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Fiction Suspense

It was supposed to be fun. A bit of a thrill and nothing more. Claire and I decided it might be a way to mark Halloween. It was not something which we had every really celebrated as children, we were not of the ‘trick or treat’ generation, besides the views of our parents would have forbidden us from walking the streets in hope of receiving sweets. That would have been tantamount to begging, wandering around after dark asking the neighbours for favours. Halloween has become a ‘thing’ which we copied from the Americans. I don’t think we really do it the justice which the movies tell us the Americans lay at the altar of the season. Our offerings are rather mediocre by comparison. But then Claire and I had this discussion in the pub one evening after work and got on to the subject of Halloween. It all started because the pub was offering a small selection of seasonally themed beers… goblins and witches mentioned in the name seemed to be enough to link the golden liquid inside with the end of October. I think it was Claire who started things off and got the ball rolling. Moving swiftly on from the beers on display, we discussed the abundance of cakes and sweets on sale everywhere from supermarkets to the corner shop and then she announced we should ‘do’ something this year. 

After a little more alcohol, the idea solidified into a plan to spend the night in the local graveyard. I don’t think either of us thought we would actually do it when the time came, but as the days crept by and neither one of us expressed the thought that it was a rather silly notion, we seemed to be confirming, each to the other, that we would spend the night in the graveyard. 

So on 31st October, wrapped up against the chilly weather and the fog, we set off armed with torches, spare batteries (just in case) and flasks of coffee fortified with a little drop of whisky. We chose to settle by the side of a large sarcophagus style tomb close to the church wall and dimly lit by the nearby street lamp. It was fine at first as we gossiped and chatted, as we would have done had we been anywhere else, but then it started to get cold and neither of us had seriously considered how uncomfortable the ground would be… cold creeping over the stones and up through the ground caused numbness and simultaneous aching and stiff joints. The church clocked chimed midnight and the clouds closed over the moon and as at midnight every night, the street lights went off. We both started, alarmed by both the sound and the sudden darkness. Then we laughed. 

After a while we began to realise that it was in fact rather dull, not to mention downright uncomfortable sitting in the graveyard at night. The pub had long since closed and even the laggards had staggered home. The village sank into silence and we sank into boredom. Then a light shone on the stained glass window behind us. Not from the outside but from within the building. Claire and I glanced at each other and the light in turn. The church was always locked at night as the church parochial council deemed it unsafe in modern times to leave the building open to the public all night. There was only a little silver of value in the building and a small fragment of an old fresco on the wall behind the altar but the collection box sometimes held several pounds, especially in the summer months when tourists came to explore the church and rub the brasses. So the source of the light was bewildering. Claire and I scrambled up and walked on stiff legs to the main church door and found it securely fastened. We walked slowly round to the little side door, which was used by the vicar to come and go from the vicarage garden to the vestry without needing to walk around the whole building. Thus is offered privacy for the vicar. It too was closed, but not locked. It creaked a little sending shivers down my spine, as we opened it and stepped inside. The little vestry was dark but the door to the church half open and the source of the light we had seen from outside was visibly generated by an array of candles. 

Feeling as though we would be doing something wrong by walking into the church, we stood in the doorway. The vicar, distinguishable by his cassock, was standing by the altar with his back to it, as if facing his congregation. Why was he there in the middle of the night? The pews looked empty at first, but as our eyes grew accustomed to the dimness, we recognised that there were several people in the pews. All of them were dressed in dark cloaks with hoods up, hiding their faces. They were chanting something inaudible, inarticulate but murmured as an homogenous mass. The vicar moved down the chancel steps and stood before the hooded people, gradually raising his hands above his head. He was holding something which glinted in the candle light. Claire and I stood, stunned into silent immobility. 

I began to think this was like a scene from a rather shabby B movie; it could not possibly be real. The vicar was a gentle, mild mannered aging priest who had lived in the village, serving its people for almost three decades. He was universally loved, quite an achievement for a priest in the 21stcentury. He christened and married and buried the villagers. He preached sermons based on the bible with love and when he challenged his flock, his love and concern for them flowed through his words and his actions. He was an active man who knew everyone in the village, made a point of sending birthday cards to every child, he spoke with everyone, visited the sick and was faithful in caring for them. 

Then the vicar moved forward a step or two and the object he was holding came into view. A dagger glinted and reflected in the candle light. As he raised it still higher the chanting grew in volume. Hardly able to breath, Claire and I stood in fearful anticipation. It was then that I dropped my torch. The sound shattered the night and the chanting ceased immediately. All heads turned towards Claire and me. It felt like an eternity of stillness which imploded in to frantic action. The hooded community stood and started to run towards Claire and me. Claire rushed to grab my arm and pull me towards the vestry door. She pulled the door closed behind us and we ran outside through the small vestry door onto the path which led to the vicarage. 

Fearful of the crowd chasing us we made a dash for the graveyard and then out onto the village High Street. The cottage gardens offered hiding places, the pub car park and the bus shelter likewise but we didn’t stop to take advantage of these opportunities. We raced to the car and climbed inside fully expecting to be stopped by those running behind us. Locking the car door, Claire started the engine and as the headlights lit up the road there was nothing to see. No one was in the road. No lights shone from the church window. Nothing.  

We starred at each other. Where did everyone go? Why was the church in darkness again? I suggested we go back and we argued for a few moments. If we didn’t go back, we would never know if what we had seen was real or not. I wanted to collect my torch. I wanted to know if the candles were still warm. Eventually Claire agreed and we crept back through the graveyard to the vestry door. It was firmly locked. There was no way into the church; no way to evidence what we had seen. We returned to the tomb where we had started the night, collected our belongings and Claire drove me home. With promises to call me tomorrow, she drove off into the night. 

In the early morning light of a damp November morning the previous evening seemed unreal. Claire called as promised and she talked only of sitting by the tomb and getting cold and stiff. I asked her what she thought about what had happened in the church and she expressed surprise. Nothing had happened, we had sat outside, got cold and stiff and eventually we drove home. She said I had managed to fall asleep for a while, although she didn’t know how anyone could sleep in such uncomfortable conditions, and that was about the most interesting thing that had happened all night. That was the point at which Claire decided it was time to give it up and go home. No amount of arguing on my part would change her view of the previous night. I checked my arm for the bruise which Claire had caused when she grabbed my arm, it was there but Claire simply laughed at me. Eventually I gave up and conceded it must have been a dream. 

The following Sunday, as I was leaving church, the vicar asked me to wait for a moment. Feeling uncomfortable I agreed and stood to the side of the church porch shuffling from one foot to another and biting my lip like a small child called to the head teacher’s office while he greeted his parishioners with his usual charm. Then he led me into the vestry and picked up my torch. 

“I found this.” He said “It has your name on it.”

October 29, 2020 19:42

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