Eachann and Moire have never liked each other. I’m their peacemaker, but sometimes it’s hard to reason with ghosts. Of course, babysitting the dead was not in the job description when I applied for a position in the castle.
I’ll bet you’ve once heard someone say ‘I live in the middle of nowhere!’
Well, I actually live in a house called Nowhere. It’s seven miles from the nearest village, two miles from the castle and a hundred miles away from 21st century civilisation. If I want cereal, I have to milk a cow first. I collect eggs from our hens and I call them all by name. The Wi-Fi is slower than our over-weight, seventeen-year-old cat trying to get up the stairs.
Every week, my Dad makes bread and scones and I pack them into my bike’s basket with a dozen eggs. There’s a dirt path parallel to a river leading up to the castle; dark under a canopy of leafy trees in the summer and bright under a ribcage of branches in the winter. The castle is tiny in comparison to the more famous castles and palaces around the world, and it’s definitely not as well preserved, but there’s something appealing about that. What is it about broken little things that make them so beautiful?
The stone brick walls are chipped and dented and the upper towers are fenced off and wrapped in wire mesh. Weeds creep out from between cracks in the walls. The old dungeons and kitchens are little more than caves filled with rubble and rusted gates and a cold, lifeless air. Inside the main building, there’s a wide hall with scratched wooden floors and two dark, ornate thrones. If you walk along the stone wall, you come to a little enclosure with a window seat that you can climb up and over and walk along a secret narrow servant’s corridor. There are grand staircases and spiralling staircases and crumbling turrets and empty, echoing fire places and a large ballroom with a collapsed wall that looks out over miles of trees and fields.
There’s a reception, gift shop, and café all in one room by the entrance, with a handwritten sign boasting of their fresh goods from Nowhere Farm. I don’t get paid for helping out at home or making deliveries, and as cute as the castle and Nettie the cow are, I want to move to a city after school is done. So, at the start of summer when I was handing over the eggs and still-warm bread, I asked if they were hiring. Maybe I only got a job because Mr Brady was worried he wouldn’t get his daily cream-and-jam stuffed scone if I didn’t, but anyway, that’s how I started working as a receptionist, sales assistant, waitress, and ghost-minder.
Eachann was a prince’s cousin or something, and he got ill when he was visiting the castle. He died in a bedroom tucked into the smallest tower and he is bitter about it. I think he was probably a decent guy when he was living, if a bit of a flirt, because he often leaves tiny bouquets of daisies and buttercups on the reception desk for me. But, mostly, he just gets angry and kicks the fragile walls. He’s the reason no one is allowed to go up the tower now; it’s close to tumbling down. He tried tormenting me for fun when I first started, until I made it clear that I have no time for some angsty old almost-prince.
Moire is pretty feisty. She was a chamber maid who was born about a decade after Eachann died. If you ask me, I think the animosity between them began because Eachann, after years of being alone, assumed Moire was going to fall in love with him or something, and Moire has a stubborn hatred for any royal or wealthy person (now I know how terrible a chamber maid’s job was, I see her point). She likes to play tricks on tourists, like moving the thrones when they try to sit down or breathing down their necks. She also has a morbid habit of acting out her death; three arrows in the chest during a siege. She doesn’t like to hide; to her delight, people have sent in dozens of photos where they’ve caught her sneaking up behind them and at least 80% of them are real.
Moire knew the family that used to live in Nowhere. She was disappointed when I told her I couldn’t be a descendant of her friend because my parents bought the farm after the last owner died, and practically distraught when I said that there are no other ghosts there. Eachann and Moire are the only ghosts I know, and none of us know why they’re still hanging around the castle, or why I’m the only one who can talk to them. For the most part, they’re both petty, vexing, exasperating pains in my neck who, despite being the same age as me, have put me off having children ever, but I also kind of love them.
One time, this guy visiting the castle was rude to me so Eachann and Moire followed him around; tripping him up and throwing dirt at him. When he walked into the dungeon, Eachann jammed the gate shut behind him and Moire sang creepy nursery rhymes into his ear. That’s what they told me happened anyway, all I know is that when the guy eventually got out he was shaking and his face was white and his eyes were wide and when I brought him a tea he tipped me twenty pounds and apologised.
When they stop bickering, they make a formidable team.
Moire loves being a ghost. She likes being invisible and pulling visitors’ hair. She likes that crowds come from all over the world just to catch a glimpse of her. Alive, she was nothing. Dead, she thrives.
Eachann hates being a ghost. He wants to move on, whatever that means. Sometimes, he is convinced that the castle is their prison and if he can tear it down, they will be free. Sometimes, he thinks about unfinished business. He believes that he needs to fall in love, because, even though he flirted with any living creature on two legs, he never loved anyone when he was alive. He tried to love Moire, and me, and any pretty girl with long hair or boy with long lashes and the kind of eyes that look for mysteries inside the castle shadows. Moire usually finds a way to send them running, and Eachann says her unfinished business is to empty his filled chamber pot.
In the three months I’ve worked in the castle, I’ve learned how to solve their quarrels, how to comfort Eachann and soothe his temper, how to make Moire laugh and moderate her more unpleasant pranks. I’m the first person they’ve been able to talk to in centuries and I know everything about them.
Tomorrow, I go back to school and by the time summer comes around again, I’ll be gone. Sure, they managed without me before but there’s a twisting in my gut that tells me it’s only a matter of time before Eachann crumbles the castle into dust, or Moire frightens someone to death. Maybe when I die, I’ll find myself in the castle. I’ll spend eternity protecting the castle from Eachann’s rage and the visitors from Moire’s games and those two from each other.
Next time you’re lost in the countryside, ask someone how to get to Nowhere. Mum and Dad will feed you fresh warm bread with melting butter and eggs laid by our hens that morning. You’ll see Nettie in the field as you walk up the dusty dirt path. Head to the castle, if it’s still standing, and don’t be afraid. When you feel a cool breeze down your neck or against your cheek and when you hear a laugh that could be mistaken for the wind echoing through the cracked walls, you’ll know it’s only Moire. When the towers tremble and the rocks shake you’ll know Eachann is in a bad mood, and if you shake out your hair and wink into the shadows, he might leave you a flower. Tell them to be patient, and that I’ll be back. Be kind, and you’ll find them to be very friendly. But if you’re horrid, there’s no telling what they’ll do.