This is for the November 12th writing prompt shared by Writing Adventures
Writing more “modern” tales is something I’m not used to, and yet it was the first thing that popped into my head when I read the prompt. So here goes…
It had always been a dream of mine to one day visit one of those old castles in the heart of Ireland. Perhaps, if I were to walk those stones, touch those walls, I could somehow feel some sense of connection to an ethnic past I was trying so hard to make a reality. Surely, I told myself, if I could just see an image or idea of the past, I could be a part of that world in some small way.
I stayed in Dublin my first few nights on the island. The lights and sounds of the city bustled around me as I searched its winding streets for some sign of the past. I could tell that Dublin itself was like a caricature taken from the past as I walked by antique storefronts and saw the many plaques and signs that explained just how connected this whole place was to its past. But it was not the kind of past I was searching for.
My wanderings eventually lead me to Shankill, one of the big city’s many suburbs. And it was there I found it: Puck’s Castle. Nothing special, nothing flashy, but made of the stuff I believed I had come to find. If you ask about the castle, most will say it’s nothing more than an overstuffed mansion that once housed a runaway noble or two. But the way the crumbling stone façade seemed to make room for the vines that crept up its face called to me, and so I knew where my next steps would take me.
The entrance to the old castle was nothing more than a gap in the stones that, perhaps, had once held a door. Indeed, there were a number of yawning gaps in the stonework that let in the elements which scattered about the building. As I neared the entrance, a chill breeze blew its way past me and into the castle; distantly, I heard the echo of its passing as it whistled against the loose stones of the building before me. If I concentrated enough, I thought I just might hear words.
Dreaming about this moment and experiencing it are different, of course, and as I set foot inside the old castle, I found myself struck by a sudden sense of trepidation—merely about the structure itself, I assured myself; after all, this old building looked like it might collapse at any moment! It would be a shameful end to my journey to be buried so ignominiously beneath a pile of old rubble. That was all. So I shook off the feeling, stepped inside, and took a deep, steadying breath.
Almost immediately, the musty scent of age filled my senses. Even exposed to the elements and wind as it was, there was a smell to the castle that was so distinctly its own and it assaulted me fully. A few more breaths and I began to adjust to the sudden change enough that I could take a proper look around.
There wasn’t much to the place, as the locals had said. Just a small room with a small staircase leading up into what I could only assume was an equally small room. But all the same, I felt as if I was surrounded by the past and that sent a shiver of excitement down my spine. Reaching out, I touched the wall nearest to me: the old stone was smooth beneath my fingers, though certainly rough in areas; in others, it was covered with a thick layer of soft moss that felt spongy and buoyant beneath my ministrations.
And that was all. Nothing more. Just an old building in a less old city near the eastern coast of the island. I tried to stave it off, but it was difficult to hide my disappointment. After all, what had I expected? Some kind of…spark? Magic? Pah. Foolish nonsense dreamed up by a supremely foolish mind. There were no ancestors waiting for me here to welcome me into the fold. I was naught but a silly child playing at understanding the past.
I sighed. Foolish or not, I could not stop the ache that spread across my breast. Despondent, I turned to leave.
Only then…I wasn’t alone. Not in the slightest.
She stood there, pale and attentive, tucked into the corner of the room, watching me. Or at least, I assumed she was watching me, as the places where her eyes should have been were nothing but dark emptiness. Indeed, the paleness I had first noticed was in fact the sheerness of her not-flesh which, the more I looked, I realized was translucent. Belatedly, I understood that I should probably scream.
The voice was thin as tissue paper, wafting through the air like a stuttered puff of wind. The chill that now ran down my arms and up my legs had nothing to do with the breeze.
Some semi-rational voice in my mind was panicking, berating me for just standing there like a mute idiot. Run, scream, do something! it demanded. But whether by fear or something else I could not name at the time, I did none of those things. Just stood, and stared.
Lllllooooosssstttt… The voice wafted by me again; as it did, I could almost swear I felt it leave a cold caress upon my cheek. The dark hollows where eyes should have been were definitely watching me then, I knew it. They regarded me inscrutably; I was trapped by their gaze and barely noticed the young woman’s hand lift toward me. Like the rest of her impossibly pale body, hand and arm were translucent, yet I could still see some of the details of her skin: lines and old scars, perhaps. Signs of a former humanity.
The arm lifted in my direction and then fell as the young woman began to turn away. She drifted toward the wide-open entrance of the castle and disappeared into the waning sunlight. The moment she was gone, my body—which I had not realized was so tense—relaxed so suddenly that I nearly fell. Every muscle began trembling beyond my control and it was all I could do to force my legs to move toward the exit.
When I reached the large open gap in the ancient stones, I peered my head around the corner. She was difficult to see in the sunlight, but I caught a glimpse of her hands moving down near the base of the castle wall. Slender, translucent fingers ran over a small bed of flowers that grew next to the castle. They were a peculiar sort of plant with bright violet petals that seemed as if they had been ever so slightly dipped in white. I was no botanist, but I still found their appearance strange and could not place the species.
One of the sheer hands beckoned to me and I felt myself compelled to obey. Step by trembling step, I approached the flower bed and the young woman who I could now more clearly see kneeling over it. Those dark hollows watched me carefully as I neared and though there were no eyes, no pupils, I could feel them boring into me like brands.
Prrrrretttyyyy…. She whispered, running her hands over the flowers once more.
“Yes,” I replied, my voice gone hoarse, dry. “They’re beautiful.”
This seemed to please her, and the intensity of her gaze lessened.
“We are not lost,” I whispered back. “The city is just over the hill. Right there.” I reached a trembling hand to point toward where I had left Shankill what seemed years before at this point.
The young woman turned her head in that direction and seemed to sigh.
Another sigh, and she was gone. Swept away, I could only assume, on the evening breeze. I sat there a long while after she had departed, starting down at the flowers. As the sun continued to disappear below the horizon, I watched them begin to close their petals as if shuttering their eyes to the night. When the petals were firmly pressed shut and the stars had begun to twinkle high above, I finally turned back to where I had pointed. And it was in that moment that I realized just how much I did, in fact, miss home.
Just how much home meant to me; so much more than a dream.