by Katie Lumsden
I found the girl again. I think she might be dead. She lies half way down the steps up to my cathedral. My cathedral. She was coming back. I am angry. I ought to let her die. She should never have come back to this place that is mine, mine, mine. She has come to disturb my perfect silence and now this, this inconvenience, this annoyance.
I look down at her. She is so weak. There is blood seeping through one of her walking boots, and her trousers are ripped. I think she is breathing. Not for long. She will probably die if I leave her. I don’t mind that. In general I have no care for human kind and I have no particular care for her. Besides, she has disobeyed me.
The problem, then, is this. Say she dies. Someone must know she is here, and someone will notice that she is gone. And then they will come here, and they will find me. More intruders, more outsiders, more terror, more fear. They will tell me the date, and they will ruin all this beauty I own and love.
I lift her up. I have no choice.
My eyes are open. They weren’t open before. And yet I can’t see, not really, because if I could I’d see blue sky or green brown muddy grass – I can’t remember which way I fell – but I don’t. I see a sort of yellow orangey fabric above me and I don’t know what it is. My head hurts. My ribs hurt. My foot hurts. Yes, that’s the worst. I’ve found where the agony’s coming from. Agony. Only, dull agony, distant agony. What’s going on? Jack said I wouldn’t be able to handle going somewhere like this on my own, deserted as it is. I remember him saying, “This is the last time, Izzy,” in that loud awful way he has when he’s angry, and maybe it is the last time because maybe I’m dead.
I feel water splash on top of me, and I start. I must be in the river. How, how – no, I see now: someone has tipped water over me. So I’m alive still, I suppose. Am I? I’m aware, suddenly, oddly, that my agonising foot is bare. Sort of, at least. I’m not wearing shoes, nor socks, because I can feel material beneath my feet but not above them, as though I’m lying on a blanket, on a bed–
Another splash of water. I reach up to wipe my eyes and when my vision clears I get a fright. There’s my ghost, Lord Hugh Blackmore, messy beard and hair, worn clothes, standing over me, staring.
I try to ask, “What happened?” but apparently I can’t speak, and my voice fades. He sees me open my mouth and gives an odd sort of smile. I wonder whether he is smiling at the fact I’m trying to speak, or the fact I can’t.
His image fades out of view. Maybe I was only dreaming him anyway.
The world seems strange today. I can’t move. There seems no point, anyway, in moving. So I’ll just lie here, waiting, waiting to die, or… or for the ghost to return.
He does, and that surprises me. All day he sinks in and out of my vision and when I try to speak there is no point. One time, when I am almost slipping back into sleep, I feel a touch on my foot, a change in material, a rush of air, a stab of pain, and rough hands. Then sleep seems to fade away my vision.
The next time the orange-yellow canvas appears above my eyes my mind is less clouded. I manage to try and work out where I am and, failing, try to turn my head. I’m lying, not on the floor, but on some sort of slight raised platform, and there’s blankets beneath me. I think I’m in a tent. A high large orange-yellow canvas tent. A tent that’s empty now but is sometimes haunted by the cathedral ghost – and where’s Lord Hugh Blackmore now? This must be his tent. It must. It must. The thought staggers me. I’m confused. I don’t trust this man. He bewilders me. I shouldn’t be here.
I try to scramble to my feet, to get off this odd bed and escape. The moment my foot touches the floor I scream.
I stagger back down to the makeshift bed, and before I have time to breathe the flap of the tent is thrown open and Hugh Blackmore stands in front of me, wide eyed, looking terrified.
“What are you doing?” he asks, in a hushed urgent tone. “What are you doing? Why are you moving? You should not move. You are in a dangerous way – really, you are, you–” He moves towards me, and then hesitates, and stares, and bites his lip.
“What happened?” I ask, and this time the words do escape my mouth. My left foot is in agony, absolute agony.
“I found you,” he says, in a stammer. “You had hurt yourself.”
“I can see that,” I mutter.
“You… you shot yourself in the foot.”
I start and stare up at him. “What?”
“You shot yourself in the foot.”
I remember now, vaguely, that long sound that accompanied my fall, a sound like a gunshot. My pistol in my pocket must have been triggered in my fall. I wince, and look down at my foot. It’s bandaged. It’s bandaged well.
“Did you do that?” I ask.
He stares at me. “You shot yourself in the foot,” he says again.
“Yes but did you bind it?”
“Oh… yes, I did.”
I look up at him, and I frown. It’s odd. It’s very odd. “Why?”
His ghostly Lordship gives a sort of laugh, but it’s a strange sound, like he’s forgotten how to laugh. Perhaps he has. He says, after a while, “Aren’t I allowed to be helpful?”
This irritates me. I say, “You weren’t helpful before.”
He looks at me, and says nothing. There’s a long pause. I feel exhausted. Still my foot’s in agony, and the pain seems to make my ears ring and my head pound.
“You should lie down, ghost girl.”
I’m not surprised he’s forgotten my name, but it almost makes me smile that he’s made me a ghost to him as he is a ghost to me.
Somehow I nod. Somehow I’m lying down on the bed thing again. He folds a blanket and puts in beneath my foot, and I watch him, confused.
“You have to raise it,” he says. “You are lucky you are not bleeding anymore.”
I don’t feel lucky. I feel irritated. I feel tried. When I blink I’m in danger of not opening my eyes again. Sleep. Sleep.
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Photograph: Katie Lumsden