I'd been hiking through the hills in the north for most of the Spring day and as evening approached I had still not reached my destination in a village some three miles away. As the mist and heavy drizzle appeared out of nowhere, I spotted an old building through the damp haze and decided I needed some shelter, perhaps someone was there to give me some respite and I could make myself a cup of tea with my portable stove and kettle.
I clambered over a stile in a barbed wire fence and walked briskly across some earthworks that indicated a settlement had been there in medieval times. As I approached the building, to my astonishment, it appeared to be a red brick church and desperately in need of repair.
As I was a fair way from my evening destination and with dirt tracks and old war-time concrete single track roads to navigate, I decided to see if I could get some relief from the penetrating damp by trying the heavy wooden weathered oak door. It swung open with a groan and the sound echoed round the building. A single bird fluttered in the rafters above my head. As the fluttering died away, there was no sound at all; even the ravens and crows outside had stopped their raucous noise. I shivered, probably with the chill damp and set about making a cuppa.
The church just had one main room. The windows had no glass and a few old wooden pews were smashed and piled up in a corner. Roof tiles, debris and signs of vandals were all about. I thought I saw a movement with my peripheral vision in the dark corner near what looked like a small vestibule. I walked over to the six feet by six feet room and being careful against the uneven rubbish strewn stone floor found nothing there except the bell tower above me minus any bell or rope; probably stolen I thought. A noise from behind me I cannot describe accurately made me jump; it was a mixture of a breath of wind or a moan of breeze in the rafters, yet as I looked out of the arched window, the mist shrouded trees outside were still.
I went back to the steaming kettle and poured the water into the mug. My mind was wandering thinking about getting into a nicely made bed after a hot shower when I heard a blood curdling scream followed by a massive chorus of bird calls and flapping in the trees outside. I stood up and my heart was pounding and I struggled to catch my breath. Perhaps it was an owl or other bird calling to a mate. The church grew dim as the evening drew in and the dark mist enveloped the surrounding countryside. I was actually shaking - the noise had unnerved me. Stupid man; I tried to drink the tea but my shaking hand spilt the hot liquid down my front.
What happened then I cannot explain. The sound of a heavy door slamming shut roared round the building and reverberated in an echo for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only a few seconds. Almost immediately the noise faded, a bell began to ring, quietly at first, growing in intensity and volume until it started to hurt my ears and I shouted out loud - just making a noise, a loud noise, any noise to frighten off whatever was there - I probably screamed as much as a man can scream to be more accurate and I took to my heels. I stumbled though the open doorway and ran blindly across the sodden grass tumbling head over tip into the wetness; I got up with drizzle in my eyes making it difficult for me to see and I scrambled to the fence and cut my leg badly on the barbed wire and ran as if my life depended on it despite the deep bloody wound. I didn't look back even though I'd left all my damn gear in that place.
After a few minutes, I slowed down and a shadow began to emerge from the heavy mist in front of me in the middle of the concrete road. It was an old boy dressed in typical drab country garb with a cap to protect him from the damp and a walking stick. He politely bid me good evening and asked if I was all right. I managed to get my breath back and although my story was laboured through trying to get enough air in my lungs, I told him what had happened at the church. He listened patiently, without interruption.
I finished my tale and felt exhausted. He looked at me askance and smiled. After a while he said thoughtfully, "You must have had too much of the local brew my friend. The church ain't been there some seventy years. It was struck by lightening and caught fire one night. Killed a young woman it did." He paused. "My sister Betty it was. Church were so badly damaged they bulldozed it."
He wiped his damp cheek with his jacket sleeve, tipped his cap to me and walked on. I stood and watched him amble slowly toward the direction of the Church until he disappeared into the swirling dense mist.
Dear reader, that church WAS there. I WAS in it. I DID hear what I heard. I am NOT mad; although strange as it may seem (and I can't explain this either), I can't find the scar that the barbed wire fence made on my leg.
(pictures and words intellectual property of Rarelesserspotted - click on the pictures to make them larger)