By Ronnie Bray
It might have been because Holy Trinity Churchyard with its tumbledown box graves and leaning monuments to worthies dead before our parents were born that was our common playground that ghosts and things dead provoked out interest. Who knows? Whatever the stated statements of our beliefs in ghosts were or were not, there was not one of us who doubted that the dead beneath our feet were not altogether dead and had the power to do things that we might not like.
It could have been our irregular disporting in Edgerton Cemetery with its acres of dead, ancient and modern, that constrained us to be aware of death and the dead. Perhaps the War, talk of the First Lot, the Boer and Crimean Wars, all lively topics when I was a child, and the daily inventory of distant relatives and close friends who lay dead and dying in fields of battle that turned death and the dead into our familiar companions along with the dirges of dead marches, the ever present pall of demise, images of chalk white bones, and the stench of decaying flesh that imposed themselves into our tender pastimes that is responsible for our connection with the dead who we could not think of as truly dead, by as alive in some supernatural way that made sense even as we did not understand it.
Then there were our own experiences of the ‘ghostly’ for which no other explanation was available other than they were the dead who would not lie down. And then there were the stories.
It is important to make a sharp distinction between the ghost stories told around Boy Scout campfires and those tales told by hollow eyed men who were witnesses to strange and uncomfortable things that could not be explained by anything other than what the beholders affirm they saw.
One night, four or five friends, not a gang in the modern sense, were entering Holy Trinity Churchyard for an evening’s amusement. It was already dark and as we came out from the cover of the lych gate we saw a figure at the top of the steps standing on the right with his hand raised as if he was holding a long carving knife. The shade was dressed in a slightly fluorescent gown of greenish yellow hue, and his head glowed dimly like the moon but with an amber cast.
We were preoccupied with childish talk as we came up to the steps so we could not tell whether the figure was present when we entered the gate or whether he moved there while we were walking up the path to the steps. Suffice it to say that we all became aware of his presence at about the same time and shared a variety of experiences each of which had a common purpose, and that was to out as much distance between ourselves and the ghost as we could.
We scattered and ran until our lungs seemed they would burst. Then, when a backwards glance convinced us that the phantom was not behind us stalking us to our doom, we slowed down to a mere gallop and turned homewards by different routes.
Were we mistaken about the true nature of what we saw? None of us was agnostic in our interpretation, and we interpreted it according to the overlay and underpinnings of our customs. Ghosts were really grown up business, and spoken of sotto voce in the presence of children. Our childish encounter could be believed or, as was most likely, put down to childish imagination, which was another way of saying that children tell lies.
But let an adult tell his story and the chills were felt all the way from the crowns of our heads down to out toenails. I remember one such story, although they were many, but this one stuck with me more for the manner of its telling than for any other reason.
The man was not yet middle aged, but pressing towards it as fast as he could, and his manner was not frivolous, but had serious tendencies, and this gave the patina of truth the tale he told. He rode a bicycle, which, during the war was hazardous on dark nights on account of the strictly enforced blackout. Bicycle lamps, motor car lights, and hand-held flashlights had to have the majority of the glass blanked out and a small hole only was permitted to allow a narrow beam to penetrate the darkness.
On moonlit nights there was little difficulty as the celestial orb provided sufficient light to take travellers to their homes. But when the moon was new, mantled in clouds, or gone away on a mystery tour, being out at night was hazardous. The storyteller had been abroad on urgent family business on a moonless night and was cycling towards his home when ahead of him he saw a light swinging backwards and forwards as if waved by an unseen hand.
He slowed down to a walking pace and approached the illumination, getting off his bicycle to walk the last few feet, whereupon the light and whoever was holding it disappeared, and he was left looking down into a deep, dark hole in the roadway. By shining the single ray from his bicycle’s front lamp into the abyss he could make out the crumpled remains of a motor car. All was silent. As silent as the tomb.
A few moments later the local policeman came upon the scene. Someone had reported an accident to the police station and he had been despatched on his bike to investigate. It took but a perfunctory inspection to determine that the driver was dead at the wheel of his car, and had been killed by the impact when the car reached the bottom of the strange hole. His neck was broken.
As the bicyclist had not actually witnessed the car fall into the hole he could not shed any light on the happening. But he did tell the policeman what he had seen as he came upon the tragic scene. He detailed how he had seen the lamp swinging and that it had warned him of danger, but that he had seen no man.
“Aye, lad,” intoned the policeman gravely, “That was his ghost. He was warning you.”
This story was told to me by this witness in such a tone and humour that I have never doubted that the event occurred exactly as he described it. Do I believe in ghosts? I really have no choice in the matter.
Copyright © 2007 – Ronnie Bray
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED