“Another sighting of Truman Becket’s ghost in the Hallowed Soul’s Churchyard. The iron bars of his sarcophagus were heard rattling even up at Burnt Tree pub Saturday night. This morning no less than five people saw a man in a black cloak walking across Soul’s Bridge as if on his way to church. Totally real, people. Burly-the-Wath is haunted!”
Alistair Jacques says: Are you stupid, Streeter or just high?
Tommy Grace says: Show us a photo or shut up.
Sam Streeter says: I’m not stupid or high and I don’t have a camera.
Dave Bogg says: Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change form and once Streeter gets on a topic it will only die when he does.
Alistair Jacques says: LOL
Ethan Unwin says: Tell me when you see Agnes Wymark’s ghost. Bet she’s hot.
Alistair Jacques says: LOL
Dave Bogg says: Perv
Sam Streeter says: Knob.
Tommy Grace says: Doesn’t he do this every year?
Dave Bogg says: St Becket’s Day.
Ethan Unwin says: Ancient history, mate.
Sam Streeter says: WHICH OF YOU ARSEWIPES JUST FRAPED MY STATUS?
Alistair Jacques says: LOL
Cat Woodhouse didn’t like loose ends. She stared down the loose ends as if, by sheer force of will, she could make them no longer be loose. But the ends rattled and, against her common sense understanding of physics, flapped in the chilly wind of the summer daybreak. That really should not be happening.
‘You shouldn’t be doing that,’ she lectured through tense lips to the loose ends who, in response, flapped defiantly back at her. She shook a warning finger causing her armful of bracelets to rattle indignantly.
‘Reckon that’s going to work, do you?’ Jenny Rowntree leaned resignedly against one of the yew trees lining the All Soul’s churchyard. ‘Shouting at iron chains?’
The two women gazed down at the crumbling arrangement of ancient stone. Dark moss and silvery lichen crawled across the surface, marring the most important grave in the Burly cemetery with a weathered rash. Iron bars surrounded the grave marker like rusted sentinels. Heavy linked chains connected the seven posts, their guardian arms forming a formidable barrier about the occupant’s final resting place.
Or, at least, they were meant to form a formidable barrier. Two of the chains now hung limply, arms broken, barrier compromised. Phantom fingers of dawn mist drifted in and out of the gap in the chains as if to further prove the point: anything could freely pass through. Mrs Woodhouse swiped and batted ineffectually at the mist with her unbraceleted arm then sighed.
The mist sighed back.
No, not a sigh. An exhalation of relief, as if the something or someone was able to breathe freely for the first time in ages. Mrs Woodhouse backed away, joining Miss Rowntree by the twisted yew trunk twined with tendrils of long-dead ivy.
It might have been the wind. It might have been her imagination. If so, Cat was not alone in imagining it. Jenny Rowntree’s sturdy, weathered fingers trembled as they scrabbled backward to grip the even sturdier, more weathered and wrinkled yew. The iron chains flapped more vigorously, almost cheerfully. Like ribbons in a girl’s hair or party streamers or banners—symbolic standards warning of an approaching storm or army.
Or both, thought Cat Woodhouse.
‘Never really believed, you know.’ Jenny Rowntree’s forced whisper so close to her ear made Eliza jump in surprise. ‘I were only doing it for me Mam. Carrying on’t family tradition. Thought it were all codswollop.’ Her Northern accent thickened with fear.
‘My mother would have agreed with you,’ Cat whispered back, clinging like a lifeline to her own refined, carefully learned, vowels. ‘But I believed. Eliza did too.’
‘Codswollop,’ repeated Jenny, voice rising. ‘If you really believed our silly trio made a difference you’d have gone to the girl night before last to tell her what’s what.’
‘You really believe I could have done that so soon after—
Another, deeper sigh punctuated by a wide beam of morning sunlight. It encircled the violated grave like a halo. Inside these hard shards of pale light, dissipating dawn mist congealed and swirled, almost tangible, rustling like swathes of fabric before rising up the shaft of light toward the sun. The sight terrified the two women, whose nerves were already stretched to breaking.
‘I thought we would have more time,’ confessed Mrs Woodhouse. ‘And I didn’t know how to tell her.’
‘Aye,’ agreed Miss Rowntree. ‘Be an awkward chat.’ She looked nervous, uncertain—two expressions seldom seen on the caretaker’s careworn face. She surveyed the grave with suspicious disbelief. It took less time than Cat thought. Jenny hadn’t thought it would happen at all. Yet here they were.
‘This complicates things, Miss Rowntree.
‘Aye, Mrs Woodhouse, I reckon it does.’
‘Eliza never did tell her about us.’
‘Not a sausage.’
‘Didn’t have time, did she?’
‘She had nineteen years. Long enough if you ask me. But it’s up to us now.’ Cat Woodhouse emitted a sigh heavy with burden.
‘Aye,’ puffed Jenny Rowntree.
‘We best be quick about it. The situation seems…’ Volatile. Complicated. Potentially catastrophic. ‘…vulnerable. Yes, that too. ‘Sooner is better.’
‘Aye,’ agreed Miss Rowntree.
‘She’s not going to like what this means for her.’
‘No. I reckon she won’t.’ Miss Rowntree exploded with laughter and Mrs Woodhouse glared. ‘Nowt we can do about it though. There’s rules.’
‘And we have no time to be diplomatic,’ Mrs Woodhouse concluded. She pushed back the bracelets lining her left arm in a gesture reminiscent of a woman rolling up her sleeves. It was all about to get serious.
Extract from The Many Beautiful Deaths of Miss Floretta Deliverance Hughes, a work in progress by Katharine Elmer