by Katie Lumsden
I’m angry, of course. What right, what right–? I mean, he’s got every right, of course, I suppose, because it’s his land. But I’m still angry. I need the cathedral. I’ve travelled out here and to go back now would be admitting defeat far too easily. I won’t do it. I’ll carry out my research anyway, regardless. I’ll spend a few days in the grounds around the cathedral, and around the monastery not going into the actual building itself, and hopefully I’ll avoid that strange Lord, the hermit, the half-human half-beast who camps out in the cathedral like some Robinson Crusoe on his island. He’s very strange.
Eventually I’ll go back up to the cathedral again; that’s the most important part of the research. I’d even like to go down to the crypt, to prove to Alice that this sight really is worth an archaeological dig – although I suppose that would frighten its resident ghost even more. When I do reach his strange home again I’ll take my gun, just in case. I can protect myself.
Jack would tell me that this is stupid. I usually send him a postcard from my research. Not this time. I figure it’s probably over anyway.
Or perhaps not, of course, because the thing about me and Jack is that it’s never over.
I lie on my bed in my rented room and look over my notes from today. Hugh Blackmore is almost as worth studying as the cathedral itself.
When I got back today the bed and breakfast lady asked me, “How did you find the cathedral?” I said it was fine. I don’t think I’ll tell her, nor anybody, about Lord Hugh. I’ll keep him my secret, my ghostly secret.
Walking up to the site of the old monastery, I keep turning around. No one’s watching me. That’s a comfort. My friend the ghost is nowhere to be seen. I study the ground and work out where the monastery would have stood, where the rooms would have been, what size. I begin to sketch a map. You can tell where things were from the some of the bricks left in the ground, and from the size and shape and capacity of other monasteries at the time. I dig a little. I collect stones that once belonged to walls. You can tell from the way the stone is cut what century it is from.
I work all day, without interruption, without fear, and when I reach the village again I almost fall into bed.
I am safe. I am safe. She has not come again. I can live, scared as I am. A week of safety since the girl, the awful girl of the outside was here, with her gun, her camera, her technology, and her knowledge of years and dates and time.
I never used to count time.
It cannot be denied that I am afraid. I shake at night for fear that people will come, that she will have told the world, or that she will come back and try to document the cathedral that is mine, all mine. She has ruined everything. When I go to the river in the evening and look at my reflection I can see tears. Every day, every evening. I am not even aware of them slipping down my cheeks, but they are, they are.
It is okay. Hugh, do not panic, do not panic.
I never used to use my name to myself. She reminded me. That is bad.
My brother used to say, when I was scared as a child, “Don’t panic, Hugh; everything will be alright” and it always made it better. But such words are no comfort now, not in his voice.
“Stop haunting me!” I cry one day, out to the air. There is no answer. The ravens scatter.
Two weeks with nothing unusual except that I have counted them. I will be safe. She will not come back. There is no need to worry.
I harvest my crops. I catch fish. I swim in the river at night. I explore the woods at the back of my cathedral. I eat, I sleep, I live. Everything will return to how it has always been. I will forget this girl, this historian. I will be happy again, happy and free, beautiful and empty, timeless like my cathedral.
I’ve put my map of the monastery up on my bedroom wall here. I wonder if the bed and breakfast lady will mind. I’ve been here for two weeks now and I still can’t remember her name. I’m glad she gave me the gun, but aside from that she’s irritating. She keeps on asking me if there are any ghosts up there, and I laugh. There is, I want to say. There is, in a way. But I say nothing. If I ever want to look at the cathedral I’d better not give away the hermit ghost that lives there.
The maps are good. It’s a satisfying start to the research. I can’t wait to write the paper when I get home. Home. Home sounds like Jack. I wonder if he’ll have left yet, or whether he’s planning to propose. I haven’t got a letter, so it’s probably the first.
Or it’ll be neither, and he’ll have waited, annoyed, for me to write first. I won’t. I won’t.
I walk up to the cathedral site. I still haven’t dared to go into the actual building for fear of meeting that strange Lord again. My research needs to move soon, though. The monastery isn’t enough and I need to find out more about the cathedral to get a real sense of what it was like here, of how the monks lived, and of their beliefs. You often get a mix of Christian and pagan symbols and spirituality in a catholic monastery. There’s a lot to find out.
This place is odd. Every evening, night and morning I feel as I always do, but during the day, when I’m here, I feel strangely afraid, and yet strangely free. Beautiful places like this can have a weird effect on you. It’s like the mere sight of the cathedral makes me happy.
I eat my lunch in the space where the monks used to sit on benches and eat their dinner. I’m happy, and I feel sort of brave. I don’t know why. Today I might walk up to the cathedral and brave his Lordship the ghost. I’ve got my gun in my trouser pocket.
The bridge is beautiful, and the view from it is stunning. You can see for miles. You can see the willows tipping their leaves into the water and you can see the reflection of the sun in the river and the water is so clear here you can just about see the fish. I stop half way across to look, and smile to myself. No wonder monks lived here in peace. No wonder they believed in God living here.
I cross the bridge and climb the old steps up to the cathedral. I stare at the sky, bright blue, as though this place is immune to bad weather; as though God really does look down and smile on this sight, and I am smiling up too when a stone loosens beneath my feet.
I trip, I fall. I feel hard ground crash into my ribs and then I hear a loud crashing noise that makes my ears ring. My foot is in agony. The world spins so fast that it disappears.
New chapter up Monday and Thursday!
Photograph: Katie Lumsden