“One night alone, that’s all. I know it’s weird, but my uncle’s eccentric. And rich. And if you do this, we inherit Dunnottar Castle and the cliff as a wedding present.”
Alton kneels by my side while I sip warm brandy on an overstuffed chair. A fire crackles in the fireplace across the room.
“Okay. Sure. And yes, your uncle is weird. But I’ll sign the contract.”
“You have to sign it before midnight. And Uncle Sirius and I have to be out of here before midnight too, or the contract is voided.
“Okay, okay. Bring it here. And bring me another brandy. Nice and warm, just like the last one. Please.”
Alton pours another brandy from a kettle near the fire and fetches the contract. I skim through the pages and sip.
“What’s this about not going into the rooms on the north side of the castle? Is that where the ghosts are?”
“Don’t worry about it. Those rooms are locked anyway. I think they’re just storage rooms for breakable antiques from Dunnottar Brewery. From the old days.” He taps his foot. “Sweetie, it’s nearly a quarter till,” he says. “Please. Uncle Sirius is waiting for me and the signed contract in his car.”
“Autographing now. Geesh.” I hand the signed papers to Alton. He lets out a sigh, leans over me, and kisses my forehead.
“Remember- don’t leave the cliff. I’ll see you in the morning. I love you.”
“I love you too. Now good-bye. You have less than fifteen minutes.”
He glances at the grandfather clock and lets out a little yelp. I giggle, and he turns on his heel and runs out the door. I finish my brandy and watch the antique clock tick the minutes away. At exactly midnight-
Of course, right on time. I suppose now I’m supposed to flee the castle in terror and run in my slippered feet into town. But the Brandy’s made me drowsy, and I pull my blanket up under my chin and close my eyes.
Annoying. Sounds like it’s coming through the floor. I hope Uncle Sirius and his goblins don’t keep this up all night. But even if they do, I’ll be a castle-owner in the morning. Alton and I will sell the castle, and after we’re married, we’ll take a round-the-world honeymoon. Then invest the rest of the money. So one night of thumping isn’t gonna-
Now that was loud. I think I saw the floorboards shudder. Sounds like I won’t be getting any sleep tonight. Thanks, Uncle Sirius. But the night is warm, and as long as I don’t leave this cliff, I’ll get my castle. So I throw off my blanket, slip into my slippers and tie my robe. After grabbing my flashlight, I unlatch and open the front door, and step outside. The night air is cooler than I imagined it would be. I pull my robe tighter and exit through the main gate. After circling the castle, I descend a weather-worn stair-path overgrown with moss, grass, and weeds. Above, storm clouds move across the full moon. Below, a rocky cove glistens, barely visible. I hop off the last step. I feel the first drops of rain. A shallow cave leads me through the cliff base, and back up another steep, narrow path leading to the cliff top. At the top, the path widens to meet a postern gate set into a stone wall.
The gate is locked, so I stack some fallen tree branches and climb over. A weedy path leads me through the yard and down a slope to the north side of the castle. Continuing around to the north-east corner, the grass grows tall and thick, and I slip on the dew and slide into a depression. At the bottom I lose a slipper. When I stand, I feel a cold smoothness against my sole. It’s an iron door, fitted into the ground. I shove my foot into my slipper and push the overgrown grass aside. There’s a ring latch at the side of the door. I hook my fingers in the ring, pull with all my strength, and the door opens with a creek. Panting, I peer inside with my flashlight.
The walls display a tapestry of green Dunnottar Beer bottles. Cold air from the stairwell cools my face. I step onto the first step, and the rain comes in on a howl of wind. So I descend the next few steps and close the door over my head. I feel a steady drip on the back of my neck. Leaking rain. My flashlight flickers and dies. Nice touch, Uncle Sirius. You rigged the flashlight too. A green light appears at the bottom of the stairwell.
I call out, “Hey! Who’s there?”
“Would you like a drink?” a voice asks.
“Uh . . coffee? I’m a bit chilly. Who are you?”
“I am your predecessor. I have no coffee. Only beer.”
The green light expands into a green woman in a flowing green dress.
“A green beer ghost? Am I dreaming? Where am I?”
“You are in the Whigs Vault. You refuse to acknowledge the king’s religion. Will you escape and fall from the cliff?”
“Uh, yeah, I guess. I’ll escape. But I won’t fall from the cliff.”
“To escape you must fall from the cliff.”
“Fair enough. So . . why are you green?”
“I am from the brewery.”
“Yeah. Well I really must be going now. Good-bye.”
“Stay,” the lady says. “Show yourself.”
“You can’t see me?” I answer.
“It’s been too long, and I can’t see you. Darkness surrounds.”
“That’s well and good, green beer ghost, but I think I’ll leave now.”
The lady floats up the stairs. She circles me, and the hem of her dress flutters. I shiver. “I’m cold and wet. I’m sorry, but I have to leave.”
“I see you now, as your ancestor. You are ready.”
“Ready for what?”
The lady points over my head, and I look up. I see the tapestry of beer bottles, illuminated by the green glow. I push against the door, it opens, and I step out in the rain. The grass is drenched, and I slip and fall.
I open my eyes. I’m lying next to the open vault door.
It’s light out. Maybe Alton and Uncle Sirius are back by now. I make my way down the path. I must’ve really rolled around in the grass, my robe is stained green. And I lost my slippers. The pebbles hidden in the grass make my feet ache. Oh well, I’ll just buy more slippers. I’ll buy ten pair. I’ll buy one-hundred gold-thread robes with all the cash I’ll get when I sell this creepy place. I walk on for at least an hour. Where is the corner of the castle? The wall just goes on and on.
The sun’s bright. Unusually hot for September. Why can’t I find the castle’s front door? Alton must be furious by now. And Uncle Sirius is probably gloating. Feels like I’ve been walking for days, back and forth in front of this vault door. Every time I pass, I feel a cool breeze.
It’s so hot outside. I can’t untie my robe- er, dress. I don’t remember putting on a dress.
Maybe I’ll just take a break in the vault. Maybe the lady will still be there and tell me how to find the other side of the castle. I step onto the stairwell and shut the door behind me. The steps are smooth and cool. I descend to the bottom.
I don’t see the green lady. But I do see a wood plank in the corner. I’ll lift it and knock on the ceiling to summon help.