SUBMITTED BY SHARON FRAYNE.
Do You Believe in Ghosts? (Continued)
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.
As I stood in the snow, I wondered, what was it like — back in 1817 — what actions would land someone in a courthouse? How would they be represented and tried?
What punishments would be handed down? What would it be like to be in jail? Conditions must have been brutal in the cells of that time period.
My journey to find the vanished history of the 1817 Courthouse and Gaol began. Along the way, I uncovered heartbreaking tales of early prisoners; dramatic stories of the 19th century justice system and prisons; horrifying descriptions of punishments, including executions; the story of an escaped American slave and his rescue; defiant political prisoners; the tragic story of the centre for British Home Children; and a dormitory for young Poles destined to fight in WW1.
It was late and cold, and time to head back home. I gazed up at the spectacular night sky. In some ways, stars are like humans, I thought. They are born, they live for a time, and then they die. But unlike us, their life span is billions of years. The poor souls who were here before me must have looked up at the same stars. Now they are gone and their stories are lost, I thought.
I stumbled back home through the snow. It was easier, because I’d already beaten a path. But travelling beside my trail was a second one. It led directly back to my home. The trail of two racing footprints. The path of the beast — or rather beasts that had rushed past me at the plaque.
They definitely weren’t human. They were coyotes.
They must have raced from a distant woodlot, cut across my backyard, followed my trail and then dashed away beneath the swing set. That’s what I’d seen racing towards me. Something had scared them away and kept me safe. The coyotes had disappeared, just like the stories of the old Courthouse.
I knew there had to be another path — hidden for a long time — that I must find and follow to discover the truth. In the distance, the empty swing in the snowy park creaked and lifted once again in the bitter night air. Then it hung motionless, still waiting beneath the silent starlit sky.