The night was deep, the hour late and the air crisp when Peter Thomas left the house. The little light over the door flickered and died as the door swung shut.
He and his four accompanists were in high spirits . Their laughs spoiled the clean air with bursts of fog, but little heed did they pay.
“Come on”, Peter Thomas said to them as he laid his fiddle in the boot and snapped the lid shut, “Get in, its baltic!”
Three clamoured into the back seat, pushing and squabbling over who should be stuck in the middle, whilst Peter Thomas made his way to the drivers seat and Brian, the eldest of all present, took up the front passenger seat without dispute.
The Ford Cortina engine roared to life as the key turned. Peter Thomas gave it a few revs, which was followed by cheers from the backseat, and with that the heavy laden car moved off.
The chat began, loudly so as to rise above the hum of the engine which purred before them. The bright headlights split the night and lit up the road ahead, drowning out the thin moonlight which peered out now and then from behind the clouds.
“I’m sorry Peter Thomas, but Kathleen has no notion of you!”, rose Mary’s voice from the central backseat, she had lost the dispute being the smallest.
Tony, seated on her left, leaned forward and ruffled his hair in mock sympathy.
“Get away, you git”, Peter Thomas said, batting Tony away.
“Who said I had a notion of her?”, he asked Mary, eyeing her briefly in the rear view mirror. Even in the dark of the car he could see her beauty and blushed a little.
“Well, we’ll have to get you a woman somehow”, she retorted and laughed.
“That’ll be the day...”, crooned Brian from the front.
“That I die!”, finished the out of tune choir in the backseat, and the car filled with laughter once again.
“It too early to go home”, said Brian, waving off Peter Thomas pointing at the clock which showed quarter to three in the morning. A murmur of ascent rose from the backseat and a voice, suspiciously like Tony’s, shouted “Ghost Hunt!”, to which the rest cheered.
They hadn’t been on a ghost hunt for years.
Even Peter Thomas was keen.
“What are we thinking?”, he asked, “Moorestown, The Bridge and maybe Millers Hill?”
The rest of them gave general consent and the conversation switched to their first destination: Moorestown Graveyard.
At that time, Moorestown graveyard was a hot bed for people visiting, trying to catch a glimpse of the supernatural, so much so that the police had had to set up patrols to try and dissuade visitors.
The graveyard itself was very small, no more than 10 graves all nearly aligned, set in off a country lane, accessible only by a small footbridge that spanned the ditch.
The graveyard had been at least double the size a few years ago. Back then no-one visited, it was just another old forgotten resting place for the dead. But that rest had been disrupted when a bullish farmer had purchased the field and dug up half of it for grazing ground for his cattle.
Then the stories began.
Then the visitors came.
Rumours spread like wisps of mist on a summers evening; tales of cattle dying by the score, grass withering in rectangular plots, even the decline of the farmers health and an unfortunate fatal accident on the farm was attributed to the revenge of the deceased.
The whole car was aware of these stories, yet they all told each other them once again with renewed enthusiasm.
The hair crept up on Peter Thomas’ arms.
A drive of no more than 15 minutes brought them to the shallow lay-by where the small humped bridge was just visible, it’s white painted fence catching the corners of the headlight. It’s destination led to darkness for the trees the leered over the cemetery obscured any light from moon or beam.
The chilled air held a stillness and no life breathed.
“Right, lets go!”, exclaimed Brian gleefully and stepped out of the car. The rear door opened in tandem and out came Tony and Mary and the three huddle at the gateway to the darkness.
Peter Thomas’ hand held of his handle but a small sniff from behind cause him to pause. He glanced into the rear view mirror and there sat Damien, his eyes wide, peering out the open door at the huddled three.
“You coming?”, asked Peter Thomas, but no reply was given. He just stared on.
“Will yous hurry up, let’s not keep the dead waiting!”, called Brian.
Still not a movement from Damien.
“Do you... want to stay here?”, asked Peter Thomas and a swift, silent nod was given.
“Do you want company?”
Another swift nod.
“Grand so”, Peter Thomas said and called out, “Yous go on ahead, give a shout if the ghosts get you!”
And, leaning into the back seat, he shut the door.
An eerie silence fell between them, broken only by the muffled cries of “here, ghosty, ghosty!” As the three made their way across the bridge to the void beyond.
Damien said nothing, but continued to look out after them. Peter Thomas watched him in the mirror. The mufffled voices died away and the silence resonated.
Peter Thomas coughed once or twice and cleared his throat; anything to try and shift the unease that the door had sealed in.
“Did you enjoy the night?”, he asked, throwing another glance in the mirror at the frozen man with wide eyes in the back seat.
Silence was given as an answer.
Peter Thomas cleared his throat again and drummed the steering wheel.
“They shouldn’t be doing that”, came a voice from behind him unexpectedly which caused him to jump.
Shuffling in his seat to hide his embarrassment he threw another look to the mirror. The wide eyes were now fixed on his.
“Ah”, Peter Thomas replied, casually throwing a hand to dismiss him and giving him and excuse to break from that intense gaze, “they’re just coddin’, there’s no harm in them.”
“They shouldn’t be doing that”, was all that was said and his head turned back towards the darkness.
Uneasiness crept over Peter Thomas, starting on his arms, moving up across and down his spine and running down his legs, like unseen hands pawing lightly at his skin.
His mouth dried and his tongue cleaved to the roof of his mouth. He tried to swallow but it caused him to grunt and choke a little. His heart flurried a little and his stomach turned over within him.
The silence remained.
A thump on the window caused him to leap out of his seat, there was no hiding this one.
Peels of laugher surrounded the car as Tony’s gleeful face appeared from beneath the sill, tears beginning to stain his cheeks.
Brian could be seen doubled over the edge of the bridge, his arm across his stomach.
The backdoors opened and the laugher roared around them.
Heat flushed Peter Thomas’ face as he leaned over to open the door for the approaching Brian. As he pulled the handle, a sharp snap saw it break off in his hand. Brian laughed all the more as he opened the door for himself.
“You were well got lad!”, Brian said through broken breath, as hands punched Peter Thomas lightly from the back seat and his hair was ruffled.
“Yous are a shower of good for nothing ba-“, he started to retort half angrily because Tony’s voice cut in.
“Ah, language, there’s ladies present!”
Peter Thomas struggled with his seat belt as he turned and attempted a punch towards the back seat, whilst the rolls of laughter continued.
A middle finger was flashed up by Peter Thomas and a cheer of “Yeo!”, surged the car.
“Right”, said Peter Thomas turning the ignition, “No ghosts then? Millers or the bridge?”
Millers was voted on 2 to 1. Damien remained silent.
Peter Thomas slid the gear into first and lifted the clutch.
Odd, he thought.
He checked the handbrake, definitely off.
He repeated the motion, out of gear, in to gear, this time revving the engine.
The car pulled but did not move, as though hundreds of invisible hands were holding it back.
Tony from the backseat bemoaned, “Come on PT, less of that!”
Rev after rev the car pulled as though she wanted to move but was denied.
Peter Thomas’ mind raced. The ground was dry and hard, she wasn’t stuck. The handbrake was off. The engine was revving. Why wasn’t she moving?
“Seriously lad, just get us going”, joined Brian beside him.
“This isn’t me!”, spat Peter Thomas back at him, but the sighs and tuts showed that no one believe him.
He revved hard once more and finally, as though freeing itself from the binds of quicksand, the car lurched forward violently and once more they were back on the road.
Peter Thomas said nothing more about it, not wanting the four to start criticising his pride and joy. The car was barely 3 years old. A broken handle and now gear trouble wasn’t what he had expected.
The hunters arrived at Millers Hill and the Bridge, but all was quiet.
Damien remained in the back seat with Peter Thomas for company, but the uneasiness did not return, hands did not paw at his skin, and even the silence seemed lessened.
After giving up their hunt for the night, they were dropped home one by one.
First Damien who bid they a quiet goodnight. Then Tony. Then Brian.
Soon it was just Mary, who had jumped into the front seat once Brian was through the door.
Peter Thomas’ foot eased off the accelerator as he drove, though his heart raced along ahead. His mouth dried again as they spoke and he threw glances to his passenger much more often than when Brian was seated there.
They arrived at Mary’s house much sooner than he would have wished.
“Thanks for a lovely night and for running me home”, she said with a smile which lit up her face.
“Don’t mention it”, he replied looking at her.
“You know Mary...”, he started, lightly tapping her leg with his finger.
“I know Peter”, she said, taking his hand, leaning towards him and placing his hand firmly on the gear stick.
“I know”, she repeated, “Now goodnight.”
She gave him a quick peck on the cheek and giggled to herself as she climb out of the car and half scurried up to her door. With a brief wave and a blown kiss she was gone.
Peter Thomas let out a long held breath and smiled to himself.
“Kathleen who!?”, he said out loud as he pulled back on to the road and headed for home. Though the road was familiar and well travelled he felt as though he was driving through the clouds, he grinned away to himself and drummed a tuneless beat on the steering wheel.
The road dipped down before him, over a flat bridge and then rose up over a small drumlin on the far side.
As he crossed the bridge, everything changed.
The engine cut, the lights went out, the dash darkened.
Panic broke his bliss and his hand tightened on the wheel. He could see nothing. The moon had hidden herself once again behind the blanket above him.
He felt the car judder as he mounted the grassy bank on the left. He heaved the steering right before feeling the familiar judder of the bank on the far side.
The car trundled on across the bridge, it’s wheels rolling on the tarmac the only noise emitted.
As the road climbed up the drumlin the car started to slow.
Dread seeped in. For what reason he couldn’t say, but he knew he didn’t want the car to stop.
He urged it forward as though his will could play any part.
Slower and slower the car rolled until, at the brink of stopping, she roared to life once more.
The lights banished the darkness, the dash danced a friendly glow, the engine purred her deep tones.
Peter Thomas quickly found a gear and the car continued on her way, blissfully ignorant of her absence.
Sweat damped his back and his brow. His breath was broken and uneven. His heart skipped faster than before and his hands now shook with a beatless tune.
He drove on. His mind raced. Immediately his thoughts dragged the two events together.
Try as he might he could not convince himself that these were just mechanical faults. But how he longed to believe that they were.
That bridge, he thought, that’s where that family live. His memory flickered back to the parish priest telling him of a house blessing he had done for a family that was at their wits end. The priest had even requested the bishop to ask an exorcist to bless the house, but the priest had been evasive when pressed on the issue further.
The road ran on, the black silent river that cut through the countryside.
As he approached the Y-bend, upon which Rafferty’s pub stood, though long closed, an idea flitted across his mind.
Continuing around the bend would bring him home. Turning left, along Dartry Road would bring him back the Manor House.
The manor, now dilapidated, was another supposedly haunted place. Stories abounded of the young girl that was bricked up alive by her father in one of the rooms. The reasons varied wildly from a scandalous pregnancy, to the fathers insanity. But regardless of the reason it still stood as a place of fear and trepidation.
Even the brave hunters of tonight would not dare to go walking on its grounds in the dark.
But, Peter Thomas told himself, if I can drive past it without any issues then I’ll be able to sleep tonight, and I’ll leave the car down with Jacko in the morning. It has to be a mechanical problem.. maybe a dodgy fuse or something.
He swallowed to reassure himself and he flicked the indicator and pulled onto the Dartry Road.
The trees leaned painfully above him, and if any moonlight was able to escape the clouds it was soon captive in the thick leaves above.
The manor lay only a few hundred yards from the turn and Peter Thomas crept towards it.
See, he told himself, no problems. It was just coincidence.
But as passed the gateway to the house the engine cut and the world went black.
The car crunched to an abrupt halt.
Fear gripped him in her vice like claws. Silence surrounded him and his heart echoed in his hollowed chest. His breath refused to leave him and greet the darkness. The unseen hands pawed are his skin again.
Beyond him, at the far bend of the road a single ray of hope stood; the orange glow of a street light. That was his only hope. His only comfort.
He reached slowly into the back seat, feeling for his purple velvet jacket which lay there. His arm tensed, waiting to feel an icy hand grip him and pull him into the dark. His eyes never left the light.
The velvet was cool under his sweaty fingertip and he pulled it forward.
He fumbled with his seatbelt and groped blindly for the door handle. His eyes always on the light. The air seemed crisper than before.
His breath fogged between him and the glow. He slipped the jacket on and began to walk towards the light.
Ever waiting for those icy cold hands to grab him. A small breeze whispered in the trees overhead. He swallowed hard and painfully.
Slap. Slap. Slap. His feet jarred against the oppressive air. Slap. Slap. Slap.
His heart jumped when he heard the dull rumble of an engine and the yellow beam of headlights behind him. He stepped towards the side of the road. Not daring to take his eyes from the light.
The engine slowed as it manoeuvred around his stricken Cortina and stopped along side him.
The window was rolled down with a squeak.
“Peter Thomas? Is that you?”, came a familiar voice, “Hope in, son!”
It was Patsy O’Donnell, a fellow musician, though much older than Peter Thomas, who had been playing at the session with him earlier that night.
“Your car quit?”, he ask the obvious question as the car door opened and shut.
Peter Thomas sat and nodded but said nothing.
“Shame, and what a place to break down! I mean right outside...”
He gestured to the manor and threw his eyes to it.
“I wouldn’t want to - SWEET CHRIST!”, he cried.
And jumping the car to life, scratched the tarmac and sped towards the glow of the light.
Nothing more was said.
Patsy left Peter Thomas home and bid him goodnight, though neither slept a wink.
Patsy never told a soul what he saw that night, but he was never seen driving the Dartry Road again.
Peter Thomas’ car was collected by his brother the next day, started with a turn of the key, and never gave a days bother ‘til the day she was sold.
Moorestown graveyard still stand by the side of the road, her little bridge beckoning visitors.
The family house by the bridge was gutted by fire a few months later, though a cause was never found.
And the manor, sitting along the Dartry Road, watches on in silence to this day, it’s secret held within its walls.
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Hi Sean. This was such a great story and I really enjoyed reading it. I love a good horror story and this one did not disappoint. I thought you did a great job writing this and it was really entertaining. I look forward to reading more from you!! Great job on this, I loved it!! :)
Thanks so much Daniel, really appreciate the comment! Thanks for reading and taking the time to reply! So delighted you enjoyed it!
O you can spin a yarn — this should be told over a campfire 🔥 in the woods. Great camaraderie between the chums. Crisp pacing. This is the most ghoulish line: ‘The priest had even requested the bishop to ask an exorcist to bless the house, but the priest had been evasive when pressed on the issue further. “ Ooooo what do they KNOW? This read so quickly — loved it 😍
Believe it or not, this is based on a true story and it happened my uncle! He is Peter Thomas! He told me the story as a child… although he always says “never let the truth get in the way of a good story” 😂 Thank you so much for reading it and for commenting! Means so much!
I'm always jealous of authors who can write a good Thriller, especially in the short story format. It seems impossible to me, but you did it very well, Seán, and kept my attention the whole way through. Great sense of pacing and atmosphere in this. I was expecting some violence at the end, which thankfully never came. The ending is great - I really like how silent Peter was from the Patsy interaction onward. In my mind, the same thing happened to Damien, hence his silence too. Great language use throughout. I particularly enjoyed the imager...
Zack, wow! What a comment!! Your words mean so much to me! Thank you!!! So glad you enjoyed it! And, it might be an Irish-ism, but we call a lot of objects here by a female pronoun!
I really enjoyed this story. I especially liked the characterization, the dialogues and the eerie atmosphere you created through your words. Well done!
Thank you so much Kanika! Really appreciate you taking the time to read it and also to comment! Means so much! Thank you!!
Thanks so much for reading this story for us on Blue Marble Storytellers podcast. I've decided that ALL ghost stories should be read in an Irish accent, they sound soooooo much better :)
No, thank YOU Russell!!!