I have been a professional writer my entire adult life. I am not, I don’t think, given to hyperbole. Much of my career has been devoted to observing, attempting to separate the essential from the non-essential, and presenting it, succinctly and rationally, for readers.
The incident in question aside, I cannot remember the last time I ran into something, within reason, that I couldn’t explain. Maybe when I was with my Grandma and we walked into a Detroit bar she hadn’t been in for about 30 years and, one by one, about half of the people sitting on stools turned around and casually waved to her and called to her by name—a la The Shining.
However, what occurred to my wife and me on the second night of our honeymoon in the Amalfi Coast potentially eclipses even that oddity.
My wife had booked us a wonderful villa in the cliffs, about a mile east of Positano, between Positano and Praiano. We loved it. High in the hills, it had a private deck looking out at the sea and included a lap cat, Ricky—scarred, as the owner would later tell us, “over a fight with a woo-man”—who would visit as we sipped wine on the porch.
On our first night, we slept like babes, with the open windows ushering in the beautiful, ancient sea air. I can’t remember exactly what we did on our second day in Amalfi, but no doubt it involved a fair amount of hiking, dining, and wine. We came back to the villa that night and hit the air-dried sheets for another long, restful night.
And then, as we dozed off, it happened: some sort of deep, guttural, woman’s voice drifting through the open kitchen window across the villa.
As one might reasonably conclude, this in and itself did not cause me excessive cause for concern. While our apartment was somewhat isolated, on a private path, the owner did live above us, and there were other apartments not too far away, scattered throughout the cliffs in their own private enclaves, on all sides.
Still, there was something about the tone—incantational is the only way I can describe it—that was odd enough for me to get out of bed and walk to the kitchen.
It’s true that the wind was blowing hard off the sea. It is also true that, besides Ricky, there are untold numbers of outdoor cats in the area, and, of course, they tend to howl and fight. However, neither of these—unless I am completely, abhorrently, crazily mistaken—is what I heard.
Standing by the window, however, that is exactly what I expected to experience—an “ah-sigh” moment. The point in the story where one realizes that the noise is just a drunk tourist stumbling up the stairs, laugh, and go back to sleep.
That is not what happened.
I heard the voice again, but louder and more aggressive this time, and—this is very important, and I swear—swirling up, with the wind, in some sort of swelling, nefariously lyrical chant.
Have you ever seen a Dario Argento movie? One about witches, like Suspiria or Mother of Tears, which culminate in a coven of witches ripping a young girl into ribbons?
This sounded like a scene from one of those movies. It was a long, drawn-out, deliberate chant—and from the sound of it, right off of our porch.
It was at this point I went into what I guess might be described as Stage Two of the Stages of Realized Horror Film Panic—waiting for it to go away.
Something very bad has happened. You’ve acknowledged this. You can’t deny it. Now you just want it to go away.
Except it didn’t.
It happened again—louder, nastier, more theatrical, the chant whipping with the wind through the cliffs. I don’t know if the language was Italian or some sort of long-dead strain of Aramaic found only in three cursed books scattered at secret locales across the world.
What I was fairly certain of—am fairly certain of—is that, at approximately one in the morning, outside our apartment in the cliffs between Positano and Priano, a woman was standing outside our porch chanting what sounded like some sort of mendacious appeal to the spirit world.
After the prolonged third bout, it finally stopped. My wife had come out to the kitchen to hear the tail end of it.
Panic ensued. We locked the windows. Double-locked the door. Talked about switching locations. We finally resolved to consider moving if it happened again the next night, and went to sleep.
The next night I ended up sleeping with a large stick under the bed. But it never happened again. We couldn’t ask the owner about it because she couldn’t speak English very well. Exhaustive Google searches of witches in the area or some kind of ancient late-night religious ceremonies proved fruitless.
I have no idea what I heard that night in Amalfi, one of my favorite places in the world. But if I were to ever encounter a book, travel guide or local winkingly making light about ancient legends of witchcraft in the area, I do believe I could contribute unique insight on the subject.