Huddled in the staircase, 5 steps is all that separate us from the top floor, we sit in silence for what feels like hours. Convinced there is a security guard inside searching for us, we communicate by writing messages on a phone and handing it to the next person. And then, just like the plot to every horror movie, in between a break in the thunder and howling wind we hear the scream of a child outside the building. My heart stops for a brief second, my eyes open as wide as they can and the 3 of us remain squatting in the staircase completely still, the grip of my new friend I had met hours before tightens on my hand. Realising the absurdity of the situation, I question what I just heard – rationalizing that it is likely my brain playing tricks on me. I question if my counter parts heard the same deafening scream to which I am met with unanimous, unsettling nodding.
I arrived in Zakopane south of Poland the night before. Earlier that day I went on an 18 km hike. Making my way above the tree line, past an avalanche warning sign, I found myself alone on an exposed ridge and in the company of howling winds, winds that resembled the noise of a low flying aircraft. Suddenly, caught off guard, I am swept off my feet and find myself skating along the icy ground, desperately trying to dig my heals in as the side of the mountain rapidly approaches. After walking another half a kilometer along the ridge at a slow pace, falling to the floor both voluntarily and involuntarily with each roaring gust, I decide to head back but not before I watch the lense cap to my 24-70mm fly off into the wind and disappear down the mountain – our 4 year relationship ending in one foul swoop.
Reeling from the experience I expected a quiet night as the winds continued to rage on, accompanied by thunder and lightning. Until I met a couple from Chile studying in Poland for the semester. I mentioned an abandoned hospital nearby that I found while researching Poland. They were curious. We waited for the rain and wind to die out and headed out about 10pm under the cover of darkness.
We walked through empty streets to the outskirts of the town, then across a field overlooking the town. Carefully descending a muddy hill we approached the building from the rear and entered thru a small hole in the fence just as the internet had suggested. Crept past the grounds keeper quarters – which was actively occupied – and while reassuring my friends new to the world of urban exploration that all will be fine, we enter the bottom floor of the building through a hole in the wall previously occupied by a door now resting peacefully inside, retired from its duties.
According to my research the building acted as a hospital turned hotel, turned tuberculosis treatment centre. And now contained several indications someone intended on renovating the building and restoring its former glory. In addition, several comments on a website suggested the place was haunted, which I promptly dismissed.
We had entered into the basement, of the building which served primarily as the kitchen area. Utensils remained along with an industrial oven, an oddly placed bath tub and not much else out of the ordinary for an abandoned building. We continued exploring through dark passages, down empty hallways, found a promising staircase and begun making our way to the top to then work our way back down – also to scope out the building for other guests. As we approach the final run of stairs we are stopped by a series of unsettling noises.
Thud thud thud, bang bang bang. All of a sudden without warning, windows and doors throughout the multi storey hospital systematically take turns banging open and shut in a rhythmic fashion. A window shutter would bang 3 times, followed by a door, then silence, then again 2 x 3 bangs from a different area of the multi storey hospital.
Convinced it was a security guard searching for us – the most logical explanation at the time – we hid cameras and cash in our bags and decided what he/she might accept as a bribe. We had been inside around 15 minutes – enough time for a security unit to respond to someone reporting our entrance or tripping an alarm. Once my mind was convinced, the banging sounded like a combination of someone running up stairs and opening and closing doors trying to make as much noise as possible. Then it hit me, what if the person looking for us was not a security guard but a local looking to rob us, after all a security guard would surely announce their presence in order to force a surrender. Maybe it was the wind, maybe the place was haunted – after all quite a few people died here over the years. But I’ve been to abandoned hospitals before, both general and psychiatric and nothing had happened – I rationalised to myself – yeah it’ll be fine, I concluded. These thoughts flowed throughout my mind without resistance, the silence was deafening, the confusion was great. Then we heard it. The girls scream from outside. One short scream, long enough to increase our blood flow. We froze.
We sat in silence for what seemed like eternity, waiting to be spotted by the people searching so frantically for us. Eventually – after much debate – concluding it was probably the wind, we decided to make a run for it. Running through the path to freedom in my head over and over, switching my head torch to red light – as to draw the least amount of attention possible – we were ready. But not before going up the final forbidden set of stairs. After all I would never have this chance again.
There was a corridor running from one end of the building to the other which faded into black – my torch failing to illuminate the end – small rooms lined the corridor on either side. The walls 70s style blue paint peeling to reveal a pale yellow plaster. I peered into the first room while my companions waited anxiously in the staircase. The room contained scattered trash, nothing noticeably out of the ordinary upon first inspection. Justifying to my self that each room probably looked the same, and with anxiousness of my friends growing, we decided to leave.
We hastily but quietly retraced our steps – down the staircase, through the large empty dining room, past the bath tub and made it outside, past the grounds keeper house we continued, up the muddy hill and ran across the field. It was pouring with rain and the winds that had sent me to the floor earlier had returned along with a spectacular lightning show. It was the perfect setting to explore an abandoned – probably haunted – hospital. Adrenaline pumping, unable to comprehend the situation that had unfolded we made our way home to the safety and warmth of our hostel laughing it off, not asking the obvious but unanswerable questions.
It is obvious there was never anyone inside the building looking for us. And while I would love to believe it was simply the wind, in that moment, huddling in that staircase, hearing that child scream from just outside, it was too perfect, too many things lined up to create the perfect scenario.
Something did not want us exploring each of those rooms and while I will always wonder what we may have found, that is the closest I have been to being inside a haunted building and that in combination with the spike in my heart rate was satisfying enough to ease my curiosity.