Three Girls, One Castle

Stoke Castle

This was how the night began. It was 9pm and slowly starting to get dark. We were seated around the outside table with a pack of cards, a few candles and some beers. Aside from a small nest of birds living under the outdoors stairwell and some rumoured wild boars out the back of the castle, we were completely alone.

Struggling with the idea of being sober in such a huge castle with so much party potential, but also not wanting to waste alcohol on getting drunk on our own, we tried to think of a good medium.

We came up with three options:

  1. Get a bunch of snacks together, download a movie on one of our laptops and pick the room with the best wifi connection to watch it in.
  2. Catch the bus down the road into the nearest town and see what’s around, maybe find a local bar to have some drinks at.
  3. Make the trip into Barcelona and party all night at one of the beach clubs and then catch the metro back out in the morning.

After deciding number three was a bit too much effort for a Tuesday night and giving number two a red hot go but finding a whole lot of sweet nothing in town, we were back where we’d started. Beers and cards. Which was fine – we had enough yarns about boys and sex and travel between us to keep us occupied.

Besides, the castle was enough entertainment in itself. With its dusty ancient paintings hanging on the walls and wacky candlestick holders sitting on old dressing tables, it reminded me of a slightly less creepy version of the Scooby Doo Mystery Mansion. I found myself wondering about its history: about who built the walls and how long ago, about who lived here first and what they did for a living. We were told a bit about it before moving our stuff in for the night, but not nearly enough to satisfy our peaked curiosity. There was a whole realm of historical secrets waiting to be discovered here. That could wait until daylight though because as much as I like to think I’m a strong independent women, screw exploring this place in the dark.

After a solid amount of beer sinking and shit talking, we decided to call it a night. The other girls passed out as soon as we hit the pillows but for some reason my mind was wide awake. Maybe something to do with the three coffees I’d downed earlier in the day. Rookie error.

I whipped out my jigsaw puzzle app (yes I have a jigsaw puzzle app and yes it is the best thing ever) with the hope that it would tire out my mind enough to fall into a deep slumber. I was halfway through a puzzle of a panda when I heard it.

BANG BANG BANG BANG.

I jolted upright, my heart racing faster than I’ve ever felt it race. I held my breath and listened intently, half hoping there wouldn’t be another noise and half hoping there would so I could figure out where it came from. It sounded like a heavy suitcase being thrown down the stairs. Or a garbage bin being tipped over and rolling three times before coming to a halt. Or it could have been a loud knock on the front door… possibly, I don’t know. What I did know was that it scared the living daylights out of me.

With my heartrate working in overdrive, I tried to decide whether to wake the other girls up or not, or whether to go downstairs to check or not. I made an executive decision to try to ignore it and get some sleep. You didn’t hear anything, it never happened, it’s all in your head.

I turned my panda puzzle back on. Three minutes that felt like thirty passed and I hadn’t heard anything. Maybe it was just my imagination after all. I turned my phone off, put it under my pillow and *BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG*.

F&%k! I jumped even more than the first time. It was definitely coming from downstairs. What the hell was it? I started going over every possible worst case scenario I could think of before settling my mind enough to convince myself I was overreacting. It was probably just the wind knocking one of the barrels out the front around… Everything echoes through big castles like this, right?

Despite being scared as shite, I knew I wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep until I’d figured out what it was. So I climbed out of bed, holding my iphone torch with a firm grip in one hand and grabbing one of the hefty candlestick holders off the table with the other. Dressed in my colourful winter poncho and bright blue banana print socks, I crept downstairs towards the front door. Maybe my wacky attire would make the ghost-demon-wild-boar-serial killer laugh and decide to go hack somebody else to death instead.

Going over how to use a candlestick holder as a weapon in my head, I reached up to the handle of the heavy wooden doors and tugged one of them open just enough to peek out through the crack. I couldn’t see anything. My spidey senses were telling me to go back to bed now but my curiosity wouldn’t give in. I held my breath, pushed the door open further and shone my torch out into the abyss. What happened next was a bit of a blur.

I remember seeing a flash of orange whizz past my eyeline and bounce into one of the barrels to the right of me, knocking it to the ground. I didn’t muck around trying to figure out what it was as I slammed the door closed and sprinted upstairs to my room, leaping back into bed and pulling the sheet over my head.

The next morning I was walking down to breakfast when I overheard the other girls in the kitchen talking about a big friendly ginger cat they had both spotted earlier and how they assumed it was what had knocked the barrel over out the front last night. Completely unperturbed.

Maybe is was a cat, but more likely it was an evil fire-coloured demon.

I think next time I’ll be plugging some goddamn earphones in and going back to sleep.

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