I love a good Gothic tale and here’s an extract from the ghost story ‘Take me to St Roch’s', set in a Sussex cemetery. It’s from the book Among the Headstones: Creepy Tales from the Graveyard, edited by Rayne Hall, offering 27 Gothic ghost stories by established writers, classic authors and fresh voices.
The night was silent around the 13th century Norman stone church. Jean unlatched the heavy wooden gate. It creaked on its unoiled hinges. Jean’s feet crunched gravel with every step. Anne moved without a noise.
In the blaze of the headlights the tree stems threw stripes across the ground, black on grey. Tombstones stood as pale pillars.
Anne pointed to her chosen spot.
Jean braced herself and ducked into the darkness of the deep-hanging branches. She hung her gabardine jacket over a crumbling tombstone, and placed her black pumps neatly next to it. Wind brushed her arms and neck, soft but cold. Kneeling, with her skirt tight around her legs, she stabbed the nail file at the earth to break it up. Fortunately weeks of persistent autumn rains had softened the local clay soil. When she pulled out the first tuft of grass, its roots teemed with silvery maggots.
Already, the twin lights from the car were dimming. Moisture seeped through her skirt and tights and chilled her knees. Her scalp itched. Despite the prevailing chill, sweat trickled from her armpits down her sides.
Her fingers groped their way in the cold slippery ground. The smell of fresh earth blended with the odour of dusty museums, of moor and decay. She touched something hard, sucked her breath in and examined the pale sliver. Probably a piece of bone from an earlier burial.
The light grew faint.
Above, something rustled in the silver-grey leaves. The twigs of the trees beckoned like skeleton fingers, withered and pale.
The church stood high and still, an indifferent observer.
“Would you mind talking?” Jean asked the girl. Even a ghost’s voice was better than the void. “Tell me about what life was like in your day. Please.”
Jean was already burrowing as fast as two bare hands and a nail-file allowed. She clawed and shovelled, shutting her mind to the question about how long it would take to dig a hole big enough to hold an adult body.
Then the light was gone and darkness descended.
The wind died away, and the silence became as suffocating as the darkness. There was no sound now but the thudding of earth on earth, and the occasional rustling of nettles against the fence.
As Jean’s eyes adapted to the darkness, recognising its shades of grey, she could see the gravestones again. They stood erect in rows, large ones and small ones side by side like families in a procession.
“Don’t look. Keep going,” urged the girl.
Don’t look at what? Jean strained to see. Was it the stones that were moving, or ghosts, approaching slowly, a bold noiseless army?
All further speculation was cut short. Something cracked, the sound of breaking stones, of a tomb bursting into pieces, and white silhouettes emerged everywhere.
“Dig, dig!” Ann stamped her foot on the ground. “You’re nearly done. Don’t let me down. They won’t harm you, it’s me they hate…”
“They?” Clutching her nail-file, Jean scanned the surroundings for an escape route. Ghosts were rising everywhere.
“My sweetheart’s family,” the girl stated flatly. “They begrudge me the Christian burial. They don’t want me to lie next to their only son. Hurry up.”
Already, a dozen pale spectres approached in slow silence.
Jean leaped out of the hollow to run.
The ghost clamped an icy hand around Jean’s arm. “Don’t stop now. You’re nearly done. Once I’m buried, they’ve lost and will leave us alone.”
Proving her point, she curled in the shallow hole. It would just take a few more inches.
Jean dropped to her knees again to burrow in feverish fear. When she looked up, the spectres were looming above, wrapped in white tatters. Many had ugly swellings at the neck, and eczema covered their limbs like purple roses. Smells of cadaver and pus made Jean retch.
“They’ve… they’ve got the plague, haven’t they?”
“It got them eventually,” Anne said. “Hurry up.”
A one-armed old man limped close, leaning over the grave. Purple nodes dotted his face, black blisters his swollen lips. A lifeless tongue hung out of his mouth, black and tainted with gore. Jean shrank deeper into the grave, where Anne was already cowering in the foetal position, her face buried in her arms.
From above, many inflamed, swollen eyes stared at her. Arms, full of open sores, reached out. Could they infect her with their touch? Had she been digging her own grave?
“Dig,” the girl screamed. Her cold fist hammered Jean’s legs. “They murdered me and my brother! Save me!”
Jean carved and tossed soil with bare fingers. She had to get the girl underground before the other ghosts reached her. Sweat drenched her blouse and blended with the dirt to dark smear.
Another inch down. And another.
Already several pairs of stinking arms reached out from above.
“Enough. Now cover me.”
With both hands, Jean heaped earth on the slight form. Then she closed her eyes, and ran right through the cluster of ghosts, feeling their repulsive bodies touch hers, their fingers claw at her clothes. Breathless, she made it to the car.
She slid into the seat, slammed the door shut, shifted the gear to second, turned the key in the ignition. Rrr-rtch. Rrr-rtch.
On the third try, the motor jerked to life. She sped away from St. Roch’s, away from Seelsden, back onto the main road she should never have left.
To read more posts like this visit A Bad Witch’s Blog at www.badwitch.co.uk
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