|As I walked through the gatehouse my eyes were drawn to the tower. There she was; the grey lady, falling to her death. There was no scream as she fell, no thud as she landed. And no twisted and bloody corpse to show for her demise.
"You've seen her, haven't you?" The young man looked into my eyes. "Only the special ones see her."
"Have you seen her?" I looked at the guy. Yes, he was a guy despite the black wrap-around skirt he wore.
"No, I'm not a special one. But many have seen her. I'm Peter Willis by the way."
"Sarah Jones. I'm here for an interview. Do you know where ..." I looked at the letter, "Upper Close is?"
"Back through the gatehouse and across the car park; the modern building."
I sat in the hallway staring at a picture of squiggles. Underneath was a sign declaring 'Choreography by Dr. H. E. Smith.' So, that's what it is. I didn't notice the young woman coming down the hall.
"I see you've met His Lordship." I jumped. Who was this rude young woman?
"Do you mean Peter?"
"Ye, Pete. Lord Worcester. He's only just inherited the title." So she wasn't being disparaging. "I'm Shorna. Third year theatre. When you've had your interview I'll show you around."
The interview, or audition, as Professor Winters insisted on calling it, lasted all of five minutes. I had answered the questionaire to his satisfaction. The review I had written was acceptable. I was in.
Shorna was waiting outside. "Down this way is the canteen. Open nine until two." She rushed me past the door and down a flight of stairs. "And this is the bar." I got the impression this was her favourite place. "What will you have?" She signalled the barman, a man in his forties.
"Just a tomato juice, please." I heard her whisper to the barman to put a vodka in it. Oh well, go with the flow. Note to self, keep this place for after six. We sat next to the jukebox. Frank Sinatra was playing.
"What did you think of The Hall?"
"Er ... interesting ..."
"You saw her, didn't you?" I nodded. "So, you're a special one too. Brilliant."
We chatted on for two more drinks. Apparently, Sinatra was a favourite with the students. Who knew?
"Drink up. We haven't done the grounds yet." The grounds were extensive. Studio spaces butted up to cow filled fields. I could see I would need walking boots around here. Then we came to the graveyard.
A small chapel stood surrounded by ancient head stones. Down the middle of the cemetery ran a stone wall. There was a covered entry way either side of the wall. Above each a plaque. The one on the chapel side read 'Deus amor est.' The one on the other gate read 'Here Be Witchery.'
Shorna saw me looking at the writing. "This has always been a safe space for witches." Something flashed in her eyes. Was Shorna a witch? "When you get settled in next month, I'll introduce you to my group."
The month went quickly and I was soon settled into this weird place. I watched as a guy stripped naked and hit himself with a chair whilst reciting what he called poetry. I saw another guy stood by the bus stop with his feet taped to the ground. His tee-shirt was emblazoned with the word 'WAITING'. I'm not sure what he was trying to say but I can imagine what the bus drivers were saying.
"Hey, Sarah, I've got a parcel for you." Jim went into his room and came back with something wrapped in brown paper and tied with twine.
"Cheers, mate. You over the bar tonight?"
"No, I'm headed to town. Karaoke at Bodge the Builder's." The landlord, affectionately known as Bodge, was a DIYer. Do I need to say any more?
"See you tomorrow then." Jim was in my class. A red-headed Irishman, always up for the Craic, I liked the guy, but not in that way.
Once in my room I unwrapped the parcel. Inside was a black, hooded cloak, and a printed invitation.
You are invited to attend
The Annual Ceremony of the Sacred Fruit
Meet at the Bothy at midnight.
It was virtually impossible to identify the participants under their hooded cloaks. Two stood out; one in a purple cloak, holding a basket of citrus fruit, another in royal blue, holding a velvet cushion which supported a bejeweled dagger. Flaming torches were lit. We processed up the hill and past the gatehouse, to the small pond below a stone parapet.
We gathered around the pond. The two leaders, accompanied by two torch bearers, mounted the steps to the parapet overlooking the pond. As he lowered his hood, I recognised the guy in purple. It was Pete, aka His Lordship. I couldn't make out the words that he uttered. He took the knife and cut the fruit. Then he began squeezing it into the pond as those around began a chant. 'Feel the fruit, feel the fruit.'
Bizarre, but obviously a performance. I looked for the camera I was sure would be recording the event; there was none. And we hadn't finished yet. Knife replaced on its cushion, we restarted our procession. Joining the leaders on the parapet, we walked in pairs. Past the Japanese Zen garden and on to the graveyard.
We entered by the second gate. Here be witchery rang out. One particular grave stood out. Not a mound of soil, but a raised stone affair that resembled an altar. Pete stood at the head of the tomb, the blue clad knife bearer by his side.
"Surge turpi spiritus." Pete chanted, raising his arms.
" Surge turpi spiritus." Repeated the group; or should it be coven? They began to circle the grave, repeating the chant. A mist crept from every crevice of the crypt. Slowly, it took on the shape of the grey lady. I was watching Pete. A strange look entered his eyes; the look of death.
Pete lifted the dagger high in the air. I expected him to bring it down on the ghost. But this was the place of the unexpected. The knife came down at an angle and thrust ino Pete's stomach. He fell forward onto the altar. As his blood poured, it mingle with the ghostly figure, who began to take more solid form. She rose from the grave and walked to the figure in blue.
Hood removed, Shorna embraced the grey lady. "Aunt Maude, your death is avenged. No more will the Lords of the Manor get away with taking advantage of a poor servant girl." The two walked into the darkness and disappeared.