The small country town of Munching was situated in a dreamy hollow somewhere in the English countryside. It was so hollow, that the motorways and main roads just passed by on the edge and the town could live its own quiet life with no fuss and bother. Now and again a motorist’s wife might see the castle ruin on top of the hill in the far distance from the bypass and would tell her husband to leave the motorway at the next possible opportunity and drive to the nice castle up on the hill. They passed the sign on the road saying welcome to Munching, but it was not really noticed. The castle was just a nice place for a picnic and a pause during the drive to where they were going.
The castle was built sometime in the middle ages by Archibald Munching, the head of the clan. The story told that he was engaged in some sort of war for the King and as a reward received the land to build his castle, as well as the surroundings. Actually Archibald Munching was a highwayman and quite successful. He settled on the hill with his cronies and used his ill gotten gains to build the castle, but that part of the story was conveniently forgotten by the natives. In the history books it was much better to know that a hero was the founder of the village of Munching. The story went on to say that Archibald fought for the King and died as a hero at one of the battles, his body being buried reverently at the town church. This too was a legend highly cherished by the locals. Unfortunately Archibald arrived home late one evening after a night out with his merry men. He was so merry, due to drinking more than his thirst deserved, that he fell down the main staircase in the castle never to awake again. Rumour has it that he died happily and had a smile on his face, but there again the facts were probably that he had just left Rosy at the inn after enjoying her qualities and was still revelling in his memories when he tumbled.
Today, many years after, the truth interests no-one really. Munching has its castle and its hero. There was even a portrait of Archibald hanging in the entrance to the town hall. A rather well proportioned man dressed in the costume of the day with ruffles around his neck and bearing a very well cared for beard, short and pointed as was the custom. I will not bother to tell about the problems he had with flea infestation of his face hair. His portrait was held in honour by the local inhabitants.
Although the castle was still standing it was no longer in the perfect condition of the days when it was built. The courtyard was surrounded by a double layer of granite blocks from the area. Luckily the stone was a good quality; otherwise the castle would long have crumbled away. As the granite was a double layer there were still some rooms left in the castle in the hollow places, as well as part of the main staircase, also in stone, leading to the turrets. You could climb the staircase and look down upon the courtyard from the openings in the granite walls.
Munching was no longer the village it originally was, but over the years developed into a small market town and as towns are, they also had a local newspaper, small, but it carried the local news of the day. It was founded by one of the descendents of the Munching family. The name was still alive in the village, and Alfred Munching was the editor of the newspaper, being a person of respect and honour. It was a small newspaper and probably managed to survive as every inhabitant of the town was on its mailing list. The Munching Courier was not something nationally known, but as a local rag, it carried the information needed. Due to the small size of the town, there were few people employed. Apart from Alfred Munching, there was Tom Baldock responsible for sports, Jack Lay for the local news and Henry Relf, the man looking after the co-ordination of the various editors making sure that the stories came into print at the right time in the right place. It was clear that Alfred Munching would remain at his desk until his eldest son (he had four) Alfred Junior would take over. Tom Baldock was also born in the town and as a young man dreamt of a career as a sports journalist on Fleet Street, the centre of the British newspaper business. Tom left his village of Munching and eventually arrived in London to find that the British national newspapers were not waiting for him and after spending six months organising the racing results for one of the national newspapers, he decided this was not his career chance and as he was missing Dolly Cartwright the bar lady at the Archibald Munching, the local pub, he decided to return to the town. He married Dolly and was now fully integrated as sports reporter for the newspaper. Jack Lay experienced similar problems. He arrived in London, but only managed to get a job as messenger boy in one of the local newspapers, his job consisting of riding the streets of London on a bicycle and fetching sandwiches and something to drink for the workers in the offices of the Daily Finance. Needless to say he returned to Munching. He was still single, never got married, but was more or less married to the newspaper. Henry Relf was actually a railway man. There was a railway station in the village and his father was the station master and Henry was to follow in his footsteps. Unfortunately due to reorganisation in the railways of the country and measures taken to save money, the station at Munching was closed. Henry still lived in the picturesque little station house with his family, but there were no longer trains that entered the town bringing people to work or taking them back to the bigger cities. It was then that Alfred Munching was looking for someone with technical skills for organising the machinery side of the newspaper and Henry Relf applied. Being a local man from a respected town family he was immediately employed and had now been on the newspaper for more than thirty years. So this was the core of the functioning part of the newspaper. Of course, there was Fred the office boy. He had just left school but this job would not be forever. What his career would become he did not yet know.
It was now summer and a very lazy summer. The weather was warm, there was no sign of rain and it seemed that the town was even more sleepy than usual. Alfred Munching was not happy. Nothing very much was happening to fill his newspaper. The church jumble sale was a thing of the past. There were no town cricket games as the team was travelling in another part of the country to play in a tournament and thus there was no sports news. There was some local news now and again. Mrs. Blogs had a problem with her washing machine. She went to bed and the machine was still running. The pipe managed to dislocate from the water supply and her washing room was under water. Old Mrs. Jones had lost her cat. It was found safely in the cellar of the local grocers and was not even very happy about being found as the cat had made itself comfortable amongst the food in the cellar.
Alfred called a meeting.
“We must wake up this town for a few weeks; anyone any ideas about a story? There must be something we can surprise the readers with. Jack, you usually know what is going on in town; nothing new?”
“Sorry Alfred, but everything is very quiet at the moment. Even the castle has been left on one side. I havn’t seen any visitors there for a long while.”
“Perhaps we could do something at the castle” joined in Henry. “Isn’t there a sort of Munching celebration we could have. I am sure good old Archibald must have had a birthday at some time.”
“I’ve got it” said the voice of Jack Lay “what about a ghost story.”
Alfred looked at him intensively. “And where do we get a ghost from. They do not usually wait at the door to be allowed in for a haunting.”
“Not a real ghost, but I saw in the news that there are always photos turning up with ghostly forms on them. We will do it like this. Next Saturday Alfred’s son James will take his family to the castle with his camera of course. I believe he has two nice little girls Alfred.”
“That’s true Jack.”
“Well your son James will take a photo of the two girls in the courtyard.”
“Where does the ghost come into it?” asked Alfred.
“No problem. I will be the ghost.”
“But you are still alive” said Henry.
“Of course I am, but I will dress up as a ghost. Based on the photo of our Archibald, the one hanging at the Town Hall, I will put on similar clothes and a false beard. I will stand behind one of the windows overlooking the courtyard and there we have the ghost.”
“I think I am following” said Alfred “Thanks to the invention of digital photography, we can bring the photo in the newspaper on Monday. James with his two smiling little girls in the courtyard of the castle and the old Duke Archibald looking at them from the window of the surrounding wall.”
So the following weekend arrived and Jack Lay borrowed a few props from the Munching theatrical group. A false beard and one of those ruffles to put round his neck. He decided to leave the tights and wear normal trousers. After all it was only his head and shoulders that would be seen on the photo and he did not really want to spring around in the castle with ballet dancer tights. He was too old for that sort of thing.
Alfred picked up his son James and the two girls and they arrived at the castle for the photo. The photo was a real success. Jack was standing in the right place dressed as the Duke Archibald and he could be seen in the background on the photo. On the Sunday Alfred and Henry both arrived in the afternoon at the newspaper premises to process the photos for the Monday edition of the newspaper. It was organised that Jack would write the story to go with it, but since the photo had been shot no-one had seen Jack. They sent Fred around to his house but the door remained closed. Alfred did not want to wait any longer and wrote the appropriate story himself.
Monday morning the newspaper appeared and the article about the haunted castle was a success. Somehow word got to the national newspapers and the journalists from the national daily’s were arriving in the little market town of Munching to see the place for themselves. As the photo was a real photo and not a product of a photo programme it was even more genuine. Eventually Jack arrived in the office during the morning full of apologies for his disappearance.
“No problem” said an understanding Alfred, who was pleased with the results of the idea.
“It was a great idea and a success. I think everyone has now heard of the Munching Courier since that report. You looked great as Lord Archibald Munching. You even had me almost fooled. You really did the make-up well. You looked just like him.”
Jack said nothing and just smiled. One thing puzzled him. He actually went to the office on Monday morning expecting a telling off from Alfred, his boss. Saturday lunchtime Jack decided to have a beer with his lunch. Unfortunately there was a wasp sitting on the edge of the glass and Jack overlooked it. He only noticed the striped monster when his lip started to swell. Jack was allergic to wasp stings and arrived at the hospital with a swollen face. Luckily he was in time and was given the medicine to counteract his allergy, but had to stay in the hospital to be sure and only returned home on Sunday evening. He was really worried about letting the newspaper down and not appearing for the photo but if he was not in the photo, then who was?
Writing Prompt #12: That's Funny