York – The School Ghost

A ghostly figure in a hall or street.

The schoolmaster was drunk again. His head throbbed with the pain of too much ale, yet he still craved more. He wished the boys would go away. He needed to be alone. Why didn’t they see he was ill?

The boys were tired of hearing how the schoolmaster was ill. They had seen him ‘ill’ rather too often recently. They had no intention of letting him alone. Not when they were going hungry.


Ilinca was walking along the Shambles. It was pleasant spring evening and she was going back to the hotel she was staying in with her parents. They had gone back to the room to rest, but she had been allowed to continue doing some shopping, buying gifts for her friends.

Suddenly the air chilled. Ilinca shivered and wished she had worn that pullover her mother had told her to take. Just in front of her she saw a boy crossing the street, he appeared to have no shoes on. She was puzzled. The boy turned and looked her in the eye. Stopped. Then scarpered.

Ilinca was confused and slightly worried so hurried on. Back in the hotel she wasn’t sure if she should tell her parents what she had seen. Perhaps they wouldn’t let her out again. No, she convinced herself, keep quiet.


The city had paid all the school fees at the beginning of term. The fees were to cover all the needs of the boys: school books, uniforms, food. But it wasn’t halfway through the term and the all the money had gone.

When the school cook had asked for some money to go to the market, the schoolmaster had got angry and threw a pan at her across the kitchen. She’d run away and not come back.

The next day the whole family had gone to York Minister. It was an interesting old church and all that, but she was a teenager and what was all this old history to her?

Then she turned a corner and was alone on a small alcove. She was sure she felt someone brush by her, but she could see no-one. As she turned round, she saw the shadow of a shoeless boy leave the space. She went after the boy, but he had gone.


After three days of nothing to eat but a little bread and water, the boys decided they had to do something. George took command – they should go out in the city and scavenge for food.

Some of the boys didn’t like the idea. It was shameful, but George prevailed. What’s more shameful than an empty stomach?


It was the third day in York for Ilinca. She had been walking along the city walls when she had gone into a watchtower. As soon as she entered, she felt someone grab her had. The other hand was cold. She wasn’t frightened, she held the hand tight.

‘It’s alright,’ she said.

She felt the hand struggle and wriggle to be free.

‘Tell me who you are,’ she said.

‘Not here, not now,’ she heard the voice of a boy reply.

‘Where? When?’ she asked.

‘Tomorrow. The river. Near the Ouse Bridge.’

She let go of his hand. He was gone.


All the boys except one got back to the school that night and were about to settle down to eat the food they had begged borrowed or stolen when the schoolmaster entered the dormitory. He was furious and immediately confiscated all the food.

The boys spent another night without food.

The next morning the schoolmaster had the school carpenter nail shut all the windows and put locks on the doors. The boys were not to get out without his permission. They had brought shame on the school, on him, and this couldn’t happen again.


Ilinca was nervous. She had never had a date before, and now her first date was with a ghost. He’d said ‘tomorrow.’ It seemed precise at the time. But now it was ‘tomorrow’ and she realised tomorrow is a whole day. So when?

She thought about it. It had always been twilight when he had come to her before. She would go to the bridge in the late afternoon and wait.

Now she needed a way to get away from her parents. Well that should be easy, she just needed to explain that she wanted to go to the shopping centre. They always hated doing that, they would tell her to go alone.

She found her way to the bridge and tried to decide the best place to wait, and settled on a spot near the water, but sheltered slightly where she wouldn’t be easily seen.

Then it happened. She felt the air chill, and he was there.

‘Hello, I’m George’ he said.

‘I’m Ilinca. Why do you have no shoes?’

She hadn’t meant to be so direct, but now it was too late.

‘Sorry, that was stupid, you don’t have to answer that.’

‘It’s OK.’

After that awkward start they gradually started to talk more naturally until Ilinca mentioned school. Then George went silent.

‘What’s wrong? Did I say something wrong?’ she asked.

‘School. It’s not something I like talking about it.’

‘Well every kid hates school.’

‘Yeah I know but what happened at mine was…Was special.’

From the look in George’s eyes Ilinca could tell that he wasn’t joking, there was something serious.

‘Tell me George. Promise I won’t tell anyone else. It’ll be our secret.’

‘We had a schoolmaster. He wasn’t a nice man ever, schoolmasters never are. When he was just strict about the homework and the lessons we could cope. But then he started drinking. Everyone knew he was drinking too much. And he started spending all the school funds on drink.

Finally he had spent all the school money and we had nothing to eat. He didn’t seem to care. He was too drunk to even notice we were going hungry. So we decided we had to look after ourselves. We went out looking for food, but he found out and he was angry. He boarded up all the windows and doors so no-one could get in or out.’

‘So what happened?’

‘Gradually the boys became ill. They had nothing, no food, not even water.’

‘Why didn’t anyone help?’

‘They didn’t know what was happening. Except me. When they had boarded up the windows I wasn’t in the school.’

‘So you should have told someone, you could have helped the boys.’

‘I tried but no-one would listen to me. No-one wants to believe an orphan.’

‘So what happened to the boys?’

‘I went back every day. I tried to pass them food, but it was useless. There was no way to get the food in.

It wasn’t till the school inspector went to visit at the start of the next term that the boys were found. They were shrivelled up dead.’

‘That’s terrible.’

‘Yes and it’s all my fault. I was the one that told them to go look for food. If I hadn’t they wouldn’t have been locked in. It’s not fair that I was the only one to make it.’

‘But you can’t blame yourself for what happened. It wasn’t you. It was that horrible schoolmaster and all those people that never listened to you.’


When the school inspector knocked on the door he had to rap hard to get an answer. Finally the schoolmaster came to the door. The two went back into the building to the master’s office. As they walked the inspector could help but notice the terrible stench that filled the school.

‘Before I give you the fees I’d like to see the boys,’ said the inspector.

‘I’m not sure they are in,’ said the schoolmaster.

The inspector wasn’t satisfied, but he wasn’t one for arguments. He left, but resolved to return with some extra force.

When the police came with him, they knocked down the door of the dormitory. When they managed to open the door they were sickened by what they saw, a room of emaciated children slowly rotting away, what was left of them being eaten by rats.


Ilinca and her family returned to Romania at the end of the week. She never told anyone about George.

And George? Thanks to Ilinca he came to realise that he was not at fault for what happened. He stopped wandering the streets.

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