We’ve all stayed in a hotel that’s in desperate need of a refurb, lacking in modern conveniences, and basically stuck in the past. Though, next time you do, you might want to stop and ask yourself if the hotel has actually become unstuck from the past….
Time slips and involuntary time travel have been reported throughout history, but no one knows how they’re caused or if they’re really time slips (or hallucinations, lies, misunderstandings and so on).
In the famous “Ghosts of Versailles” case of 1901, Charlotte Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain claimed to have seen the long-dead Marie Antoinette and others mingling in the gardens at the Palace of Versailles.
There’s the case of the time travelling couple in the vicinity of Loch Ness, who disappeared in the mid-18th century and turned up a hundred years later at a local almshouse, before disappearing again.
And of course, there’s the case I’ve mentioned many times – Rudolph Fentz – the one that takes centre stage in my short story Who is Rudolph Fentz? This case (or, more aptly, urban legend) saw a man dressed in 19th century clothes turning up suddenly in the middle of Times Square, matching the description of a man who disappeared 74 years earlier.
This week I’m focussing on another widely publicised time slip case: the Vanishing Hotel. This story featured in a 1995 episode of ITV’s Strange but True? documentary series. Two married couples, Geoff and Pauline Simpson and Len and Cynthia Gisby, were holidaying together in October 1979, and had an experience that flummoxed and disturbed them for many years after…
Lost in time
The two couples were driving through France on their way to Spain. To break up the journey, they decided to find a place to stay for the night near Montelimar in France. The Ibis Motel was full, so they looked elsewhere. They happened upon a cobbled road with old-fashioned buildings and advertisements for a circus.
They found a hotel with vacancies and decided to stay there. The hotel, they discovered, had no lifts or telephones. The rooms had wooden catches on the doors rather than locks. There were bolsters instead of pillows on the beds, the plumbing was antique, and the sheets were made of calico – a cheap, unfinished-looking fabric that hasn’t been used to make bed linen for centuries. The windows were even more outmoded; they didn’t have any glass, only shutters.
Despite the strangeness of the hotel, the Gisbys and the Simpsons stayed the night. Next morning at breakfast they saw three people enter the hotel: a woman in a long, old-fashioned dress and button-boots, and two French policemen in pre-1905 uniforms. And when they checked out and paid the bill, it was startlingly cheap – less than a tenth of what they were expecting to pay.
Nonetheless, they had enjoyed their stay and decided to return to the hotel two weeks later, on their way back from Spain. Only they couldn’t find it. The cobbled road and the old-fashioned circus signs were still there, but the hotel was gone. Vanished off the face of the Earth.
What’s even more bizarre is that when they developed their holiday photos, all the ones they took at the hotel were missing. They should’ve been right there in the middle of the roll, but they weren’t – and yet there were no blanks in the negative. It’s as if the photos were never taken, like the hotel never existed and the time they spent there never happened.
Interestingly, the Gisbys and the Simpsons went back to the Montelimar area in 1983 to search for the hotel, and this time they did find… well, something. A similar place, another hotel, but the couples were convinced that it wasn’t the one they stayed at 4 years earlier. Geoff Simpson actually underwent hypnosis in 1985 to see if any of his memories of the hotel, its whereabouts and its true nature were being blocked. Nothing came to light.
Time slips – what causes them?
Did this hotel slip forwards in time? And then slip back again? And if so, what caused it to do that? No one has offered any concrete scientific explanation for the occurrence of time slips, probably because it’s not generally accepted that they occur. Some argue that time slips might be a natural phenomenon. This concept was explored in the 2000 sci-fi movie Frequency. Here, unusual aurora borealis activity disturbed the coherence of time and space and allowed a son to communicate with his father over radio 30 years in the past.
Jack Finney, in his 1951 short story I’m Scared, posited that time slips are the result of humanity causing time to break down because of our desperation to escape the present.
And in the Million Eyes Short Stories, I’ve formulated my own explanation for some of these time slips. Who is Rudolph Fentz? is the first to explore this idea and ties in with the conspiracy at the centre of my novel Million Eyes. (Also, Who is Rudolph Fentz? actually features Jack Finney’s I’m Scared as a story-within-a-story. It’s a sequel to I’m Scared in a way.)
I’m not going to tell you what my explanation is, of course. That would be a spoiler! 🙂
The thing is, even in the outlandish world of time slips, the case of the Vanishing Hotel doesn’t add up. British writer and investigator Jenny Randles points out, if this was a time slip, why was no one at the hotel surprised or alarmed by the car the couples arrived in? Why did no one bat an eyelid at their modern clothing? And why did the manager accept their modern cash as payment?
And if the hotel returned to its proper time, hence why it disappeared, why was the cobbled road and circus signs – also presumably lost in time – still there? And what on Earth are we to make of the fact that another hotel – similar but not the same – popped up in the same place a few years later?
Okay, so I have no explanation for the hotel’s disappearance (unless the Gisbys and the Simpsons literally just got lost and couldn’t find it, embellishing their story somewhat by saying that they found the cobbled road and circus signs again). But in terms of the hotel itself, I’m starting to wonder if the Gisbys and the Simpsons stumbled upon some kind of historical re-enactment. In other words, the people there weren’t lost in time. They were just doing a bit of dress-up.
Food for thought!
If you would like a first taste of my take on time slips and their (fictional) cause, Who is Rudolph Fentz? was published in short fiction magazine Scribble in December and is available to buy from Scribble’s website. Happy reading!
Next week: story updates and tips on self-publishing