A seasonal ghost story
I am well aware of the dangers of walking alone late at night. I do so by choice, frequently, most nights. This is because I cannot sleep. And I’m looking for someone.
If you are tempted to walk home after the bars close my advice is always call a cab, but avoid the horse-drawn Hackney that can sometimes be seen beneath the bridge in Glovers Court at thirteen minutes past three in the morning. I’ve seen it several times.
I usually start in Church Street. Some of its congregation hold the Minster in their everlasting affections long after their service is over. You may observe them if the moon is three-quarters and the clock is striking too slowly, as it occasionally does in the depth of night.
One such loiterer is the man murdered in St. John’s Place, a street that bounds the graveyard of the Minster. James Fell is harmless enough, but we must keep an eye out for his killer. Buck Beardsworth is a much more unsavoury character. He roams widely. Wherever you are now as you read this, he may be standing behind you.
There’s a rumour that Buck lies in wait inside the Hackney cab in Glovers Court. He wasn’t in there when I rode in it.
There it was. Its lacquered coachwork scuffed by careless customers, its wheels chamfered by cobbles and kerbs, its leather polished by countless coats, its door handle warn by ever-cold hands. I twisted that handle and climbed inside.
The horseman’s whip instantly snapped at the fog, his reins slapped the horses’ hide and the brace of steeds kicked away stationary inertia and thrashed out the moving kind. From that instant I saw only Victorian views, as we bounced and jolted over stone sets and ill-repaired roads. I hammered on the underside of the roof and shouted profanities at the coachman, but he ignored me and cursed the geldings towards a gallop.
His cab always comes back without a fare.
The horses raced at breakneck speed but, despite their supernatural strength, they had to slow as they scaled the incline to Gallows Hill where the English Martyrs church was being built. I took my chance and leaped from the moving cab, and fell to earth without pain or injury. I dusted myself off and stood, and by the time I had done so, the church was finished and the traffic lights had returned to red.
If you ever walk home that way watch out for cars and hope that there are some to keep you company, because if there’s none in sight a particular tram may turn up. You can smell the spark from the overhead cable. Don’t be tempted to take a north-bound ride. It only goes to the terminus.
I walked towards Fulwood, where she used to live. She is sporadically seen on Plum Pudding Hill I am informed, especially at this time of year, sporting a coat of holly green, with white gloves and a pheasant feather in her hat. I didn’t see her that night. I haven’t seen her in a long time.
I have it on good authority that she visits the Harris Museum, and I can understand why. It contains the names of some of those that she will have known. I’ve watched for her there many nights. Some say she even comes by day and they have heard the echo of her cough as she struggles to sustain correct composure. They claim to have felt the draught from her passing as she circles the central void. I think it is more likely that she stands upon the stairs.
I yearn for her. She’s looking for me too. I know she is. When she goes into the Harris Museum she will read my name. It’s carved in the wall.
I’ve told you this in case you should catch sight of her. If you see her, tell her I asked after her. You don’t need to say who sent the message. She’ll know. It couldn’t be anyone else. I hope.
Tell her: the twenty-eighth of December at the Parish Church. This time I’ll be there. Meanwhile I’ll wassail and wail with my fellow members of the unforgotten guild. Each of us has been untimely robbed. We’re sorry if our presence causes you distress. We want you to be happy. That’s why we went.
Enjoy yourself, and be generous while you can.
There’s no time like the present, and vice versa.
A longer version of this story was published in The Lancashire Evening Post on 17th December 2011 as a herald for the Guild Year of 2012.
More of my Christmas ghost stories can be found in:
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