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Authors: Charles Christian

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BOOK: Tomorrow's Ghosts
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“Exactly. I’m sure that’s what we have here. The ghost you saw looking out of the front bedroom window was probably waiting for a friend or possibly her lover to return.” I don’t add the reason I’m thinking the explanation is a love affair is because I once entered that upstairs room and saw the ghost lying across the bed in a distinctly indelicate but inviting pose. This, incidentally, is also the reason why I now always sleep in the smaller side bedroom.

“So along with intelligent and residual hauntings, what else are there?”

“Type Threes,” I reply, “are poltergeists although evidence suggests, because poltergeist hauntings so often occur in close proximity to pubescent youths, these activities are actually psychic in nature rather than spectral.”

“I’d heard that.” she says. “When I was a curate at St Mark’s up in Leeds, we had a poltergeist involving a thirteen-year-old girl. Whenever she was at home at night, there was pandemonium. Whenever she went to stay with friends, peace returned. The family wanted an exorcism but after consultations with the local GP and social services, a little counselling and psychotherapy solved the problem.”

“Smart move,” I say. “Most of the referrals I get from the Venerable Mitchell Jaffa stem from dabbling clerics who inadvertently unleash far bigger problems than the ones they were trying to solve. They ought to make the movie
The Exorcist
compulsory viewing in seminaries for all trainee priests.”

“You know Archdeacon Jaffa, the Bishop’s private secretary?” she asks, ignoring my jibe. “The Bishop’s personal hatchet-man, an individual who clearly has influence way beyond the boundaries of this diocese? I am starting to be seriously impressed.”

I say nothing but give her a knowing smile.

“And finally we have Type Four hauntings: doppelgangers, the ghosts of living people. Very rare but they do crop up in the historical record. Probably the most famous sighting relates to the poet Percy Shelley, who met his own doppelganger three weeks before he drowned off the Italian coast. The story has more credibility than most as an independent witness, described by Shelley’s own wife as ‘a woman of sensibility and not much imagination,’ also saw the ghost. Perhaps that’s why they’re so rare? They are harbingers of death, so if you see your own doppelganger you may not live long enough to tell anyone!”

The Reverend Ursula doesn’t say anything but she has a far away look in her eyes, as if she is remembering something.

“You mentioned,” I say, “you were a curate at St Marks in Leeds. Was that the church in Woodhouse?”

“Yes,” she replies, “a few years ago before it was declared redundant and closed, though I gather it is now being restored by an evangelistic Christian sect. Why do you ask?”

“Because the churchyard is supposed to be haunted by its own unique form of doppelganger!”

Her eyes widen in disbelief.

“According to the legend, it’s called the St Mark’s Vigil, if you spend the night of St Mark’s Eve...”

“That’s the 24th of April,” says my visitor, interrupting me.

“...in the churchyard, as midnight chimes you will see, making their way into the church for a final blessing, a procession of the ghosts, or doppelgangers, of everyone in the parish who is doomed to die and be buried in the churchyard over the coming twelve months.”

If her jaw could have dropped any further, it would have hit the kitchen tabletop. “You are kidding me,” she says.

I shake my head.

“Oh, My God. Oops, sorry. Mustn’t take the Lord’s name in vain but is that true?”

I shrug my shoulders. “That’s what the superstition says and years ago I did spend St Mark’s Eve, and into the early hours of the following morning, camped out in that churchyard with one of my ghost-hunting friends. But, we didn’t see a thing or even detect the slightest indication of any supernatural activity. Of course, it could have been a freak year when none of the parishioners were scheduled to die over the next twelve months.”

The Reverend Ursula takes another long slurp of wine and then laughs. “We never held services on St Mark’s Eve in that parish. Well, obviously we would have done if it had coincided with a Sunday but that never happened during my time there. However, and this is a very embarrassing story I’m about to tell you, there was one occasion when I really did think I’d encountered a ghost.

“It was in December, during Advent, and I was working late preparing the church for a Christingle service we were holding for kids the following day. I’d have been making sure we had enough oranges, sweets, candles, red ribbons, cocktail sticks and stuff for the expected congregation, when I heard a moaning sound coming from outside.

“It seemed to me like a woman’s voice and it was a steady, rhythmical, repetitive noise. I honestly thought it was a ghost, well you know what that church was like, all soot-blackened, Victorian Gothic-revival stonework. Anyway, I picked up a large brass candlestick for protection though I’m not sure why! If it had been a ghost, it wouldn’t have done me any good, then I quietly opened the vestry door and crept out into the porch.

“The sound was coming from the churchyard so I peered around the corner of the porch to see if I could see anything. I could and I did. There was a couple leaning across one of the tombstones and they were having sex. My first thought was I might be witnessing a rape but it was obvious the woman was enjoying herself. Then the strangest thing happened. I thought I was hidden in the lee of the church but suddenly the woman twisted her head around and stared straight at me, as if she’d known I’d been there all along. And then she smiled. It sounds silly to say it now but there was something evil, almost malevolent about her. Her teeth, they looked unnaturally pointed.

“I immediately ran back inside the vestry, locked the door behind me and, not altogether successfully, tried to refocus my attention on my Christingle decorations. Then I thought, ‘Sod it!’ I’m not going to be trapped in my own church because I’m too embarrassed or frightened to go outside. So, I picked up the candlestick and opened the door again, with the intention of giving them a decidedly un-Christian piece of my mind. But by then they’d gone and the churchyard was deserted again. You know, I’m not sure why I’m telling this to you, a complete stranger I’ve only just met. In fact I’ve never told this to anyone ever before. Perhaps it’s the wine!”

Perhaps it is the wine. Perhaps it’s something else. For a few seconds I sense a tension between us but then, just as quickly, the moment passes.

“Oh my goodness, is that the time,” says my visitor, only remembering as an afterthought to look at her watch. “I must be going, I’ve another meeting this afternoon.”

Then she heads for the door, pausing to give me a chaste but still unexpected kiss on the cheek, and climbs into her car, a battered old Volkswagen Beetle.

Just as she is about to pull away, the Reverend Ursula winds down the window and calls out, in a very bad fake German accent “You’d better be careful, I’m like Arnie in
The Terminator
, I’ll be back!”

I laugh, return to my guitar and, for the first time in years, begin picking out the opening chords to Led Zeppelin’s
Stairway to Heaven
.

2. The Wreck of the Four Apostles

The new vicar is as good as her word. She said she’d be back and she is. About three weeks later I hear the sound of her Beetle pootling its way up the track to my cottage. It pulls to a halt outside and a few moments later there is a knock at my door. I open it and once more find the Reverend Ursula on my doorstep.

“I was going to give you a little speech,” she says, “apologising for rushing off so suddenly the other week but I’ve rather lost track of what I was going to say. It’s your ghost. I caught a glimpse of her again, only this time she was leaning out of the window and she waved at me!”

“Yes,” I reply, “she does do that from time-to-time. It can be disconcerting.”

“Does she have any other foibles or favourite haunts I ought to know about?”

“There are a couple more,” I say noncommittally (as I’m certainly not going to tell the vicar about the ghost’s X-rated bedroom materialisations when she looks more like Titian’s
Venus d’Urbino
) “but she mainly confines herself to appearing by that window in the afternoon.”

“Good,” Ursula replies, “because if I’m going to be a regular visitor here, I don’t want to be worrying about when and where I’m next going to encounter her.”

“So you are going to be a regular visitor here now are you?”

“Well I did warn you I’m like
The Terminator
and that I’d be back.”

I nod thoughtfully. “Either life in this parish is so dull that spending your afternoons drinking cheap rosé wine with me seems an attractive proposition. Or, something has happened.”

She blushes. “Am I that transparent? You’re right, something has happened.” She pauses to take a deep breath. “There’s a lot of weird stuff going on in this diocese. I’d spotted a few, shall we say, causes for concern before I first visited you here. But, at the latest diocesan meeting, when I was chatting to representatives from the other parishes, I began to realise there was so much more going on than I’d thought. I also had a quiet word with your friend the Archdeacon. He confirmed that the diocese is getting an increasing number of requests for assistance. Then he told me that I should seek you out for help, because of your extensive experience and because you can be relied upon to be discreet.”

“That’s me, good old Mister Soul of Discretion,” I say with a smile. “But you said weird stuff. What sort of weird?”

“Your sort of weird!”

“Ah,” I reply, “that’ll be the coming apocalypse then.”

“What apocalypse? I thought we’d survived that Mayan
End of Days
thing?”

“In this line of business, apocalypses are like London buses. If you miss the first one, two more will be along shortly.

“Never mind the Mayans, you Christians have your own
Rapture
. Both the Hebrew and Islamic messianic traditions tell of a
Day of Judgement
and an
End of Times
apocalypse. Then there is the Hindu
Kali Yuga
apocalypse. The Norse
Ragnorak
apocalypse. The Zombie apocalypse. Even the Buddhists of all people have some apocalyptical beliefs. The New Age hippies say we’re about to enter the
Age of Aquarius
and there’s also a weird end-of-the-world cult in Japan that involves Mickey Mouse.

“I was joking about the zombies by the way but not Mickey Mouse although the Disney Corporation’s lawyers do a good job of keeping a lid on that one. Not exactly the kind of publicity they want associated with their theme parks.”

Ursula says nothing for a few seconds before replying. “I’m not sure if I approve of you lumping together the religious and mythical. Christianity has a tradition going back over 2000 years whereas the Norse sagas are...”

“Are just fairy stories,” I suggest. “Unlike the beliefs of established religions which are what?”

I leave the question and there is an awkward silence for a few moments that leaves me wondering whether I may have gone too far and Ursula is suddenly going to have to remember another meeting she needs to rush off to attend but then she shrugs her shoulders.

“Whatever,” she says, “but why so much activity around here in this Suffolk backwater? I’ve worked for most of my career in inner-city parishes, where there are thousands of people getting up to all kinds of wickedness and mischief but nothing like this.”

“Nothing like you’ve uncovered in these crooked counties eh, as Sherlock Holmes would have put it? Perhaps that’s true but just look around you. We’ve got prehistoric settlements, Druid ritual sites, Roman ruins, pagan Saxon burial mounds and some of the oldest Christian churches in the country. This is also the land of Queen Boudicca, the Sutton Hoo ship burial, Witch-Finder General Matthew Hopkins and M R James’ ghost stories.

“Your whole diocese is based on the veneration of a Saxon king, Saint Edmund the Martyr, who was ritually murdered by the Vikings. Is it surprising this place is a veritable supernatural smorgasbord of ancient mysticism, ghostly manifestations, paranormal energy, occult influences and both black and white magical forces. By the way, as part of your patch are you responsible for St Margaret’s at Hopton-on-Sea?”

“Yes,” she replies.

“It’s one of those diocesan
peculiars
dating back to when Hopton was still part of Suffolk, rather than Norfolk where it now is after the county boundaries were shifted. Archdeacon Mitchell Jaffa did explain it to me once. Anyway, that’s a digression, the point is have you ever stayed overnight in the Old Vicarage there? And if you have, I bet you had bad dreams.”

She shakes her head in disbelief. “How did you know that? Who told you? It was just the once and I had a horribly disturbed night’s sleep. One nightmare after another. But I put it down to the three-bean-and-chickpea vegetarian chilli con carne I had for supper in the village hall after a meeting with the churchwardens.”

I wince at her description of the meal. “That’ll teach you to give peas a chance! Of course it could have been nothing more than chronic indigestion but did you know one of the most powerful ley lines on the planet, the
Great Saint Michael Line
running from Land’s End to the North Sea coast at Hopton-on-Sea, cuts across the parish. In fact it runs straight through the most ancient part of the Hopton vicarage. The ley line follows the path of the Sun on the 8th of May.”

BOOK: Tomorrow's Ghosts
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