This story is by Carol Taylor and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Carol Taylor 1,425 words
Garry woke with a fright; his body was wet with sweat, his heart pounding so hard it felt like it could come through his chest. Not again, he thought as he jumped out of bed to put on his trousers. Gary pulled open the curtains and looked out over the forest into the night sky. He could hear the town clock striking midnight. An eerie sound of screams and bagpipes, accompanied by the stench of cigar smoke, filled the air. The awful sound whisked through the treetops, carried along by the breeze for all the villagers to hear.
It was 1889, and the small village of Ledsham in England had been terrorized regularly at the stroke of 12 by this ear-piercing occurrence, causing panic amongst the local villagers. This event would happen on the same day, for about a week every year.
Legend has it that Patrick McGinty, a cigar-smoking Scotsman, had lived in the woods many years ago and would play the bagpipes every evening to his beautiful wife, Sara. His darling Sara had passed away in childbirth. He blamed the townspeople for both deaths, as no one had come to help, as they were all drunk in the village at festivities. Patrick had burst into the church service the following day, so angry and resentful at them; that he threatened to curse them all and their generations to come. Patrick was so brokenhearted that he took his own life within one week. Greif struck; Patrick had hung himself in the town square for all to see. Every year since, on the anniversary of her death, his spirit would hover above the village and the woods with the awful sound and smell filling the air for precisely one week. It would stop as quickly as it started, and peace would reign again. This time it was different; the howling had gone on for over two weeks and was far more intense, driving the villages crazy.
As the sun rose, the Town Crier was heard ringing his bell and shouting a proclamation, “Hear Ye, Hear Ye, villagers of Ledsham. There will be a town meeting that all people must attend at 10.30 today in the church hall.”
‘May God save the Queen.’
What’s going on? Garry’s mind was racing. He had grown up in this village so small and peaceful that the cake stall outside the church was the most exciting thing to happen each month. This occurrence had become a natural part of village life, but now his world seemed to be falling apart. The past weeks had been confusing; this horrible sound echoed through the woods constantly, and now the town crier was requesting us all to meet. He didn’t know what to think.
The din of horse-drawn carriages and the clattering of hooves could be heard as the villages all flocked to the old wooden hall, gathering for the meeting. They all took their seats, anxiously waiting for what would happen next. John Harper took the floor; he liked to take charge of all things important in town. John was born and bred there and owned the general store. His beard was long and grey and curled at the end like a pig’s tail; he then stood tall and spoke with authority.
“Now listen, everyone, I call this meeting to order,” taking control of the gathering. “I fear the ghost of bygone days is coming. This harrowing sound haunts our village every night, and it must stop!”
George jumped up, waving his hands about, “but what does it want? How can we stop it?”
A murmur of voices could be heard amongst the people, also wanting answers.
“Settle down, everyone,” John spoke loud over the crowd; “we might have an answer.”
He continued, “Now everyone knows William Little,” and they did; he was the oldest man in the town at 98, and he knew things that no one else did. William was small and fat, and his belly poked out like a small round balloon. He sat at a table before the gathering and held an old leather book. He flicked undone the twine that held the pages together and started to read, his voice so croaky and soft that John had to repeat everything he was saying.
“We are all aware of the Legend of Patrick McGinty. He has come back to haunt the village every year. On these pages is the second half of the legend.” As John continued to read, the town folk were shocked at what they heard. “Patrick had sworn his complete revenge to take place when the full moon is high in the sky and all the planets align. Exactly 100 years to the day of his wife’s death, to destroy the whole village; and everyone in it. This phenomenon would occur in two days.”
Mrs McCarthy broke the silence with, “what does the book tell us to do.”
“There is no answer; the last few pages have been torn out,” John said.
Jane, the curly-haired lady with three children, started to cry uncontrollably, and all the townspeople were getting out of control with panic.
Clive stood up from his chair and yelled.
“We must choose a brave one among us to go to the woods and appease the ghost of Patrick.”
“Let’s take a vote another voice added”
John banged his hand on the table to dominate the meeting again, “Yes, I agree. We must take a vote; we have no other choice.”
They passed the old felt hat around, and all the village people dropped their votes into it. Old William was chosen to draw the name out, his hand dipping slowly into the hat, and everyone held their breath. The name chosen was Garry. A tingle ran down his spine in terror as he heard his name called out. He wasn’t a brave man or even strong; how on earth could he get rid of the ghost? Why pick me, he scrutinized. It must be that I stand six foot eight and am one of the few single men in the village; most were married with children or too old. He looked out into the crowd of faces that all looked back at him; they had such hope; that he had to take the challenge.
He put aside his fear, stirred up his inner courage, and set out into the woods. It was a dark and windy night as Garry set off with his kerosene lamp; he was a solitary figure creeping through the trees with only glimpses of the full moon appearing now and then. Garry was going to Patrick’s old house deep in the woods; he might have a plan, he thought, but would it work? He had no idea how one would go about appeasing a ghost.
The wind whistled through the trees as he trudged along; he was nearly there when the bagpipes started playing. He told himself he couldn’t let fear overtake him and began running with renewed strength to Patrick McGinty’s old house. The music was coming ever closer as he ran through the front door; he found an old cellar basement and ran down the steps; the pungent smell of cigars filling the air as the spirit grew closer. Now he was trapped there with Patrick in the basement; he had to think quickly. He then beseeched the ghost with a rescue plan for the villagers. He offered him a packet of fresh cigars he pulled from his pocket and a speech of apology from the town of Ledsham. The soul of Patrick could not be quenched with any peace offerings; he was too tormented. The spirit was becoming increasingly enraged, swishing and swirling to the rooftop with loud screeches. Not knowing what else to do, Garry quickly threw his lantern to the floor, which burst into massive flames. He ran up the stairs, bolted the cellar door and ran into the woods. The whole house then exploded. As he turned to look, he could see and hear the spirit of Patrick McGinty in flames high above the place, disappearing into the air; with a final squawking burst from the bagpipes, he was gone.
Garry had done it; rid the town of the ghost. He held his head high and had a new persona as he walked back into the village. They hailed him the hero of Ledsham, and he became the most popular man among the young village girls; who looked at him with renewed admiration.