed as did the one on the second floor. I would be sitting behind that desk, hear a door slam, and look at the monitor to see that people on the second floor had entered the hallway leading up to their room. You get to know how the noises of water drains, shutting doors, voices, and all that work their way through all the corridors and the two stairways.
I rewinded the footage and while I stared at the monitor, waiting for that door to open and see two men walking through it, I suddenly felt very lonely in that big, dimly lit building. These two men could not, and certainly should not, be in the building at all. I kept staring at the screen, at that door that was closed, and throughout the three minutes that I watched remained closed. There was not a soul to see. And yet I knew what I'd heard. I grabbed the radio and called to the couple upstairs, to ask if they had entered the hostel, perhaps while I was fatching my laptop from my dorm room.
'No, you are waking us up,' she said, and her voice was entirely different from whoever I'd heard going up the stairs.
'You're kidding, right?'
They came down and we searched the entire hostel. We searched underneath all the beds, on the lockers, each room, each toilet, each shower, the whole bloody thing. Twenty minutes later, we concluded that there was really not another person in the building and the couple went back to bed, while I felt like an idiot for having woken them up.
About one month earlier, a few weeks before the winter lock down, we had an American soldier staying with us. The guy was staying in dorm room C, which was on the second floor. He was on magic mushrooms and had probably, as wars go, seen tragic things. From his room he had walked to his locker, where he had spent a long time just staring at everything it contained, and had then gone upstairs, to the third floor. Here was the emergency exit to the roof. He had quite literally run through the emergency exit, entered the roof and had then fallen down, ending up on the concrete of the neighbour's courtyard about twelve meters lower.
This story was of course well known among the staff and, with the experience of hearing the footsteps, talking and the slamming door, I went online to see what there was known about these things. Well, when you use a search engine to find information on ghosts, paranormal activity and all that, you get an overload of information, such as Wikihow (always at the top when I have a question): "How To Verify Signs of a Haunting: 7 Steps (with pictures)". With pictures! But if you dig a little bit deeper, there are also websites that have more genuine information, as real as it would ever get on this subject, I guess.
Apparently, what I had been hearing was all typical ghost-stuff, produced by a spirit who was not aware that he was dead because he hadn't consciously died (can you imagine that?), and so he was still present in the building where he had last been physically present. He wasn't even consciously haunting the building, but simply going to his room after a night out in town.
Now let's consider this for a moment. Let's say that you've died, but you don't know that you have. You are staying in a great city, in a great hostel and you have found a great bar. So you return there the next night and, remarkably, you find the people so much nicer tonight. Whereas last night they kept bumping in to you, they now don't even touch you. But that horrible bartender... He was so much fun last night, and now he completely ignores you. You keep shouting at him and you get angrier and angrier, but he just completely treats you like a non-existent person. And so you take a swing at him, but all he seems to feel is a breeze of air. He looks around to find out where it comes from and goes back to work, shrugging his shoulders. Feeling completely ignored, you leave the bar, yelling a series of words that qualify for censoring as you go...
This is how I imagine a wandering spirit to feel like. But then, why could I hear him? And another spirit, too, it seemed. I wanted these boys out of the hostel, asap. I mean, they weren't paying rent. So when I heard the exact same sounds five days later, I decided that help from the internet, which really can be the land of useless information sometimes, was not sufficient. I needed someone who knew about these things.
I knew that my good old friend Maurice did. He was one of those people who could feel the presence of beings that I couldn't feel or see. So when Maurice was in Amsterdam one day, I happily invited him over (together with two other friends) for a tour of the hostel. That's what it was: a tour. I didnot mention a word about the sounds, or the possibility of spirits. We walked through the lobby, and ascended the stairs. I deliberately passed the first floor, with rooms A and B, and went to the second floor. I opened the door to the corridor with rooms C and D, and then opened the door to room C.
'And this is what a dormitory with twenty beds looks like!'
I kept a close eye on Maurice, to see if he felt uncomfortable, but he acted normal, seemed interested in the tour rather than what I was hoping he would feel (or rather: sense). We kept going, through the bathrooms, and the kitchen, the breakfast room, the television room, and back to the lobby. We left the building and walked to Rembrandt Square to have a beer.
It was only there that Maurice gave me a look, and said, 'You are not alone in that building.'
'No, there is a couple living there, too.'
I played dumb, just to see where he would take this without any provocation.
'No, I don't mean them,' he said. 'I mean: the three of you are not alone in that building.'
I nodded. 'Where did you sense it?'
'In that room?'
'No. In the staircase.'
'One or two?'
I told him about the American soldier, and the noises I had heard. I asked him how to go about these things.
'Tell him to go away. That you don't want his presence.'
This implied that I had to talk into the nothingness like some sort of idiot. But, "luckily", I didnot need to wait long. That same night, I sat again in the lobby with my laptop. Maurice and the other two friends had gone home and I presumed that the couple was already asleep. I could not sleep. The fact that the presence of a spirit had been confirmed by someone who didn't - hell, who couldn't - know about it, was something that goes a very long way beyond your comfort zone. My comfort zone is pretty big, but this night my anxiety was bigger. The big hostel, its dim lighting, its emptiness, its clanking sounds when water flushed through the sewage drains in the basement, all these things worked on me more than ever.
I sat with my back against the wall and tried to work on the laptop, but my eyes were constantly on the clock on the wall. It was nearly 3am, 2:56am to be precise, when I felt a flow of cold air go by. Then I heard the hiking boots on the stairs. There was no talking this time. For a moment I was nailed to my seat, listened to the noise, and the next thing I thought, was: "Get out of this freakin' building!" But in an impulse I ran up the stairs, to the second floor. The sound of hiking boots climbing the stairs stopped.
It was dead quiet. I stood on the second floor, in front of the door to corridor with rooms C and D, and said, 'You have passed away. You are no longer in this world. I live in this building and I want you to leave my house. I don't want your presence. You need to go.'
Now, it would have been all too great if the hiking boots would now walk down the stairs again and I would hear the front door shut. But nothing happened. And that's just the thing: It never happened again. The hostel was no longer haunted. And you know, perhaps it never was. Perhaps it was just my imagination. But that's what every spirit would like us to think.