The Castle - Ritchie

I disliked Douglas instantly. There was something about the way he handed us the life jackets. He way he pressed it into my hand with a smile and then clapped me on the back. I’d never realised just providing someone with a buoyancy aid could be so annoying. There was something smug in the back of his eyes that told me I might need it, that maybe I was the incompetent one that was going to fall in. That was obviously bollocks as I’ve been sailing a few times and everyone was wearing jackets but still…that look. He’s doing it again now, that air of smarminess, or superiority. He’s warming to his theme strutting in front of the fire like he’s performing. The lights are down low and I suspect he’s stood there on purpose to be backlit by the flames while he tells his ghost story. It’s all very dramatic but it’s not working on me. Give me data, facts or science and I’ll be the first to believe but ghosts…I don’t think so ‘mate’. He used the word ‘mate’ a lot on the boat, it grated every time he said it. He’s using more archaic language now in his retelling. Waving out the hand that holds the whiskey as if he’s pointing a far away look in his eyes. It’s a classic tale of girl meets boy, boy betrays girl, girl suffers and vows revenge. This time however, the girl gets her retribution by becoming a warrior, training others as assassins to hunt him and eventually bringing her lover home to her castle to watch him slowly die - a classic love story. He’s due some credit though, the girls are lapping this shit up. Sephy is looking slightly scared and is leaning closer like she wants to cling onto him for reassurance. Kaz is on the loveseat, leaning back looking at him like he’s the last rolo. For a minute I actually pity the guy, if Kaz has decided she wants him he’s not got much say in the matter. Thankfully Emily seems to be above all of this hokum. She’s staring into the middle distance with a thoughtful expression. I still feel so protective of them all, even now, when they’re grown women. Like being together we naturally regress and I fall into the role of hero protector I always tried to play. I think it was just because I was the only boy though, I don’t think they ever really needed me…apart from Emily perhaps.

I nudge Emily playfully with an elbow and whisper in her ear, ‘Pay attention or the undead warrior witch might get you.’

She turns round briefly and smiles, ‘I was just thinking about how lucky we are. It was so nice of Caroline to sort all this.’

I squeeze her hand, ‘And she’s lucky to have you as a friend too. I just wish we’d speed it up and….’

Douglas looks at us and my whispering tails off like I’m a guilty schoolchild.

He raises his eyebrows, ‘We’re a small group Ritchie. Anything you want to share with us all?’

I decide to stand up so we’re face to face, ‘I’m bored. When are we going to start playing?’

Sephy looks shocked, ‘Ritchie.’

Douglas smiles at me, ‘How do you know we haven’t already started?’

Kaz cackles, ‘Tops off please if you’re going to fight. I’m not sure my camera will work in this low light so maybe we can take it into the hallway.’

Douglas spreads his smile around the room at the group, ‘Ritchie here has actually caused an interlude at a very opportune time as we’re going to take this story on the road. That’s right. Follow me. You can bring your drinks.’

The girls stand and file out of the room following Douglas like he’s the fucking pied piper.

In the hallway he dismisses our bags with a sweep of his arm as he passes them going down the corridor, ’Leave your things here for now. I’ll bring them up to your rooms later.’

The idea of him as a bellboy warms me a little and I walk faster to catch up with the group.

At the end of the corridor he turns right and then left and then upstairs. We walk through cavernous rooms and tiny nooks all with the same ancient wood doors. Douglas barks the names out as he strides through, ‘Armoury, Kitchen, Privy, Hall. You’ll have dinner at six and breakfast at eight tomorrow before the games begin at 9am. I’ll take you to your rooms as soon as I show you this little gem.’

We’re at the end of the hall at the end of the building and then we’re walking up a tight stone staircase. My hands are either side on the cool stone to steady myself as the stone beneath my feet is worn smooth with age and use. I’m at the end following close behind Emily.

Douglas’s voice is now echoing down the stairs, muffled by the twists and turns but I can still hear it. ‘This tower is where she kept her lover, hanging for weeks until he revealed why he broke his promise.

I’m starting to ache now, my legs are leaden and my lungs have started to burn a little. Emily is charging on ahead of me so there’s no way I’m not going to keep pace with her.

I round another curve and suddenly I’m there. I pause to catch my breath on the last step, leaning slightly against the heavy wooden door before following Emily into a circular room. A desk and chair are placed near one of the many slit windows that run all around the room. It’s small for five people and we file into the room pressed against each other like sardines. I can smell the floral scent of Emily’s shampoo.

Douglas shuffles behind us as if to give us the best vantage point, ‘There’s such a beautiful view from here, only sea from every window all the way to the horizon.’

Kaz crouches down slightly one eye to a slit.

I turn on Douglas, ‘It’s dark you eejit. We can’t exactly enjoy the view now can we?’

Douglas shrugs with a smile, ‘That’s the beauty of winter in Scotland. 5pm sunsets.’

I try to square up to him although it’s barely half a step in this cramped space. ‘I’ve had enough of this. I’ll find the rooms on my own.’

I try to push past him to the stairs but to my surprise he stops me. Unexpectedly strong hands grab my shoulders and shove hard. I stagger and fall onto Emily slightly as I regain my balance.

Kaz shouts, ‘Easy. Easy. Look at you stags butting heads.’

I look up at him shocked. He’s supposed to be our host. I’m composing a negative review in my head and wondering if my complaint will get him sacked when he surprises us all again.

Douglas smiles lazily, ‘Sorry folks. You should be more careful about who your friends are.’ He steps back and swings the wooden door shut with a bang. I instinctively lunge to keep it open but it’s firmly closed. There’s the sound of metal on metal and it’s clear he’s locked it. Douglas peers in through the small window opening at eye level, peering through the metal bars. ‘Just to be clear I am not your friend…’