Approach was the word to accompany this week’s #writephoto, posted as usual by KL Caley at New2Writing.com. The keep looming out of the little stand of trees caught my imagination, and it reminded me of late autumn days with the sun breaking through enough to cause just such a fog. I put together just over 800 words for you.
It was a misty, moisty morning, to quote my old friend Peter. I hadn’t seen him for years. I hadn’t seen anyone else that morning, either. This was not unusual. Bird surveys in the Norfolk countryside tended to start early, and farmhands were few, although I did occasionally meet a landowner.
I strolled up the drive through the keep, doing its job on the final approach to the house. Most people called it ‘house’ although somebody had once wanted to call it ‘castle.’ A turretlike structure on the west end, a few faux gargoyles. I took the east path, which would take me around past the buildings and on down the public footpath. Even though it was a legal right of way, I’d still contacted the owner and got permission. Absent owners could be very tricky, even about legitimate visitors like bird surveyors.
“Just what d’ye think you’re doing on my land?”
It was the kind of Norfolk accent that makes you doubt you’re technically on ‘their’ land.
“Hello, bird survey, got permission from the owner. Would you like to see it?”
I’d stopped, of course. A figure moved forward, emerging from the gloom behind the keep. The silhouette reminded me of Worzel Gummidge, with baggy trousers tied below the calves to keep the insects out—or the straw in. I don’t remember Worzel Gummidge ever having a shotgun though.
“Don’t hold with bird surveys.”
“Just walking around the public paths, listening and watching for them. Not approaching them, or interfering with the pheasants, or anything like that. Here.” Good thing I’d actually printed off the permission letter. Most times these days I did all that on my iPad—including the survey count. Easier to hand him the paper though. Saved me dropping something as my wobbles hit my hands.
He turned it round to look at it. Hopefully he recognised the crest and the signature. If he did, he didn’t show it. He glared at me instead.
I heard the rustle of a bird in the hedgerow to my left, and hoped it would hang around long enough for me to identify it.
“Bird survey,” I said again. “Last one was ten years ago. I’ll be back in the new year, then in April and June. Keeping to the paths.”
A pheasant ca-acked in the woodland beyond, to set up a series of responses from other males. I bet they wouldn’t be here in January. The previous survey I’d counted 252 on one farm in the November, and four in January. And they’d been jittery.
“Would you like to keep the letter? I have a copy.” I made to go forward. The shotgun followed me.
I continued, wondering whether I should turn and wave.
Did he stay there the entire time I was going round the copse, along the path beside the stream, up round the lane to the village, and back through the public path that intersected with the one I’d started on at the keep? I could smell him before I saw him; you’d think he was a tramp, but with the shotgun, no. More likely wanting to keep tramps and other riffraff (like bird surveyors) away.
“Hi there,” I said breezily as I got near the keep. Shame I had to go closer to him to get to the exit. I did check for a shortcut…
“I’ve finished for this one. Back in January. You want to keep the letter?”
He held it out to me. I more or less held my breath as I retrieved it, and put it back in my folder.
“Well, then. Have a good Christmas, and happy new year.”
I walked out of the shadow of the keep, into a relatively bright morning on the other side. The urge to run was almost irresistible. Running in walking boots was not my favourite occupation. Besides my legs were getting tired. ‘Out of practice,’ I muttered to myself.
As the approach met the road I turned to see if he was still there.
I might drop in on the local bird survey organiser on my way home. He’d been concerned I had taken on this patch. Made sure I’d got permission and taken a letter with me. Had he expected this?
I phoned him instead.
“Well, there’s always been something funny about the house. I did it a few years ago, and didn’t see a thing, but there’s always been rumours.”
“What sort of rumours?”
“An old guy with a shotgun. Real tramp sort, says he owns the place. Might have done once. Who knows? Don’t go looking for trouble, though. Don’t do the other visits if you don’t want to.”
I wondered about that, so I googled the house, found it listed as castle, and skimmed through the many entries on the strange appearances that linked back to the third owner who had hung himself from the arch of the keep.
Well, at least I had six weeks to decide whether to risk an encounter with his ghost a second time.
Although–why would a ghost take a piece of paper from me and hand it back again?
© J M Pett 2022
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