I Was Given A Strange Gift At The End Of An Even Stranger Wedding Ceremony

Shutterstock / Grigoriev Ruslan
Shutterstock / Grigoriev Ruslan

I’ve recently come into possession of a strange object, and I was wondering if anyone could help me figure out what to do with it.

A bit of background: I do freelance wedding photography as a side gig to my main job. Last week I got an offer out of the blue from a friend of a friend – their first choice had to cancel at the last minute due to health reasons. I was only too happy to make a bit of extra cash, so I threw my equipment in the back of my car and raced off to the hotel where the ceremony was going down.

It was a small place, and the wedding guests had it more or less booked out. I was running slightly late due to the last minute nature of the job and pretty anxious to get to the proper suite.

Except I couldn’t find it. I followed the receptionist’s directions and found myself wandering around a confusing warren of identical corridors. It was absolutely silent in there, because I figured everyone was at the ceremony waiting for me to show up, and there were no windows. I guess it’s just because everyone has seen The Shining, but those long hallways lined with doors always seem to spook people out. They definitely have that effect on me.

Anyway, I just could not find the suite. I swear I ended up going in circles somehow, passing room numbers I had already walked past. I tried retracing my steps back to the lobby, and I couldn’t find that either. Several times I caught glimpses of someone walking ahead of me, just turning a corner, but they didn’t answer when I called and no matter how fast I ran after them I could never seem to reach them. The thought crossed my mind that this was all some kind of huge joke, but who would possibly put that much effort into a prank?

Eventually I rounded a corner, sweating and seriously starting to panic, and heard music. I followed the sound and there was the ceremony, lines of chairs with well-dressed people sitting on them, you know the drill. The walls of the room had been completely draped in white curtains, which was a fair bit more dramatic than most hotels usually go in for. There was very faint, soft music emerging from (I guessed) speakers somewhere in the room.

The room was extremely dim, as it was lit only by weak candles, so it took me a moment to locate the groom standing at the head of the room with the best man. I hurried over to him and started giving my apologies for being late, but he just smiled and waved. That’s when I noticed the best man wasn’t the friend who had given me the job, but someone I had never seen before. Now keep in mind there was only one wedding happening at this hotel; like I said, it was small. I don’t know of many hotels that could support two simultaneous weddings. This one certainly couldn’t have.
“Do you know where (my friend) is?” I asked, as politely as I could. The groom smiled again and said something. Here’s the first really weird part of all of this: everyone in that room spoke extremely quietly. I literally couldn’t make out a word anyone was saying, it sounded like they were whispering. If I wasn’t standing right in front of someone it was like their mouths were moving, but no sound was coming out. At the time I chalked it up to some freak problem with my hearing and tried to do my job as best as I could.

So I set up all my stuff, got the camera out. The minister or whoever arrived – a guy in this long black frock thing, it looked kind of gloomy for a wedding – and I started doing my thing as the ceremony kicked into gear, the minister flapping his lips wordlessly and that faint music coming from somewhere. The faces of the guests were only barely visible in the dim light, which is why it took me so long to notice some of the weird stuff in that room.

I first saw the shroud as the bride was coming down the aisle. I had glanced at it earlier, as I was coming into the room, and mistook it for a discarded coat or something, but now I saw that one of the seats was occupied by a white cloth draped over what was clearly the figure of a person. It wasn’t moving. I stared at it for a bit, kind of startled, because it looked for all the world like a dead body propped up in a chair.

No one paid any attention to it or even seemed to notice it was there, but it kept drawing my eye. Then I started noticing other weird stuff, like the cage. At the back of the room there was this enormous cage with…something in it. I don’t know, it looked like some sort of owl. Whatever it was it had huge eyes, I could see them flashing in the candlelight.

And there was this guy standing over in one corner. He was dressed in a very stiff black suit and he had really pale skin, pale enough that I could see him even in the dim light. His face had that kind of papery look I usually associate with very old people, but he didn’t look elderly. I kept waiting for him to sit down, but he just stood in his corner and stared at the guests.

At this point the ceremony had reached the point where the bride and groom were standing in front of the minister while he said whatever (I couldn’t hear him, remember) so I glanced through my photos quickly, and that’s when things got really weird.

In the photos, the room was empty. There were no people in any of them, just rows of empty chairs. I started flicking through the pictures in disbelief, completely nonplussed. I’ve had cameras break and go on the fritz, but erasing guests from photos is impossible.

Then I noticed that the photos weren’t completely empty: the pale guy in the dark suit was still there, standing in his corner and staring out over the empty chairs. I glanced up at him and all of a sudden he was staring right at me. Our eyes met, his nothing but two dark spots in his pale face, and he grinned slowly. This sounds completely irrational, but it was like…I don’t know, like looking at him in the photos somehow drew his attention to me. And I very much knew that I did not want him paying attention to me. I knew it instinctively, in the back of my mind.

The ceremony wrapped up (I wasn’t paying much attention to it by this point) and the hotel staff started moving the chairs off the sides. Or at least I assume it was the hotel staff; I could see dark forms moving stuff around, but it was so dim in there it was hard to tell. By the time I thought to see what had been done with the shroud that section of the seats had already been moved, and I couldn’t see it anywhere.

Once the chairs were out of the way the dancing started, that same quiet music playing while the guests waltzed slowly. I continued snapping photos, too unnerved to check how they were coming out. I kept seeing the pale guy out of the corner of my eye, walking around among the dancers. If I looked to my side or over my shoulder he’d be standing there, about halfway across the room, looking at me and grinning, so I started keeping my gaze locked firmly ahead so I wouldn’t have to see him.

If you’re thinking that this is starting to seem seriously out there, well, you’re not alone. When I look back on that wedding now the entire thing has this floaty, dream-like quality to it, like maybe it was just a nightmare (it wasn’t; I have proof that I’ll get to in a minute). I don’t know why I didn’t ask the bride or the groom what the hell was going on or ask the pale dude what his problem was. I just had this really strong feeling that I had to keep taking photos or else something bad was going to happen.

That went on for a while. I’m not sure how long, it could have been hours. I kept taking my photos and ignoring the pale guy, always looking ahead of me, never to the sides or behind. I can still hear that music playing faintly behind it all, just at the edge of my hearing.

At some point I realized that things were winding down, and I came out of my daze a bit. I approached the bride and groom apologetically, not sure how to explain the photos, but neither of them seemed to mind the empty seats. In fact they seemed pleased with it, somehow. The groom produced a small lavender box from the pocket of his suit and pushed it into my hands, and I stumbled out of the room and back out into the empty corridors. I’m not entirely sure where I was going; I was still dazed.

Halfway down the corridor something tugged at the back of my mind and I turned around to see the pale guy standing at the end of the hallway, grinning wider than ever. As soon as he realized I was looking at him he started to walk swiftly toward me, moving impossibly fast. In less than two seconds he had covered half the distance between us.

I’m not entirely sure why, but I reflexively held the groom’s box out, like I thought I was going to ward him off with it or use it as a weapon. He stopped dead in his tracks and grinned wider then ever, showing me two rows of immaculately straight white teeth. He started to slowly walk backward down the hallway, staring at me the entire time. The last I saw of him was one dark eye peeping at me around the corner, until he vanished completely from sight.

I stumbled down the rest of the hallway and turned a corner, and then all of a sudden there were people milling around everywhere and the noisy buzz of conversation. It hit me like a solid wall and I actually stumbled backward, almost falling flat on my back.

My friend, the one who had offered me the job, came sprinting through the crowd looking extremely harassed. He demanded to know where I had been, and why hadn’t I been at the wedding? I tried to explain to him that I was, only there was something wrong with the photos, but when I tried to show him all of the pictures were black.

Or at least, that’s what I thought at first. It was only later, when I got home and took a closer look, that I saw a small sliver of light coming from a door and realized that I had an SD card full of photos of a pitch-black, empty room.

For a few days I wondered if I was losing my mind. Then I found the small purple box the groom had given me, and opened it.

Inside, resting on a bed of red silk, was a pearly white spinal vertebrae.

I still have it in my bedside drawer, in its little box. I was going to throw it away, but then I thought of the pale man with the dark eyes and the way the box had seemed to ward him off in that hallway, and I decided that maybe I should hold on to it after all.

What do you guys think? TC mark

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