In that sleep of death—

in that dream of death

To mark Shakespeare’s 450th birthday and St. George’s Day, I have written a little tale of death and dreaming…

23rd April 1924

I had settled down for the night in the porch of a small church near Alveston, on the road from Stratford, with the words of the great bard heavy on my mind: but, alas! they were far more As You Like It‘travellers must be content’— than Henry V and St. George— when I was awoken suddenly by a sensation that I shall never forget.

A wave of sheer physical horror seemed to engulf my body. I sat up and looked around. Only the brook and the stars were there. I lay down again and once more that wave of horror swept over my consciousness. It was when fear began to obtrude that I got off the bench and went outside. The Pole Star had nearly completed its great sweep across the north, and I judged the time to be about four in the morning. Once outside in the porch in the keen air the fear and the horror departed, but I knew another feeling, this time one of expectation.

Something impelled me to go along the side of the little lane on the hill towards the rear, where earlier I had seen half a dozen headstones.

I must have stood there for quite a while, when I heard voices. They seemed low, and I could scarcely separate them from the voice of the brook. But they were voices. Then I saw a little group of people standing in the darkness less than fifty yards away. They appeared to be talking amongst themselves.

The strangeness, much less the weirdness, of the scene held me to the spot. Then, as I peered at them, I saw a figure coming towards me. Ten feet from me the figure was plain and I saw it was a girl, possibly 20 years old, who wore a long white garment and whose feet, to my utter astonishment, were bare.

I find it very hard to describe my sensation at that moment. But the predominant one was that I was not afraid. Instead of clearing out, I stood there waiting— for what?

She was the first to speak.

“Won’t you stay with us?” she asked, and her voice was the softest voice I’d ever heard.

“Me?” I stammered, completely amazed. And again: “Me?”

“You see,” she said, “you have nowhere to go and we like company. Stay with us

My balance was returning and I took a long look at her. She didn’t seem real somehow. I couldn’t make out any part of her clearly. And those others—

“But where do you live?” I asked. “Who are they?”

She laughed and I jumped. For her laugh was the babble of the brook. Then she pointed to her companions. And now it seemed as though a light came from somewhere, for I could see them plainly. They were men and women, all young, all dressed in white, and all looking at us.

“You are tired,” said the girl. “You have nowhere to go. Stay here and you will never be cold or hungry or tired again.”

Then I got her meaning. She— and those others— the headstones— the lonely hillside— the light. Why, she was dead— they were dead— I was dying— “Never to be cold or hungry again.” Was I mad? There she stood, smiling at me.

I know I must have cried out, and the next thing I knew I was running down that hillside as fast as I could, with my things held anyhow in my arms. With each breath I sensed something black and formless closing in on me, and, arriving at the foot of the hill, icy hands writhing against the back of my head and neck, trying to gain hold.

I continued to run. Only once did I stop to catch my breath; and, in that moment, I chose to look back— for I wished to see it— whether it proved my undoing or not, I wished to know the form of my pursuer.

It was still moving down the hill. The face was featureless— apart from a mouth, identifiable more from position than shape— existing only as a patch of shadow.

As the luminous figure, drew silently, nearer, it was apparent that it carried something in its arms. On came the ghost— 40 yards, and every luminous detail was clear. It was a baby, wrapped in soft white flannel.

With my scalp twitching, I ran across the neighbouring field and out through a gate. I was a long way from that church when I lit a great fire of logs and sat down to collect myself.

To this day I do not know whether I dreamt that scene, whether I went through delirium, or — or — but the alternative surely could not be. But as I sat at the fire I remembered the words of the hospital sister when she urged me to stay there, and told me I had nowhere to go. And the smile— a thing of radiant beauty from the young mother sat beside the bed alongside me.

Sleep was far from me that morning as I sat and waited impatiently for the dawn.

To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come.

ghost stories

P.J. Hodge is the author of GHOSTS AND OTHER SUPERNATURAL GUESTS, 12 tales of supernatural terror available from Amazon as ebook and Kindle:

http://mybook.to/ghosts

Winner of Gothic Reader Book of the Year

THE JUDAS BURNING, a ghost story for Good Friday

Easter ghost story

I do not believe in ghosts, but, having witnessed a most remarkable, altogether inexplicable event, that happened to me when I was but a boy of eleven, near the burial ground of the Ancient Church in Toxteth, I have, finally, been persuaded at the request of a number of friends, to document the following particulars of the same; for, whosoever wishes to dwell upon this account, may find that it has more than ordinary interest.

The day was Good Friday and I had gotten up early to see the ‘Judas burning’, up against the wall of a derelict house in Charlecote Street.

I say ‘I’, but I wasn’t doing the burning; I was simply watching some older lads lighting their effigy, but, as is wont to happen when youthful recklessness abounds, it wasn’t long before the police arrived — a pair of them, on a motorcycle and sidecar would you believe! We all scattered but for some reason they decided to chase me.

I must have run for miles when, finally, I got cornered by the same two policeman. They had caught sight of me disappearing down a blind alley, and, at the end of it, had found me cowering amongst a pile of bins and rusting barrels.

One of the coppers informed me that Charlie, one of the older lads I mentioned earlier, had told them it was me who had started the burning. At first he was suspicious of the story — an older boy blaming someone younger — but it wasn’t long before the crowd of boys, now gathered around him, had all begun chiming in agreement that it was me who had started the fire.

Anyway, I pleaded with him that I wasn’t to blame, and, after some questioning, he let me go with no more than a ticking off. I think both men had felt sorry for me; they could clearly see from my shaking and mumbling that I wasn’t someone who was likely to be the ringleader of a gang of trouble-makers, especially ones older than me! Still, I was quite upset that I had been implicated in all this.

By then it was getting quite late. So I set off home to my house in Cockburn Street. I was proceeding leisurely on foot when, on passing the Ancient Church, my attention was suddenly arrested by the strange and uncanny appearance of its graveyards. The time would then be shortly after ten. The whole burying ground seemed alive and glistening with a thousand small blueish lights, like little flames, which appeared to creep in and out of the different graves, as if the departed spirits were taking a late evening ramble. I stood petrified, not knowing what to make of it, at the same time experiencing a feeling of horror which suddenly took complete possession of me. Just at this moment the moon, which had up until then been more or less obscured by a moving panorama of passing clouds, came, as it would seem, to my assistance, giving me for a very short time the benefit of her companionship. And now appeared the most startling phenomenon of all, a phenomenon which caused my hair to stand on end with fright, a cold numbness of horror, paralysing me in every limb — for advancing up the road, directly opposite to me, came a funeral train, the coffin borne along with measured tread, covered with an immense black pall, which fluttered up in the evening wind.

At first I thought I must surely be dreaming, and therefore pinched myself in the arm to ascertain if this were really the case. But no, I certainly was not, for I distinctly felt the nip, and was therefore satisfied as to my wakefulness. ‘What could it all mean?’ I asked myself as the cortege gradually approached me, and I began to distinguish the general outlines of the bearers. These appeared to be no more than boys, judging by their size, but they were indistinct, merely shadows of the human form. The most disturbing part of it was that they all bore walking-sticks mounted with deaths’ heads. I observed one somewhat younger boy among the crowd of followers, walking just behind the coffin. His distinctness, in comparison with the others, perhaps made me take especial notice of him. He was dressed in what appeared to be a suit, black velvet; the whiteness of his shirt standing out in marked contrast to the sombre nature of his general attire. The face of this young man was deathly pale, as were also the faces of all the others accompanying him, and, though his face remained somewhat blurred in form, I felt that there was something strangely familiar about it. Then, suddenly, instead of the procession advancing to the gate at which I stood, it turned and entered the burial ground by the one situated at a few yards’ distance. As the coffin was borne through this gate, all the blue spirit lights seemed to rise from the graves as if to meet the cortege for the purpose of escorting the body to its last resting place. These awful lights added considerably to the ghastliness of the scene as they floated over the coffin and heads of the mourners. Slowly the procession glided up the pathway, passing the main entrance of the church, and, continuing its way in a straight line, finally disappeared at the back of the edifice.

Where this most extraordinary funeral went to or what became of it, I cannot tell; but this much I distinctly aver, that coffin, mourners, and lights — even the pale flickering moonlight — all disappeared as mysteriously as they came, leaving me standing in the darkness, transfixed with astonishment and fright. Upon gathering together my somewhat scattered senses, I took to my heels and never stopped running till I found myself safe in my own house. In fact, I scarcely remember how I got home. After recovering a little from the shock I immediately aroused a female relative who had retired for the night, and related to her the above particulars.

She assured me that I must have been suffering from mental hallucination, but, seeing the great perturbation of my mind, she came to the conclusion that, after all, I might possibly have seen what has been described above.

The next day she made enquiries at the neighbourhood, and ascertained from a very old woman that she remembered a story in her youth having reference to the mysterious and sudden death of an old churchgoer, who ,was hastily and quietly buried, she thought, at evening time, in the old churchyard. If so, was this a ghastly repetition of the event got up for my special benefit, or was it a portent intended to foreshadow the coming of the Dread Visitor to myself?

Now, as I have before stated, I am not a believer in ghosts, but, certainly this very remarkable experience of mine has entirely upset all my previously conceived notions of the subject, leaving me in a quandary of doubt. On the evening upon which I saw the mysterious twilight funeral at the Ancient Church, I was exceedingly wide awake; I had passed several cyclists on Dingle Lane, with whom I conversed, and had likewise refreshed myself at the public drinking fountain placed at the top of The Mount. Strange that a few thousand yards further down the road I should encounter so ghostly an experience – an experience I shall, to my dying day, never forget. And, what of the burning of the effigies? Well, that dwindled out shortly after the war. Too many accidents, I suppose. One of the boys in the neighbourhood ‘got it’ not long after my encounter in the churchyard. The silly beggar had used petrol ! My dad read it in the papers — a gruesome report, too, saying ‘his charred remains were found amongst the debris of the Judas’. I think it was Charlie. Dad said I went to the funeral, not that I can remember.

* * * * *

I wrote this story after Tim Shewan alerted me to the custom of Judas Burning, prior to which I was entirely ignorant. Its practise in the streets of Toxteth, Liverpool, in celebration of Good Friday, was quite a singular event for the British Isles, even in the early part of the 20th century; for this custom had – and, possibly, still has – a much greater significance in the lives of our European cousins: those in Germany, Spain, Portugal and Greece.

You can read more about this fascinating custom at the BBC Liverpool website: Judas Burning.

In Crete, the Judas effigy is given quite a celebrated burning:

UNDER THE IVY, a haunting tale of a love lost

graveyard ghost

A ghost story inspired by the lyrics of Under The Ivy by Kate Bush

I contend that enjoyment of churchyards in no way indicates morbidity of mind. Indeed I find pleasantly absorbing these testimonies to the qualities of the unknown dead — generations of beloved husbands and devoted wives, of men who were people’s sons, of names that were mothers to men.

Which all goes to explain how I came to be wandering round the churchyard of a hamlet named — I think — White Rose Hill one spring evening. And there I found the perfect tomb, a monument so unusual that it took away my breath.

There in a quiet corner was the headstone whose story I shall never forget. It was unusual because it bore lettering not only upon its face, but also upon its back. And the words were oddly contradictory. Let me quote them straight away. “Here Lies,” read the inscription upon the stone’s face, “all that is mortal of Mary Gray, who passed away on May 3rd, 1890. In gentleness and virtue, in kindliness and calm, there breathed none like her. Pious, charitable and meek, she moved among those who loved her with tolerance and mercy. She never spoke an unkind word or did an unjust act. In lowliness and humility she passed her days, beloved by all, an example to everyone who crossed her path.” There followed the Initials, “G.T.”

* * * * *

On passing behind the stone I saw the other inscription, which ran as follows: “To the memory of Mary Gray from. A.T. She was free as a linnet, happy as a lark. Her world was laughter, and laughter was Mary. May these qualities never lie forgotten, the virtue of gay carelessness, the delight of her changing day.”

“You’ll be wondering about Mary Gray, I daresay,” said a voice, and there he stood, a greybeard with a scythe, the very spirit of all graveyard tidiers. Continue reading

The Ghost of the Grand National

poster1

Although the public were not told of it at the time — had they been they would probably only have laughed, for people were very sceptical with regard to the supernatural in those days—the Grand National was once won by a ghost. And this is how it happened… Continue reading

THE SHEETED DEAD, a ghost tale

white sheet ghost

It was early April, the wind was howling round the old boarding school, and the rain was coming down in torrents, while in one of the cosy little rooms six girls sat chatting in front of the fire. One of them, Maisie Andrews, sat up and said, “Let’s tell some ghost stories!”

“Wouldn’t it be lovely,” agreed Rosy.

“You silly children,” said Emily, who was a little older than the others, “there’s no such thing as ghosts, so why talk about them? Why talk about a whole lot of nonsense?”

“Well, if you don’t like it you needn’t listen, we are going to tell stories. You start,” said little Elsie.

“All right,” said Maisie, “I’ll tell a story that will make Emily believe in ghosts.”

“Go ahead,” said Emily, “you see if you can!”

“Well, if I make you believe in them, will you do that sketch of Valentino for me, you know you’re so good at drawing?”

“Yes, if you make me believe in ghosts I’ll do that for you.”

“All right, I’ll go and get the paper and pencils. Irene you come with me.” Maisie got the materials and returned to the room without Irene.

“Where is Irene?” they all said when she came back.

“Oh, Miss Waverly said she wanted to have a talk with her.”

“Well, what about the ghost story?” asked Josie.

“Put the lights out. No one can believe a ghost story while the lights are on.”

“I’m starting to get creepy already,” said Rosy. “Well, I’m not,” said Emily. “Now for the ghost story.”

“Once there lived, in this very house, a terribly wicked man, whose wife had a lot of money. She had a lovely big dog, which was very faithful to her. The man was anxious to have his wife’s money. One day he called her into his room and said, ‘Woman, your hour has come!’ Then, in an instant the dog rushed in and leapt at the man, but he picked up his gun and shot it. He then said again, ‘Woman your hour has come!’ and again snatched up the gun and shot her, and her ghost still haunts this place.”

A small white figure came into the room, and went straight towards Emily. She jumped from her seat, and became as white as a sheet.

“Now do you believe in ghosts?” whispered Maisie.

“Oh, I can’t help believing in them now, can I? Yes, yes, of course I do.” Then little Irene came out and a sheet lay beside her. Emily was wild with rage.

“How dare you play such a trick on me?”

“You said you did believe in ghosts so you have to do my sketch for me,” said Maisie.

“But I don’t,” replied Emily.

“But you did,” retorted Maisie.

“I’ll do your wretched sketch for you, but I don’t believe in ghosts!”

All at once there came the sound of footsteps down the corridor — and, with the girls hushed and staring at the door quizzically, it swung open, without announcement, and, for the second time that evening, a white figure came into the room.

This figure was, however, considerably taller than little Irene.

* * * * * * *

P.J. Hodge is the author of GHOSTS AND OTHER SUPERNATURAL GUESTS, 12 tales of supernatural terror available from Amazon as ebook and Kindle:

http://mybook.to/ghosts.

Winner of Gothic Reader Book of the Year.

ghost stories

The Woman Who Floated, a ghostly tale for Mothering Sunday

mothering sunday story

Tomorrow is Mothering Sunday, time for a little Simnel cake, perhaps?…

I had overheard conversation on the topic but felt unable to examine the rumours from any rational point of view. Ultimately, the villain would be unmasked; more so, all my instincts pointed to the revelation of a scoundrel no more than a child or simple-minded adult (perhaps more than one) intent on concocting mischief!

But no matter my opinion; for it is the past. Instead, I will keep to the facts, simply told, and begin with the events of the afternoon of Mothering Sunday, two years before.

We had returned from church, the sky a bitter shade of grey; and at the margins of the unploughed fields surrounding us, dark clouds threatened with torpid heaviness. I passed my hand behind her back to support her frame and she, in turn, shrank further into my side, taking pitiful shelter from the bracing winds. It was the first time in many months I had seen her looking this frail.

Beside us, and looking nearly to be doubled-over by the strength of the gales, were Mrs Bentley and her son. He too was doing his utmost to support his mother and make some headway upon the path.

Finally, having negotiated such inclemency, we arrived at the front porch of our cottage, the middle of a nestled set of three.

I bid good afternoon to the Bentleys and stepped through the iron gate, at the same time removing a few veins of ivy that had made their way through from the adjacent hedgerow. Here, I made a commitment to spend time remedying matters at the front of the house having just spent a season behind it.

A few hours passed in drinking tea and conversation, when at half past three we were alarmed to hear an awful banging at the front door.

My mother indicated that she would rise to answer it, but I insisted that she should remain at rest and I should attend to the caller; though I was at a complete loss as to whom would be visiting at such an inconvenient time.

When I opened the door, I was surprised to see Mrs Bentley’s son and immediately I took note of his rather confused and distressed state. Holding his chest, he managed to find his voice and told me that I should come quickly to the house. I seized my coat and we rushed there immediately. Inside, upon the kitchen floor, I found Mrs Bentley, lying in a most unusual position, as if she had fallen backwards although, somehow, her arms had remained directly by her sides. With all the finesse of a well-read scholar I set about searching for signs of life upon the unfortunate woman’s body. But there was little I could do, as I soon became aware of a great coldness that had set into her. I recall having seen only one deceased person in my life, and I can assure you that I felt decidedly queasy despite deference in the duties I had in assisting her poor son.

A doctor was duly dispatched to the house and thereupon confirmation came that Mrs Bentley had suffered heart failure. It was a shocking circumstance despite Mrs Bentley’s advancing years; and on such a day, too!

That evening we invited Thomas, Mrs Bentley’s son, to stay with us. The situation was made all the more heartfelt by his insistence on persistently thanking us for our help in dealing with the day’s unfortunate events. Each time, I reminded him that it was the very least we could do considering the circumstances.

It was only through this close-hand hospitality did Thomas reveal a curious happening but an hour or so before his mother’s death. Continue reading