The church bell rung it’s twelfth chime and the sound was carried across the fields. The birds, mostly crows, sat on the branches of the tree, those leaves that were still attached were mostly brown and curled, hanging on with the most tenuous of connections, as if the leaves were using the very tips of fingernails to prevent their descent to the ground below.
The night was clear, the small clouds teasingly obscuring parts of the great constellations as if to protect those looking up from an over exposure to Orion and his belt. The moon, full and large, lit the ground, making the blackness almost velvet and giving each shadow a life and eeriness of their own.
Below that moon, bathed in this dark light, were the collection of stone markers to indicate those who had passed on; some standing proud and others mimicking those beneath by laying horizontally on the ground; the tombs and crypts for those with money to remember and mark those who passed on larger inheritences to their relatives. And in the corner of that graveyard, a large, open plot of ground – surrounded by rose bushes and carefully tendered borders – used now for sprinkling the ashes of the dead, but before as a place to bury those who could not afford a plot of their own. In this small hamlet, if you couldn’t afford a plot for yourself you were put there, with everyone else. Burials in this place had stopped many years previous – the gravediggers could no longer shift the turf without someone rising to the surface.
The last of the twelfth bell spread its message to the furthest visible corner of the land and all was silent. The crows maintained their vigil, until…
In the centre of that unmarked ground, movement.
In the centre of the area of the dead, a small patch of turf moved.
In that small area, a hand thrust from the earth, the grass beneath its fingernails.
The verger turned the key to lock the bell tower and hung the collection of keys on his belt. With all the metal locks that the church had, it clanked like a gaoler’s chain might – a comment he had made to the vicar one day after a Sunday sermon. “Well, our prisoner’s don’t seem to complain about conditions” the vicar remarked. The verger smiled to himself as he walked back to his little cottage. He didn’t mind ringing the bells – although he did wish that occasionally it was someone else that rang the bells between 9pm and midnight; he was quite enjoying ‘Folk Night’ at the local inn tonight as someone was teaching the group a bawdy little number ; although he knew the vicar would never approve out loud, his smiles when he had overheard the verger humming them to himself told the verger that the vicar could probably sing a few tales himself.
He turned down the lane next to the graveyard, and in force of habit, turned towards the graveyard and tipped his hat. “Good night all” he said “Sleep well.”
“We will” came the reply.
The verger stopped in his tracks. “William? Is that you? William Wilberforce, come out – stop playing your tricks and get back home; Molly will be wondering where you are!”
“Not William” came the reply.
“Oh come on William – it’s a good voice, but this is the fourth time you’ve done this now to me and I’m getting bored of it.”
“Not William. Pastor Evans.”
“Sorry, who? Did you say Pastor Evans? This is a good one – he passed on over a year ago!”
“I did” came the reply and a figure stepped from behind the bush. All the verger could see was the top half of ‘Pastor Evans’, the stone wall obscuring the lower part. The verger looked at the body. It was hard for him to decide if it was the pastor or not – the moonlight didn’t really light the face, and although there was something about the stance and head shape, something wasn’t right.
“Come closer, take a good look” said Pastor Evans. The verger felt a sense of bewilderment and without thinking stepped to get a closer look. The cold shiver of fear suddenly gripped him. It was the Pastor, but parts of his face were – well, not there – and there was black empty holes where his eyes were. The Pastor raised his hand – the clothes, now dirty and threadbear, hung from the frame and the verger could see that decomposition had started to flake away the skin from the bare bones.
“But…” said the verger.
“The vicar is not to be trusted” said the Pastor “I saw that he was conducting himself in a manner not befitting his position – having secret affairs with the local women and taking some of the collection for himself. I confronted him… and this is how I ended up.”
The verger listened. He knew that the vicar had been doing these things – so was it just his overactive mind, or was there something else going on here?
The Pastor continued. “Nothing can save me now, but I would like to lie in peace. You must bring the vicar here.”
“But it’s midnight” said the verger. “He won’t do anything until the morning.”
“It has to be tonight – this is the eve of my death; this is Hallow’s Eve. This is the vicar’s night of reckoning.”
The verger suddenly felt the need to comply. He hurried off towards the vicarage. Arriving at the door of the vicarage, the verger began banging heavily on the door. He heard movements out the back and rushed round to see a young lady running across the vegetable patch, the vicar furtively peering around. Quickly the verger rushed back round the front, just as the vicar opened the door.
“What is it man? You’ll wake the dead with all that banging!”
“You have to come quickly vicar, there’s been some damage in the graveyard.”
“And you want me to come now – really? It’s not like the residents are going to complain!”
“Vicar, please come. It’s not like I would run over here and wake you at this time on a whim – is it?”
“Oh alright verger. Let me put on a coat.”
The two men walked back to the graveyard. The vicar strode ahead, eager to get whatever it was over and done with so he could get some sleep. He strode purposefully into the graveyard, the low wooden gate thrown open.
“Come on then – where is it? What have you brought me out here for….”
The vicar’s face visibly paled in the moonlight as he looked across at the decomposing figure of the Pastor. He swallowed hard, then turned to the verger.
“What fresh Hell is this? Who would do that? Who is it? Wha.. wha..”
The vicar’s voice trailed as he saw the horrified face of the verger, his arm raised slowly to point past the vicar. The vicar turned to see the Pastor walking (or rather limping) towards him. Behind him, the skeletons and bodies of other buried people were crawling out of that earth. The Pastor’s bony, part shredded arm raised, the index finger pointing limply in the direction of the vicar.
“I promised that on Hallow’s Eve I would gain my revenge” said the Pastor. “It is Hallow’s Eve and you are here to observe retribution.”
“But you were such a religious man” replied the vicar, trembling. “Shouldn’t you be about forgiveness?”
“I’ve had time to… think about it.”
The vicar flinched as a disconnected skeletal hand gripped his ankle. Paralysed with fear, he could do nothing as more of these undead corpses dragged him back to that spot. The pastor continued as the vicar was dragged along the ground.
“I have decided that I would like to follow a Native American custom. They say you should not criticise a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes… mine are over there. Join me for a walk”
The corpses slowly returned to the ground, their death grip had taken the vicar so completely that he was as stiff and as lifeless the bodies would have been normally. The Pastor was the last to return to the earth. As he started to lay down, he looked at the verger once more.
“I will try to cover myself and my colleagues as best as I can, but I’m a bit of a dead loss sometimes. Graveyard humour you know; I’ll try for better next time. IF there’s a next time.”
The verger stood motionless and silent, staring at the ground for a further hour. He then slowly walked to the small shed in the far corner of the graveyard, unlocked it and retrieved a shovel. He walked back to the ground and carefully replaced the earth.
“Rest in peace” he said.
BTW – in case it gives you goosebumps, I forgot to tell Marcel when I set the scene…