It is my distinct pleasure to introduce my friend Ellen Ashe!
Thanks for visiting today!
~ A short story by Ellen Ashe~
The history of York, we were told- my friend and I- is the history of England. Preserved medieval walls and buildings, the whisper of civil war, kings and queens, plagues and torture, survival and romance, all of it oozed a saga we simply couldn’t get enough of. Narrow streets revealed cluttered shops, tea rooms, and wine bars. Cathedral crypts, dully lit, spoke of long gone civilizations- Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans- and museums, too many to count, peeled back the layers of time for all who cared to stop and wonder. A romantic’s dream come true and we reveled in exploration.
As the warm summer day grew dim we stopped by the River Ouse outside a favorite pub, The King’s Arms, rested our feet and dampened parched throats. A tall, pasty complexioned fellow caught our attention. Dressed as an undertaker, tall black hat, his cape swirling around his ankles, he waved his crooked walking stick and called forth all those who wished to hear the stories of lost souls within the city’s walls who could not find rest. “Join me,” he chanted with an air of suspenseful expectancy. “And I shall take you to places where infamy refuses to concede to reality.”
An eager crowd soon gathered. His flare for all things dark and ghostly was quite lucrative; they paid their dues and shuffled about in nervous anticipation. Despite our aching feet, we too, were seduced by his mystical mannerisms; curiosity got the better of us. The few shekels we handed over were well worth the price for nerve tingling entertainment.
We were not disappointed. We tagged along, stopping to listen intently to a sad story of a child locked inside a plague house, to die, not of the disease that wracked the population centuries ago, but of slow starvation. Her little face did not appear in the upstairs window for us, but we didn’t doubt on some foggy nights it did just that. Outside a pub called The Black Swan we held our breath as the tale of a ghostly woman was recounted, trying vainly to warm her cold hands near the fireplace and vanishing as patrons approached to peer into her eyes. Next was The Treasurer’s House, where ghostly dualists fight through eternity on the manicured lawn, swords clashing for the heart of a lady who had long since turned to dust.
Our host was mesmerizing- his deep voice rising and falling- subtle nuances as he embellished these fanciful tales for an engrossed audience. We were of no exception. “He’s good,” I whispered to my friend and she nodded slowly, her eyes wide.
“Fascinating,” said a fellow who had silently come up behind us. We turned in unison to glance at the stowaway, and being warm blooded and female, were taken aback by his sinister good looks. Locks of black hair curled over his white collar and framed swarthy Greek God features. He smiled at each of us in turn, long lashes curling above sultry brown eyes. “Do you believe?” His question was uttered in sincerity.
I found my voice first. “There’s likely a grain of truth to each story,” I said, hoping my palpitating heartbeat wasn’t betraying my attraction to masculine qualities draped in fine clothes- silky cotton shirt, dark trousers, soft leather boots- certainly a stark contrast to our tourist identifying garb of t-shirts, jeans and running shoes.
“Mind if I join you?” he asked. He bowed, slightly, and we were instantly charmed by his elegant mannerisms. “My name is Jonathan Wright.”
Mr. “Right”, I mused, speechlessness taking hold. My friend introduced herself but I was then beyond capability of forming words.
This was a blessing, in fact, for he quietly highlighted the next tale of a Grey Lady who had, our formal guide bellowed, been seen on a regular basis haunting The Theatre Royal. “She was boarded up in a wall,” Jonathan Wright said softly, leaning between our shoulders. “Left there to die, inch by inch, for the crime of passion.” I shuddered at this horror, keeping my own stirring passions muted, thankful that dreadful era no longer held power over liberated minds.
We three tagged along behind the troupe to the final stop, The King’s Manor, and I felt uneasy that perhaps our guest might be scorned for hanging on, but no one seemed to notice. We had become delightfully anonymous. And inside the echoing stone foyer we listened politely to the story of a lady in green, her costume denoting the Tudor style, who carried roses from a garden that existed hundreds of years ago.
The Ghost Walk was then concluded; the crowd dispersed, happily arguing over the authenticity of these tales of intrigue. But we three remained in the cold open foyer, as our guest peered longingly at the stairway that led up into a vast room shrouded in darkness. There was more to the story of the lady in green, we guessed, and waited with eager apprehension.
“She loved only one,” he said calmly, his eyes fixated on the gloom above us. “Yet duty saw her bound to another.” He sighed with such emotion that we clutched each other’s arms- my friend and I- wondering how it was he was privy to such depth.
“Murder,” he announced with such vigor we startled. “Both were murdered by the cruel heart of jealousy.”
He turned once more and smiled to us. “I must bid you both adieu,” he said with a nod. “May life and love fulfill all your dreams. Always believe.”
With that, he moved towards the wide staircase and before our eyes, slowly vanished. Ascending footsteps faded into nothingness.
We were left alone, to wonder how it was that lost love could stretch beyond the borders of time, and how we could never again concede to what we perceived as reality. And as we backed away from the cold stone foyer into the busy street outside, the delicate scent of roses filled the air.