It was autumn, mist and dew fall, mushrooms and harvests, Hallowe’en and ghost stories whispered round the fireside, set in the settle, fire flames flickering the shadows on the faces, the sparks dancing on the flame tips, warm mug of ale in hand.
Claiming what was his, since the beginning, he stalked, hidden, silent, stealth wrapped in a shroud.
It wasn’t for nothing that the leaves turned their reddest at Hallowe’en. The blood of his victims, blown in the air sprinkled around like confetti at a spring wedding.
He’d been driving his new car down straight roads and windy roads for eons. The car was always new, shiny, always the latest model. In the beginning, it was a horse, then a cart, then a chariot, a carriage, a car. Something with wheels which gathered the souls of those wandering lost in the world. He’d driven most roads in the world, pathways for pilgrims, motorways for trucks, racks that clung to mountainsides and tree-lined avenues leading to palaces, roads sunk deep from foot fall and worn down to the chalky gnarls of root balls, leaf lined, still, echoing the past, desert roads, pillars of red sandstone, and eerie calls in the sky.
Stories of the phantom hitchhiker or the escaped convict, the white lady or the highwayman, the horse and coaches and the lost traveler all came from him.
He’d followed fashioned, clothes, wigs, coats hats, furs and clubs, used coins from every part of history and all corners of the world, passed kings and peasants, white lines on busy roads and wooded glades.
Here he was, sandglass timer in hand, knocking his bony finger on the door. The lonely inn, on the Pilgrims way, high up on the hills, wooded, welcoming, the sign creaking from the posts and brackets, swinging slowly like a hanged man in the breeze.
He thought back now, and knocked on the oak door. The door was carved, weather worn and intricate, heavy on its hinges. The door opened, huge, welcoming. He strode in to the room, the fireplace huge, warm, the door shut behind. Other travelers sat, world-weary, road weary, on benches, heads in bowls of soup , minds echoing a busy day’s trade , travel, work or play. There was a monk, a musician, a tinker with his wares, the washerwoman, the inn keeper and his wife, small children running round, rosy-cheeked and bare-legged, even bottomed for the youngest, the innkeeper’s wife laughed, her red cheeks and long hair, big breasted under her dress, the inn keeper looking on at his family bliss and strife, both wrapped up in that moment , beer ready to be served, food ready to be cooked. He settled down , the fog from outside swept away by the fire, the cold which gnawed toes dissipating into the stars, and swept his robe from the soldiers, and looked, and began his tale. The others looked on, sops dripping from tankards, food on forks, coins in hand, or beads, or bible, grease on cheek, froth on lip.
Each would spin a yarn that night, a yarn to save their soul.
The travelers’ tales wove through the night , a tapestry to keep the night away, this All Hallow’s Eve.
The guests looked around the room, stone walled, cracks and dust, pictures and tapestries,wooden flored, the table heavy and solid, laden with ware, plates and cutlery at the ready. Who would sart their tale first? The tinker , confident, gleam I his eye, glint in his pocket sprang up, in front of the fire, shadows dancing and wove his magic spell, all around hung on his every word, his leather trousers, waistcoat and tunic, collar-less, a small bell hung from his hat, glistening in the firelight. Hush settled down over the inn as the story progressed.The innkeeper strode over to the door, letting in the last of the locals and locking the door with bolt and key. His wife gathered the children clung them all three to her bosomand took them to be washed, clean, ready for bed. The busy time had come, and she wold have to put the children to bed, clean, and come down to serve the clients food and drink.The latch rattled in the wind as the tinker told his tale.
The Tinker’s tale
The tinker started, watching the audience, judging their attention, spinning his yarn
“Dusk, dusty and cool, mists swirled up from out of the ground, rising in tendrils, as weird plants from the cold ground. Stumbling and scratched, in the wood, once full of bird’s song and sunbeams, light sunlit and dappled dauphin, now lost its backdrop for a sameness, a grey cooking paper background, stumps littered in the billowing fog. The lights of the village, eyes glowing in the fog swirled in and out of view. Salty and burnt from tears, cheeks, whipped by the wind or by sorrow and fear, burned by time and weather, seemed to shrink into his face, hiding from that which was out here. The path seemed difficult to follow, and the lantern spluttered and waved, a ship tossing in the seas of sorrow. Diving into his coat, shrugging and shivering through crisp leaves and branches, the lights blazed and he grabbed a cool iron latch. Creaking like a coffin, the hinges rolled past each other, fear crisped from his forehead to his toes, electric, refreshing. Around the table plates and glasses were to be found, as if a meal had been interrupted. Half eaten, abandoned. The candles blazed brightly. So many lit in a time of poverty meant a signal, or fear. He blew out some, keeping only a few so as to make it through the night. He closed the door, swinging fast, and the the terror hit him full in the stomach as he saw the feet swinging in the rafters, pair after pair, flittering in the candle light. He turned, and there behind was a glinting smile of a dead man, pinned to the door speared, gored, as if in mid joke.
He blew out the lantern, and shivered. Hunting round he found the slosh of a canteen full of oil, refilled the lantern and cut down the dead. Too many hours walk from a neighbor and out here, in the muffled middle of no-where, the law was all too often ignored or even openly flaunted. The inhabitants of the inn, for that was where he was, had no documents or even money. A thief, or highwayman had taken everything. Kicking open the door to the stables, dust climbing, sticking in his throat. A sole horse was left, the rest had been taken. It shivered in the night, shining with sweat. That meant a rider had just tied it up, but who?
Blood swimming its scent into every pore, into the nose and throat, as pulling and heaving with the last efforts of tiredness, he dragged the poor souls to the garden. Perhaps the beasts of the woods would feast on the corpses, wild dogs and foxes and badgers and other more dangerous beasts, bears or even wolves would creep out now, exploring nature’s larder. A shovel, a spade, rolled up the sleeves, relit the lantern, its smell bringing the blood to nostrils, and dug. He buried the dead, hoping not to join them. Then, crept back, barred the windows and doors, lit a roaring fire and sat in a chair, holding a garden fork in one hand and a glass of wine in the other.
Daylight came. A traveler knocked on the door, then pushed down the latch. He took a step back, not daring to believe, the husk in the chair, life sucked, face full of fear, sorrow, lines etched by acid, smoke smoldering in the fireplace, and the dead swinging from the rafters, the dead smiling man pinned to the door. A husk! Perhaps some crazy butterfly had hatched from that! Stumbling in fear, blood pumping in his temples, he ran, ran, ran, until his very soul turned white with fear. The sound of his body, dropping dead into the undergrowth hidden wafted through the woods and his corpse was grabbed by the very roots, for the tavern lived off nature’s bounty, whatever form it came in.”
The guests gulped down morsels of food and quaffs of beer, wine. Crumbs swept off, they stood up, applauded, sure the tinker’s tale was enough. The tinker, glint in his eye and sweat on his brow sat, knowing he’d set the scene. But he also knew now he’d have to sit and listen to the tales, was his good enough to save his soul?
The monk fingered hs beads,he was dressed in a brown habit, a chord around his waist. He was hearty, stout, and ready for his yarn. He began, as the visitor looked on,judging each tale, sharpening his blade. He thumped down the bible and addressed the crowd.
The Monk’s tale
“Trickling down his back, shivering, shining in the half light, with a clickty-click, the thief tried to pick the lock on the book. After climbing, walking, scratching his way to the hidden cave, there it was, the ultimate lifelong prize.
Years of research and of searching, reading, looking, hoping to believe and the thief knew the dangers hidden here. The cave of death. A sip of water from the flask, steady shaking hands. Concentrating now, his brow frowning, he faced the last test, opening the book. Only those with a heart truly blackened with adventure would survive.
He’d done all sorts of rituals before, but this one would be the best.
Candle wax dribbled here and there, making its sculptures on the table. The thief paused, gulping in air, hope, and luck. “Pop” and the locket swung open, and he clasped the book, ready to open it. He spoke the words of the curse, and finally opened the book.
He read the first lines, laughing, he’d survived.
Then, roaring, came the owner, hidden in the pages.
“You will be the lock of the book now” said the voice “And doomed to guard a legend from no-one”
The thief screamed. He was turning into metal. Searing up his arms, through his very veins, metal came, and held him in its grasp. He became the lock, bent, clicked onto the book’s spine. A warning for all thieves and adventurers. Even with a blackened heart, if it is not yours, don’t take it.”
A sigh went round the table. The audience breathed out, more food and drink were ordered, smile and cheers went up, shouts of “more!more” from the locals. A solid story, as good as the tinker’s. Judging who would be the visitor’s fare would take skill.
The musician picked up his violin,sprang notes and jigged, jumped and placed his violin on the crumb laden table. He bowed to the audience and began.
The musician’s tale
“ He took another handful of fibers, and pushed my way up through this wall. Dark, warm, moist this twilight world. Sure seems hot and cramped in this zone!; How did he get here?, You ask. Well it’s a simple story.
He met her in that bar near the World War II bunker, green eyes, body to dribble over, red haired and heavy breasted and he’s just a man, his brain’s in his pants!
They talked for hours, seemed to touch, to connect. He couldn’t explain it, she just seemed to read his mind. She was in the bar, but he’d never seen her before, despite her claim of being a regular. They’d sat down in the corner, background music, that orange lighting so common in those joints, the table sticky from drink, the busy world blurred passed them as they flirted, listened, eyes flitting from face to chest to leg to hair, scanning her, wanting her. She looked at him as if she wanted to drink his soul, to taste the flesh. God she was hot, long haired, and ready. He drank another whisky, Dutch courage, sank deeper into the sofa. She had other ideas and grabbed his wrist, pulled him up. “Let’s go back to my place” She‘d whispered softly, sexually, in his ears. Her hot, full lips brushed his ear; she even nibbled it as she said those words.
By then he was hot. He wanted her. He wanted to do stuff with her that you don’t write about! They’d almost run back to her place, stopping only at the pharmacy for condoms. He could see her nipples now, hard, round, firm. There was no mistaking that night, after months of loneliness, he’d found a woman who was funny, interesting and hot. He was going to get some action, he hoped he wouldn’t disappoint. “She wanted me!” he thought. Gosh.
He was a bit flustered, so slowly they started, a drink before, and then upstairs. No hurriedly flinging clothes everywhere, they still talked, caressing each other, slowly. By now he was throbbing in his pants, holy smokes!
She’d asked for that thing that certain girls love so much, and he went down, between her thighs, and gave her pleasure. She was going crazy, and then, he fell.
Looking back now, it must have been that last drink, or a trap in the bed or the floor. He must have passed out, as he woke up here, on this sheer wall, with only these fibers to grasp as he pushes up through this huge warm carpet-like surface. There doesn’t seem to be any floor, nor any ceiling, but it sure is warm in this place.
The world seems strange, as he looks at his claws, and find a place to suckle the blood from the surface of the wall.
Looks like that witch turned him into a pubic louse !”
Tankards hit the table, jaws dropped, some laughed, some were shocked, the innkeeper’s wife blushed and poured more wine, the audience clamoured for more. People were cherry cheeked from the fire as another log was placed on the hearth. Time seemed to be still, the evening young, more time for stories yet!. Drinks came, and the inn was full, oone daring to leave till the last stories had been told, or the innkeeper opened the door for the night.
The innkeeper busily washed and dried glasses and plates, his wife busy too, cleaning tables, collecting bills, checking the children. The audience had settled down with their drinks, eager for more stories. They turned to lok at the humble washerwoman. Old, wrinked, bent double with work, she smiled toothlessly, held a glass in her hand and said “listen my lovelies to the death of Christmas”
The washerwoman’s tale
“The glitter flew through the sky, sparkling ,reflecting in his brown eyes, open in pure joy, the landscape in its muffled costume, bounded by skeletal trees. Soon, gloved,wrapped and ready to go, rolling the snow into that character from his imagination, he’d be here, throwing, ducking and rolling, and after, toasting his toes against the roaring fire he’d made before, back home.
Winter’s joy, bounding in his heart, the wealth of family, friends, the joy of giving, receiving, the fellowship of people, churchyard, tombstones topped with white wigs, the sky open wide, yes, he was there,even if the scene was half imagination, half from the whisky in the brown bag. He sat, in the graveyard,echoing back the 60 years, before age ran its tracks through his face, thinking about success and failure, love and loss, beard stiff and frozen, hat from the charity bag, clothes worn and stiff, tied up, Christmas parcel,with string. The last sips would make sure of it, he’d envelope himself , searching for the solution in the bottom of the bottle, like a child searching for the age of their friends etched in the glass mold of their drink glass at lunch time.Holly and ivy, mistletoe were all around this scene, in this winter’s graveyard, where one more lonely man would be found, eyes froze,wide, empty, beard stiff as death itself, lost, forgotten and excluded, enemy to himself, worn low through failure, sipped through to the whisky of the soul. The animals dare to move in, the crows and the magpies, rattling over their Christmas lunch, pulling his fingers like crackers, wearing his clothes like party hats.
Buried in absence, forgotten.”
A short tale, but worthy, the locals said to each other. She may be a simple washer woman, but she held us in her palm! More drinks were ordered and then, the innkeeper sat , and began his tale
The Innkeeper’s story
“The streets were dangerous, busy, and full of traffic buzzing around: here and there were market stalls, packed together, selling fruit, vegetables. Tarpaulins of faded colours hung over head, bleached by the sky. People walked by, talking, shopping, lively, busy. The roads were poor quality, pot hole filled and full of debris. A 3 legged dog ran, or rather limped out from the sun, seeking the shade, underneath the stalls. Brightly coloured buses, built nearly 70 years ago chugged in the streets. They had slogans painted on them, often religious ones, such as “God is strength” but those buses were rusting their way to heaven. Everthing happened in the street as those metal cabs and wooden clad trailers, full of smiling faces thundered past. People bought, sold, lived, and died. There a man urinated, and over there a baby was born.
How ridiculous they were, the man and his son, on the scooter. Riding tandem, weaving through the traffic, past the people selling honey, rum, mangoes, pineapples, goats, everything you could imagine and more. They weaved past one- handed beggars, their faces grey with fear, their withered hands and stumped arms, the look of hunger in their eyes.
It was easy to escape the beggars. The man pulled on the scooters throttle, but not too fast. These streets were more bomb craters than tarmacked avenues. They weren’t trying to escape the beggars, or the market, but the zombies.
The zombies were on their scent. The boy pointed and the man aimed his scooter at a large deserted building. They could hide up in there. The boy and the man shut the doors and windows they could find, and hid inside the metal building, boiling in the sun. The sun hammered down on the corrugated roof, and so the boy and his father looked for a cool spot. They found the longest corridor, and secured their zone. They opened the doors, one by one, into the long empty dusty offices, looking for barriers, weapons. The last door swung open, they found the janitor’s supply niche full of chemicals and cleaning equipment.
There was a sink. Water.
They splashed themselves with dizziness and glee! Cool, fresh, the water trickled over them as they splashed, cooling down. A moment of pleasure in the heat and fear.
Banging started outside, on the metal walls. It seemed to freeze the water to their skin.
The zombies were closing in, that was sure.
The boy and the man, startled from their daydream, hid under the sink. The tap was running, water dripped over the sink, onto the floor. They watched in the shadows. The zombies staggered past, down the corridor, one by one, their shadows creeping across the wall. The zombies could hear heartbeats, the boy had told his father. But the gushing of the tap drowned out the heartbeat, and the water dripping down hid their body heat; Shivering in the damp, hardly daring to breath, eyes bulging with fear, sweat foaming in their fearful skin. The zombies continued their crazy goose step. The man looked around; here were some cleaning chemicals; that could be useful. But how could you kill something already dead?
In their search for a safe place, the man and boy had become boxed in. The father looked into the eyes of his son. He could see fear, dread, and love. They were crouching; the zombies would kill them if they found them. He scrabbled, looking for a solution, and found a tin. An insecticide bomb!
The pulled off their t shirts, and wrapped them round their faces, trying to cover their mouths from the gas, and then the man pulled the bomb safety clip and threw it into the corridor. Smoke poured out, filling the zone. The boy took his father’s hand, and they ran, pushing at zombies in the smoke, running into the shadows, and out of the building. Haiti had certainly come to life. Outside, they slammed the door, trapping the zombies. They climbed on the scooter and headed for the hotel and then the airport. At the hotel, they grabbed their stuff, paid the bill, and left.
They got to the airport, and took the next plane out, to Miami. It didn’t matter about the cost or the destination, they just fled! They just hoped the pilot wasn’t a zombie.”
The bar buzzed, cheered. The innkeeper walked back throu the hatch to the bar, cosed it and served the next round of ales, wines and spirits. His wife sttod now, young, smiling, her hair hanging down, her apron glistening fro work, standing by the fire, looking at the pictures and the guests. She began her tale.
The inkeeper’s wife’s story
“It was a still, short, hard knock night, when the bells of the church, the old church in my village started to ring out.They were chiming, through the cloudless sky, through the star filled night, through the crisp coldness in the air.They woke me from my slumber.
I opened the window, and breathed in the cool autumnal air. The moon was in its last quarter, in the sky, and I stumbled to the bathroom.
After relief came thought. Auto pilot off. Why were those bells still ringing? I wandered downstairs, into the kitchen. I glanced at the clock, and thought about changing the battery. It had been stuck on a quarter to six for three weeks now.I glanced at the grandfather clock, always wound , ready to chime. 24 past 5 in the morning, Nanna would say five and twenty past. Still the bells were ringing! Why ?
I’d been in the fog of wake for a dozen or so minutes, those bells were still ringing. Curiosity got the better of me , and I got dressed in yesterday’s clothes and tied my laces. I hadn’t showered, so I looked scruffy. It was late October, and the daylight hadn’t really started to filter through . I slipped on a jacket, and headed out the door. I headed out to the village.
I didn’t get too far before I met Claude. He was the neighbor. I blurted out a greeting, and asked what was going on.
Claude shrugged. He’d been woken too, obviously. Together we walked up the main street. “The bells woke me” he complained.
Claude looked at me as if that was so evidently the case, as if he was stating the obvious, but the situation was so strange it needed saying, as if we were in a dream.
Claude lit his pipe.The rest of the walk to the church was conducted in silent billows of Claude’s powerful tobacco. The bells were still ringing when we got to the church, even though the church clock usually only chimed on the hour and its quarters, ringing out a chime for each hour. On the quarters and on the half it would ring once, and the hour it would ring once for each hour, so 4 times meant four o’clock.
I wondered how long the bells had been ringing. By now, most of the village had been woken up by the church bells. The village seemed to conglomerate around the church, petering out into the Loire Valley countryside
The church door was open, and there were a few other villagers standing , wide-eyed, by the church porch. I saw our friend, Pascal, he was staggering back from the phone booth in the village square. “The police are coming” he said. “Make sure everyone stays out of the church’.
Now I started to really come to my senses. What would require the presence of the police? I thought. Claude grabbed my shoulder and looked me in the eyes, and then nodded towards the church, afraid. We both turned our heads towards the church doorway, and I felt a shiver down my spine, and goosebumps, something scary was silhouetted through the doorway, we very quickly saw the scene. It burned onto our eyelids, and the smell of death hung in the air. A body hung on the bell ropes, counter balanced by a pew. That was the village priest, ringing out death on this Hallowe’en night”
The regulars smiled, and were happy. Everyone had told a story. The visitor looked and pointed to the bench. A man lay their sleeping, he’d been there all evening. He stood, red eyed, and drunk, shabilly dressed and stubbled faced, wobbled and stammered. Th regulars looked on, worried now. This was the unexpected turn , the twist in the tai. Would the drunkard spin a tale worth his soul?
The drunkard began “The visitor is the key to many myths, legends and stories, I shall scare you all with one such tale!
The drunkard’s tale
“The hitchhiker was a fallen woman, a prostitute from Rochester, escaping her pimp, pregnant and drudged down, faded and jaded. She’s gathered up her belongings, picked the pockets of clients and tourists, sold her heroin and her works, and crept out that Halloween night. She’d walked miles from Rochester to Bluebell hill, hoping for a lift, holding her thumb out, walking through mists, running to a new life.
She walked up the hill, to the crest, near the standing stones, clouded in mist. She’d been young, now she felt old, tired, desperate. Strung out and lost.
The lights of the traffic danced, the fog billowed, she struggled on to the pub on the top of the hill. In she walked, and the locals looked on, much as tonight, and told her the story of the hitchhiker. On the hill was aghost, seen from time to time. Some said it was a road accident, others that it was linked to Kits Coty or Countless stones or the White Horse stone, all local Neolithic monuments on the hill. Others said the story was just urban myths. The story went that a woman who was a bride to be had been killed in an accident, or a young girl , others said it was a boy running from school, yet others said there was a coach and horses, each regular had a version ready.
The girl listened, warming up in the pub, her drink untouched. The regulars continued with the tales.
Very often people think they’ve had an accident on the hill, they swear blind they’ve hit someone with their car, and when they stop to check, there is no damage to their car and no body to be seen.
“They go to the police and tell them, and when they come back, there is nothing to be seen. One man even wrapped a blanked around a body, and when they came back, there was nothing. Another thought he’d picked up a hitchhicker, and when he got to the address asked by the hitchhiker, she was gone. He rings the door anyway, to find people who say “she’s been dead for years” and close th door”
Another local pipes in : “There were many pubs on the hill, as horses would tire going up and down and needed changing, and each has its story, this inn’s speciality is the coach and horses. Originally the pub had a horn to blow, and the others had a bell to ring when horses left as the road only takes one horse and car at a time, so to warn they would do this, but only after the tragic accident which cost the lives of two coachmen and their passengers. Locals say they can hear the horses pounding down the hill, the iron sticking the cobbles, the reigns jangling, the coachmen pulling, the post dogs barking, the babies and women screaming and crying, the moonlight shining in the dead horses eyeballs, but there is nothing there”. Everyone was looking at the local, spinning his yarn. He stopped, pale, scanning the pub. The table was empty, the chair empty, the drink untouched.The Ghost had been and gone.”
People gasped, and turned to look.The customers turned and looked at each other, finishing the dregs of their drinks, wiping the crumbs from face and cloths. The visitor had gone, even though the pub was barred shut. The landlord stood, slid open the bolts and opened the door to the night. Each had saved their soul. road