THE BLACK BARGAIN, a dark tale for Walpurgis Night

walpurgis night

There was something evil about the house. To the young man in the grey suit standing at the end of the circular drive, it towered gaunt and unfriendly against the darkening sky. He fingered the crumpled letter in his pocket and slowly made his way up the gravel path, through the tangled mockery of a garden.

Wonder if the old girl was having me on… He almost spoke the words aloud. No lights, no curtains at the gaping windows— why the whole place seemed derelict. Yet this was the address and that name of hers had sounded kind of familiar. But where had he heard it before?

The thoughts darted uneasily through his mind as he moved along the drive. Must have known me though— but who doesn’t? The newspapers saw to that all right.

Strange how the dusk made such weird shapes of the overgrown hedges and bushes— not that he was the nervous type. She probably lives around the back. What was it she said in the letter? “Come to the house the last day in April. Perhaps we can be of mutual assistance to each other.” Why should she want to help him? And, why the end of April? Still, what had he got to lose?

She replaced the telephone receiver and sat back in the wing chair, listening.

It was quiet in the front room and dark, but that helped her to hear better. Yes, he was coming. Mr. Freddy Jacks, last address — Wandsworth Prison.

She smiled to herself as she thought how simple it had been to trace him. The newspaper reports of his favourite haunts, the pictures of him. She would have known him anywhere. The same thinning hair; the neat moustache that hid the full, pink mouth; the pale, lashless eyes and pointed chin. The resemblance was remarkable— and so fortunate. It dispelled any little qualms she might have had.

The bell jangled through the silence. Let him wait. Leisurely she rose and lit the gas brackets above the mantelpiece. Then she crossed to the desk and made sure that the envelope was in the drawer, also the box of sleeping pills. Satisfied, she absentmindedly fondled the ring on her finger— it seemed a shame to waste it on him. But it wasn’t for long. It wouldn’t do if he went away…

* * *

“Miss Karla Franz?” He found it hard to distinguish the small figure in the dim doorway.

“Good evening, Mr. Jacks.”

“I’ve called about your letter.” Awkwardly he fished in his pocket and produced the scrap of paper.

“Yes. Won’t you come in?” She led the way into the cluttered, oppressive living-room.

“You live here, alone?” He glanced around at the strange muddle of furniture. It looked as though she ate, slept and cooked in the same room.

“I have done so for many years.” She sat behind the desk, her eyes drinking in every detail of his face.

“I didn’t see any lights as I came along…”

“I like to light up as late as I can— it saves fuel. But you can’t be interested in an old spinster’s economies.”

Her face wrinkled into a grin, and he thought with a start how unreal everything was. Even this old crone with her thick raven hair and garish make-up gave him the willies.

“How did you hear about me?” He spoke truculently to disguise the queasy feeling at the pit of his stomach. Why hadn’t he gone round to see Harry instead of following up this old shrew’s crazy letter?

“You’re a famous man, Mr. Jacks, or should the word be — infamous?”

“Take your pick— it’s old history.” He shifted uncomfortably under her bright gaze.

“How long did they give you? Was it 6 or 10 years for fraud — and the intimidation charges?”

“Why ask me — you seem to know all the answers.”

“It’s just that I want to be sure of my facts… Now, I’m certain in your present circumstances that a little financial aid wouldn’t come amiss, would it?”

She watched the greed and then fear flicker in his eyes.

“Why pick on me? There are plenty of kids’ homes for your charity.”

“But it wouldn’t be charity. Oh, no. You see, a long time ago your father and I were known to each other. He may even have told you about me and my family. He used to call me ‘Sinti’.”

“So you were an old flame of my father’s!” Relief flooded through him at the normality of the thing. Not that he could remember anything about the old hag— it used to be a full-time job keeping up with his father’s love-life. It would give him quite a shock if he’d lived to have seen this moth-eaten hag. “Well, well. He was quite a lad, wasn’t he?”

Under the well in the desk her hands became claws, nipping at her own flesh. But she forced herself to meet his knowing leer.

“That’s why I thought we might assist each other. Would you be interested? If so, I have a little proposition to make.”

“Let’s hear it first— I’ll decide later.”

* * *

The expressionless voice ended. Jacks stared at her in horror.

“What? You mean ——?”

“Why not? What would it mean to a man of your calibre, no violence — just a gentle sleep induced by my sleeping pills, with the neat application by you of a soft cushion, firmly applied…”

His mouth felt quite stiff and dry. “And what’s my share of the kitty? A heap of wool and old newspaper?” He tried to force a laugh— what a situation to tell Harry! Barmy wasn’t the word for it— she oughtn’t to be allowed out.

“Not if you’re careful.”

She opened the desk drawer and laid the bulky envelope and key in front of him.

“Shall we say, £500 for services anticipated… And for services rendered the key to my coal cellar where you’ll find the total sum of my worldly goods.”

He was beginning to be convinced. “How much is in the cellar?”

“It’s hard to say— but ample reward for your task.”

“Give me some idea… ” He moistened his lips.

“Five thousand — perhaps a little more. What do you say?”

* * *

“Show me the contents of that.” She pushed the envelope across to him and watched him thumb the notes.

“Five hundred, all right — All right, it’s a deal. Spinster found suffocated in empty house — by person or persons unknown. Nobody saw me come here. Nobody would connect me with you. Just one thing puzzles me— what makes you want to quit this happy world? I’d like to know for the record…”

“There are a number of reasons — but to satisfy your curiosity I’ll quote loneliness as an adequate motive. But you couldn’t possibly understand.”

“Then why not do it yourself? Why bring me into it?”

“And risk my chance of——” She fell silent for a moment, a pained look in her eyes.

Maybe I’m old fashioned— but I’d rather leave that to you.”

“Kind of quibbling, aren’t you? Well, when d’you want it?” How matter of fact the words sounded. This was all so deliberate— no chance of saying, “It happened so quickly”; none of the excitement to blunt the edges of the crime.

“I’m ready when you are. I shall take a normal quantity of sleeping pills just to allay suspicion. They work very quickly— and I shall be quite unaware of what you’re doing.”

She laid the box of tablets on the desk calmly.

“But first you’ll burn my letter, and then, perhaps you’ll fetch me a glass of water from the kitchen.”

She listened as his retreating footsteps sounded more and more faintly, and at last died away altogether. Then she thumbed the ring, and with it came the wind— it was powerful and mercilessly cold, forcing open the pale wooden shutters. The claws were the first to go, then the rest of her.

To assure himself that he was not in the least nervous he began to whistle, filling the glass with speed. As he returned to the living-room, to his surprise, he found the door wide open.

“I’m sure I closed it,” he said to himself as he stood outside the room. “Yes, I am certain I did.”

He listened before entering. There was not the faintest sound from within. Stepping into the room he became aware of a dramatic change in temperature. All at once his heart began to beat violently, then it almost seemed to stand still, for the old lady was missing, the room empty, and, now, an unmistakable sound of heavy footsteps was coming from the cellar below.

A few moments more and they began to ascend the stairs. The lights flickered before the house plunged into darkness. He stood, almost paralysed, while the footsteps came steadily on until they reached the top of the staircase. He could hear choked uneven breathing, like that of some animal. He tried to call out, but his voice would not come. Meanwhile the thing, whatever it was, was evidently coming in his direction. He moved noiselessly backward, intending to slip into one of the empty rooms. But, to his horror, he found no matter how hard he tried he always found himself back in the same room — the very room he wished to avoid.

For the next minute the nameless horror had followed him, and he heard the door shut and the key sharply turned. He heard this with a mingled sense of terror and relief. At least his unseen companion was human, surely? He hardly knew what he feared. He guided himself stealthily and silently past a small table which seemed to occupy the centre of the room, against which he had brushed when entering, and squeezed himself into the farthest corner. Then he heard the thing fling itself down on the floor, where it seemed to lay for some time quite still. At last the throbbing silence was broken by a low nickering laugh. Jacks’ blood ran cold. For he knew he was shut up with something that was mad — either the woman herself or, perhaps, something of her creation. He hardly dared to breathe. All at once the thing began to cry and wail, shaking the house.

Presently it began to speak again in a low, unnaturally quiet monotone, every now and then broken by a horrible laugh. Jacks crouched in his corner, disturbed by the hard leaps of his own heart.

And again the loathsome voice broke into whispered words and cackles.

Suddenly, it stopped, and seemed to listen. Jacks listened too. In spite of himself Jacks uttered a low half-articulate cry. The thing made a swift movement towards him.

“I shall play the hurting game this time!” it hissed.

Jacks could hear it feeling round the walls with eager cruel fingers, could hear its panting breaths. Noiselessly he crept backward as it came nearer, his arms held tightly against his side so that his clothes might not rustle.

A loud crash of glass breaking came from one of the empty rooms, then the sound of voices and footsteps.

All at once the creature uttered a terrible scream.

“No— merciful heaven! it’s on me! Ah! it chokes me— it chokes me! God help—— “

There was a sudden wild rush across the room, a rasping sound as the window was flung open, a heavy sickening thud in the court below, and silence.

And after what seemed half a century at least, someone forced open the door, lights blazed through the darkness, and the confused sound of men’s voices was heard.

“Is this where he fell?” asked the officer.

“Yes, I guess so,” he answered briefly. For the sight in the courtyard had not been a pleasant one. And, as one of the officers had noted, his features were that of a man terrified, and his hair matted, coated with what appeared to be a great amount of cuckoo-spit, still foaming and popping.

* * *

It was lucky they had followed up that stray phone call half an hour previously. On Jacks they found the money— It was one of those watertight cases. But they never discovered the old lady’s black box— she’d hidden it too well. If they had, they would have found that ‘her treasure’ consisted of three yellowing newspaper cuttings whose headlines read: ‘Gypsy family claim harassment’, ‘Mayor Jacks forces eviction’… ‘Gypsy mother’s suicide’

No wonder Franz lay smiling to herself on the sofa. Her black wig had tumbled to the floor and her old gnarled head drooped against the cushions. But what did that matter? She had waited a long time to perfect her craft…

* * *

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

Dying Embers by M.R. Cosby

Dying Embers

I have a recommendation for you all.

Dying Embers, the first collection of strange stories by M.R.Cosby, is out now!

Amazon (for Kindle) – http://goo.gl/kv4IwR
Satalyte Publishing (paperback) – http://goo.gl/tKmn1l

These are superbly crafted tales of dark fiction that are guaranteed to keep you on edge; a collection that manages to be at once unsettling, disorientating and bracing in its variety.

“An inspiring, exhilarating collection of haunting tales…”
James Everington, author of Falling Over

“These are powerful, energetically written tales that are some of the finest I’ve read in the genre of dark fiction. The language is wonderfully imaginative and instantly thrusts the reader into the realms of slowly revealed decay. A must-read!”
P.J. Hodge, author of Ghosts and other Supernatural Guests

The Witch and the King, an ancient tale of sorcery

The witch and the king

In the days leading up to Walpurgis Eve (Walpurgisnacht) — last day of April and night of the witches — I’ll be adding some tales of sorcery to the site. Enjoy!

* * * * *

Perched on the border of two English counties, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire, stand a group of mysterious stones known as the King’s Men.

Part of a much larger arrangement, the Rollright Stones, the King’s Men are thought to be even older than Stonehenge.

Like sentries defending some forgotten treasure, they have stood for centuries gazing sombrely over fields of grassland.

Visit on a cold morning and you’re likely to see the circle bathed in an eerie mist — an atmosphere of ancient magic and enchantment, and the reason why the stones are the subject of many myths and legends. And where there are legends, come druids, magicians, mystics and storytellers, all who have visited the stones over the centuries, attempting to understand and harness their secret power.

Rollright Stones
To this day, the guardians of magic still gather here for meetings and rituals; visit and you may very well see their like standing amongst the decaying pillars. But if you do, mind that you are entering a place of sorcery. Strange energies have been detected around the stones, particularly in the circle of the King’s Men. Continue reading

The Druids Knew May Day — a history of May Day customs and celebrations

may day customs

May Day, which this year falls on Thursday, is probably the oldest British festival in the calendar. Two thousand years ago it was celebrated by the Druids, who offered sacrifices from sacred mountains and kindled fires on the hilltops by night. Many interesting old customs applied to the day until 1889, when it became the day for celebration of the international labour movement.

May Day has been one of the four great witches’ Sabbaths, and, so the peasants of many countries say, the witches would in the early hours ride on he-goats and broomsticks to the ancient places of sacrifice to hold revel there with the Prince of Darkness.

maypole dancing

It has been the day of Maypole dancing and typically English folk customs — the milkmaids’ dance, the frolic of Jack-in-the-green, and the rush to the field to gather May-dew, which, as a cosmetic, was said to ensure perpetual youth.

Now May Day is notable only for the Labour demonstrations that are held throughout Europe and America on that day. Its more colourful associations are practically only memories. But what memories they are!

Celebrations something akin to those of the ancient Druids were common among many of the peasant peoples of Europe in the days of Christ, and until about a century ago were still observed in some parts of Ireland, the Scottish Highlands, and the Isle of Wight.

About the same time the Romans were flocking into the meadows to pay homage to the goddess Flora in the Floralian celebrations. These began on April 28th, and usually ended on May Day.

In the history of May Day then comes a gap of more than 1,000 years. Then we find Chaucer writing of the court that went “To fetche the floures, freshe, and braunche and blome.” The days of maying had begun.

Two hundred years later we find the young King Henry VIII with his girl wife, Katharine, riding to shooters Hill to bring in the may. His cavalcade fell in with a band of archers 200 strong, whose chieftain was called Robin Hood. In an exhibition the archers sent their arrows overhead with a strange sound, says a chronicler, that delighted the King and Queen and their company.

In the Tudor days, too, we find a great maypole, sometimes “as high as the mast of a vessel of 100 tons,” being brought into the centre of the revels. But here a chronicler sees a relic of the Druid and Celtic customs.

He writes that the maypole, a “skynking ydol,” was erected and round it the people did “daunce about like as the heathen people did at the dedication of idols.” He was convinced that the “Lord over their pastimes was Sathan, Prince of hell.”

The upshot of this and many similar opinions was that maypole dancing was barred by the Puritans under Cromwell, but on the very first May Day after the Restoration a worthy successor was put up, with much ceremony, opposite Somerset House.

The merry people of the old days had a maypole permanently fixed in every town, and some of these still survive in some of the more remote parts of the country. But they are now few and far between.

* * * * *

may queen

The custom of having a Queen of the May seems to be a relic of the Roman celebration of May Day, when a flower-crowned maid was the living representation of the goddess Flora.

At these old English dances the Queen of the May did not join in the revelries with her subjects, but sat, half-covered with flowers, as an object of admiration to all the townspeople. It must have been a dull post, but the admiration it conjured up in the breasts of the simple peasants must have been the recompense. There are still May Queens in some parts of France.

A part of all true maying was the gathering of the May-dew, for May-dew, especially that of May Day, had a wonderful reputation as a cosmetic and for preserving youth.

Thus Samuel Pepys noted in his diary one May eve: — “My wife away to Woolwich in order to a little ayre, and to lie there tonight, and so gather May-dew tomorrow morning which Mrs. Turner hath taught her is the only thing in the world to wash her face with.”

More than a century later, May 2nd, 1791, “The Morning Post” records that many people went into the fields to bathe their faces in the dew, under the idea that it would render them beautiful.

In London, until relatively recently, May Day was kept up by parties comprising three chimney sweeps in fantastic costumes, a woman, and a Jack-in-the-green, who was concealed under a frame of herbs and flowers. They would dance every now and again to the music of pipe and drum in the hope of being rewarded with pennies. The Jack-in-the-green has been given a welcome new lease of life in recent years, what with revivals in Rochester, Hastings, and Whitstable among many others.

Milkmaids a century ago had much the same custom. They danced round a cow. Earlier still they were joined by a man bearing a frame which bore silver flagons and dishes. These silver things were lent out at so much an hour by pawnbrokers and would grace many milk maids’ dances in the course of a May Day.

walpurgisnacht

On May Day eve, and in the early hours of May Day, according to the peasants of Finland, there was not a hilltop in the country that was not thronged by demons and sorcerers. On Brocken, the highest point of the Hartz Mountains in Germany, too, witches were believed to meet on the eve of May Day — or Walpurgis Eve as it is known in Black Magic works.

* * * * *

This was one of the anniversaries when the meetings were particularly solemn, with as large an attendance as possible. All who belonged to the infernal cult were required to present themselves. Punishment was meted out to those who were slack or slow.

There does not appear to be any formal order in the Walpurgis Eve ceremonies, but one writer of the Black Art tells of “mere clowning and japery, mixed up with circumstances of the extremest horror; childishness and folly with loathly abominations.”

Now, sadly, practically all these interesting old customs have died out. In their place has been born the Labour demonstrations. Despite this, however, there are pockets where the old traditions still survive; and I will be attendance, next weekend (yes, a little late for May Day itself), at one such gathering:- the Downton Cuckoo Fair where there will be merrymaking of the finest order including Maypole dancing, Morris dancers and, no doubt, a veritable feast of olde-worlde crafts.

* * * * *

May Day Celebrations At Elstow, 1939
(click on the image below)

mayday

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: