Month: March 2014

A Shocking Event

The Dean is peeping through his fingers at the prone and slightly charred body of Senior Bursar lying on the floor. In his blackened and gnarled hand is a partially melted kettle.

“It looks like he has been electrocuted by the kettle,” says The Dean, rather unnecessarily.

“Oh, my goodness” is all I can bring myself to say. Then, “I’ll call an ambulance.”

“I’d say it’s a bit late for that,” says The Dean grimly.

“Well, we can’t very well leave him here, Sir” I reply reasonably.

“One moment,” The Dean says. He goes over to the wall socket and deftly yanks the plug of the kettle from the wall. He then carefully approaches the body of Senior Bursar and leans over to take a closer look. His face wrinkles into a frown.

“What is it, Sir?” I ask. No reply. The Dean straightens up and gingerly pokes the arm that isn’t holding the kettle with his foot.

“He’s stiff as a board!” exclaims The Dean.

“Rigor mortis as set in?”

“It would appear so. That’s strange.”

“Then he must have been dead for a few hours already,” I meant to say this in my head but the words somehow managed to find their way out of my mouth. “I suppose that explains why he didn’t answer the door or pick up your calls.”

“Yes, but I thought you said he sent you an email only an hour ago?” The Dean points out. Hmmm.

“I’m no doctor,” I reply “But I’m fairly certain that dead men don’t send emails.”

“Right! So, either he wasn’t dead an hour ago and was just ignoring me, or…”

“Or someone else sent the email.” An unpleasant silence falls upon the room, adding to the already macabre atmosphere. It is a silence that seems to grow in weight and presence until I feel that my ears could almost bleed. As The Dean and I simply stare at each other across the corpse of our former colleague, I feel I have to do something. “Sir, we must call an ambulance. And the Police.”

The Dean moves swiftly towards me until he is standing very close. I realise that I am shaking ever so slightly and I feel a little sick. This is simply the after effects of the adrenalin my brain has dumped into my body following the shock discovery, this I know, but it is unsettling nonetheless. I look into the face of The Dean and he appears calm and controlled. At least one of us is.

“Now listen to me, Deputy Head Porter” he says in such a low voice I almost have to strain to hear. “You are not to say a word of this to anyone, do you understand? Not anyone at all. Not yet.”

“But Sir…” I mean to make a protest of some kind but I am sorry to say that all strength has deserted me and I find myself quite unable to speak further.

“Don’t worry, Deputy Head Porter,” The Dean says gently “Of course I will make sure Senior Bursar is dealt with in the proper manner. But there is something unusual here and I mean to find out what it is. I will have Nurse come up and do the necessary. This will be dealt with inside of College, you understand?”

“I understand, Sir.” Somehow, this doesn’t surprise me.

“I want you to go home now, Deputy Head Porter, you’ve had quite a shock,” I’m not the only one! “I will tell Head Porter I have sent you out on an errand for me. If you give me Senior Bursar’s keys I will ensure that the room is secured. Return to work tomorrow and try not to worry. I will deal with this.”

“Sir, if I may be so bold” I find my voice, somehow “I don’t think this is the only strange incident involving the death of a Fellow. Professor K…”

“Hush, hush Deputy Head Porter,” The Dean tries to sooth me but his method is ineffective. “We will speak more of this tomorrow. Now, you must get yourself out of the way and leave this to me.”

I swallow down the rising nausea in my throat and nod my head. At the back of my mind, I am wondering why The Dean in so insistent that I leave College and keep out of the way. But at the forefront of my mind my instincts are urging me to get out – out of this room, away from the dead body and away from the sinister dramatics that seem to grip Old College.

And so I go. I hope The Dean knows what he is doing.

Something Amiss

“Deputy Head Porter! Deputy Head Porter!”

The abrupt sound of The Dean’s voice causes me to jump in my seat and spill a little of my tea over my desk. I look up but it is a few seconds before the formidable figure of The Dean comes into view. Today’s outfit is a good one – blue trousers, a stripy shirt (sleeves rolled up in a rakish manner) and a charming pink jumper slung elegantly over his shoulders. This style of jumper-wearing is popular in Old College. Why is it that highly educated people cannot fathom how to wear a jumper correctly? But anyway. I get to my feet to greet my esteemed visitor.

“Good morning Sir!” I beam.

“Do you know what I can’t stand, Deputy Head Porter?” The Dean barks at me. I imagine there is an endless list in answer to his question, but by his tone I don’t think he would appreciate this.

“What can’t you stand, Sir?” I enquire with trepidation.

“Idiots!” he replies, emphatically. “Idiots, Deputy Head Porter. And I tell you what else. Fools!” Well, this seems reasonable enough, I suppose. “Do you realise how many idiots and fools I have had to deal with already today?”

“I cannot imagine, Sir”.

“Too bloody many! I tell you, Deputy Head Porter, this is supposed to be an educational establishment but I find myself faced with incompetence at every turn.”

It is difficult to judge The Dean’s intentions, here. On the one hand, he could have just had a bad morning and has come to vent some frustration in my general direction. On the other hand, I could be in an awful lot of trouble for one reason or another. The Dean rolls his eyes and shakes his head in a mock world-weary manner and perches himself on the edge of my desk. I think I’m in the clear on this one.

“So come on then, Sir. Where are all these idiots and fools? I’ll go and sort them out for you” I feel this is above and beyond what is required of me but this is The Dean, after all.

“They’re mainly part of the furniture, I’m afraid” replies The Dean, with humour. “If they could be sorted out, I’d sort the buggers out myself.”

“I’m quite sure you would, Sir.”

“Anyway, Deputy Head Porter, how are things with you?” I consider my response carefully.

“I am living the dream, Sir.” The Dean looks mildly surprised for a second, then bursts into laughter when he recognises my deadpan sarcasm. He places a hand on my shoulder and says

“Oh! I thought you were being serious there for a moment! Haha!”

Well, The Dean is in a jolly mood today. This is unusual in itself, but even more so when he has clearly had a run in or two with person or persons unnamed.

“Things are pretty much as they should be, Sir” I continue “Nothing of note to report either way. So what can I do for you? Have you just come for a bit of a moan?”

“No, no, I do actually have a real reason for coming to see you. I don’t suppose you have seen Senior Bursar, have you? I’ve been trying to track him down but there’s no reply from his rooms and I can’t seem to get hold of him.”

I think carefully. Senior Bursar certainly arrived in College first thing this morning, he made his usual trip to his pigeon hole to check for any messages.

“I saw him earlier, Sir. Hang on, let me just check something” I lean over to my computer and click open my email. Yes, I thought so. “And he sent me an email about an hour ago, look” The Dean looks over my shoulder, then scratches his head.

“That is particularly strange, I’ve been to his rooms several times around that time, and rung him too.”

“He’s ignoring you, Sir” I tease The Dean.

“He had better well not be!” The Dean replies, but without malice. “Odd though, don’t you think?”

“I don’t know, Sir. Senior Bursar ignores me all the time.”

“Yes, but I am The Dean Of College!”

“That is true, Sir.” The Dean thinks for a moment then turns to me again.

“I wouldn’t normally ask this, Deputy Head Porter, but can you get me into his rooms?” I hesitate. Of course I can, I can get into any room in Old College.

“I can, Sir, but it would be a little… irregular” I answer carefully.

“Well, I want you to open his rooms for me,” The Dean says firmly “On my head be it, I’ll make sure you don’t get in any trouble. You are following my orders after all.”

“I cannot very well refuse the orders of The Dean Of College now, can I?”

“Quite right. Bring your keys and follow me.”

I accompany The Dean, at some pace, to Senior Bursar’s rooms. They are at the top of a large staircase which has such widely spaced steps that my little legs always struggle to get up there at speed. The Dean is not so encumbered as he has longer legs than me, which means I have to scurry a little to keep up. By the time we get to the top, I am quite out of breath.

We reach Senior Bursar’s door and I knock and call to him, just to be sure. There is no response.

“He must be out somewhere,” I suggest.

“Just open the door” replies The Dean.

I find the correct key and it turns smoothly in the lock. I push the door open and The Dean enters before me. Unsure as to whether I should be following him in, I hover in the doorway awkwardly. Then,

“Oh my GOD!”

I hurry in to find The Dean in a state of shock and covering his face. A quick look around the room and I soon see why…

The Open Window

Junior Bursar’s announcement came as something as a surprise to me. It never occurred to me that anyone actually retired at Old College; I always just assumed that the only way Fellows ever left was in a box. Head Porter hasn’t said much but I can tell he is a little fuddled about the matter. He certainly wasn’t expecting this. Of course, once Fellows reach a certain age (or a certain state of mental confusion) their College duties diminish or cease altogether. But they certainly don’t go away, they remain seemingly sempiternal within Old College until they are called to the great lecture theater (or, more likely, Dining Hall) in the sky. Like Dr D and Professor K. In Dr D’s case, even death itself wasn’t enough to shift him from his seat by the fire. I am sure Junior Bursar must have his reasons and he is dreadfully fond of Tuscany, after all.

Tea and biscuits with Head Porter have been lovely but by the end of my shift I feel that a more substantial form of refreshment is required. Late afternoon gives way to evening with quiet dignity as I leave Old College and The City streets are more beautiful than ever, bathed in the amber warmth of the setting sun. This part of The City is dominated by imposing architecture, some of which is over eight hundred years old. Fabulously modern buildings intermingle with the ancient not so very far from here, but these streets belong to bygone ages. It is a pleasant route to an even more pleasing destination.

The Albatross boasts of being the oldest public house in The City and I am sure that this is probably the case. This claim has also made it one of the most famous and so is often filled with tourists, as well as the more sociable locals. The prices are a little higher than other nearby pubs but I am prepared to splash out a little extra for the anonymity of drinking in a busy establishment. It is far easier to be alone in a crowd of strangers than to find solitude in a sparsely occupied bar. This I know from experience.

As it happens, there are not only strangers in The Albatross this evening. Cheerfully ordering a large Scotch at the bar is Head Gardener. The pub is filling up quickly so I hurry to his side in the hope of jumping the queue. I am happy enough to share a drink with this most friendly chap.

“Hallo, Deputy Head Porter!” Head Gardener greats me amiably. “Drink?” Aha! My plan has worked. I request a glass of Bordeaux, large of course. I cannot be sure if the news of Junior Bursar’s retirement has yet reached the Gardeners, so I decide to avoid the subject for now. We take a table in the pub courtyard and each roll a cigarette. The evening is a little chilly to be sitting outside but if we wish to indulge in our filthy habit, we have no choice.

I lean back in my chair as I savour my first exhalation of tobacco and notice something strange.

“Hey, look up there,” I say pointing upwards. “Someone’s left a window open up there. That room is going to be freezing!”

Head Gardener follows my gaze and laughs.

“That window is always left open,” he replies. “It has to be!”

“What do you mean?” I ask. “Why does it have to be left open?”

“Oh, don’t you know?” he says with some surprise. “It’s so the ghost can get out.” I laugh at this.

“What ghost?”

“I can’t believe you don’t know,” Head Gardener sips his whiskey and re-lights his roll up. “This pub has been owned by Caelestis College for, oooh, centuries now. Back in the old days, probably about three hundred years ago, the College wasn’t the best of landlords. That window up there was hanging off its hinges and the landlady of the pub at the time was concerned, what with that being her little boy’s bedroom. Rather than properly fix it, the College send round a chap with a ladder to nail the window shut. Well, that was all well and good and at least the little lad couldn’t accidentally fall out the window. But then there was a terrible fire in the pub, destroyed most of it, it did. The poor little boy was trapped in his room and the fire was too fierce to try and get up the stairs to rescue him. They put a ladder up to his window but they couldn’t budge it, on account of it being nailed shut. The lad died in that fire and all they could do was listen to his screams as he burned.”

“That’s horrible!” I squeal.

“Yes, it is” Head Gardener finishes his roll up and starts to construct another. “Since then, the window to that room has always been left open. So that the little one isn’t trapped. If the window has ever been shut, they say it opens itself again. Or, there is such a dreadful presence felt in the whole building it is unbearable. The presence leaves as soon as the window is opened.”

“Really?” I ask, sceptical “People really believe that?”

Head Gardener shrugs.

“I dunno,” he says “But the window is always open, whatever the weather, whatever the hour of day. That much I can tell you.”

I take a large mouthful of the (very good) Bordeaux and eye the window suspiciously. If true, this is indeed a very sad story. And for three hundred years The Albatross has ensured he would never be trapped again. Sadder still, the little boy evidently still has not escaped that room. I hope that one day he does.