Competition time again at our writers’ group. We were challenged to write a short story with a ghost/supernatural theme. This was my go…
A Hallowe’en Romance
She’d been expecting something, but none-the-less it made her jump and she let out a little scream. As the kids ran off laughing, she called after them, ‘Your costumes are rubbish.’
‘Are you expecting someone?’
‘Well, yes I am,’ Susan replied. She assumed the woman was homeless, by her old-fashioned clothes and the way she looked like she wasn’t heading anywhere. Susan’s instinct was to feel sorry for her, so obliged in conversation while she waited. This, however, turned out to be a mistake as the woman wasn’t exactly a cheery sort-of person.
‘Is he very late?’ she asked.
‘Are you married to him?’
Susan looked at the woman, who was casually winding her fingers round the strands of her shawl.
‘Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to pry. I don’t often get to talk to people you see. My name’s Heather, by the way.’
‘No we aren’t married, we’ve only been going out a few months.’
‘Are you absolutely sure he’s coming?’ asked Heather.
‘I’m beginning to wonder,’ muttered Susan, looking the other way and hoping it was hint enough that she didn’t want to talk any more.
‘Only, he might have got distracted with someone else. Men aren’t too reliable in my experience.’
‘He might not be trustworthy.’
‘Heather, are you waiting for someone? Is there anyone you’d like me to call?’
‘Oh no Dear, thank you.’
Susan retrieved her phone from her bag anyway, and was just finding Mark’s number, when she spotted him running across the road. She watched his tall, slightly lanky figure dodging the traffic, and the silhouette of his longish hair bouncing over the collar of his coat, and despite him keeping her waiting, she was quite proud that he was running towards her.
‘Sorry I’m late,’ he said, giving her a quick kiss, ‘there was a massive queue.’ He handed her a warm parcel.
‘Fish and chips.’
‘We’re not going to a restaurant?’
‘We’re doing something much more exciting than that,’ said Mark.
Susan followed him up the narrow cobbled lane to the church, glancing over her shoulder to say bye to Heather. Heather was slowly following them.
They sat on a bench in the middle of the graveyard and as Susan unwrapped the paper, she asked Mark why they were sitting on the outskirts of town, in the freezing cold, eating fish and chips, and not in a warm, cosy, romantic restaurant.
‘It’s Halloween!’ said Mark, as though the answer was obvious. ‘And besides, we’ve done all that loads of times.’
‘Ok,’ said Susan, quietly impressed he’d remembered she liked salt and mayonnaise; no vinegar or ketchup. ‘So we’re ghost hunting?’
‘Exactly! Steve – you know, Ginger Steve? He’s got a mate who swears he’s seen a ghost here more than once.’
‘Really?’ Susan wasn’t totally sceptical. Her mother was into anything spiritual and had plenty of intriguing tales. Susan would quite like her own one to tell. ‘What has he seen?’
‘Well; he hasn’t exactly seen anything, but he’s heard crying, and has felt a presence.’
‘Hm…spooky!’ said Susan, tucking into her fish and chips and listening out for strange noises. ‘No; nothing,’ she said after a while. ‘No crying and no weird feelings.’ She shivered none-the-less.
‘Sorry you’re cold,’ said Mark. He shifted closer to her and put his arm round her shoulders. ‘We can wait a little longer though can’t we?’
‘Yes, I suppose so.’
‘A graveyard on Hallowe’en – it shouldn’t take too much longer should it?’
Susan laughed. ‘Yes ok! Though Mum has heard of spirits haunting a house on Ridgeway Hill; you might not expect it, with it only being a few years old, but apparently a coaching inn once stood there.’ They exchanged paranormal stories they knew for a while, and were about to give up waiting for a ghost to appear, when they heard footsteps. A tall elderly man wearing something long and flowing was striding towards them.
‘I think it’s the vicar,’ whispered Susan.
‘Hello there!’ He smiled warmly at them. ‘Mind if I sit down for a bit?’ He squashed onto the bench next to Mark without waiting for an answer.
‘Sorry,’ said Mark. ‘You don’t mind us being here do you?’
‘Not at all,’ the man said. ‘Are you looking out for those mischievous spirits who walk the earth when they should be at peace?’
‘Well, yes,’ admitted Susan with some hesitance, not entirely sure what the church’s viewpoint is on ghosts.
‘Any luck?’ he asked.
‘We used to get lots of ghost hunters here on Hallowe’en,’ he sighed. ‘Now they’re only interested in gorging on sweets and causing litter. I was just strolling the grounds, checking there are no children about, throwing eggs or making the place look untidy.’
Susan and Mark glanced at each other, not sure what to say next, but the man spoke again.
‘You’re in the wrong place anyway,’ he said. ‘I’ve heard there’s a particular spot the other side of the church where all the creepy goings on happen. Would you like me to show you?’
‘That would be great!’ Mark jumped up and held out his hand for Susan. The tall man noticed the gesture.
‘Did you get married in this church?’ he asked.
‘No, we’re not married,’ said Mark.
‘We’re only just thinking about moving in together,’ said Susan, looking at Mark’s face for a clue as to whether he’d thought more about it yet.
‘I see,’ said the man, a distinct tone of disapproval in his voice. ‘It’s none of my business anyway. Follow me.’
They were walking past the main doorway to the church when Susan spotted the old woman she’d spoken to earlier. She was pacing up and down and looked upset.
‘Do you think she’s all right?’ she asked the other two. At that moment Heather turned and looked directly at Susan and beckoned to her.
‘I think you’d better check,’ said the man. Mark and I will just be on the north side of the graveyard.’
‘Don’t be long,’ Mark joked quietly to Susan, ‘he’s quite scary!’
Susan looked at Heather, and then glanced back at Mark, who was disappearing into the darkness. Heather began to cry loudly, so she rushed over to see if she could help.
‘I can’t find my dog anywhere, can you help me find him?’
‘I don’t know…’
The old woman looked so desperate, Susan agreed to help, but was worried about Mark. There had been a look in the tall man’s eyes when she left them, that she didn’t like at all.
‘What does it look like?’
‘Quite small; sandy coloured. Didn’t you see him when we spoke earlier?’
Susan thought back; she didn’t remember seeing a dog, but she supposed there might have been one there, she just hadn’t noticed.
‘He goes with me everywhere,’ said Heather, ‘but I think he ran off this way.’
Susan followed Heather down the short lane, copying her calling out the name Charlie. When they reached the High Street she tried telling her she ought to go back, but again Heather pleaded with her and Susan would feel too guilty to walk away. Heather didn’t stay upset for long though. When they reached a restaurant with brightly lit windows, she began talking about a man and woman sitting inside. It was getting late and they were the only people left.
‘Don’t they look cosy,’ Heather said. ‘That’s what you wanted wasn’t it dear? A lovely dinner inside in the warm. Not just cheap fish and chips on a bench on a silly ghost hunt. Some men just have no idea do they?’
At that moment Susan did feel slightly envious of the couple they could see, but she stood up for her boyfriend. ‘Mark knows I’ve wanted to see a ghost. We like watching the occasional horror dvd and have talked about it. I actually think it was an original idea for an evening out.’
‘If you say so dear.’ They walked on a little further, calling Charlie’s name again. ‘So, where do you watch these dvds; your place or his?’
‘Well, we sort of take it in turns really.’
‘It would be a lot easier if you lived together wouldn’t it?’
‘Yes it would,’ agreed Susan.
‘No sign of him proposing then?’
‘Oh I’m not sure if I’m ready to get married anyway,’ she replied. ‘Charlie?’ Susan called, a little impatience in her voice now.
‘I don’t think Mark ever intends on getting married ever,’ said Heather. ‘In fact, I don’t think he’s trustworthy at all. Look, we’ve walked as far as this trendy little bar. It’s not my sort of thing,’ she continued, pulling her shawl around her, ‘but it’s just right for a pretty young lass like you and I saw some very handsome young men enter earlier, who really looked the settling down type.’
‘What are you going on about?’
‘I’m just trying to help you dear. Mark isn’t right for you I know it. In fact, I may have seen him in there with someone else the other day.’
‘Don’t be silly.’
Susan tried to pull away as the old woman clutched her arms and spoke harshly. ‘Don’t you believe me?’
‘There was never a lost dog was there? Why did you trick me? What do you want?’ Heather wouldn’t let go and Susan looked in the window of the bar to try and get someone to help her. She could see her own scared reflection, but nothing of the old woman opposite her.Meanwhile, Mark was not enjoying the company of the tall man either. The light over the church door had revealed he was not wearing a vicar’s cassock after all, but a long cloak, under which he wore a strange old suit with a pocket watch hanging from a chain. He might be on his way to a fancy dress party, but then why take the time to show a stranger a possible haunted spot in a graveyard?
‘This way,’ the man called. Mark was intrigued, so he followed him to the darker, less well-kept part of the grounds. They stopped by a grave marked by a rather ornate angel statue. ‘This is actually where my grandfather was laid to rest,’ he said. ‘Charles Standen; I was named after him. If we wait around here I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.’
‘Well I hope nothing appears before Susan gets back.’
‘Yes I’m sure she will.’
‘What do you mean, “I’m sure she will”?’
‘No; tell me what you mean?’
‘Well, she might not actually come back.’
‘She might have taken the opportunity to get away. Don’t misunderstand me, I mean, I personally think a date looking for dead spirits is a marvellous idea, but I rather think she didn’t.’
‘Really?’ Mark looked back at the church entrance. ‘I thought she was enjoying it after all.’
‘Oh no, she was just being polite. I can tell, she’s the sort of woman who likes flowers and candlelight and all that silly romantic nonsense. She’s probably gone home.’
‘No, she’s not like that,’ Mark said. ‘She’ll come back.’
They waited for several minutes, Mark thinking to himself that he had thought he’d been quite romantic. He was starting to get worried about Susan though. He knew there was no way she’d just walk off and leave him, so what was taking her so long?
The moon came out and lit the scene and Mark laughed, ‘It’s actually quite spooky here isn’t it?’
‘Yes it is rather,’ said Charles.
Mark stepped closer to the engraved words on the plinth beneath the Angel. ‘Were you close with your Granddad?’ he asked.
‘Not very,’ he replied. ‘Listen old chap, I think we have to face facts about your girlfriend. I don’t think she was the right one for you anyway.’
Mark ignored him. He was checking the dates and according to those he could see, his grandfather died three hundred years ago. ‘I think you’re a few generations out mate. Do you have other family buried here? Maybe it’s the wrong angel. Yes, look, I’ve already found another Charles Standen; how many of them are you?’ He wiped the moss away and was just about to read aloud the dates on this stone, when he froze. He thought everything through and something really weird was going on. His first thought was worry for Susan. He turned to look at Charles.
Charles smiled sympathetically. ‘Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll find another charming young lady who actually appreciates your efforts and has the same interests as you.There are more fish in the sea, as they say nowadays.’
‘Where’s Susan?’ asked Mark. He didn’t wait for an answer. ‘Susan!’ he yelled as he ran towards the church gates.
‘Mark!’ she was running up the lane towards him and they fell into a tight hug as they met.
‘There’s something going on here,’ she said urgently. ‘I think they’re…I think they might be…’
‘Yes I know,’ said Mark.
They let go of each other and turned to look at Charles and Heather, who were standing either side of the gates talking.
‘Well, we gave it our best shot,’ said Heather.
‘I don’t know what we did wrong?,’ said Charles. ‘It has worked well before.’
‘Well, maybe they are really truly in love.’
Mark stepped towards them. ‘Who are you? What is all this about?’
‘Yes,’ said Susan, trying to act braver than she felt. ‘Are you, well are you real ghosts? And why have you been trying to split us up?’
Heather looked at Charles. ‘I think they’ve well and truly caught us out darling,’ she said. ‘I may as well tell them.’
‘If you like.’
Heather leaned forward and rested her elbows on the gate. ‘I can’t get across here you see, to be with my one true love. We were so devoted to each other, but I was not worthy enough to marry a gentleman like a Charles Standen. We tried to continue our passion for each other, but we were found out and my reputation and then my life was ruined. I was classed a sinner and buried in a shallow hole in the ground over there, while Charles had a Christian burial with his family.’
‘Well that’s not fair,’ exclaimed Susan.
‘No it isn’t,’ said Charles. ‘Neither of us ever married, but we thought we would eventually be together in death. Yet Heather cannot pass into Holy ground, and I can’t leave it.’
‘But what has that got to do with us?’ asked Susan.
‘Well, like you said, it isn’t fair,’ said Heather. ‘Why should you modern people be able to carry on without committing to each other before God?’
‘It’s our bit of mischief each year,’ said Charles. ‘It often works, it’s amazing how many people don’t trust their partners.’
‘So let me get this straight,’ asked Mark. ‘Due to you not being able to be together, every Hallowe’en you take it out on some innocent couple?’
‘Well, yes,’ they agreed, ‘it can be rather fun.’
‘That’s not very nice,’ said Susan.
‘It just just saves time,’ shrugged Heather. ‘Those like you two, who are clearly destined to be together, don’t believe us and stay together.‘I cannot believe we are doing this,’ said Susan, as she tried to balance a collection of human bones in her arms. ‘I just cannot believe it.’
‘Pretend they’re dog bones or something,’ suggested Mark.
‘That really doesn’t help. Have you found the skull yet?’
‘Got it!’ Mark lifted it in the air just as a witch, a devil and Frankenstein’s monster turned the corner into Church Lane. They screamed and ran away leaving a trail of sweets behind them.
‘Oops,’ giggled Susan. ‘Come on, we may not have every last toe, but I’m sure it’s enough.’
They’d borrowed a spade from a shed behind the church, and began digging a hole next to the more recently dead Charles Standen. ‘Is this legal?’ asked Susan.
‘I have no idea.’
They carefully placed Heather’s bones in the best order they thought was anatomically correct, and covered them over.
‘There, all done,’ said Mark. ‘Do you think it did the trick?’
They watched as Heather squealed in delight as she opened the gate and ran towards Charles. He ran to her and as they did so their bodies became white, and then see-through, and as they embraced, they disappeared altogether.
Susan sighed. ‘Isn’t that lovely?’
‘Yes,’ agreed Mark. ‘So shall I tell this romantic tale at our wedding?’
Susan hesitated for a second, smiling. ‘You can,’ she said, ‘but I doubt anyone will believe you.’