This isn’t going according to plan, thought Rory as he looked out of the boy’s toilets and up and down the long corridor. The bell had gone for lessons at least five minutes ago, yet there still seemed to be a constant stream of teachers marching this way and that; traffic he had definitely not accounted for. As he sat on his stool in science class not more than half an hour before — going over this very escape route — he was thinking more about the perfect way to spend the rest of the day rather than the getting out part. At the next bell, instead of going into his normal history lesson and suffer the in-yer-face shouting of Mr Rathsquire for not doing his homework, he was going to skip the class and bunk the rest of the day off school on an amazing adventure.
At the core, it consisted of smuggling in an old plastic flask full of booze he had stealthily mixed this morning; dribbling in a little bit of this and a large bit of that from his parents drinks cupboard whilst they were busy getting ready for work. The icing on the cake was that he was due to go and stay at his auntie’s house tonight to house-sit the dog while she was in Barbados; so no one would be any the wiser if he came home drunk at whatever time he so pleased. He considered that it had the potential to be a perfect plan comparable to anything he had seen go down on T.V. As for the intended destination, well, it would be a treat. He roughly decided to go out into the old Spinnery woods and explore; part of which, connected to the far end of the school playing field. The woods had always been a mystery to him and he was often daydreaming during the lessons; gazing out of the windows that overlooked the treeline. They were, in general, too far away from where he lived to go visiting outside of school time so they always retained their secret. For one reason or another, the school never made any lesson trips there and his mum once said it’s because the land was owned by a farmer who had died and that no one knew if it was still private land or not.
But it was not just the woods on his mind; Rory had again found himself marvelling at the potential perfection of the day as it also fell on another special occasion: the day of the crypt tour at St Michael’s church. The church grounds lay about a mile on the other side of the woods, standing on its own; secluded from anything close by except fields leading up towards the motorway and Spinnery wood leading back towards the school. It was a very old church and about once a month opened its hidden away doors for locals and tourists to explore the unique crypt that stretched out along its length directly underneath the building. A crypt tour! Rory could barely imagine the awe he would experience. By some fortune, they had visited St Michael’s as a family, only a month back and for a christening. It was then, whilst his parents were talking to the Vicar inside after the service, that he had seen the noticeboard in the entrance hall advertising the tour. He’d waited for his mum to finish talking and asked her whether he could go on the tour at which point he’d been told that he wouldn’t be allowed to do the tour until he was eighteen. His mum said it was because a young girl in a town nearby had gone on one and fallen over in the dark, splitting her skull open. Her parents had wanted a lot of money from the church afterwards, for hospital bills supposedly. Rory told his mum that wouldn’t happen to him but she said that she ‘didn’t make the rule’ and that was that.
Of course, he immediately ran to see where it might take place and found a battered stone staircase with slippery green moss hacked away to each side leading down to a shadowed doorway. In the depth of the shadow was a wide locked iron gate covered in flaking green paint with a big fat padlock fastening it shut. Rory had peered through the bars that day, seeing the light stop short very quickly inside and the darkness beginning to take over going deeper into a corridor. It was enough to spark the flame of curiosity that burned for the last four weeks. He decided he was going to sneak in after the Vicar had taken all the tourists inside and then when they were occupied — have a good look around in their trail. Maybe even give them all a scare for the laughs! Rory chuckled at the thought.
Back at school a month later and at the starting line of his escape bid, Rory heard the sound of echoing footsteps finally fade away in the corridors. He stuck his head out of the toilet doorway once more and, with a quick swivelling scan this way and that, launched himself into the hallway and towards the library — then the exit. No one, but no one, is in the library at this time of day, he reassured himself whilst running on the balls of his feet (stealth manoeuvre) down the corridor. Bolting past the library doors with his blazer flapping, he gave a quick look inside to see the lights on but no one home; not even the librarian. Yes! Rory carried on his near silent run past until he approached the double doors of the East wing exit. Suddenly, another door — a classroom door and opened close by. He heard its squeal cut through the air, freezing him to the spot. A moment of pause like a rabbit in headlights and he ducked into an alcoved cloakroom where the dining area lockers and coat pegs were based. From between a selection of particularly bundled coats and rucksacks, he peeked out seeing none other than the deputy headmistress — Mrs Harrin — stamping down the corridor She was clasping a fist full of white papers and a red register book; If he was caught now, he’d be skinned alive — that was for sure. The sound of her hammering purposeful heels faded away into the distance and without further hanging around — he shot out; barging against the first set of doors, into the gap in between, and then slamming straight into the next doors like a cannon ball.
As the fresh air hit his face Rory realised that he still wasn’t in the clear and he almost regretted the cannonball pounding into the doors; it had felt good though and he grinned as he looked for the next route out to escape the playgrounds. He was going to have to avoid the science lab windows, follow the fence along the entrance road, and sprint the last part until the end of the playing field. His heart was hammering as he hugged the wall with his back up against the orange bricks, feeling their rough surface under his fingers as he slid along. He ducked under one, two, three and then four long windows, catching glimpses of the tops of students heads and fluorescent orange strips lights as he wooshed past. All the while wondering if from some uncalculated vantage point someone was watching him do this strange bob and creep running — watching the crime in action.
It seemed like ages but in a matter of a minute he was away out from under the windows and enjoying a brief break from pressure behind the (smoker’s favourite) boiler house, placing it between him and any further prying eyes. He whooped and stifled a laugh with the back of his hand as he leant back against the black metal structure, already enjoying his freedom — then suddenly swore and cursed his premature celebration as a dark green Volvo pulled into the circulating driveway of the school. It gliding slowly round the u-bend entrance road like a shark on the prowl. Probably looking for a drop off point for some kid! he tried to keep this thought in mind but couldn’t help imagining that it looked exactly like a teacher’s sort of car.
He stepped out from the shade of the boiler unit and, running as fast as he had ever run, followed the boundary fence past the main playing field, then behind the goal of the football pitch; and finally on towards the tree line of victory. He prayed that the car’s passengers, who now would easily be able to see his lone bolt for freedom if they turned their heads, had other things on their mind. He didn’t like to think what sort of a commotion could be caused following a report of a pupil running full speed out of school towards the woods. There would be hell to pay somewhere down the line.
Rory made it to the wooden fence, swung his bag over first, and then swiftly climbed up and over and into the trees. He was safe. Now he unrestrictedly let out a ‘Whoop-whoop’, proud of the freedom he had actually secured himself and began to pick his way through the patchy waist high undergrowth; whacking the top of long weeds with the palm of his hand and looked on towards the trees stretching out in front of him which seemed to drop down into a small valley. He could see that the trees grew thicker the closer the middle and then thinned out again as they approached the church grounds rising up again on the other side. He could easily see the church tower pushing up out greenery that surrounded it.
As Rory continued to push deeper in and down into the cut, he started to whistle as he marched, the sound of bracken crunching underfoot and birds tweeting all around him. Just me an’ you guys my feathered friends, the rest of them are all in lessons! He breathed in the cool air, properly unwinding from the previous tension and thought to himself that he should do this more often. And the best was yet to come — the flask. What could be better than to have an opening swig of this magic concoction on his day out? He patted the bulge of the flask in his satchel with a smile on his face and considered he would find a place to sit down and make a shelter for his chill out — to appreciate the moment more.
The trees had become closer over him and knitted over his head so as to create a very shaded effect; if it wasn’t for low bubbling noise, he would never have realised a little stream was running alongside the main path through the woods as it was completely shielded with grass and unnoticeable in the gloom. It wasn’t long before he discarded the pathway (which he was fearful some interfering daytime dog walker might wander down) and opted to follow this little stream which had begun to meander away. It had meant crunching through untrod bracken and delving off to the North rather than directly toward the church but there was plenty of time to find his way back for the crypt tour that evening. He wanted to find a nice spot, somewhere where he could sit and enjoy an hour or two without fearing someone coming along and disturbing him or getting him into trouble later on by reporting what they saw.
It had become much harder to walk along the stream and Rory found himself dropping down the bank a little so as to almost walk in the stream on a gravelly patch of stones that ran along its length to one side. He guessed there used to be water on that side too at some point but it had been a particularly dry summer this year and he couldn’t remember the last time it rained even though it was November. This new walkway was pretty good, he was completely sheltered by a ridge of thick trees on either side that hid his travels down into the centre of the woods. He considered what the hell he would do if this stream bed walkway became water again but guessed he could always go back if he couldn’t wrestle with the trees to go directly out sideways. My fate is in the hands of the woods, he declared to himself excitedly.
After another half an hour of traipsing unhurriedly down the stream path, with gravel crunching under his school shoes, Rory came to spot where the water ahead looked lit by afternoon sunlight and on the right side of that, a ridge of lush green grass. Curious as to what was there, he quickened his step until coming around a small bend, he could see that it was a small clearing up in front that was letting in the light and was covered in the lush grass. The trees still thickly lined either side and, standing at the mouth of the clearing he saw they swept inland and curved in a neat compact circle around the small grove. From the stream and to the right the thick green lawn grass led all the way up to a large fallen tree log that seemed to divide the clearing in two. The log looked old, hollow and dead a long time. The branches, just like all the other trees, were thick under it and to its upright side so that it rose up at least five foot in height.
Rory climbed up out of the stream grabbing a tuft of grass for balance and springing up the side — then across the natural lawn, slinging his school bag down against the fallen log. No time to waste, he thought, plonking himself down into a curvy mud rut and pulling his bag to himself once more. He unclipped the top flap, lifted the opening and reached his right hand inside to pull out the worn out blue thermos flask that held his exotic elixir. Even with the lid closed, he could smell its heavy jumbled scent and he thought to himself that really, it was going to be disgusting. However, he knew its potency all too well and the warm fuzzy feeling that would follow was really funny and made him feel relaxed. He unscrewed the top and put it to his lips, suddenly getting a whiff of plastic and alcohol together and feeling his stomach clench shut as if to protest. He held his nose, a trick he’d learned so as not to taste anything, and tipping the flask high into the air — swallowed a big swig of his vile medicine. The more he could shovel in with fewer swigs, the better. He felt the familiar warm glow spread through his face after a minute or two and let out a loud sigh dropping his arms to his side and looking up to the bright sky as if he was sunbathing. This was his oasis. Suddenly, remembering something, he jerked forward and reached into his satchel pulling out his mobile. With some mild concentration on his face, as if he felt it would be impossible soon when the booze took effect, he programmed a playlist and stuck in his earphones; resuming once more the sunbathing position of bliss.
Rory lay there for a while, eyes squinted closed and lifting the thermos to his lips every now and again making sure to pinch his nostrils each time. After what could have been ten swallows, he put the cap back on and tucked the flask to one side before laying back to enjoy the music which had begun to sound really good.
‘Woooooah-laaaaaa-la!’ He belted out not being able to hear his own voice A minute or so later as the slightly giddy cogs in his head turned, he reacted to the remembrance that he was shouting and unplugged his earphones quickly. listening for half a minute and realising just how drunk he actually was now. That was fast! However, there was nothing but the trickle of the stream and occasional bird warble to be heard so he laid his fuzzy head back down again, pushing his earphones into his ears. As he did so, he felt a weird lurch in his head as he leant back and then very dizzy all of a sudden. A thought occurred to him that maybe he had a little too much too quick. He lay back and let himself flow with the music. Please don’t let me be sick and spoil the day, he begged his body, knowing he’d probably overdone it in his excitement and there was more in the pipeline to come. Noooo! As he lay there, eyes closed he felt the dizziness growing and growing, and after a restless five minutes of severe head spinning and trying to get a grip — he felt sleepy and in a few minutes had passed out cold.
Rory opened his eyes slowly. It was dark. Very dark. He was looking up and realised he was obviously lying flat on his back on the earth, feeling it cold underneath him. He could make out the black tops of the trees around the cut in a dim light that made the sky look like a grey blue circle surrounded by a dark border. The night air smelled of mud and rotting wood.
What is that noise? His head hurt and he still felt dizzy but far less and he was grateful for that. He removed his now silent earphones with a puzzled look on his face sliding his fingers down the cord to his phone and pressing the side buttons to get some life and light. Nothing. The battery was completely flat. Weird.
The noise was coming from nearby that was for sure. He strained and caught it once more on the air, loud and clear. It sounded like digging — shovelling to be precise. He knew that sound well from his dad working in his allotment out back of the house; he was always digging potatoes late on Sunday afternoon and the sound would drift up to Rory’s bedroom. Rory stayed completely still, feeling the yet strong remnants of the blasted booze he’d drunk and wondering if he moved would he be spinning again. His head throbbed and he lifted his hand up his forehead to rub it. He paused, hand still arched on his brow, and kept completely still whilst another round of shovelling started up again. He wasn’t quick enough to subdue the troubling thought that came next; It’s not normal for someone to be digging in the woods in the dark! Rory carefully lowered his arm so as not to make a sound and, still seated on the ground, raised himself upright slowly by lifting his body off the ground and pushing drawing his legs beneath him. A twinge of a headache hit him once more and he cringed, screwed his eyes closed and then carefully with as much concentration as he could muster, tucked his leg under himself then very quietly levered himself up to a standing position. His eyes had adjusted to the dark somewhat and now allowed the elements of the night sky to give a blue-grey gauze to the world. Enough light to find out what was there. Enough to get the hell out of there. The sound continued and from his new position, he pinpointed its location. It was coming from the other side of the log.
Holding his body close to the cold bark, he poked his head slowly up until it was above the log height and peered through the branches that bunched on the top side. There was a large triangular gap meshed with thin twigs but clear to see straight through. There on the other side of the log and in the middle of the small clearing — was a figure. He wore trousers and a jacket, and by his frame, Rory assumed with some certainty it was a man. He was stooped over with a long handle in a two-handed grasp which rose high behind him and downwards the other end, disappeared down into the ground. The sound he was hearing was indeed the flicking of earthy spadefuls; out of what must be some sort of hole and piled the side. Rory felt his heart slam in his chest and his mind straightened with a flood of adrenaline. I’m not supposed to see this, not supposed to be here. The man continued scooping and dumping mud for what seemed like an age then suddenly he stopped and jumped down into the hole, disappearing completely. It’s deep! After a few minutes silence, Rory wondered whether he had been mistaken in the darkness and looked behind himself to make sure the man hadn’t got round behind him somehow. Then, as quick as he’d vanished, the man reappeared climbing out of the hole and then turning back to reach in and pull out (with some effort) what looked like a dirty white sack. Oh please no! Rory’s imagination sabotaged him again. It could be anything, he reasoned with himself quickly but his mind was already screaming at him that it was exactly what he thought it might be. The man lumped the heavy sack out of the hole and up onto a platform that Rory had to just imagine was there as the white of the bulging sheet seemed to float about two feet above the ground.
With no rest, the figure jumped back into the hole and the same thing happened again. Another white sack dragged out and dumped beside the other. Rory stifled a whimper. Perhaps I can back out of here slowly and back down into the stream? Rory conjured the scene in his woozy mind’s eye and could only see himself stumbling backwards in the dark, branches and twigs cracking and crackling under his weight as he went and a massive splash as he hit the water. No, I have to stay here now. Stay hidden. The thick smell of creme de menthe mixed with rum and vodka and plastic, wafted up to his nostrils and his stomach lurched. Oh god no, not now. The last thing he needed was to be loudly sick. Rory clamped his mouth shut, feeling his teeth grind with the pressure and felt an ice cold trickle of sweat slowly travel down his neck. The figure behind the log had gone back into the hole for the third time and this time resurfaced with a considerably smaller white cloth-packaged bulk that lolled down at both ends and seemed covered with a large dark stain at one end. He was humping this one over his shoulder. A small body, the thought screamed out in his head and he cursed his own mind and the images that had started to congregate there. I’m getting out of here. As the man seemed to lower himself down into the hole for the fourth time, Rory stooped low to avoid detection for the second time that day and carefully edged his way backwards towards the stream bed.
Not quite sure how he did it, Rory managed to get all the way back to the stoney stream bed without falling or cracking anything underfoot. Fortunately, it was just grass and mud the whole short distance and he got down the bank using the tuft grabbing technique to lower himself and finding himself back to the gravel path once more. The problem he now found was that the way he came in was shrouded in pitch black darkness. The other direction, towards the church, however, was lit well enough to show where the stream path continued and in a straight unbending line. He opted for this and made his way along the path and out of the grove with surprisingly little noise under his rushing feet. He exited the grove on the other side to that he had come in and after several metres of a tree-lined stream, saw a crack in the foliage and the silvery shine of the moon strobing through. Rory didn’t delay — out of the grove and therefore out of earshot — he stepped into the stream with a plunging splash and wading across to the other side, ascended the bank heading straight for the break and following the moon’s rays. With some shoving and bending of branches, he managed to force his way through some still fairly thick undergrowth before emerging on the other side with scratches here and there on his arms and face but otherwise alright. As indicated by his beacon of escape, the moon had risen high in the sky and the thinning wood and scrubland were flushed with its dull light.
Back on the pathway and with a mind to cut short his adventure due to unforeseen maniacs in the woods, he back towards the school in order to run the whole way back to his aunt’s house if needs be. As he took the first step in that direction, he heard something on the night air and froze.
Very low on the wind but definitely something close again. Rory knew who it would be and his heart went into overdrive fueled by a growing hangover; and then directly in the pathway back to the school, he saw the figure of the tall hunched over man — right there in the middle of the track and level with the hidden grove about twenty metres or so away. He was so close that Rory was sure he had been seen and let out an involuntary moan as if he had wanted to say something to confront the man. The stooping man, however, looked occupied and without any sudden moves — trundled up the path towards him with what looked like a cart behind him. A cart topped high with dirty white lumps in transit.
Rory looked behind him up the path away from the grove and the opposite direction from the school. In the distance he could see light; faint but there in a soft haze above a boundary wall. It was the Church. The crypt tour! And then Damn! As he realised that he’d left all his things back there including his phone. Out of battery anyway, he thought sullenly and guessed that the tour must be underway and that he had slept for three hours. With renewed haste, Rory marched along, only holding himself from running because of the lack of light and treacherous ground strewn with rocks and brambles to trip. Even so, he had increased the distance between himself and the cart pulling man to about fifty metres and was making fast progress away. By the moonlight, he could just about see the outline of the mud path through the shine reflecting off flat ground and this way avoiding the dark rocks strewn haphazardly. Unfortunately, he hadn’t calculated for the mud, shiny as it may be for his guidance, it was also very slippery. The combination of reeling from the powerful cocktail he’d drunk and the surging need to get away down the lane, was working against him and his feet slipped this way and that on his lit footway. What was even stranger was when he turned to check how far the man was away it actually looked as though the man had gained distance even though his pace was far slower. It was the ripple from this shock that hit him and in the next step forward he slipped and went face first into a grass verge. He managed to put out his hands and felt immediate pain as they scraped along the invisible scree. He ended up in a bundle to the left of the path and pure fear saw him look back towards where he’d come from whilst still kneeled where he fell. The man was too close now. Rory could see that he wore a hood up over his head, or perhaps a wide brimmed hat. The moon seemed to shine off the material and his shoulders as if they were slick with wet. Rory whimpered once more and doubled his efforts as he scrambled back to his feet and back onto the path to the church. He wasn’t aiming for the treacherous shining surfaces now and let his feet find their places with wild abandon in a near run. Branches cracked and popped underfoot with the only other noise he heard being his panting breaths and of course, when he held it for a second, the faint creak of the wagon’s wheels as the strange man followed him up the path. Oh god, please let me get out of this alive! Rory made the sign of the cross on his chest which he had seen done once on a film but not whilst running at full speed as he was now trying. His hands stung and he was pretty sure they were bleeding. He could also taste blood in his mouth from the face dive and hawked out a big spit into the night as he finally came tearing up to the outer wall of the churchyard.
The old church wall was chest height and made from hard flint and stones jutting out irregularly. Rory had near vaulted many garden walls in his football recollecting days so even in the dim light he knew what to do and was over it in seconds. On the other side after lowering both feet on onto the cemetery grass, he looked back over the wall. Nothing. The man had disappeared. The path was empty as far away as he could see. He imagined he could make out the tree line of the grove in the distance too and everything was still save for the gentle sway in the wind. Rory held his breath and listened. Nothing. Save for the sound of that wind lightly clattering the rotten wood of the trees above him. Where’d he go? Did he go back? He didn’t wait to find out. The crypt tour was on and the vicar Reverend Edwards would be leading it inside. He would find him and call the police.
The entrance to the crypt was down on the nearest side of the church and Rory soon remembered the way to the large crumbly brick staircase that descended to its gate. A mixture of yew trees and gravestones shaded the weak yellow light from the electric lamp affixed to the wall just above the gate. He hopped down the steps and with his hands pushing against the walls either side for balance, he stood in front of the entrance. The gate was open, not wide open and fixed back, but unlocked and slightly ajar. The huge padlock usually there was missing. They must be inside still, Rory thought whilst pushing open the metal green gate and letting it bounce off the wall inside with a clang. As he went down more steps into the familiar corridor he had seen through the bars a month ago — he noticed that the last step had collapsed and there was a large hole down into a dark spidery gap beneath. He stepped over the splintered stone and hole, looking back at it in wonder but more interested in finding the vicar.
Dusty electric floor lights were lit all along the entrance corridor into the tomb and Rory felt relieved to be in its glow despite the cold clammy atmosphere of the crypt. He thought it strangely quiet in there for a tour to be happening but they were most likely right inside and if so, that’s where he was heading as soon as he could. Stretching out an arm as he walked down the corridor, he traced his fingers on the dusty brick wall of the tomb and feeling the freezing surface beneath. He turned right, then left and then right again, still following the plain corridors until eventually seeing that there was a well light room at the far end. As he approached he realised that this was the main atrium that followed the size of the church’s hallway above.
Rory rushed out into the room and called out,
There was no response and definitely no one in sight. He looked around him at what was a large rectangular room with three set niches along each side wherein lay separated family tombs in rows. Weird, he thought, Like the lockers back at school. Rory once heard in history class that the rich of the town were the only ones to afford and be allowed to be buried in church crypts. Something to do with being closer to god. He never could understand why having more money meant that you would be closest to God — if there even is a god. There were nine family tombs down there and on the furthest side under the pulpit upstairs, what appeared to be the largest and traditionally laid out tomb; a huge stone carved coffin, and featuring a large ornate slab as the cover. Rory considered how rich you must be for something like that but the real pressing question was — where the hell is everybody!
He was about to turn and go back up to the church when a fizzling *bzzzt* sound filled the room and the yellow electric crypt lights went out completely leaving him in complete darkness. ‘Hey! I’m down here!’ he yelled. Dim pools of moon light falling in from the basement grates along the edge of the church were now the only way to see where he was. He panicked, They’re leaving! Even the grounds lights that he had seen from afar had been turned off outside. He walked back towards the last and nearest wall and began to feel his way along each of the three tombs niches of the main atrium following the dim light of the outer rim and heading back for the winding corridor towards the entrance. With much shuffling and careful footing he managed to work his way out of the chamber and round the first bend of the corridor but just as he turned hears a loud slam and what is definitely the entrance gate is closed and quickly followed by a click of a padlock. ‘Hey!’ he quickly yelled out ‘Hey i’m in here!’ and heard the echo of his wavering voice travel up into the darkness in front of him. Cursing, he picked up his pace and stepped blindly into the dark of the curling corridor mechanically putting his feet one in front of the other, trusting the wall as his guide. There were no lighting grates in the corridors and for a minute or two he was in total darkness. After feeling another bend which meant he near the final corridor, a light begins to glow in his pathway and he rounds the final corner to see moonlight coming in through the gate slats and stretching up the corridor towards him.
Rory ran forward and, hopping over the gaping broken step, slammed himself up against the gate — shaking it and calling out at the same time.
‘Hey! Anybody? I’m down here!’ he cried out into the night air beyond and listened hard. The graveyard answered with only the wind scattering loose dust on the path above. Rory felt his fingers down the icy bars to the slide lock where his heart sank as they encountered the big chunky padlock he had seen. He never imagined he would get locked in. He felt so stupid. What’s more his woozy brain was beginning to remind him the urgent reason he had escaped down there in the first place. Then as he thought of this, he remembered he had been yelling — a lot. He slinked back away from the bars and let the darkness envelope him out of the way of the infalling pool of light. If he’s out there, then i’m safe down in here. He moved slightly back into the tunnel. It was obvious to him now that he was going to have to sleep in the blasted crypt overnight, something that he definitely wasn’t O.K. with but considering that his only other option was to yell and try and draw attention to himself, he decided it was the better option. That man, out there somewhere was definitely not someone he wanted to summon. He let himself slump to the floor feeling tiredness hit him all of a sudden as the adrenaline began to leave his system. He sat with his back against the cold wall of the corridor and pulled his legs up close to him; his knees under his chin so as his jacket could embrace them too in a warming cocoon. It was really cold down there. He tried to ignore a fleeting image of a frozen boy being discovered the next morning with icicles on his nose; the vicar trying to prise him away from the wall. However the warmth of his jacket was enough and slowly made him sleepy and, though he kept a slitted eye watch on the gate for some time, he eventually dozed off.
Little more than an hour later, Rory found himself gradually opening his eyes. Something had disturbed him. Still wrapped up in his jacket and pulled up against the wall, he realised that he had awoken because there was a light in the hallway. He opened his eyes wide to check if he was seeing right and confirmed that the walls of the corridor seemed to be lit with a wavering light glow. It’s coming from inside! He quietly threaded his arms back through his jacket armholes and gently manoeuvred onto his knees ready to get up slowly. He was now looking directly down the winding corridor and saw a plain white glow lighting the far wall and coming from around the first corner. Turning to look over his shoulder at the still very much closed gate, it was definitely lit from the inside and he could make out the green vertical bars and golden padlock still twisted at an angle as it had been last time he checked. Between these, the outside was nothing but the black of the night made even more so by this new internal lighting. Weird. He had a bad feeling about this — how could someone have got past him whilst he was in the corridor and if they did, why did they not wake him. Whatever the case, he realised the only thing he could do was to go and find out who and what was there. He brought his feet under himself and slowly stood up barely making a sound then following the corridor to the corner where he expected to see the floor lights lit up but when he actually poked his head around the source seemed to leap to the far end again.
Curiosity and the remnants of alcohol in his system overrode his fear and he tentatively wound his way back inside, along the corridor once more and into the main room where he stopped still in astonishment at what he saw. All along the whole of the back wall of the main atrium room there appeared to be rows of candles blazing on candle stick holders that had definitely not been there before. What’s more, the holders seemed to be resting on top of blocks of grey shapes that looked like wood but seemed to finish about midway to the ground and turn into darkness. He reached a hand to his face and rubbed his hand down, needing the feel of his own flesh to remind him that he wasn’t dreaming.
‘Hello? Is there someone here?’ he called out trying to hide the renewed fear from his voice.
As before, the room looked empty and save for the pale light flickering from the strangely long candles, nothing moved and all was quiet. To be sure, he stepped slowly down the middle of the room towards the far wall of candles stopping level with each of the family tomb alcoves and looking left and right to make sure no one was hiding in the dark crevices there. Please let there be nothing here. He felt the relief wash over him as he reached the final alcove and was sure it was clear. With so much looking to and fro to his sides, he suddenly found himself right in front of the large stone coffin at the far end of the crypt and the large row of strange candles sat back along the wall behind it. They had a weird fuzzy sort of look to them that made him feel uneasy. Something about their colour wasn’t quite right like it had leaked away to a washed out version — or faded from being in the sun too long. They actually looked like something from an old film and he rubbed his eyes trying to clarify the slightly fuzzy picture in front of him. Of course, he knew he could physically climb over the short iron barrier, round the stone coffin and go right up to them but he decided to stay where he was. He reached out his arm instead; extending it gingerly as close as it would go towards the nearest set of flickering flames. Straining as far forward as he could without toppling over the shin high barrier, he found his fingertips about a foot away from the nearest flames and the strangest thing occurred to him. Stone cold. He withdrew his hand and stood back a step taking in the whole image once more while he thought about that. There was no heat coming from the candles. It was then that he thought of something and chuckled. The tour! The vicar is probably doing something for effects. He spun his head around to look if there was a projector or something. He had once seen on TV that they projected a dead hip hop star onto a stage to perform a song and remembered it was amazing to see — so real. He looked up into the corners of the chamber but saw nothing. He shrugged his shoulders and turned back to the eerie display. At least I have light now. The relief was short lived when, from the corridor behind him, he heard a short sound like debris being scraped over the floor. Was that me? Rory looked down at his feet and confirmed to himself that he had not shuffled them. Even so, he strained his ears to listen again and not long after the sound repeated — this time longer. It was the sound of something being dragged on the floor.
The hairs on the back of Rory’s neck started to rise involuntarily. Reverend Edwards? There had been no sound of the gate being opened or closed. Rory waited still on the spot in front of the stone coffin, waiting for some further indication; perhaps it was an animal squeezed in through the bars. The dragging sound came once more this time immediately followed by a thump and a grunt. A human grunt. Instinct sent him looking for somewhere to hide fast and he chose an alcove on the left of the entrance so that if anyone entered the room, the hiding space would be behind them. Whoever it was they were definitely coming closer; the sounds were getting louder. He crouched deep in the shadows with his back against the horizontal stone shelves where he knew human remains lay in lead coffins. A nagging feeling in his mind held him on the edge of admitting to himself what he feared most and as he crouched there waiting, hoping, the room itself seemed to glow brighter. The candles seemed clearer, longer and gleaming white and their flames began dancing and flickering as if a wind was blowing them all around when there was none. Rory held his breath as he heard the first footstep slap down on the stone floor of the room and as soon as he saw who and what it was he realised his worst fears were true. The man from the woods was down here and he had brought his cargo.
Now within a few feet of him, Rory saw four white sheeted lumps which had to now be called what they obviously were. Bodies. To his further horror, the white fabric that looked so pale and dirty under the moonlight revealed to be covered in dark crimson stains that could only be blood.
Rory shrank back into the shadows as far as he could go, stooping his head forward so as to get himself further away into the lowest of the alcoves and feeling his back touch the coffin there and a little dust trickle down his neck. He clamped his mouth shut and only let small inhalations through his nose as he watched the man untangled a large rope that bound the bodies together. As each came free, the man laid them out in front of the stone coffin. When he did so, a waft of a rotting stench hit Rory’s nostrils, his only source of breath now, and he felt himself begin to gag. The candles burned like small suns above the stooping man and reflected in Rory’s wide eyes as he hid there paralysed and staring out from the darkness. The man was on his knees and upright facing away from Rory, framed by the wide arc of blazing candles on the wall behind the stone coffin and the light seemed so bright that it soaked him and the four dead bodies in the same greying yellow colour scheme. Rory watched as the man placed his arm into his jacket and pulled out something. It glinted in the candlelight showing a large flat rectangular metal surface as he raised it high and swooped it low and deep into the first sheeted cadaver. The cleaver kept raising and swooping and raising and swooping until the first body, the largest of the four, had been decimated. Rory thought with no question now, if he was discovered, he would die.
As if hearing this thought, the man paused, bent over the pieces as if resting for a moment, then slowly got to his feet and walked over to the main stone coffin. He then leant over to one side and pulled out a long tool that scraped on the ground as he did so. At first, Rory thought it was the shovel from earlier; then, as the man stood upright, he saw it was shorter and curved at one end which, as he watched, was placed at an angle to the stone coffin lid. With a low growl that sounded like a drain being unblocked, the man then leant on the tool with his weight and slowly the lid of the stone coffin moved with a loud scrape, an inch at a time. When he had cleared a sizeable enough hole he stooped and gathered an arm full of body pieces, then tossing them into the open coffin. After the severed limbs were thrown in he began his grisly work on the next bodies finishing with two smallest ones. Rory for the first time saw a glimpse of the flesh underneath as the sheets as fingers, feet and stumps were uncovered. Rory was so scared that the only thing he allowed to move was his thumping heart racing and the soft trickle of oxygen keeping him alive through his nostrils. Eventually, the man pushed all of the pieces into the coffin and turned once more to pick up his lever from the floor to complete his task and lever the lid back on which he did with as much ease as when he opened it. He then bent over to place the bar on the floor and pick up the cleaver but he paused with his hand on it. The man froze to the spot as he was there stooped — so that Rory could see the top of his head and matted hair. Then, slowly, he lifted his head up and let out a rattling breathy gargle that sounded like ‘Oo’s Dere?’. For the first time, Rory saw his face. It was long and withered. The skin was dark purple with yellowing round eyes crisscrossed with red veins. The man’s mouth hung open loosely and a black tongue stuck out at a weird angle. The bulging eyes were now looking straight into the dark exactly where Rory was sat.
Well after a night of pure hell, this was the last straw. Rory felt a surge of energy burst through his body and with an involuntary wail of fear he burst out from his hiding place and into the corridor without looking back — hoping for his life that the gate would be open. As he ran he saw that it was once more pitch black in the corridor and no light lit the way yet regardless he cannonballed once more that day into the corridor and tracing the wall followed the way round heading directly for the way out as fast as his legs would take him. As he entered the final corridor he was sure he could see the gate was open and flew like he’d never run before, so fast he completely forgot about the broken step and lost his footing in the hole, crashing headlong into the higher steps with such a force that he knocked himself clean out.
When daylight came the next morning Rory awoke to find himself on the floor at the bottom of the steps, the gate open and Reverend Edwards standing over him making very surprised noises of ‘What the…’ and ‘How on Earth..’ The Reverend had quickly picked up the very disorientated lad and helped him to the rectory office, sitting him on a seat and giving him a cup of tea while he called his parents. When the Reverend asked him exactly what had happened — how he had got in there, Rory spilt out his story with such conviction that Reverend Edwards was picking up the phone once more to call the police. He asked Rory if he was telling the truth as he was sure he smelled alcohol on the boy. Rory swore to him that it was the truth and because of the genuine fear that Reverend Edwards saw deep in Rory’s eyes, he was inclined to believe him in that moment.
Over the next day, the police investigated the claims and went out to the grove. What they found there was undisturbed earth within the whole area, a run down smartphone with headphones and a large plastic flask partly filled with a very potent mix of spirits. They put two and two together and on hearing from the Reverend that the crypt was as it always had been chalked it down to a boy’s lark. Of course, they also found out Rory had bunked off school that day but they dropped any further investigation and only gave Rory a warning for truancy — though his parents took the incident to a whole new level and Rory was grounded for a very long time. He never did go back to the grove to see for himself, nor the crypt for that matter. He went on to avoid alcohol for the rest of his school years and stayed in school very mundanely but content until he went to University to study History four years later.
It was only Reverend Edwards, who after some thinking about Rory’s tale, kept his interest in the events and delved into the local archives. Much to his shock, he eventually found a story about a family in the 19th century that went missing in the local area. A family of four, a man and wife and their two young children. It told of a tale that rumours led locals to believe that there was some link to the local graveyard keeper as he was said to have been in love with the other man’s wife and a terrible mystery unfolded where the family went missing. Despite the absence of their bodies, the graveyard keeper was found guilty when they discovered bloodied tools and rags. They hanged him from a gibbet at the crossroads in the woods between St Michael’s church and the school.
After reading of this, the reverend’s curiosity is peaked. Disbelieving of what he is about to do, that very evening he goes down into the crypt with two large levers loaned to him from one of his parishioners. When he eventually managed to prise up the lid of the big stone coffin and slide it back far enough, he pointed his torch inside and saw not one skull as should be for this grave, but five skulls and atop a considerable mound of bleached white bones. The murdered family had finally been found.
By Alexis Hooper