Winter Competition Winner: People of Durham Past

I.

It was the Lumiere and like many people, Eliza and I came to Durham for the weekend to see the projections. We settled in our hotel at Crossgate and were about to head out when a migraine hit me:

‘My head hurts again. I think I will stay in,’ I told Eliza. She frowned:

‘Just take a pain killer or something; you don’t want to miss the shows!’ I shook my head. ‘Okay then. Let me know when you feel better, we can meet somewhere later.’ I nodded. After she left, I went into the bathroom and filled the tub with hot water. I got in and soon enough, I fell asleep.

I woke up perhaps an hour later – and with blurred vision, I noticed a figure standing by my side. Expecting it to be Eliza, I was surprised to see that it was an unfamiliar girl. Right then I realized my nudity and quickly tried to cover myself with my hands. She broke the ice, saying:

‘Get dressed Sir; your tour is starting!’ I thought I was dreaming, but I wasn’t; there truly was a girl with dirty hair, under-eye circles and thin legs coming out from the working dress. She passed me my clothes and turned around as I dried and dressed myself. She then took me by the hand and pulled me out of the hotel room with an unexpectedly strong force. Her hand was cold, like a dead person’s…

‘Have you been in Durham before?’ she asked once we reached the cobble-stone street. I shook my head. ‘Perfect, we will walk through the city and you will meet my friends.’ I pictured girls her age having a tea party with dolls. I wanted to refuse, but she pulled me after her into the city. There was no one in the streets, though I remembered almost fighting through the Lumiere crowds earlier that evening…

II.

Suddenly a high volume of galloping echoed through the buildings and the ground trembled. Instinctively I wanted to run away from the middle of the road, but my guide told me:

‘Do not worry – they’re perfectly harmless. They are just ghosts.’ I was confused, but then I saw an army led by a group of soldiers on horses, followed by even more soldiers who were shouting in battle spirits. All of them were semi-transparent. They were running towards us from the bridge, and the unthinkable happened: they ran not past, but through us, leaving a chilly sensation like an ice cube sliding down hot skin. I looked behind us after the whole army had passed and then addressed my guide:

‘Who were they?’ She turned to me and calmly replied:

‘The Scots. You can hear their weapons clash against those of the English from the 1346 Battle of Neville’s Cross if you walk round the shaft of the stone cross.’ I looked behind us and saw the horses and armed soldiers jumping into the shaft with cries of war ecstasy.

We crossed the bridge with the walls of the Castle on our right hand side that was beautifully reflected on the river surface. As we walked uphill, I wished to know more about my guide.

‘There is nothing to know about me, Sir.’ I wanted to argue, but she said:

‘We have arrived at the Castle.’

III.

We reached the gate; she knocked on it and a tiny door opened. She urged me to hurry up:

‘We will miss her!’ Once I reached her side, she took my hand again and led me inside the Castle into a hall with a black staircase. My guide seemed distressed:

‘How is this possible? She should be here!’ I wanted to ask who is she talking about, when suddenly a half-transparent female with a twisted neck and a face turned to the side at an unnatural angle appeared. I cried in shock, but the girl whispered:

‘Do not be rude Sir – she had an accident and it is a miracle she survived.’ I wanted to argue that she looks absolutely dreadful, but the lady reached us and stopped to say:

‘Have you seen my husband? He is the Bishop of Durham, an important man and God’s servant; I have been looking for him but in vain!’ My guide responded:

‘I am sorry.’ The lady sighed and continued to walk ahead onto the Black Staircase. Once she disappeared into one of the many rooms of the Castle, I asked my companion about the lady’s name.

‘No-one on this tour has a name: it is only their stories that matter.’ I had a strange inkling about her bitter tone. ‘She was the wife of a 19th century Bishop of Durham who fell from the highest floor and died. A virtuous lady, she was blessed with an after-life and so she roams the Castle for eternity. Only the accident made her slightly confused and the only purpose of her life is searching for her husband, though he is logically dead for a long time.’

We walked out of the Castle and after a look at the clock, my guide exclaimed: ‘We must head off! Otherwise you won’t hear him’ She grabbed my hand and before I knew it, we were running downhill and turned right towards a bridge.

IV.

Midnight struck when we reached the river. My guide stopped halfway across the bridge. We watched the river surface on which the stars and riverside buildings were perfectly mirrored. The Cathedral bells were replaced by pipe tones. Noticing my quizzical expression, my guide explained:

‘This is Elvet Bridge and the pipe music is played by Jimmy Allen. He was imprisoned in the House of Correction and died only two weeks before receiving his pardon. Anyone can see him play when standing here at midnight.’ We listened a while longer until she pulled me in direction of Crossgate.

Once we reached my hotel, I turned to her and said:

‘Thank you for the tour.’ She was smiling and was about to respond when suddenly from the darkness, a hand with a knife stabbed her in the chest and stomach, then pushed her down the staircase and disappeared. I gasped in horror as she bled furiously right in front of my eyes and with each stair she tumbled over, she faded more into a ghost-like figure…

V.

‘Wake up, Jacob! Wake up, the water is cold, you’ll get sick.’ I was relieved to open my eyes and see that it was Eliza. I shot out my arms from under the water and embraced her. She laughed:

‘What got into you?’ After I let go, she said: ‘The Lumiere is fantastic! And you know what the front desk lady told me? That a Victorian girl was murdered in the back alleyway of this hotel that was formerly a warehouse and her ghost still haunts this area! Isn’t that fascinating?’

‘Yes, yes.’ I thought: it all makes sense now.

‘And how was your rest?’ I thought for a while and responded:

‘Supernatural.’ Eliza lifted an eyebrow and laughed.

‘I’m starving – shall we get chips from Bell’s?’ I nodded and dressed, excited about telling Eliza the legends I had learnt during the tour.

Leave a Reply