Walk with me (to the estuary) – a ghost story for Christmas

walk with me...

A bolt is thrust aside and one half of a stable door swings back. The sound of a sharp kick announces the peeling back of the second. A bulk of a man steps through carrying a thick meshed bundle of sticks and logs searching for a suitable spot to dump the damp load; his nose is held aloft, at a distance, enduring the sickly-sweet aroma of the mildewed bark. His face fidgets nervously until the wood is set down on a sheet of newspaper, neatly dragged into position by his foot. The dispatching of the load relieves his body, but his expression still retains the weary slump it entered with.

It is almost time for Manning to leave, a suitable moment to consider the sweet restorative powers of a few days by the coast. And with this thought, he finds his spirits lifting. It has been several years since he last visited Leet and walked its impressive shores; he has missed the place. No longer resisting, he succumbs to the pleasantness teasing his lips.

Perhaps you know Leet? It is a south facing sandy beach next to the entrance of the Beaulieu River in Hampshire, a landscape rich in character, with great stretches of open and unspoilt countryside.

Lete, walk with me (to the estuary)

But it is the agents of erosion that have defined this sea-place. The shore is littered with corpses: trees that have finally, but grudgingly, relinquished their fragile grip on the sandy soil, just a few metres above. Tendrils of seeping rainwater and the gnawing effect of the wind have gradually removed the earth, exposing roots to the mercy of encroaching elements. It is a natural decay, but not one that removes all evidence of existence; for old trunks lie entombed in wispy layers of sand, creating fragile barrows on the shore. In the early hours of a wintry morning, the landscape transforms into a surprisingly gloomy affair; the dead bodies of trees are thrust into the greyness, and any living thing roaming amongst the decay looks quite lost, as lost as a child.

Manning returns to the garden and stops momentarily, prospecting the promise of an early spring. Though the surrounding pastures have yet to become the busy hive of the next season, there is something that stirs beyond them. For every hour, the lull is regularly and insistently punctured by the chiming of church bells, rushing in from the distance, streaming across the shiny pools of the water meadows and ringing against the roof. So reliable is their timekeeping that he is frequently without a watch, preferring to let the bells pass on the message of time.

It is almost eight o’clock and he stands stiffly, cocking an ear with compass point precision, anticipating the first toll. His sense of timing is uncannily accurate, but not so today, for instead of a tone honeyed and dulcet, his ears are greeted with something unfamiliar: the sound of deeply distorted bells, a sonorous clang sweeping down the valley. Manning shifts uneasily.

The prospect of the second chime intrigues him; and it does not disappoint, for when it comes it is as strident as the first, rumbling across the valley floor, striking stone and wall, resonating through the farm machines, thudding against the roof tiles, growling into the distance, dissipating into the pastures beyond.

For a time, nothing stirs.

Lete Church

Then, there is a third; it thunders in, attacking the valley with its clamant chime. Though this time, its source is clear: it has emerged unmistakably from the bell tower.

Two further chimes follow, alighting sharply on his nerves, insisting for attention. For a moment, he considers that he has sensed something unreal, an interloper: a blaring horn or siren perhaps, blown in and disconnected from its source.

He remains fixed to the centre of the lawn, but no further strikes are heard. The only sound is that of the last tone, dragging out its death in the crisp winter air. When it has gone, it is replaced by an uneasy silence; a stretch of eerie void frosting the torpid landscape.

He turns around and returns to the house.

His neighbour is usually at home during the day and would, no doubt, have heard the bells. She receives his call but the response is somewhat disquieting: though she was at the back of the house at the time of the event, in the kitchen, with the window open, she could neither recall hearing the bells nor anything out of the ordinary.

Manning stands for a moment, thinking. Unexpectedly, he is overcome by an intense feeling of isolation. His mind searches for an explanation but of all the ideas that have drifted into his mind, he has a sense of something dark. With this, he shudders.

——————————————

The journey south is uneventful and expedient; the vagaries of the season kept firmly at bay, as too the curious incident of the bells. Instead, Manning’s thoughts are filled with the prospect of lush coastal scenery and the usual book buying ambitions; he has a particularly good feeling that on this occasion he will return in possession of something quite special.

It is a little before eleven as he drives along a pleasant coastal lane, snaking down gently to a drive at the back of his weekend retreat, a small guesthouse.

He stops the car and leans out of the window, following a line to the top of the house. The place looks cheerful enough and, most importantly, it looks only to be a stone’s throw from the beach and estuary. With a little vigour in his step, he strolls swiftly up the cobbled path, past a multitude of garden ornaments, and enters the house.

The entrance leads to a reception area with adjoining staircase, brightly lit from ceiling and corner. Around him, charming paraphernalia adorns the walls. Gazing upon the stairs, he wonders if his request for a room on the top floor, with a view overlooking the shore, has been carried out.

Pleasantries are quickly dispensed with and, to his delight, the proprietor confirms that a room on the top floor has been reserved for him. He is directed to the stairs and begins the climb up to the fourth floor, to a south-facing room, the one with a view.

Inside, the room is pleasant and airy. With little hesitation, he unpacks; it is completed with little concern for order for he is eager to step out onto the balcony, indulge the view and pick out a route for his afternoon stroll.

The scenery is entirely what he has hoped for: the estuary is bathed in a rich, low light that bounces and sparkles along the mouth of the river, spotlighting the birds clustered at the brimming rock-pools. At this elevation, he is able to pick out what appears to be a relatively uncomplicated route down to the beach: a path running parallel to the narrow stretch of sand directly below his window, along the estuary, towards the southern shores of Gull Island.

Lete, walk with me (to the estuary)

Retreating from the water’s edge, Manning spies a line of trees separated from the shore by a small road; he judges this to be an extension of the main route into Leet. He is confident that it provides access to the beach. Squinting, he makes out a small gap in the road’s natural boundary, a possible path through the trees and onto the shore.

He packs a small rucksack and leaves the hotel, setting off towards the sea. The road is relatively easy to follow, meandering for half a mile before narrowing into a straight descent. But soon the route begins to look less obvious. He takes a sharp turn and finds that he is on a path towards the sea. Here, the roadside hangs heavy with growth and for many metres there is no easy thoroughfare.

The moment he decides to turn back and reconsider his plan, a gap in the hedge reveals itself. Here the thorny stems have been cut back bringing a narrow path into view. Manning steps off the road and onto the path, making his way along an uneasy blend of shingle, sand and weathered roots. Before long, he stands before a pair of trees, denuded of leaves, hanging on for dear life; the roots are almost completely exposed; the trunks leaning towards the land in a desperate bid to achieve some counterbalance.

A little brushing aside of holly, and a careful peeling back of some overgrown nettles, and a clear view is revealed. Pressing on, he clumsily drags his feet down the bank searching for footholds. The earth crumbles and the slumping land propels him forward, dropping him onto the shore.

The tide is out. In its place are acres of undulating mud banks, patrolled by wading birds. Dotted around the mounds sit black headed gulls, all engaged in an unceasing drill of searching for food and shrieking against the grey.

Manning stands and watches the theatre for some time. Then, feeling a little tired, he casts his eye over the trunks that are scattered around him. The wood is bone dry, despite the regular wash from rain and tide; but their ridged, gnarled surfaces make it difficult to find comfort. Eventually he settles, catching his breath, ready to embrace with the splendid view. The light is more than adequate for unaided viewing.

A gust of wind whips around him, feather-dancing across his face, shifting his gaze from the southern shores of Gull Island to the grey expanse of mid-estuary; and there, almost immediately, his eyes are drawn to two objects.

Lete, walk with me (to the estuary)

The first is a protrusion of timber thrusting upward from the mud, tailing off to a sharp point, shrouded in a mass of spidery sea-mist. The second, a corpulent slab of wood, only a boat distance from the first, but much larger and denser, and laid flat. He flips between the two, blinking, adjusting his vision, attempting to get the best view possible. But then something curious takes place. From behind the hulk of wood to the west, a tiny shape emerges. At first, it appears to be the edge of a small craft, but as its silhouette pulls away from the jutting timber it takes on human shape.

The figure is set at such a distance that it is impossible to deduce whether it is an adult or child; nevertheless Manning is quite certain that it is a person, though it is entirely beyond his comprehension as to how the individual came to be in such a predicament.

He looks on, enchanted by the strange spectacle, watching the figure move from an upright position to crouching, then lower still, almost recumbent on the sand. There the silhouette lies dormant, resting. Manning senses his own posture has become taut; his unblinking eyes are sore and watery. He cups his chin and rubs his face, a thumb resting in the sinewy recess of his jaw.

Dramatically, the figure lurches forward, propelling itself in the direction of the opposing slab. There it remains quite still, resting against the foundation. At this point he can no longer resist blinking. He closes his eyes and crushes them intensely, refreshing his vision; but when he looks back, the figure has gone. Instinctively, he assumes it is waiting behind the wooden slab. But several minutes elapse and the scene remains unchanged.

An ineluctable urge suddenly grips him. It nudges him forward, pushing him across the shingle bank, dragging him to the edge of the flats; all the while, his sight is doggedly fixed on the point where he last saw the figure. In a shallow pool, he stands and surveys the vast expanse of muddy platforms.

Ahead, the path looks treacherous, a lonely route through roiled and miry waters; but ultimately he is driven forward, tormented by the possibility that someone is trapped on the sands.

Manning takes a few hesitant steps, but watches in quiet alarm as his boots sink deep into the swamp. A final step drops him several inches into the cloying mire; thick grey-green pools of water, rich with sediment, rush in to fill the grooves around his boots. He stops, heeding the signs, staring at the two pillars of wood that have brought him this far.

Lete, walk with me (to the estuary)

In that moment he questions what he has seen, establishing it foolish to dismiss the light has played an elaborate trick on him, somehow gathering an image from the shore and misplacing it.

In the distance, he spots another shape; this one far less spectral. Between the opposing shore and the jutting timber, he makes out a small boat directed at an angle to the tide. The figure in the boat is indistinguishable, though he can clearly make out a pair of outstretched arms, rowing. Relief swamps him; surely this is the figure he saw on the mudflats. The boat continues its movement, fading against the sea mist, flickering and blurring into the low winter light.

Manning is relieved; it is obvious that the boat and occupant are heading to safety. A final scan of the horizon and his confidence grows, assured that what he observed, though somewhat unusual, has simply been an individual who knows the area better than him.

He stands motionless, gazing intensely at the wooden structures, his outline dimming against the darkening landscape. Hesitantly, he turns around, making his way back up the shingle, a look of contentment hanging precariously on his face.

——————————————

E. E. Jones leads a line of elegant, turn-of-the-century shops on the narrow, cobbled high street positioned at the centre of the village. Decades of makeovers and refits have eroded much of its original charm, but the facades still retain some finer detail and are inviting. Manning pauses outside the bookshop and stares through its tall mullioned windows. The anticipation of what lies beyond the door sets his heart a-flutter; it is an intense emotion that falls somewhere between intrigue and greed. He tugs an ornate porcelain handle and steps inside.

bookshop

The shop is frothing with life. In dimly lit passages between oak shelves, customers stand clutching their tiny stashes of treasure. For all its sprawling size, the place produces only a low-level hum.

Manning stands patiently, waiting to be received. When the queue is dealt with, he seizes the opportunity to approach the person serving, hoping that he possesses specialist knowledge of the shop’s contents. They chat and Manning soon learns that the man is Eric Jones, grandson of the original owner. Jones takes to Manning immediately, and before long he escorts his customer on a whirlwind tour of the premises.

After the circuit, Manning is escorted to a seated area and is asked to wait. The owner scurries off, disappearing along one of the aisles. When Jones returns, he has a pile of books teetering in his grasp. He deposits the collection on a small table , and tells Manning to take his time before resuming his position behind the counter.

The visitor begins his inspection. The first three books are a little disappointing. The next book is much the same, doing little to bolster his expectations.

Deflated, Manning takes the last book and nonchalantly fans through it, ignoring its cover, allowing the weight of the pages to do most of the work. The letters tumble, blur and fuse, flowing as one long wispy stream of grey text; then, with much of the book having fluttered through his hands, he stabs randomly, halting the fanning pages.

And finally, something catches his eye.

Holding the book closer — a little tighter — he lovingly touches the pages.

It is a poem, brilliantly written but sombre and bleak in tone. Its power lies in its strange, surreal and bewitching atmosphere, but what surprises him most is that the author is very young, a girl of thirteen.
The verses tell of events in Leet at the turn of the century. The words hint at something dark, a bubbling alchemy of powers brewing in the wind and rain. The poetry pulsates with potent, seductive language, compelling the reader to believe in ideas wildly superstitious and otherworldly.

It is the last verse that especially touches him: the speaker’s plight as she finally takes her own life, surrendering it to the waves.

Walk with me to the estuary
To lament this loss of mine
Come roaming waves devour
This delicate flower
Thence sorrowful heart be thine.

Five of her poems are featured, all absent of illustration, and with little fanfare. The introduction is light on detail, simply revealing the author’s name and a line stating her childhood was spent in Leet. But despite these scant details, almost immediately, he has fallen in love with the work of Elizabeth Anne Stone.

It is only when Jones returns clutching another lofty pile that Manning is roused from his study.
‘How did you get on?’ enquires Jones.

Manning swoops in, revealing details of his find, expressing delight in chancing upon the work of such a beguiling young author.

Bookshop

Jones listens quietly, fixing on Manning’s words, concurring with his description of the language and the impression that the author’s work draws from experiences far beyond her adolescent years. As Manning speaks, he grows aware of a pucker forming in his companion’s brow.

‘Sorry, completely lost in my own thoughts there. Please forgive me.’

Manning smiles and signals to his host to continue.

‘I’m thinking of a story my grandfather told me – not told it for quite some time. Something very troubling; an unhappy life….’

He pauses and nudges his glasses nervously.

‘The more one learns about her life, the harder it is to imagine how on earth she was able to write such beautiful things.’

Jones continues, revealing details of Elizabeth’s life.

‘I can only guess that by writing she was able to make some sense of her tormented life, and it must have maintained her well — for a time at least. Her school records, traced by my grandfather, revealed that though Elizabeth was on the shy side, she obviously enjoyed having her essays read out in class. So, perhaps, the place — the school — was a sanctuary for her: a shelter from her father’s wickedness. But the poor mite must have been so terribly pained by these affairs. It was inevitable that the extent of her father’s rages would get worse. And so they did. For Elizabeth the consequences were terrible. Apparently, almost overnight, she lost interest in her schoolwork, and all that blossoming promise she showed as a writer suddenly evaporated.’
‘But worse was to come: one evening, shortly after her father had beaten her, Elizabeth ran out of the house, making her way down the cliff path to the sea. We know that on reaching the shore, she unravelled one of the loosely moored boats and made her way out into the estuary. Her descent to the sea was watched by the captain of a local fishing trawler out on night duty, completely unaware that the frantic movements he witnessed belonged to a child in distress. It wasn’t until the next day, when Elizabeth was reported missing, that two and two were put together. The boat was found, anchored in the middle of the estuary; but the girl was nowhere to be seen. No body, nothing. The tragedy broke the village’s heart.’

Manning has grown paler by the second; a hint of vacancy possessing him. Something has distracted him throughout Jones’ storytelling.

They were still at first, but soon they began to move, running to and fro along the length of the bookcase with interminable repetition. At first he thought it a child, but unaccompanied? No one approached the shelf and no sole appeared from behind it. All the while, the feet continued to trip back and forth; they were dainty, playful steps.

Manning removes his gaze and returns to the story, a tremble in his posture.

‘In the following weeks, the situation remained the same: no trace of the girl. All deeply mysterious. My grandfather, who was only a boy at the time, vividly recalled how the event cast a shadow over the community, and for a long time too. No doubt because of the lack of a body, no chance for people to grieve — properly grieve. Well, as you can imagine, the press of the day descended and the story was in all the papers. I may be able to fish out a copy of one if you’re interested?’

Manning looks vacant.

‘That’s if you are interested?’ he repeats his offer.

He is staring nervously at something to his right.

Jones continues, hoping that the final chapter of his story will help his visitor reengage.

‘But that’s not all. The strangest part was to come. Quite unexpectedly, in the early thirties, the crew of a volunteer lifeboat dredged a body from the depths, near Gull Island. There were all sorts of speculation it was Elizabeth, though no formal identification appears to have been recorded. And by that time the family had moved on. All we can say is that most people think it was her.’

Manning opens his mouth and speaks, but his words are strangely absent of conscious thought.

‘I should very much like to visit her grave. Do you know where it is?’

Jones looks puzzled but responds to the question.

‘Unfortunately I can’t help you with that. There are no records to show that the body was buried at Leet. To the contrary, it’s likely that the poor soul was buried elsewhere.

The tiny feet still.

The visitor struggles to gain intimacy with the creeping unease, trying to catch hold of a thought lurking shapelessly in the back of his mind. A perceptible tautness has hammered into his limbs. He closes his eyes tighter, and something stirs; his mind’s eye fixed on an image of his host, drawn to something that moves across his face. First it is ash-grey, then it grows darker; dense coal-black contours, a pool of viscid oil slicking down, swallowing his features, engulfing him.

He opens his eyes; and there, sitting at the corner of his retina, a glimpse of a face. She stands motionless, tucked away, but her presence is as close as breath.

Manning shakes his head violently, snapping himself awake. Colour has drained from his cheeks. He places his hand on his forehead, pressing hard against the collected sweat. Reaching out towards the table, his body slumps before his hand has a chance to arrive.

————————————

Folds of nacreous white light cascade across his vision, accompanied by a rumbling sound: a sound like air bubbles escaping from the bottom of a deep pool, raging, gradually transforming into the echoes of heavily-drawn breath. He feels a sharpness under both shoulders; his head against flesh and bone. The knotted breathing unravels; a deep fatigued murmur — his own; and a second, much more rapid ventilation, struggling to find a rhythm.

Jones sits alongside, holding a glass of water. Manning begins to stir but it is evident that he is in a state of shock. Jones tries his best to calm the man. For a time, his mind is blank. Then, for a brief moment, a level of composure appears to return to him. But it is quickly overcome by a haunted look.

Jones offers to take Manning back to the guesthouse, gently advising him to take it easy for the rest of the evening. He accepts, deciding to mention nothing of the dream.

The two men part on the forecourt of Manning’s accommodation. Manning politely forces a smile when Jones invites him to return to the shop as soon as he feels better. Hands are shaken and the desperately tired and severely shaken man moves inside, shadowed by a porter. He takes a firm grip of the stair rail and climbs up to his room, thanking the hotel staff but politely informing them that no further assistance is necessary.

He enters his room, removes his rucksack and wearily places it beside the bed. It’s not until he is sitting, catching his breath, that he notices something interesting protruding from the top of the rucksack. Sandwiched between his notepad and map is a brown paper bag. Grabbing it, he pulls it from the satchel and something drops out. Lifting it from the floor, he is surprised to find that it contains something familiar: the book of poetry he enjoyed reading in the bookshop.

He prepares to retire and places the book squarely on the bedside table. The peculiar events of the day have left him fatigued and now he craves sleep. He returns from the bathroom and slips into bed, his eyelids shutting before his head touches the pillow. The lids press down and he falls into a deep slumber.

——————————————

Around him is a light sea-mist. By his feet, the water’s edge gently ripples. There are rocks, smaller ones nearby, larger ones haphazardly occupying the view in the distance. He stoops to pick up a pebble, hurling it, watching it arc towards the sea. The stone hits the surface, and sinks, disappearing into the deep. He picks up another, much larger, but it is slimy and difficult to hold; it slides out of his hand, striking the shore with a sharp clink that echoes across the estuary.

Manning wakes suddenly; his left arm is draped over the side of the bed, his right bent double under his side. He rights himself and peers down the length of the bed. Around him are the ruffled sheets of his own disturbance, beyond which the room remains calm. He places his hand on the bedside cabinet and notices the book has gone. Looking down, he finds it lying on the floor, open wide. He reaches out to pick it up, but stops abruptly, interrupted by a sharp, metallic sound.

Grabbing the nearest material, he works hard to free himself of the chaos of sheets and blankets securing him. Tugging them loose, he sits bolt upright, attempting to shift a sudden dryness in his throat. There is a look of dread sculpturing his features. He rubs his face and stares out at the grey outline of the room, searching for something that would explain the noise. Then, not long after the first, the sound is heard again. He is certain that the source is not within the room, but outside. Alarmed, he grabs a handful of covers, tosses them aside, and rushes towards the window.

A becalmed boat sits, riding the swash; its anchor chain slinking in rhythm. Even at this distance he is aware of every small rattle, the links screeching and sliding against each other. There is something out there. It is calling him.

Yielding, he opens the door and steps out, completely oblivious to his dishevelled state, shuffling entranced across the lobby and down the stairs to the main door. The chain is removed, the bolt slipped back, and the moonwalk begins.

With an ever-tightening grip of an unrevealed purpose feeding his footsteps, he is driven down the coastal path to where the trees part, to the hatchway, to where the metal chains grind.

Lete, walk with me (to the estuary)

The thick undergrowth is swept aside, his skin unaware of the tiny invasions, from holly and bramble, ripping through the flimsy cloth, tearing his calves, cross-hatching his flesh with slender red ribbons. Emerging, draped in a mesh of vine and stalk, he stumbles down the open face of the sandy bank, and bursts forth, into the esurient embrace of land against sea. And there, directly ahead, amongst a mass of chains writhing serpent-like, is a small boat, waiting for its captain.

He sinks to his knees, bowing his head.

There is a swell coming, rising from the depths.

A tiny change in the pitch of the vessel; something is rising.

It begins as a trickle, like the breath of minnows, drifting gently to the surface; then small springs of bubbles, rising up, erupting in the air with spits and pops. It is replaced by violent plumes of distorted air bubbles that twist and explode, releasing fetid odour from the deep.

Around the hull lapping curls grow, snapping violently at the shell.

Above, a mass of hungry gulls shriek in anticipation of some great feast.

Below, the surface breaks and the waters part giving rise to a shadow that slips out of the atrous depths, twisting against the moonlight.

Manning rises from his knees, steps into the boat and lies down. The shadow follows him, snaking alongside, whispering incessantly.

The boat and its captain drift away from shore, and the night passes quietly.

————————————

Lete, walk with me (to the estuary)

The trawler is lucky to spot the boat. If it were not for the slew of birds fluttering in, resting on its sides, looking in at the half-naked figure, then the crew would have missed it. But the birds have found the raft, wedged hard into a mud-bank, only half visible, near the wakening shores of Gull Island.

The fishing boat pulls close to the bank, flushing the nest of birds back high into the air. A member of the crew climbs out. He clambers into the marooned vessel, standing for a moment over the man, wondering why he is here, and then lifts him out of the boat and onto the trawler.

Manning is awake but his body cuts a pathetic figure: his hands clasped tightly together and his eyes held shut. His mouth only opens once throughout the journey back to the shore, mumbling what appears to be a stream of dissociated nonsense, punctuated by the only words of clarity: ‘don’t go … please don’t go.’

He is taken to a boathouse further up the estuary. His rescuers ask him questions but he is unable to provide answers. He sits cold and disturbed, his memory in tatters.

Shrouded in blankets, the forlorn-looking man is again escorted back to his hotel. He shrugs off someone hanging outside the entrance who wishes to ask him questions and continues through to the resident’s lounge, accompanied by the hotel manager.

People come and go, including Jones from the bookshop. Manning is happy to see him but feels deeply embarrassed. Still, he finds him a comforting presence amidst the chaos.

Following a night without disturbance, Manning informs all that have inquired about his health that he is feeling much better and will return home. He reasons that recent unfortunate events are the results of stress, though unable to identify its source in his own mind. Despite words of kind regard, he has to leave; there is something here that he must escape from.

Arriving back at the village, Manning drives past the church and immediately recalls the incident of the bells. There, his mind makes a connection between this and his recent condition.

He takes the lane that loops around the church and parks. He unbolts the gate and follows a path leading up to a small set of steps. Reaching the top, he steps towards the building and opens the door.

The church appears empty though it is difficult to see details under the meagre light. Ahead, the altar is draped in a white cloth embroidered with a large red cross. He steps forward, but stops suddenly. Something appears to be rolling towards him. Looking to the altar, he is aware that one of the candlesticks has toppled and is moving towards the edge of the table. He waits for it to fall but somehow it stops, teetering upon the edge.

Manning looks around nervously; he is not alone.

Something lies below the altar table.

The delicate, slipper-covered feet begin their movement; semi-skipping the altar length.

The silence ends: obliterated by the noise of a thousand candlesticks crashing on the stone.

He looks up. There is a girl standing but a few metres away, in a narrow alcove, her arms outstretched, her eyes burning bright. Corpse-grey hands are pitted with open wounds; her fingers splayed out, as if attempting to grasp some unseen surface, the ragged remains of a cotton dress clinging to her torso. Thick strands of hair hang loose beyond her shoulders. And the poor creature’s mouth: all that remains is a gaping, loathsome rim, heavily fissured and outlined with mud and sand.

‘Dear God, no…’

The terrified man turns away and lets out a cry, a painful, pleading howl of terror. For in these seconds, it has come to him that he has been drawn here by a destiny, one that has crept beyond the veil.

As he runs, he briefly turns his head, hoping his explosion of anguish has driven the creature away; back to her grave, back to the lonely, nameless plot in the churchyard.

horror

Masking his face, he runs to the door; but she is waiting. Her eyes stare through him, a scream hangs on her tongue. And she points, a finger directing him to the edge of the churchyard — or something beyond. He turns and flees, brushing aside her hand as she bars his way, touching her flesh. Running headfirst along the path and onto the road, he is unable to clear his mind of the dead girl’s eyes and waits for her fingers to strike his throat. He wrestles the car keys out of his pocket and stabs them into the ignition, pleading with himself not to look back.

The car accelerates around the long bend of the far eastern corner of the church, the weary driver desperate to escape; but how could he? For now he has remembered all that has gone before; all that was whispered to him in the boat; the inevitability of what is to come.

He chokes back a cry.

The wheel is turned over and over again to avoid the lorry but instead it sends the car into a terrifying, irretrievable spin, revolutions later tipping up onto its side, careering across the road. The air is filled with the sound of metal crushing and folding; rivets bursting out of their sockets and sprayed onto the church wall like bullets; the doors rupturing from their mantles, forced down under pressure, scoring long trenches into the tarmac; and the final rattling clang as the naked shell rolls out over the fence, into the field, snagged by the barbed ends of the boundary wire.

The lorry breaks. The tumbling metal stills. The thick viscid oil spreads out, weaving its way between the shards.

All is quiet: bird-quiet.

Until broken by the call from the bell tower.

——————————————-

6 thoughts on “Walk with me (to the estuary) – a ghost story for Christmas

  1. Pingback: Ghost Stories for Christmas. | countryhousereader

  2. Thanks for stopping by. I actually write longer verse – some of which I’m turning into a story. I sometimes watch a program called Ghost Hunters. Their is another where a gent collects odd pieces from haunted places in an effort to stop the hauntings and help lost souls move on. I enjoyed your story. Usually I do not have time for long tales. But I did enjoy this one.

    My continuing story verse can be found here:
    http://julesstorypageswhirl.wordpress.com/

    I’ve also started writing short pieces for Flashy Fiction Prompts here:
    http://flashyfiction.blogspot.com/

    Cheers.

  3. Whoa. That was scary, beautifully written, and fits very well with what I know of the ghost story for Christmas subgenre. What I love about this kind of story is that you pretty much know what is going to happen to the protagonist from the beginning, but you get to read such wonderful/horrific descriptions of the person’s journey along the way to their doom. Question: do you know the origin of telling ghost stories on Christmas? Being an American, I’m not familiar with the tradition except for finding out about it online, and I can’t find any back story on it.

    • Thank you so much Wednesday!

      Yes, despite the inevitable outcome of this ype of tale, there’s an amazing amount of energy and longevity in the vehicle. Like MR James, we always know that someone with a curious bent is going to ‘get it’ but it’s really the telling of the tale that we love so much. Christmas being such a hijacked festival probably means that the origins of the seasonal storytelling are lost in the mists of time but I should imagine it’s all down to an unlikely combination of our lovely pagan history and Mr Dickens.

      Here are some details that I’ve dug up for you (far better expressed than I could manage)…

      “The 25th of December was not an arbitrary choice for early Christians. Rather, it was selected because of its connection with pagan festivals like Yule and Sol Invictus (the birthday of the Unconquered Sun), both of which commemorated the winter solstice or the longest night of the year.

      These festivals celebrated the death of light and its subsequent rebirth the following day. It was for the obvious symbolic connotations that early Christians adopted dates significant to pagan Romans and Northern Europeans.

      In addition to being the longest night of the year, however, winter solstice was also traditionally held to be the most haunted due to its association with the death of the sun and light. It was the one night of the year when the barrier between the worlds of the living and the deceased was thinnest. On Christmas Eve, ghosts could walk the earth and finish unsettled business, as exemplified by the apparition of Marley in Charles Dickens’ Christmas masterpiece.

      In short, the Victorian Christmas celebration, which drew heavily on pagan symbols like yule logs, holly berries and Father Christmas himself, also embraced the winter holiday’s associations with the supernatural to create one of its most popular annual traditions.”

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