Edinburgh. The first time I came here, it was to visit my cousin, Sarah. She was working as a tour guide for the haunted vaults, and invited me to come with her to ‘jump out’ at the end.
At the end of the tour, someone dressed in ghostly clothes jumps out and screams, effectively terrorizing the people in the group, most of whom are already spooked by the stories they’ve been hearing for the last hour. In this particular instance, I dressed up in a black cloak and veil, waiting outside the vault until Sarah gave me the signal.
“When I say ‘go’,” she said, “You jump out, scream, and then turn and run back down the stairs. Turn and run. Got it?”
The moment of truth arrived. I jumped out and screamed with all my might, then turned and sprinted down the haunted hallway. I actually felt like I was being chased. I realized too late that I had reached the top of a small stone staircase. There was nothing to do but jump, and as I attempted to leap over the stairs, cloak and veil flowing behind me, I fell flat on my face. With the entire tour group watching. So much for instilling fear into their hearts and disappearing mysteriously into the night.
The next time I went to Edinburgh was a year ago, again with Sarah and Amie, one of her friends from the States. We went back into the haunted vaults, though I left the cape and veil behind this time. The guide brought us all into one of the vaults, and told us a story about the ring of stones in the center of the room. I can’t remember the specifics, but the gist of it was this – don’t step into the circle. Just don’t do it.
So what does Amie do? Step in the circle. Don’t do this, people. Don’t tempt fate.
At six o’clock the following morning, who do I find shaking me awake in my hostel room but Amie, barefoot and confused, asking for help. The weird thing was, she wasn’t staying in the same room. She wasn’t even staying in the same hostel. And she wasn’t drunk. We all blamed her blatant disregard of the haunted circle, and never did find out what prompted her to sleepwalk around Edinburgh.
This time, I am staying out of harm’s way. I spent the morning in my favorite coffee shop, The Elephant House. It is famous for being the spot where J.K. Rowling wrote the first ‘Harry Potter,’ but frequented by people for the atmosphere and food. I had breakfast and bought a bag of Elephant Corpses – smashed up sugar cookies formerly in the shape of elephants – while drinking tea, reading the Sunday paper, and gawking at the castle.
There’s something in the air around here – it reminds me of the scene from ‘Mary Poppins,’ right before she descends from the sky with her umbrella. The leaves swirl, and people can tell that something is happening, though no-one knows what. Edinburgh looks and feels like it hasn’t changed in hundreds of years, and it’s not hard to imagine why rumours of ghosts run rampant.
I’m writing from a couch in the SmartCity hostel lounge, where they are showing E.T., which only contributes to the supernatural vibe. It’ll be an early night for two reasons: 1) 8:00 a.m. start tomorrow with the Haggis tour 2) I am fighting a losing battle with bronchitis. Just when I think I am better, a hacking cough strikes in the middle of the night. This was especially awesome last night, when I serenaded my seven roommates with my attempts to cough up a lung before finally falling asleep with a half-finished Strepsil in my mouth.
Oh well. It could be worse. The room could be haunted.