It is always hard to find a good place to be alone with your girlfriend. But in front of a deserted chapel, out on a dark country road, surely you should be guaranteed at least a few moments of privacy.
Michael was 19 years old and very, very proud of his new car. He couldn’t wait to take his new girlfriend out on the weekend.
It was just getting dark when they drove out to the little chapel at Tal-Balal known as the chapel of St Philip and St James. The chapel is a little gem of rural architecture, built in 1730. According to the entry in Bliet u Rħula Maltin, it has a little belfry and a single bell. The book calls it “an unexpected façade”, one you would not expect to find at Tal-Balal.
And unexpected is certainly what it turned out to be for Michael, who certainly did not have architecture on his mind.
In fact, for a first date, he and his girlfriend were getting on very well indeed. So much so that he needed a quick breath of fresh air and got out of the car to answer a call of nature.
The area was deserted. Every now and then, the lights of a car would whizz past but the place would once again be plunged into inky blackness. There was no one else around.
Michael got back into his car and tried to get his arm round his girlfriend again, in that nonchalant way that 19-year-olds have, anxious not to rush the girl but also conscious that they have to work fast as she would have to be home soon.
But the romantic atmosphere was suddenly shattered.
Someone was banging on all the car windows. The thuds speeded up, going round and round the car, beating onto the back, side windows, even the front windscreen, and then round again.
The couple’s immediate reaction was that there was someone outside. The car windows were slightly steamed up but they could still see through them. There was no one outside.
And then the banging became so rapid that no human could have been involved. It would have been impossible for anyone to get around the car that fast, especially across the bonnet.
Michael’s girlfriend started screaming, putting her hands over her ears to shut out the awful noise. The car shook with each thud on the glass.
Michael straightened up his seat, trying to turn the key in the ignition, in the age old instinct to flee. He pressed the accelerator too hard and flooded the engine. It wouldn’t start. He tried again, trying to swallow down his panic, trying to ignore the noise, the screaming, the rocking of the car, absolutely terrified himself. The engine started, and the noises stopped, as suddenly as they had started.
Someone was banging on all the car windows. The thuds speeded up, going round and round the car
After the banging, the silence seemed just as unnatural. Without exchanging a word, he drove away as fast as he could, his girlfriend still heaving with sobs. It was all over in less than two minutes.
Years have now gone by but Michael never did find out what had happened. There are no marks on his brand new car and he and his girlfriend are certain that there was no one else around.
It was some time before they could even talk about it. But someone later told them that suicide victims had been buried in the ground by the chapel.
The chapel stands as it did, the only witness to what happened that evening, whatever it was…
He would have been quite reassured to find out that he was not the only person it had happened to…
When the first edition of The Unexplained was printed, Roger went home to his wife Clarissa, somewhat annoyed. He thought she should have consulted him before telling me their story.
When he confronted her, she was just as shocked to read it. They suddenly realised the truth and a shiver ran down his spine: It had happened to someone else.
In April 1991, he had been going out with Clarissa for a few months and on their way home after having a drink in a bar, he pulled over outside the chapel. It was only around 9pm but because her curfew was 10pm, they had little time to spare. The road has been widened since then, but then the chapel was totally isolated and it was pitch dark. There was no one else around.
As they sat in the darkened car, they went through the same experience that Michael and his girlfriend had gone through. They heard a quick rapping that went round and around the car, again and again, extremely fast.
Roger could see nothing outside the car and wondered if there was an animal or a bird below the level of the car window but he could not imagine what could get around as fast as that.
Clarissa was petrified but he, far less easily ruffled, remembers his emotion as being angry at having his date disturbed. The noise lasted around a minute, which may not sound very long, but it was quite long enough to really upset Clarissa. As soon as the rapping stopped, they drove quickly away.
After he dropped her off at her parents’ house, he went to his own and, intrigued, examined the car. There was not a dent, not a scratch on it. He refused to think about it, and neither he nor Clarissa ever mentioned it to anyone else.
Until they read Michael’s story and realised that there may be many others out there who went through the same experience…
And that no one had ever been able to find a rational explanation.
This is the 20th in a series of short stories The Sunday Times of Malta is running every Sunday. It is taken from The Unexplained Plus (Allied Publications) by Vanessa Macdonald. The first edition was published in 2001 and reprinted twice. It was republished, with added stories, as The Unexplained Plus. The Maltese version of the book, Ta’ Barra Minn Hawn (Klabb Kotba Maltin), is available from all leading bookstores and stationers and from www.bdlbooks.com.
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