A tale of ghost-hunting by I.A. Watson



If any place deserved to be haunted it was Rostherne Abbey. Ruined since the time of Henry VII’s great dissolution of the monasteries, plundered for stone and neglected for centuries, all that remained were the ruined walls of nave and chapter house, a few lonely columns of carved stone, and one great arched window that had once been filled with stained glass. Grass grew through the shattered flagstones and old burial slabs of the former sanctuary, and a crooked tree had split the altarstone in two.

Harry Drew found himself a good spot in the corner between the chancel and the nave where a niche had been carved for some long-gone saint’s statue. The small alcove made a natural bench, and there Harry laid out the tools of his vigil: a battery lantern, a camera, a tape recorder, some electrical equipment, a pile of notebooks. He unrolled his sleeping bag and wrapped it round his shoulders to protect him from the chill October night. At least it wasn’t raining.

The wind brushed the branches of the old tree and stirred the dead leaves in the corners of the abbey. The canopy of stars made a roof more majestic than that toppled four hundred years ago. Harry opened his flask and poured himself some soup and waited for his companion.

“So you came?” Ann Westwood noted, appearing from the western end of the ruin and padding into the circle of torchlight.

“Like I promised. And so did you.”

“Like I promised. I could hardly let you hold your spooky vigil alone, could I?”

Harry broke into a grin. “I guess not.” He held open the sleeping bag blanket. “Are you cold?”

“Nope,” Ann answered, but she slipped onto the bench and let herself be wrapped up next to Harry anyway. “I missed this,” she admitted.

“Me too,” the young man agreed. “Ghost-hunting’s always better with a hot water bottle.”
They watched the stars in the frosty sky for a while in companionable silence.

“I see you’ve got some new kit,” Ann said at last.

“Oh sure. The thinking is now that ghosts might be some kind of electromagnetic effect. Some guys did a study and claimed that more ghosts and UFOs and stuff are seen in areas near tectonic instabilities. That means there’s natural piezzo-electric discharges, and the human brain is sensitive to those. So the idea is that this could trigger altered consciousness states where we either see or think we see ghosts and stuff.”

“That’s pretty clever,” Ann admitted. “Do you believe it?”

“No,” admitted Harry wryly. “But I’ve brought a magnetometer along all the same.”
“What about those tapes you took last year? Did they turn up anything?”

The ghost hunter glanced mournfully at his cassette recorder. “Just hiss. There’s another bunch of people who are getting great results with voices of the dead on tape with machines where the microphone’s been disabled, but all I get is… hiss.”

Ann smiled. “I reckon your problem is you rely on the facts too much.”

“Probably. But at least I’m honest.” Harry Drew shrugged and reached for his notebooks. “I’ve done quite a bit of research about this place since last year,” he ventured. “I know more about the legend of the brown monk and the white lady.”

“Even more than last year?” Ann asked. It was their third annual Hallowe’en vigil at Rostherne.

“Yep. I found some early pamphlets and a journal of this old country lady in a private collection. It seems there really was some kind of scandal back in the 1400s, so the whole thing may be real after all, not just some nineteenth century romance cooked up by the Victorians.”

“It was romantic,” Ann admitted. “They couldn’t be together in life, so their spirits meet on the anniversary of their deaths, for just one night. Love beyond death.”

“We still have no real evidence that Maude and Willem were ever really put to death for their illicit love, or even that there were a nun and monk of those names,” warned Harry. “But I was able to find the old path that used to link the abbey to the nunnery foundation, and trace where a wall and gate used to separate the two enclosures.”

“And I bet we’re watching the path that Willem would have taken to Maude on the night of their capture, aren’t we?”

“Of course.”

Ann laid her head on Harry’s shoulder and allowed herself a secret smile. He really didn’t change. “What would you do if we saw them, Harry?”

“What? What do you mean?”

“Well, suppose we’re sitting here, and suddenly a transparent brown shape comes floating down the aisle there…”

“Most ghosts aren’t transparent. That’s a popular fallacy. Many people don’t even realise it’s a ghost they’re seeing until…”

“Okay, okay. A solid brown monk comes clomping down the aisle there. What happens then? I mean would you talk to it, follow it, try to exorcise it, what?”

“Procedure would be that first we record what’s happening. There are tin cans strung together all over the place, so a prankster would make a noise. We check the instruments, see if there’s a temperature drop or a magnetic pulse or anything. We try and get a picture or a tape. Then we try and see if we can communicate.”

“And then it rips your throat out and sucks your blood?”

“Ann! This is a serious investigation. Seeing an apport of either a genuine historical figure or even simply an image of something we expect to see would tell us an awful lot about the nature of apparitions.”

“Do you know you get two little wrinkles on your forehead when you’re being terribly serious, Harry?”


The girl pushed her index finger onto the top of Harry’s nose. “Listen to me, Harry Drew. You might have come here to spend all night watching for ghostly clergy but I came here to see you and keep you company, like we agreed. I don’t really care if Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, and a phantom coachload of headless cavaliers come dancing past and posing for postcards. I just want a little time with you, okay?”

“Okay,” Harry conceded with a self-conscious grin. “Sorry.”

“S’alright. So, how have you been?”

“Not too bad,” the ghost hunter admitted. “I’ve got a new job, working for a new engineering firm. They’re small but cutting-edge. I think it’ll be good experience for me. And I moved flats to be a bit nearer to work.”


“Nah. Not since you.”

Ann frowned. “Oh come on, Harry. It’s been four years since we… split up. You have to get out there and mingle.”

“I don’t think so Ann. Like I told you, you were the one. If I can’t have you…”

“And you can’t.”

“…then I don’t want anybody. Really.”

Ann pushed her hair back from her face. “Well Harry that is really sweet but deeply stupid. Life goes on.”

Harry stared into the night. “But sometimes I wish it didn’t,” he admitted.

Ann kissed him. It was meant to be a gentle reassuring don’t worry peck, but it turned into something rather more. The old fire sparked between them and suddenly their passion for each other boiled to the surface.

Twenty minutes later Ann pushed him away. “Please, Harry,” she warned him, “you’ll embarrass the phantom monk.”

Harry told her what the phantom monk could do to himself and kissed her again, drawing her to him under the warmth of the sleeping bag and surrendering himself to the moment: the smell of Ann’s hair, the taste of her lips, the soft feel of her skin under his fingers.
At the first grey smudge of dawn on the Eastern horizon Ann woke him from the light sleep he had fallen into. “Harry, my love,” she told him. “I’ve got to go.

The ghost hunter was instantly awake. “I’m sorry. I dozed.”

“Long night,” Ann smiled. “I’ve got to be going now.”

Harry held her hand. “I wish you could stay. I miss the old times.”

“Me too. I’m sorry we didn’t get to see Willem and Maude.”

“Maybe next year?” Harry asked hopefully. “Will you…?”

“If I can, I will – if you’re waiting.”

“I promise. One night’s better than none.”

Ann nodded. “So it is.”

“I love you, Ann.”

“I know,” she answered. “And some loves are stronger than death. Goodbye Harry.” She melted from his arms like the morning mist, vanishing before his eyes. The sleeping bag slipped to the ground, empty.

“Goodbye,” he said.

Harry Drew wept for a while and then collected his things together. The tapes and instruments had seen nothing, but Harry knew better. The ghost hunter packed up his bag and left Rostherne to the ghosts.




Original concepts, characters, and situations copyright © 2009 reserved by Ian Watson. The right of Ian Watson to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved.