Castle Magpie
Castle Magpie is a ghost story set in a haunted Scottish castle.



This is my Halloween costume for 2012. It took six months to plan and another six months to build. Everything is controlled from inside the costume. The kids are moved via magnets under the floors. The ropes on the front are pulled from behind to open and close the doors, revealing the rooms inside. The magpie and the ship's sails in the great hall are both hiding inside or behind furniture until they're activated. The lightning is a simple led and the kids on the spiral stair rotate around a dowel set into a heavy paper tube with a spiral cut into it for a guide. I plan on doing an extensive process post soonish.

“Johnny Cope” and “Stirling Brig” by The Corries.



Once upon a time in a hilly corner of Scotland, among the barley fields and salmon streams, there lived two small children. Billy was clever and intrepid and wrote swashbuckling adventure stories in the margins of his math notebook. His sister Rachel was younger but no less daring. She was a master of tree-climbing and star-gazing and poetry. They lived in a smartly whitewashed stone cottage a short walk from the warehouse where their father oversaw barrels of aging golden whisky.
One afternoon in early autumn the children took advantage of a rare day of sunshine by riding their bicycles out of the village. They wound through the glen until they came to an overgrown path.
Billy said, “I’ve never seen that lane before.”
Rachel said, “Shall we see where it leads?”
Billy considered his bright gold watch. “Of course we should,” he said.
They rode deep into the forest. When dripping green branches began to graze their necks and ears, they started pushing their bicycles single-file, Rachel in the front and Billy just behind. The path turned sharply to the right after crossing a little rushing stream and ducked through an arch set into a crumbling wall. Beyond the wall was a small clearing and in the middle of the clearing was a tall stone tower house. Their track led to the tower’s front steps.
Rachel said, “I’ve never seen this castle before.”
Billy considered his gold watch again and asked, “Shall we see if anyone is at home?
Rachel said, “Of course we should.”
They leaned their bicycles against the steps and climbed to the front door. Rachel knocked loudly while Billy inspected the ship carved into the crest above the door.

“Heads heads heads,” creaked a high-pitched voice inside the house, “heads heads heads.” The heavy oak door swung open and the children entered.

“Heads heads heads heads,” came the voice again, closer now. The children followed the sound through a stone doorway.
In the kitchen, a stove crouched between two high windows. The room smelled of smoke and salted meat. Half-empty whisky bottles perched along the mantle. Spoons and saucepans rested on shelves above the stove and strings of garlic and onions dangled from the rafters. On a wooden table in the center of the room was a large birdcage. Inside, a magpie flapped its wings and chattered at the children. “Heads heads heads,” it said, “heaaaaaaads heaaaaaaads.”
Billy said, “There’s a bowl of apples on the table.”
Rachel said, “Would you like an apple, Billy?”
Billy said, “An apple would be delightful.”
“Heads heads heads heads heads.” the magpie said.
The children each picked a bright red apple from the bowl and retreated from the kitchen. They walked across the dark passage, munching their apples loudly.

The great hall had a high ceiling with a tall window divided into leaded panes. Banners floated from the rafters and a map hung on the wall above a gleaming suit of armor. Billy approached the armor. But as he made to knock on the steel breastplate, Rachel pointed to a pair of portraits flanking the tall window.
“Look,” she said, “Donald MacAlister.”
“The pirate,” said Billy.
“Twas only the English that called him a pirate. Because he fought for Prince Charlie against George the Second,” said Rachel.
They gazed at the portrait of a great man wearing a green kilt and a bushy brown beard. His eyes were bright but cold.
Billy said, “He still has a head.”
Rachel said, “Of course he still has a head.”
Billy said, “It’s before they caught him.”
Behind them, the massive helmet toppled to the floor with a great clang. Both children jumped.
A bosun’s whistle shrilled from the model frigate in the center of the room as its sails unfurled for duty. “Do you think this castle is haunted?” Rachel asked warily. Billy gulped and pulled the bright gold watch out of his pocket.
At that moment another magpie flew into the hall and swooped at the children. It snatched Billy’s watch and flew to the top of the window. “Heads heads heads,” it cackled triumphantly.
“Your watch!” said Rachel.
“That pirate,” said Billy.
“Look, there’s a balcony,” said Rachel. They ran out of the room and up the stairs in the passage.

As the children emerged onto the second floor balcony, the magpie hopped along a roof beam, the watch hanging from its beak.
“Come here, bird,” said Billy.
“You pirate,” said Rachel.
“Heads heads heads,” creaked the bird with its mouth full.
“Wasn’t he known as Magpie? Donald Magpie MacAlister?” said Rachel.
“I think you’re right, “said Billy.
“The Magpie,” said Rachel.
The flags swayed about in an eerie draft as a peal of thunder sounded across the hills and streams outside.
The thunder startled the bird. It flapped into the air with Billy’s watch and flew up into a hidden hole in the ceiling.
“That pirate,” said Billy.
They leaned over the railing to look up at the hole the bird had flown into.
Rachel asked, “How do we get up there?”
Billy said, “There must be stairs.”
Rachel said, “Let’s go look.”
They walked back out into the upstairs passage.

But back on the landing, they discovered the door to the upper storeys was locked from the inside. Not knowing what else to do, they entered the only other door on the landing and found themselves in a library filled with tall bookshelves. There was a reading table with a single opened book. Model ships and empty whisky bottles lined the tops of the bookshelves like battlements. Outside, the gloaming closed into the stone-framed window.
The children looked at the book on the table.
“A History of Scottish Pirates,” Billy read. “Look what page it’s opened to.”
“Donald MacAlister. Known as the Magpie,” Rachel read. “See? I was right.”
“I told you I thought you were right,” Billy said.
Billy flipped the page.
“George’s navy hanged him,” Rachel said.
“And then they cut his head off,” Billy said.
“But the head was lost and never found,” Rachel said.
“Heads, heads, heads,” beckoned a magpie from the bookshelf. The children walked to where it was perched on a little white skull.

“Look,” Rachel pointed to a book behind the bird.
Billy read the cover, “A History of Secret Passages.” Rachel grabbed the book’s spine and pulled.
A door opened in the bookshelf revealing a dark, narrow passage. “Do we dare go into the dark, narrow passage?” Billy thought aloud.
“Yes.” Rachel answered, “We dare.”

They stepped into the dark narrow passage and found a trap door in the floor with a rope ladder leading downward into gloom.
They climbed down and down into the darkness. At the bottom of the ladder, they found themselves in a tunnel built right into the castle’s stone walls.

“It smells like gran’da down here.” Rachel said.
“It smells like whisky and dirt.” Billy said.
“That’s what I meant.” Rachel said.
They crawled through the tunnel, past a number of oak barrels and a big copper still, until they got to a second ladder. This one led upwards.
Up they climbed. The ladder was taller than the one that descended from the library passage. Pausing to take a breath, Billy said, “I wish that bird hadn’t stolen my watch.”
“That pirate,” Rachel said. “We can go back if you like.”
“No, I want to find it.” Billy said. “But I wonder what’s at the top of this ladder.”
They pulled themselves up through another trap door and saw a cluttered attic room built into the eaves.

“Start looking for that bird, I think we’re above the hall now.” Rachel said. They began searching among the various things stored or forgotten in the attic room, more old oak barrels, a grandfather clock, a massive anchor and a carved ship’s figurehead. Billy examined a wooden dollhouse, painted to look stone.
“It’s the castle,” he said. “Look, there’s the kitchen and the stairs. And the hall and the library. And we’re in this room above the hall.”
“And look!” said Rachel. “There’s your watch! In the next room.”
“It’s a miniature watch. What kind of room is that?”
“It’s a toy but it looks like yours. I’ll bet it’s supposed to be yours. That’s kind of spooky. I’ll bet your watch is in the next room.”

Billy looked at the open door. From across the hall came a soft squabbling. “But what kind of room is it?” Lightning flashed outside the window. “It looks like a crypt.” He pointed. “That looks like a tomb.”
Rachel shrugged. “Do we dare go into the spooky old room? Do we dare peek into that creepy old tomb?” Lightning lit up the attic room again.
“Haud yer wheesht,” Billy said and walked out of the room to get his watch. The flapping ruckus next door grew louder.

The room they walked into was stark. An intricate stone staircase spiraled upward in the far corner. In the center of the chamber was a squat, stone coffin. The figure carved into the tomb was missing a head. A single magpie perched on the folded hands of Donald MacAlister. Billy’s watch dangled from its mouth.
“Ach! It’s true,” said Rachel, looking at the stone figure, “No head.”
“No head!” said Billy.
“Heads, heads, heads,” said the magpie with its mouth full, leering at them.

“My watch!” said Billy.
“Grab it,” Rachel urged him, “but quickly.” The magpie eyed Billy reaching for the watch. As he approached, the rustling commotion got louder. The lid of the tomb began to tremble. A violent squawking came from inside.
“It’s loud in here,” shouted Rachel.
“Loud enough to wake the dead,” Billy shouted back and they both gulped.
“Heads, heads, heads,” called the magpie. “Heads, heads, HEADS!” The lid flew open and a congregation of magpies burst from the tomb. The children ran backwards.

More of the birds filled the room, blocking the exit and filling the space with flapping wings and beaks and claws.
“HEADS, HEADS, HEADS!” they screamed. In terror, Billy and Rachel raced up the spiral stairs, away from the demon birds.

They pelted up the stairs into a cozy tower room and out a door onto the castle parapet. The wind blew spatterings of rain into their faces.
“Maybe there’s another way down.” Rachel said. They looked around, shaking and afraid. A round turret perched on the opposite corner. Behind them, they discovered a door set into the crow-stepped gable of a large guardroom. They pushed the door ajar and crept through. Inside it was gloomy and the air smelled of dry rot and hair tonic but it was unusually warm and there was no rain.

They huddled together and shivered near the door. Neither felt much like exploring, only wanting to keep small and quiet and out of sight. As they sat, though, first Billy and then Rachel heard a noise like ragged breathing. The light grew less dim and each was suddenly and nervously aware of the vast empty room behind them.

The children felt the ghost’s eyes on their backs before they turned and met them with their own. The massive spectral head of Donald MacAlister hung in the air, breathing in all of the air in the room, observing them closely. Billy tried to speak but only made a choking sound. Rachel was frozen in place.
“Well,” breathed the ghost head,”what hae ye got to say foor yoorsels?” The children just quavered. “Are ye dumb, children? What hae ye to say?”

“Please, puh-please, uh, Mr MacAlister.” Rachel stammered. “We were just trying to find, fuh-fuh-find my brother’s watch.”
“Yer bruither’s watch, ye say?”
“Ye-ye-yes.” Billy blurted.
“Tell me noo, children. What d’ye reckon to be the price of apples in my hoose?”
The children gulped. “Ap-ap-apples?” Rachel asked.
“Aye, what d’ye reckon the price of apples, taken wi' leave neither asked nor given, by uninvited guests? Hmmmmm?”
The children heard the magpies below them solemnly croaking, “heads, heads, heads.” It felt like a thousand years passed while the phantom peered at them expectantly.

“So, what hae ye got to say foor yoorsels, little bairns? My little pippin-thieving bairns?”
The children stared in thrall at the ghostly leer, then turned to look at each other. They held hands and swallowed and faced the ghost and said together, “Trick or treat?”
A moment went by and the smile faded from the ghost’s face. “What was that?” he asked.
“Trick or treat,” they said again. Louder this time.
The ghost head inclined forward a bit. His eyes twinkled just ever so much. “Come again? I cannae hear you properly.”
“TRICK OR TREAT!” The ghost began to laugh. His head bobbed up and down in the air and the whole castle began to shake. As he laughed, Billy and Rachel backed toward the door. The ghost’s laughing became more and more uproarious and the children fled the guardroom out onto the roof. The storm had passed.

“Children!” the ghost called through the door, “don’t forget ye’re treats. Hahahaha.” And as he said it, a torrent of candy-colored apples poured from the towers on either side of the parapet.

Across the roof, through the cozy tower room and down the stairs they ran. When they reached the crypt, the birds were gone. Without slowing down, Billy grabbed his watch from the top of the coffin. He and Rachel ran down the stairs, through the door that had been locked, all the way to the first floor. They ran out the door as fast as their legs would take them, out into the night air, where Orion was just rising in the south-east.
“Ach, that was scary,” Billy panted as they climbed onto their bicycles, “But I got my watch back after all.”
Rachel looked at her brother and put a hand on her hip, “See? I told you he wasn’t a pirate.”

The end.


[Special Halloween/birthday bonus. Yesterday was my wife's birthday and she's been very patient during this project,
so I made Castle Magpie versions of her and me. That way we can stay in the castle when the ghost isn't at home.]

Happy Halloween, everybody.


Unless otherwise noted all content on this page © 2012-2013 Jamin Hoyle