What is real?

Week four, and I found myself on a path in woodland near an old castle. It was late afternoon, there was an unseasonable chill in the air and the sky above me looked as far from friendly as a sky can without depositing its cargo of rain or worse on my head. I heard a rustling noise close behind me and turned towards it. An elderly man looked up at me, touched the peak of his flat cap and said hi. Dressed in an old and dirty greatcoat, trousers that, if new would be called distressed but were, in fact, badly worn, and boots that had clearly covered a lot of miles since they were new. Under his cap with wisps of silver hair attempting to escape into the breeze he had the wizened expression of someone who had lived a lot, seen a lot, done a lot.

“Sorry, do I know you?” I asked.

“You surely do, Sir,” the man replied, “I am Desmond.”

“Desmond? I can see a vague similarity, but aren’t you… that is weren’t you African?”

“I was when I needed to be. Now I need to be English, like you.”

“What makes you so sure I’m English? I could be – I don’t know – Scottish, Welsh, Irish, American, Australian…”

“What was your first word to me?”

“Sorry, Desmond. I wasn’t keeping notes.”

“I’ll tell you, Barry. Your first word to me was sorry. As far as I’m concerned that tells me you’re English. No other group of people routinely start a conversation with a stranger by apologising when they’ve done nothing to apologise for.”

“Sorry. We do a bit, don’t we?” I said with a chuckle, “So, if you are who you say you are, what’s the story this week?”

“This week, young Master, you are going to visit what is said to be the most haunted chateau in the area — maybe even in the country.”

“But I don’t believe in any of that rubbish.”

“Have you ever seen a ghost?”

“Of course I haven’t.”

“Of course you haven’t. That’s why you don’t believe in them. It’s a well-known fact that the only people who don’t believe in ghosts are those who have never seen one. Do you think you’d believe in them if you saw one?”

“No, I wouldn’t. Read my lips: There. is. no. such. thing. as. ghosts.”

“Do you know that or do you believe that?”

“Okay, I’ll play along for a while. I believe ghosts to be a myth. How’s that?”

“Better. And you are sure you’ve never seen one?”


“What if you’re wrong?”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m not saying anything. I’m just asking whether you are certain you have never seen a spectre, a phantom, a wraith, a spirit, a wandering soul, an inexplicable presence or apparition; you have never experienced a sudden chill for no apparent reason or anything else that you can’t explain rationally.”

“I think I’d know if I had!”

Desmond looked at me with an intensity I’d not seen in him before. It was a look that I imagine people like hypnotists and other charlatans use to trap their victims. Or that some snakes use to mesmerise their prey. A look I was not about to fall for.

“Would you?” he asked, “Would you know for sure if you were face-to-face with someone who was not solid, not corporeal, not physical?”

“Are you saying…?”

“I told you, I’m not saying, Barry. I’m asking, is all.”

“Look. We spent last week together. I think I’d know if you weren’t what you appear to be.”

“And what do I appear to be?”

This was beginning to try my patience to breaking point and I felt the need to take control.

“Enough of this nonsense,” I said sharply, “You are solid, living, human flesh and blood. I can see you; I can hear you; I can feel your breath on me. If I choose, I can reach out and touch you.”

“Can you?” he asked from behind me…

This was written in response to Kreative Kue 281 published on this site.

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