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The Discovery Centre


Spirit in the Shadows

by Maddie Cook

I was hoping this winter would be different from the last. As I head up to the mezzanine, my gut tells me otherwise. I feel a twist of angst and begin to sing quietly in the hope that I may escape the heavy silence pressing down on me. I look down at my feet, barely hearing the pad of each step.

Throughout the spring and summer months, sunlight cascades through the slanted windows like a waterfall of golden mist. I mop and I dust without a worry and I leave before darkness can draw out the shadows. Now it is November and almost dark at 5 o’clock. I stop to gaze down at the library, willing the artificial lights to prevent winter’s gloom from descending. 

My gaze lands on the empty reception desk. 

I begin to make my way around tediously, spraying and wiping the glass barrier. I fall into a rhythm. The spray bottle hisses, the citrus scent hits my nose and I wipe, wipe, wipe. My singing voice cracks as I think back to the year before.

Last November I heard footsteps. I remember. As solid as a heartbeat. They echoed around me and I kept my head down, cleaning the floor with a sodden, soapy mop. My head would snap up, eyes following the curve of the mezzanine to scan the empty space. In that moment I thought I was going mad. It happened again, and again. I never allowed myself to linger on the idea that I was in the presence of a ghost. I didn’t believe in such stories. Though I had heard stories.

Here I am, thinking about it. The thoughts are circling; taunting, haunting. I walk down to the library’s main floor, picturing all that it had been – a dance hall, ice rink, theatre…my mind forms a mirage of impeccably dressed couples, moving together in dreamlike synchronisation.

I blink hard and they are gone and I’m staring at the desk.

I should dust it.

Angst leaves my insides squirming and as if I’d summoned them myself, I hear a trample of footsteps, causing my blood to freeze. I attempt another song but the melody dies in my throat. I hear them again and spin around, but I’m unable to figure out their direction. I look around wildly, daring them to sound again.

They clomp this time. Slow, deliberate, from the mezzanine. The lights above me flicker off and I’m left in the gloom I’d so feared. I grip my spray bottle, drop the cloth. I’m not far from the main doors, I could run away, now. Yet, I do the opposite.

The footsteps sound again and I run through the darkness and up the steps, my heartbeat pulsing in my ears. In spite of the fear, I need to know. The steps are louder but I still can’t place them, it is as though they’re in the air. I keep going, checking the aisles, squinting into the shadows. The lights are flickering and I feel the brush of a breeze against my cheek. I stop and turn, panic rising in my chest like a bubble. It will burst, and I will scream.

Its presence is palpable; the thud, thud of feet loom towards me, the breeze teasing my skin in a ghostly caress. The lights go out and I shut my eyes against the unknown, barely drawing breath.

I wait.

A vague figure materialises behind my closed eyes. I begin to distinguish a woman in a long dress, her hair an array of curls. She is featureless, yet I feel her eyes piercing me to the spot. The heavy steps couldn’t have belonged to her, but she’s all I can see.

Last November, receptionist Harriet spoke to me about something she’d heard. Singing; operatic, sorrowful, drifting up from the vaulted basement. I can’t help but wonder whether I have come face-to-face with the apparition she told me about.

I dare to open my eyes.

The singing ghost is hovering in the shadows and terror seizes my body, flooding into my veins like ice.

Her spirit rushes through me, the motion throwing me backwards and snatching the scream from my throat. I lie on the floor, stunned. Seconds pass. There are no footsteps, no ghostly figures hanging over me. There is only my hammering heart.

To think, libraries are supposed to be quiet, peaceful places.

No one will believe me. I can’t believe it myself. I lie still for a while, contemplating my next move.

The windows glitter with frost. I gaze through them at a coal-black sky, allowing the heavy silence to surround me once more.

‘Spirit in the Shadows’ by Maddie Cook. Read by Arthur Wood.

Maddie is a first year student studying BA Creative Writing at the University of Winchester, and has a passion for writing YA fantasy. In 2015, Maddie self-published her debut YA novel, Away with the Faeries, on Amazon. 

Look out for more Weird Winchester stories in different locations across the city! Next, why don’t you try the Chesil Rectory?

This Story-Tour has been brought to you by Enigmatic Studios and The University of Winchester. Tell us about your experiences using the #WeirdWinch hashtag!

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