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