Notes: This story is actually written by two people: Sophie and Rose. In case you're unfamiliar with the locations mentioned, this takes place in Edinburgh, Scotland, on a ghost tour Sophie has been on twice. We've had this workshopped here on Prolitfic before and found the comments very helpful. We're curious to see if this newest draft is an improvement. Thanks for reading and commenting!
21 September 2012
“I swear, when you turned off the light a wee bairn just took my hand,” said Naveena Kulkarni, waving her right hand around. She skipped up the stairs after their tour guide, John, brimming with questions. Her friend, Hasina Farah, followed up slower and watched her with a fond yet long-suffering expression.
“Has that ever happened to you? D’you who know it was?” Naveena looked to the crowd of adults behind them. They had been the only people in the Edinburgh’s South Bridge Vaults, but she had distinctly felt a small hand take hers in the darkness, cold as it clung to her fingers.
“I believe that was Jack,” John replied with a smile. His white hair and beard shone gold in the the yellow lamplights. “He likes to take women’s hands.”
“Does he throw rocks, too? I felt one smack my arm before Jack took my hand. Hurt, too.” Naveena zipped her fuschia motorcycle jacket up as a cold late-September wind scattered leaves around their shoes, their shadows dancing about like huge spiders on the street. The walk from the South Bridge Vaults to Greyfriars Kirkyard wasn’t long, but they’d remain outside at least another half hour.
John hummed. “Do you remember my story about Mr. Boots?”
“The mean fucker with tall boots and pushes people?” Naveena asked.
“He throws rocks sometimes, too.” John gave her a curious look. “It’s unusual enough to come across one of them, but both? Maybe Jack wanted to protect you, or for you to protect him.”
“Ahh, fuck, that’s so brilliant!” Naveena wiggled in glee. “That didn’t happen when I tried this tour as a fresher.” She turned and walked backwards, giving Hasina a huge grin. “Aren’t you glad you came with me?”
Hasina shivered in the fall breeze, smoothing back down the floating edges of her hijab. “It’s certainly informative,” she admitted. “I’m learning a lot.” Though the question hadn’t been answered aloud, there was a bright smile on her face. “Watching your excitement makes it worth it all on its own.”
Naveena beamed as she stuffed her hands in her pockets and fell into step with Hasina, her crossbody purse bouncing against her hip. Most of her friends thought her mad for spending the first Friday night of her final year of uni on this ghost tour. They had tried to convince her to go to the pub or go clubbing, but as much as she enjoyed such things, it struck her as such a boring way to start the year. How was a pub or a club special, when they went to one every week? A ghost tour, however, felt like connecting with something bigger, and served as a reminder to appreciate that she was alive and kicking. It was perfect way to set herself up for one hell of a year.
“Thanks for coming,” she told Hasina, bumping their arms together. “Fucking hell, you’re the only one with any sense of adventure anymore!”
Hasina stood a little taller at the comment. “Abaayo, I will spend enough time studying later, and I am too shy to go clubbing.” She eyed the rest of their group, wondering why they had come. “This is plenty of adventure for me.”
“Clubbing’s overrated half the time anyway, if the crowd’s wrong. This is way better.” Naveena gave the statue of the Greyfriars Bobby a wave hello as they passed. “Hope something else happens tonight!”
“Careful,” John warned, waving a chiding finger at her. He paused in front of Greyfriars Kirkyard, letting the rest of the group catch up. “You don’t want to invite more attention to yourself, not in Covenanters Prison.”
“Why not?” piped up a voice from the group. A German man with close cropped hair wearing a dark pullover stepped closer to the guide. “There something to be frightened of?” He was clearly trying to be funny, but the rest of the group had interest in the answer.
“Greyfriars is the home of many spirits,” John explained as he opened the gates, “but none are so infamous, and dangerous, as the Mackenzie Poltergeist.”
They were coming closer. Mackenzie could feel them. Another group. Plenty came to visit. So many, he could not count. Far more than he’d tried. The repetition of it, often, was boring. Oftimes he found them dull. That was when Mac wandered, searched for feeling, for fun, for anything. It kept his mind from Charles. Kept it from the men still wandering with him. Damnation was an idle mind.
Iron hinges squealed as John opened the gates. The Greyfriars Kirk, a cyclops of a yellow stone church with a gaping jaw of sharp windows for teeth, loomed over the group, ever watchful. Naveena craned her head back to read the gate as she passed under it before waving at a security guard stationed by the entrance. She tucked her long dark hair behind her ear before adjusting her sleeves, her jacket, her purse; her eyes scanned the graveyard, tombstones darkened with age scattered about the dying trees. Still electric with her encounter in the vaults, she strained to see through the night. What was hiding here in the quiet? Would someone else come to say hello?
John recounted the tale as he led them to the back of the graveyard, the warm light of the small security building thinning and giving way to the darkness. In the late 17th century, thousands of Presbyterian Covenanter rebels refused to bow down to King Charles II’s demands to convert to the Episcopal Church. Hasina listened with a furrowed brow, always one to jump to the defense of anyone who was having their rights torn down.
“This small corner of land,” he told them as he stopped before a gate enclosed in square stones, “is all that’s left of the Inner Yard.” It was where the Covenanters were tortured, starved, exposed to the frigid winter cold, and beheaded, all under the watch of one Lord Advocate Sir George Mackenzie. “Or, as they knew him, Bluidy Mackenzie.” The man responsible for the death of hundreds was later buried in the Mackenzie Tomb only feet away from their remains, John continued.
Naveena frowned at the black dome some yards away, Hasina tucked just behind, superstition getting the better of her. “I’d forgotten about that,” Naveena remarked, glancing back at Hasina in concern. “No wonder there are hauntings. I’d be pissed as fuck too if the man that killed me was buried right next door.”
“It’s not the Covenanters haunting the kirkyard,” John said, eyes glittering as he took out a key. “It’s Mackenzie, hence, the Mackenzie Poltergeist.”
John showed off his key to the crowd, everyone’s eyes following its path in the air. “We are the only ones in the city with a key to Covenanters’ Prison,” he announced, “aside from the city itself. It’s deemed too dangerous to let people wander in freely, which brings me to ask, does anyone here have a heart condition, or is pregnant? Because it is not safe for you in here if you are.”
Most of the little crowd exchanged nervous looks before reassuring John they were fine. Hasina let out a nervous little giggle, eyes wide and focused on the dark behind the gate. Naveena bounced on her toes a step ahead of Hasina, heart racing. She had no health problems to worry about. She just wanted into that bit of graveyard.
Mac looked over the group. They fit the mold. Foreigners, sinners. Those who were nervous just to stand here. Confession from them would be no trial. He pushed through one, just to prove it.
“Oh!” exclaimed a woman standing to their left. “That was a cold breeze,” she complained, leaning into her companion, her streaky platinum blonde hair and American accent sticking out in the crowd.
“I didn’t feel anything?” he told her, shrugging. Despite what he said, he stuffed his hands into his pockets with a little “brr”. His voice did not match hers, a South African lilt betraying him as a tourist, too. She frowned up at him, clearly thinking he was trying to spook her.
“Yes you did!” she whined, tugging on the front of his blue coat. “I saw you shiver!”
Her boyfriend shook his head, adjusting his glasses over his broad grin. “I didn’t!” The teasing was evident in his tone this time, and Hasina turned to Naveena to speak under her breath.
“I wish people would not make fun in places like this.”
Naevena nodded, scowling at the pair. “We’re talking about people being tortured to death, for fuck’s sake.”
The prattle of the living was rarely of consequence. The final comment drew his attention, like a barb, the reminder of his past sharp and clinging. The dark-haired girl in pink, he’d seen her before. The last time she’d come he had only just glimpsed - but he could scent her. She smelled of death. Far more than he. Far more than Clavers, his executioner. He’d thought she was a witch last time but she’d left too fast for him to tell.
In a blink he was on her, the chill of his presence making her turn up her collar. More of that garish colour. Now she was here, he had an opportunity. He’d investigate, and maybe learn why she carried death around her like a cloak. Was she a witch? Or something else?
As John led the group inside, he wove images of disease, suffering, and death, of bodies piled on top of each other, of the misery of watching a friend die beside you on the frozen ground and having no way of helping them. Naveena fell towards the back of the group alone as they moved forward, stuffing her hands up her sleeves to rub warmth into her arms. Her heart grew heavy, the excitement of her recent interactions with the dead crushed by the grief oozing out of the stone. What must’ve it been like to die here? she wondered, looking down at the ground beneath her feet. Her steps grew careful and light, suddenly feeling like she was walking on their suffering bodies. Were they able to move on, or are they stuck here? Shite, if they’re stuck they must be so miserable...
“The kirkyard was calm for three centuries,” John said, locking the gate behind them. “And then, in 1998, that all changed. A homeless man, seeking shelter from the rain, broke in and disturbed Mackenzie’s tomb. After some time, he began to ransack the tomb, looking for something of value to pawn, no doubt, and fell through a hole in the old wooden flooring, landing in a pit of green, slimy, rotting corpses, all buried there illegally during the plague. He ran out screaming bloody murder, terrifying the security guard on duty and his dog, and all three of them fled into the city. The homeless man and the dog were never heard from again. The security guard only came back to hand in his notice.”
As John spoke he lead them down the grassy lane between the stone cells. “There are many who come in here and say right off they feel how different it is behind the gates,” John continued. “But it doesn’t just feel different. People have come away with long gouges, massive bruises, burns on occasion. Sometimes these injuries can be fairly nasty,” he admitted. “There’s even been some broken fingers, so keep a close watch on yours. And all of the attacks happen here.”
He stopped in front of a large open tomb, pitch black inside. “It’s called the Black Mausoleum,” John told them. The gaping door seemed to beckon to the light only for the darkness to smother it, swallowing it whole. Naveena thrilled, staring into it, blood rushing in her ears and the hair at the back of her neck standing on end. Something was going to happen in there. She could feel it.
“You can see why.” He paused, building up a breath of tension before saying cheerfully, “And! We’re all going to go in.” John flashed everyone a huge grin. “Tallest first, at the back, shortest next, so I can keep my eye on you. As long as I can see you, I’ll know if an attack is happening.”
Naveena, being 5’9”, was one of the first in and positioned herself in one of the far corners, wanting to give both people and spirits plenty of room around her. Scanning the crowd, she gave Hasina an encouraging wiggle of her fingers, Hasina’s shorter stature keeping her close to the front.
John lit a candle and cupped it in his hand, the glow distorting the shadows on his face. “We measure poltergeist attacks on a scale of one to five.”
Naveena tuned him out as she examined her surroundings, surprised it was colder inside the mausoleum than outside. She reached out and touched a stone wall, shivering as the condensation wet her fingertips.
Wait, that's weird. Why was there condensation on the walls? It hadn’t rained. And why was it...warm? Taking her hand back, Naveena’s eyes widened as she saw glistening dark liquid on her skin. Her stomach dropped with a thrill, making her head spin. What is this?
“No one’s ever seen a level five attack before.” John waggled his eyebrows, leaning in. “They say the walls bleed.”
In they went. Like sheep, Mac thought. They were not the first group. Over and over, people came in. The more he forced them out, the more they came in droves. Infuriating. And still worse was this girl. Who was she? Why couldn’t he see it? She would have to tell him. He demanded she explain herself.
His hand lashed out and held her upper arm in a grip like irons. “Witch,” he snarled in her ear. “Who are you?”
Naveena’s nearly jumped out of her skin, her scream caught in her throat. She jerked towards the voice, her pounding pulse drowning out all other sounds. Her eyes strained to see who had said that, but she was alone in her corner, the rest of the crowd huddled close to John’s candle.
No one seemed to notice her at all.
“Not,” she finally whispered, too quiet to be heard over John’s latest tale. She swallowed past a dry mouth, her free hand shaking as she raised it towards her trapped arm. Maybe if she waved around in the space, whatever it was would let go? “Not a witch.”
“Then what?” he hissed. He pressed, nails biting her flesh. He took up her space. Naveena gasped and squirmed, her free hand flying to the wall for support. Ice seized her, sharp and burning, as he dug deep.
Mackenzie jolted backward, the force a frozen gale in the small room. “You!” Voice and arms lashed out at once, nails bared. Naveena’s back slammed into the wall as she threw up her arms, shielding her face. “You, you, you!” And then Mackenzie was gone, leaving a few more injuries behind him.
Screams echoed off the tomb walls as Naveena opened her eyes and took in her shredded sleeves. She stared at the terrified crowd rushing to escape, tripping over each other in their haste, Hasina trying to push against them in the opposite direction. Miles away at the gate, John waved and shouted at the girls to leave. Naveena knew she should, but her legs wouldn’t listen. Instead she blinked slowly, swaying, and then she collapsed, the world going black before she even hit the ground.