Ninth

IMG_7740

As a collection of dark clouds drifted overhead the kirk cast a shadow over the gravestones scattered around its perimeter.

Gravestones of all shapes, sizes and conditions. Fading stones slanted as if under the force of a gale force wind; slightly newer curved additions standing proudly and solemnly in a patch of ground that was never truly available to begin with; more ornate, gothic examples, decorated with cherubs or angels rendered eerily demonic by the strains of weather and moss throughout the centuries. All thrust through the thin soil of the kirkyard, jutting out like a set of jagged, unkempt teeth. The kirk building itself was, by comparison, pristine. Weathered by age, certainly, but it still had that arresting beauty that any churches and cathedrals of its kind, constructed in a certain era, has. Built with care, with beauty and image reigning supreme over practicality. Its location – nestled on the edge of a glistening loch whilst encased by a gorgeous-yet-secluding set of trees and greenery – only added to its grandeur. Had someone, anyone, been aware of its existence then it would certainly have been a must-see on most, if not all, of the local tourist trails. As it was it stood calm, patient, unsullied. Protected from the scars of gentrification, untouched by the hordes of amateur photographers.

A man, slightly on the older side going by his roadside-slush-in-the-winter grey head of hair and his rose-splashed cheeks and nose, ambled slowly out of the shadows, large sweeping brush in hand. His expression was stoic with more than a subtle hint of ‘I’m fed up with this bloody job’. He brushed, swept, pushed at the scattered leaves piled by the side of the path that skirted the kirk’s exterior. He was thorough, complete in his work, ensuring every single leaf, every single stray autumnal splash of deviation was removed from the kirk’s grounds. He had the air of man who knew his work. And who had known his work for many a year. Possibly even decades. He did the work not for the love of it, not for the prospect of attracting visitors, but for the sake of doing a job well. You could never describe him as proud of his work, no, but there was a certain dignity there that is hard to pin down. It was a job and one he would do well. Day in, day out. He stood the brush against the wall of the kirk and cast an eye towards the scattered gravestones. He sighed before stepping out towards them, leaning down to pick up any pieces of ‘litter’ from the base of said gravestones. Of course, with no visitors of the human variety around these parts, any ‘litter’ was strictly limited to the odd stray bit of bracken, a few discarded berries carelessly spilled from the mouths of overflying birds perhaps, or, of course, the aforementioned and frankly mischievous autumn leaves.

The man placed his bundle of ‘litter’ into the antiquated steel bin by the stone wall at the entrance to the grounds. A wrenching screech and clatter followed as he let the lid of the bin perform its duty. He sighed once more, banging his hands together to relinquish them of dirt or other substances, before looking towards the gathering clouds above. The darkness was closing in, he thought. And there’s rain on its way. Again! That’d make it twice as bloody hard to shift those leaves tomorrow, he moaned to himself. Some of those other buggers had it far too easy compared to this place. The scenery is immaculate but, I mean, come on! On the rare occasion that it’s not raining it’s pouring down with that schizophrenic every-direction-at-every-moment rainfall. As if to bookend his internally ranted monologue, he sighed. Again. He turned and trudged towards to opposite end of the kirkyard, caring not for the graves or gravestones he trampled underneath. He arrived at, what was evidently, the grandest gravestone in the kirkyard itself and leaned down. The gravestone – for lack of a better word – towered over him. Ornate, decadent, illustrious. Words fail to do justice to the majesty of its design. Intricately carved, containing symbols, words (in both Latin and English), cherubs, demons even, one could be forgiven for thinking it a monument rather than a burial site. The man strained, cursing beneath his breath, as he seemed to push against one of the larger foundation slabs covering much of the base of the grave. He pushed, his face reddening even further than it originally was which is quite an achievement in itself, his veins bulging and prodding at his skin. Eventually the stone budged. And then completely gave way.
‘Never gets any bloody easier!’ he grumbled to himself as he used his arm to push himself up from his kneeling position.
He casually looked from side to side, his face continuing to show no emotion above and beyond one of severe indifference to all and everything, and stepped into the grave itself. He lowered into the burial plot, as if stepping down a flight of stairs. As he advanced further into the ground he began to pull the slab back over his head, with no little effort, to close up the grave once more. The darkness closed over him as the gravestone shunted back into place. The kirkyard above stood impassively, clean and silent. Silent but for a very quiet, and barely audible, weary sigh emanating from beneath the soil.

‘Another bloody day and what do I have to show for it?’ the man muttered to himself as he walked carefully down the large concrete spiral steps. ‘A freezing cold pair of hands that are only about to get colder! That’s what. I spend all day up there. Cleaning, raking, organising. Waiting. Maybe a little decent conversation wouldn’t go amiss when I get down here. Just maybe. But who do I have to talk to? Bloody politicians, embezzlers, scammers. You can’t trust any of those treacherous bastards. Hence why they’re down here in Treachery of course but still. It hardly makes for good conversation does it!? Someplace the Ninth. What about that sleazy bugger over in Second? Does sod all throughout the day, barely lifts a figure to keep his facade looking clean or tidy, and yet he gets to share his evenings with Helen Of Troy and Cleopatra and those sorts. Lust for goodness sake. He fairly landed on his feet didn’t he! Or even that lucky sod over in Fourth. Yes, Greed is awful and there’s some right awful ones down there with him but he’s underneath Vegas for goodness sake! Whereas I’m stuck here in the arse-end of one of the coldest bloody places on earth. Probably. And that’s the warmest part of my day. A lake of ice for god’s…I mean, for bloody hell’s sake. A lake of bloody ice. I’d put in a transfer request but he’d probably send me somewhere like Third, Gluttony, where it teems down with that horrible sleet constantly! Oh it was far better back in the straightforward ‘fiery pits of hell’ days. We knew where we stood then. All had a job to do, all equal. Torture, fear, shoveling bastards into the fire; easy. Nice. But then he has to go and read that bloody book. Fiction. Bloody fiction. He didn’t have to follow it to the letter though, did he!? ‘A bit of a change would do us good’ he said. Something different after all these thousands of years. A bit like moving the couch somewhere different in your living room apparently, makes you feel ‘different. Good different.’ What a load of bloody nonsense. I tell you, if I ever meet this Dante character I’ll…well I’ll…oh never bloody mind.’

The main approached a large, extremely thick, concrete door and stopped. He hung his head and sighed a deep, tired sigh. He took out a large woolly scarf from his jacket pocket and wrapped it tightly around his neck, allowing it to creep up past his chin. With both now-gloved hands he pushed the door open.

The plummeting temperature hit him immediately. As it did every day. Icicles magically formed around his person almost instantly, hanging from his scarf and earlobes. This time his sigh formed a ice-cold speech bubble of mist in the air in front of him.
‘Ah, my good man,’ came a sharp, booming voice from the centre of the ice, ‘come in, come in. How was your day? Hmm?’
‘The same as always Boss.’ the reply was nothing if not glum.
‘Oh cheer up for goodness sake. Your always so bloody morbid. So dour. You should take some enjoyment in your work my good man. A lot of good men would kill for a position like yours…well, die as the case may be, but you get my point.’
‘Yes Boss, I’m sure those bast…those guys over in Second and Fourth are very jealous of me indeed. Very very jealous, yes. Even whatsisname over in Eighth, with all those fraudulent buggers, I’m sure he’d be desperate to spend eternity working in a sub-zero frozen lake. Yes, I’m fairly certain of that.’
‘Oh stop your whining for goodness sake. You’re here because you’re so good at your job, my man. That facade up there, that churchyard, is spotless. Immaculate. I’ve told you before. That’s what we want. We want to put on a nice clean looking facade. A good show. We don’t want people discovering us after all do we? No, that’s how wars start. And between you and me we’ve got a lot of evil buggers down here but I wouldn’t place much money on them being decent fighters. I doubt even your man over in Greed would either. And he loves a wager. And there’s plenty of insidious sods up there who I bet you would quite fancy a crack at my job. So, no, what you do is very important. And you’re as good as there is or ever has been.’
‘So promote me then, Boss. Even just give me a little secondment over in, hmm let me just have a shot in the dark here and pick somewhere completely at random, Lust maybe?’
‘A promotion? Don’t be daft, man. You’re already in Ninth, there’s nowhere higher you can go. Plus you get to work with me, the Boss, the Head Honcho, each day. No-one else has that privilege, do they?’
‘That’s because you’re frozen into the ice, Boss.’
‘That’s besides the point, my good man. You should open your eyes and see how good things are sometimes.’
‘That’s another thing, Boss. I mean, I get the whole Nine Circles of Hell thing and separating out the evil and so on. And I know you wanted it by the book, as it were. But did you honestly need to go the whole hog? I mean, frozen into the ice? It’s not very practical is it? And I’m fairly certain that Dante bast…that Dante fellow…had you being punished by being frozen into the ice. I just don’t see the point of you permanently being in there if you’ve….’
‘Well erm…’ there was an uncomfortable silence for a good few seconds, filled only by the sound of the freezing temperatures trying their best to form the air particles into ice, ‘ well…yes…there’s just some things you don’t need to know , isn’t there, my good man. That’s why I’m in the chair…the ice…the metaphorical chair…look I’m your Boss, ok. And that’s it. Now, get yourself to work my good man, no rest for the wicked and all that eh. There’s been a few election cycles recently, leadership contests and such, so treachery has been overflowing don’t you know. Busy night ahead my man. So on you go…’
‘Yes, Boss…’

The man glanced round at the frozen tundra surrounding him and sighed. In the distance he could hear very faint blood-curdling screams echoing through the night. Lucky bastards he thought, likely getting singed to a crisp in some place that’s not a frozen sodding lake!
‘What a life’ he mumbled to himself as he shuffled along a path of solid ice, trying desperately not to lose his footing, ‘what a bloody life.’

Welcome to Miss Tizzle’s

Everyone loved Miss Tizzle’s house at Halloween. The whole town dressed their homes of course, with amber pumpkins glowing gently and perhaps a cobweb here and there, but Miss Tizzle’s was something special. On the week leading up to the 31st, figures would begin to appear in her front garden. Ethereal ghosts that were barely there, fluttered gently in the wind. As night fell, they glowed eerily, making them even more life like. This was of course a peculiar way to describe beings from the after life but it was what made Miss Tizzle’s house so special.

Spooky figures in many guises drew the children of the town in. The werewolf, clad in ripped jeans and checked shirt was, if a little cliched, so life like its eyes were glazed with a crazed and desperate stare. The children claimed if you were close enough you could almost smell it, whatever a werewolf actually smelled of because really, who had ever gotten close enough to a real werewolf and lived to tell the tale?

The vampire, who had been there for as long as anyone could remember, was tall and bony with skin so translucent that you could almost see his veins. Like a pantomime villain from their grandparents days, he was dressed in an old fashioned black cloak with a bow tie fixed around his scrawny neck. His teeth were fixed in a devilish grimace, showing his gleaming white fangs off to perfection.

Dozens of figures appeared as the days went by. The Clown, The Zombie, Frankenstein’s Monster, all deceptively real and equally creepy. Every year they materialised for Halloween and sometimes, if you were very lucky, Miss Tizzle would dream up a new grizzly figure. Like The Witch…she made her debut two years ago. Some children swore that if you listened very quietly you could hear them moaning. A very opinionated boy told anyone who would listen that he saw The Zombie move once. How Miss Tizzle made it all happen was a mystery to everyone but however she did it, it really was the best Halloween display in the whole town.

By night fall on Halloween, Miss Tizzle’s house was ready. The children had raced home from school, all excited to go out, dressed in their finest costumes. From house to house they would go, meeting friends on the way, discussing which house was giving away the best fudge, was Mr Jones giving out his famous sherbet that was so sour and fizzy it actually made your eyes water, who was trying to slip nutritious raisins into their overflowing treat bags and most importantly who had already been to Miss Tizzle’s house…and while all this activity took place, Miss Tizzle was preparing for her favourite night of the year.

Miss Tizzle pottered about her neat and tidy house. It was a small but chunky white cottage with a thatched brown roof. To anyone who took the time to look, they would’ve seen that it looked just like Miss Tizzle. Her brown frizzy hair did indeed resemble the thatch on the roof and she had a round, comfortable body that wobbled rather than walked. Inside, the cottage was furnished in chintz and lace, with a heady aroma of lavender. Miss Tizzle loved lavender, so calming and soothing to the spirit.

As the children raced around town determined to leave her house until last like some grand finale, she was preparing her special punch in the kitchen. She had been making it for so many years now she was sure she could have done it with her eyes closed. She certainly didn’t need to refer to the faded recipe, barely legible in the old cloth book, passed down to her from her grandmother. No one else knew about her punch, well hardly anyone, but they would never tell. She stirred it carefully in her big copper pan and thought with pleasure about who she might share her secret with this year. It was always a last minute decision, never knowing who may turn up to see her display. A shiver of anticipation fizzled up her spine at the thought of the fun still to come.

The sweet and sickly brew had been simmering away for the required ten minutes by this time so Miss Tizzle carefully removed it from the flame and moved to the kitchen table. Slowly and with a steady hand that defied her increasing years, she poured the punch in to the waiting bowl and carried it through to the living room, placing it with the matching cup. Then, just as she knew she would, she heard voices coming whispering along the cobbled street where her stout cottage stood proudly. She quickly moved into position behind the rose embroidered curtains and there, just as she moved out of sight she saw them. Her heart starting racing as she watched the children, gazing in wonder at the creepy tableau. She heard someone say ‘shhh, listen, can you hear the groaning, how does she do it?’ She smiled. She saw Bobby Sawyer, dressed just like her vampire. Sally Briggs, as she suspected she would, had done a fine job of replicating her witch. That annoying boy Arthur Simons had come as her zombie. She knew she shouldn’t have favourites but she really hadn’t wanted him to copy one of her creations. Oh well, another year maybe.

She stood hidden from view for what felt like minutes but she knew must have been closer to two hours. It was always the same, waiting all year for this one night and then it went by so quickly. She hadn’t found anyone yet to share her special punch with and she knew that time was running out. There had been some excellent costumes go past her garden but none that had caught her eye. Someone must surely have some imagination…and then, as the last of the children headed for home, the thought of sweet treats now uppermost in their minds, she saw a solitary figure standing at the gate that led from her garden to her front door. It was obscured by the Clown so she couldn’t quite make out who it was. She moved ever so slightly from her hiding place. She heard moaning and knew she would have to do something now before they got too restless. She peered out again and her heart leapt. Joy of joys, it was a scarecrow. Little Francis Flint, if she wasn’t mistaken. A scarecrow, how wonderful. She didn’t have a scarecrow. She went to the front door and opening it she gestured with one gnarled hand sweetly to Francis, the punch cup in the other hand, steaming gently with her special brew…’Welcome to Miss Tizzle’s my dear’.

The Forgotten Asylum

IMG_7740

Perched on a cliff, over looking the sea, the abandoned graveyard sits. A bitterly cold and bleak place to stand over an open grave, with no shelter from the fierce North Sea and the biting cold wind. No flowers grow here, only thistles with roots of steel survive and thrive. The headstones bear no names, only numbers, for buried here are the bones of the insane, the inmates of the forgotten asylum.

Dragged kicking and screaming over the threshold to a lifetime of torture and humiliation, each mentally afflicted wretch stripped of their identity, heads tattooed with a number and left to fester with every sickness of the mind. Disease was rife, the weakest, the luckiest, succumbed swiftly. The unfortunate ones, those with bodies stronger than their minds, endured years of suffering. Tormented by the plague that infested their heads, they roamed inside the walls of their prison, fighting a never ending battle against thoughts they could not escape.

As bodies fell, they were buried with neither compassion nor humanity, the only reminder of who they had once been the number crudely etched on the headstones. They were not destined to rest in peace and so each night, as the moon emerges out of the black sea, the lost souls of The Cemetery awaken.

 

Wemyss Caves – A Fife Horror Story #2

The wind from the eastern reaches of the Forth crept up across the pebbled beach, clambered over the long grass and hissed violently at the entrance to the cave. The lone figure inside of the cave shuddered, the cold slicing into his flesh, and attempted to pull the ripped rags tighter to his body. The damp broadsheet newspaper page he’d earlier procured as cover clutched cold to his back, evidently enforcing more harm than good on the shivering man.

‘Just my luck…’ stammered the man as he tossed the paper aside, no longer equipped to perform as a cover or as fuel for the fire he intended to construct. The mini gusts of wind that managed to find their way into the cave carried the paper to the dark recesses of the opposite end of the dwelling. ‘Fuck off’ snapped the man as a final farewell.

He touched his glove-less fingers to his face, wincing at their icicle-like touch against his rasping cheek. He used the same hand to reach inside his cacophony of garments – jacket,fleece, scarf, vest and so on – and pulled out a can of supermarket own-brand super strength lager.
‘Here’s tae you!’ he smiled sardonically, raising the can to the yawning chasm of darkness surrounding him. ‘And tae all the touristy fellows that discover this reeking tramp pished and laid oot during their Wemyss Caves tour the mora mornin’ tae!’
The pale yellow liquid dribbled down his lips, soiling his unkempt beard in the process, as his eyes closed in what could have been a mixture of relief and ecstasy. He felt the drink burn in his chest, flaring up with all the consistency of bile. Any warmth was better than no warmth at all, he concluded. His eyes, stinging wet amid the punishment from the freezing temperature, began to glaze as he worked his way down the can. Before long, sleep took him.

He awoke sometime later, he knew not how long later, with a feeling of warmth caressing one side of his face. He eyes still shut, he wiped the drool from the corners of his mouth expecting the heat, the warmth, to disappear as he did so. It did not. Slowly he began to force his eyes open. His eyes struggled at first to adjust to an unexpected light flickering before him. The source of the heat. A fire. He pulled himself up to a sitting position, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand, and stared at said fire. His stare denoted incredulity. A touch of disbelief even. Both of which switched suddenly to confusion. Had he made this himself? Did the lager do it’s job so well that he couldn’t remember fashioning what, although admittedly was a rather small fire, was a very decent concoction of heat? With nothing, by the looks of it, but twigs and stones? Jesus, he thought, was it getting that bad? His memory, his brain, had taken a punishment over the years he knew yes, but blackouts? He continued to stare at the flames before him, distracted only by a hot surge of vomit working its way quickly up his throat before ceasing on his tongue. He spat out the culprit, the taste wrenching against his taste buds as he did so.

‘Fuck it!’ he decided. Who cared how it got there, the main point was he had heat. He stretched his arms out in a v-shape, straining the bones in his upper body, and slumped back against the wall of the cave, ready to embrace the homely comforts of the flame.

When he caught sight of them.

He jolted slightly, knowing not why. He squinted his eyes and peered through a darkness poorly lit only by the threadbare, flickering flame, towards the wall opposite him. As his eyesight finally settled on the wall of the cave the flame from the fire seemed, somehow, to alight the section of wall opposite him perfectly. Almost as if a spotlight had been manually turned on for his benefit alone. An oddity certainly given how fragile the flame had been only seconds before. He ignored this and concentrated on the wall once more. Carvings? Surely not.
‘Naw, that’s definitely carvings’ he muttered to himself as he raised himself to his feet and began to shuffle over to the area in question. It can’t be though, he argued back to himself, this is the Doo Cave after all. There’s never been carvings in here. Pigeons? Aye. Plenty of those buggers. But carvings no. All the others, aye, that’s what the caves were famous for; the pictish carvings scrawled into the walls dating back thousands of years. But not this one, not the Doo Cave. And he should know, he declared to himself, given that he used the thing frequently. In fact, he’d looked at the wall only a couple of hours or so before, as soon as darkness had descended, when he’d ambled into the cave. And there was certainly no bloody carvings on the wall then!

He stepped towards the wall, inadvertently kicking his discarded can aside in the process, the carvings gradually revealing themselves in the flickering glow. A fire. That much was clear. One of the carvings was clearly fire. Made sense, he supposed, given fire was such an important part of life back then for the Picts. Not like today eh, he scoffed to himself as he glanced back at his only source of heat and light. But there was definitely a carving of a fire. A rather small one. And…was it a tool next to it? A small misshapen thing, possibly cylindrical at one time, maybe not, lay next to the fire. It added nicely to his general fog of confusion. A sudden burst of darkness, a flicker of the flame perhaps, brought on by a sporadic gust of wind or something else, cloaked the wall in shadow. Only momentarily, only for the slightest of split seconds. It forced him to spin round instinctively, to check his surroundings. He saw something. At least, he thought he did. A crooked, blurred shadow, on the wall he had been sitting against only moments earlier. It seemed to recoil, to slink back into the greater mass of darkness as his head snapped around. He could feel the chill returning to his body as he stood frozen, statuesque in the centre of the cave. And then the wind howled, adjoining with the distant sound of crashing waves. It consoled him. The weather he thought, it was the weather, nothing else. A nearby tree possibly, rainfall, rubbish blowing across the beach. Anything. It was the weather. He uncoiled himself from his momentary lapse of fear and turned back towards the wall.

And froze once again.

Shivers, trembles, fears all accumulated within him, paralysing him in terror. A new carving had appeared on the wall. Next to the fire. A malevolent looking, hunched, somehow shadowed figure. Carved, almost chiseled even, into the cave wall. A blackness draped over it. Innocuous in any other setting perhaps. But it held him comatose with fear. A feeling amplified to extremes by a shadow suddenly plastering itself to the wall, dashing the carvings in a bleak canvas. It moved slowly along the wall, silently at first before synchronizing with the lightest sounds of footsteps crunching along the ground. The man tried to engage his brain, his limbs in a desperate attempt to turn and flee but the shadow, the moment, the fear had seized him in a vice-like grip. The winds outside shrieked their protests, scratching at the exterior of the caves, as the fragile flame gasped its last. The darkness took him.

A handful of days later an early morning tour group quickly trotted into the Doo Cave as the winds and sleet bouncing off the Forth cut at them like a thousand unrelenting claws. The tour guide prepared himself for his recital, ready to regail the assembled group of how pigeons were historically kept in this particular cave,when his gaze was arrested by a series of markings on the wall. He walked towards the markings, allowing himself a beneath-his-breath curse at the reprobates and hooligans who had left their empty beer can and the remains of a fire in the centre of the cave causing him to stumble slightly.
‘Hold on a minute…’ he said, shakily to himself. A tangled web of nerves and excitement slipping from his throat. He took out his glasses from his pocket and slipped them on, ‘now these are new! And yet…they’re pictish, look at the style, the age of the stone, the age of the carvings!? How have we never noticed this before…!?’
The tour group quickly hurried towards their guide, huddling round him, and looked at the carvings so effortlessly holding every fibre of his attention. A small fire. An small, bent cylindrical object, possibly a tool, alongside it. And a man. The carving of a man. A bearded man, seemingly covered in several layers of clothing. Alongside the fire. Alongside the object.

A man.

A bearded man.

Carved into the stone.

Etched into the wall.

For now. And forever more.

Tooth Fairy

She’s my darling, my love
And it comes to us all,
That moment of truth
When you have to stand tall
At the indignity
Of losing a tooth.

I comforted, I cuddled
I wiped away tears
I said you’re a big girl
Of many brave years
And there’s the Tooth Fairy
We’ll give that a whirl.

So she hugged me
And she loved me
And we had our nice fix
Though I tell you right now,
There’s no bloody Tooth Fairy
She’s gone 46!

Stonedyke Kirk

IMG_7740There was only a passing reference to it in my guidebook, but I did have a fancy to visit Stonedyke Kirk. I had first heard tell of it by my old Geography teacher, Mr Timmins, who’d been a keen explorer of these parts and his tales of the village that fed its congregation were of an age gone by that I often mused over. Of course, there was no village now and it was of some surprise to many that the old church still stood in such good condition. It was said the sheep were employed by God himself to keep the graveyard grass neat and if you visited when the sun was right, the light through the still intact stained-glass windows lit up the interior in such a way as to provide a glimpse of heaven itself.

It was but a half mile or so detour from the footpath I had been following for some days. My intention was to complete the entire 103-mile route over the summer but I would allow myself the odd day of rest to visit local sites of interest. Curiously, at the small Guest House I’d stayed at the night before, the other guests, as well as the landlady herself, were rather hesitant to offer information on the church, one of the young ladies crossing herself quickly before removing herself from the room of a sudden. This had only served to pique my interest further.

The landlady had informed me that few visit the church nowadays. ‘You’d be as well to keep right on past the path that leads to it and follow your feet on to the next village without stopping’, she exclaimed. ‘Only bad ‘uns stop there now and there’s naught to see anyroads, so’s not much point in it.’

One of the guests, a Mr Gladfellow from down Shropshire way, joined in. ‘There aren’t even any brass rubbings now, each gravestone as smooth as though newly polished’, he informed me, seemingly quite knowledgably.

‘Have you been there?’ I inquired hopefully, but he had not been himself, only he’d heard from a friend of a friend who’d been there but who would not return.

And then, placing his paper down and looking me straight in the eye he warned me in the most alarming of fashions, ‘And you’d do well not to go there either.’

Well, this was a turn of events but I was determined to take the small detour to visit the old church I’d first heard about some ten years earlier. The path to it was not well marked and I had to retrace my steps to ensure I’d found the right one. The guidebook clearly stated that it was over a small stone bridge by the edge of a deer fence and led upstream for a few hundred yards before leading into the valley where a scattering of rocks marked the locations of where houses once stood. The church ought to be visible from that point up a small rise to the left.

Although the deer fence was intact, the stone bridge was gone. I could see the remnants of the arch on either side of the stream but the bridge was completely gone. I spied the rough, overgrown footpath leading upwards from the ruined bridge and following the small brook which came down to meet the main stream at this point and so, convinced this was the spot and determined more than ever to see the church first-hand, I removed my boots and socks and waded across the swift moving steam.

Perhaps it was the sharp intake of breath as my skin met the icy water that disturbed them, but immediately on entering the stream a large flock of rooks took off from the trees behind the deer fence with such a sudden and startling racket, I almost lost my footing altogether. I paused to get my breath back as I watched them, swirling as a single black cloud drifting up in the direction I intended to walk before curling out of sight towards where I had calculated the church to be.

I reached the other side of the stream rather out of breath and sat down heavily on the bank to dry my feet. On re-tying my bootlaces, I noticed something written on the remains of the bridge arch, on the side of the stream I’d walked from, that had not been noticeable from that side. Peering over to the rough scrawl I could just make out the words, ‘do not let them follow’. I thought that odd, but dismissing it as nonsense, or some message from a farmer or shepherd, and convinced I was definitely not trespassing, I headed on up the path as directed by my trusty guidebook.

The few hundred yards up the path by the little brook was muddy, and very overgrown with long grass and ferns at either side which soon soaked my legs and feet making me wonder why I’d bothered taking my boots off to cross the stream. However, once I reached the bend it levelled out into a wider, drier and far less overgrown space. I could now see rough outlines of houses etched into the side of the hill and imagined I was now walking along what had been a narrow lane between two rows of houses.

Although I hadn’t gained much height, the air seemed cooler, with the clouds growing darker in the distance. As I slowly turned, taking in the atmosphere and looking all around me, I was again startled by the cloud of rooks, flying so close to my head, screeching loudly as they headed back downstream to the trees from where I’d first disturbed them. I looked to where they’d come from. Up to my left, on a small rise, still some distance off, was the unmistakable outline of a small church.

I can’t say why but the sight of it did not inspire me the way I had imagined. Seeing it now, it looked sad, neglected, angry at having had its congregation removed when the village died out. The wind seemed to be growing colder and stronger as I searched for another layer to put on. The words of the landlady and her guests at the Guest House the night before started to gnaw at my mind and I wondered at Mr Timmins’ tales from my schooldays; could this be the same place he talked about with such wonder?

When I eventually reached the church, the first few drops of rain had fallen. The small black, wrought iron gate creaked as I opened it to enter the churchyard. Some of the gravestones had fallen over, and quite some time ago, while many others stood at angles close to the end of their days. There were also some rough patches of grass where gravestones seemed to be missing entirely, with the bare earth still visible. I walked around for a moment, examining each stone, but could make out no marks, no names or dates on any of them. I imagine they’d all been polished smooth by years of wind and rain.

The grass upon which I walked looked well kept, perhaps by rabbits as there were no sheep up here. I turned my head suddenly at a loud creak and looked to the front door of the church. It was partly open, swaying gently in the increasing breeze. More raindrops fell as the clouds thickened and I was beginning to think of shelter, but I was by now feeling reluctant to enter the church.

Slowly, I approached the door in order to peer in but could see nothing but dark. It was then that I imagined sounds. It felt like whispering, or perhaps fluttering, or perhaps it was simply the wind through gaps in the structure of the building. Without assistance, the door opened slightly further as a stronger gust of wind blew from behind. At once, the whispering grew, and almost as quickly diminished.

‘It must be rats, scurrying about the floor’, I thought. I leant forward and pushed the door further open to let in more light. Again, I felt the strange whispering from deep within the church. At first rising, and almost as suddenly settling. By now, the rain had started properly and from what I could see of the church floor, it was perfectly dry inside. I took one last look at the sky and the remains of the old village in the near distance, and slowly crept inside.

What I saw will haunt me to the end of my days. Some tell me it was my imagination but it couldn’t have been. I saw those things and I see them now when I close my eyes. I hear them now inside my head. As I moved fully into the church the first thing I noticed was the windows. Beautiful stained-glass windows with an unnatural light coming through them. Providing sufficient light, I saw the whole of the inside of the tiny little church and I saw them .. move. Around the walls like shadows, over the windows, whispering, ‘you have come, we must follow, you have come, we must follow’.

I stood transfixed, watching them swirl and group, separate, and spin around me. The light flickered as they passed over the narrow windows and all the time their whispering, their constant whispering, growing, growing, ‘you have come, come at last, you have come, we must follow, we must follow you’.

Faces came and disappeared, laughing grew that chilled me to my very bone and of a sudden, the door flew open wide. In panic I turned, stared at the empty doorway. ‘We will follow’, they chanted. Leaving everything, my bag, my guidebook, my sanity, I ran. I ran while the wind followed me and blew shadows around my legs, swirling across my vision. Breathing heavily, most likely screaming I ran though the lost village while they followed me, flowing over abandoned, ruined buildings, maintaining my speed and staring menacingly into my eyes, whispering all the time, ‘we must follow, we must follow’.

I fell down the muddy path by the brook to the ruined bridge and landed face down in the icy stream. Facing the opposite bank I could see the words I’d dismissed earlier staring at me, ‘do not let them follow’. Shadows swept over the ruined arch on the side of the stream by the brook as I stumbled, fell, picked myself up and fell again and crashed through the water to the opposite bank, all the time hearing, and getting louder and getting more menacing, ‘we MUST follow, we MUST’.

Coughing and gasping for breath I climbed out the stream to look back. They were not crossing the water. A swirl of shadows explored the bank, tentatively testing the water. It was then the rooks suddenly burst from the trees and joined the clouds of whispering horror. I fled. Not daring to look back, unable to control my fear, and I ran until my legs would run no more.

And now, if you ask me why I flinch at rooks it’s because I hear them whispering, ‘we’re still looking, searching, we must follow’.

Goodbye Summer

Smoky chimneys puff in to life
as the air grows sharper
and the nights start on time

Shiny, brown conkers dwell
underfoot, treasure for the
young and young at heart

Leaves fall and grow crisp,
perfect for squeaky wellies
to scrunch with delight

Fat, amber pumpkins
with glowing, bright faces,
shiny, red apples bobbing
gently in buckets

Bonfires burning while
sparklers are twirling,
bursts of bright colours
explode in the sky

Steaming, sweet mugs full
of sticky hot chocolate
give a glow to your insides
then light up your cheeks

The promise of glistening
snow when trees twinkle
with tinsel and hearts
are full with dreams of
Christmas Day.

The Black Hole

I am the darkness
inside your head,
I crumble your spirit,
make you long to be dead

I erase every colour
that brightens your world,
leave you gasping for air
as your life it unfurls

All the laughter and joy
are swept down the drain,
as I poison your mind
with unspeakable pain

The black hole it deepens
with each passing day,
no strength to climb out
nor keep the demons at bay

A life not worth living,
no light to be seen,
a tunnel to nowhere
full of silent screams.