SUBMITTED BY SHARON FRAYNE.
Do You Believe in Ghosts? (Continued)
Incredible, I thought. You’d never know there used to be a building here. It’s bad enough now. What was this place like in winter, back in 1817, when it was a jail?
I hesitated, hoping the storm would die down, then gave up. It just wasn’t going to stop. I decided to continue the journey back to my warm home. It was tough going. Like walking through frozen quicksand. After a few plunging steps, I had to stop to let my heaving lungs and racing pulse settle down. I gasped for breath and the cold air burned like fire inside my lungs. The footprints I’d left behind drifted in as the relentless wind erased the visible world and wrapped everything in a frozen white powder. I made it home, and hung everything up to dry out.
A little later, with a hot drink in hand, I sat before a blazing fireplace and thought again about the plaque. I remembered seeing the words… Courthouse, jail, radicals, sedition, and slavery, forcible rescue… what else had happened in that long lost building? According to the terse explanation on the plaque, it had closed as a court in 1847. Then, for about 20 years afterwards it was a gaol. I knew that the modern term for ‘gaol’ was ‘jail’. And I knew enough that conditions back then — in the ‘gaol’ — must have been hellish.
Aside from the plaque, there were no clues that stormy afternoon to tell the story of that ‘once upon a time’ building. There has to be a way to figure this out, I thought.
The storm kept me inside for the rest of the day, and I became restless imagining a building that no longer existed. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and the people who must have been there. Around midnight the storm gave up and I decided to head back and take a second
look at the plaque. I checked the thermometer. It was still -20 C, but no wind, and the inky starlit sky was bright with silvery moonlight. This second time across the park, it was harder to beat a path. The snow was deep and hid my earlier trail. A crunchy film of rock hard ice crusted the surface. Each step felt like punching through plaster and the surface cracked in chunks around the foot holes.
“Hey, whoever’s in charge around here — it’s cold enough to freeze my nose!” I yelped to the dark. The frigid air seeped through my heavy winter clothing, and my feet felt like heavy stumps. The shadowy trees that grouped like ominous watchmen around the perimeter hid all signs of life outside the park. The park was empty and silent, and suddenly I felt very alone.
It was calm, the storm was over, and the cool clear moonlight illuminated the sparkling silvery field ahead. A dazzling display of tiny stars swirled in the jet dark sky. I thought I could almost hear some strange, far away music. Like the hum of an orchestra warming up before a big concert. A few fat flakes of snow drifted slowly down from the heavens and glimmered in the ghostly light like gems on my gloves. Finally, I stood again before the historic plaque. The golden words gleamed against the enameled blue background.
The park was dead silent. I gazed at the ancient star formations as they danced above and watched the hot vapour of my breath vanish in the air. My heartbeat slowed. I closed my eyes and rested, leaning against the plaque.
My thoughts were still and my mind cleared. Then my thoughts were filled with a vision of a large brick building. Like the one I’d seen earlier in the day. The one that called to me in the storm.
Yes, it had once stood on this same spot. Something big and important had happened here. A strong cold squall came from out of the west and a whirl of light snow circled around me. I shivered. The building vanished.
There was a sudden ear splitting crack not far away and then a loud creaking sound close by. Frightened, I gripped the post beneath the plaque. I was alone, wasn’t I? Was there someone else in the park with me?
“Who’s there?” I called fearfully. “Where are you? Are you hiding from me? What do you want?”
From the far side of the park a large dark shape hurled towards me. It crashed through the snow, coming closer and closer. Terrified, I clung to the post for safety. I was the only human foolish enough to be outside and something powerful was rushing through the dark towards me. I could hear the racing footsteps breaking through the snow and the sound of hot heavy panting.
A large black shape, like a two-headed monster with gaping mouth and bright red eyes was rapidly bearing down — directly upon me. Then the horrible shape divided and something charged by — on either side of me.
I was terrified, and my heart pounded like it would burst. I watched it — or rather them — flee. They roared away in hot pursuit of an invisible moving target. Then they went beneath the children’s swing set, disappeared behind the playground and into the darkness. The empty swing soared high in the night air, stretching the chains as tight as they could go. The seat flipped and tossed in the wind. It was like something invisible was pumping to the sky. Did I hear a voice?
“Where are you?” someone called. “Are you hiding from me?” It sounded like a little boy echoing me. But what would a child be doing outside on a night like this?
I relaxed my death grip on the post and watched the empty swing doing its crazy midnight dance. Back and forth it flew, like a winter bird searching for safety after a storm.
Abruptly the wind stopped and the swing collapsed in mid-air. Bang! It dropped back down towards the ground.
There was silence once again.
I knew I was alone that night, but also that I was standing on the very spot, where in the past, thousands of people had come to the Courthouse/Gaol. Some would have come in despair and desperation; and some would have come with hope. Some escaped to freedom and a hopeful future, others met with torture and death. I brushed a few little snowflakes off my shoulders. They felt heavy, as if they carried the pressure of something bigger.
“Ok,” I yelled. “I get it. There’s something here.” I accepted the responsibility of discovering and sharing the tales.
To be continued