Halloween Week 2019 – Day 4

To mark Halloween, all week (28th October – 1st November 2019) we will be sharing a selection of spooky stories written by members of Lockerbie Writers and A Novel Approach writing groups.

Have you heard the rumours? Something lurks above the surface, ready to pounce. Someone hides in the shadows, waiting for their chance …

It’s Halloween and we’re continuing our week of spooky stories, all inspired by our summer outing to Lochmaben Castle and the ghostly tales which we heard there from local paranormal group Mostly Ghostly.

Today, our stories today come from Kath J. Rennie (member of Lockerbie Writers group), and Paula Nicolson (member of Lockerbie Writers and A Novel Approach groups).

Read on and find out … if you dare!

The Vampire Slayer by Kath J. Rennie

On Hallows Eve, deep within Castle Lochs woodland, animals freeze with terror as tremors shake the earth. The undead, they realise, is freeing himself from his unconsecrated grave to feed on them, if no place of safety is found.

Owls and other bird-life flee, haphazardly, to an adjoining nature reserve; as do deers, badgers and mice and shrews, for all fear the rising of the blood-sucker whose killing sprees, over the years, have depleted the woodlands populations, especially those of the rabbit kingdom, their blood being the undead’s favourite delicacy.   

Rabbits had become (after a plague had taken many humans) a favourite of the undead. Many from the rabbit kingdom had been murdered over the centuries.

All rabbits are ordered by their elders to take shelter far underground. They scuttle over each other until reaching the warren’s end, where many of their kin are gathered. Many feel stifled and resentful of their imprisonment, especially Buck; he no longer wants to hide from the creature. He wants revenge. On the last high moon he’d lost a brother and sister to the monster, and so with fortitude, stands tall on his hind legs; looks his elders in the eyes and delivers a speech to them and the many bunnies huddled together in the dark cramped space.

“There’s no such thing as a Vampire!” he yells. “It was our arch enemy the fox who’d killed my kin. We have nothing to fear from him now. The foxhounds got him. Listen not to the oldies! They’re cowards! Not one of them has seen the so-called blood-sucker. It’s a myth which they’ve overheard the paranormal group, ‘The Ghostly Ghost Hunters’, speak of – and they, my friends, walk above us tonight. So, if the myth is true? Surely it will be they who are attacked tonight? They have more blood than us, and it’s no longer contaminated!”

“Is that so?!” A voice rings out. “And how would a whipper-snapper like you know of these things?!”

“I just do!” Buck answers with confidence, revelling in his friends’ cheers and their howls of laughter. The elder rabbit becomes so irate, his eyes bulge with anger. His ears become inflamed with the revolts’ noise. He becomes lost for words and looks to the surrounding parents who scowl at their offspring’s behaviour. They decide between them … “Something has to be done!  Buck’s leading our young astray. He’s going to get them murdered. Let’s throw him out! Let him satisfy the vampire!”

Fearful for their children, Buck is swamped by the angry mob. They force the non-believer to the warrens opening and tell him to, “GO! NEVER RETURN HERE!” Buck shakes his scut at them and runs with glee, out into the woods undergrowth, stopping once to choose a fallen branch to use as a sword, and a piece of bark to use as a shield. He feels brave. He’s become, in his imagination, a knight in shining armour. He’ll stake the vampire through its heart and return to the warren … a hero.

He swishes his sword about. Calls on the predator to show itself. A black mass appears. Buck stands on guard; fights then for his life, and as he feels his strength diminishing, a group of humans watch on, in awe of what seems a rabid rabbit, somersaulting and flaying its paws. “Aw! The poor thing!” they say in unison as a swarm of gigantic gnats bite and bite at the animal. “And so…” one from the group announces. “As you can see for yourselves, it’s not only apparitions we may meet tonight. The midges are out!”

Her Red Shoes by Paula Nicolson

I found my sister’s old shoes in the loft. A children’s size 5. The once soft red leather, now hard.

I hadn’t meant for her to die. We were messing about in a nearby loch. She was annoying as little sisters usually are and so I held her head under water to teach her a lesson; just a little too long. I never told anyone what really happened.

I left the shoes nestled in their dusty brown cardboard box on my book shelf; perhaps as a reminder that I should confess, but sleep got the better of me.

I was awoken in the middle of the night by the sound of heavy footsteps in my downstairs hallway. It was her red shoes. I watched them smack the tiles as they marched forthrightly up and down the hall. But they abruptly stopped at the doormat. It was then that I saw her; through the glass pane of my front door, her long hair dripping wet and laden with pond weed. The house felt cold; cold enough to freeze the saliva on my lips. The smell of rotting flesh lingered in the linen of my night clothes.

In a bid to save my soul, I confessed my once unrepentant deed. But she still took me back to the loch, forever.

Thank you to Kath and Paula for sharing these disturbing and spooky tales of vampires and tortured souls …

Come back tomorrow for more spooky tales … if you dare!!

Halloween Week 2019 – Day 3

To mark Halloween, all week (28th October – 1st November 2019) we will be sharing a selection of spooky stories written by members of Lockerbie Writers and A Novel Approach writing groups.

We’re halfway through our week of stories, all inspired by our summer outing to Lochmaben Castle and the ghost stories which we heard there from local paranormal group Mostly Ghostly.

Today, our stories today come from Lockerbie Writers’ members Betsy Henderson and Christina Openshaw.

What lurks in the shadows? What took place many years ago within the archways of Lochmaben Castle? And can a troubled soul ever rest?

Read on and find out … if you dare!

Old Bob by Betsy Henderson

Old Bob had lived in the isolated cottage as long as he could remember. His first memory was of his grandmother teaching him to wring the neck of a pigeon that had been stupid enough to land on the grass beside her. He eventually became an expert and as he grew up he became self sufficient, foraging for everything he needed. The surrounding woods became his shopping centre, the trees he chopped down heated his home during the cold, dark nights of winter and the animals roaming free became his sustenance.

After his old granny passed away he was alone, but he wasn’t lonely. He had the animals of the forest for his companions and he was able to keep himself busy carving different animals. If he occasionally hankered after human company, he didn’t dwell on it. He had everything he needed.

That was until the day he fell from a tree and broke his back. With no-one else for miles around, he was at the mercy of the elements. He tried to crawl back to the cottage but every movement was torture. Eventually, after a long agonising night, inching closer and closer to his home, he reached the door. But he couldn’t stand up to turn the handle. He tried many times but each time, he fell back down, the pain causing him more and more anguish. For many days he struggled again and again, but it was no good. His body wouldn’t let him help himself.

For the first time in his life he was afraid – in fact he was terrified. As he became weaker and weaker, he began to hallucinate. Ghostly monsters were hovering around, waiting to carry him off to Hell. He screamed as loud as he could but it was in vain. No-one was around to hear him.

Eventually he died. His injuries were too severe to heal themselves and he had no food or water to provide for his nourishment.

His body lay at the front door of the cottage for over a year until one night a poacher found him as he was passing. Old Bob was hardly recognisable as a human being, wild animals having gnawed at his hands and feet. The poacher dug a hole and buried what was left of the old man, but there was no dignity. Bob was thrown into the hole like a decaying animal carcass. Obviously he wasn’t happy with this end to his life and he was determined he would not rest in peace.

A few months later Jenny and Jack were looking for somewhere private to indulge in some extra marital passion. They couldn’t believe their luck when they came upon a deserted cottage. It was obviously not being used and even although it was basic, it had all they needed – a bed. They managed to light a fire and boil some water so they could at least have a drink but that wasn’t their main priority. 

The bed smelled a bit and the covers were grubby but their passion kept them warm. Afterwards they lay down together, planning other nights they could return to this haven. Jenny said she would try to bring some clean bed-clothes and Jack would bring a picnic. Eventually, they cuddled in together to enjoy what was left of their forbidden liaison. Before long, they both fell into a dreamless sleep.

Old Bob, the vampire, had been watching from the window, jealous that these two lovers were enjoying illicit sex and he had been shoved down a hole as if he didn’t matter – as if he was nothing. His shadow stood at the bottom of the bed – a meal was waiting for him. He crept forward and pounced. Jack had no time to turn away – he felt a sharp puncture in his jugular vein and as the blood was sucked out of him, his life drained away.

At first Jenny was unaware of the drama on the bed beside her, but she awoke to see her lover being relieved of his life blood. The vampire looked up just in time to see the fear in her eyes and hear her scream. He had had his fill for the night so he flew out the window back to his grave in the woods, leaving a terrified young woman alone in the dark, isolated cottage in fear of her life.

How was she ever going to explain what she was doing there – if she ever got out alive!

Ghost at Lochmaben by Christina Openshaw

Lochmaben Castle Ruins – I’d left it late in the afternoon to visit; a last minute decision, I admit.

The car park was surrounded by woods. Through the trees I could spy a glimpse of the shiny loch, as the sun’s rays caught its surface. Just like my car, it was lit only by the sun shining down from overhead. All was quiet, no bird song, no animals and no people – only me.

Behind me stood what was left of the castle. I turned, walked up the slight incline to get nearer. That’s when a funny feeling came over me; my whole body began to shiver. I looked around, still there was no one about, but I could sense something. The area started to take on an eerie quality. Maybe because it’s getting nearer dusk? I thought to myself, although years ago I had been told I was slightly psychic – could that be it?

At the ruins I stood before an archway, looking towards another at the far side; between the two arches, a road’s width of long grass lay flattened and smooth, unlike any of the grass around. My first thought was, this looks just like water. I couldn’t believe how it gave the impression of a stream running through, gazing, transfixed; and for some reason I couldn’t take my eyes away.

It was getting darker as dusk started to fall, then it happened: from somewhere a large dark shape passed by me. It moved towards the first archway, then through it; now I realized what I was watching! The shape was of a small boat as it moved away from me, then it stopped midway between the two arches.

The scene hypnotized me. Dark figures milled about around the boat, people alighting being greeted by others. I just stood stunned by the spectacle playing out before me. I rubbed my eyes to help clear my vision; then looking ahead – nothing, no figures, no shape of the boat.

Just the long flat grass.

Thank you to Besty and Christina for sharing these intriguing and descriptive pieces, inspired by the tales we heard at Lochmaben Castle from Mostly Ghostly. The vampire story is truly disturbing, and in the second story I can picture the boat emerging from the long grass …

Come back tomorrow for more spooky tales … if you dare!!

Halloween Week 2019 – Day 2

To mark Halloween, all week (28th October – 1st November 2019) we will be sharing a selection of spooky stories written by members of Lockerbie Writers and A Novel Approach writing groups.

Our second story of the week is a traditional ghost story, and comes from Lockerbie Writers’ Chairperson and A Novel Approach founding member, Steph Newham.

The Passing Bell by Steph Newham

“I’m telling you there’s more to it.  I saw him, an hour before they found him. Came past me down Lucks Wynd, like a bat out of hell. A fair lick for such a corpulent fellow. Passed by, left me standing, not so much as a nod.  Out of sorts, I thought at the time but it were nought to me – I had my own business to see to.

“But now I’m thinking I’d have done good to follow.  Him being in a such a rush should’ve told me something was up.  No good having them thoughts now, it’s too late and none can blame me.”  Sam Jenks shrugged, took a long draw on his ale, and looked dolefully into the bottom of his jug. No one knew what to say. The St. Botolph’s ringers continued to pull on their pints and stare vacantly at the optics behind the bar.

Suddenly someone muttered, “Blame. Well now, it’s not for us to say, Sam.” There was a lifting of heads along the bar.  “No one here says his death could be laid at your door, he were alive when you saw him.”

“Aye, he were alive but looking like the hounds of hell were after him when he burst in here.”

Then Toddy Crow swivveled his gaze, piped up, “It were a bad moment.” He indicated the door into the snug, took a gulp of ale, said, “Came through those doors like Beelzebub were on his heels, stood where you’re standing now Sam, couldn’t breathe, coughed till his eyes bulged like marbles, hit the floor like he’d been felled by an axe. The stink of fear from him turned my ale.”

And that was the tale they all told about the last time Henry Rourke entered the Gelded Mare. But like all tales, it grew with the re-telling.

At the inquest it was reported that Henry had been busy for the whole of February when many Christian souls fell foul of the influenza. It was a hard winter on the old folk, more severe than anyone could remember.  A few deaths were expected: Mrs Saul and young Groves were no suprise, but Sarah Feather’s death had shocked everyone.  Then there was old Trumpington, reaped away in Molly Padget’s bed where he’d no right to be.  Everyone thought it was his heart, but no; Dr. Pryle blamed all the deaths on the influenza, even old Trumpington’s. But, he’d added solemnly, the same could not be said of Henry Rourke.  Henry, he declared, was jerked out of existence by pure terror. Heart failure due to shock, he proclaimed at the inquest. The rope marks on his neck were not a contributing factor – when asked by the Coroner, Dr Pryle said he had no idea how they had come about.

When called to give evidence Toddy Crow said that on the night he died, Henry had rung the passing bell just as he always did when someone was dying.

His wife told the inquest, “We spoke that evening, Henry said he knew Leo was in his grave, so what rang that bell soundlessly? he kept saying. He swore he saw something, though he’d never believed in such things; just a shape, there, but not there. Later when we readied for bed he said,  ‘I tried blinking my eyes hard, didn’t help so it’s not my imagination ‒ and then the rope looped in rhythm with mine.’  He said he’d dream of Leo for the rest of his life. He was shaken, proper ill. He wrote it all down in his diary.” The Coroner glanced at his watch, said tersely, “Hand the your husband’s diaries over to Constable Marsh. Case adjourned until Wednesday at 11am.”

Henry Rourke’s Diary

Tuesday 14th January.  Leo Sturgeon is dead and buried. I have stepped up to take his place. That I should be ringing Great Tom would have rankled with Leo; he had no patience with any of us, least of all me with my ragged strokes. Sam has told me that the Rector was wary of letting anyone touch Great Tom since Leo’s death. Now I understand his reluctance.  Up there when we’re all gathered to ring a change I feel he’s with us; a silly fancy, Jane says. 

Friday  17th January.  Others can’t know how we men own the ringing of the bells, how it is our ringing chamber, we belong there;  we love that sacred place – even if the spire crumbled and fell we would still ring on; only infirmity or death will remove us.  Just as it removed Leo. He had influenza like all the others, big as an ox he might have been, but it took him. We all saw him buried, five weeks past in the churchyard, out along the east wall between the Courtney Grey mausoleum and the first of the yews. We bore his coffin.

Sunday 19th January.  Dour faces in the ringing chamber, Sam and Toddy Crow made excuses and escaped the ringers’ breakfast at the Rectory. There’d been a fusty wet dog smell about the place. We put it down to the pile of kneelers that had been abandoned up here now the new ones are finished.

Friday 24th January.  I have this curious feeling that something is going on, but it’s beyond me to know what. Just shadows, Jane says, but that shadow was the shape of him, it had Leo’s stoop, his unmistakable stance, that out-thrust foot – the weight of shadow creaking the floor boards. Explain that, I said. In my right mind I’d say there was nothing to see at all. But I’m not in my right mind.  This week I’ve felt a draft, putrid, wafting in time with our… there it’s got to me, I mean my swing on the rope. It eddied around the chamber in spite of the door being closed. 

Wednesday 29th January. Tonight I rang the passing bell, along with Leo’s shadow. I’m not imagining it. Dying has give him certain powers… I know it. After the last peals I sat tight, waited, watched until the stink and the shadow had faded. Then I climbed the ladder, up past the bells. I pushed open the trap door and squeezed myself through onto the roof. I’d had a feeling I should watch his grave, but fear was strong in me and I was shivering as I crawled to the edge of the tower and peered over towards the east wall. Sweating I clutched the parapet, peered over. 329 feet below, the path through the churchyard was empty. But moving between the tombstones towards Leo’s grave where the remains of wreaths still rotted I could see HIS misty form swirl and slither.  I had to believe it was him.  Once my gut settled and the mist disappeared, I turned and crawled back. I eased onto the ladder; saw the bells below me, great hulking beasts in the dimness. For comfort I fetched my torch from my pocket; started my descent, but I was still shaking and my hand was clammy so I dropped the torch; heard it hit the nearest bell. I thought my eardrums would burst. It hummed and thrummed; on and on right in my head. I slithered through into the ringing chamber, glad to be out of that dark bell hole.  I’d hardly got my breath and my wits, and was about to descend the tower steps when I heard the door latch click and watched the door open. That foul mist billowed in and folded itself about the looped rope of the passing bell. I didn’t tell Jane but that’s when I knew for sure.

“Death by misadventure.” Toddy Crow raised his eyes from his mug. “Coroner didn’t take long giving his verdict, Sam.”

“Nor he did.” Sam spoke slowly. “Leaves me feeling rootless. You wanting to ring up there now, Toddy?

“Nope. Think Rector’s right, flu bouts almost over, and we can ring Little Paul, if pushed.  It’s not got the tone of Great Tom, but a tenor bell all the same.”

They were silent for a while then Sam said,  “Henry tried to tell me something the first passing he rang after Leo’s death. Said, ‘Why did I let Jane encourage me to step into Leo’s shoes? Godammit. Leo was always tight, tight with money and time, I don’t think he intends letting me take over his bell Sam.’” Sam drew on his ale, “I told him not to speak ill of the dead.”

Toddy kept silent, but eventually said, “Going to be a headache for you being Bell Master, Sam. How’r we going to ring changes without Great Tom?” 

Toddy took a deep pull on his pint as Sam said, “It’ll take some working out but I’ll do it. I’ll immobilise Leo’s bell,” he puffed out his cheeks, exhaled a deep breath and frowned, “I know that rope’s got a lot of life left in it. I’d best cut the sally and tail clean off so no one can ring it. Then pray God he stays underground.”

Thank you to Steph for sharing this traditional tale of a ghostly apparition, with an interesting collection of characters and the feel of a close-knit community – and of course a good mystery to keep the reader guessing.

Come back tomorrow for more spooky tales … if you dare!!

Halloween Week 2019 – Day 1

To mark Halloween, all week (28th October – 1st November 2019) we will be sharing a selection of spooky stories written by members of Lockerbie Writers and A Novel Approach writing groups.

Inspired initially by a prompt handed out during our summer outing to Lochmaben Castle and Lochfield Cottage, and by the tales told to us by local paranormal team Mostly Ghostly on that fateful day, our imaginings include ghosts, vampires, and all manner of things going on in the shadows.

Continue reading for the first of our spooky tales, which today comes from A Novel Approach member, Carol Price.

Carol’s prompts were “apprentice”, “the person was bitten”, and “swamp”.

Halloween by Carol Price

Sebastian was apprenticed to John the Thatcher. It was Sebastian’s turn to cut rushes down by the swamp. He set off with his newly sharpened scythe, whistling a bright tune.

The sky was grey and threatening to rain as he took the flat-bottomed boat out on the water. He was a strong young man, well accustomed to hard work. He put his meat pie, wrapped in a cloth, under the plank seat. His mother had baked it for him the night before. He paddled out into the swamp and brought the boat round to the far bank where the tall rushes grew. He clambered out and started to cut them down. The rhythm of the scythe was hypnotic and before long he had an impressive bundle piled in the bottom of the boat.

He pulled out the meat pie from under the seat and sat by the bank, hungry for his lunch. As he unwrapped the pie, a beast came out of the water at speed. It was low slung with powerful legs, scales all over its body, and a large pointed snout. Sebastian had never seen anything like it before.  The beast opened its mouth, which was lined with sharp pointy teeth, and snapped at the meat pie, taking a chunk out of Sebastian’s hand.

The boy yelled and tried to flee but the beast caught hold of his leg and dragged him screaming into the swamp. Only the few bubbles on the surface and the water briefly stained red gave any indication of what had happened.

The boat drifted slowly across the water and John pulled it into the shore with a boat hook. Neat bundles of rushes lay in the hull, but Sebastian was nowhere to be seen.

Visitors to the swamp years later tell of an overpowering smell of freshly baked meat pie by the tall rush bed and strange reptilian footprints in the mud.

Thank you to Carol for sharing this atmospheric and highly-visual piece. Can you picture the beast, feel the boy’s terror, and imagine the boat drifting back to shore?

Come back tomorrow for more spooky tales … if you dare!!