GHOST WALKERS • by Catherine Griffin

The warder and the priest come before dawn to rouse me from shivering non-sleep. Heads shaved, barefoot, we are pushed from the gaol into the shadow of the cathedral.

My fellow murderers are both men. The thin grey one rubs his arms and doesn’t look up. The tall young man eyes the few people who have come to watch, and nods as if he has recognised a friend. Not even my mother has come to see me. No one looks at me at all. The watchers stare and mutter; it’s the thin man who draws their attention, and in no friendly way.

The priest drones a long prayer, repeats the rules we all know. Walk from dawn to dusk. Do not leave the road. Do not speak.

Our ghosts drift about us, insubstantial as cobwebs, and for a blink I see one clear: a young man, frowning. My husband is a flash of silver, a chill touch on my neck: I’ll never let you go never I’ll see you dead bitch.


The thin man leads our small procession. The tall young man follows, striding as if the penitent’s sackcloth and cross weigh nothing, his ghost a shimmer in the sunlight.

The first hour my feet hurt; now each speck of grit is agony. Blood trails me like a slug’s track. I could follow that red raw line back to my house, my life — only there is no turning back. Not for me. Not for any of us.

 My husband whispers. Amid the pain his voice is only noise, an irritation like the cross bumping my chest at every step. Heavy, heavy iron, so we don’t forget — as if we could.

The last houses fall behind. The road threads from one hill to the next, and on every hilltop a church spire nails the sky in place.

The young man waits for me. “You all right?”

We are not permitted to speak to each other, to anyone living except a priest.

He smiles at the hedges. “No one here to see.”

Only the ghosts and the thin man, and he walks ahead, looking neither right nor left. But I don’t know if I want to talk to a murderer. He doesn’t look like a killer, but neither does the thin man. Do I?

“My name is Hal. Us two, we should stick together.” A jerk of his head toward the thin man.

Two silvery wisps haunt the thin man. They are very small, his ghosts.

“I’m Lisa,” I say.

Slut, my husband whispers, I’m hardly cold you creep to the first man you see.


Next morning outside the church, the priest prays over us. A solid man with sandy eyebrows, last night he brought salt water to wash my feet. I do not think he is unkind.

The priest repeats the rules. While we obey the rules, the law protects us. The villagers whisper at that, angry whispers, because the law protects us from them.

How slight a thing the law is, when it is all we have. The law and our ghosts, until we reach Sanctuary.

My husband breathes ice in my ear: then you’ll pay.


By the fifth day the pain in my feet has dulled, become part of the texture of existence like breathing and the whine of my dead husband. There is comfort in the long silences, the land opening before us, the endless road and sky.

Between villages, Hal walks beside me. We speak of the hardness of the road, the singing of birds in the hedges.

“It was a fight,” he says. “Not my fault. We were drinking. It could have been me as easily as him.”

I hadn’t asked. Perhaps he is lying anyway. How can one trust a murderer? Yet I like Hal. He is cheerful despite everything and there is no cruelty in him.

The road climbs to meet iron clouds. Hips ache, muscles ache, one foot moves and the other follows, world without end.

On the summit we stop and breathe in the salt wind. Below a vast grey lake has eaten the land. Ruined towers stand in white-ruffled water, gravestones for a drowned city where now only birds wheel and cry.

“The sea,” Hal says, and laughs.

My life has been so small. I never knew the world had so much distance in it, so much height and depth. Even my husband falls silent.

On the downward path, the thin man stumbles. He never speaks to us nor we to him. At night he mutters to his ghosts and every day his eyes sink deeper.


On the seventh day as we set out from the church where we slept, someone throws a stone. The thin man falls, rises with a bloody face.

We walk on. Villages pass, nameless. The people are strange to us as we to them, even houses and fields and fences are strange. I stop to look and remember when I had a house, four walls, a door.

At dusk we stop by the road. Summer nights are warm, a green verge softer than a stone floor. I lie and watch the stars turn with the world’s wind, and whisper the names: Lyra, Scorpio, Hercules. My husband whines: listen listen to me you deserved it I never hurt you without reason.

And strangest of all, there is no fear left, no hope, no guilt. It has all emptied into the sky and road. Perhaps this is how it feels to be a ghost. Perhaps this is how it feels to be happy.

In the morning, the thin man has gone. Too late to stop him. He has gone with his ghosts, leaving his cross hanging from a fence-post, a track in the wet grass. Hal scowls; he wants to follow, to bring him back, but the rules forbid. We are not his gaolers.

At Sanctuary, we will all be judged. Until then we walk, we two murderers, and our ghosts go with us.

Catherine Griffin lives near Winchester in the UK. She used to work as software engineer, but ran away to become a writer and has since completed five novels.

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