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In Pursuit of a Castle

by C.J. Carter-Stephenson

It happened while I was staying with a friend in a village in the Apennines in Italy. At least, that's when matters came to a head. The wheels were set in motion before I even left home.

 

As a seasoned traveler, I like to find out a bit about a place before visiting it. On this occasion, my research had indicated that the area I would be staying in was rich in scenic walks, but lacking in historical buildings or monuments. One apparent exception, which was mentioned in passing in one of my guidebooks, was a remote ruined castle, built by an occupying force during the Middle Ages. I suspected from the lack of information that there wasn't much left of this castle, but was interested in seeing it anyway.

So, the morning after I arrived in the Apennines, I located the place on a map and set out to visit it. The castle was situated on a commanding promontory on the far side of a nearby mountain. There wasn't an access road (probably one of the reasons it wasn't put forward more widely as a tourist attraction), so I had no alternative but to walk to it.

The sun was relentless, making the journey a little grueling, but I was determined not to be dissuaded. As I went, I couldn't help marveling at the rolling countryside below me. It seemed I had ascended into the bosom of heaven, and was seeing the world as the angels see it.

Slowly, but surely, I made my way along the path to the opposite side of the mountain. Then, I took a short break, before embarking on the next stage of the ascent. A gentle breeze rose around me as I walked, taking the sting out of the solar onslaught.

Continuing along the winding path, I found myself plunged into a patchy forest. Spiny branches brushed against my face and my feet slipped around on the loosely packed rocks, but still I pressed on. Finally, I reached a clearing, and caught a glimpse of what I had come here to see.

I could hardly believe my eyes! The jagged outcrop I was aiming for was only a short way above, and although there was thick woodland all across its length, I could clearly see the castle, rising up out of the trees. Not some windswept ruin as I had been expecting, but a full-blown building. I stood and gazed at it for a moment. It was such a fine example of medieval architecture it was like stepping back into the annals of history.

With increased determination, I set off once more along the rough path, working my way gradually upward. I have some experience of these kind of expeditions, so I had a fair idea how long it would take me to reach my destination, but unusually, my estimate proved to be wholly inaccurate. The minutes ticked past, and still I hadn't arrived.

The only thing I could think of was that I had somehow strayed in the wrong direction. As I was considering how best to right myself, something very peculiar happened - I found myself stumbling back into the clearing below the promontory. My jaw dropped in amazement. I could have sworn I had been gaining in altitude all the time, so how on earth had I ended up back here? I gazed in frustration at the castle, and with an exhalation of annoyance, started up the mountain for the second time. I was still uncertain where I had gone wrong, but I was adamant not to make the same mistake again.

Unfortunately, I did make the same mistake again and it was not long before I found myself back in the clearing. Gritting my teeth, I stared up at the crest. For a moment I considered turning back, but I've always been stubborn and pushed the thought aside. It was me against the mountain, and I was determined to emerge victorious, in spite of my aching limbs.

So it went on for the rest of the afternoon. No matter which way I went, I always ended up back in the clearing, with the castle taunting me like a mirage in a desert.

Eventually, I had to concede defeat, or risk not making it back to the village before nightfall. I reached my friend's house without mishap and found him in the process of cooking dinner. As we sat down to eat, I started telling him about my trip to the far side of the nearby mountain.

My friend swallowed a mouthful of food with a strained gulp and stared at me in silence for a moment. “I'd advise you not to go up there,” he said finally. “It's haunted, you see.”

“Let me guess -” I said with a jovial smile, “by a beautiful girl who leapt to her death from the highest window of the castle?”

“No,” my friend said grimly. “By the castle itself. It was reduced to rubble over 400 years ago, and yet there are those who claim to see it whole and complete even to this day.”

These words completely chased away my appetite. It seemed I had seen a ghost of sorts.

In spite of my friend's warning, I did go back up to the promontory on the far side of the mountain, but I saw only the paltry remains of two walls and a few chunks of stone scattered among the liberal covering of trees.

 

Christian Carter-Stephenson was born in 1977 in the county of Essex in the United Kingdom. He has a degree in English & Performing Arts and a postgraduate diploma in Acting. He is currently flirting with careers in both acting and writing, while engaging in more mundane jobs to stay afloat on the turbulent sea of life. His ultimate ambition is to write a story so chilling the ink in his pen freezes. Recent publication credits include stories in the following magazines: Dark Horizons , La Fenêtre , The Literary Bone , Thirteen , Seasons in the Night , Night to Dawn , Legend and Hadrosaur Tales . For more of his work visit his website:

http://www.carter-stephenson.co.uk/