Oh My God Y'all
The Time I almost Died in Scotland
“This place is a timber box.”
My psychology class had just arrived for our 3 day field trip to Edinburgh, Scotland and thanks to Dr. Rik’s connections we were to be staying in the Palace of Dalkeith – a grand manor house built in 1711 stuffed with marble.
“Don’t get your hopes up,” Dr. Rik had warned, “it’s not gonna be much better than camping.” And then he let slip that he knew where all the bondage clothing stores were in London.
The Palace sat on 1,000 acres of the Duke of Baccluech’s (ba-CLOOTH) land. Queens and noblemen had vacationed at the Palace, and there I was – a giddy, travel-worn Texas girl ecstatic to be in the country my ancestors hailed from.
After receiving our room assignments, we had been immediately corralled into a meeting room off to the left for orientation. The Palace caretaker did her best to hold our attention while she went over house rules, but it was hard for me to focus on her because I was too busy tracing out the hidden doors in the walls and imagining where they led to. She succeeded in reeling in my wandering mind at the mention of a “hairy coo.” Once my very mature classmates had made the last “hairy coo” joke they could think of, the caretaker resumed her lecture.
“You’ll notice that there are many fireplaces in the house,” she started, her tone becoming more and more serious with every word. “You’ll also notice that these fireplaces are boarded up. That’s because we do not allow fire of any kind in this house. Not even candles. If you want to have candles on a birthday cake while you’re here, we can maybe make that work if you take it outside…depending on which way the wind is blowing. The wood is all original to the house and so it is very dry. This place is a timber box. It won’t take much to make it go.
“Now in each room, on the backside of the door is a floor plan of the Palace with a clearly marked escape route for in case of fire. I strongly insist that you take a moment to study these plans. This house is huge. There are a lot of hallways and staircases and it’s very easy to get lost. If there is a fire, you will not have time to study the escape route or try and find an exit on your own. This place will be consumed in flames in minutes.”
The most impressive parts of this speech to me were that a person could actually get lost in this house and that the wood was nearly 300 years old. We dispersed to our rooms after a brief tour so that we could get unpacked. My room was right across the hall from the ballroom, and I was to share it with 5 other girls from my class: Ashley, Jeanetta, Jonna, Molly and L3.
Being of a private nature, I chose a bed that was in the right corner nearest the door and furthest from the other 5 beds. Each single bed had a nightstand beside it with a lamp on it. The sleeping arrangements went from me in the corner, to Jonna and Ashley against the right wall, Molly against the wall across from the door, and Jeanetta and L3 against the left wall.
I had already made dinner plans with Jeanetta, Ashley and a group of other people staying in a different room, and as I waited for Jeanetta to finish getting ready to go, I noticed the fire escape plan on the back of the door, just like the caretaker had told us. I walked up to the door to get a closer look.
Take a moment to study these plans, the caretaker’s voice echoed in my mind.
I was about to do just that when I thought, Seriously, we’re only going to be here for three days. What are the chances that something will go wrong in that time? This house has been here for 298 years and nothing has happened. Lighten up Jenni.
“Alright, let’s go,” Jeanetta said. I walked out the door without giving the fire escape another thought.
The rest of the evening was spent exploring the village and the Palace grounds. We had a rousing game of Never Have I Ever so that my friend Shanley could finish her drink, were called Yankees by an old man dancing to techno outside of a bar and were told by a local that the Palace was most assuredly haunted. My class had an early lecture the next morning, so we called it a night and headed back to our rooms. I was fast asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
I had been dead asleep for a few hours when the choking, acrid smell of something burning and sharp hushed voices finally roused me from my sleep. I opened my eyes to see a bright orange ball flying towards the door. I rubbed my eyes and fumbled for my glasses, but when I looked again the ball had disappeared.
“Was there just a fire in the room?!” Jeanetta screamed from across the room.
“Yes,” was Ashley’s calm response.
“What? There was a fire?” I mumbled, still half asleep.
“How did that happen?”
What had happened was Jonna had just come in from a late night of drinking at the pub, as she was notorious for doing every night. Being that she was the last one to come to the room and everyone was already asleep, she didn’t want to turn on the lights and wake everyone up. She used her pre-paid cell phone as a flashlight and made her way to her bed and turned on the lamp so that she could see to undress. But when she turned on the lamp, she thought it was too bright and hated to disturb Ashley, who was sleeping in the bed next to her. So she took a towel and threw it on top of the lamp to dampen the light. While she changed her clothes, she didn’t notice that the towel was touching the bare, excessively hot light bulb underneath it. The light bulb got so hot that it set the towel on fire.
“WHO DOES THAT?!” Jeanetta cried from her bed, throwing her hands in the air.
I began to giggle uncontrollably.
“What is she doing? Where did she go?” Jeanetta demanded.
“She went to put it out,” Ashley said, plainly.
“Shhhh,” Ashley whispered. “There are others sleeping.”
“There was just a fire in the room, Ashley!”
At that point L3 shot straight up in her bed like a vampire from a 1930s horror movie. Her pink and brown polka-dotted sleep mask covered her eyes and her blonde hair was a tangled mess. I expected to her to say something, to ask about the fire or swear or something. But she said nothing. She just sat there in her bed blindfolded.
As Jeanetta ranted about Jonna’s level of intelligence, I tried to get a handle on my hysterical giggling. But what else could I do but laugh? True, it was a dangerous situation and the whole house could be on fire, but as far as I could tell no one was hurt and the whole damn thing was just too inherently funny to be ignored.
Jonna came back into the room. She closed the door behind her and leaned against it with a sigh. Jeanetta crossed her arms and glared at her. Ashley walked up to Jonna with her arms outstretched.
“What did you do with the fire?” She asked before giving her a hug.
“I ran down the hall to the boys’ bathroom and threw it in the sink and then turned the water on it until it went out.” Jonna drawled.
I struggled to suppress another round of hysterical giggling as I imagined Jonna running a flaming towel down a long wooden corridor into the boys’ bathroom in her pajamas.
“Are you sure the fire was out? Good. Are you okay?” Ashley asked with all the patience and understanding her job as a school teacher had given her.
Jonna nodded. She sighed again and grasped her chest over her heart. “Oh, my God ya’ll. I almost just burned down a house older than America.”
Ashley closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Okay. Let’s go back to bed.”
L3 fell straight back into her bed and did not move again.
“I just want to know what the hell she was thinking,” Jeanetta grumbled.
“It’s over. No one was hurt. Let’s just go to sleep,” said Ashley, diplomatically.
Even at 3 in the morning the irony of the situation was not lost on me. This place is a timber box. Read the escape plan. And the conscious decision I had made to not read the escape route was all too much to be ignored.I obviously don’t know how I will die, but if I’m lucky enough to go peacefully at an old age I know I will go with a smile on my face, because my last thought will be: “Oh my God ya’ll. I almost just burned down a house older than America.”
Click here to see the Palace of Dalkeith!