A READING EXPERIENCE
By Ben Kesp
Copyright © 2018 Ben Kesp
All rights reserved. No part of this serial may be reproduced in any form without the permission in writing from the author.
Pushing the heavy door inwards, the familiar creaking reaches my ears. The waft of freshly baked scones greets me drawing me inwards as I close the door behind me. Jenny has been busy in the kitchen, the delights, I will savour later. But something is different this morning. There is a sense of knowing the scene before my eyes, yet it feels oddly strange. This old castle has been my home for as long as I can remember. What had my father been thinking when he decided to buy this old tower castle on the west coast of Ireland? My father was a romantic and his dream became the torment that eventually destroyed him.
My eyes are taken to the spiralling staircase. The image of the top floor flooding my memory and that wooden hallway running towards the distinctive oak arched door that has always been shut since the first day I ever entered this fortress of a home. I am of German descent, having moved here when I was seven. My mother died when I was sixteen, one could say from a mysterious illness while others might say it was of loneliness and isolation that rotted her soul, destroying her from the inside out. Whatever it was, it made no difference, my mother was taken from me. Three years ago, a month following my twenty-sixth birthday, my father passed on and I left with this stone tower castle f memories. I think I became its keeper.
Moving inwards, I step into the large reception hall that opens onto the castle dining area with the kitchen off to the left. The door is ajar and the corner of the tray of fresh scones catches my sight. I can almost taste them already with melting Kerrygold butter and rhubarb jam. Casting my eyes around me, I am almost expecting something to look out of place, but everything is the same, the furniture, the pictures, ornaments - it is as it should be.
The familiar sound of that light footstep from upstairs reaches my ear. Jenny is busy in her study, designing a new range of summer dresses which she sells in her local boutique. A smile reaches my lips on thinking of her. I am feeling nostalgia this morning but the thoughts overpower me. Jenny McCarthy was the first person I met on joining the local primary school. When everyone else would laugh and mock my strange accent, Jenny just smiled and said you will soon not be a stranger here. It was like I had fallen in love with her from that moment. I was always by her side like her knight but she never needed any protection.
The scene of my thirteenth birthday fills my vision. My mother had wanted to organize a big party for me but I did not care. I was socially shy and not much has changed. You see my mother had arranged a portable swimming pool as the weather had been exceptional but to me, the weather always seemed sunnier when I was younger. It was on seeing Jenny in her bathing suit that my eyes focused on her differently. My mother caught me staring and I ended up going bright red and mocked for the rest of the party that I had a girlfriend. Even now the redness blushes my cheeks on reflecting on that moment. Jenny did not seem to mind, only smile her usual gentle smile as if to say to me, I wouldn’t mind. My mother may have embarrassed me that day but I returned the moment when she caught me two years later stark naked with Josh Galvin who was a year ahead of me in school. What can I say, I was a curious teen. But as the years rolled on Jenny made me the happiest man by becoming my wife.
For now, this old stone building is my home. I long to see Jenny but I can’t get the feeling out of my head something is missing. Glancing around once more, everything is where it should be. Dropping my bag onto the kitchen table I quickly move upstairs stopping by the doorway of her study. Her focus is on her work. Her strawberry blond short hair is sticking up at the back after having slept on it. She pulls her attention to me and our eyes meet. Her face lights with her gentle smile. Stepping towards her I place a kiss on her coffee tasting lips. No words are spoken and I move towards the window placing my gaze onto the garden below, a legacy from my father’s hard work. I tend to the lawns and shrubs and Jenny cares for the small vegetable patch.
A shape to my left brings my attention to a woman who is standing in the centre of the lawn to the side of the castle. She surprises me with her sudden appearance. She had not been there before. Her eyes fix on me. She does not move. Leaving Jenny I descend to the ground floor and exit the castle moving to the lawn where I had seen the lady. There is no sign of her. I know I am not going crazy, I really did see her. I could see her plainly. I know what she was wearing, the shape of her shoulder length brown hair and those eyes, oval in shape with a strange focus directed on me. Now I stand alone in the centre of the lawn with no one in sight.
Only an hour after first sighting the strange woman standing in the centre of the castle lawn staring at me, I have spotted her twice since. I was in the kitchen and she stood outside its window staring in at me. I called to her and ran out to confront her but she was gone. On the third occasion, I was moving through the reception area of the ground floor of the castle when I caught her outside its main window. This time I stood, not allowing myself to react. I focused on her gaze. Her oval eyes, hazel in colour that seemed to pierce into my being. Her shoulder length brown hair was motionless as if glued to the head. Her mouth, its lips, quivered. Squeezing my eyes to concentrate further, the narrow top lip moved. Had she been trying to talk to me? I slowly gravitated towards the window and she moved from my sight.
I am on edge. I feel it in my body, the symptoms are recognisable. I need to tell Jenny, but what can I say? A strange woman is randomly appearing to me! What if it’s a ghost, or a spirit trying to contact me? I sit, slowly sinking deeper into my armchair nestled next to the arched stone chimney breast of the castle reception. A memory I have not recalled for a long time suddenly resurfaces, sending a chill up my spine, causing the arm hair to stand on end. During the first year of my arrival at the castle, each night, I would wake with the immense feeling of someone standing over my bed, watching me. Of course, I could see no one nor was there anyone there, but it became more real when my bed would sink on one side as if someone had sat on its edge. It was always the left hand side. Closing my eyes, I would count and every time I reached 180 seconds, the bed would lift again, as if the person would stand up. The memories now flood forward, sending a sickening pang to the bottom of my stomach. The footsteps came next, light steps, ascending the stone spiralling staircase and onto the wooden floor boards outside my door. Then within a year of my arrival to the very day, all stopped and I never heard or felt anything again. What if this spirit has returned? Am I now seeing her?
Standing, I pace the reception room, hands wrapped around my body, offering myself comfort. I had never told Jenny of this experience. The sounds radiating from the room overhead tells me she is busy at work. It was my father’s reaction to telling him of what I heard that scared me the most. My mother dismissed it of course and said it was the strange noises of the old castle that has been standing for over six hundred years and I must get used to its creaks and sounds. She romanticised it completely, saying, “Jan, do not worry, it is but the castle.” However, it would have worked for a seven year old, if not for my father’s non-verbal reactions. He always seemed to have believed me. His eyes told me a different story. It was during this period my father would move himself to the attic by day, lock himself in and rarely come out.
The image of the top floor flashes before my eyes and that wooden hallway running towards the distinctive oak arched door that has always been shut. No matter what time of year it is, the sun never reaches it. This fascinated me as a child. I would watch as each season would go by. The window opposite the door on the other end of the corridor would be a doorway for the sun. As the spring moved into summer, the sun rays would lengthen their reach further along the wooden hallway, always stopping in the same place each time, three inches from the base of the door. Then as the autumn retook the summer and moved towards the death of the year, the sun would crawl back along the wooden floor boards only ever reaching three inches into the hall during the height of the winter.
Following my father’s death, I never made use of the attic room. I never even studied it. I had found him that morning by accident as he deliberately had left the arched wooden door slightly ajar. I had rung for the emergency services and they removed his body and locked the door under my instructions. To ensure I never did, I threw the key away. It became a place of foreboding darkness and for it to have done what it did to my father? It was no place to venture in to. Whatever secrets remain with the castle, they shall remain hidden and I want no part of them. My superstitious nature has been developed from living within this stone keep, but that is as far as it went. Jenny does not know this side of me, nor do any of my friends. But now, with the strange woman appearing before me, I believe its time I tell Jenny of my experiences.
My fingers caress the iron knob of the arched wooden door, its knotted wood longing to be cared for. Moving my fingers across the width of the door, I place both my hands onto its callous surface and it scratches my palms. A light waft of mouldy air seeps through the tiny cracks in the panelling hitting my nostrils, pulling me back into the reality of the moment. I am not alone. Jenny stands behind me. Turning to her, I am lost for a moment of how I got here and the same thought reflects in her eyes.
“Was I sleepwalking?” I ask, glancing down at my boxers and t-shirt, now realising she too is in her PJs.
“Are you going to open the door?” her voice carrying as an instruction rather than a question. Exhaling, I move towards her. I had told her everything about my experiences as a child and on how I am seeing a strange woman appear to me from outside the castle. Her eyes reflect caution I believe rather than worry. Which is better, I do not know however she is adamant I now open the door of my father’s room in the attic.
“I am not sure,” I finally replied, taking hold of her arms, embracing her. She reciprocates and her lips touch my ears, whispering, “Open the door.”
Taking a step back, I search her eyes until my attention is drawn to a shadow on the window opposite. Transfixed for a moment, the shadow moves to the wall and descends the stone staircase. Rushing forwards, I reach the end of the wooden corridor. The low lamps illuminate the staircase, casting the shadow trail of the stranger along the white walls. “Wait!” I call out unsure with whom I am talking to. I descend the staircase, the shadow always ahead of me until I reach the ground floor of the castle and step into the reception area. Searching desperately with my eyes, my focus falls on the lit lamp next to the fireplace. I question how is it lit? Had we not been in bed?
I am on edge again, my body reacting to fear of the unknown. It’s a long dormant feeling of when I was a child. Slowly gravitating towards the main castle door, I check that it is still locked. I close my eyes. There is no sound. The castle does not feel right. Where is Jenny? Why did she not follow me down? Turning, the sight of the mysterious woman standing at the foot of the stairs roots me to the spot. My heart responds, pounding at the base of my throat, my breathing joining it, becoming rapid. I am unable to move. I hear my breathing. The mysterious woman floats towards me. Her oval hazel eyes never leaving mine. I struggle inside my body, wanting to scream, but I am unable to respond. Fighting to control my own thoughts, I slowly conjure the images of the numbers and begin laboured counting, each followed by a deep exhale. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. The numbers falter. The woman moves closer, reaching in and placing her lips next to my ears. Her voice is audible. “Come back to me Jan. Follow my voice.”
Jenny’s face appears before me. Her eyes cold, filled with unfamiliar anger. The strange woman’s whispers still echo in my ear. The scream that escapes Jenny’s lips stuns me before everything goes dark.
“What happened?” Jenny interrupts moving towards the bed and taking Jan’s hand in hers.
“I finally managed to reach him and he heard me but he is not alone in there?” the woman replies, her oval eyes narrow with focus as she returns her gaze onto Jan lying on the bed.
The cold liquid touches her lips and she recoils from the taste. She had lost count of how long she had been standing by the kitchen sink staring outward vacantly onto the lush green lawn. Reaching for the black kettle she switches the power to brew a new cup. The past year has been the strangest she has ever experienced. She should never have ignored her intuition for so long. Jan had needed her and she let him down. She is his wife, his friend and lover. Even though he never spoke to her of his inner thoughts, Jenny knew something was eating him inside. Flashes remind her of Jan’s father. There are similarities.
The kettle shuts off rocking under the boiling water, the steam moving onto the window momentarily casting a film over her view of the lawn. Making a new cup of tea she returns her attention to the green shades of colour before her. Resting her eyes momentarily on Catherine, an acquaintance she got to know over the years, but she never imagined she would be in her home. Jan never knew of her and that is how Jenny wants it. But following last night when Jan fell into a trance state, she had no choice but to call on Catherine. She trusts her expertise. Her thoughts turn to her husband lying blankly upstairs in their bedroom, a room full of life and love and now it scares her to think about what might have taken control of his mind. She needs to know more.
Jenny exits the back entrance of the kitchen and moves towards the bench where Catherine is seated. She joins her and their eyes meet. Catherine’s smile reassures her. They sit in silence.
“You are unsure what to ask?” Catherine breaks the moment.
“It’s not that I don’t know what to ask, it’s more that I am afraid to know what you will say,” she replies returning her attention to Catherine.
“You know how all of this works.”
“So why are you scared? You have worked on cases with me before.”
“But none like this.”
“Yes, granted, I must admit this is a difficult one and it is your husband,” Catherine answers, narrowing her oval shaped eyes, a habit she had developed since her teenage years. “But I need to know more Jenny. You called me last night, but I feel there is more you are not telling me. If you believed this is a medical situation, I would not be sitting here and Jan would be in the hospital.”
Standing, Jenny paces a few steps in front of the bench.
“It all started to happen about one year ago on our return. When Jan’s father died three years ago, we left Ireland and lived in Germany until our return just under twelve months ago,” Jenny pauses taking a sip of tea.
“Go on. I am here to help,” Catherine reassures her.
“It is the castle I believe that has a hold on Jan. I also believe from what I have heard and from what Jan has indirectly told me, that it too had a hold on his father. When Jan was seven years old, his father locked himself up in the attic room and there is where he remained, rarely venturing out, except for eating and sometimes to sleep with his wife. The castle eventually sucked the life out of him until he could take it no more.”
“What happened to him?”
“He took his own life and Jan locked the room and never entered it. To this day he has never been in that room.”
“How terrible! What did Jan's father do in the attic over all of the years?”
“No one knows,” Jenny replies returning and sitting next to Catherine. “I need your help, Catherine. I need you to save my husband and return him to me. I want to know what you saw when you tried to connect with his mind. You mentioned he was not alone.”
Straightening herself, Catherine takes hold of Jenny’s right hand in hers.
“We have much to do. Firstly we need to find out about the history of the castle and to gain entry into the attic room to explore further.”
“The history of the castle I can help with as I already have carried out much research. But I want to know what you sense from the castle?”
“This is a fortified building of stone and it is built to withstand attack. There are many residual layers of energy stemming from over the centuries. It has very strong, heavy and harsh energy and I would say dominant female energy, but it’s elusive and I’ll be honest I cannot tell much more than that. When I made a connection to Jan’s mind, I sensed there was a presence with him. But what I saw was you, Jenny.”
“I am not sure if Jan has created an image of you for some unknown reason, possibly to comfort him through this ordeal, however, if it is an entity with him, it is hiding in your disguise.”
Standing, Jenny faces the castle before returning her gaze on to her woman before her.
“We have little time. My husband’s health is at risk if he remains in this state. Please, we must return to him.”
Jenny briskly moves towards the castle, with Catherine following. Her thoughts are of her husband, nothing else matters now.
Stopping on the landing leading to the attic door, Jenny places the sledgehammer against the wall.
“What’s wrong,” Catherine breaks the silence.
“I need to see Jan before I do this.”
“Go to him. When you are ready, we can continue. I will survey this level of the castle.”
Jenny retreats down the stone staircase stopping outside her bedroom. Slowly stepping through the door she moves towards her husband lying on the bed before her. Sitting next to him, she takes his hand in hers, kissing it.
“Forgive me for what I am about to do. I know the past frightens you. It is something you wish to escape from and your father’s room even more so, but I must tear down the door that you wish remained sealed forever.”
He looks so peaceful to her. Kissing his hand again she leans in and places a kiss on his lips. A tear escapes her right eye, warm against her cheek.
“You are my life, my love, my hope. When you open your eyes, I will be here waiting for you.”
Standing Jenny moves to the door before placing one more look on her husband. Turning she climbs to the top floor of the castle to join Catherine.
I do not understand what just happened. The voice of the strange woman in my ear was so real. I still hear its echo calling me to go with her and Jenny was there. Jenny! I sit up realising I am on the floor of the main reception of the castle. The conjured images of her face and the sounds of her horrifying scream heighten my senses. Standing I search about me. I am on edge. Something is not right. I am not sure what it is. Everything seems in its place. This is my home, the castle I grew up in. The image of the door on the top floor places itself in front of my thoughts. I can see it perfectly. Anger rises through my body overwhelming my senses that I cannot control.
My legs kick into action moving towards the kitchen and to the back pantry of the castle. Searching through my tools, I place my hands on the handle of the sledgehammer. I recognise it but the determination to use it, I do not. My body pulls me out of the kitchen and through the main castle reception area and up the stone staircase until I am standing on the hallway leading to the old arched doorway of my father’s room. Placing my eyes on the sledgehammer in my hand, I know what I must do. The door must be opened. Gravitating towards the door, I place my first blow directly into the middle of the door splintering the old wood.
Jenny lifts the sledgehammer a third time, placing her blow to the side of the gaping hole she has created in the arched wooden door. The sun filters in through the broken door and onto the wooden floorboards of the hallway. She lifts the sledgehammer again, repeatedly until she has removed all the wood from top to bottom. Throwing the tool of destruction to one side, her arms and face are hot from the exertion. A hand on her arm and Catherine comes into her view. Her smile reassures her. Stepping through the door, Jenny enters the attic room revealing walls covered in book selves¸ a table rests under the only small window in the whole room and a desk sits dominantly in the centre of the floor littered with paperwork. Jenny’s eyes catch sight of a small stool knocked on its side. The moment hits her and she moves her eyes upwards to the beams overhead.
Removing the last of the wood from the door, the room slowly illuminates with two lowly slit wall lanterns old in style. The ceiling reveals itself to me first, round with wooden beams. Lowering my eyes, the figure standing before me appears radiant, rooting me to the floor. Sitting in the bared walled empty room on a wooden high back chair is an elegant lady, with mesmerising dark eyes, complemented with long raven hair shrouding her shoulders, falling onto the arms of the chair. Her dress catches my attention and strikes fear in my thoughts.
“Who are you?” I managed to mumble the words through my lips.
Her eyes drew me in. The silence is dominating until eventually, she breaks it. The strange woman sitting before me ensures I know who is in charge.
“I am Lady Maeve of the McNamara clan, rulers of this land and occupiers of this castle. I knew your father. Oh, what a mighty strong prince he was in a long line of princes before him. Do you remember me, my sweet prince? I used to visit you each night when you first arrived at my home until your father stood by my side and promised to protect me and my castle, all for love and for the love of his son.”
“What.. what are you talking about? How is this possible? How am I seeing you?”
I forget myself, stepping into the room which is from a time alien to me. Maeve now stands.
“My dear prince, do not upset yourself with such simple questions. You have been chosen to protect me and my castle as have a long line of men before you.”
I must be dreaming and now it strikes me. Everything had seemed familiar and yet there was something missing. “Who do you need protecting from,” the question springs from my mouth before I know what I am saying.
“From many people. Over the years, the dangers have quietened however there is a threat in this castle right now.”
“What is the threat?”
“It stands not too far from me,” Maeve answers placing her eyes to the centre of the room. “And she is in the company of your wife.”
“I cannot say that I can protect Jenny, but you must carry out your duty and watch over me and this castle. It is the tradition. Your father gave his life to me so to protect you. I had never wanted him. You were the one I had my eyes on.”
The words flow over my thoughts, overwhelming me. The woman standing before me must have been responsible for all the happenings this last year since arriving home. The headaches, the visions, the dreams and just the strange occurrences that made me believe I was losing my mind. She has a hold on me as she did with my father. My mother’s image jumps in front of my thoughts. Had she known of the situation?
“What if I don’t decide to protect you and your castle?”
Lady Maeve steps into the centre of the room and raises her hand level with her own face and begins to make curling gestures in the air.
“Reflect on what you think, as it might already be too late,” she answers blowing into her raised hand.
“What is it?”
“Something just touched my hair!” she replies sharply stepping to one side, shaking her head to remove an invisible object.
Catherine’s oval eyes scan the room and steps towards where Jenny had been standing.
“This is her room. She has just made herself be known to us.” Catherine places her hand in front of her. “Do you notice the temperature drop? Quickly we must find out what we can from the notes. I need to know her name.”
Jenny nods, returning to the large desk more cautiously to continue rummaging through the notebooks of Jan’s father.
“There are so many journals, scribbles, diaries, we will never get through it all,” Jenny resigns herself to the chair ignoring the years of dust covering its fabric.
“You will know it. If this female energy does belong to a former inhabitant of the castle he would have dedicated a specific journal or book to her. It would be different from the rest,” Catherine states, pausing and placing her eyes around the room until they rest on the bookcases. “Also consider that Jan’s father would have placed it someplace where it would be found, probably on its own which would make it stand out to Jan.”
“So Jan would be curious to read it,” Jenny adds joining Catherine on surveying the room.
She had not noticed the cold before. It clung to her, wrapping around her limbs. She embraces her body for warmth. Ignoring she pushes forward with her task. The books resting on the bookshelves in front of her were not in order, too much chaos for anything to stand out. Jenny’s eyes catch the desk. Reaching for the drawers she yanks them open one by one until the bottom drawer reveals only a single black leather bound book inside. Her eyes meet with Catherine’s. Jenny removes the book placing it on the desk and lifts the cover to reveal a handwritten note.
The instant you read this note, take this book and leave the castle. Within these walls lives an entity called Lady Maeve who died in 1683. She has fought furiously to take my body as a host to protect her castle as she has done with many individuals before. I have locked myself within these walls to keep her captive and to prevent me from harming you but I no longer have the will to fight. I fear that you might not have the strength that I had unless you have a reason so strong to fight for. Read all that I have written carefully.
Your loving father.
Jenny closes the book.
“We need to leave at once,” Catherine instructs taking the book from Jenny. “These words tell us enough and so does my sense of this female energy that surrounds us.”
Jenny places her hand on Catherine’s arm.
“Jan!” Jenny does not wait for a response from Catherine and exits the room only with her husband on her thoughts. She reaches her bedroom door and pushes it inwards, her eyes falling onto the empty bed.
Jenny is unsure of her next move. Taken aback by not seeing her husband, her thoughts scramble for the next course of action. Inhaling, she slowly controls her breathing allowing rational thinking to return. He awoke and is in the castle, perhaps downstairs - she informs herself, turning to see Catherine entering the bedroom, her face now revealing the surprise on seeing the empty bed.
“I am not liking this Jenny.”
Jenny holds her stare on Catherine. “You mentioned to me earlier in the garden, what makes this situation any different from what we have worked on before?”
“I have never encountered a spirit so intent on inflicting harm. The energy is harsh and she has blocked me at every turn in trying to connect with her.”
“Catherine, I need your support. Please, do not make me fear what is happening. You connected with it before! Please, can you try again?”
“I created a doorway through Jan’s mind but now Jan is no longer in his trance. I do caution Jenny, take care when we encounter him.”
“Jan will not hurt me,” replying curtly as she knows her husband is not capable of such an act despite allowing Catherine’s words to sink in through her thoughts that he may not be acting on his own impulses. Her body is alerted to a shadow at the door.
“I will not hurt you Jenny,” Jan’s voice coldly sounds from the doorway. Jenny places her eyes on his.
“Jenny,” Catherine cautions.
Ignoring Catherine, Jenny moves towards her husband.
“Jan. My love, what happened?” her voice soft, placing her hands on either side of his face.
“That woman does not belong in our home Jenny. Why did you bring her here?”
“It’s okay Jan, she is a friend. You can trust her.”
“She is not to be trusted.”
“Look at me. Please, Jan!”
Jenny and Jan’s eyes lock.
“Do you love me?”
Jenny’s clearly stands before me and yet her image, her questions do not interest me. I do not understand. It is like a veil exists between us. She is there but not at the same time. My interest is with the woman behind her. I do not even recognise her but I dislike her. Why do I distrust her? She must be removed from the castle. Uncontrollable anger boils within me. Jenny’s voice grows louder. Why does she not hear me? I love you
Catherine places her hands on Jenny’s arm.
“Jenny, continue talking with your husband. Let your voice get through to him. He needs to break from the hold of spirit’s energy residing within.”
Jenny takes Jan by the arm and leads him to the bed.
“Please sit with me. I understand it all now. I know what happened to your father. Jan do you hear me?”
“Tell him about his father,” Catherine urges. “You are doing well Jenny. Keep talking to him,” Catherine’s voice softly intercepts the conversation as she begins scanning the journal taken from the attic room.
“Your father loved you very much. So much Jan that he sacrificed his life to protect you from something that rested within the castle. This castle once belonged to the McNamara clan and a lady by the name of Maeve lived here and died many many years ago.”
“She continues to live on here in the spirit world and over the centuries she has selected various occupiers to guard and protect her home as she once did while she was alive,” Catherine interjects reading from the pages. “When she was alive she had been married four times and each of her husbands’ found his demise in a different way. None of the marriages were out of love but for political or profitable gain. Keep talking to him Jenny.”
Jenny squeezes her husband’s hand.
“This spirit now wishes for you to take your father’s place, to protect her and this castle. I am very sorry that I brought you back here. We should have stayed in Germany but I insisted. Why did I do so? Your parents lived with the torment of this all their lives until it killed them. I cannot let that happen to you,” she softly states reaching in and kissing his lips.
“Jenny, do not blame yourself for any of this, you were not to know,” Jan answers, a tear escaping his left eye. He exhales. “You can hear me?”
“Of course!” Jenny embraces him.
Jenny and Jan’s eyes lock. “You know she will not let me leave the castle.”
“What do you mean Jan?”
“No one that she has chosen has ever left the castle.”
Jan squeezes both of Jenny’s hands.
She opens her eyes. The sounds hit her ears instantly. Clanging of kitchen pots and pans with voices, inaudible but loud. Wafts of air encircle her, drawn along the corridors giving a chill to her body. Not sure of which hall she is in, Catherine moves forward to find recognition of where she is in the castle and of its time period. The illumination is low, perhaps its early morning or dusk. Candlelight flickers casting shadows along the stone walls. Believing she is between the first and ground floor she descends the steps, arriving in the main reception of the castle but to her eyes, it is no longer as she left it. A raging fire throws out heat from the main fireplace. The walls are covered in tapestries and various weapons. The antlers of a large deer hanging above the kitchen door draw her towards the kitchen. Stopping at the sight of soldiers moving through the hall and exiting towards the basement, she judges the period to be in the mid to late 17th century.
Moving to the kitchen Catherine enters, her eyes falling onto the table where her physical body sits with Jenny and Jan. Hands clasped, her eyes are shut in concentration. Around the table unknown to the occupants seated, life is abundant. Women work all around them, placing pots and cutting meat where they sit. The fire is ablaze and the aroma of cooking meat and vegetables relaxes her momentarily, however it is short lived. Catherine’s thoughts turn to Lady Maeve. This could be her time period. She needs to find her. She mentally notes that two floors up should be Maeve’s living quarters. Quickly exiting the kitchen, leaving her physical body at the table, she moves upwards into the castle.
As she places her hand on the door to open it where she believes Lady Maeve to be, a hand on her shoulder startles her. She faces the unknown entity to see a woman, heavyset and of her own height. A quick scan of her clothes reveals she is not of the same time period she has found herself in.
“Who are you?” Catherine enquires focusing on the woman before her.
“Get out now, while you can?”
“Tell me who you are? Did you once live in this castle?”
The woman does not reply but beckons for Catherine to follow to the next floor of the castle.
“What you seek is in there,” the woman instructs, pointing to a wooden door before her. “I was sent for in 1909 to clear this castle of an energy that had taken hold of the man of the castle. I had a reputation for working with the spirit world but nothing could have prepared me for my encounter with her.”
“Yes. I died in the early hours of the 4th of February 1909.”
“She must be stopped and sent on from this place.”
“I fear it’s already too late for you. You have made the fatal mistake of entering the spirit world to make contact with her. You are now in her world and she always has control of the living world through the man she chooses.”
“While you are here, your physical body is vulnerable. That is how she killed me, trapping me here.” I now roam these halls and rooms unable to fight her energy.”
“What is your name?”
“Come with me Mary,” Catherine instructs taking Mary by the hand and heading for the stone steps leading to the kitchen. Ignoring the many servants and soldiers moving between the floors, they reach the kitchen. Catherine’s eyes fall on Lady Maeve standing behind Catherine’s physical body.
“Catherine,” the strong voice of Lady Maeve echoes throughout the kitchen. Only the three people sitting around the table along with Maeve are visible to Catherine’s eyes.
“I am sorry,” Mary meekly answers slinking backward, “I cannot do this.”
“What do you think you can do Catherine in the spirit world?”
“So you are aware you are no longer living?”
“Yes, I am aware. I died many centuries ago. I am not reliving any moment and I don’t come in visitation. My need to stay here is strong. All my life on the earthly world I had full dedication and commitment to my family home here at this castle. I strove to protect and keep it from the hands of the English or other Irish lords who dared tried to take it from me. I did what was necessary and I made a commitment that I would never see it leave my hands or the hands of my family. I made sure of it, so whatever occupant took up residence in my home, they would know who I am and they would protect it for me.”
“It is time to let it go. It will always be your home. History has recorded it as the home of the McNamara family.”
“Simple sentiment but not enough. This is where I belong. Not you. I have chosen Jan to protect my home.”
“There is no one to protect it from anymore. The world is not as you left it.”
“It needs protecting from people like you.”
“No! What you fear is not of losing your home but the fear of you leaving your home and the fear of being discovered. What you are doing is wrong.”
Lady Maeve smiles as she steps backward observing Jan rise from his seat and move towards Catherine’s physical body. He places his hands around her neck.
“Stop it!” Catherine calls out to Maeve. She grabs her neck, forcing the air into her lungs. She falls to her knees, watching the life being forced out of her physical body. She is powerless to do anything, locked within the world of spirit but observes Jenny intervening, yanking Jan away. Catherine’s breathing eases.
“You are right Maeve, there is nothing I can do in the spirit world.”
Catherine coughs, opening her eyes revealing Jenny’s face staring down at hers.
“Catherine, are you okay?”
“Jenny, help me up.”
Catherine stands to her feet with the help of Jenny. Turning her attention on Jan she sees him rocking back and forth while sitting on the floor, arms wrapped around his body. “He is trying to fight her.”
“What do we do?” Jenny pleads.
“She gets her energy from the living, deny it to her and she weakens. She has always had strength as when one host would die, she would control the next. That is why it took her almost the last year to take control of Jan. She had been weakened following his father’s death and the castle had been empty of any occupants.”
Catherine faces Jenny, taking hold of her by the shoulders.
“Jan’s father fought her in the end because of his love for his son. Jan loves you. Make him see it. Bring him back and we will take him from the castle away from here.”
Jenny looks on at her husband fighting to retake control of his mind. Emotion rises within her and she fights the temptation to cry. Moving to her husband she kneels next to him, taking his body in her arms, she whispers to him.
Catherine observes but she knows from experience, there will be a backlash of activity from the Maeve, who is being denied what she believes, is rightly hers. Maeve’s energy will fade in time, whether she will leave the castle and move on is questionable, but Catherine knows that with the fading of Maeve’s strength, it will allow Mary to move on from being trapped within these stone walls. She prays silently, sending a blessing to Mary giving her the strength and protection to move on. Mary responds with a warm touch at the base of Catherine’s back.
“Hold on a little longer Mary, you will soon be free. I promise,” Catherine whispers. Her attention is brought to Jenny now helping Jan to his feet.
“It is time to leave. Do not hesitate Jan,” Catherine instructs ignoring the objects one by one elevating off the kitchen countertops, joined by the opening and closing of the doors with the locks vibrating. Moving forward, they exit into the castle lawns. Turning to gaze onto the castle, Catherine catches sight of Maeve standing inside the kitchen window. A scream emits from her mouth only audible to Catherine but everyone witnesses the sight and sound of the kitchen window crack from one end to the other.
“What now?” Catherine asks turning to Jenny.
A smile crosses her lips and she squeezes her husband body with her arm.
“We must decide what we will do with the castle. It cannot be sold like this and endanger further lives.”
“Thank you,” Jan adds, facing Catherine. “I only wished my father had done some research on what happened to the previous owners prior to purchasing it, but he was a romantic, wishing to own his own Irish castle.”
“For now until you decide what to do, the castle will remain the home of Maeve. We can try and help her to move on but I don’t believe it is what she wishes,” Catherine finishes by taking one more look towards the kitchen window at Maeve staring at her. She may need to do battle with her again and the next time might not be so easy. Casting her eyes upwards to the second floor, Catherine spies Mary sitting on the window ledge. A movement from the attic window on the top floor brings her attention upwards. Catherine can count five men staring down at her standing on the lawn. She remains silent but is sure one of them must be Jan’s father along with the other unfortunate souls trapped under the power of Maeve. Returning her attention to Jan and Jenny, she smiles, following them out of the castle lawns.