Thank you to everyone who entered our writing competition.
The winners were chosen by our social media followers on Facebook and Twitter, and are as follows:
1st Place, £300 Landmark vouchers: Mr Brian Wyndham Payne – Stogursey - A Tale for the Younger Visitor
2nd Place, £100 Landmark vouchers: Mr Nik Loxham – The Question
3rd Place, £100 Landmark vouchers: Ms Christine Smith – Astley Castle – A Story of Salvation
Thank you to all who entered or voted for making our inaugural writing competition such a success. We will be in touch with the three winners shortly. You can read the winning story below:
Stogursey – a tale for the younger visitor [and their parents]
Robert Fitzpayne stared moodily at the white ducks in the castle moat. As the resident ghost, he did a lot of that, as he had little power to do much else. In common with all residential ghosts, he had been looking forward to his release when the roofs and walls of the castle had finally collapsed. After more than 700 years, his debt was paid. He had not been a very pleasant mortal – to succeed in the 14thcentury, there had been quite a number of wild stabs in the dark to keep him on his career path. To his horror, just as he was becoming quite insubstantial as a haunting presence, some bunch of enthusiasts had repaired the place, and he found himself resigned to yet more years of brooding over the neatened ruins and thatched gatehouse. At least the people who now hired Stogursey castle from the repairers were more interesting than some of the past occupants; Robert still shuddered at the boredom created by the man who had grown potatoes all over the courtyard.
In the car on the way down to Somerset, Louise Brownlow touched her husband’s hand as it rested on the gearstick.
“Robbie’s asleep. I hope this trip brings himself out of himself.”
James Brownlow frowned at the phrasing – a noted advocate, he disliked sloppy language, but he conceded that the point was well made. He glanced at Louise’s son in the mirror as the boy slept in the back of the car. Robbie was 9. James had married Louise four years ago, and since then his step-son had barely recognised his existence. Matters were at the stage where a relationships expert had suggested that James and Louise take some time away from their busy schedules, and have some quality family time. James had internally sneered at the phrase, but he and Louise had booked a week at Stogursey Castle, after the Landmark Trust had been recommended by someone in Chambers.
“ I hope so too, darling. It will be a real old-fashioned holiday. Time on the beach, see the sights, that sort of a thing.” He looked at his wife. She was texting someone.
That night, Robbie was awake, long after his mother and step-father had gone to bed. He lived his life in books. He had an e-reader, and an open account that was never checked. He roamed through literature. Sometimes he didn’t understand the words used or the meaning of some of the things he read, but he consumed books voraciously, discarding those he found boring. He was reading ‘The Sword in the Stone’ by T H White, as a fitting book for a stay in a castle. As he flicked the page buttons, he was being watched by the resident ghost, who had perched himself on a chest in one corner of the room.
Robert Fitzpayne was well educated in modern life. He had seen the whole evolution of the industrial and the electronic age. He recalled the extraordinary moment when a machine had flown past the castle a century before. He was fascinated by technology, and spent hours poring over the shoulders of guests in the castle watching them use their laptops, tablets and phones. Time and time again, he had tried to push a button, but he had no power to manifest himself left. He was watching the boy reading. He liked the boy – he was reminded of his own son at that age.
“Who are you?” The question from the boy startled the ghost. He flicked out of sight.
“Come back, ghost, I’m not frightened.” Robert rematerialized.
“Boy, can you hear me?” Robert had no expectation of an answer. Even when he had been at his strongest state, no-one could hear him.
“I can hear you in my head, behind my eyes. How do you do that?” Robbie was curious rather than flustered.
“I don’t know, Boy. No-one has heard me before. How do you do it?”
“I’m not doing anything, ghost. It must be you.”
“Well this is a mystery. And how long have you been able to see me?”
“Since we came. I saw you on the drawbridge and thought you were an actor. Then you disappeared, and I knew you were a ghost.”
“Are you not frightened Boy?”
“Oh no – I thought you were like the Canterville Ghost, or Headless Nick in Harry Potter”.
“Who are they?”
And the conversation went on, Robbie whispering and Robert speaking into his mind. At last, Robbie asked the ghost his name.
“I am Robert Fitzpayne, and I built this castle. What is your name, Boy?”
“My name is Robert William Fitzpayne-Brownlow.”Robbie answered proudly.
“I think you are my ancestor. We came here because my first Dad was a Fitzpayne and Mum looked this place up on the internet.”
The two looked at each other in a moment of complete surprise.
“Well, Boy, that will take some thinking about.”
Louise was even more worried about Robbie. He seemed completely distracted, and she had caught him standing on the drawbridge whispering into thin air. He was very tired – she couldn’t think why he wasn’t sleeping. She and James had been sleeping like tops. They had agreed to banish their phones to the car, except for one 10 minute stint each day, when urgent messages were answered. Robbie had been very reluctant to leave the castle, and as soon as they had come back, he had run to his room. He said that he was reading a special book, but he wouldn’t say what it was.
The ghost, an observant spirit at heart, was worried as well. Boys should be up to all sorts of games and tricks. Young Robert – the ghost hated the shortened name – spent too much time reading and asking questions. Between them, they had decided that the common name and the ancestry was the reason that they could communicate. The ghost, casting back to his memory of matters occult in Mediaeval times, thought that was a reasonable theory. Robbie could find nothing written about it. Hidden in the ghost’s heart – however transparent that organ – was the belief that a descendant could release him from his long, long vigil over the castle. He had said that to Robbie.
“No. I can’t, you are my only friend. You are my family. I can’t let you go.”
Robbie had shouted the words out, and his step-father had come to see what was the matter. When the adult had gone, the ghost spoke again:
“I have watched your step-father. He is a good man. In my day, when fathers were killed in battle, mothers often remarried. I know your real father, my kinsman, was killed in the place you call Iraq. But I wouldn’t be angry if my mother had remarried. It makes common sense. Your father was a soldier – so was I. Be like your father – be brave and make the best of things. It is the Fitzpayne way.”
Robbie and Robert talked for an hour longer. That night, Robbie slept a full nine hours. In the morning he startled James by walking up to him as he sat at the breakfast table.
“Can I call you Dad, James?” James said “Yes” and then he, Louise and Robbie all hugged each other. Louise started to cry. Later that day, when they were packing up the car to go, Robbie went back to his room. The ghost was there. The boy stood as straight upright as he as could.
“Sir, I have done what you said. I am Robert Fitzpayne and you are my very many times Great Grandfather. I want to thank you. My mother is happy and I am happy….and you should be happy. You can leave now, and go to sleep.”
Robert Fitzpayne looked at the boy, nonplussed for a second. Had he been able to, he might have had a tear run down his cheek. He was so very tired. Whatever it was that had kept him prisoner in atonement for his sins had gone. The ghost faded from Robbie’s sight. He heard the words “Thank you my son” He felt the brush of fingers through his hair. And then there was nothing.
“Robbie, come on, we’re going!”
And the family left. In Robbie’s jeans pocket was a battered gold ring. A day or two before, the ghost had pointed him to a place outside the walls, and when the adults had been distracted, Robbie had dug a hole and immediately found an old, old tile. Under the tile was the ring. Carved on it were three lions on a shield – the Fitzpayne crest. Robert William Brownlow-Fitzpayne intended to keep it for his children – and to tell them about their phantom ancestor, the Lord of Stogursey Castle.
Brian Wyndham Payne
4th May 2014