It was a cold December afternoon. Walter Burge was outside his cottage when he saw the car in the road, across the fields. It was Minnie Dawe's car.
'Who's she taking home?' thought Walter. 'A visitor?'
Walter didn't like visitors. 'Stay away from the castle,' he told them when they came in the summer. Sometimes they didn't listen to him. But this was winter, when not many people came.
He watched the car for a minute or two,then he went back to his work..
An orange cat was outside the cottage. It was the colour of fire. It too watched the car. Then it walked slowly across the field at the back of the cottage and up to Genny Castle.
Claire looked out of the window of the little car.
'Is it far to your cottage, Aunt Min?' she asked.
'About six miles,' said her aunt.
The village of Little Genny was behind them now, and snow began to fall from the grey December sky. Claire thought about Christmas. 'It's going to be nice here with Aunt Min,' she thought.
'The last time I saw you was ten years ago,' said Aunt Min.
'I was only five years old then,' said Claire with a laugh.
'And now you're as tall as me,' said Aunt Min. She was tall and thin with grey hair. 'Where did your mother and father go? I can't remember.'
'New Zealand,' said Claire. 'They went because of Dad's job, and they're coming back in January.'
Aunt Min smiled. 'And you're going to be with me in my little cottage for Christmas,' she said.
Claire smiled back, then she looked across the fields and saw a tall stone building.
'An old castle!' she said. 'I must go and see that before I go home again.'
Aunt Min didn't look at the castle. 'It - it's not a nice place to visit,' she said. 'Genny Castle is dangerous.'
'Dangerous?' said Claire. 'Why?'
Aunt Min didn't answer. She looked across the field at the old building and said, 'Stones are always falling from the walls and towers.'
Claire looked at her aunt. 'There's something Aunt Min isn't telling me,' she thought. 'What is it? Does the castle have a secret?'
When Claire got up the next morning the sun was in the sky.
'Did you sleep well?' asked Aunt Min.
'Yes, very well,' said Claire.
After breakfast Aunt Min said, 'I must go to the church in Little Genny this morning. Do you want to come with me? You can look round the village.'
'OK,’ said Claire.
An hour later they drove to Little Genny. There was some snow on the fields and the castle was beautiful. 'Is it dangerous?' thought Claire.
Her aunt stopped the car in the village.
'I can walk up to the church and meet you later,' said Claire.
She wanted to get her aunt something for Christmas, and after Aunt Min drove away she went into a small shop. It sold books, pictures, writing-paper and envelopes, and a lot of other things.
'Aunt Min likes writing long letters to her friends,' thought Claire. 'I can get her some writing-paper and envelopes.'
She looked at the books. 'Do you have a book about the castle?' she asked the woman in the shop.
'No,' said the woman, 'we don't.'
'Is there a picture of it that -?'. Claire began.
'No,' the woman said quickly.
Claire bought a book about old churches, then paid for the writing-paper and envelopes before she went outside.
'What's wrong with Genny Castle?' she thought. 'Nobody likes to talk about it. Why?'
It was good to be out in the sun again, and Claire went for a walk round the village. It was a very pretty place, with a lot of small cottages and a litde school. The church was at the top of one of the roads.
Claire was near the church when a big old car stopped in front of her. A man got out. He wore a long, heavy coat and his hair was thick and grey. He carried a shopping-bag in one hand. Some women were outside the shop, but they moved away quickly when they saw the man. He went into the shop.
'Nobody likes Walter Burge,' somebody said.
Claire turned round and saw a boy behind her.
'Why?' she asked.
'I think they're afraid of him,' said the boy. He was about three years younger than Claire. He wore jeans and a warm coat.
'Why?' Claire asked again.
The boy put a finger to his head. 'Crazy,' he said. 'They think old Walter is crazy. Perhaps he is. He lives in the cottage near the castle.'
'What's wrong with the castle?' said Claire.
The boy looked round, but there was nobody listening. 'It's a bad place,' he said. 'Bad things happen there. My dad sometimes talks about it.'
'What things happen at the castle?' Claire asked. 'I really want to know.'
'Accidents,' said the boy. 'Some years ago a woman died there. Some of the tall tower - the Black Tower it's called - fell down. She was under it.'
Claire thought for a minute, then she said, 'Accidents can happen. A place isn't bad because accidents happen there.'
'She does it!' said the boy.
' "She"?' said Claire. 'Who's "she"?'
'The ghost,' the boy said quietly.
'Ghost?' said Claire. She laughed.
'Don't laugh!' said the boy. He was angry. 'People in the village don't talk about it.' And he walked away.
'Ghosts!' Claire thought. She smiled. 'That boy is crazy, not the old man. I'm going to see that castle before I go home. But perhaps it's better to say nothing to Aunt Min. I don't want to worry her.1
Claire opened the door of the church and went inside. She saw her aunt and some other women with flowers in their hands. She watched them put the flowers round the building.
Aunt Min saw her. 'We're getting it ready for Christmas Day,' she said.
'The flowers are beautiful,' said Claire.
'There's an evening of Christmas singing here tomorrow,' Aunt Min said, 'for the people in the village.'
'Can we come?' said Claire.
'Do you want to?' said her aunt.
'Yes,' said Claire.
Aunt Min smiled. 'Good, because I do too,' she said. 'Did you have an interesting morning?'
Claire remembered the old man - Walter Burge - and the boy.