By Craig Stephenson
“A fine purveyor of fraudulent fairytales” was how Mr Umbra thought of himself. Standing stoically as the cold autumnal breeze kissed his old cheeks. Most of the city`s residents had already rushed home to escape the arrival of this cold hallowe’en evening, yet Mr Umbra stood true in his familiar spot by the Minster. In any other city his Dickensian attire would have been questioned, but those of York would recognise the familiar site of a Ghost-walk tour guide.
As he stood there he observed a priest exiting the Minster, and he noted how he was instantly shivered when struck by the cold air outside. He watched as the priest clasped his hands together, rubbed and then blew into them – what futility. Could blowing warm air unto one’s fingers adequately combat winter`s embrace? No, It was just another example of the stupidity of people and none were more foolish than his customers. They came to see ghosts, and this cemented their foolishness in his mind for he knew that ghosts did not exist. His audience would shout, scream and embrace each other with fright, but this was caused by mere suggestion alone and no sighting. In all his time he had never seen a ghost, and each story he told was a fabricated lie. They were shared not to educate but to entertain, and more importantly to profit. Behind him stood the Minster, a wonderful aspect of York and rich in history. Yet his audience would ignore that in favour for his haunting lies so that they could tell their friends; “I visited York and yes, before you ask, I did a ghost tour”. But in all those years he had never seen a ghost, or ever heard a ghost story that stood up to even the mildest scrutiny.
So he stood there and waited for his next gullible flock to draw near. But where were they tonight? He stood alone, bar the priest who had continued to clasp his hands together as if praying. But he was not talking to God; instead he had found warmth in a cigarette.
It wasn`t long before he saw a couple walk towards him. These would be the first to join him tonight on his tour. He would have to muster up the enthusiasm to impress this couple with tales of ghosts and ghouls. Within 60 minutes of meeting him, they would be able to talk with clarity and sureness about those that have passed yet continue to walk amongst us. But in 60 years of walking those same streets he had never seen a ghost. He was a fraud and he hated himself for it, but worse he hated the young couple for making him do it.
With no acknowledgement to their waiting host the couple draw up nearby. Clasping her hands in front of her mouth the young lady of the couple blew sweet warm breath into her hands, allowing the glow to pass from her fingers into her arms and body. It was going to be a cold night and she needed the instant warmth to defend against a shiver she had involuntarily become victim to. Noticing her shiver, her boyfriend put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her in close to him. Their living warmth was shared lovingly.
“Shivering on a hallowe’en evening, did you see a ghost?” her boyfriend teased.
She chuckled before playfully swiping her now warm hand at him; “Don`t be foolish, there are no such things as ghosts.”
“Oh?!, don`t be so sure” he replied “a tour guide once died in this square in the cold, and I`ve heard he is sometimes seen here.”
Standing alone outside the Minster the priest watched as the couple continued their journey home. Feeling another uncomfortable shiver he decided to seek solace from the warmth of his church.