The old castle hallway was cool and dank, such a difference from the heat of the day outside. Ruth Bradford was enjoying the coolness. It swept up the long skirts of her embroidered tunic covered garb as she walked, cooling her after talking in the sun at the castle entrance a few moments earlier. This little tingle of a chill was refreshing at the moment. Of course in a few short months it would be the cold she would be shying from, but that didn’t stop her from enjoying it now.
How many times Ruth had walked down these halls, stepped into these rooms, and still a shiver went up her spine that had nothing to do with the cool in the hallway. It happened every time without fail, no matter the warmth. Would today be the day she would see the ghosts again?
Ruth would tell the tour, “I’m told I look an awful lot like one of the Grand Dames that used to rule here.” as she showed the tour goers the painting. They always agreed.
That was why she had gotten the job. She didn’t have any experience in conducting historical tours then. But for the last five years she had been studying and perfecting her adaptation and taking over the main tours of the castle as the Lady herself.
That was also when the hauntings started in earnest. Grand Balls in the great hall with the music filling that wing of the building. Everything would disappear once anyone came through the doorway. But you could stand in the hallway and watch the festivities for almost a half an hour if you liked. Once the tour had seen the Lord of the castle himself, sitting on the dais holding court. He had been sentencing someone they couldn’t see to beheading at dawn, who it was they never found out, but then the ghost seemed to notice Ruth standing there and everything just disappeared.
There were also cold spots in the rooms on the days when the fires were merrily heating the rest of the space and oddest of all, was the locking and unlocking of the doors, along with items being moved from room to room of seemingly their own accord. But as nothing bad had ever happened, all the tour guides just made the best of it.
In those first days Ruth was often left feeling ill after one of those strange occurrences. She’d have headaches and couldn’t remember things well. She would find herself on the tour talking about things she had no knowledge of and saying it with an air of one that had been there herself.
The people on the tours liked it, but Ruth knew that she was supposed to stick to the facts that they could verify from the historical records, letters and papers in the archives. That had been a while ago, now she just kept the tour going as if nothing unusual was going on.
Ruth didn’t like the strange things going on. But jobs were not easy to come by in their rural community around the castle. It was down to being a tour guide or a maid in one of the Bed and Breakfasts in town. She liked being a tour guide better and the money was steady. Because Ruth did the tour every day whether the groups she guided were large or small. Maids were laid off in the slow season.
The letter Ruth had been waiting for came in the morning mail:
Dear Miss Bradford,
We at the Historical Tour Guide Association would like to congratulate you on winning this year’s scholarship for a year’s tuition to the college or university of your choice as a freshman history major. Etc.
Ruth had been saving her earnings for all these years so she could afford to go away to University and now to have the first year fully paid for was like a dream come true. She could start this very next semester now. A whole year earlier than she ever thought she would be able to. She couldn’t wait to tell everyone at work and thank Mr. Donewell for the recommendation. She also couldn’t wait to spread her wings.
After Ruth left for school Cathleen took over in the ‘Lady of the Castle’ tours and the spooks grew quieter once again. Cathleen did an excellent job, but it just wasn’t the same. Cathy was a perky blond and Ruth was a brooding brunet with more dignity in her walk then Cathy’s bouncy gate.
Ruth worked day and night to finish school in three years instead of four. The whole town was so proud of her that there was a party planned for her arrival home. It was in the grand hall of castle itself.
Everyone was in costume of the middle ages. The feast on the banquette table made it almost groan from the weight of it. It looked like they all had gone back in time together. And it just so happened to be on the eve of the day that the lady that Ruth looked like had died.
The local coral group sang madrigals and a jester roamed the hall making silly faces at people and telling jokes until they laughed. Mr. Wilson played on his mandolin in turns with the singers so everyone had a chance to eat. And the food was eaten with the hands, with ale and wine in tankards and goblets. It was high fun.
Dancing started after the feast. A band of players was hired for the night and they kept up the lively music of the times. The pipers and drummers helped the people attending out of their seats and onto the dance floor. At one point a jig contest was started to the delight of the crowd. The town’s folk started talking in ‘Olde English’ making it feel all the more real.
Ruth was crowned as ‘Lady of the Manor’ and carried on the shoulders of a few of the young men in the room. Everyone cheered. The fun was still going on until way past midnight. Some people walked their weary body’s home, but most stayed on.
As the party was wearing itself down a man dressed like the grand Lord of the Manor jumped up and accused Ruth of being unfaithful with one of the young men at the party. Others join in thinking it was more of the fun in the night and that they could be part of the game.
They took off Ruth’s crown, garland, and party robes, tied her hands behind her and stood her before the Lord of the castle. He pronounced sentence of “…death in the tower at dawn.” They marched Ruth off to the tower room singing and cheering finding themselves in the play. After they threw her into the empty room and shut the door they laughed and jeered through the door for a few minutes. Then with the fun at an end they tried to open the door to let her out.
The group thought that Ruth was now playing a game on them and had locked it from inside, but she called from the other side, “My hands are still tied and there is no lock on my side of the cell door.”
“Wait while we call a locksmith.” Someone said as another was already on his cell phone.
Some of the people stayed to talk with her through the door as they waited for the situation to be resolved. The rest went down the stairs to make room for the locksmith to work when he arrived.
False dawn was lighting the road as the locksmith drove to the castle. He collected his tools and climbed the many stairs to the top of the tower. Huffing and puffing he sat on his tool box until he had caught his breath. “These old locks can be tricky sometimes.” He said. He tinkered about and oiled the hinges. He picked away at the lock for a few more minutes before saying, “I have to get a few more tools for this job. I don’t want to break anything old here.”
Ruth had been quiet on her side of the door while the man worked. But all of a sudden they all heard her scream. She didn’t answer them any longer when they called out to her and the crowed grew nervous. They egged on the locksmith to no avail. Soon he left to get the other tools from his shop, but before he got back the door flew open on its own.
The scene they saw was a gruesome one. Ruth body lay hands still tied behind her in the middle of the floor. But her head was not with it. That was across the room under the small window staring up at them with a look of horror.
The man in the Lords clothing was never found. But everyone there that night thought they knew who he was. It was the Lord of the castle seeking revenge once again from the Lady who looked so much like Ruth Bradford.