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The Gallows Curse

by Paul Scholefield

​Upon the ascent where once Gallows Hill rose, now stands the stern and stoic form of Lancaster Royal Grammar School. Its turrets, like petrified watchmen, pierce the gray veil of England's skies, guardians over a legacy written in whispers and shadows. Here, where martyrs once embraced their quietus with a stoicism born of faith, the earth remembers, and in its remembering, tells tales that chill the marrow.

The city, a labyrinth of stone and history, lies enshrouded by the River Lune's spectral coils. Its ancient foundations are threaded with cryptic streams, these subterranean veins once the silent observers to verdicts most foul and fearful. Now hidden, they pulse beneath the cobblestones, a murmuring undercurrent of the past's dark refrain.

 

In those bygone days of 1612, as the Pendle witches stood bound before the throng, a curse was uttered, soft as the brush of a moth's wing against the cheek. No grand theatrics heralded its casting, only the subtle inflection of spite, as insidious as the nightshade's bloom. This imprecation was not to be writ in lightning across the heavens, but in the stealthy, creeping ivy of retribution.

The malison of the Pendle witches lives not in the broad strokes of misfortune but in the fine lines of the everyday, in the unseen peculiarities that unsettle the waking world. It is the shiver that traces the spine unbidden, the sudden lull in a robin's song, the solitary rose that wilts as if lamenting a secret sorrow.

 

And among the town's monuments to steadfast belief, there the curse dances its most intricate steps. A single chair remains untouched by warmth at a crowded table; a looking glass fractures, splintering reflections into a kaleidoscope of what once was; a nursery rhyme ends abruptly, trailing off into silence. These are the delicate brushstrokes of the unseen, the cold whisper against the nape, the imprint of the intangible.

 

Within the hallowed halls of the Grammar School's library, where dust motes pirouette in slants of light, the curse breathes through the parchment leaves. A reader may feel an inexplicable draft, as if a spectral sigh had stirred the air, and find the surrounding gloom pregnant with anticipation, as though a host of unseen eyes watched from the cloistered dark.

 

For the city itself is a tapestry, each thread a life, each color a story. The voices of the martyrs, silenced by the hangman's rope, yet resound in the undercurrent of the city's hidden streams. With the rains, the hidden rivers swell, their rising tides a litany of ancient grievances, a testament that the past refuses to be interred.

 

The most profound manifestation of this ancient curse is the suspicion that one is perpetually observed. It is the uncanny sensation of unseen company, the fleeting glimpse of something other in the periphery, the faint scurrying within the walls where rats make their nightly revels.

 

And what of the Pendle house, where beneath the stairs, the skeletal remains of felines lay immured? Their silent watch endures, a morbid vigil over a home steeped in the arcane. They are the guardians of a grim history, their entombment a macabre rite believed to ward against spirits less tangible than their own earthly remains.

 

So it is that Lancaster endures, a city whose heart beats a rhythm composed of both splendour and spectre. Its people are the inheritors of a tale that unfolds in the half-light, their lives cast upon the stage of a history most profound and perturbing. For the witches' curse, a subtle venom, ensures their saga will echo through the annals of time, an eternal reminder of the chill that once descended upon this ancient place and never quite departed.

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