Winter's Folly

The cold autumn evening was surprisingly still, yet perfect for George Winter.

The obese, middle-aged man crouched behind the overgrown rhododendron bush, watching silently as the dying embers of the sun melted into the smog of the distant city, submitting slowly to the darkness that hung like a shroud above the spire of Saint Mark’s Church.

‘Not long now’ he muttered re-adjusting his position to ward off the crippling pangs of cramp. He fumbled in the pocket of his dirty jacket for a packet of cigarettes. His fingers searched the opening, hoping in vain for a solitary cigarette to be in there. He silently cursed his bad luck, scrunching up the empty packet in frustration.

A sudden noise made Winter jump; he craned his neck, watching intently as the ancient oak door opened slowly with an undulating creak. Through the gloom he saw the tall, stooped figure of Reverend Cree step out into the night air.

Winter ducked down behind the bush as Cree stared directly in his direction.

He was fairly sure the old man hadn’t spotted him, but he remained still nonetheless.

Winter’s breath puffed out into vapour in the bitter night air as he listened closely, waiting for any movement.

After a few seconds the clicking of the Reverend’s shoes on the stone path could be heard. Winter sighed and edged himself across, leaning his head out from the side of the bush. He watched intently as Reverend Cree walked slowly towards the welcoming lights of the vicarage. Winter watched and waited until the hunched figure disappeared into blackness and the footsteps faded into silence.

‘Good riddance’ he whispered as he eased back into a crouched position.

The physical toil of digging a grave for yet another corpse had left George Winter’s body wracked with the pain of rheumatism. The painkillers that he regularly shovelled down his throat, washed down by a copious amount of scotch, barely took the edge of the agony that crippled his old bones. The Reverend had only given him the job out of kindness, the graveyard was in a terrible state but the old fool was far too polite to demand an old man to do all that work.

Through naivety and misguided trust, he had been given a helping hand in the form of Johnny Fielding, a teenage boy with learning difficulties.

The boy gave Winter endless grief and frustration with his lack of understanding of the simplest tasks. His cruel jibes that the boy was ‘the village idiot’ repeatedly went unpunished.

But tonight, if all went to plan, ‘the village idiot’ would for once serve a useful purpose.

No-one else apart from the boy was prepared to hang about in the decrepit old place after dark anyway. Except for the drunken teenagers and they wouldn’t be for much longer, if tonight’s little surprise went smoothly.

Winter blew warm air onto his raw hands, he became agitated, craving a cigarette, he desperately wanted this short, sharp shock to materialise as soon as possible.

He continued to watch the entrance to the graveyard, perturbed by the silence, his patience wearing thin.

Then, without a hint of warning, a sudden, icy chill descended amongst the gravestones, like the essence of an arctic glacier had been magically transported into the English countryside.

A lone white feather drifted down from the night sky, Winter watched it gracefully tumble, skirting the edge of the bush and fall at his feet.

He looked up and saw only the faint beacons of starlight and patches of sluggish stratus above.

There was no flutter of wings, only silence ruled the air.

He reached out towards the feather, his thick fingers closed in to hesitantly touch it, but before he could, something made his old heart jump.

The silence had been broken by an excited chatter, he adjusted his position and a wicked smile spread across his thin lips.

Winter’s victims had arrived.

The teenagers slowly filed into the graveyard, carrying polythene bags that strained under the weight of bottles of cheap cider. The adolescents’ arrogant swagger made Winter’s chest burn with anger, they were trespassing on his space and this time they would be given a harsh lesson they would never forget.

He watched and ground his teeth with malice, as the conceited little gang made their way towards the wooden bench at the end of the graveyard, the sound of laughter fading as they disappeared from view.

Winter picked up the feather that had fallen, his rough fingers stretching and pulling it apart with frustration. Johnny Fielding’s entrance couldn’t come soon enough.

The plan was simple enough; give these little upstarts a scare that would give them nightmares for years to come.

A ‘Grim Reaper’ type costume had been purchased for Johnny to wear, along with an actual scythe for the sake of realism; it should be enough to get them running at least.

The occasional roar of laughter from an immature joke made the furnace of Winter’s heart smoulder with resentment. He scanned the entrance for Johnny’s arrival.

‘Not long now’ he whispered, ‘Then I’ve gotcha’.

The temperature again dropped suddenly, an eerie, almost supernatural draft pervaded the night air. Winter shuddered as much from anticipation than the cold, the atmosphere was perfect.

Suddenly high-pitched screams echoed through the graveyard, distant voices that swore and cursed, followed quickly by the harsh sound of running feet scattering rough gravel.

This was the unmistakeable sound of panic and it arrived like glorious music to George Winter’s ears. He laughed aloud, indulging in a roaring hilarity of which he felt no shame.

The terrified teenagers ran blindly, hysterical girls followed by horrified boys, adolescent bravery evaporated into the night air.

Winter smirked as he saw the exodus hurtle by; a smug satisfaction gave him temporary warmth from the bitter cold. He waited impatiently for the triumphant figure, dressed in his impressive costume, armed with the sinister scythe.

Winter waited, longing to heap praise on his apprentice and the offer of a cold pint in the warmth of the Fox & Hounds pub.

But the apprentice failed to emerge from the darkness at the end of the graveyard.

The icy grip of the atmosphere became colder and colder, the welcoming glow of the pub’s roaring fire seemed a long way off, a horrid feeling of foreboding swept through George Winter.

Frozen and furious, he marched quickly, treading over graves, crushing withered flowers that had been left in sombre tribute by people choked with grief and loss.

None of this desecration and lack of respect mattered, he just wanted to see the boy.

‘Come out now, you imbecile!’ he shouted, his heavy boots stomped furiously into the gravel path.

Winter bristled with anger as he continued his brisk walk on to the flagstones at the corner of the church. His momentum suddenly ceased, a ghastly grip of fear squeezed his stomach. A voice echoed from behind the church, a sinister intonation whose whisper paralysed him with fear.

‘You’re a coward George Winter’.

He desperately wanted to flee but his old limbs refused to comply.

The voice spoke again, this time louder, mocking him with an intimidating hiss.

‘Show yourself coward’.

Winter suddenly realised the significance of the white feather, a traditional symbol of cowardice.

His anger rose at this intimidation, snatching at the bait he edged slowly around the corner. Through the gloom he saw the half-finished grave he had dug earlier.

Precariously, he crept to the edge of the pit and peered within, his heart jolted with shock at what he saw.

‘Jesus’ he gasped.

Laid prostrate on the bottom of the pit was Johnny Fielding, seemingly unconscious, wearing the costume Winter had bought.

‘Idiot!’ he shouted into the hole.

At that moment the unearthly cold seemed to pierce deep within, squeezing his internal organs with a callous grip. Winter shook his head in disbelief, for a second he was sure he heard the distant sound of a marching band; the enchanting melody of a flute seemed to drift in the air.

Closer and closer the sound came towards him, the rhythmical beat of the drums getting louder with every passing second.

Rat-a-tat-tat.

Rat-a-tat-tat.

A diffuse glow began to form in front of him, taking shape, forming into a body that sprouted limbs, then a head and finally a face. The weathered features of a ghostly soldier glared at George Winter with unbridled hatred. The mouth began to move and spoke words that rumbled with malice.

‘You’re a coward George Winter’.

Winter backed away from the apparition, barely believing what he had seen.

The ghost lunged forward and Winter tumbled to the ground, the ghost’s features had become more apparent now, a host of medals were pinned to its ethereal chest.

It pointed an accusing finger as it drifted through the air, the medals now shone with such clarity that Winter recognised each one. The same as his uncle had been awarded in his youth, ones that he had sold weeks before for a pittance to buy beer, cigarettes and that stupid costume.

The ghost’s accusing finger never wavered, its fearsome stare burned with rage.

Winter cowered amongst the dirt and gravel, the ghost floated backwards towards the open grave. With a motion of its hand huge amounts of soil were hurled into the pit.

Winter crawled on all fours to the edge of the grave; if he didn’t act quickly the boy would be buried alive. Tears streamed down his face as he begged for the boy’s life.

The ghost emitted a terrible cackle, Winter’s fear turned to anger.

‘For once you haven’t thought of yourself’ the ghost said, ‘Now take his place in the grave’.

Winter drove his aching body into action, jumping into the grave.

This was no suicide, it was intent on salvation.

With a strength he thought had passed him by, he hauled the unconscious boy upright and hoisted him out of the grave, soil still being flung into the pit.

‘Your neglect and false possession of this place is over’ the ghost raged.

‘Never return here George Winter’.

Winter dragged the boy along the main path, not daring to look back as the ghost dissipated. Nor did he see the chilling message scrawled in red ink and pinned on a fresh wreath as he blindly struggled to flee through the church gates.

‘R.I.P. GEORGE WINTER 1943- ‘.

Thankfully for George Winter a portion of the card remained blank, he had survived.

But only just.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Kalman

writing Kalman
The spider-man is having me for dinner tonight!
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