There was a traveler who, as he walked through the wilderness, came across a castle. This particular castle caused him to halt and stare for several minutes. The more he looked, the less likely it seemed that it should be standing at all. Chunks of wall were missing, straight ahead an entire lower corner was absent, and there were two towers perched atop that seemed placed completely at random. There was a barely a spot to rest one’s eyes without alighting upon a missing brick or stone, surely what were unintentional open-air windows abounding. As the traveler got closer to the castle, he saw an old man sitting upon a boulder some ways in front of what appeared to be the entrance, smoke billowing from bulbous nose and green-clay pipe, and smoky grey beard trailing in front of him. Upon sighting the foreign face, the old man pulled the pipe from his mouth and called out to the cloaked wanderer.
“Hello there! What brings you to these parts?”
The traveler gave a small nod as he approached and then spoke. “No particular reason, simply passing through. Then I caught sight of these… ruins, and decided to investigate. Do you perhaps live here?”
“Indeed, at least for the moment. It is not truly my property, so I would not think to stay here permanently, but it beats sleeping beneath the bowers.”
One of the traveler’s eyebrows traveled upward over his gold-rimmed spectacles. “Oh? So someone actually owns this wreckage? You cannot tell me that they reside in such a dangerous looking place. It looks as though it might collapse at any moment.”
The old man nodded. ”Aye, that may be so, but the truth is a strange story indeed. There was a master architect who once roamed the lands, building all manner of wondrous structures in whatever place suited his fancy, and building them at an almost miraculous pace. This castle is one of those and, in spite of its strange appearance, it has weathered all manner of mother nature’s assaults and not a brick has fallen nor a pillar toppled. I would trust this place more than any other, at least where stability’s concerned. It’s the reason behind its abandonment that leaves me loathe to stay for very long, which is fine, as I prefer the road anyhow.”
The traveler tapped a foot twice upon gravelly path. “And what might that reason be, old-timer?”
“Why, look at the place! It’s haunted.”
“Just on appearance alone? Please explain this superficial brand of possession.”
“That is certainly a good way to describe it. Here’s how it went: the architect stayed in the castle for a while, but it was not long before the mere design of it drew an evil spirit. The story goes that he was on the second floor, a nice fire blazing in front of him, an open view of the night sky afforded by a convenient hole in the roof, when the spirit came careening through the solid wall and cackled in his face. The architect immediately leaped to his feet and stared down the spirit, for he was not one to spook so easily. “And what business have you here, spirit?” he said, and the spirit laughed. “My business is my own and I take it where I will, mortal! And my will today is to take this castle for my own, my home, and there is naught you can do about it.” The architect was not one to give in to threats, but having little knowledge of ways to combat the supernatural he left the premises, a frown upon his face and a plan in his head.” The traveler at this point was leaning upon a tree in anticipation of a longer tale than expected, but the old man stopped talking and just stared back at him. “Well, that’s the whole of it, really. The architect never came back, and the spirit still howls around the castle on nights when the moon is full or whenever it wants to. Mostly when the moon is full.”
“And where did you hear this tale?” The traveler’s eyes narrowed and he folded his arms in front of him.
“Why, anyone who knows of this place knows the story behind it! I know not who first told it, but I assume they knew what they were talking about. After all, all the pieces fit.”
The master architect smiled at the old man. “Colorful though that story be, I am the creator of this castle, and I will share the true story with you if you promise to propagate it to those who’ve been misled. I would be glad to share it; it is one of my fondest memories, and I’d rather it be told than some silly tale of terror.”
The wrinkled old eyes widened and the pipe dropped from his mouth (which he nevertheless caught without looking, so perhaps it was a common occurrence).
“The true tale is that I built this castle, somewhat embarrassingly, while inebriated. I was traveling with my mother at the time who, though she knows of my profession, had not seen it in practice. I resolved to solve this problem upon the spot, though the influence of the wine was purely incidental. The result is, in my opinion, an accurate allegory for our relationship; though there may be holes and rough patches, and though at times the entire thing looks as though it might collapse at any minute – and this was especially prevalent while I was constructing it – this is a structure that will withstand, and has withstood all manner of nasty weather and remained strong, if not grown even stronger as it settled upon its foundations. I would not have it any other way.”
“Huh. Well how about that. And you finally returned!”
“Indeed. Let us both take shelter within my masterpiece. I would like to hear more of your tales, if you have them, though I cannot promise that I have participated personally in many other legends or lore.”
“Gladly! I have many stories to tell. Come, come, let us make camp for the night.”
The full moon was high in the sky and a healthy fire blazed between the two travelers. Arms raised up, the old man appeared to have just finished one of his tales.
“… and then this cat got all caught up in the cloth and started tearing about, and he went so fast that the cloth filled with air and carried him away over the horizon. And that’s the story of the first balloonist!”
“Haha, let us end it on that mirthful note. My eyelids grow heavy, though my mind would certainly like to hear more tales.”
All of a sudden there was a screeching, wavering howl that seemed to come from all directions, and both of them jumped.
“I thought you said the tale of the evil spirit was false!”
The architect looked all around for the source of the noise. “Perhaps both of our stories were true. And there was another truth to your tale as well – I have no means to combat this spirit! Let us make our exit, post-haste!” And the two quickly picked up their belongings and dashed away into the night.
( ©2017 Sean Dorsey )