February 5, 2021
Now it is the time of night
That the graves, all gaping wide,
Every one lets forth his sprite
In the church-way paths to glide.
- William Shakespeare
Supernatural phenomena has baffled humans since time immemorial. Lies and half-truths have penetrated our societal hierarchy to such an extent that the naïve and the gullible swallow them in without using an iota of their so called intelligence. Paranormal experts have tried immensely to unravel the mystery behind it and have been partly successful in trivializing the matter to a point wherein people have veered away from such intricacies which tend to question the veracity and efficacy of our well construed cerebral matter. In spite of all the technological advances, the primordial instincts of humans are still prevalent in most parts of our planet. I was born and brought up in an Orthodox, Hindu, God-fearing family, had a penchant for unravelling the unanswered and instilled a deep morbid fear within me, which was yet to take a concrete shape. In fact, my childhood days were filled with myths concerning the Hindu Trinity, Devas (Gods) and the Asuras (Demons). I used to spend hours and hours listening to the folklores from my Grandma who used to elaborate fables as if she was indeed present during those times! I used to adore those nostalgic moments with awe when I was also nourished with stories related to “Encounters with the Paranormal” by people in and around me which was instrumental in firming my perception on paranormal phenomena. The morbid fear of the dark, ethereal creatures and the unknown took its deep roots within my inner psyche and this would haunt me for the rest of my life. I least expected to be involved in such mystical occurrences but destiny had something else in store for me.
After entering the world of science and rationality, the faith in God and the unearthly subsided and I got transformed into a “Man of Science” believing only in reasoning and authenticated hypothesis rather than unsubstantiated theories concocted by religious fanatics and people with malicious intentions. In the course of time, I developed an uncanny habit of visiting ancient dilapidated abodes, fortresses, castles and cemeteries especially during times when the sun disappears from the horizon and darkness creeps in along with its own blend of eeriness and obscurities. The sole purpose of my visits to these so called haunted dwellings devoid of human habitation, was fueled by a strong desire to decipher the enigma behind paranormal sightings and to dispel the unhealthy fear and anxieties entrenched deep within me. Days, months and years passed by and there were no signs, aberrations nor presence of anything unusual during my relentless visits to these abandoned locations. The essence of perseverance embedded in my blood gave me the audacity to undertake such arduous missions and I was not a chicken hearted person to give up. Unfortunately, the laborious missions took a downward curve as my professional career never permitted me to indulge in such ridiculous undertakings.
My professional career was based in the Middle East (United Arab Emirates) and the country was replete with imposing skyscrapers, extravagant habitations, ostentatious malls, mammoth refineries and oil fields, power and desalination plants that overwhelm your senses. Hardly do you find any medieval fortresses, castles or abodes and a paucity of such locations made my quest for the paranormal challenging. Once it so happened that during my annual vacation instead of going back to my native place, I planned a sojourn to the United States. Unfortunately my visa application was rejected by the US Embassy – the reason cited was “No economic or social ties with the residing country”. This did not deter me from trying out new prospects. Since I was employed as a “Quality Assurance Engineer” in a valve manufacturing company and one of our suppliers was a UK based company, it was easy to get a “Letter of Invitation” from them on the pretext of visiting their manufacturing facility back in the UK. After obtaining the necessary supporting documents and having my paperwork done, I approached the UK High Commission for a business visa. Within a couple of days my application was approved and a multiple visit business visa was granted by the High Commission and I was all set for my maiden trip to Europe.
At the crack of dawn, on a bright Sunday morning, I was on board a British Airways flight bound to London on a week long journey that would be etched in my memory for eternity. I was awakened from my deep slumber when the aircraft wheels touched down around noon time at Heathrow Airport, one of the busiest airports of the world. After disembarking, I had my passport stamped from an immigration official without any hassles. Instead of hiring a cab, I thought it best to take a train straight to Paddington where my hotel was pre-booked. After alighting at Paddington Station, I made my way towards the hotel, about 2 blocks away from the station, had my lunch and a siesta. A slight drizzle discouraged me from exploring the vicinity and I preferred to stay back and enjoy my stay at the hotel. The next day was reserved for my visit to the manufacturing facility located on the outskirts of the city. After I was done with the supplier visit, a search on the internet was all I had to do in order to garner the required information about medieval fortresses, castles and cemeteries in and around the countryside to satiate my thirst. An endless list of medieval fortresses, castles and age-old cemeteries was lying in front of me and I started the painstaking job of going through it in a hope of finding the right one. As I was going through the list, I came across Hadrian’s castle situated in Gloucestershire, a county in south west England. The amount of information on paranormal sightings associated with the castle attracted my attention and I made it a point to have a look at it. I zeroed in on that castle, retrieved the relevant historical and mythical information and was on my way towards exploring the new found target.
It was hot and humid when I reached the shire late in the evening. The sun had already set and the moon had made its way up with its full glory. The ambience was filled with eerie shadows emanating from the imposing castle that seemed to cast its malevolent spell on my persona. The morbid fear of the unknown and the unexplained entrenched deep within me started to resurface and I could feel the palpitations and the uneasiness within my inner self. Hadrian’s castle popularly known to the local populace as the “Haunted Castle” was a sight to behold with its colossal fortifications and gigantic turrets. The spectral nature of the castle, further enhanced by the vast wooded area adjacent to its periphery, made me think twice before embarking on the treacherous mission. After years and years of painstaking missions, how I wished this would be the end. Would I be successful in this mission? Only the ethereal creatures lurking in the dark recesses of the castle alone would know that!
Hadrian’s Castle was one among the many fortifications erected by the illustrious Roman Emperor “Augustus” Hadrian during the 2nd century C.E. The castle was impregnable due to its proximity to the Hadrian’s Wall and was constructed when the Western Roman Empire was at its zenith. The sole purpose of the wall and the castle was to prevent the constant incursions by the barbaric tribes who inhabited large swathes of land on the other side of the wall. The Romans even had a garrison consisting of a legion, stationed always at the castle to deal with any eventualities. During those times, the local populace in and around England were predominantly pagan which did not go down well with the Romans who steadfastly believed in their Gods and Goddesses. An edict was promulgated by the Roman Senate prohibiting all Pagan worship throughout the Empire. As a result, people who were found guilty of Pagan worship were persecuted and put to death by cruel inhuman ways and their mutilated bodies were left to decompose in the subterranean dungeons of the castle. The blood-stained walls of the dungeons where the pagans were tortured were a mute spectator to the atrocities carried out by the Roman legionnaires and the agonies of their victims still resonates from the ramparts of the castle till today. In the 5th century C.E. the Great Roman Empire collapsed and before the advent of the Normans, the Anglo-Saxons took over most parts of Britain. It was the beginning of the dark ages and it continued, till the Age of Renaissance overwhelmed Europe. Innumerable castles and fortifications were deserted and forgotten, only to be revived by the then constituted British Archaeological Association in the 19th century C.E. Most of the artefacts have been removed and housed at the British Museum in London drawing connoisseurs from all over the world.
As I foraged my way through the perilous rock-strewn terrain leading to the foremost entrance of the castle, not a single soul was visible in the vicinity, except for the intermittent sound of nocturnal beings, originating from the dark wooded areas adjacent to the castle, silence was predominant. I was mesmerized by the structural ingenuity manifested by its colossal fortifications and gigantic turrets, and even in a dilapidated state, I could envisage the sumptuous lifestyle of the aristocracy during the Roman era. The architectural excellence exhibited in the construction of the castle rivalled most of our present day structures and it leaves us pondering as to how people in those days managed to build such astounding structures without the aid of modern day technology. As I was lost in my thoughts, a chilling melancholic moan emanating from the far reaches of the castle brought my senses back. The first thing that came to my mind was that someone in danger needed my help as I was the only one present in the castle. Without sauntering here and there, I made my way through a labyrinth of alcoves, puffing and panting, following the moaning sound closely. As I got closer and closer, the moaning sound grew louder and louder and I caught a faint glimpse of a young woman, probably in her mid-twenties crouched in a state of melancholy. As I approached closer to her, I could figure out that she was wearing a black veil on her face, a silvery archaic gown flowing down and was decked up with ornate antique jewellery comprising of rings, bracelets and necklaces. “Who was this lonely woman? Where did she come from? What was she doing in a lonely place like this? What was she lamenting for? Is she alone? Is there someone else with her? Would I be able to help her? Does she really require my assistance? A myriad of questions emanating from my inquisitive intellect had to be silenced.
A streak of lightning followed by a deafening clap of thunder broke the silence between us and she stood up from her crouched position with her intense eyes peering at me. COVID-19 pandemic was unknown to the world and there was no need to maintain a safe distance! As I advanced closer and closer, her gloominess dissipated and she rebounded with a vengeance. I stopped short in my tracks and waited for her to reciprocate. In a sudden flash of anger coupled with acrimony, she lifted her hand and pointed a finger at me as if I was the perpetrator responsible for the calamity befallen on her. Slowly she lifted her veil to reveal a ravishing, pristine face never before seen. Before I could develop a conversation, another streak of lightning zipped past through the huge dilapidated windows followed by a deafening clap of thunder and, she was gone – disappeared into thin air, defying all the theoretical aspects of the world of Physics. “A Man of Science and Rationality” as I was, could hardly believe what I saw. After years and years of relentless pursuits, here I was, standing alone comprehending the situation I was in. I was left alone in the castle surrounded by lifeless walls and the elements of nature. How I wished the presence of an accomplice? The realization of losing her made me feel dejected and at the same time, the notion of encountering with the paranormal gratified my senses. After leaving the vicinity of the castle, I walked all the way to a nearby sleepy hamlet to rejuvenate as I was weary, famished and drenched from the incessant rains lashing the countryside.
I took refuge in a vintage cottage owned by the Madison’s. Morris Madison, a septuagenarian and his wife Rebecca treated me as their own son and made me feel at home. After having a sumptuous English breakfast, I slipped into a deep dreamless slumber only to be awakened by the pounding sound of the mallet. As I made my way out, Morris, a blacksmith by nature was busy in his workshop giving shape to a lump of searing metal. After exchanging the customary greetings, I sat down on a makeshift chair adjacent to the anvil where the metal was being shaped. I then acquainted Morris about my castle visit and the bizarre happenings I encountered within the walls of the castle. The moment I spoke about the mysterious woman, he raised his eyebrows, dropped his mallet and took me inside the house where we sat down along with his wife. He then apprised me about the paranormal aspects of the castle and also about my protagonist, which I think would be appropriate for the reader to be aware of.
Helena, my protagonist hailed from an aristocratic pagan family and lived most of her life in a small hamlet on the outer fringes of the Western Roman Empire, close to the Hadrian’s Wall. The family owned large tracts of fertile land in and around the vicinity and were a source of bread and butter to the local populace which was predominantly peasantry. Helena’s acumen in dealing with the familial problems and her recurrent altercations with the Roman officials made her a noted figure among the masses and in the course of time she inadvertently came to the notice of the Provincial Governor, who bore a deep hatred towards the pagans. The provincial Governor in connivance with the local authorities had her summoned to the castle. The following day a contingent of Roman legionnaires arrived at her doorstep, dragged her out from her abode and produced her in front of the Governor. The Governor accused her of treason - an indictment which invited a gruesome death penalty and she was confined in the subterranean dungeons of the castle. Her torturous days in the dungeons were revealed to the outside world by an eye witness accused of heresy, who somehow managed to slip out of the castle without the knowledge of the prison guards. Her defiant refusal to honour the Roman Gods infuriated the Governor who ordered the guards to skin her alive. Her mortal remains were mutilated and the headless corpse was dumped in the deep woods adjacent to the periphery of the castle where it was found later by a hunting expedition. Helena’s remains were then brought back to the village and was given a decent Pagan burial in the midst of a large number of teary eyed people. She was declared a “Martyr” by the locals and a cenotaph was erected in the village, which still stands today even though in a dilapidated state.
After having our lunch, I put forth my desire to visit the memorial and it was obliged by Morris who accompanied me to the burial site. I plucked some daffodils interspersed along the way and offered it to Helena along with a silent prayer, as a mark of respect to the flamboyant and audacious damsel whose exploits against the mighty Roman Empire had immortalized her in the annals of history. My quest for the paranormal had finally come to an end which indeed changed my perception towards the inexplicable elements of nature. We may have achieved tremendous progress but there’s a myriad of phenomena waiting to be deciphered. After bidding farewell to my hosts, I returned back to my hotel, packed my paraphernalia and was airborne to my destination.
Why did she point a menacing finger at me will be unanswered though I have an abhorrence towards unanswered questions!
The lawn is pressed by unseen feet,
And ghosts return gently at twilight, gently go at dawn,
The sad intangible who grieve and yearn....
-T S ELIOT
Special thanks to Morris Madison for having enlightened me with the paranormal aspects related to the castle and its inhabitants.
A tacit prayer to the soul of my Protagonist, Helena who brought an end to my relentless pursuits. May her distressed soul pacify and rest in eternal bliss!
1. Weird Hauntings: True Tales of Ghostly Places – Joanne Austin, 2006 Edition, Sterling
2. Memoirs of Hadrian – Marguerite Yourcener, 2005 Edition; Fawar, Straus & Giroux
3. Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire – Simon Baker, 2007 Edition, BBC Books
4. Roman Britain: A New History – Guy de la Bedoyare, 2nd Edition, Thames & Hudson
5. The Medieval Castle (Classic History) – Philip Warner, 2001 Edition, Penguin Books
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.