A GRAVE ERROR (revised)Exiting somewhat unsteadily, from a warm and cosy smoke hazed saloon bar of the Mucky Duck and stepping into the fresh crisp autumnal air, came as a bit of a shock, to the intoxicated system; However, after taking one or two deep breaths, it felt quite bracing. Continuing to feel a little fuzzy and a little unsteady ones the aging undercarriage, nonetheless, following the continued breathing exercises the lungful of the fresh air had almost restored my equilibrium. Echoes of my evening's enjoyment of the jolly romp and camaraderie at the Mucky with some of the rugby team members whose range of bawdy ballads seem inexhaustible. The Mucky Duck Inn as far back as I can remember has always been the hub of social activity in the village, this old thatched roof building (circa1600's) surrounded by a neatly manicured garden, conveniently located at the north end of the village green of Higher Combhead; it is reported that historically it was a coaching station on the London road and also used as a hospital during the Civil War. It was most pleasant that in those first deep breaths of the fresh air one could detect a powerful aroma of warm earth, cooling in the last vanishing rays of the setting sun. Its perhaps the haunting country fragrance that ever seems to lingers in the nostrils, that heralds the end of a tranquil summer’s day, purveying a sweet bouquet of Mother Nature’s finest nosegay.
Feeling rather well fortified and content allowing for my selfish over indulgence of certain peaty Island nectar, and the enjoyment of the recent jovial companionship in the of The Mucky Duck my spirits were high. By the fading light I proceeded to cross the village green, slowly walking in the direction of my cottage, observing the long shadowy fingers of twilight creeping over the terrain, wisely counselling me that the world was about to be enfolded in the soft wings of night. The distance to one’s lone cottage home was about a mile and a Half away, so, as I walked, I reflected on parts of the bawdy humorous songs we sang that kept running through my head. "There was a man he was no good he took a girl into the wood, Bye Bye Blackbird" Whilst crossing the green I noted that a leaden sky had given way to areas of bright moonlight casting a silvery glow over the village scene which reflection made my journey home feel both more comfortable and quite enjoyable. My perambulations soon found me at the stone pillars of the entrance gateway to village church of St. Mark’s with its old ivy clad bell tower. In the gathering gloom the church standing as silent sentinel of the faithful, looking gaunt against a darkening sky, this aspect accounted for the entire southern side of the village green. At this point of my home bound sojourn I mused on a couple of available options, either I could continue along the lane towards home or I could take a short cut through the adjacent churchyard. By using the churchyard path I would cut at least half a mile of dogleg from my journey, so after some consideration I turned quickly through the gates and onto the paved apron of the church entrance. A gravel path leading directly to and though the actual burial ground at the side and to the of the church. Entering the silent necropolis where the only noise was the movement of the tree branches swaying in the wind, at the same time moonbeams appeared to highlight or shadow the headstones and monuments fashioning them into the appearance of gaunt sentinels. Taking stock of my immediate surroundings quite suddenly I began to imagine the atmosphere becoming quite heavy and foreboding to the extent that I was beginning to feel slightly panicky and ill at ease. An owl perched high in the branches of a nearby oak hooted its familiar plaintiff call as if issuing an imaginary personal warning of danger as I penetrated deeper into the silent graveyard having inadvertently strayed from the gravel path; I could feel a light breeze on my cheeks that was beginning to increase and violently stir the branches of the trees giving the whole atmosphere a wild and spooky aura. The air seemed alive with movement until I detected the presence of many bats; my mind unwittingly began to dwell on those fictional tales of Dracula and blood drinking vampires, hands reaching out from open graves to drag me in so much so that I involuntarily pulled my coat collar high about my neck. The increasing brilliance of the moonlight, was casting misshapen and grotesque shadows creating a bizarre display as it reflected shadows from the neighbouring yews on the white tombstones and appearing to animate them.
It was only a matter of time before the somewhat weird thoughts began to excite my imagination, in my mind’s eye I imagined that I saw furtive movements hidden deep in the shadows, a hundred pairs of eyes seemed to be watching me and waiting! - waiting for what I asked myself? It was about this point in time that I was beginning to sincerely regret that I had not taken the long route home. However, putting on a bold front I pressed on until I eventually found myself standing next to the great de Brette family mausoleum, a grim forbidding looking edifice of decaying limestone, partially covered in ivy with its two ghostlike white marble angels standing as sentinels guarding the doorway to the vault. The tomb itself housed the remains of the de Brett's including the notorious Guy de Brette, a local 17th century despot who in his time on earth plagued and terrorised the local female population in lustful pursuits. He was purported to have been a founder member of the hellfire club and ardent Satanist and to have sired many bastards. However, several illustrious members of the de Brette family many of whom had served the village and the country in general well over the years, were also interred. Likewise were the twin brothers George and Michael de Brette, who served with distinction as soldiers on the Western Front during the Great War.
Standing silently in front of this imposing sepulchre which seemed to have an hypnotic effect and feeling in awe of the structure, when suddenly and without warning I was overcome and gripped with a harrowing fear in fact a fear bordering on actual terror, my whole being became paralysed resulting in my inability to move a single muscle, my hair felt it was standing on end I had that unpleasant feeling that I as about to urinate. Frozen still like a statue I was transfixed to the spot and petrified with fear I could not move, my muddled brain was telling me to run, but my legs would not work. What indeed caused this extreme terror, temporary paralysis, and heart stopping fear? - The bell, the premature burial bell that hung outside the Mausoleum had begun to toll? This type of bell was installed in most of the older Mausoleums by owners who feared that they would be entombed prematurely and it was a means of attracting attention should the occasion arise.
Rooted to the spot by shock and terror, Lord knows how long I remained there before my brain finally kicked in and self preservation took over and my legs immediately went into action so I ran and ran not knowing in which direction tripping over obstacles and bumping into gravestones when things came to a sudden stop as I went sprawling headlong into an open muddy grave that had been prepared for a next day burial. The hole was deep and lots of wet clay from the recent rain, which when I endeavoured to climb out adhered to my clothing hands and face giving me a monstrous, grotesque and unearthly appearance. Eventually with great difficulty I managed to clamber out of the grave. I sat down on a tombstone to collect my thoughts and to orientate myself in order to expeditiously exit this necropolis.
Once again thinking rationally I searched around for a focal point to navigate my way out of my predicament, when fortunately I spotted a light from a distant window in one of the cottages in the village. Picking my way carefully this time through the maze of gravestones etc. eventually I arrived at the cemetery’s high surrounding wall, climbing and balancing on a headstone adjacent to the wall I reached for the top of the wall and pulled myself up, sitting astride the wall I looked down and the sight that greeted me was a courting couple in a state of undress stretched out on the grass in the most passionate of embraces. Well now, the girl, who lay on her back opening her eyes looked up and saw me covered in thick mud and looking all together monstrous and grotesque, I am sure that her scream could be heard some miles away, with that both lovers jumped up and took off in an Olympic pace in the direction of the village, the boy with braces dangling like a tail behind him and the girl carrying her skirt. Alighting quickly from my perch I headed for home and a bath.
Next morning bright and early I was up with the lark with not the trace of a hangover so I took a steady stroll to the village shop for the morning paper and supplies, well it happened that the whole village was agog with excitement and the news, because the bell at the mausoleum had been heard to toll and a horrible monster was seen climbing out of the graveyard they put two and two together and came up with the ghost of Guy de Brette coming to claim more victims. I felt too embarrassed to dispute their theory and kept my guilty secret.
A week or so following all the excitement, and the topic had abated, I happened to be reading the parish magazine and spotted an item by the local vicar who declared that he had instructed the pruning of the tree adjacent to the de Brette Mausoleum because of complaints from the village that when the wind blew branches caused the premature burial bell to ring.