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It took him by surprise. Utterly and completely, it took Byron Von Richter by surprise, most horrible and terrifying when the old man stormed into his bedroom that night.

A couple of days earlier, Byron was on his way from London to York, when his brother, Lord Templeton asked, no, commanded him to deliver a message, most personal to an inmate at the county jail in Wakefield. Byron did try to protest but few people walking this earth refused the requests of his brother, and he never managed to do so himself.
The coaches had him stopping over at several destinations before he reached, late in the afternoon the outskirts of Wakefield. On the other side of the train station next to the Baptist church, he walked up through the narrow alley toward the lodgings arranged for him. The black and darkened cobblestones glistened in the last bit of sun before the evening clouds set in. A knock on the door and an elderly man with sparse but long grey hair opened to him. The man had a long face, and a long pale white nose and blocked the entry with his gown.
“Any coaches to the prison, sir?” Byron enquired after having removed his hat. “I understand that I’m to lodge here for the night, my good sir. Only I have a most important business at the prison.”
“What’d you wanna do with the old filth up on’t jail then, hey? Official business-like, or what? Speak up, man! Let me hear this bloody blooming business of yours. What’d you’d come here making trouble for? Get in here you old rag, what? I say get in here you old scoundrel!”
“I’m afraid that the business is most urgent, sir. I can spare even a minute. To the prison, I must, but afterwards, I’ll come and have my tea and some rest.”
“No you won’t,” the old man whispered with narrow eyes. “After walking that mile, after visiting that place of sin and evil, you won’t set foot in this house. You go there, you better walk straight on. Believe you me, you’d be walking straight on to Leeds and past Leeds if you’re still alive and your poor buggered legs can carry you.”
The door closed in Byron’s face, not hard, almost as if the old man was afraid of waking someone up. Byron shrugged and turned back to the main street, where he, as luck would have it, found a coach that went in the direction of the prison. Only the coach driver crossed his heart when he heard where he was to drop Byron off. He seemed most perplexed, and it could have been Byron’s imagination, but it appeared asif the horses were somewhat on the preturbed side of life as well. Nevertheless, the coachman agreed to take him, so long as he would not have to drop his passagnger at the gates of the prison, but instead by the junction at the top of the road.
It was dark when they reached the road sign indicating the prison grounds less than ten minutes later. Getting out of the coach, Byron saw that a blue mist had fallen over the narrow road. The mist was so thick that he saw the light of the lamp posts but could not see the lamp posts themselves. The cold and moist air filled his nostrils, and once the coach departed, a strange stillness made his heart beat faster and faster. Byron lifted up the collar of his black coat and put his hands deep into his pockets. His face was white from the cold, and he also started to think that the sooner he was out of the place the better.
Walking the cold and dark mile down to the prison, he more than once stopped to see who was lurking behind the trees. More than once he turned around convinced he heard footsteps behind him. And more than once did he wish that he was still in that coach, drawn by eager horses to go any place but this cold and dark lane.
Even the administrative men at the prison, could not believe that Byron, a man who did not at all seem crazy, would walk after dark, all by himself, down to that prison gate. ‘Did he then not know about the prison’s graveyard?’ they wanted to know from him. ‘Was he not aware of the evils lurking in the shadows? Of the dead, still, imprisoned, and would jump at any opportunity to be set free?
The walk back to Wakefield took Byron a little over thirty minutes, and his mind was so occupied with the strangeness of it all, that he did not notice anything peculiar behind or around him. In the distance, the lights of the taverns guided him back toward his lodgings and he found it soon enough. Again, knocking on the door, this time a young girl of about seventeen or eighteen opened the door. She introduced herself as Rose and said her grandfather had retired for the evening, but that there was still some food in the pot if he wanted.
After his evening tea and a mug of brandy to keep his throat warm, he himself got into bed minutes before midnight.
He had barely closed his eyes when he heard an awful racket upstairs. It sounded like someone fighting, throwing chairs and tables about. Then a hallow scream followed and a cry, a lamenting cry, one which our dear Byron would never in his life forget. The next moment his door burst open and in the doorway stood the old man. Dressed in his gown, his long nose over the flame of the candle, only this time, his face and eyes had a deathly white fear in them.
“You’ve done it, you bastard, didn’t you! You’ve gone and done it now, you worthless piece of blackguard!”
Byron, utterly surprised and without words, had no clue what on earth he had done wrong.
“You’ve brought them all back here, you imbecile. A bloody imbecile is what you are! Aaargh!”
“Who sir? Er… I’m not following. I didn’t bring back anyone.”
“Oh, don’t play innocent with me, you fool! Did I not tell you? You go there and you’re not to set foot in this house? And what do I find? Right here, in my rooms, in my house, a man who went to fetch the devil himself! Now tell me, if you can! How the hell are we going to get rid of them now? Oh! disaster,” the man almost sounded like he was going to cry. “Disaster. You have no idea what you’ve done. It’s all over now. All over for me…”
Speaking those words the man dropped to the floor and the candle fell out of its holder. Byron jumped out of bed to pick the candle up and tried to revive the old man. He tied to turn him over, for he heard the man mumbling in an incoherent and confusing manner.
The commotion upstairs together with the shouting and raging at the door had brought the young girl to come and investigate. Rose came with wide eyes and seeing him on the floor, kneeled beside his head, stroke his back and implored her grandfather not to be so upset. She tried but was also not strong enough to turn him around.
“Should I call for a doctor?” Byron wanted to know.
“No, not at all,” she said. “Just help me turn him around and drag him to the sofa in the room next door. There is no way we’ll be carrying him back upstairs now. I’ll fetch some blankets to cover him for the evening.”
Byron picked him up by the shoulders, and with Rose grabbing her grandfather by his feet, they carried him mumbling and murmuring to the next room and placed him on the sofa. They then returned to the kitchen where she poured them both a cup of tea.
“Are you sure he’s going to be alright?” Byron asked her. “I really could run and fetch a doctor if…”
“No, no,” she waved her small fine hand. “He’ll feel all better in the morning. It’s the ghosts you see. The ghosts from the prison. They trouble him always, always I tell you. Say, you didn’t see any while you were walking among those gloomy tombstones, have ye?”
“I have not, no. But what is the story with your grandfather?”
“Oh, it’s all just stories, really. Don’t know if it holds any truth, you know? But my grandfather used to work at the prison, back in the old days. He knew most of the inmates. Or rather, should we say, they knew him. Harsh man he was. Harshest of all the wardens there, if you can believe everything the vicar says.”
“Yes but how does that relate to any ghosts? There aren’t any ghosts here, are there?”
She shrugged. “Well, as you can imagine, he wasn’t too popular among the inmates. Especially since they believed that half of all who died in that prison were sent to their graves by him. Of course, it’s all stories you know? Fables and the like, to keep the prisoners in line. But still…”
“Still…” he said. “They could reach out from beyond the grave and take their revenge on him? Is that what you think?”
“Not me. My grandfather thinks that. No, he believes it! Oh, Byron, it’s terrible, you have no idea! Night after night, he screams in his sleep, forever haunted by those ghosts. They’ll be the death of him if we don’t do something,” she lamented.
“And I’m afraid I’m gone and made it all worse now, haven’t I?”
She placed her face in her hands and started sobbing.
“Don’t worry, Rossie old girl. I’ll have a chat with him in the morning. See if we can bring some kind of peace to his soul. though I think that after tonight he will only hate me more…” Byron said, while trying hard to ban the thoughts of what he heard and felt earlier that evening on his way to the prison gate. That whole night, he didn’t close an eye, and when he had blown out his candle, and heard the footsteps above his bedroom ceiling, he told himself that it was Rose walking about, and not some ghost of a prisoner.
___
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