I wrote this story specifically for the Newcastle book Festival short story competition, it was a themed competition which had to be set in Newcastle upon Tyne, with the theme being metaphor.
This was actually the first short story competition I'd ever entered so the fact that I won was pretty cool.
In terms of the inspiration for the story, I ventured into Newcastle Keep and it was while wandering through the narrow corridors and the steep stairwells that the story came to me, namely in the form of an eerie whistle from the wind.
Prior to that visit, I'd been struggling to come up with anything decent, which was a great lesson for me, the best stories are found by experiencing life not by sitting around trying to come up with great stories.
The prize was the story being read out during the writer's evening which was the final event of the Newcastle book Festival 2011, along with getting to meet poet laureate Dame Carol Ann Duffy.
A Chill Ripples through Newcastle Keep
Walking across the High Level Bridge, peering at its lattice metal passage –- its faded gold girders glowing with an orange tint as the night lamps shone upon them -- Martha could not help but feel that she was walking along a never ending train tunnel.
“So how many people are gonna’ be with us?” she asked.
“I think it’s just us,” said Constable Henry.
Martha’s eyes stretched wide. “Are you serious, we’ve got to check out a haunted castle by ourselves...”
Henry grinned. “What, you’re not afraid are you?”
Martha raised her eyebrows at him as they stepped off the bridge, the Newcastle Keep finally coming into view; the five window high fort glimmering with a golden tinge as spotlights shone upon its old limestone walls.
“Come on,” said Henry.
Stepping down onto the old cobbled road, its surface now so uneven she may as well have been walking across a pebble beach, she gulped, biting her lips.
Stopping before the fort, peering up the stairwell entrance –- at least twenty steps long she thought –- the cold bitter breeze of the night brushed against her face, its whistle rippling through her ears as if it were trying to play a tune for her.
“Come on,” said Henry.
Shaking it off, Martha followed him up the worn stairwell -- so worn in places they may have well have been walking up a hill –- stopping before its old wooden doorway.
Martha and Henry began peering at it, seeing its lock had been prised open. “Shall I call it in?” said Martha.
“Nah, not yet, we better check it out first, it’s probably just kids.”
Martha nodded, following Henry through the door, walking up the remaining twenty or so steps to its main entrance. Checking it, seeing the five metre high wooden door’s lock prised, they pushed it open and switched their torches on.
Peering around the high rise dark Great Hall, Henry looked at Martha. “We better had a look around.”
Martha nodded, but just as she was about to speak, a massive thud echoed throughout the room. “What the...” she cried in shock, swivelling around to the direction of the noise.
“It’s alright,” smiled Henry, “it’s just the door.”
Panting, seeing the heavy door closed tight, Martha laughed, shaking her head at herself. “God... come on, let’s get this over with, this place creeps me out...”
Henry laughed. “You’re such a wimp.” Martha grinned, but just as she was about to speak, Henry stopped her. “Shhh,” he said, “did you hear that?”
Martha looked at him puzzled. “Hear...”
“Shhh,” he said, again cutting her off, “listen.”
Martha focused in, but she could hear nothing but the whistling of the wind. Just as she was about to speak, she heard a faint rustling noise.
“There it is again,” whispered Henry.
Martha nodded, it was coming from above. Peering up, she saw a figure on the balcony. “Up there,” she said.
Henry looked up. “What is it?”
But it was too late, it was gone. “There was someone up there.”
“Are you sure?”
“Ok, you take the front stairwell, I’ll take the back.”
Hurriedly Martha made her way to the winding stairwell, the smell of dust from the stone walls immediately filling her lungs, making her feel as if she were in a quarry. Holding the banister, she carefully made her way up the stairwell, stepping out onto the balcony. Flashing her torch around though, it was clear no one was there.
Taking her radio, she pressed the receiver button, when she felt a strange cold sensation tickle her shoulder -- it felt like nothing she could describe, so firm a touch, yet so gentle, as if it were air. Startled she jumped, but there was no one there. “Henry,” she said, “Henry, that’s not funny, where are you?”
A light glinted her eye, turning she saw Henry standing on the balcony across from her. “Anything?” he said.
Her eyes opened wide, she shook her head. “Nothing.”
“Come on,” he said, “they must be on the roof.”
Martha nodded, pausing for a moment, forcefully telling herself to get it together before heading up the stairwell.
Stepping out onto the roof, a sudden gust of wind flew by her -- feeling as if she were standing at the side of a road, and a car had just passed her at speed.
“Henry?” she said. There was a sudden pained bellow from the stairwell. It sounded like Henry. Instantly she ran down. “Henry,” she screamed. She could hear footsteps echoing throughout the stairwell. “Henry?” she said. A bitter breeze rippled up the stairwell, sending a chill right down her spine.
Mass fear filled her, the footsteps were getting nearer. Suddenly she felt a touch against her. She screamed in panic, running through the nearest passage, across the lower balcony. But the stairwell at the other side led to a dead end, she was trapped... Her torch light began to flicker. “No... no...” she pleaded, but it went out...
Chewing her lips, mass panic filling her, she crunched herself up, trying to hide. But the footsteps drew nearer by the second.
“Martha,” called Henry.
“Henry,” she cried, running out to him. “Come on, let’s get the hell out of here.”
“Why, what’s wrong?”
Martha did not respond, she just ran down the stairs and out the door.
Following her out, Henry grinned widely. “You’re such a wimp, you know that.”
Martha was about to respond, when out the corner of her eye, she saw what appeared a child in the top floor window of the keep, waving at her.
“Did you see that?”
“There was a little girl in the window...”
“Oh her,” said Henry, “don’t worry, that’ll just be the ghost of the Keep.”