John Reppion is half of the writing team Moore Reppion. He asked me if I wanted to show you a new short story he wrote. I said yes, of course.
NEXT YEAR’S GHOST
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.
Illustration by DNS .
John Reppion’s most recent prose work can be found in JOURNEYS IN THE WINTERLANDS from amongruins.org . His collected writings for Steampunk Magazine – STEAMPUNK SALMAGUNDI — and his (highly recommended by me) Lovecraftian Liverpool short ON THE BANKS OF THE RIVER JORDAN are available from moorereppion.bigcartel.com .