The Previous Chapter in The Paranormal Memoirs is here. Have you ever encountered strangers in stressful or dangerous circumstances whose interventions or assistance seemed supernaturally timed or miraculously unlikely?
Helpers who magically step in, deftly orchestrated by fate, then just as quickly and mysteriously disappear?
Maybe you felt that the Universe had used someone as a vessel or messenger or assigned him or her a divine walk-in part in your story...
Has this phenomenon ever occurred in such a way that you were left wondering if they were even human at all?
I alluded to this as an awareness that might possibly present itself as a result of doing the Soul Counting exercise.
Strangers who may not be human I've had a variety of encounters over the course of my lifetime with all kinds of entities -- but I didn't always realize who was who, what was what, which ones were which. In a few cases, I was clued in much, much later. (Of course, in many cases I simply don't know -- I may suspect -- but I have no way of knowing.)
Here comes another one of my (many) little personal paranormal episodes...
In January 1992, when I was twenty-two years old, I traveled to Europe. I flew to London with a small group of friends and stayed for a few days before splitting off from them to go meet up with my friend Allison who was waiting for me in Paris. We had arranged to connect at a specific hotel between the Latin Quarter of the 5th Arrondissement and the 13th Arrondissement on a Saturday morning -- but the only trains I could take required that I arrive either half a day early or half a day late. I opted to travel in the wee hours of Friday night/ way too early Saturday morning and arrive in Paris at 1 am.
I figured I could check in to my own room for one night at the same hotel and sleep for awhile until Allison woke up.
I had only a little bit of British cash when I left London, but I wasn't concerned -- I could go to a money exchange when I arrived in Paris and turn in some American traveler's checks for francs. Even in the middle of the night, all the train stations I'd ever been to in large cities like New York and London were bustling with activity at all hours.
The J's After the Channel crossing, there were only four other people in the car on the train with me -- two girls from New Jersey who were traveling together, Joanna and Julie, an Australian guy who eventually introduced himself as James, and a nondescript man in a khaki-colored trench coat who remained several rows away, never joined in our conversation, but nevertheless seemed to always be staring and closely watching us whenever I glanced over at him and made eye contact.
The Jersey girls made entertaining companions, they were chatty and fun to talk to; James from Australia was very shy and although he moved closer to sit near us, he mostly just listened to the conversation.
A Guardian at the Gare du Nord I was unprepared when I arrived at the Gare du Nord train station in Paris and found it to be an absolute ghost town -- every kiosk, cafe, ticket booth, and bank was dark, locked up with those roll-down gates like you see on the front of mall stores when they're closed.
The Jersey girls snatched one of the only waiting taxis, and James melted away into the streets with the small crowd who exited our train from other cars.
I wandered around in an awkward circle, looking for any sign of activity that I knew I wasn't going to find. This was a really ill-planned arrival. I had been so comfortable in London -- I was traveling with friends from the US; staying in the apartment of British natives; there was no language barrier; not to mention a kind of "past-life" familiarity that was at least partially practically supported by recognizable landmarks from years of studying English literature. Now I was alone in an abandoned metropolis with just enough high school French vocabulary to read signs and grunt nouns and adjectives and to possibly grammatically butcher verb conjugations in a pinch. I was an obvious tourist carrying everything I had in an enormous pack; an easy target for a mugging.
I was actually thankful there was a freezing fog everywhere to ensure the streets were emptier than they might otherwise have been.
There was only one other person anywhere nearby that I could appeal to for direction.
It was then that I realized I was being watched.
The man in the khaki-colored trench coat, who had been staring at me on the train, was lingering, lurking around at a casual distance.
At least he was a familiar face, and if he had just arrived from England too then chances were very good that I would not have to pull out a classroom foreign language that hadn't been tested in real world circumstances.
Feeling like a child who'd lost his mom in the mall, I walked up to him and began babbling about my circumstances -- where I was trying to get to in the city, where I might find a money exchange...
I felt no sense of danger from him. Honestly, I suspected he might be cruising me, and I was more than willing to play the damsel in distress in exchange for crucial information, confident that I could politely fend off any sexual invitations, if that was his motive.
As I talked to him, I realized there was something vaguely off about him, and in the back of my mind I was cataloguing the details of his manner and appearance.
He introduced himself simply as "Uh... John" and something about the way he spoke the name sounded like a white lie made up on the spot.
When he spoke, his voice was soft and polite, yet he made no facial expressions. He was absolutely emotionless. He spoke English, yet I could detect no traceable accent -- it wasn't British, or American, or Australian -- and traveling always heightens my awareness of dialects, even within my own country.
I can see his face clearly even today and would recognize him immediately if he walked in a room -- but I can not describe much about him that might be identifiable or unique.
- His eyes were an unusual icy blue, but other than that...
- He could have been thirty... or he could have been forty or even fifty.
- His hair might have been a dirty blond... or maybe a light brown, or even silvery-gray.
- He was dressed from head to toe in monochrome -- his pants and shirt were the same colorless beige. Only his shoes were a different color (and I noticed that, despite the cold, he was not wearing socks).
- His clothes had creases in them, as if they had been taken directly out of packages. I felt like if I could have checked inside his collar I'd find price tags still attached. It reminded me of the way body forms we would dress for window displays in retail stores appeared before the clothes had been steamed.
That was it -- he looked like a living mannequin.
- He looked too new, too perfect -- yet totally unremarkable.
- He had absolutely no (zero) body hair -- no stubble, no shadow, no hair on his wrists -- not even the faint down that a woman or a child might have.
- He gave off an overwhelming yet anonymous perfume that smelled exactly like... dryer sheets. Even his breath was like a warm load of clean towels.
John was... supernaturally ordinary.
He offered to informally exchange the small handful of British pocket money I had on me -- I handed him what amounted to less than five bucks, and turning away from me for a moment (perhaps to protect from my seeing into his wallet, I suppose) he produced a bill that, although still a modest amount, was at least double the value of what I'd given him.
"But it's not enough for a taxi all the way from here," he warned me. "You'll need to walk quite a way first, as far as you can."
Using a rail map posted on a wall for reference, he showed me where I was and where I was headed. "Once you are in view of Notre Dame, or come to the Seine, you should be close enough to hail a driver to take you the rest of the way to your exact destination... Would you like me to walk with you?"
I told him that wouldn't be necessary -- I appreciated his kindness but I anticipated it might be more difficult to get rid of him later if I needed to. Before we parted ways outside the station he warned me about the dangers of walking through this part of Paris in the middle of the night.
"Be invisible," he ominously advised.
As far as ensuring that my path was relatively deserted, the weather was probably a blessing; but the grace of the cover it provided me came at a price -- it was miserably freezing cold. The moisture in the air was just light enough to remain a dense fog, but it soaked me as well as any steady drizzle might have...
It was a long, harrowing (shitty) night I would need another thousand words here to itemize the petty trials of that night's walk. My feet were blistered and swollen for days... I could not get warm the entire week that I spent in Paris... To simplify the story and focus the events, I can't recall many times that I have felt that physically vulnerable.
Had I been a crow, I could've kept moving directly south, but the streets were a crooked, uncooperative labyrinth that required constant course correction.
I expended a lot of energy "being invisible" as I had been instructed. I encountered very few people -- several prostitutes propositioned me from the caves of doorways and shopfront awnings; I constantly crossed and recrossed streets to avoid anyone on the sidewalk; I ducked into phone booths from time to time to collect myself and maintain my bubble of cloaked energy.
It did not take me long to realize that John was following me. He remained a block or two behind me, and stopped when I stopped. Who has nowhere to be and nothing better to do than to follow me through the streets of Paris at 3 am in the middle of January? A serial killer? But I think maybe I was comforted a bit by his strange yet at least somewhat familiar presence over the alternative.
Hours later I spotted the recognizable architecture of Notre Dame. Soon after I was across the Seine and in the Latin Quarter. Thinking surely I was close enough to afford a cab the rest of the way, I stopped a driver and sputtered my destination. He laughed and pointed to the street I was seeking, only a few hundred feet away.
I walked up and down that street for another hour -- not only was the hotel not there, the very street number itself did not exist. After pacing back and forth and carefully tracking the building numbers to convince myself I wasn't hallucinating, I was literally in tears. In frustration, I sat on a bus bench and surrendered to having arrived at being finally and totally lost.
That's when I saw John again, across a square formed by a jumbled intersection of streets. I was just pissed off enough and desperate enough at this point to walk right up to him and demand to know why in the Hell he was stalking me.
He disappeared down a side street that looked like an alley and I followed. It was an improbable, completely eccentric continuation of the street I had been pacing up and down. The numbers picked up and continued. No sign of John, but there was the hotel.
That Monday, a few days later, I was with my traveling companion Allison and her friend Natalie. We were walking from the Champs-Elysees headed to the Eiffel Tower when someone waved at us from the window of a restaurant.
It was Jersey Joanna and Julie, smiling brightly and waving excitedly at me. I felt the quick joy of such a synchronicity, of the most unlikely familiar friendly faces. There were two males sitting with the girls who turned around to see who they were waving at. One of them was James the Australian guy -- Wow! They ran into him again too? That's kind of cool. What are the chances? And then I made eye contact with the Other.
It was John.
Why would he be with them? They never spoke on the train...
"Do you know those people?" Allison asked me, her eyebrows together in a subtext of How is that possible that you would just run into someone Here?
I was too overwhelmed in that moment of processing to offer much of an explanation. "They came over with me on the train from London."
And that was not the last time I saw the stranger John.
It was over ten years before someone even clued me in to who (what?) my experiences with this stranger might have been about. And that Someone was even more questionably a "real person."
...to be continued...
image credit mdezemery via Creative Commons on Flickr
The Next Chapter in The Paranormal Memoirs is here.