It was another dark night. Every night was dark in that small village in North Wales, street lights were things that happened to other people. The only outside illumination in the whole village was the sign hanging from the side of the pub. The Hare kept the adults occupied during those late autumn evenings, but us kids had very little to keep us entertained; fourteen years old and bored is never a good combination. The village had a sports field, but when it’s so dark you can’t see more that two feet in front of you, games such as football become rather difficult and, on occasion, quite painful. There were no Playstations or Xboxes back then and the closest thing we had to a youth club was the village’s one and only bus shelter. Any time past six in the evening and we had that small concrete hut all to ourselves. It didn’t keep out the cold, but when it rained and you were lucky enough to be up against the far wall, it would keep you half dry. Six scruffy teenagers crammed into a space designed for three old ladies and their tartan shopping trolleys, but it was all we had. There was Jenny and George, brother and sister. Brian, a tall skinny lad with glasses and the first person we all came to if we had difficulties with our homework. Sarah, the eldest of the group, and Johnny, who would have preferred to have spent his every waking hour playing football. The first hour was generally spent swapping football stickers under torchlight while making fun of one member of the group or another. We all took a turn to be the brunt of the jokes, though it was never voluntary. None of us were popular at the school we attended, five miles down the road in a town that was large enough to warrant its own post office. We were a collection of would-be loners and it was easy enough to find something to taunt one another about.
After the final sticker had been swapped and there was a short discussion about who would complete their album first, the ghost stories began. Jenny, the youngest of the group by 3 months, always squeezed her way to the far corner of the shelter at the first mention of wavering shadows, bogeymen and witches. Her older brother, George, would sidle up next to her in such a way as to seem coincidental and every time she jumped he’d place his hand upon her shoulder to reassure her. He would never admit to this however.
The stories would always end up about Gypsy Lane, the supposedly haunted road that ran down the back of the village. There were no houses, or any other type of building on that road, it merely cut through two large fields. Bordered by two high hedges and kept dark even in the daylight by a thick archway of branches, it looked the part, especially during a full moon when what little light there was snaked through the gnarled branches and danced on the tarmac below.
We had never before ventured there after dark, we didn’t usually have the nerve, but this one night something had gotten into us and bolstered our courage. One can of bitter, half a litre of weak beer swiped from a parent’s drinks cabinet (yes we still had them back then) shared between six curious mouths. We each had no more than a taste and we all agreed that it lived up to its name but it gave us a boost, which was probably more psychological than chemical. Two by two and with three torches between us we walked through the dark deserted village. The only noises we heard were the sound of slurred voices and the clinking of piano keys as Old Mr. Foot played ‘Roll Out Your Barrow’ as we passed The Hare.
After several minutes, the noise of the pub faded away and a silence dropped over us, only broken by the occasional hoot of an owl. The moon was only a crescent but it reflected enough light to make shadow puppets quiver on the edge of the road. None of us had spoken during our slow wander. We were all worried that our nervousness would come out in our voices. As we arrived at the opening to Gypsy Lane the first person to speak was George.
“I’m not sure Jenny should be here with us,” his voice was gruff, as if he had a throat full of phlegm. He coughed before continuing. “I… I think I should take her home. I’m not chickening out or nothing, I just think she’s too young to be out here.”
“Oh shut up, George,” I said. “I’m only three months older than her and I’m not scared.” It was a lie, one that I’d been telling myself since we left the bus shelter.
“Well I’m not scared neither,” Jenny said, stamping her foot against the ground. The rest of the group remained silent.
“Okay then, Sis,” George said, shrugging his shoulders. “If you’re sure?”
We stared down gypsy lane, as far as we could in the darkness. The overhanging branches were visible enough with the moon light shimmer through them. Without another word, we began a slow walk under them. Sarah led the way, shining her torch from one side to another. Johnny held up the rear with the rest of us spread out in between. The lane was narrow, barely room for anything larger than a car. The hedges either side loomed over us and seemed closer with every step. A rustle in the branches above made Jenny whimper and I had to turn a sharp inward breath into a yawn in an attempt to hide my own fear.
A few metres ahead a dark patch in the hedge became apparent. Brian was the first to see it, we always assumed he had better eyesight than the rest of us due to his thick rimmed glasses. Sarah shone her torch directly at it but the weak pen-light barely penetrated the darkness. Walking closer, we shifted towards the other side of the road, all peering at the dark patch. Stopping directly opposite, we stared into the rough circle of black. The slightest of movements caused Jenny to hide behind her brother.
“What is it?” Johnny asked as he stepped up behind us. The rest of the group merely shrugged but I couldn’t resist the urge to speak.
“It’s an entrance to the pits of hell,” I said calmly. Still afraid yet bolstered by the thought of playing a trick on my friends. Jenny grabbed her brothers coat, as if to anchor herself to him. Sarah snorted and tipped her eyes.
“Can we go home now?” George said, gulping.
“There’s no such thing as hell,” Brain said, taking an involuntary step further away from the dark patch.
“There’s something in there,” Sarah said, edging closer, still shining her feeble light.
“Stay back!” Johnny said, lifting his own torch towards the hedge. It flickered and died in his hand. “Damn it, I shouldn’t have used it to read in bed last night.” I crept up behind Sarah and we both moved within a few feet of the dark patch. Sarah’s torch made the leaves of the hedge shimmer, but otherwise was of little use. Brian first and then the rest of the group huddled up close behind us. I strained to see beyond the blackness and I fancied I could hear slow, heavy breathing.
Suddenly, the large, black and white head of a cow burst through the gap in the hedge, giving out a loud, drawn-out moo. Screaming, Sarah jumped backwards, stumbling into me, forcing us to fall into a pile in the road. Brain turned about-face and ran straight into the opposite hedge. Johnny dropped his defunct torch and dove onto the ground like a goal keeper saving a penalty. Jenny and George seemed to have barely moved other than swapping positions so it was now brother hiding behind sister. A few seconds passed with us staring at the cow and the cow staring back at us. It let out another, softer moo. With synchronised movement, who ever was not on their feet climbed to them and we all started running back down the lane towards the village.
I remember that night whenever the shadows draw near or when strange noises echo through the house. It reminds me that not all ghost stories are true. The supernatural is often just plain natural.
©2015 Peter John. Author of the Paranormal Comedy: Dead Medium