My friend Yezall Strongheart for a very spooky cover to this new version of a well read story.
To friends old and new who have been there to urge me on in times I doubted my ability.
Last but by no means least to Ruth Slattery, Hazel Jackson and Mary Houlding for being there for me, when I doubted myself
This story is fictional. Any resemblance to people present of past is purely coincidental.
The story is the property of Alan Place and may not be copied or stored in any form without his written permission
Copyright of Alan Place 2012
The church of St. Andrew in Clevedon is known locally as Old Church
Before we start, I think a little history of the story would be in order as it has appeared in various forms over time.
Version 1- This was the story I sent to my friend Emma Oram at Vintage Script magazine, the idea was for it to go in the Christmas edition as a ghost story. Emma contacted me to say that my story had given her the idea for a special on line page for Halloween 2011. This version is only available from me, the one Emma edited and published is shorter by about one-third as it had to be cut down to fit the space available.
Version 2- Emma's edited version is available from me.
Version 3- This is the version available in “A Spooky Fall Harvest,” this was Emma's version that I sent to my friends Paula Shene and Gwen Steel and had to be toned down to suit the children's charity book mentioned.
Version 3 - Is available on line at my friend Yezall's free read pages
Version 4 - This adult version will differ from the others in many ways but still be based around the same church. Some of the changes are because of my changing style and some are for the different marketplace; where I have a reputation for telling good ghost stories. As well as the story, I have written various blogs on sites pertaining to the story and its history. This story is unusual for me as it is one of the few ghost stories that I have done; that has no real record. It is pure fiction.
The church of St Andrew’s which overlooks the harbour at Clevedon goes back to early Saxon times, and in those days, the village was a thriving fishing village.
It is known locally as Old Church, and from here, you can see up the channel to Bristol, down to Weston-Super-Mare and across to the Welsh coastal area of Cardiff to Swansea.
Birds were still in their nests and the hedgerows covered with a harsh coat of white as I walked along the path that runs by the old church, and along the edge of the steep rock face below.
This was the warmest day we had had for many weeks, so I decided to take a walk down to the beach.
Walking along what had once been the old river and was now a footpath, I ventured to the playing fields where as a teen my friends and I had watched Clevedon Sports FC play many a game.
The memories were still vivid of the players running the fields, and on the next pitches the rugby team played, the field so big it held two rugby pitches and the football pitch side by side.
Passing these fields, I headed to Wordsworth Road where my friend Mike used to live, many is the night in all weathers I had walked this route to see him. We had been friends since school days, and only parted when I was married and moved to Bristol, some 20 years after our first meeting.
The route I had chosen took me to bottom edge of Church Hill. As I walked through the gate used to stop traffic from entering, I could see the path up to the hilltop ahead and to the right of me. It is quite steep and from this side manageable but coming down from the old pillbox on top, can be treacherous even in the driest of weathers as the path is overgrown and narrow.
I stopped to look at the old harbour, looking just the same as it had done for many years, like a muddy inlet left to the elements. There were some boats rocking with the sway of the passing tide, and the chill winter’s air fair took your breath away as you turned to the inlet, the wind of the channel drawing on the cold water, and chilling to the bone. There is nowhere to sit down here, as tired as I was; it was a walk up the hill before I could rest awhile. I did get there finally, and was so grateful for the chance to sit on the bench.
The seat overlooks the sea, and has a beautiful view of the Welsh coastline opposite, the inlet to your left and the Church of St. Andrew behind you, with its graveyard looking sadder than usual in the drab grey of winter.
Sometimes if you sit and watch you can see ships heading both ways in the channel, but today the waters were calm and silent, except for the waves smashing on the rocks below me. The air was still and calm as I made my way back up the hill to where the pillbox once stood. Now just a concrete base, and down the hill a few yards were the remains of what used to be an anti-aircraft position—something that always intrigued me as it is of no strategic value, being too far from anywhere, and so easy to just leave alone.
After a while, I got up and was walking around the church. As I got to the corner to turn to take the path down through the brambles, a strange mist appeared from the channel. Being of a seafaring family sea mists did not usually bother me, they were something coastal peoples lived with in the early spring, or late autumn—but here we were in mid-winter and not acting like normal sea mist. This one was hugging the coast, not moving inland, or out to sea. And, I thought I could hear noises far off in the fog, like metal on wood. From my vantage point, I could clearly see the edges of the bank—it was moving inland then swirling out to the coast, but avoiding the sea. The bank was still many miles away, but as it moved, it seemed to be gaining speed.
The area around here is flat and boggy, crossed by the rivulets of the Yeo, with only about six or seven miles between the three—it was as if the fog was gaining power from contact with these rivulets, yet strangely avoiding the sea.
As I stood transfixed, it was some time before I noticed that not only was the mist a lot closer now, but it was moving over the marshland below me. The old port area was now in the mist, as it swirled around below my feet, it was as if I was inviting me to go down, but my feet were frozen to this spot, and wouldn’t move.
I just watched as the mist started to creep along the sides of the hill around me, the boats that had been moored there, now were shrouded in mist, and those noises, there they were again, definitely I could hear metal on wood, and the heavy splashes of oars in the water, then a silence.
Then the screaming began. I could hear the screams of women and children, men shouting at them to get the weapons… what was going on?
There were no signs of the boats as I went down the path, and although terrified of what I would find, I was not afraid of the people in the mist. I was more afraid for the mist itself, as it had brought them to me, or had it taken me back in time?
As I ventured down the path, I sensed changes around me, the boats were replaced by fishing boats, and the men were working hard pulling in the nets as the ladies gutted and skinned the fish.
This was a scene I had witnessed at many coastal ports, only this time I was actively involved, and we were in Saxon clothing. All was calm as the nets were pulled on board save for the calling that had gone with fisher folk for generations to help get the nets in.
I was the first to hear the muffled splash of oars. I stopped dead in my work, the men saw me, and wondered what was happening to me as I looked to the sea, now covered in a grey mist, which a few minutes ago, had not been far out of sight.
As I turned to look for the noises, I saw a flaming arrow land close to my feet. Being simple fisher folk, we had left our weapons of defence in the homesteads when we went out to fish and here we were stranded on the flat with homes far behind.
As the boats sped inland, arrows spewing everywhere, men falling all around, I ran to the nearest house and grabbed a spear, then turning to stand my ground, and await what this raid brought.
I was standing there in this battle with all going around me, and swords and maces crashing and breaking skulls open and yet nobody saw me, nobody tried to call for my help. One sword attacker ran to me, and swinging his weapon, he hit the man beside me, and yet totally ignored me, another passed so close I could see his hair flecked with the blood of the slain, and yet never did one attack me.
I could touch and move objects, and yet could not interact in this time with anything. I could reach out for something, and yet nothing could reach in.
This was frightening to me, as I could see people dying, and so wanted to help them defend their homes, and yet now I knew I was helpless, all I could do was watch and feel their loss as they were burned to the ground.
Then the strangest thing started to happen. The mist started to solidify, and it was as if it was physically pushing out to the church above. I could feel the urgency of the mist, as it pushed and shoved me along the path, and at times, I had difficulty keeping apace with its rushing forces.
As I came to what had previously been the near edge, the mist thinned and as if not allowed to enter, I was released with a feeling that I should go to check the church.
Slowly I walked up the path, flooded with worries as to what lay ahead for me. As I got to the door, I found it open and could feel the chill winter winds going through me.
Standing there at the door and not wanting to go in, the father came from the vestry to see me.
"Can I help you my son?"
"Father, this will sound weird to you I know, but please hear me before you judge me mad I beg."
"Go on my son."
"I stand here at the door to your church, having been caught in a mist, which either took me back to Saxon times, or brought memories of the dead and dying to me over the centuries. This mist had a purpose of which I do not know, only that I feel I was sent to you."
"I wont judge you, son, save to say the only mist hereabouts was the haw frost common in these parts this time of the year, and that has long since gone off.
As for having the feeling you have been brought here for a purpose, we are an old church filled with spirits of the past, so it IS possible you had an encounter from the past.
We do have a mystery though. Since this was built, there has always been a piece of stained glass missing. If you look at the bottom left of the window, you can clearly see one piece doesn’t fit, we just put that in to fill the gap, and stop the cold, but it is clear it wasn’t meant to go.’
I stood looking—the father was right, if you look hard enough you can see it is missing a piece. Then, as I looked at the floor by the window, I thought I felt something in my hand and when I looked, I saw a piece of stained glass. Looking closely I could see it was close to fitting the missing shape.
I took a stool from the vestry and held the piece to the window—it was an exact fit, and with a little jiggling, it went in. Then, even though it was dark and cold outside, a warm autumnal glow spread through the church, and as it lit up the nave, a shape emerging from behind the window.
It was me, in Saxon clothing, as I had been in the mists, and around me was a bubble to shield from harm as I walked out of the door and stood looking back at the church. I went on to look for the grave of a friend who died too young.
There she was, Judith Gray, died aged 24.
"What a loss", I thought.
As I went to the archway leading out, and walked back up the hill to have a sit and look out to sea.
It was then, as I was sitting, that I noticed a young lady standing smiling at me. It was Judy.
"Hi Alan," she said. "Why didn’t you ask me out?"
"Firstly, Judy, I never knew you were interested in me, and just as important to me, at the time you were Steve’s girlfriend, and I would never come between you.
It was only years later I heard that Sarah wanted to go out with me as well, but I was so shy and introverted I didn’t realise it."
"It was the shy, introverted Alan that intrigued us; we often discussed who you might ask out, and how we would react."
"I did like both of you Judy, but was just so unsure of myself that if you had made the first move, I would probably have been too shy to take it seriously, and probably done something stupid and hurt your feelings."
Then as if she had the answer she had wished for, and like the mist, Judy vanished.
We had no idea what replacing the tiny glass fragment would unleash, but we had the opportunity to find out soon enough.
The next day, I took my walk along the sea front to stretch my legs and get some air. This time I took the other route which led through the centre of the village and the shopping areas. This time I entered the beach from the far side of the Salthouse fields. Even from the distance of about a mile and a half away, I thought something may be wrong at the church. There appeared to be a darkening cloud massing over the hill, and a dark and brooding sense of evil. I had a feeling this may not be the same friendly church I left the day before.
In winter no bird sound should be audible, but in the wind I thought I heard a noise. Is this a high pitched call on the cold air? Walking across the icy field with the chilling wind stinging my face; the only sound was that made by my feet crunching in the frozen grass, “Only the frosted grass!” I told myself, even though I began to wonder, “I’m sure, the noises shouldn’t be this loud.”
When I viewed the old inn at the top of the hill, even from this distance; the empty swings moving in the light breeze reminded me of all the innocent young children who had played on them over the years. The dim light of the faded sun trying to penetrate the thick foggy atmosphere, but having no more luck than I was in convincing myself this is my imagination, and all would be well at the church.
Perhaps the lack of light around the churchyard caused the air around the church to appear darker than any other area? Maybe there some more sinister reason! Did I really want to know? I found myself being drawn slowly to the churchyard. As I viewed the large expanse of icy grass, there were clear signs, where footprints had barely broken the surface and the marks of tails which brushed the grass aside.
Slowly walking up the hill past the old inn, I was looking for people coming. Despite the time being mid-afternoon and the day being fine, yet nobody came into sight. For the first time I can remember, the two mile sea front walk was barren. I looked out to the Severn channel and saw hardly a ripple stirred the surface. The chill bite in the air took my breath away, but not as quickly as what would come in the next few minutes.
I took care to make sure of my step and kept an eye open for things which appeared wrong; I soon noticed the changes wrought by our innocent actions. The first thing which caught my eye, the strange sea mist had now covered the whole churchyard from the lichgate to the far walls; all that could be seen was the fog. As I stood at the gate, one thing had become clear to me, the terrible high pitched whine was now my constant companion.
Where only a few days ago had been the sight of ivy covered with a frosting of snow, now a skull took its place. “This is the sign of bad things to come!”I thought when I stopped at the gate. I looked over the wall at the churchyard, and saw what appeared to be movement on the grave stones, small creatures had crawled across the slabs, leaving trails of slime and dying skin particles in their wake. The slabs themselves appeared to have been moved in an upward and outward direction and now had the appearance of cracked teeth, from which crawled the most hideous creatures imaginable; the wretched beings had once been clothed in finery but now all that remained had turned to brown and faded shreds of cloth hanging from broken limbs. These creatures moved across the graves like a flock of lost sheep, some moved at an ambling pace as many bore the chains from prison work.
There was no sign of the Father at this stage, yet I could hear a familiar voice in the vestry saying “Lord, forgive us. We knew nothing of what may happen to your sacred grounds.”
Going through the yard and watching what the creatures were doing, I walked over to the church. All the time sensing something evil was about to happen, yet I felt this held in check for a reason. On my approach to the door to the vestry, I heard the whine change pitch and words came to me across the chilled air. The Father was saying a litany and desperation in his voice caused the high pitched tones. He got so desperate his prayers became automatic as his chants echoed around the small church.
I knelt before the cross as I asked him, “Father, what happened? Yesterday when I left the church, you appeared to be at peace; now your soul is in torment.”
With an ashen face, showing hours of praying, he said, “My son, what we did yesterday opened a door to an evilness we did not realise existed. I gather from your look and tone, you witnessed the vile creatures outside.”
“I did, Father.”
“I will ask you to take a walk around the church and tell me what you see is changing. Also, I ask you to listen and remember the sounds.”
As I rose from kneeling, I had no idea what the Father, but I wanted to find out. Walking down the aisle, one of the first things that I noticed was the change in the light, “The light quality has changed,” I told the Father, as I took in the darker light.
“You are correct, when we replaced the glass yesterday the light ambience altered. What we didn’t consider was our innocent action would alter a lock on the crypt.”
“I didn’t think the church had a crypt.”
He stood and bowing his head, he said, “Very few people knew about the under church feature. The church kept the knowledge a closed secret. Where you are standing is the top stair to an under church which goes back to early Saxon days. The men in chains you passed as you came in, are from a Napoleonic ship which crashed nearby. Fearing a raid, the locals had them chained up below here, and with everything else going on; they were left to rot.”
“What is the grinding I can hear?”
“Take a closer look at the grave stone at your feet and tell me what you can see.”
I was taken aback, but I glanced down. “There appears to be a small circular ring which appears to be swivelling.”
“You are correct again. When we replaced the glass fragment, not only did we alter the light here, but in doing so we changed the air pressure too which loosened the ring. The souls of the dead are now trying to get out from under us.”
“Don’t you think the science is a bit advanced for the time, Father?”
“We are viewing ancient people’s beliefs with modern sciences, my son. The people of the time probably thought dark magic held back the dead.”
“Father, I thought the church stands on hallowed grounds.”
“These days the church does, but it is only in recent times the vows of sanctity have been upheld. You want to remember, St. Andrew’s may be the oldest church, but the church is also the least used because of its remote location.”
I said to the Father, “Your explanation cleared a mystery for me. I had thought about the location of the gun emplacement for years, now I realise, the base is the air vent to an unused vault.”
Without a warning sound there was an unearthly screech and the ring at my feet span wildly.
“You had better escape while you can, my son,” the father called to me, “Run up to the church by the pier and warn them.”
I ran to the end of the aisle, to find my escape got halted by the sound of breaking bones. I turned to see a bony hand enclose the clergyman’s face and crush his head like a grape, his breath taken from his body; he collapsed in a broken heap on the floor and slid into the crypt.
I soon realised the Father was beyond help, my thoughts turned to getting out of the church. I took the last yards to the door of the church at a fast pace, without looking back I could sense the beings closing on me. I had reached the door and went to open it, when a bony hand closed it in my face, fearing a grisly death like the Father. I barged into the corpse crushing his frame on the door as I ran past. The yard was filling with the bodies of the recently risen corpses. The truth hit me, the Father’s prayers had been the only things holding them back, now they would be freed and I had to get out and tell the others.
When I started the run for the gate, I felt a leg hit mine, I stumbled as my assailants closed around me; they were waiting for the opportunity to rush me. They took their time having seen how I had knocked the others down easily, but knew the weight of numbers would be high enough to drag me down.
I opened the doors and ran out to the yard, I had been inside the church for a few minutes but the outlook had changed drastically. The sky turned black, not only because of the winter; this was an evil malevolence; the sky had turned not grey but black as the lightning tore through the clouds and hit the ground. With the power of the strikes the graves split open and released the dead.
I tried in vain to avoid the flailing arms and legs that appeared around me. I was doing well until a few feet from the gate a chain caught my ankle and dragged me to the ground kicking and struggling. As I looked at the craven image above the gate, the eyes appeared to glow and the lower jaw dripped blood.
I was fearful for my life and kicking like a donkey I could hear bones breaking all around me as I fought the creatures off. Yet, the more I knocked to the floor, the more came at me. Crawling desperately to the get, I got a hold of a lump of wood and heaved my body up. Then using it as a club, I cleared a path to what I hoped may turn to freedom from these terrors.
I had no time to think once I got passed the walled yards, my objective lay two miles away. I had to get to the other churches and try to warn them of the oncoming dangers. The shortest route is along the sea front. The journey would be up and down all the way, but this is the shortest journey. I left the church behind me as I turned onto the tarmac footpath, my sight became fixed on the path ahead and even though I could hear the chains and the groaning of the creatures in pursuit, they appeared in no hurry to get me. “What did they know; that I didn’t?”
I forced myself to keep going forward but failing energy and the sore ankle were slowing me down severely. Passing the end of the putting greens and with the bandstand as my target, I heaved my aching body ahead. On my arrival at the bandstand I crawled up the few steps and sat back against the wooden frame, trying to calm myself for the next part of the trip. I had lived here for many years and remembered this would be the hard section as it would feel as though I was getting nowhere because you are appear to be running and yet unable to find your goal, the target I had to achieve was to get to the sailing club. Once there, my goal would be in view.
Although out of breath and with my chest pounding, I set off again.“I considered why my pursuers hadn’t taken the time I rested to close in for the kill?”
The tide roared in and the waves crashed over the sea wall, making any progress very hard. I had to grab the railings along the walkway as I fought to make ground to the church on the rise ahead. I was getting slower by the minute and sure the mob behind would catch me before I got my goal.
The last two hundred yards is uphill, and with my aching body and I doubted I would be able to make the distance. The road was empty as I crossed over. I leaned on the walls and used them for a support as I pushed myself beyond my limits. I had got so close to my target, I must not fail to get there. At the far corner of the square, I stopped to get my breath and to think what I had to say, “Would they believe me?”
I was about to cross the road and go in, when the doors opened to reveal a bluish glow coming from within, as I looked at the Father, I could see his twisted face showing the same tormented spirit as the man I had left behind. I was sure I couldn’t go on, when I heard the most horrendous sound. I glanced at the Father, in time to watch as his chest split by an axe and his head turned as a gnarled face took a bite out of his body.