We’ve lucked out again and found ourselves staying on the grounds of an 11th century chateau near Poitiers – it’s in the middleish of France. Azure’s cousins (hi!) were caretakers here back in 2002 and Azure stayed with them for what’s become a legendary stretch of three months of roaring fires in the medieval fireplace and drinking games and long dinners and various other shenanigans. This year, having nothing to do and no more scooter, we decided to head to the chateau for the end of our trip.
The chateau seems to collect characters, one of whom is Patty, an American ex-ish-pat who’s living on the chateau grounds for now but nothing’s ever really declared here. Where will you live next year? Eh. What did you do for a living back home? It doesn’t really seem to come up. What’s the latest on the financial cri- don’t even think of bringing that here. Here’s one thing I’d love to share about her, though – she collects bones for soup stock. She boils the bones “to nothing” over days, mixing them with lettuce or brandy or whatever’s around and adding water as needed. Her last stock was 72 hours of boiling. We haven’t tasted one yet, but I’ll write about it when we do.
During the days we walk the treed trails on the grounds, we work in the garden, we cook a little lunch, we investigate mysterious buildings on the 50-acre property. The days are great. Night, though, surges onto the place. It paints the windows black, it suffocates flashlights. It squeezes my ribcage until it itches and it makes footsteps sound like faint music. Night sneaks into every empty room, making noises along the way, and waits, and you can hear your breath the whole time. The chateau is enormous, it’s too big for the night.
At dinner Patty talked about the ghosts. There’s one that sits down on the edge of her bed while she’s sleeping, she can feel the impression. Someone else talked about a man in a long coat coming into the room at night and speaking French. Apparently the long coat man has been seen a couple times here – he belongs to the chateau, the story goes. I was wondering what I’d do if I came face-to-face with the man in the long coat one night, too late, maybe too drunk. I’d like to think I’d talk to him and find out what he’s about. But that’s not what I’d do.
After the ghost stories I stayed up to take some night photos of the chateau from the entrance. It was midnight and clear, a moonless night. Here’s how night photos usually go – I click the shutter and start counting. I look up at the stars, I look for other angles I could try, I listen to the night until I get to whatever I’m counting to and then I close the shutter.
Here’s what happened last night on this ancient property: I clicked the shutter and started counting. I was counting to 50. When I got to 10 I heard footsteps in the trees that never materialized into a person. I noticed that the vapor from my breaths wasn’t disappearing and I wondered how many breaths the air could accumulate. When I got to 20 I could sense someone was behind me. I looked over my shoulder into the thick darkness but I kept sensing they were behind me after I’d turned. At 30 my heart was racing and I was taking shallow breaths so I might be able to hear anything coming at me. My ribcage was itching and I was imagining my death. At 40 the tree I was under burst into noise as an owl decided to flee right at that moment. At 50 I closed the shutter, grabbed the camera without looking at the photo and sprinted back to our room where Azure was waiting for me.
So that’s what I’d do if I saw the man in the long coat – I’d sprint.