One day in 2016, when I was traveling with my class in Prague, I found myself in an odd situation. It was one of the first weeks of the program and they had taken us on a day trip to Česky Krumlov (10/10, would definitely recommend). It was nearing the end of our trip and we had watched the sunset from the windows of our motor coach careening at questionable speeds through the Czech countryside.
We were all that bone-achingly tired that only comes with jet lag and the majority of the bus was fast asleep before we felt it lurch to a halt. Stuck in that dazed half-asleep state, many of us started go grab our backpacks thinking we were already back in Prague, but then quickly realized it was pitch black outside and we were in the middle of a forest. I looked at my roommate who shrugged back at me.
"I think this good place to stop," said our guide for the day, a short slavic man who sometimes required a translator. Our program coordinator, Jitka nodded behind him.
"Leave your things, we won't be long," she said in her usual cheery lilt. And they herded us off of the bus, into this weird parking lot lit only buy a single bare bulb on a streetlamp. I could barely see a few feet in front of me, but over to the side, next to a dim, shady looking trail I saw a whole chain link fence covered with signs that said things like "POZOR!" That was never good. Clearly they were warning signs, but I didn't know what they were warning us about? Were there bears? Were there zombies? Was I about to walk off a cliff? It was a mixed bag at this point, but given my spirit of adventure and not wanting to seem like a wimp in front of my classmates, I was there for it.
"Follow me and keep up," the guide said and took off at a brisk pace down the trail. I'm not kidding when I say I could barely see the people in front of me. We all stumbled along behind him in the dark and Jitka took up the rear, making sure none of us were left behind. This is the end. This is how I go, I thought. Follow this nice slavic man that I just met this morning past a ton of warning signs that I can't read into the woods. I see nothing wrong here. He's going to kill us all one by one and Jitka is going to wait behind to pick off the ones who try to run.
Those of you who know me know that I have a flair for the dramatic, but as we approached the castle ruin on a peninsula on a black river, I felt my blood run cold. Literally, the beginning of every horror movie ever. The castle was absolutely still. And as we all huddled around one another, our guide began to speak in his heavily accented English.
He told us about the history of the castle and how the lord and his children were killed, leaving the lady of the house to live alone for the rest of her life. He recalled one day he had visited in particular and struck up conversation with a woman who was sitting there alone. She told him about how lonely she was after losing her husband and children and the conversation turned to his life and his family and finally the woman walked away. That was when our guide realized it was late afternoon and this woman didn't have a shadow. He had just told us the story of how he had met the ghost of the lady of the castle. At that moment, I swear I saw something move behind one of the restored windows. Peace out, girl scout.
I looked at the girl next to me and said, "That's it, I'm out of here." We linked arms and hauled it back to the bus. I didn't clock it but I'm sure that's the fastest I've ever run in my life. Usain Bolt has nothing on me. I just neglected to tell equally terrified young woman beside me that if our guide or Jitka started to chase after us, I was tripping her. The rest of the class wasn't too far behind us and we all reconvened around the bus, laughing nervously. Even the toughest among us looked shaken.
I'm not going to lie, I was pretty impressed. Regardless of whether or not the story was true, this man had made all of us fear, at least mildly, for our lives. I had to admire his creativity and dramatic flair equal to my own. And it gave me one heck of a story. I survived the beginning of a horror movie, and you can too. Step one: run far and run fast. Step two: Find someone you can trip if they're gaining on you. Step three: laugh about it when you realize that it was probably nothing, but know that you're all closer because of this shared "near-death" experience.