The University tutor sat before his students in the Great Hall of the ruined castle McCormack. The winds whistled around the ramparts. Students waited with baited breath for his story to begin.
‘The story I am going to tell has passed into folk lore, whether you believe the tale or not. The choice is yours to make. My aim is to tell you what I have found and what I was told. No more, no less. You are educated people, so, I will leave the final decision to you. I would suggest you find a suitable stool from the pile we brought with us. This is a long story.’
The students hurried around, gathering stools and placing them in a semi-circle around their tutor. Eager to listen to the story of a ghost which haunts the castle in which they sat. The students sat quietly.
When all the students were settled, the tutor began to tell the story.
‘This story goes far back to the clan wars of our history. A man called Callum McCormack and his search for his lover. The search ended with the deaths of not only him but his friend Jeffers Harman.
Callum McCormack yelled at the gates of the Castle Harman, ‘Janie, either you come out or I’ll come and get you!’
From the top row of windows a head appeared and Jeffers Harman replied, ‘Callum, your girl isn’t here.’
Callum gazed up at the open window and called ‘Why should I believe you, Harman? You and Janie have been seeing each other behind my back for months. Davie Harries told me so last night.’
The dark haired Jeffers called in reply, ‘Harries is seeing Janie not me. Why do you think he sent you out here? You’re miles from home and won’t get back before dawn. All this time, he’s having his way with her and laughing at you.’
The retort came back, ‘Why should I believe you?’
Jeffers head went back in for a moment and reappeared wearing a helmet, “Because, I am going to prove it you, man. You’re welcome in my halls, Callum, but you’ll nay find your lass.”
Callum thought for a while and said, ‘If that’s the case, perhaps we’d better talk.’
A smile crossed Jeffers lips as he said “Now you’re thinking.”
Jeffers came down the stairs and opened the gate to allow entrance to Callum. ‘You’re free to walk my halls but yon lass is nay here.’
The men walked to the Great hall and as the door opened. Callum said, ‘I guess a man would be foolish to invite the husband of his lover in. Jeffers you are no fool.’
The light faded as the men drank and talked. With the growing darkness it was clear Callum could not travel back. So, Jeffers offered him a bed for the night. The bed was warm after the cold day but sleep did not come.
Callum’s sleep was disturbed by a haunting sound coming from down stairs, or so it sounded. In the morning he asked Jeffers, ‘Did you hear that woman crying in the night? She sounded as if she was in the rooms below the hall.’
Jeffers shook his head and replied, ‘I heard nothing, Callum, and I sleep light.’
After breakfast Callum and Jeffers parted and Callum went on his way. None the wiser, all his journey home, he wondered about the sounds.
The day grew dark and the clouds rolled down the valley. Ahead lay his village and his wife, he hoped. On entering the village, he noticed people not making eye-contact with him. Slowly riding to his house he saw Harries heading for the stables behind his house. Without thinking, he charged Harries and ran his sword through him.
With the blood dripping from its blade, he sheathed the sword and walked into his home. Arriving at the house, he kicked the door in and took the stairs two at a time. The sound brought his wife from the bedroom and with no thought of his action. On impulse he drew the blooded sword and with a swirl of anger cleaved her body in half.
Days went by and Callum didn’t leave his home. He couldn’t sleep; his dreams were haunted by the top half of his wife’s torso saying. ‘He came to give you your money back. Now, I will haunt this house and the house of Harman, the man who sent you here. The man you slew was not guilty of any crime and you MUST pay for his death.’
After this he never left the house. Many weeks later, a worried friend found him. He had bled to death.
Of his friend Jeffers, rumour says a villager paying tithes found him moaning in the dungeon. All he would say was, ‘She had no body.’
When he finished, his audience turned to him and said, ‘Do you believe in the ghosts?’
The man replied, ‘If I didn’t. We wouldn’t be here on the anniversary of her slaughter. The University has granted me the use of certain instruments. These instruments detect they minute drops in temperature when she shows. On her arrival the room will get cold quickly but then it will return to normal. We need these instruments or we wouldn’t be aware of the differences.’
The room went silent as the students eyes remained glued to their mentor as he performed some tasks. He set up the temperature monitor on the window nearest the doorway. When he turned to study the room, his eyes caught sight of what appeared to be textural differences in the stonework. On further examination the difference appeared to be seeping from behind the stones.
He took his time examining the joins of the bricks. Then he said, ‘Give me a hand, and perhaps we can solve another myth.’
A student at the back asked, ‘Which myth do you mean?’
The teacher laid his hand on the bricks and found some of them were warm. He knelt and started to ease the brick out. He glanced at the students and replied, ‘No sword or knife was found at the scene of the death. A rumour -- only a rumour -- said the sword is buried in the walls.’
The tutor and a student eased the brickwork aside. Behind the bricks they found a small knife. Dripping from the rusted blade was blood.
The amazed student commented, ‘That is odd. After all this time and the blood is still dripping.’
With a rueful smile, the tutor replied, ‘According to the curse. The ghostly lady’s lower torso shall walk the halls of this house. Her upper torso shall be found haunting the house of Harman until all who are kin have been slain. And there is no living soul. For as long as their kin shall walk. The blood shall drip.’
One of the less convinced students said, ‘The blood dripping is probably caused by moisture in the hole. As for the ghostly lady, the story is an old wives tale. We have no scientific basis to prove it.’
A student of the more cautious variety asked, ‘If you believe the story. Surely, your belief will increase the chance of you seeing the ghost.’
The tutor sat on his stool and replied to the comments, ‘I will take each question at a time. We have at present not firm scientific evidence. We are here to hopefully witness an event which may – or many not – prove the existence of the ghost. It matters little whether you believe in the spirit, for if she wants to appear to us. Belief is of no relevance.” With a glance at the instruments, he said, “Look at the temperature. It is falling, which means she is going to appear.’
The student replied, ‘The temperature is falling. The most likely reason is due to us being in a ruined castle with the winds howling outside.’
Not to be ruffled, the tutor asked, ‘In that case why are the drapes not moving?’
The class turned to view the thin drapes covering the open window. Despite the cold wind, the drapes remained still. The air became so cold, breath could be seen and breathing became difficult. Then as predicted, the coldness disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.
With a glance at the brickwork, the tutor gave a silent nod to the class. The students turned to face the direction indicated. Before their eyes they witnessed a terrible sight. In the dark musty atmosphere of the cold room they saw not the figure of a lady. The ghost who appeared was the ghost of Callum. The once proud Scotsman was now no more than a shell of his former self.
The sword he held in his left hand was heavy for him to heave. So, he dragged it across the floor. Each step he took, the sword grated along the stone floor. Callum was now driven by the urge to kill, rather than the need to find peace for his tormented soul.
From the door behind the class came a scream, the like of which none had heard before. And none wished to hear again. The figure emerged slowly from a hidden panel. Her face wracked with pain and yet set with revenge for a deed which needed to be brought to account. Janie’s ghostly half appeared before the scared students. Many of whom were so horrified their mouths wanted to scream but no sound came out.
The form took a glance at those present in the room and moved towards the ghost at the far end of the room. Callum was too shocked to move but he tried to raise his sword arm. Only to find he had lost his strength.
The ghost of the lady cackled dryly and said, ‘You’re a silly fool, McCormack. You crossed the wrong family. The Morten’s don’t forgive those who sinned against us. Time won’t protect them who did us wrong years ago.’
Unseen at the back of the group, one man shuddered as he realised a family secret which had lain hidden for centuries was about to bring his life to a sudden end.
Callum tried to fight back but as he lunged she stepped up and with a blow to his head, she snapped his neck. His head lolled for a moment in shocked horror as his eyes rolled in their ghostly sockets. As he fell she grabbed his sword and swung at the class. Her aim was true and one person felt the keen edge of her wrath as she said with a grizzled snarl, ‘Take my blade. The last of the clan Harman has been put to my blade.’
The class turned in shocked horror to watch as the severed head of the questioning student hit the floor. The blood spurted and pooled on the stonework below their feet.
The lady Janie turned to the tutor and said. ‘You served me well Davie Jackson. Now their kin are gone and we can rest in peace.’ She held the broken blade for the class to view. The blood had dried and been replaced by the rust of ages past. Janie’s ghost slowly dissipated into the air and was taken by the wind, only now did the drapes move as she passed across the veil between the worlds.
In a state of shock the class turned to their tutor to find out what had happened. He gave a smile and replied, ‘None of you knew. Alec Holyrood was the last remaining member of the Harman clan. They were able to change names but family features. I saw his photograph in a news article last year and asked him to join us. I think Alec has all the evidence he needs to believe in the world of spirits.’
The group left the halls of clan McCormack. As they walked down the stone stairwell, the students looked behind to see why their tutor was lagging. All they saw was a wisp of air as he disappeared in a mist, followed by a woman’s voice calling, ‘All this time. And they never realised the truth, Davie.’
One student said, ‘Did you see what happened? Who are we going to tell?’
Another replied, ‘Who can we tell? I wouldn’t believe the story and I witnessed the events.’