(image by Gene Rhatigan, check out his art work on http://www.generhatiganart.ie/ )

Jason had arrived. He stood by the oak doors in the cut-stone gateway admiring his future. He breathed in the smog of the city, coughed and smiled. This was a moment he wanted to remember. He was entering the Alma Mater of so many of his heroes, the Harvard of this small isle, the place where all the change-makers came.

No one gave him a second look as he stood there while they bumped and jostled him on each side making their way to and from the cobbled quadrangle courtyard. They knew he was soaking up the atmosphere, they had all done it too but only a few understood.

He knew the bulk of the alumni were well off and he had the privilege of coming here only because he had planned his life thus far with great precision. Always top of his class, he deserved his place amongst Ireland’s elite even if he had come from the arsehole of nowhere. He was the first in his family to go to third level education. He had endured the ridicule of his gang as he persisted in going to school while they bunked off to sell cigarettes or worse.

Bram Stoker had attended this establishment, now that was someone who would understand him more than most he thought as he dared to have another scan of his surroundings. Walking in with the crowd, voices of tourists and students, lecturers and bag snatchers mingled around him, each with their own important purpose of the day.

He made his way to registration, breathing easy. Thankfully, he was alone today, no one was following him. As long as he remembered, he had been followed. She was there with him, silently watching him and waiting. His first memory of her was from before he could walk or talk. He couldn’t properly see but he had already sensed her presence. Every time he became aware of her a chill ran up and down his spine. As a baby he had cried and cried until his mother held him close as if she too could feel her close.

“What do you want?”

He always hesitated before he got to that stage, the asking it out loud stage, just in case she answered him. While always there she only visually appeared when something bad was about to happen. She was there for all his injuries, of flesh and pride, his near misses and there were quite a few though none were fatal. He grew to dread her, she brought mayhem and destruction into his otherwise organized life. She would materialize, he would get hurt and she would smile at him and leave.

As soon as he could talk he named her. Maybe that is why she was still lurking in the background, chilling his bones. If he hadn’t named her and acknowledged her presence would she have left? Naming her made her stronger, more intimidating. Those around him began to speak of her.

“What is it Jason? What’s wrong? Is it Trinity? Tell her to go away.” .

They would speak to her. “Go away Trinity,” but he knew they didn’t see her, feel her, believe in her. They very rarely looked in the right direction. Sometimes he thought his mother knew she was there as she shivered and held him close.

“What does she look like? Is she pretty? Is she sad?” She would ask. “Where is she now?”

He hadn’t words to tell her so he would just whimper on her shoulder until she faded away.

When he was able to describe her they had stopped asking so he stopped talking about her. She grew as he grew, from baby to toddler to teenager to young adult. A female version of himself. They thought she had gone away but she was always prowling in the corner waiting and he knew she would be until he died. Today though, she wasn’t there. He breathed easy.

Registration went well, he met some friendly souls as lost as himself and they went together to check out the dormitory situation and head for the obligatory pints of celebration. They followed the crowd to the Uni bar and as they relaxed into their second pint they became mates. Jason had expected to be put in a dorm with other Literature students but had found himself with Media, Science, Law and Politics students. He hadn’t expected to get along with them but the alcohol had loosened all their tongues and they found they had more in common than not, being scholarship students like himself.

They wandered back singing, arm in arm to their rooms and said goodnight. Jason pinched himself as he sat on his bed. She had left him. Maybe she didn’t know where to find him. He mentally planned the next day, first lectures and a visit to the famous library. He visualized future students coming to his lectures and standing in the ‘Quad’ courtyard remembering that he went here. Life was good.

His good fortune didn’t last the night. He woke in a cold sweat to find her leaning over him in the bed, staring at him. He almost felt her hair brushing off his cheek.

“Go away, leave me alone. Please. Not here. This is a new start for me.”

She didn’t speak, she never did but he felt her sucking his joy from him, he felt the usual sense of dread. There would be no sleep tonight so he got up, dressed and went out and she glided along beside him. As he grew accustomed to her presence again his mood lightened and he started to enjoy exploring his surroundings while the world slept. He wandered in the moonlight, pretending she was gone. She moved nearer and nearer to him, reading his thoughts and rejecting them. She would not be ignored. He moved sideways into a doorway to get away and as he did he heard the voices coming in his direction. He froze. He did not want to get in trouble on his first day here.

The voices moved nearer so he made himself as small as he could and hid in the shadows. She stayed right beside him. He shivered involuntarily.

“These new recruits should be easy to manipulate,” laughed a mature male voice.

“Indeed, I have picked out our future puppets, I mean leaders, already.”

Jason had heard that deep lilting voice earlier today, his future professor of literature.

“Have you now? From all the strands? Politics, Law, Science, The Arts, Media?”

“Yes, them all. Let’s have a wager on them, will we?”

“I don’t think I should wager any more with you, you have already fleeced me over these thirty odd years, two Presidents and a Minister cost me a fortune.”

“Ah, but you did well out of the Poet and Journalist, not to mention the current State Pathologist.”

“True, true. Let’s see now. I particularly like that young earnest Literature student from the bog. He might become instrumental in a revolution the likes of no one has seen in quite a while, or at least another little rebellion to divide the population.”

They both laughed, the sound lingering longer than their steps.

“Ah the little people, if only they knew what power we hold. Our founders knew what they were doing.”

Their voices drifted away and he heard no more. She swooped over and back from them to him making his heart race every time she came near. He wandered back to his bedroom and was going over the conversation in his head when he realized that he had not been hurt on this visit. The fact that he was now no longer awestruck by his future professor and college was hardly an injury. It was a warning. He would have to be very careful here. These men had his future in their hands and he was not prepared to be a puppet for anyone’s agenda. His reason for striving to get here in the first place was to be his own master. Well, if there was something he excelled at more than academics it was strategy games. He couldn’t help but feel that there was probably something even more sinister going on in this arena than what he had overheard but now he was prepared.

She was still beside him, so there was still time to get wounded. He would probably fall in a big hole or be found outside after hours and expelled before he even started. She brushed up against him again and he rushed back to his room to get away. He was just in time, shutting his door before a stray dog woke the slumbering doorman. She didn’t leave him all night but he managed to drift off to sleep not caring anymore that something bad was bound to happen, He would need his sleep, he had a secret war to win.

When he woke she wasn’t there. He was surprised but quite relieved to know that he was safe for the moment. He readied himself and went out to join the stream of party tired students on their way to the canteen for a coffee breakfast. They parted ways to get to lectures and so it continued in much the same way for all of the first semester and the next. They ate together, chatted about their various lecturers and classes, philosophized on life, drank together but not too much. Time flew by. She only disturbed him once throughout that time. She appeared in front of his face as he was about to be tackled at rugby practice and of course he received an injury despite his quick reaction. It wasn’t too serious, no bones broken just a sprain. He soon forgot all about it. He had even forgotten what had happened on his first night until he overheard two men talking in the bar. They didn’t say anything particular but he recognized the two voices together.

“That man, talking to my Literature professor, do any of you know him?” Jason asked his friends.

“Oh yeah, that’s my Bio-med lecturer, a pure genius” said Mark. “He is on the brink of a major breakthrough, I wish I could tell you all about it but we’re sworn to secrecy”

“Who’s we?” piped John, “the chosen few?”

“You can talk, Mr. A student in Politics. Heard you are off to meet the President on a one to one to discuss the catastrophe that is Syria, you’re so clever.”

Jason asked “Seriously Mark, not even a little hint?”

“Well all I can say is it will solve the world population crisis but that’s all you’ll get from me.” He laughed and staggered to the bar shouting back at them “I’m off to get another pint and sow my wild oats before they sterilize the barley.”

That was when Jason saw her floating beside his professor who was whispering to his colleague and nodding in Mark’s direction. Jason’s thirst for beer was suddenly quenched and he announced he was heading back as he had an early start. He left the rest to their loud talk, telling John to keep an eye on Mark.

She followed him to his room, too close for comfort, freezing the air around him but when he turned the key in his door she smiled and left. He felt his limbs to check they were all there, nothing was broken so he rolled into bed and didn’t stir until the morning when he was woken by a piercing scream in the Quad. He fell out of bed and ran to the window to see what was going on and to his horror he saw his friend Mark impaled on the gate below the science lab. He fell backwards into John as he came running into his room. Jason wretched and vomited on the floor, shaking and crying.

“He went to bed, I swear, he went to bed and was in flying form, I don’t understand. He was all excited about the breakthrough they were making in the lab, he wouldn’t shut up about it, bored the tears out of us. Why would he do this? He had such a brilliant future.” John threw himself on Jason’s bed.

Jason sat down beside his friend. So now she was hurting others as well as him. She had never done anything as bad as this before. A sense of foreboding hovered over him. He stared down oblivious to the mess he had created on the floor.

“We all have to go for questioning. I met a lecturer in the corridor and he said we have to go. The State Pathologist is on her way. They have it all under control. Oh Jason, I swear he was in the best of moods, I can’t understand” John said as he stepped over the vomit and waited by the door.

Jason didn’t remember what he said while being interviewed. He went through the motions and sat waiting for John wondering how to deal with Trinity, his malevolent unborn twin. She was getting out of hand. Then he heard Mark’s lecturer laughing in the corridor with his own professor,

“I said that he was failing his course and couldn’t take the pressure. That John fellow will break and leave without knowing what he has been told by the idiot, no harm done. The others heard nothing much, your young revolutionary writer is safe so all bets are on. Nothing has changed.”

“Still, it is a pity, such a great mind gone.”

“We already have another to replace him, don’t you worry.”

This was all part of their game. They were responsible. Jason slid to the ground in a faint.

He woke up with her by his side and he thought he felt her hand on his shoulder. It surprised him that it comforted him. He tried to recall all the times she had appeared. He had never been badly hurt. He thought he had been lucky, avoided her wrath. All this time he had thought she was jealous and angry, trying to ruin his life because she didn’t have one.

3As if she was transferring her thoughts through her touch he saw all of the accidents as they would have been, they would have increased tenfold without her presence. He recalled the warnings. He would never have heard them talking the first night, he would have stayed out last night and they would know he knew more than he should. She was protecting him. She was not an evil presence but his Guardian. Evil was alive here, he knew that now but at least he knew he would not fight this battle alone.

2016 Competition feedback:

Revealing only at the end that Trinity is a protective instead of a malevolent force in Jason’s life was a smart move and well done. The atmosphere and goings on at the university are well rendered. The story is ultimately unsettling in a way that is appropriate for a ghost story……………….This story has a very interesting premise: that students at this particular university are manipulated by the professors like puppets. It’s a creative spin on the ghost story conceit…….A very good story about a protective ghost. “

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