Friday 21 January 2011

Friday Flash - The Castle

A draft blew cold kisses onto her neck. Lady Eleanor stirred from her sleep. Daylight flooded the room. She rubbed her eyes and sat up. She stretched her arms above her head, making her spine crack. She marvelled that the merciless ache no longer plagued her limbs, and no savage cough racked her body with violent fits. She examined her legs and found the peculiar rash had also gone. Lady Eleanor lay back against the pillow, satisfied that the little doctor's strange remedies had banished the mysterious fever. Such a shame the cure had not worked for her late husband.

After a few moments enjoying the peaceful morning, Lady Eleanor noticed the chill in the air. No fire blazed in the hearth. She couldn't even see any logs. She frowned. The servants knew of the illness, and knew the doctor’s orders that she must be kept warm. How unlike them to have forgotten, she thought.

Lady Eleanor threw back the covers and swung her legs out of bed. She fetched a robe from the armoire in the corner, and padded onto the landing outside her chamber. She winced when her bare feet met the cold stone floor.

“Elspeth? Violet? Mary?“

She called for her housemaids. Her voice echoed down the spiral staircase. Lady Eleanor listened intently, expecting to hear the clatter of the kitchen or the shouts of the stableboys in the yard. She heard nothing.

“Hello? Is there anyone around? I am much recovered now,“ called the Lady.

She ventured down the stairs, whistling for the castle hounds. No paws scampered across stone. No tails wagged, and no excited barking met her in the lower chamber.

This is a wretched awakening. Why is there no rejoicing that I am recovered? she thought.

Lady Eleanor wandered along the corridor to the entrance hall. The vast oak doors stood wide open. She rushed to the doorway and gazed out across the lawn. She expected to see the shepherd and his flock in the meadow across the ha-ha, though it lay empty.

Oh! Have brigands and thieves seized my castle as I slept? Are my servants slain? thought the Lady.

She hurried back inside and heaved the oak doors closed. The clang as she threw home the bolt echoed around the entrance hall. The sound brought no one running.

Lady Eleanor felt panic rise in her gut, and worry fluttered in her stomach like demonic moths. She broke into a run, bounding up the stairs leading up to the great hall. Again, the room was empty, the chairs and benches of her elders standing unoccupied.

A sound in the eaves caught her attention. The whirring of wings came from the corner of the room. Lady Eleanor peered up into the gloom, but saw only shadows. She shivered, noticing again the dead atmosphere of her castle. She crossed the room and crouched by the fireplace. Two logs sat in the hearth, and she contemplated how she might set them alight.

* * *

“What was that bang?“ asked Lucy.

“I expect the wind blew the door shut. Now look up. See those holes in the wall? They held floor joists. Do you know what floor joists do?“ asked Mrs Black.

Lucy shook her head, setting her ginger curls swinging. Mrs Black smiled.

“Floor joists are big beams that the floor sits on. Yes, there was once another floor above us. The great hall was up there.“

Mrs Black pointed upwards. Little Lucy leaned backwards, craning her neck to see the room above. There was a fireplace halfway up the wall, above the holes for the floor. Moss clung to the walls around the fireplace, and a small tree grew out of the brickwork at the back of the hearth.

“There was a room there?“ she asked. The fireplace was so high. It looked funny.

“Yes! The family would have received visitors there. A bit like a big version of our living room. Try to imagine it with a roof,“ replied Mrs Black.

Lucy screwed up her eyes to better see a roof over the whole space. Her brother stood in the corner, transfixed by the swifts. The birds had nests in the holes between the bricks. They heard the babies tweeting for their mothers when they came in to see the ruined castle. Theodore watched the swifts flutter near the top of the wall.

“Tell her how it’s haunted, Mum!“ shouted Theodore.

“Don’t scare your sister. Lucy, it’s not haunted,“ said Mrs Black.

Lucy stuck her tongue out at her brother and looked back at the fireplace. The harder Lucy stared, the more she thought she could see something beside it. A grey shadow, a smudge in the air. She felt sad when she looked at it.

“Mummy, mummy! What’s that?“ asked Lucy. She pointed at the shadow.

* * *

Lady Eleanor paused. She cocked her head on one side and listened. Voices. Indistinct, but voices nonetheless.

“Elspeth? Mary?“

She listened hard for the reply.

“Mum, why is the lady so sad?“


Anonymous said...

"A smudge in the air" - what a line.

Classic, fantastic little ghost story, not unlike The Others, but more fun. The tone, in some ways, made me think of The Canterville Ghost. Would love to see this continued.

Also - this is the first story I've read in ages and it was a total pleasure.

Tony Noland said...

I loved the way the ghost awakened - you used just the right mix of disappointment at being alone, confusion, anxiety, rising fear all the emotions of a woman seemingly abandoned.

JH said...

Love the step through time. Thank you for the story!

Jim Bronyaur said...

Yes Icy! I love this one. Love it. One of my top favorites of yours. Pacing is great, set up is great, and the "switching" is perfect - brings it all together.



Icy Sedgwick said...

DJ - I LOVE The Others - it's one of my chosen films for my PhD thesis. I love the concept of a ghost not realising they're I guess there's a bit of The Sixth Sense in there too, in the way Lady Eleanor sees her castle the way she wants to see it, not the way it is.

Tony - I felt a bit bad putting her through that, actually.

Johanna - Glad you liked it!

Jim - I figured I'd do a few more ghost stories as prep work for my novel. Love hauntings!! The photo at the top is what prompted it - Belsay Castle in my homeland of Northumberland.

Laurita said...

Lovely mingling of the past and present. Sad and stirring. I loved your use of language.

Anneke said...

Great atmosphere, I can actually smell it and feel the damp air on my skin. Very convincing.

John Wiswell said...

I could guess you loved The Others halfway through this. I never got into it. You've convinced me to try it out again. I dig how you pull together ghostly historical fiction.

Anonymous said...

Icy triumphs again! Your observation about finding it hard to imagine another floor above you in a ruined castle is spot on. I was trying to explain this to a small person at Bodiam Castle in sussex; it's really not easy with rain pouring down inside the castle kitchens!
Great ghost story.

Unknown said...

What a great ghost story! This played like a movie in my head, in HD. :-) You did that photo prompt proud.

Just awesome!

Anonymous said...

Love this one Icy! Although the short, punchy sentences in the first part felt halting, it made sense when I read the second part and understood the reason for it - because certainly ghosts think and feel in bits and pieces like that.
I just love a good ghost story, and This is a Good Ghost Story!

Raven Corinn Carluk said...

Poor Lady Eleanor. it must be so confusing for her.

Steve Green said...

Beautiful writing Icy, the collision of old and new spirits like this would probably leave both in confusion.

Anonymous said...

Reminded me of The Others. Lovely set up.
Adam B @revhappiness

AidanF said...

Lovely story. For me this reminded me of Sleeping Beauty (more because I have never heard of the Others, I may have to look it up). I liked the intermingling with the people and how they barely interact.

~Tim said...

It just occurred to me that I always expect ghosts to appear soon after the moment of death. It's rather nice that Eleanor got a nice long nap in first.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Laurita - You can certainly feel atmospheres like this in old buildings.

Anneke - Thank you!

John - Haunted house movies are a "thing" of mine...and ghost stories let me write fantasy AND historical fiction so, a bit like my story, it's a mix of two worlds!

Flyingscribbler - I LOVE Bodiam Castle!!!! It is really hard to imagine the upper floors in ruins, and I remember my dad pointing out joists and so on when I was little.

Grace - My mum saw the photo and knew where I was going with the story as she's been there too!

Deanna - I haven't written a ghost story for a while and figured I'd should do another! So glad you enjoyed it.

Raven - Poor woman's a bit stuck, isn't she?

Steve - I find the "ghost perspective" fascinating. If they are at all aware of the living, the whole thing must be really baffling to them.

Adam - Thanks!

Aidan - Yeah, there's an element of Sleeping Beauty to it, you're right! If you like ghost films, then definitely check out The Others.

Tim - She got a lie-in. :-)

Anonymous said...

Loved this, Icy ... her not understanding and then realizing she and her world were long dead ... sad.

Larry Kollar said...

Wonderful, moody piece — you had me from the first line "A draft blew cold kisses onto her neck."

Kath said...

Wonderful pace in this story and I totally felt for her and her confusion on 'waking'. Loved the description of her as "a smudge in the air". You got the juxtaposition between her time and present-day spot on. Sad and beautiful at the same time.

Rebecca Emin said...

This reminded me of The Others. I particularly liked your use of language with Lady Eleanor - absolutely spot on.


Anonymous said...

Nice to read you Icy. I too love the unaware ghost scenario. You've told a great tale here. Looking forward to more!

Anonymous said...

I loved your pacing in this. How Lady Eleanor's confusion unfolded. I would like to know what happens next!

Joz Varlo said...

Love love love this! Poor Lady Eleanor. Too bad she can't move on.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Janet - I suppose if you woke up dead (contradiction, I know) then you probably would find it difficult to come to terms with it.

FARfetched - I was trying to think of how to wake her up and that sprang to mind!

Kath - Thank you. I've had days where I haven't seen anyone for ages and wondered if I'd died and not realised, but thankfully, I'm still here (and still a tiny bit eccentric)

Rebecca - I'm really glad people got The Others reference as I think it was such a criminally ignored film!

Clay - Glad you liked it!! I do these every week so unless Armageddon kicks off (or something heinous happens to me) then there'll be another one along next Friday.

Aaron - I haven't decided yet but there is a good chance she may just wind up in one of my books!

Maria - You never know, maybe she will.

Seleste deLaney/Julie Particka said...

Loved this. The little girl's reaction was so sweet and innocent, even after just being told both that the place was and wasn't haunted. While I liked Lady Eleanor, I'm more curious about Lucy and what you could do with her. A necromancer in the making maybe :P

Eric J. Krause said...

Very cool story! Goes to show how some ghosts don't know they're dead.

Genevieve Jack said...

This was quite good. The writing reminded me a bit of The Thirteenth Tale, one of my favorite books. I liked the arc of the story and I do agree you could take this further if you wanted to.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Seleste - I love curious little kids, they're so full of fascination by everything around them. I'm not sure Lucy would make a good necromancer, but she might be interested in helping to lay spirits to rest.

Eric - Someone told me that once - I also heard that ghosts perceive other ghosts, so a 16th century ghost will see a spirit from the 12th century as a ghost, and so on!

Genevieve - The ghostly protagonist of my supernatural YA has laid claim to the story, so it might end up in book #2!

Rachel Blackbirdsong said...

Great story Icy. Poor Lady Eleanor, I really feel sorry for her. Btw, it's amazing! Seriously it is. You're a good writer. Now to get this published somewhere.

Anonymous said...

Gorgeous, Icy. Two worlds in one, both artfully rendered. Love the line "A gray shadow, a smudge in the air." So real, so possible. Perhaps even probable. Thanks, Icy, this was a delight.

Take care,

Sam said...

Really loved this, Icy, it's a great story. I'm a fan of anything medieval, so this story was right up my street. Very well written too, and your final line gave me the shivers.

Magaly Guerrero said...

Great way to engage the senses. I got a little cold for a second, and I swear that it wasn't because it is freaking cold in NYC!

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