Next Year’s Ghost

Cheating a little bit this week as I’ve got a lot going on. Apologies. 

Instead of a brand new short fiction, I’ve dug out something from 2013 which hopefully you’ll enjoy. 


Some people may think it morbid to take pleasure in a visit to a  graveyard. I was once however, not only one who enjoyed such visits, but  who actively sought them out. As a taphophile the diverse ornamentation  of tombs and stones fascinated me and became a hobby of mine. My  interest took me all around this island and, eventually to a small  ex-mining town in the North.

The pit which had once been the lifeblood of the place had collapsed  disastrously some three decades earlier and the community had never  recovered. The once-bustling town was now a morass of blind-eyed broken  windows and slack-jawed black doorways with only a huddle of the more  ancient buildings still occupied.

There was no priest in this place; its church bearing the same aspect  of dereliction as so much of the surroundings and my examination of the  burial-ground was completed more quickly than anticipated, most of the  more ancient monuments having toppled or crumbled from neglect. Even the  stark, lone, large slab inscribed with the names of those who had lost  their lives in the mining tragedy was, I am ashamed to say, something of  a disappointment.

My return journey not being scheduled until the following morning, I  found myself faced with an evening spent in the under-occupied pub, or  else alone in my dingy room above, and neither scenario appealed. My  hobby had furnished me, almost accidentally, with knowledge of the  folklore surrounding burial places, and I found it interesting to note  that this was the eve of the feast of Saint Mark. I decided it might be  amusing to pass my time observing that old custom which Keats so  famously wrote upon – namely that if one watched over a graveyard on  that night, the spectres of those yet to pass in the coming year would  show themselves.

Seated on the mossy church step as midnight approached, the sight of a  figure walking among the crumbling monuments brought me sharply to my  senses. In the bright, clear moonlight I soon recognised the face of the  pub landlord and fear turned to embarrassment. I began to stammer an  apology but the publican only shook his head slowly and sorrowfully.

“They are coming”, the words spoken softly yet somehow left ringing in my ears as he trudged back into the shadows.

And come they did.

Customs have their purposes, forgotten to many though they may be,  and I am witness to what may happen if such rituals are neglected or  ignored. I had seen the next year’s ghost already. The landlord (as you  have guessed) passed away peacefully enough within the allotted course  and was buried in the old churchyard, but no Saint Marks Eve vigil had  been kept in that ruined parish for many years. Those who came shambling  after the publican – who should have come long, long before – could not  be mistaken for the living; their bodies having been crushed and  mangled in that awful cave-in of thirty years previous.