He was afraid, and he knew it. He never went up to the castle at night. He never followed Alexa when she went out. He did not want to see or know the things that happened.
But things did happen, because Alexa was more than a cat.
Walter knew the story of Alexa, the witch with the fire-coloured hair. He knew it well. He read it when he was a boy. Then, ten years ago, the cat arrived at his cottage. Walter tried to send it away, but it came back again and again, and every time it came it went up to the castle. After some time Walter stopped trying to send the cat away. He gave it some food and called it Alexa because of its colour. After that, the cat made its home in Walter's cottage.
And then things began to happen.
Birds in the castle began to die. Somebody found a dead dog in one of the towers. A stone from the Black Tower fell on to a woman's head and killed her. A small boy from the village got lost in the castle and his father did not find him for three hours; after that day the boy never spoke again. Then people began to see lights and things moving up on the towers, but when they went to look, there was nothing there. Now the village people stayed away. And nobody ever went up to the castle at night.
But tonight Walter was there too. 'Alexa!' he called. 'Alexa!'
The wind took his words and carried them away.
The orange cat sat on the tower. It saw the old man with the light in his hand. Then, far away, it saw another thing moving across the snow. It was the girl!
The cat was afraid of the girl. It watched her with its green eyes. Why did the girl come to the castle? What did she want?
Claire followed Walter Burge's footprints in the snow.
'They're going up to the Black Tower,' she thought. 'But why?' And who went there before him?' She could see smaller footprints next to Walter's. 'Are they the footprints of a cat?'
She got to the bottom of the Black Tower and stopped. 'Mr Burge!' she called. But the wind was too strong for him to hear her.
'I could wait for him to come down,' she thought. But she remembered her aunt's tired face. 'No, Aunt Min must get home, so I must go and find him.'
The stairs were wet and difficult to see, and the wind was cold and strong. There was nothing to help her up the stairs, and her shoes were heavy with snow.
And then she saw the orange light at the top of the tower. Suddenly there was another sound, above the sound of the wind. What was it? Then she knew.
Claire was very afraid. 'Go back down,' she told herself. 'Now!' But her feet didn't move.
Where was Walter Burge? Was he up there? His footprints went into the tower, but they did not come out again.
'Perhaps he's ill,' thought Claire. 'Perhaps he wants some help.' 'Mr Burge!' she called. 'Mr Burge!'
Walter was inside a big orange light. He could not see through it. There was a fire, and he was in it, but he did not burn.
'Crazy!' he thought.
It was difficult to see in that light, but he could hear the sound. Aaaaaagh! The sound was outside his head and inside it at the same time.
'Alexa!' he called. 'Alexa! Stop! Stop this!'
Now he could hear another sound. Weaker. Quieter. What was it? A girl?
'Mr Burge . . . Mr Burge
.' 'Who is it?' he said. 'What's happening?'
'It's Claire: the girl called.
'Claire? I don't know anybody called Claire,' he said. It was suddenly difficult to stand up. He put a hand on the tower
Claire? Claire? He did know a Claire. Now who -?
And then he remembered! Claire was the name of the girl -the daughter of the man two hundred years ago at the castle. And she died because the witch did not help her. Her name was Claire. He remembered reading it in a book at the cottage.
'Claire?' he said. 'You're Claire? But Claire is dead.'
Some other thing said the name now.' Claire . . . ?’ Something near him. A woman? He could hear it. He could hear the name in the sound of the fire.
'Claire? . . . Claire? . . . Claire?
The thing sounded very, very afraid.
'No t dead? . . . Claire? . . .Not dead?'
Suddenly the fire began to die and the orange light began to go out. Now Walter could see the sky above him and the tower round him.
'Not dead? . . . Claire? . . . Not. . .?'
Slowly the words died too.
Soon there was no fire, no sound. Only the light in Walter's hand.
Claire went up the last of the stairs and out on to the top of the tower. She saw Walter Burge, but he did not hear her. He looked across the fields.
The orange-coloured cat sat on the wall of the tower. It saw Claire . . . and its eyes were afraid. It moved away from her.
Walter saw Claire's light. He turned quickly. Claire saw the stones behind him move.
'The wall!' she called.
Walter jumped away from the wall. His light fell from his hand and went out. The stones behind him fell into the night. Then half of the tower began to follow them.
Claire and Walter ran across to the stairs and down them. They looked back when they got to the bottom, when the sound of the falling stones stopped. Most of the Black Tower was suddenly not there.
They looked at it without speaking. Then Walter Burge said, 'We're lucky that we're not dead.'
'Yes,' said Claire. 'But. . . what happened to your cat?'
They found it in the snow at the bottom of the tower. It was dead.
Walter said nothing. He walked away sadly.
Aunt Min opened her eyes when she heard them coming. Mr Burge came in first, then Claire.
'Mr Burge,' Aunt Min began. 'I... we -'
'The girl told me about the accident with the car,' said Walter.
Aunt Min looked at Claire. 'Are you all right?'
'Yes,' said Claire. Her face was white.
'Some of the tower fell down,' said Walter. 'The snow . . . it's very heavy . . .' He stopped.
Aunt Min looked at him, then looked back at Claire. 'I think I understand,' she said. And they knew that she did.
'I can take you home in my car,' said Walter.
'Thank you, Mr Burge,' said Aunt Min.
They went outside to Walter's car. The snow stopped falling when they opened the door.
They sat in the back and Claire looked out of the window at the castle. It was different. She was not afraid of it now. The Black Tower wasn't tall now. Most of it was not there.
Claire looked at her watch; it was after midnight. 'It's Christmas Day,' she said. 'Happy Christmas, Aunt Min. Happy Christmas, Mr Burge.'
'Happy Christmas,' they said together.
Walter walked up to the castle the next morning. He went to the bottom of the Black Tower and looked at the stones.
The fire-coloured cat was not there. He looked for it carefully, but it was not there.
And nobody ever saw the ghost of Genny Castle again.
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