The Ghosts of Duntulm Castle

You will I’m sure have heard of the ghost of Duntulm Castle. I’ll specify which I mean, as there are a few keeping one another company. If each of them wailing can be classed as companionship. 

The one I mean is the nursemaid who was set adrift in a boat, as punishment for the death of her young charge, who fell from the window of the castle and was killed. 

 

This is what really happened that night and beyond.

 

She was indeed put on a boat to be dashed to death on the rocks, or starve, whichever came first. The chance she would go mad is not an impossible one either. 

And yet, she was not killed. Nor did she drown or any other gruesome thing hoped at the time. 

In that boat, on that night, she learned that stories were true. That dreams she’d long had were not just dreams. The images in her mind last night existed. 

 

As the boat drifted away she sat there, calmly accepting of her fate. Spiteful voices on the shore came on the wind, desperate to see her panic set in. 

 

Once she realises there’s no food, or water she’s going to panic. Once she notices that she’s adrift with no oars, and no way of getting home, she’s headed into a storm and certain death

 

On and on the gleeful voices went, happy to watch another suffer. It meant that today they were safe from the wrath of the masters. The blame was apportioned elsewhere. Joining the mob meant safety. And the boat sailed out of view. It was dark early that night and the baying crowd were disappointed that they could not watch longer. The sun set, blood red in the sky and the near darkness plunged straight after it. 

 

‘What was that noise?’ One of the villagers said, knowing what he’d heard wasn’t human. 

 

‘Ach, it’s the dogs, the foxes maybe. What’s wrong with you?’ Laughed his wife, still wishing she’d seen the girl panic at least. A new song to waulk the tweed with tomorrow. Yet, the wilful girl denied them that. 

 

He looked back towards the sea but saw nothing there, as he expected. The noise lay ahead. At the edge of the copse of trees, that led to the home they shared. 

 

They hurried along, for who wants to walk in the dark? 

 

Stepping into the copse he stopped as he came face to face with the noise he’d heard. A wolf. It looked balefully towards him, or so he thought. He tried to push his wife behind him, but she was too busy complaining about this and that. As quickly as the animal appeared, it was gone. Not an apparition, it just slunk quietly away. Lifting it’s top lip in a silent snarl, and it’s eyes flashing red, terrifying the man. 

When he tried to explain to his wife what he’d seen she laughed. 

 

‘You’re afraid, husband. We were not sending out some demon there, just a stupid girl. But, if you keep saying ridiculous things, we’ll be the next on a boat to nowhere. Do you hear me?’ She hissed in his face. He felt her spittle spray his cheeks like a mild sea fret. He looked back towards the water and as expected he saw nothing. Except on the shore what appeared to be a pair of shoes. But, of course, could be the kelp that dragged under the boat. He would check tomorrow. 

 

They carried on home. She feeling her husband was afraid of shadows and filled with anger at him. He sure she couldn’t see what was in front of her, but resigned to it. 

 

The next morning dawned cold and bright. The air was fresh and crisp. Winter was on the way. 

 

On his way to the shore to check on the shoes that haunted his dreams, the man crossed again through the patch of woodland and looked carefully for the wolf, of which there was no sign. 

 

His feet carried him a little faster to the shore, and he licked the salt from his lips. Felt it pulling his skin tightly. He loved this feeling. 

Looking out to sea there was a seal playing. His eyes must be playing tricks. It appeared to be waving at him. Much as he knew it was foolish, he returned the wave. The seal disappeared from view. 

For eight days the man returned, each day the seal appeared to wave and on his return wave, disappeared. On the ninth day he waited and seeing nothing, was about to leave. However, he heard a voice beside him that told him something he’d long suspected was true. 

The shoes he’d found on that first day. He’d moved them and hidden them within the rocks. 

‘Thank you for putting my shoes in a safe place. You are indeed a friend of the seal women. Do not be afraid, but never decide to swim out to me. You will surely drown. They will say when you’re old and beyond, that I haunt the castle. I’m not dead. I will return on the night they set me free, every year. My wolf is of no harm to you. He merely howls at the injustice of men. However, I am free and happy’ 

He made to turn, but feeling the wind pushing him forward heard her. ‘Please do not look at me. I wish you no harm or torment.’

For many years, the man returned to the shore. Sometimes there was a seal and sometimes not. He never confided in anyone, not even his wife.

Just before his own death, and long after his wife had passed on, he returned to the shore. Knowing that this would be the last visit here, and certain that the seal or the woman or whatever she was, would be long dead or moved on. Yet, he hoped that he might see it once more. There further away than usual, or it may have been his aged eyes was a seal and he was certain a hand raised in the surf. Long after she was gone he sat on the shingle beach, a huge stone his seat. His eyes drifted to the castle as darkness fell. He knew he should go home, but he felt rooted to the beach. Soon he would go home. Soon. 

There at the window from where the boy fell, little changed, was the girl who had been set adrift. Next to her, the wolf. Her head was thrown back and she emitted an ecstatic howl. The wolf joined her in pace and she stroked it happily. They both looked directly at the old man. 

 

He was found the next morning, by local fishermen on their way to sea for a catch in their small boat. He had a small satisfied smile on his face. In his hand he held a pair of shoes. 

Yet, to this day on a calm night you might hear her, wailing for the loss of her friend, if you listen carefully. Listen more carefully still and you might hear the old man sigh on the wind.

©Ailsa Cawley 2021

The last night

I should feel relieved that you’re finally going. And I am. Except I don’t really believe it, yet. From first being honest enough to say the words that I want you to leave and go back to your place there’s been a barrage of bloody everything. Texts from you. Your sister. People accosting me in the street. Outside the church. For fucks sake you’re a grown man. Accept it and leave me the fuck alone.

Haven’t you done enough?

Alternately, I’m angry then numb. I haven’t totally broken it yet. I’ve felt like I was in a glass bubble for so long. I can see the outside world, but I’m isolated from it. Increasingly, frighteningly isolated. Like the glass gets thicker and I’m stuck here. With no-one to turn to because the world seems to see a different face.

The affable, jovial even willing-to-help church attending member of the community.

My friend phones daily, my lifeline.

I’m avoiding other people because how can I break their vision of you? It’s not me to do that. And who wants to be effectively, the victim? Admit you were conned? The emotional blackmail is driving me crazy. From anger to tears you don’t fucking stop and I know that goes into following me, too.

I’m paranoid? Really? Am I? I saw your car. I know it’s registration like I know my own personal details. It turned up last night, outside a friend’s house, headlights on full beam and dipped between cars behind me as I walked through the roughest estate I know. Less scared there than I am of you.

I went to work today. Spoke with another friend. You don’t know she’s a friend. Not really. Just that she’s an acquaintance who is kind. Except I now know someone else believes me and it’s another chink in that glass bubble.

Crunch, crack, bit by bit. Her reaction took me by surprise. Something about getting that piece of shit the fuck out of there and to keep a weapon by the bed. I will do that tomorrow.

Curtains shut and getting ready for bed. A small defiance. But I have the key back. So, I have my life back. Finally.

Your car passed five minutes ago. You’re going to your house. And you put the key through the door earlier. A text short, abrupt. You’re picking your things up at a time convenient to us both.

I can get into bed, sleep as well as I can. I’m jittery. I tell myself you have no access and I’m being silly.

I’ve changed the bedding to get rid of the stench of sweat and alcohol that makes me gag. Still I can smell you. You linger like burned food after it’s gone in the bin. Except this is stale and threatening.

I breathe slowly. The doors are locked. There’s only us here. Myself and my daughter. She’s in the bedroom before mine.

And I hear a noise downstairs. You’re imagining it, I tell myself. Know I’m not. No I’m not. There were no lights shining through the curtain. I could just be scaring myself with shadows. Know I’m not. Oh fuck.

The stairs squeak occasionally. I know someone is in here. And there’s only one person it can be. You said yesterday you would surprise me. Your path around the bed I follow with my eyes shut. It’s the smell moving with you. I feel the dip as you sit on the bed. Hear you remove your clothes. You lean over me. Chuckling. At me or to yourself, who knows?

I daren’t move. Whatever you are here for, you’re so drunk that it won’t last long I tell myself.

Know the key being returned was symbolic of the power. A lie. Another fucking lie to add to the list.

You lean over me. Breath disgusting as it hits my face. Im not going to move. The smell of sweat, strong lager, mixed with brandy and mints. You must have seen your daughter. Lately, every time has meant you in a temper. A teenager no longer willing to worship you. I pay the price. The air crackles with danger.

My daughter is next door and I won’t scare her. Whatever happens to me I’ll get over. I can’t yell and scare the shit out of my child. She’s a brave little warrior who’d try and defend me. End up hurt.

You lean over me ‘I know you’re awake’

I don’t reply. Concentrate on steadying my breathing. Hope you’re going to fall asleep.

‘Bitch, I know you’re awake. You’re all the same. Move on when it suits’ you flick my nipple and I force myself to stay still. Calm as I can. Try to slow my heart down. Your hand grabs my left breast.

‘ I can feel your fear’ you whisper ‘you are awake’

Your hand slides away and I hope that you’re going to sleep. Your next words are the worst I’ll ever hear.

You drag your hand roughly down me and utter

‘I’ve always wanted to kill a woman’ fingers tap my neck, and the blood pounds in my head.

Bored of no reaction, you turn over and go to sleep. I don’t move.

All night I lie there. Awake.

It’s only a few hours before you get up for work.

The usual 5am like nothing is wrong. Like last night didn’t happen. You kiss my forehead saying you’ll be ‘home’ later. I put on an extra bolt after you leave. Rusty but working.

I go upstairs and am sick. But my child is safe. I feel myself shivering. It’s not cold at all. I acknowledge it is shock. Yet, I don’t have time for it now.

Today I’m getting the locks changed. The baseball bat my friend offered me too. Im furious and scared. A mixture even I know is dangerous.

©Ailsa Cawley 2021

As a star

As a star

You watched me there at the window

Laughing at my dreams, hopes

Of something you couldn’t see

All of it unimaginable in your world

Where nobody thinks they can try

And break from the normal drudge

You weren’t watching on the day

I looked up transfixed at the beauty

Even though death was what I saw

A shooting star burning bright

Dust, burning rock dust shining

In it’s death throes

And I knew then if a stardust can glow

Show the world it’s glow in dying

Mine had to shine by living

Ailsa

©AilsaCawleyPoetry 2021

Written for @PaulBrookes wombwellrainbow ekphrastic poetry April challenge.

Artwork by Jane Cornwell

Awakening

Sitting here I wait for the right time to show

My face to you each season

Now I’m young again the reborn one

Of our pack no longer hobbling on

The stick taken from a branch to aid me

As the final season aches my back so

I appear withered when I’m merely tired

In need of sleep so I can return and help

The maiden when she wakes from her sleep

Stretching out in all her splendour

Fingers crooking and every year I am

Entranced again and we work as one

Through the trees I watch and wait for her

To return once more

As we are young together we grow old, tired

Withering and wizened in need of sleep

Resting the long winter

So the greenery lives again and I the man

The Green Man and my maiden are young again.

For @thewombwellrainbow. com

Picture credit: Green Man by John Law

©AilsaCawleyPoetry2020

No change

Darling remember carry your keys

In your hand sharp end out

And if they come, when they do

Fight for all you’re worth

Take them down, out, run

Her grandmother said

Sweetheart watch for ones who stalk

Look at you like prey

Make your skin crawl

When they come, kick scratch bite

You’re in the fight for your life

I might not be there

Her father said

Decades later it’s ingrained

To have to be more careful

Go home earlier

Because she’s a girl and it’s made her

A target, a walking target

Not for any reason than she is she

No change needs to change.

Ailsa

©AilsaCawleyPoetry2021

Deeper than the surface

I ask you to look below the surface

To base your thoughts on other goals

Not money, glory and gain

Yet you look at me and see a waste

A foolish waste of space looking at

People who matter

Telling you that the waste is ignoring

The things before your eyes

Looking at need not greed

The deeper than surface things

That mean you really have to look

But never just glance

To care, help, look at another being

To give a moment of your day

Is never a waste of time

The real shame is missing

Out on the people you could have known

The conversation you should have had

If you hadn’t thought of it as a waste

Of your precious time.

Ailsa

©️AilsaCawleyPoetry2020

Waste

You leave it for someone else

Your plastic that infiltrates the sea

That poisons the lives of the fish

Aquatic life swimming below

I see you don’t care yet what if

That poison comes to your table

What then?

When it’s too late to take back

The waste you left behind

Because it harmed your child

Wife, husband, sister, friend

When you have hastened our end.

Ailsa

©️AilsaCawleyPoetry2020

Blanket Days ~ for a friend.

Hunkered down

Pull a blanket around

Hide in a warm cocoon

Where tea flows

And nobody knows

If you’re staying or leaving soon.

Take a blanket day

Ease the cares away

Running everything to ground

As you nourish your soul

Stop the world grabbing hold

Stay invisible to the crowd

Give to yourself the things

You’re suggesting for others

Treat your own body carefully

As if that of a lover

You’re filling up from the inside

Receive till it oozes out of edges

That you never knew you had

Smoothing away the harshness of days

And making you full once more

Until then stay in your blanket

Warm and caring for you

With what you need and a brew.

Ailsa

©️AilsaCawleyPoetry2021

What you see

With thanks to Paul Brookes at the wombwellrainbow.Wordpress.com for the ekphrastic January challenge.

Picture credit Kerfe Roig ‘handeye’

Every time you look at me you glance

At your hand and I imagine

That in the centre is an eye

Because you say the same thing

I see in an all knowing way

Generally you don’t see, but it’s said

The expected comment to pretend at

Listening to what’s being said

Instead of what you want it to mean.

A shell described becomes a butterfly

A key a lop eared rabbit and so on

Until my heart says why share the acorns

That grow into truth trees

Or rose bushes that hold thorns

And not everything is neatly packaged

As a diamond ring

The sky doesn’t only hold pretty birds

Or the sky hold only sunshine.

All is a mix , unpicked threads that make

Something different or new

You see imperfections, ruins

Rusty keys, thorny flowers, cold nights

I look for both sides neat and messy

Both bring their gifts making up a new

Pattern in my palm to see the world

In colours swirling in my palm.

As I watch the moon shine and stars

Vie for place in the palm of the sky.

Ailsa

AilsaCawleyPoetry2021

Flame in the snow

My feet are blue with cold

As I trudge the snowy hills

To find the signs of those gone

Ahead leaving wispy wisdom

Like golden coins in the drifts

Of feather like flakes

Heart thudding as I hear a whisper

It is your turn to pick up the baton

The lit torch in your path

Forge on with it, it’s magical light

Guide for head and heart

My feet cold no longer I see

I am clad in shoes to protect

A cloak grown warmer around me

Heart steadier and surer

That my path however different

Is the right one to take

And so I shall

Head bowed I thank the ancestors

The hills, and wind

The quiet now gone and a bird sings

Heralding my newness.

Ailsa

©️AilsaCawleyPoetry2021

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