First published in Gothic Blue Book III: The Graveyard Edition. Available from Amazon
Ezabell frowned as she heard wheels crunch on the gravel driveway; she hated visitors. She hated them walking around, looking at things. Her things. They talked loudly, with horrible harsh accents and their funny foreign languages. She hated them.
Ezabell knew that Nanny said they were a good thing, these visitors. That they paid money to walk around and look at her things. She knew that the money they paid went towards making the castle better. The money had paid to fix part of a ceiling that had fallen down and replace a corner of carpet in the Great Hall.
Ezabell was grown up enough to know that this was a very important thing. But she still hated them. She wondered if she had time to go and see if Nanny was in the kitchen before the visitors arrived at the front door. Normally at this time of day the kitchen would be alive with the sounds and smells of food preparation, pots clanging and the persistent thud of the meat cleaver carving through joints being readied for the evening meal. But the kitchen had been quiet for some time, Ezabell frowned as she tried to remember the last time she had heard those sounds and smelt those smells. Ezabell wondered where Nanny was, it seemed to her that it had been a long time since she had seen Nanny.
The sight of the visitors disembarking the vehicle, talking, laughing, and taking pictures made her stop her foray into the kitchens, perhaps she didn’t have time after all and needed to make herself scarce in order to be remain unseen.
Ezabell frowned as the visitors made their way in through the front doors and gathered in the entrance hall. She could hear them talking, exclaiming how old and beautiful the castle was. She frowned as the tour guide started talking, explaining the history of the castle and the legends that surrounded it.
Ezabell listened as the tour guide went on to describe the so-called hauntings that had occurred, that people had reported seeing a young boy dressed in blue darting between rooms and playing with other children. How once the bones of a man and small boy had been found in the wall, the bones were buried and the reported activity lessened, as if the boy had found peace. Ezabell always wondered what had happened to the man, why it was only the boy that was seen, or allowed himself to be seen.
Ezabell knew that people paid to come here and liked to feel frightened, but she knew it was rubbish. The castle was not haunted, especially not by a boy whose bones had been in the wall. She listened as the tour guide explained how workers had found the remains of the man and the boy; how the boy’s finger bones and nails had been broken as if he had tried to claw his way out, to escape his prison with his bare hands. The visitors loved that part, the poor boy entrapped; his screams muffled by the 10-foot stonewall. Ezabell frowned as the guide went on to talk about the so-called White Pantry Ghost who apparently roams around the kitchens asking for water, appearing to a soldier when the castle was used a hospital during the war. The poor soldier was reported to be too frightened to spend another night in the castle. Ezabell couldn’t understand why a pantry maid could not fetch her own water or why a pantry maid would ask a soldier for help or what sort of a soldier would be frightened off by a pantry maid. Ezabell did not believe in this ghost either.
Shaking her head, Ezabell left the narrow gallery above the hall, deciding to continue her spying once the group reached the Great Hall, the huge old fireplaces were perfect for hiding in.
She knew that Nanny would give out to her if she were seen, so she crept along the wall of the gallery to remain completely out of sight. She knew all the ways round the castle; she could creep about, unseen, as much as she wanted to. She knew the gaps in the walls and the secret stairways. She knew the tapestries that she could hide behind and the doors she could open silently.
Ezabell crept along the wall of the gallery until she reached the Great Hall. Once there, Ezabell climbed into the enormous stone fireplace. She hopped up into the small nook that was just big enough for her to sit on, her legs tucked under her. From this spot she could hear the visitors but they would not be able to see her, even if they looked right up the fireplace. She loved knowing that she could follow the visitors round the castle, from room to room without them ever knowing she was there. She liked that it made them feel like they were being watched, that perhaps there was some truth in the ghost stories. When of course it was just her, Ezabell, always watching, listening, making sure they didn’t touch anything or take any of her things. She hated it when the visitors touched her things. There were signs of course, telling people not too, but they still did. Ezabell hated that. She thought about the last time she had spotted a visitor taking something. A woman, who was quite frankly old enough to know better, had tried to take a brass candlestick from the dining table in the Banquet Room. Ezabell had made sure the woman regretted her theft. Ezabell had made sure the woman had put her candlestick back. She hated it when the visitors thought they could just take her things without her knowing.
She heard the group approach the Great Hall, speaking in soft, hushed tones. The guide was explaining about the history of the hall, about the family that lived in the castle all those years ago. Ezabell frowned, she hated hearing those names, the castle was hers, not theirs. The tour guide moved to the next room and Ezabell climbed down from her hiding spot. The next room was what the guide referred to as the James’ 1st Room, named after a visit from the King himself, but Ezabell didn’t like to call it that, she called it the ceiling room. As she made her way silently along the corridor, she realized that one of the visitors had broken from the group and was sitting on a chair. Ezabell frowned. The chairs were not for visitors to sit on.
The visitor was playing with something; a white box that Ezabell didn’t recognize, it was making strange noises that Ezabell couldn’t understand.
She inched closer to the visitor, creeping closer and closer until she was so close she could smell him, he smelt of fresh air and washing powder. The visitor carried on playing; unaware that Ezabell was so close.
“Come with me” she whispered.
The visitor carried on playing, as if he hadn’t heard her.
“Come with me” she whispered again.
The visitor looked up, startled. Ezabell jumped back. A female voice called out, the boy leapt up as if he had been caught doing something he shouldn’t have been doing and rushed off, into the ceiling room.
She followed the visitor into the ceiling room, making sure she was silent and unnoticed. Finding her hiding hole, she kept watch, this time only watching the boy.
Nanny had warned her about speaking to the visitors; she was not allowed to speak to them. The visitors were there to provide money, to fix the things that needed fixing; they were not to be disturbed while they were doing the castle tour. There was a leak Nanny said, that needed to be seen to. They were not to be spoken to. Ezabell was to keep away and not play any of her tricks. Nanny didn’t approve of Ezabell’s tricks.
Ezabell knew that if Nanny found out that she had tried to speak to one of the visitors she would be given out to, but Ezabell thought that it might only be if she tried to speak to the adult visitors, she thought that it might be allowed for her to speak to a child visitor.
The group had left the room, she knew the route the guide would take them, down the long hall, down the stairs to the entrance hall and then left.
Down the cold stairs they would go, to the place that Ezabell hated. As much as she hated the visitors, as much as she wanted to spy on them and make sure they didn’t touch anything, she would not follow them down there. She would not go with them into the room with the scratches on the walls and the deep, dark pit. The pit where bones lay bare, lonely. The bones of a girl child still visible; lost long ago, now lying in the cold dark room surrounded by iron and black. To be gawped at by the visitors.
Ezabell hated that most of all.
The visitors descended the steps, coming to a stop just inside the dungeon doorway. They listened to the tour guide in silent horror as it was described how the prisoners were held and tortured. How cages of starving rats were attached to a prisoner’s stomach, leaving the rats no choice but to eat their way out through their victims. The spiked barrel that was used by securing a man inside, then the barrel was rolled round and around until his flesh was torn off.
But by far, the most chilling aspect of this room was the skeleton of a young girl, the last person to be thrown down the oubliette. Her hollow unseeing eyes staring back at the visitors, following them around the room, sending a shiver down the spine of even the most courageous. The guide was always unable to ask the inevitable questions about who she was and why she had found her final resting place in this way, why a young girl had been amongst all this evil and torture. Why she was the last life to end this way, if in fact she had been the last to endure this horror or whether it had taken a different form.
No, Ezabell would not go there, she would not go down to that dark place that frightened her so much. The place where The Dark Man still installed his terror.
She knew that the tour guide would take them out of the dark place, up the cold stairs, back to the entrance hall. From there the group would be allowed to walk around the grounds unguided, sometimes visitors would picnic by the lake.
Ezabell would watch them from the castle, to make sure they picked up after themselves. Always watching.
Ezabell wandered back into the ceiling room, she liked it in there. She felt safest when she was surrounded by her favourite things, the tapestries on the walls, the ornate chairs but most of all she liked the ceiling. She would lie on the carpeted floor and stare at the ceiling, her eyes following the gilding all the way along to the moulded pendants and back again. She would wait here until she heard the soft sound of movement below, signaling the visitors were returning to the entrance hall.
Out of the silence, she heard a low thud, the sound of a shoe on stone. She jumped up from her resting place & hid behind the largest tapestry. It was the young boy visitor. He should not be in the room; he should be downstairs or outside but certainly not here. She peeked out at him; he was shuffling around, as if he was looking for something. He looked young, not as young as Ezabell but not that much older. He was small, slight and pale.
Ezabell frowned; she wondered what he was looking for. She whispered, “Come with me”.
The boy looked up. He shivered, he felt cold all of a sudden.
“Come with me” she whispered again. The hair on the boy’s neck stood up.
The boy turned his head; unable to place where the sound was coming from.
“Come with me” louder this time, more insistent.
The boy stepped forward, towards Ezabell, trying to locate where the words were coming from. She was still behind the tapestry, not wanting to reveal her hiding place yet.
“Come with me” The boy looked straight at the tapestry. She peered out.
“Hello?” his voice small and nervous.
Ezabell peered out at him.
“Oh, hello!” The boy said, cheerful now “are you with the tour as well? I don’t think you’re supposed to be in here. I was told off earlier for walking off. I didn’t see you with the group.”
“Come with me” Ezabell said again, louder than a whisper but still barely audible.
“Yeah, ok. Where’re we gonna go?” The boy said.
“Come with me” she said and ran from the room, hoping the boy would follow.
The boy stood in the room for a moment, knowing he should go and find his mum & dad but he was bored of the boring castle. He followed Ezabell, even though he didn’t quite know what to think of this strange girl who made him feel a bit odd, a bit unnerved.
She seemed to have vanished, the boy was confused for a minute, not understanding how she was there one minute and the next second she was gone. He supposed that there must be loads of secret passageways and hidden doors in the castle, but he didn’t really know how this girl knew about them, or why she was there. She definitely hadn’t been with the tour group and the guide had said that no one lived in the castle anymore. The family was long gone and the castle was owned by the Trust.
From where Ezabell was standing she could see the confusion on the boy’s face, she whispered, “Come with me”.
He looked, startled. She was standing right in front of him.
She ran off, making sure this time that the boy was following her. She ran to the end of the hallway, to the enormous fireplace. Once there, she jumped. The boy stopped, confused. He followed her into the fireplace; he was not as nimble as she. He looked up and saw Ezabell on a small ledge, then she disappeared. He jumped, grabbing onto a crack in the wall & managed to swing his way up onto the ledge. He gasped as it became clear that the ledge was leading to a tiny stone staircase. He tried to run up the steps, catching a glimpse of Ezabell’s blue dress as she turned a corner. Stumbling a couple of times on the uneven slabs, he had to steady himself on the rough surface of the walls.
Ezabell reached the top of the stairs and frowned. He had followed her. Pushing the heavy wooden trap door up and across she revealed the rooftop. She frowned as the sun hit her face, getting in her eyes, although the air was cold and the sky was overcast Ezabell was unused to being outside. She did not make a habit of leaving the castle, unless it was to spy on the visitors. Pulling herself up and out, she was on the roof, the turrets tall on either side of her. From here she could see almost all of the grounds, the Royal Gardens, the lake, all the way to the woods. If she looked hard enough she would see some of the cattle that roamed, still wild after all these years. But now was not the time to be looking at cows or woods. The boy had caught up with her; he stared at her as if he didn’t understand what she was doing, why she had insisted that he follow her up here. He wasn’t sure if she had in fact insisted, or if he wanted to. There was something strange about that, he couldn’t figure out why he had followed her.
She looked pale in the weak sunlight, almost transparent. She stared back.
“What are we doing up here? Who are you? Why won’t you tell me your name?”
These questions made Ezabell nervous. She wasn’t used to speaking to anybody except for Nanny, let alone a visitor. She chose not to answer him yet. There would be plenty of time for answering questions later, after.
She started to move closer to the edge, slowly.
“Come with me” she whispered.
The boy looked at her, not understanding where the impulse was coming from, and yet he stepped forward.
“Come with me” she whispered again.
The boy stepped further forward.
The boy blinked and Ezabell was on the edge of the parapet, sitting with her legs dangling over the edge. He couldn’t quite understand how she had managed to get up there so quickly, without a sound.
“Come with me” she whispered.
The boy grasped the parapet next to her, hauling himself up.
“I’m scared,” he said. “I don’t like being up this high.”
The boy carried on “I think my Mum will be wondering where I am, I should go back. I don’t think I should be here. I want to go and find my Mum.”
The boy felt calmer then, he didn’t know how or why but he wasn’t scared anymore. He thought he rather liked being up there after all, he liked to see all the trees and the birds flying, he noticed a hawk hovering above some unseen prey in the field below, about to dart down. He felt happy then, like he wanted to stay up here with Ezabell. All thoughts of his family or finding his mother were gone. All he thought about now was staying up here and being with Ezabell.
“Come with me” she whispered again, sensing that the boy’s state of mind had changed. There was a shift in the air around them. Ezabell frowned.
The boy stood up, then, his foot slipped on a piece of moss, he tried to grasp hold of the parapet, of Ezabell, of anything. But there was nothing.
The boy fell, no noise escaped from him, he fell in silence, landing with a hollow thud on the ground below. His back twisted, grotesque.
Ezabell looked down on the boy’s motionless body.
At last she was no longer alone; Ezabell smiled.