Do ghosts know they are ghosts, or is it just an observer that sees the truth? Walk a while with Jake and decide for yourself.
Not a new post, but a revisit to an older one. It is Halloween after all, and I unearthed a new (to me) blogger asking for short stories or extracts that might suit the occasion. Something to read while the tricksters visit in search of candy.
Jake walked on. It was close to midnight and a Hunter’s Moon hung on the horizon. An enormous cyclopean eye, casting an orange hued gaze over the ancient road he trod. Long buried beneath the passage of time, linking two deceased waypoints on an even longer trail to places lost in antiquity.
Trees lined parts of the route, some already dropping autumnal foliage to add to the layers. Bedding the ancient thoroughfare into a deepening tomb. They added atmosphere. Part skeletal branches, silhouetted by the all Seeing Eye, moving in the wind waiting to snag an unwary soul and pull them under the earths to lie with those that, in another time, marched this route.
But, to what? A town or maybe a battle. Perhaps one that silenced this road forever. Jake reasoned somewhere back in time someone must have walked the same path on the stone causeway that now lay interred by the overgrowth and worm turn of centuries and, that at some point, someone also did it for the very last time.
He watched mist beginning to overlay neighbouring fields and scale mounds, or interrupted hedgerows that delineated his path. The battle wraiths returning to the road to make the long journey home. He shuddered, maybe a nocturnal adventure was not such a good idea. All he could think of now was the last march on the subterranean stones. The noise of feet striking the ground, the clatter of armour or sheathed swords and the banter of warriors, as they moved ever onwards. He could even smell the sweat of men baking under a searing sun, and the unsung anthem march on for inglorious death awaits. Hairs sprang up on the back of his neck. The wraith mist curled around his feet and the Cyclops looked on.
A sound broke his reverie and he paused to listen deeper. Nothing stirred, save the wind stroking the leaves of a nearby oak that stood proudly, overseeing this stretch of road. Some of it’s summer clothes fell into the mist. Across the fields to the left a fox barked from beneath the fog screen. Settled, Jake began moving once more.
There it is again, he thought, but closer.
This time he was sure. Footsteps, he could hear footsteps behind him. Old ones, for the footfall on today’s grassy terrain would not resonate the same. He slowed down, expecting whatever was behind to carry on. Disturbingly, it matched his pace and even ceased as he came to a standstill, taking stock. Perspiration beaded on his forehead. The urge to look back grew, but his eyes rested firmly on the mist ahead.
Unconsciously, his fingers flexed, curled into fists and opened again. His palms moist despite the cool night air. Inside adrenaline flowed. Ghosts and wraiths washed over the landscape, the Eye laughing at him under a cloudless sky. Jake set off again and the sound behind followed, twinning him stride for stride. He panicked and whirled round, ready to take flight. Mist greeted his eyes, along with an empty bygone thoroughfare. He walked forwards.
“Is anybody there?”
An owl hooted from the guardian oak just passed. In front of him emptiness stretched back into the mist, illuminated by moon glow and shadow. His own exhaled breath, chilled in the night air, added to the fog. In the distance a farmhouse light twinkled like some lighthouse beacon surrounded by sea fog.
What is it warning of? Jake’s mind was questioning.
He took five paces forwards, and behind five steps followed. This time it took several minutes to swallow the lump in his throat and try to wrest control of a heart that was beating way too fast and loud. He could feel it in his ears. Somehow he knew turning was irrelevant. All that would greet his eyes would be the misty relic of road, extending ever onwards betwixt the parallel boundary hedgerows defining it’s route. Fear crawled upwards from his stomach and sharpened his mind. The night was awake in his head. The fox barked again, and another answered. He could smell the moist earth and see the skeletal branches ominously reaching out. Sounds beyond the fox lay dead under the blanket of ground fog. Even the lighthouse beacon blinked out, suffocated by the mist.
He turned nevertheless. The road was as he envisaged. Jake guessed he had less than a mile left before reaching his goal. At the end would be the Royal Oak Coach House and Stables, a room until morning and, perhaps, something warm to eat, and an ale. The doors, he was told, never shut by day or by night; lying in wait, as it did, on a cross roads for weary travellers.
He continued on his former route for several minutes, before his heart banged louder as the footsteps returned. This time they were closer. He began to run. For a time space grew between the unseen follower and running man. His breath became laboured and ragged. Looking over his shoulder was the mistake a skeleton tree was waiting for. Out of the mist a branch reared and Jake’s temple ran square into it. Dazed he fell under the fog blanket and onto moist wet grass. The stone footsteps ran nearer, out of synchronisation, as if knowing he was downed.
Groggy, he stood up and felt a sharp impact on his back. Shocked, he looked down and his eyes greeted the front end of a blade. He tried to draw breath, but heard only gurgling as blood filled what remained of his lungs. In his eyes the fog in front grew deeper and deeper, joining the mist in his eyes until all was one, and another light went out in the darkness. Déjà vu was his very last thought.
Across the field on the right, Allan and Joseph Carmichael looked at each other in wide eyed amazement. They sat in a purpose built cabin, on a track that led to the rear grounds of the Royal Oak. Locally, it was called the ghost walk, and something the publican had tapped into after the bizarre incident of manifesting Victorian letters, personally addressed to one of his patrons. A few choice press releases and the paranormals had, more or less, set up in residence.
“Al, did you just see that?”
“Are you referring to the spectral chap that just got murdered on the old road down below, or the barking fox that just legged it toward the river from whence this accursed mist originates?”
Allan rolled his eyes. “The fox obviously.”
“Ah, then no, I was fixed upon the transpiring murderous activity and villainy we came here to witness.”
Their tones were quiet, disguising the fact that both were deathly white and somewhat rattled by the events that ended the days of the traveller who, unknown to them, had been called Jake.
Joseph put a trembling hand on his brother’s shoulder.
“You were right Al, the Hunter’s Moon at this time of year is clearly the key.”
He was remembering the research that first gave them the name of the Oak. A very long standing ale house stretching far back in time where it served as a waypoint for horses and travellers alike. Tales of a lonely traveller, murdered one night on his way down this very road. Once a year he was to be seen wandering the old right of way, trying to identify his killer. Reliving the journey under the watchful gaze of the orange Eye.
It was Allan that had linked dates and descriptions leading to this very eve, when the Hunter’s Moon grew full, casting it’s gaze straight down what remained of an ancient highway.
The paranormal brothers were staring at blinking lights on two recording cameras. One capturing the visible spectrum, one not. It was the latter that held their attention. Allan broke the silence
“Do you think it recorded anything?”
“Given our usual good fortune, I strongly suspect it holds evidence of the nocturnal wanderings of a fox, and not the events that transpired on the dead road.”
Allan noted the choice of words, dead road in more ways than one Jo.
Overhead the cyclops looked on, as it did every year, watching Jake take the last ever walk on a road that fell into disuse centuries before the paranormal brothers found life.
For those of you that have read this before I do apologise. Since posting this there may be other people that missed it or didn’t have time to read. I know life is busy and it’s not always easy to read everything that hits email or reader notifications.
For those that are new to this, it is part three of a longer series that grew into eight (to date). Chronicling the exploits of the Carmichael brothers as they try to unravel the secrets locked inside a marsh.
© G Jefferies and Fictionisfood, 2016. All rights reserved.