The Mystery of St Aidan’s
Francesca Burke | Daniele Murtas
Witching hour. Morag stamped her feet to fend off the cold, but damp fog had crept down her neck the moment she left her house, so resistance was futile.
Shivering but loathe to concede defeat, she pulled her beanie down to her ears, hoping it covered her bright orange hair enough to camouflage her amongst the trees. Waiting for Tom to arrive in St Aidan’s graveyard, this time of year, was not on Morag’s list of top ten hobbies. But Tom had promised material for an article, so Morag had packed her Dictaphone and camera into the pockets of her warmest coat and walked the short distance to St Aidan’s Church.
Morag wasn’t completely convinced that this year Tom was actually correct in his estimates that they would find the source of the St Aidan’s ghost. Of course, there wasn’t actually a ghost. Anyone with sense knew that it was just an elaborate prank. Every year, as far back as the seventies, strange things happened in St Aidan’s graveyard. Always occurring at night, the pranks started on Halloween and ended on 30th November, as though the perpetrator wanted to glamorise the British autumn.
Sometimes it was luminous graffiti splashed across the church walls, quoting Richard Dawkins or declaring Jesus a hobo. Sometimes the deacon would find coloured jars or Dia de Muertos paraphernalia propped against headstones. One memorable year, the morning of 1st December saw a life size stone effigy of the crucifixion erected by the kissing gate, so covered in grime and lichen that it could have been there since the original (some townsfolk had campaigned to keep it as a reminder of the essence of their faith). St Aidan’s had attracted media attention over the years, most recently a Twitter campaign to track the “ghost’s” progress, but no one had ever got to the bottom of the mystery.
Tom had banged on Morag’s front door until the dogs had almost exploded with excitement, barks echoing off the walls and dragging Morag from her incredibly comfortable bed. It was before dawn and Morag had been ready to impale Tom with his own tent poles. He had camped out in the road next to the church, he explained as he stood on the doorstep, bouncing on his toes. Morag had manhandled him over the threshold so she could shut the door on the grim November morning, and made him wait until they were at the dining table clutching coffee to explain further.
“I’ve worked out how they do it, Morag,” he had said, dark eyes glinting with unabashed glee. “I really think we can get them this year.”
“You say that every year,” Morag grumbled, remembering Tom’s previous, disastrous attempts to unmask the St Aidan’s ghost. The worst time had been the exploding thermal imaging camera on Bonfire Night of ‘03. Tom had waved off her protests and made her promise to be at the graveyard at twelve that night.
It was almost one now, and Morag had lost all feeling in her toes. Cursing Tom under her breath, Morag decided that enough was enough. Tom hadn’t arrived, nor had he camped out in his tent for a second night. The entire area around the church was as silent as, er, a grave.
Morag had almost reached the kissing gate when a sound stopped her in her tracks.
On the far side of the graveyard, almost obscured by fog, was a lych gate usually reserved for wedding photographs or as a shelter from rain. It was illuminated by the only lamp in the graveyard, which cast a dull orange glow before trickling out into the shadows. Morag squinted towards it, sure she had heard a rustling sound from that direction. She took a hesitant step forward, one hand on the mobile phone in her pocket.
Before she had decided on a course of action — or clamped down on the fear that was coursing through her — something shot out of the darkness and sent her flying. As Morag registered that she had fallen with a thump down onto the damp leaves and narrowly avoided a tombstone, she heard Tom’s voice hiss in her ear, “Get up, now.” Morag clasped the hand Tom extended and he hauled her to her feet, pulling her roughly along the cobbled path, through the kissing gate and down the road. He didn’t speak until they had reached Morag’s house and she let them in with trembling fingers that almost dropped the keys. In the bright light of the hallway, lit up with bright wall lighting and a large mirror, Tom’s usually tanned skin was pale and clammy.
“What happened?” Morag gasped when she had regained her breath and a modicum of composure. She pulled the beanie off her head and threw it on the coat rack. “Why the hell did you bring me out at this hour only to bring me home again?”
Tom only shook his head.
“I can’t tell you.”
“Why not?” Morag demanded. In the warmth of her home, her terror had subsided and was quickly being replaced by irritation. “Did you see the St Aidan’s ghost or something?”
Morag expected Tom to shake his head again, and almost fell over with surprise when he nodded slowly.
“It tried to kill me.”