by Katie Lumsden
“Are you alright?” she asks. She is shaking my shoulders.
I sit up sharply and push her away. A human being. She is a human being and she is in my cathedral. I do not like that. I do not like it at all. I try to stand but struggle and end up on the floor again, staring.
“Who are you?” I demand, and my voice sounds strange. I have not heard it for years. “What are you doing here? Why are you here? You should not be here.”
She looks confused. I do not believe I have ever been so afraid in all my life.
“My name’s Isabelle Williams. I’m here on research.”
I shrink back at the word. “Research?”
“Yes, for my phd. I’m a historian.”
I am not quite sure what to do. I shudder and panic and then burst out with a mess of words. I hardly know what I am saying. “You can’t be here. You can’t be here. No one comes here. No one–”
“Who are you?” she asks, quite calm, interrupting me.
It takes me a long time to answer. I think, for a moment, that I have forgotten my name. I have lost my name. My name. Then I remember. “Hugh,” I say.
Her eyes widen. That is strange. Her eyes are brown. The only human face I have seen for years is my own reflection in the river. I have blue eyes. I think I had almost forgotten what other humans looked like.
“Not Hugh Blackmore?” the girl asks.
“Yes.” She is right. That is my name – was my name. I remember that now.
“Lord Hugh Blackmore?”
“Yes.” I am – was – a Lord too. I had forgotten that. It never seemed like me anyway. My father had always been Lord Blackmore, and then my brother too was Lord Blackmore. I had always been Hugh. I never expected to become a Lord. I never wanted to be one. But yes, she is right again. I am a Lord.
“Then you’re the man that owns all this?”
“Yes.” I gasp for air. I try to stand. “So leave my land – please. You are trespassing… Don’t you know that you are trespassing?”
“But I need this cathedral for my doctorate. It’ll only be a few weeks of research. I tried to write to ask your permission but I couldn’t find an address.”
“Well of course not. I live here.”
She stares at me. “Really?”
“Yes.” I point back through the archway behind me to where my tent is set up, in the middle of my cathedral, and the girl looks all the more amazed.
“You mean you just – camp out here?”
“All the time?”
“Yes. Can you please go now?”
“How long have you been living here?”
This question makes me frown. “I don’t know.” I have lost track of time. That, perhaps, is the main fear of this odd outsider. She brings with her snatches of reality, of society, of the world beyond with its ticking clocks that I do without. I live by nature and tell the time by the sun. “I came here,” I say, “in nineteen-seventy-two.”
“But goodness, that’s–”
I leap to my feet and grab hold of her. That is enough to stop her speaking. “Hush!” I cry, holding my hand over her mouth. “Stop talking, stop talking, stop talking! Don’t tell me. I do not want to know. I am through with such things. Shhh – don’t say another word. If you dare tell me what year it is I’ll–” I stop, but I am sure my expression is enough. I live out here by my hands and I am strong. I feel her shake in my arms. Her lips tremble beneath the force of my hand. I could snap her. She is skinny, little, weighed down and tired by her backpack. She is weak.
My first human contact in years and years, and it is on the point of violence. I let her go, and stumble backwards. She stares at me with the same horror as I stare at her. I like this better. I am used to reflections by now.
“I do not want to know,” I say, in a murmur. “I am done with the world beyond here – through with it all. I do not know what you came but you must go at once. At once!”
She stands, shaking, silent. And then she takes out a gun from her pocket and points it at me. Now it is my turn to be afraid. I hear the sound of gunshots, and though I know it is a memory, though I know she has not pulled the trigger, fear floods through me. I am shaking as much as her now.
“If you dare try and hurt me,” she says, sounding almost calm. “I’ll shoot you.”
A weird instinct from films I’d watched in the past before reality comes over me, and I raise my hands in the air. “Don’t hurt me,” I mutter. “Please… I would not have hurt you.”
“We’ll make a deal,” says the girl, “not to hurt one another.”
I hesitate. “That’s reasonable.”
“You won’t hurt me?”
“As long as you do not hurt me,” I say, struggling for air, struggling to calm myself. “Now please leave.”
It is her now that pauses. Like a reflection, again. Except that she, in her neat clothes, her hair cut, in her new world, with her camera around her neck – a type of camera I have never seen – she is a symbol of the outside that I hate, and so I hate her. She cannot mirror me. “I really need this cathedral for research,” she says.
“Can’t we talk about this?”
I am aware that she is still holding the gun. I do not like that. “Put the gun down,” I say. She puts it in her pocket. “On the floor,” I say. Reluctantly, the girl obeys. “Good.” I try to calm myself; it fails. “Now leave please. Do not come back.”
“But, the research–”
“Do not come back.”
“I’m doing research on the practices of medieval monks and this monastery and cathedral is one of the largest, and because of the fire we know so little about it. It’s fascinating. Please, I need this cathedral.”
I say, as firmly as I can manage, “No.”
“But, please, I–”
She stares hard at me. And then her eyes widen a little. “The year is–”
“What are you doing?!” I cry. She is clever. She is clever and I hate her. “Are you trying to kill me?” I scream. “Do you want me to kill you? Don’t think I wouldn’t. Now leave, please, please, please – leave me alone. Leave me. Please, leave me. Go away, go away – don’t come back. I mean it, I meant it – or else I’ll–”
She takes her gun from the floor and I start back, thinking she may shoot me. She does not. Instead she turns and, scowling, walks away.
I am free. I am safe. I have my cathedral still intact, my peace, my happiness – all still here.
And I cannot stop shaking.
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