James Flowerdew

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The Tour

I've gone off ghost stories. I don't watch horror films as much. I'll certainly never do a ghost tour again. I should explain this.
Five of us were on the Royal mile, staggering back from a night at some of the trendier pubs in the Grassmarket. There was that sandwich board advertising ghost tours and attending it was one of the guides all dressed up.
It could have gone either way, we could have heckled him for his silly costume and walked home but the suggestion that came first was to join in, and it stuck.
It had been a good night, and this seemed a way to keep it alive a little longer. A reckless and inconsiderate choice.
You could see the trepidation in his face as he took our money and asked us to wait by the side, apparently, the show was only in five minutes and we could see that there weren't that many people.
We were in a jovial mood, made a little coarser by alcohol, and by his face, I could tell that we were already being a bit too loud for his comfort.
We were having a laugh, but if I'm honest, I was more into this than I was comfortable about letting on, and suspected that at least two of my friends were the same, so I tried to be as calm as my friends would let me.
Not so with Andy, we all had to work pretty hard to keep him inoffensive.
When the walk began he was ignited. Comedy spooky noises, jokes and snipes were freely flowing. It was when he tried to hug some poor fellow employed to jump out and scare us that the guide came over and asked us to leave.
He offered our money back, and most of us were up for it. Hell, most of us felt sorry for the lad, and would gladly have thrown our fee to the wind and leave less embarrassed.
Andy not so, however. God knows why, but he was determined. We expected protestation of innocence as part of his banter, but as the guide persisted he promised to behave himself first sarcastically, and then in apparent earnest.
The Show went nervously on, It was kind of wrecked and I think most of us felt pretty guilty about it. We got dagger stares from the rest of our small group.
Initially, Andy kept his word, but during the last story at Greyfriars graveyard, he began again.
He was making fun of the whole graveyard thing, and yes, it was a bit silly, but that was what we were here for.
The guide covered his face with his hands, he was evidently in a bad place.
His make up went all smeary, but we knew not to laugh.
Then he spoke, firstly apologizing to the members of his audience that weren't young drunken males.
Then he surprised us all with a strange confession and invitation.
He went on to say that he, himself, had rarely seen or felt anything on his tour route but added as a dare that he knew somewhere where he did.
So like a fall down, followed by a strange bait.
To his surprise, everyone was hooked, including to his disappointment, us.
When he set off and saw us follow he came up and rather viciously announced that he was taking no more comedy, and this time we all listened.
He didn't take us far before he stopped us and announced that he'd have to go alone first.
So we waited as he popped round the corner, it was a good five still minutes which to the pickled mind can be an eternity, so we were about to give up when he appeared again.
He looked fairly nervous, but on we went.
We were quietly joking about his fear of ghosts, but as it turned out his nervousness was much more grounded than that.
He was taking us into the local supermarket after closure.
A sense of the naughtiness of what we were doing added an edge, we were truly in the hands of our guide now.
When we were all in, he started talking.
'I worked here for five years. The folks were generally great, but it was a shit job.
I stacked shelves and worked the tills.
When the last shoppers go home, we cashed-up, that means counting the cash in the tills.
That sometimes meant staying very late.'
He paused.
'That's when you'd see things.', he added with emphasis.
We were quiet and looked about the place.
Food, detergent, coffee all neatly arranged in the near darkness. Big signs announcing toiletries and snacks. Pictures of happy people and fresh fruit grinning and glistening through the dim light of the streets that we'd left.
A youngish oriental girl let out a squeak.
I saw nothing, but the atmosphere suddenly upped for all of us. We started staring wildly about us.
Then, out of all of us, Andy froze. 'I can see it.' He whispered tightly.
We thought he was taking the piss, or at least I did, but a longer look at him showed his sincerity pretty convincingly. I was about to interrogate him when the guide spoke out again.
'Don't worry, they never hurt me, but this is where the ghosts are now.
Life and death are not usually metered out in graveyards any more, nor are our dreams fulfilled and crushed on glen or glade.
It is here that many people meet their measure. Here where they see the judgement of their souls by weight of coins in the pocket, or by the myriad of product with their unfulfilled promises and invented desires.
Who can see that man over there, carefully choosing his veg? He is alone now, and the veg he chooses symbolises the free will that he chose over a warm bed and friend.
That lady there, hovering around the sweet aisle.
Him by the DVDs, I knew him in his waking hours, how he'd loiter waiting for the adventures to suck him out of his quiet life.
Her, I suspect she can't really afford that kind of food and booze, but she'll get it anyway. To hell with next week.'

Stories now spilt out of the man so fast that most of them were lost on us. I stared blindly at the various shelves almost completely obscured by the darkness.
Andy was rapt, and evidently, he could see much of what was described or believed that he could.
Then a more local girl in our group burst into tears 'Mum. She's not dead?'.
The guide went over to her and tried to reassure her.
'I'm sorry.'
It was the wrong thing to say, and he quickly cut in.
'Don't worry, these people are all alive. These are the ghosts of the living and not the dead, I'm pretty sure she's ok.'
She went over to look.
'Oh my god, she's beautiful, like when she was young... I've got to go now!'
She headed to the door.
Our tour guide must suddenly have become aware of his recklessness. After following her and letting her out, he began sharply ushering us out. The tour was over.

Andy wanted to thank the man and say sorry, but he was busy getting everyone out. We were just shooed away before the glass door shut behind us and leaving us on the street.
That girl who saw her mum was already in the distance, going home in tears for an unexplained emotional reunion at a guess.
We all stood there like idiots for a minute and then dispersed.
I felt disappointed that I'd personally seen nothing, but more than that I felt dirty.
These real people with real dreams, real needs, real sorrows laid bare like that.
Staggering zigzag home on my own I was struggling with a story that was probably one of the most exciting in my life, and equally a tale that was probably distasteful to share.
It wasn't long before I'd connected these midnight consumers with the larger foray of skeletons, chain rattlers and monsters of my youth.
I don't do that any more.
I want to talk to that guide again but can't bring myself to.

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This page is very experimental, and the stories here are not child friendly.

Mobile phones don't seem to work with it.

They are also not necessarily good ;).

t: 07407 345 880 | e: james@jamesflowerdew.com

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