She’s the artist that finds him in her drawings. He’s the medieval ghost that conquers her heart. And their time is running out.
Back in the courtyard, a group of tourists, probably Americans judging by their baggy jeans and baseball caps, waits by the sign announcing the next guided tour.
Roger takes off his feathered hat and runs his fingers through his hair. “That’s my cue.” He suddenly looks very tired.
“Mrs. Reilly is right,” I say. “You need some rest. And some food.”
“And you need to mind your business,” he snaps.
I should be mad, but instead I find myself worried. “You okay?”
“Just go find this guy, but don’t let him bother you, got that? If you see him, come find me. I’ll be here in the courtyard or in the first set of castle apartments nearest to the dungeon.”
“Good.” He sets his hat on his head, takes a deep breath, then strides over to the tourists and says in a cheery voice, “Hi-ho! Welcome one and all to Blanchley Castle where history comes alive.”
I go into the castle building, wandering through some winding passageways, pushing past clusters of tourists crowding the halls until I finally recognize the steps heading up to the main hall where the Academy hosted the dinner. If I retrace my steps from that night, maybe I’ll locate that upper room where I first saw Christopher.
I find the main hall is empty and quiet. There is no lit fire in the fireplace now, and a simple, brightly painted shield has replaced the bear head over the mantle. Daylight spills into the room through the row of stained glass windows along the opposite wall, covering the rough floor in bits of colored light. There is one raised table at the back wall with a few tall chairs, and in the middle of the room is a single long wooden table, with benches along its sides.
I turn and bump into someone.
It’s Christopher. His glow-stick eyes are wide.
There’s a moment of tense silence.
“Leave me alone!” we both say.
“Me?” I say. “That’s a laugh. You’re the one following me.”
“You deny bewitching me? Infecting my thoughts, my dreams? Be gone, witch.”
“You have serious problems, you know that? ‘Be gone, witch?’ Who talks like that? And look at you? I don’t even think you work at this castle. I think you just dress like this to get your jollies or something.”
He briefly looks down at his green tunic, which is worn belted over a white linen shirt, and at his knee-high leather boots. “It is you who dress for jolly sake,” he says. He strides around me, studying my jeans, sneakers and jacket. “Bedecked in such harlotry. Showing yourself not a fine lady in the least, but as the witch you really are.” He grabs my arm and pulls me close. “You are the one who is not of this castle. No one knows of a Michelle from Jersey. Not one soul swapping the latest news in the castle courtyard has heard of you.” He shakes my arm. “Either you are merely sent to undo me, or you plot about things far worse, far more traitorous. Fool that I am, I had thought you were the one who would …”
We are very close now. His eyes are intense, yet sad. I am all too aware of his fingers wrapped around my arm. Of his face bent toward me. Of his auburn hair falling over his forehead. Of his soft full lips. I again feel myself drawn powerfully to him. Feel my breath catch as his grip loosens and his hand slides up my arm. This is crazy.
I force myself to step back. “Y-you’re crazy. Stay away from me, or I’ll tell the police or the Bobbies or whatever the hell you people call them.”
He seems stunned.
I run from the hall and down the steps leading back toward the courtyard.
“Michelle, I found him.” It’s Roger, striding up the steps, his hat in his hands. “That crazy bloke. You won’t believe it.” He takes my hand and pulls me downstairs. “Come on. I’ll show you before my next tour.”
“But I found him. He’s upstairs, right now.”
Roger draws his brows together, races past me up the steps and into the hall. I scramble to follow.
I find Roger, hands on hips, surveying the hall. A room that is suddenly filled with ordinary tourists. No sign of Christopher. I notice that the bear’s head is somehow again over the mantle. I look around wildly. In front of the windows are now suits of armor standing at attention – armor that definitely wasn’t there a few moments ago.
“So? Where is he?” Roger says.
“I-I don’t understand. He was standing right…” How could all the tourists possibly get in here so fast? “I must have been mistaken,” I say, my voice shaky.
“Well, I’m not. Follow me.” He leads me out of the hall, down the stairs, through the courtyard where a fresh cluster of tourists is waiting by the sign for the next castle tour, and into another doorway. “I told you he looked familiar. I was leading the last tour when I spotted him,” he says, as we go down a dark corridor lit with electric lights that are made to look like torches hanging from the walls. He turns left into a large arched entry, which opens into a long, richly furnished sitting room. I remember seeing this room on the night of the dinner. There are paintings on the walls, lush Persian carpets on the floors, and worn, overstuffed sofas arranged around ornately carved low tables. Roger says, “I was taking the group through this wing, describing all the Victorian era additions, and I was just launching into an apology about the Earl’s missing Mating Chair, when I saw this.”
Roger points to an empty spot in the corner of the room now occupied by a little sign that reads “Exhibit Temporarily Removed.” I notice the wall behind it, and I gasp.
There, in a large gilt frame is an oil painting. It’s Christopher, complete with his long brown hair, his light eyes seemingly on fire. His bear pin gleams on his cape. The artist’s technique is crude, the paint thickly applied and cracking, but Christopher’s intense look is accurately captured.
I step closer. Read the plaque beneath the painting. “Christopher Newman of Watley Manor, circa 1460.” My knees tremble. My hands start to shake.
“What’s the matter?” Roger says. “You look like you’ve seen a – ”
“Don’t,” I say in barely a whisper. Now my lips are trembling, tears are streaming down my cheeks. I back away from the painting.
“Michelle? What is it?”
I can’t speak. Can only shake my head over and over again. And run.
I run through the bright castle courtyard, tears blurring the daylight into a rainbow of colors. I slam into a man taking a picture of his wife and kids beside the Instruments of Torture sign, and murmur an apology as I make my way past them and through the arched gateway. My shaky legs somehow take me down the path to the visitor’s lot, where I fumble with the lock on Mary’s bike.
Then I ride, my legs pumping hard, as if I can outride what I now know is happening to me. Wasn’t my brother, Wayne, around my age when he started mumbling in class? When he got that crazed look and said, “They are talking to me. I’m just answering”? But he could never explain whom he’d answered. My mom had an explanation: he had the psychic gift. The doctor had another explanation: schizophrenia.
I’m soaring along the road that passes St. Paul’s Church. The wind whips at my face.
“Shelly honey,” my mom had said to me, “you got the gift.”
By the church’s roofed gateway, I squeeze the hand brakes and throw the bike down. I drag myself through the graveyard, stumbling on bits of broken gravestones. I find myself at that tomb, wiping my cheeks and nose with the back of my hand. There is his figure. Christopher Newman of Watley Manor. I wonder if Wayne’s delusions seem as real to him as this one does. I pant as if I can’t breathe. As if I’m being buried alive. I sink to my knees, rest my forehead against the cold stone monument, and whisper, “No.”