Walking with Ghosts

21 Dec

‘Oh no, he’s coming over.’

He’d been watching her for quite some time. Their eyes met when they passed each other in the alley. Something drew her gaze to him and then he was gone. Lost in the crowds. But now he was here, on the square, watching her.

‘Deep breaths.’

‘Ms Foster? This way please.’ He spoke quietly. ‘I am your guide for the evening.’

Now she felt silly, embarrassed, as if he knew what she had been thinking. That he was a crank, a pervert or worse.

Stupid woman.

Julie Foster assembled her group. All first year A-level students launched from childhood to adulthood in the space of a few weeks. She always arranged excursions during their first year. Activities designed to take them out of their comfort zone, an introduction to a world of society, traditions, entertainment and culture. Enrichment Activities she called them. Trips to art galleries, museums, theatres, criminal courts. And, for fun, a ghost walk. Always a ghost walk. And always a late one. A ghost walk in the dark.

The students saw this year as a breeze, a light wind in contrast to the gales of previous years, which blasted them to the big exam. Trips out and about? A doddle. To Julie it was evaluation, these jaunts were part of that. The ghost walk was just a bit of a laugh, but it gave her some satisfaction to hear the screams and cries when spooks materialised in dark corners, jumped out of doorways with bloody aprons and severed heads on the ends of spikes, screaming and moaning from house windows and doors banging in the wind. Knocked some of the cockiness out of them.

She smiled at the man and he smiled back.

He pointed to a passageway on the far side of the square, raised his red umbrella to distinguish him from the other guides and beckoned her to follow. Julie dropped in behind him, mustered her troops, who in turn, dropped in behind her. They weaved their way in and out of the crowds and soon they were off the piazza, towards the church with the golden spires.

Zigzagging their way down a narrow street, the cobbles glistened under the Christmas lights. Julie had to keep her eyes lowered in case she landed in a puddle. She had done these tours so many times and returned with wet feet. And now it had started to snow. Why hadn’t she put her boots on? The street narrowed even more. The buildings seemed to meet overhead and form a tunnel. No lights. Julie felt she should crouch in case she hit her head. The guide, identified as Henry, kept up the historical dialogue and strode ahead without looking behind. His feet were large, his steps long. He dressed the part. A cape draped from his wide shoulders and rippled as he stirred up the air around him. He wore a dark suit with a high buttoned waistcoat and underneath a starched white shirt. It crossed Julie’s mind that he must have felt most uncomfortable. The things people do for their art. She assumed he was a resting actor. His boots shone. Henry’s stature grew and filled the space ahead.

She could hear chattering from behind and was secretly delighted that the babble would soon turn into shrieks, first of fright and then of hysteria, probably around the next corner. She wished Henry would slow down.

They left the street and crossed over a bow bridge on the edge of the city. Henry came to a stop and turned around to face them. Julie was still at the front.

He addressed the gathering.

‘The Red Lion and Lollard’s Yard and Gallows to the front.’

The Gallows had a line of four nooses and from each one a hanging female. One looked dead, eyes bulging and tongue hanging out. The other three were still kicking.

‘Hell fire.’ Julie gasped, ‘A bit realistic.’

‘Prostitutes.’

That’s all Henry said.

‘Prostitutes.’

They moved on, through the cathedral close and up the slope towards the city walls. Walls twelve feet thick and built with flint and the sweat of peasants. Henry took an abrupt left turn and walked along the wall until they reached a sort of prison. Deep recesses burrowed into the wall, open to the elements, bars from top to bottom. The floors were lined with dirty, wet straw, the smell, terrible. A huge jailer was planted without, arms folded across his chest, whip tucked into his belt. He held a huge bunch of keys and stared ahead, unblinking. Julie thought he looked like a waxwork. She almost jumped out of her skin when he turned to face her, snarled, raised his arm, stretched it towards her and shook the keys angrily, in her face. Screams filled the air around her; she was pleased she wasn’t the only one petrified.

As they skirted past, the prisoners stretched their arms, torn and bleeding arms, through the bars, grabbing and wailing, pleading to be let out. She stepped away for fear of one of them catching the hem of her coat. A skinny, scabby, slavering dog bared its teeth, barked menacingly and ran off.

Henry turned back towards the city continuing his flow of information, hardly stopping for breath. Julie was amazed by what he knew. It was unlikely her students were making notes. Before they knew it they were in a muddy lane with hovels either side. They stopped outside a dingy dwelling. By now, Julie had completely lost her bearings. Henry told the tale of a young girl who fled from the country to find her lover who had moved to the city for work. She searched and searched for him without success. Julie glanced at the house; she could see a girl’s face at the upstairs window. A white, gaunt face with tears running down her cheeks, she was sobbing. Julie could hear the sobbing. Suddenly the door opened and out ran a man, carrying a large knife, dripping blood. He was howling like a wild animal. Julie thought she would pass out with fright.

Henry continued.

‘Thinking she had been forsaken and unaware that her lover had gone back to the country to find her, the girl sought comfort with another man and moved into this house to live with him.’

Henry gestured towards the dwelling.

‘Her lover returned to the city and found her here.’

Another gesture from Henry.

‘He was so distraught and driven by jealousy and rage. He stabbed them both to death, ran out of the house, down the lane and threw himself into the river where he drowned.’

Henry pointed, with his large hands, down the lane towards the river.

Oh my God, Julie’s mind was running riot, her heart was thumping fit to burst, she felt dizzy and wondered how her students were. Before she had time to turn around to check, Henry suddenly, and without warning, set off again. Julie, taken by surprise, leapt and quickened her pace to keep up. She wondered what surprises were awaiting them around the next corner and was grateful when she saw the lights on the trees in the square and the crowds milling around. She relaxed, glad it was all over.

This was the most terrifying walk she had ever taken the kids on and a new route to her. She must talk with the agency tomorrow, the kids are only sixteen. This was a bit over the top.

Henry raised his red umbrella again and they crossed to the clock tower where he had collected them a couple of hours before. As they approached Julie checked her party. They were jostling, pushing and shoving, some shuffling from foot to foot. Others, chatting. She was glad to see they were unperturbed. The clock in the tower must have stopped, it still said eight o’clock.

Henry lowered the brolly and Julie walked past him to her charges.

‘A big thank you to Henry, I think.’

She turned but he had gone.

A young man, dressed in jeans and a tee shirt bearing the unlikely slogan, ‘I ran the World’ approached them.

‘Ms Foster? My name is Dean, I am your guide for the evening.’

One Response to “Walking with Ghosts”

  1. Kathlene Ellias December 28, 2011 at 12:58 am #

    I like this post, enjoyed this one appreciate it for putting up.

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