Seem to be on a roll now. This one is 100% true and happened to me whilst working at a castle in Aberdeenshire. As always, any comments or suggestions would be very, very welcome.
There are only six days left. Six days until the end of the summer vacation, until the tourist feet sit trapped in the footwell of a car, walking between clutch and brake in rush hour traffic. Six days until I say goodbye to this job, this place – the architect of my childhood games. Autumn is approaching and the day cools, evening advancing on the edge of the rose summer sun. I look across the path to where the castle stands, luminous ruins in the fading light. This place breeds fairytales and belongs in clouds – spires of pink stone rising from luscious earth into the waiting porcelain sky.
M- is with me, having walked the three mile-long dirt road from my parents’ house to the castle. It is a familiar path to both of us and is the place our games of chivalrous knights grew into stories, then novels and finally hopes of a career.
J- is there too, and we lie to one another with touches. We know this is not love, that it is some strange, teenage state between friendship and nothing but we pretend anyway. It will end soon and our awkward adolescent romance will be forgotten in favour of honest conversations and genuine camaraderie.
The three of us fall into a guilty hush as the last visitor leaves. I take the six-hundred year-old key from its hook and together, M- and I leave the ticket office for the back-lacquered castle door. The setting is intoxicating, the characters from our long-outgrown imaginings infringing on the present. We look at one another, sharing a wicked grin as we enter the building. We make sure there is no one else there, and try to lock the door form the inside.
The mechanism is easy, despite the fact the key is the length of my forearm. The old iron workings of the lock are a beautiful testament to the craftsman’s skill. We are elated, the first people in at least a century to work the key from within the courtyard. We imagine the preparation of a great banquet in the kitchen ahead of us, the lighting of fires in the many bedrooms to our right. We see guards, passing a tankard of ale between them as they watch two maids at the well.
Outside, J- calls and the spectres retreat. We push the key into the lock and turn it, but too far. The blade breaks and falls into the dark chasm of keyhole.
Our ghosts return but their nature has changed. Our imagination paints a siege, and we are gripped by an urgency to escape. In the lower rooms the windows are narrow to guard against entry and those in the kitchen – slightly wider to grant the staff more working light – have been barred to stop visitors who do not want to pay the proper toll. On this level at least, we are trapped.
We sprint up the main staircase, into the great hall. The ground below is rough and uneven, and we can not see any foot holes in the wall. Our plight becoming ever more urgent, we flee across the gallery to the round turrets at the castle face. J- stares up at us and, forlorn, we explain our predicament. Keeping to the outer wall, we lead him around the castle and he tries to find an escape route. Then I realise. Beside the ticket office is a workman’s shed and therein lies our salvation.
I halt our procession and fumble in my jacket for the keys, tossing them down to J- – a cold metal parody of a damsel’s handkerchief. As he leaves, M- and I grow frantic, trying to find the flattest patch of ground below a window. We run from room to room until we return to the gallery. The window farthest from the main staircase has crumbled slightly around the edges, granting us more room to turn before our decent. Resolutely, we stand our ground here and wait.
When J- returns, he carries a ladder, tucked beneath the crook of his arm. He pushes it into position below the window and I am suddenly overcome with nausea. The theory is sound, but the act of swinging myself onto this metal contraption from high above the ground makes my knees weak.
Around me, the ghosts of my childhood games fade and I hear the phone ringing in the ticket office. I should have registered the site as closed by now. There will be problems if I don’t do so quickly. I pull myself together and try to remember that this is not fiction, that nothing dramatic will happen if I simply climb down the ladder. I step towards the window and push all thoughts from my head, gripping the shimmering pink granite ledge. I descend, and throw my arms around J- in the first genuine embrace we’ve shared. He is my hero, and in this moment our future friendship is cemented.
M- follows me soon after and we laugh with relief at the feel of the solid floor. Slowly, we make our way back to the office, trembling slightly. J- returns the ladder to the bothy and I make my phone call, explaining how the key broke as we closed up for the night. From the proper side of the door. After I’m finished, we set off on the long road home, writing a new story – an alibi – as we go.