Ralph's day went well...
He'd been told how great a visit to Beamish Open Air Museum was, so he took the day out from his usual holiday routine
Normally it would've been the old ruined castles and abbeys routine - point the car in the direction of, say, the town of Barnard Castle with its antique shops and cafes. Very sedate, but he'd come 'across the border' from North Yorkshire to explore further this time, and Beamish sounded like it would fit the bill.
It seemed natural to take a train ride, at least one way to see what it was like to travel in an old coach behind and equally old engine. A ride on the train one way was so enjoyable in this Victorian carriage he decided to ride back in another one. Cheered, there was the prospect of venturing further into town.
A fair had been set up - was it a permanent feature for visitors or was it just visiting, like him? "Let's take a look around", he told himself. Nobody paid the blindest bit of attention to him. He could've worn a clown suit and it wouldn't have drawn a second glance.
Someone called him, but not by his own name
"Jeremy, why are you lying down like that?"
Like what? He looked up at three gorgeous young women, then looked down and realised he couldn't look a lot further than the grass he lay on. He yawned, tired from his exertions since he'd arrived.
"Jeremy you really must learn to behave yourself in public", the tallest one told him, reaching down to pull him to his feet. "As we're at the fair maybe you could enjoy yourself instead on lying around on your back. Here", she swept the grass from his elbows and back, "we shall see if there is a carousel. Daisy does so enjoy a ride..."
Daisy was the petite brunette who stepped forward to take his hand,
"Yvette, take his other hand", she beckoned the third young woman to his other side. Yvette wasn't a lot taller than Daisy, a middle class lady in the making, like her taller friend... Ralph didn't know her name but she seemed to know him well enough.
"Clarissa saw you in at the edge of the fairground and wondered what it was you were doing, laid on your back as if you were asleep", Yvette chirped. "Really, Jeremy, must you show us up like that, your own cousins? Imagine, what would Papa tell you!"
"Maybe he was composing another poem..." Daisy gave me the benefit of the doubt with a sly wink. Definitely not cut from the same cloth as her... sisters?
"Now honestly, Daisy!" Clarissa chided.
"Oh look!" Yvette cooed, "There's a carousel - over there" Yvette prodded the air with one finger, almost poking someone's eye out. She blushed a deep red and apologised, "I am sorry Sir!"
"Quite all right, my dear. That's quite all right", the man said and walked on hurriedly to avoid being prodded again.
The three of them hopped aboard and mounted the gold-painted horses with staring dark eyes. After passing Ralph for the second time they called in chorus,
"You're such a spoilsport, Jeremy. Come up on here with us - come for a ride!"
He had other thoughts about 'rides' then, but kept them to himself. They were probably too strait-laced to know what else he might have answered with than,.
"Very well then, but when it stops".
He saw himself in one of the many mirrors in the middle of the carousel. Hed never have recognised himself, if he hadn't known he was the only one with a big hooter. He'd been told often enough he could blow for England!
"Oh, come on Jeremy! You are such a pansy! Jump!" Clarissa reached out. Ralph reached but somehow hisa hand went through hers. That scared him. Was Jeremy another ghost, even though it was Ralph they spoke to? All the same he leapt and stopped himself from going right over the back of Clarissa's 'mount'.She laughed out aloud, her voice echoing around the carousel. Were they all ghosts, even the attendant? I was a passable fit for someone from another age.
"What's tha lookin' at lad?"
Clear off, else I'll gi' thee a taste o' fives!"
The man with his leather apron must have been well over six feet tall, dark, greying moustache and beetling eyebrows. The eyes seemed to burn into the much shorter Ralph, who hurried back down the lane as fast as his legs would carry him. Mocking, loud laughter followed him all the way back to the high street.
He traipsed along the pavement on one side before crossing the road to follow back along the street. No sign, not down the alleyways... anywhere. Ralph looked everywhere in town. He couldn't spot the young women anywhere. Asking got him nowhere either. Surely someone must have seen three well-dressed, well-spoken young women.
A tram car had stopped, a middle aged woman sat on the bottom footstep. She wailed to the younger woman sat beside her, trying to give some comfort. Ralph asked what was amiss.
"Damned silly Charlie on a pedal cycle whizzed past and before anyone knew he'd snatched her bag and off!" The old boy saw a young associate on a motor cycle and chatted to him about the scene.
"Uncle Jack will be on the press later, mark my words", the young man guffawed. His uncle ran the local gazette. Maybe the young man had seen Ralph's ladies? "Can't say that I have... Three of them you say, well dressed, well spoken". He stood astride the machine, one arm across his chest, the other resting on it, fingers on pursed lips. His moustache bristled as he moved a finger back and forth across his upper lip.
"No, sorry friend. Hope you find them. Maybe they were spirited away - sorry, bad taste. Cheerio". The motor was started up again and he was away.
The only thing was to go back to the station. Maybe they were there...
Striding up the footbridge steps two at a time he looked along the platform from the bridge over the tracks..
Still no sighting. Where - oh where could they be? Back to town then, wander around in the vain hope of seeing them again. How could anyone 'disappear; in a town as small as this? He had strayed a bit. There was the 'Sun Inn', but it was too early in the day. Best get a tea and sandwich.
Having had his tea he sat on a bench and dozed. It must have been well past seven on this spring afternoon. The light had gone.and the street was bathed in a yellow light from the lamps along the high street. A knifeboard bus rumbled along the shiny cobbled street, stopped and was about to set off again after setting down a young couple.when Ralph waved a hand. The clippy pressed the bell twice for the driver to stop before he'd got started and swearing came from the cab.
"You haven't seen three well-dressed young women along this way this afternoon, have you?"
"I thought you wanted to get on lad! No, sorry". He pressed the bell once and the bus lurched away down the street, following the wide curve and out of sight around the corner.
He had lost hope of seeing them again by now. No-one had seen them. Come to think of it, he remembered, his hand had passed through Clarissa's when she offered to help him onto the carousel earlier.
Somehow he found his way back to the 'Sun Inn' and settled down in a dimly lit corner with a foaming tankard of ale. He'd had little to eat all day long so the strong ale went to his head in the warmth of the saloon. He found himself nodding off.
"'Ere Mister", someone pulled on his elbow and his jaw nearly fell onto the table top. "Sorry 'bout that, but you can't sleep 'ere. It's not a doss 'ouse an' the cops'd 'ave our licence for letting you doss down in 'ere. C'mon, off you go", the bartender helped him to the door. "There's a Salvation Army hostel down the road on your left. They'll give you a bed for the night... "
Ralph feebly raised a hand to acknowledge the man's helpfulness. He wanted to lie down somewhere now, even if only for an hour. He stumbled down the road back towards the station,where he'd seen a bench. If the cops didn't notice him, he'd get forty winks...
He felt a tap on his shoulder - then he felt himself being shaken. "Wake up Sir. It's closing time".
"Sorry Sir, but we're due to close to the public".
Ralph managed to stand, wavered a little and sat again - thumped down, more like, giving himself a nasty jolt to boot. He stood, weak kneed but a mite steadier on his feet this time, yawned, stretched and headed for the station. It was broad daylight! How was that? He remembered dozing off on the bench in the dark... He shrugged, yawned, stretched and made for the station again.
"The exit's that way Sir", the fellow tried to stifle a grin. He pointed, "The main car park is that way, Sir, and beyond that is the main exit. Did you drive here? There's a car still parked over there. Is that your car by the way? Are you in a fit state to drive? I can get you a cab and you can come back for it tomorrow".
"I'm staying at Barnard Castle". The man grinned sheepishly, Ralph thought to himself, how do I get back here by public transport? He shook his head. The world seemed to spin and he felt faint. He turned back to the attendant. Where had he gone? The place wasn't inhabited by phantoms was it?
It dawned on him as he sat up in bed. He looked at the clock. It was seven in the morning and there was a full hour to breakfast in the bed & breakfast he'd stayed in the last couple of nights. The sun shone but Ralph wasn't interested. He rolled back under the duvet, pulled it over his head and he went back to sleep. Was it a nightmare or just a bad dream? He was too tired to bother with the distinction between the two. Another hour's sleep was all he wanted....
Another answer to a challenge from Billybuc...
Although I've 'bust the budget'. A big chunk over the 500 words he stipulated, I think it has to be well on the way to a novelette....