The Grave Digger’s Cottage

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Alice said goodbye to her friends and started to run home. Now eleven, her parents let her walk alone but she was only allowed a certain distance. To school a few streets away, the park next door and the corner shop.

She laughed loudly, excitement spilling out as she went. School was over for another day but also for summer. There was a whole two months of playtime and adventures waiting for her.

Alice lived behind the village church and across the graveyard. Her house sat on the back edge of the cemetery, over shadowed by a massive weeping willow tree. It was a small cottage with a yellow thatched roof, red brick chimney, small frosty windows and set apart from all the others in the village. It was called the Grave Digger’s Cottage.

There many routes she could have taken home, but Alice took the quickest. Cutting across church grounds and the straight path that ran down the centre of the graveyard. Opening the gate of her front garden, she skipped up the gravel path, lined with bright summer flowers then opened the front door.

‘Hello, grandpa!’ she shouted.

‘Hello, Al!’ the distant echoing voice of her grandpa called back.

Giggling, Alice took off her shoes and left them with her schoolbag in the hallway. Downstairs there were only three rooms; the front parlour, living room and kitchen/dinner. Upstairs there were also three rooms; a small bathroom, her parents bedroom and her grandpa’s room. Another staircase led to the attic which was Alice’s bedroom.

Alice went down the hallway, through the kitchen to the back door and stepped out into blazing sunshine once again.

Her grandpa was in the back garden, sitting on a stool next to a low table and he was putting together flower bunches. His skin was tanned a deep brown from days spent outside and his figure was stooped from years of being bent over digging. He had a thin cloud of white wispy hair and rough outline of a white beard. His eyes were blue like the colour of the sea lit by the sun.

Alice had been told she looked like him but she had never been able to see it. Yes, they had the same colour eyes and once grandpa’s hair had been chestnut brown like her’s was now. Alice’s skin though was paler and definitely not wrinkly!

‘School is finally over!’ Alice cried.

‘Is it really?’ grandpa questioned.

Alice nodded, ‘are mum and dad home yet?’

Grandpa shook his head, ‘your dad’s watching over an evening exam at the university and your mum had a late meeting to go to in the city. It’s just you and me till bedtime.’

Alice smiled, spending time alone with grandpa was the best. He told awesome stories, let her do want she wanted and allowed her to stay up late.

‘Would you like a hand, grandpa?’ Alice asked.

‘I’m almost done,’ he replied.

Alice sat down on another stool and watched him wrapping green garden twine around the bunches of mixed flowers. Alice knew he had grown them himself and when the flowers were ready, grandpa would cut them and put them together.

‘There we go. Right, would you like to come with me, Al?’ Grandpa asked.

‘Yes, please!’ Alice said.

Grandpa give her some of the flowers to carry and he took the rest. Together they went out into the cemetery. At a handful of headstones, they placed the flowers into the vases and grandpa did some cleaning and weeding if needed.

Countless times they had done this and Alice knew the stories of all of the headstones they visited plus many of the other ones in the graveyard. Grandpa had known a lot of people buried here because they had come from the village and the graves they visited were of family and friends. Grandpa had also buried some of them.

Alice looked back their cottage, the roof could just be seen through the trees and wild growth. Alice sat down on one of the tombs, the stone was cold against her bare legs but she didn’t mind.

‘Grandpa, tell me the story of our house again.’

He looked up from pulling weeds out from around a Second World war grave of his uncle.

He smiled and began chatting away, ‘when the new church was built in the eighteen hundreds after the old one burnt down, they also built a cottage for a grounds keeper to leave in. The man and his son who first lived there were also grave diggers and that’s how the cottage got it’s name.’

Alice nodded.

‘From that day on, every man who lived in the cottage – expect your father- was a grave digger and also church grounds keeper. We had to make sure that nature didn’t take over and the paths clear for visiting people. We had to help plot out the cemetery, decided where to bury people and dig those graves. Then when the headstones arrived we had to plant them in the ground over the right grave.’

‘And what else, grandpa?’ Alice demanded.

‘And we were night watchmen too! Back in time, grave robbers would come and dig up fresh bodies to sell to doctors for science. People would also try to do cheap burials by doing it themselves and we had to stop them! Then there’s tramps and teenagers who muck around and make place untidy. We had to get them out by dawn so visitors wouldn’t see ’em and get a scare!’

Grandpa clawed his hands and made swatting movements in the air. He growled low like a bear before coming over and tickling Alice, who broke into giggles. Then he sat on the tomb next to her and they looked out over the cemetery.

‘Did you ever see a ghost, grandpa?’ Alice asked.

‘Plenty!’ grandpa cried, ‘I saw the ghost of little girl once, way younger then you, and she was running along the path just there. There’s the woman in blue who walks around the church, crying for her lost lover. A black dog with red eyes that’s spotted in the bushes and shadows of the trees. He’s said to guide souls away.’

‘And there’s also the headless man!’ Alice shouted.

Grandpa laughed and spoke, ‘that’s one of your favourites, Al.’

Spots of rain began to fall.

Grandpa pointed out a large bank of grey cloud coming over to them and declared it time to go home.

‘But you will tell me, won’t you, grandpa? The story of the headless man,’ Alice questioned.

Grandpa helped her down from the tomb. Hand in hand they walked back towards The Grave Digger’s Cottage.

‘Of course, I will! As long as you promise not to lose your head with fright!’ Grandpa replied.

Alice laughed and shadows grew long on the ground.

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Small #WritePhoto

an old, carved stone whose recesses are stuffed with red and black ladybirds.

It was a too hot summer afternoon, so I had taken toddler Ava into a shady patch of the lower garden. We sat on the grass, in the dappled shadow of an oak tree which rose up over the reminds of the old family chapel.

Whilst Ava played with some of her toys, I looked at the fallen stone walls and large pieces of stone decor. It was hard to imagine what the chapel had once looked like but I had seen some photos and though it had been small it had been a splendid place.

On the other side of the chapel, out of sight down a sloping hill and nested around three willow trees, was the family cemetery. Every Bartlett was buried there and when her time came, Ava would be too.

I on the other hand, just a nanny, would be buried in the village church graveyard where all the other past servants of Bartlett Manor where.

‘Look! What’s it!’ Ava cried.

I turned, frowning and  saw the three year old pointing to one of the decorative stones. Picking her up, we went for a closer look.

Crowding into the nooks of what might have been a corner stone of the outside ceiling with a now moss covered leave like pattern on it, with hundreds of small ladybirds.

Ava squealed and tried to stick her fingers into the crawling mass. I grabbed her hand and pulled it back.

‘They are only baby ladybirds,’ I explained.

‘Lay-d-burs,’ Ava tried to pronounce.

I laughed at her and clapped her hands together as I sang;

‘Ladybird, ladybird,
Fly away home,
Your house is on fire
And your children all gone;
All except one
And that’s little Ann,
And she has crept under
The warming pan.’

We laughed together then carried on watching the ladybirds.

‘What lay-d-burs doing?’ Ava asked.

‘Napping. Like you should be doing,’ I replied.
Ava pulled a face and began to make a fuss. I quickly settled her down on the picnic blanket and started to read some fairy tales to her.
The heat and tiredness got to her and she was soon asleep.

 

(Inspired by; https://scvincent.com/2019/06/06/thursday-photo-prompt-choices-writephoto/ with thanks).

Ladybird nursery rhyme quote from; https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46960/ladybird-ladybird

Return #FridayFictioneers

It’s been ages since I last walked through the doors of a church. My loss of faith had been a gradual thing and for years I had stopped believing.

I don’t know why things had started stirring inside of me, I guess because when you don’t have anywhere else to turn you go to religion. Even if you don’t believe and it doesn’t solve the problems, there’s a peace to be had in worship that can’t come from anywhere else.

Taking a few deep breaths, I walk through the door ready to commit once more.

 

(Inspired by; https://rochellewisoff.com/2019/05/01/3-may-2019/ with thanks).

The Walk Home #WeeklyWritingPrompt

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Even though he had to work on Sunday, Nick always went to church afterwards. Sitting on the cold wooden pews, he stared at the alter watching the candles flickering against the stone wall and stained glass arch window above. Nick shut his eyes and prayed, thanking God for his second chance, for removing his sins and his needs now being meet.

Not long ago, Nick was barely surviving his fourth year on the streets. Newly released from jail for robbing shops, houses and cars, he found himself with hardly anything. He couldn’t get a job and when he spent all the money he had, he found himself with no home. There seemed nothing else left for him to do but die in the gutter.

However, death had left him alone and during his first snowy winter on the streets, Nick had often visited churches and other holy places that left doors open. There he had found himself again through religion.

Years later, with the help of a few kind people, Nick had turned over a new leaf and found employment in maintaining the cities’ churches. An old victor had allowed him to live in a tiny vicarage which was very basic but at least it was warm and dry. To Nick it was the best home he had ever had.

Leaving the church, he made his way through the graveyard. It was snowing heavily again and some of the smaller headstones where almost covered. Nick was careful and respectful in his walking, he tried not to disturbed anything. His breath misted in front of his face and snow fell on his worn coat and rubber boots. He didn’t shiver or really feel the freezing air, he was use to the cold now.

Leaving deep footprints, he went through the open gate at the end of the graveyard and along the path to the vicarage. Snow lay thick on the roof of the building and also on the window sills. There was little arched porch at the front and Nick huddled underneath. He shook the snow from his coat and boots then dug in his pockets for the key.

In the quietness, Nick putting the key in the lock and opening the door sounded louder then normal. Heading in, he turned the light on and felt a brush of warmth. Taking his his things off in the hallway, he went into the small living room and looked out. It was dark outside but thanks to the streetlights reflecting off the snow, Nick could make out some of the graveyard and the church.

‘I wouldn’t like to be out there right now,’ Nick mumbled, ‘thanks for my new life.’

 

(Inspired by; https://secretkeeper.net/2019/01/21/weekly-writing-prompt-177/ with thanks).

Christmas Eve

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The church bells rang out signalling the start of midnight mass. People walked or drove  over, some carrying presents or boxes of food for the poor. Snowflakes fluttered from the dark sky whilst fairy lights everywhere twinkled warmly. The fresh air was mingled with the scents of pine, hot cooking and frankincense.

In the church they gathered, singing hymns and saying prays by the flickering candle light. They celebrated the birth of a baby thousands of years ago that they believed changed the world for the better. With hearts full of joy and wonder, they wished for a Christmas of peace.

God’s Will #FirstLineFriday

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Amber light streamed down from the arched windows, splattering the altar and their upturned faces. The congregation, choir, organist and vicar all remained seated as the earthquake rocked the church.

The stone floor, walls, pillars and the stained glass in the windows shook. Candle stands toppled and the people closest reached out to grip the still burning candles. Vases of flowers tipped too and people moved out of the way. The vicar and members of the choir collected the Holy Communion things off the altar. The church bell began ringing by itself.

The choir master started up a hymn. Other voices joined in, mingling with those who were saying prayers aloud. The vicar joined in the song, his voice drowning out everyone else, until the organist began playing the hundred year old organ and those booming notes covered everything but the rumbling of the earthquake.

Dust fell from the high wooden beams and stone roof. The sound of things falling echoed then the vibrations stopped and the rumbling faded. People opened their eyes and looked around. The church was still intact, they had survived.

 

(Inspired from; https://mindlovemiserysmenagerie.wordpress.com/2018/09/28/first-line-friday-september-28th-2018/ with thanks).

Yestreen #atozchallenge (Part 2)

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Yestreen; during yesterday evening. 

Finishing the washing up, I moved on to drying. I heard my wife moving around and it sounded like she was tidying the dinning room. I really hoped she was going to go out soon, I needed to phone Bob, Bill and Jim. My memory from yesterday evening was hazy and I needed them to confide in.

Putting the dried plates, cutlery and tea things away, I chased down the idea to question my wife about today’s activities. She was suspicious about me enough. I turned off the radio and went into the dinning room to get my newspaper, I hadn’t finished reading it. My wife had moved it and herself into the sitting room.

I settled into my favourite armchair and took the newspaper from the side table where she had placed it. The TV was on some drama show my wife liked and she was looking through her small diary. I turned the newspaper pages loudly and buried myself once more in the articles.

‘Perhaps,’ my wife said slowly, ‘I’ll go and visit the vicar’s wife. Though, everyone else is probably doing that. Their daughter was in my school, you know and I am a key member of the village council now.’

I nodded, tried of her reminding me about that.

‘Are you going to the allotment?’ she asked sharply.

‘What, darling?’ I asked, lowering the paper.

‘The allotment, dear. Are going today?’ my wife pressed.

‘Yes, yes!’ I cried, she had just given me a great idea and the perfect cover.

‘I’m not deaf,’ she tutted.

‘No, sorry, love. I had forgotten you see…I was going to show the lads my…erm…lettuces! I should give ’em a bell and remind them,’ I added.

Tossing my newspaper down, I hurried to the phone and called them one after the other. Bill, Bob and Jim were all confused at first but I talked them into it without giving away anything. Then I hurried to change and gather my things whilst trying to keep yesterday evening out of my head.

‘I’m off then, dear,’ I called from the front door.

‘Here,’ my wife called from the kitchen before hurrying down the hallway.

She give me a thermos of tea and a plastic box containing sandwiches.

‘Remember, be back before five. I’m cooking lamb chops,’ she stated.

We kissed goodbye and I left quickly. I hurried down the street, caught the local bus and went to the edge of the village. Getting off, I walked down the lane to the allotments’ gate. It was unlocked and as I walked to my patch, I could see a few other people moving about. Luckily, they were all too far away to over hear me.

I unlocked the wooden garden gate and stepped into my fenced allotment. In neat rows where growing all kinds of veg. I walked up down, checking them in the glowing sunny day.

‘Just a little water,’ I mused.

Soon after I’d done, that my friends arrived. We greeted each other and showed them the few things that were really coming up now.

‘What is that about really, Gerald?’ Bob asked.

‘The news this morning,’ I whispered, ‘did you see it?’

‘Of course! The whole village knows about the murdered vicar!’ Bill said loudly.

‘Hush!’ I hissed, ‘look, I don’t remember much, so I wanted to know if any of you saw anything in the church.’

They fall silent in thought.

‘We heard a scream, a thud and someone running out the other door,’ I said to jog their minds.

‘Yes, then we ran the other way,’ Bill put in with a shrugged.

‘We thought we’d be caught too, remember,’ Jim added.

‘I was too drunk,’ Bob announced with a scrunched up face.

‘And we didn’t…None of us saw the vicar?’ I asked.

They shook their heads.

‘We going to the police?’ Bill questioned.

We all looked shiftily at each other.

‘Why? What can we tell them?’ Bob cut in.

‘I don’t know….That we heard something and saw a figure but we didn’t know what had happened?’ I suggested.

‘Then they’ll want to know why we didn’t check the place out,’ Jim replied.

‘And what we were doing there,’ Bill tagged on.

‘Maybe, we should keep mum,’ Bob spoke out.

There was a muttering of agreements.

‘If they ask though…?’ I broke in.

‘Then…we weren’t there,’ Bill declared, ‘we were in the pub and everyone there can confirm that. When we left we dropped Bob off then went our separate ways.’

I flashed back to this morning. I’d rather face down a policeman then my wife.

‘So we agree then?’ Jim said.

We agreed.

‘Look at those clouds,’ Bob spoke, ‘don’t like the look of ’em.’

Looking up, I saw there was a bank of dark grey clouds rolling in. The sun seemed to have dimmed too. There wasn’t meant to be any rain today, but it seemed no one had told the clouds that.

‘I’m off,’ Bill said, ‘I’ve left Molly with the grandkids.’

‘I should mow the lawn before it rains,’ Jim spoke next, ‘Anne’s been getting on my nerves about it.’

‘I..got…’ Bob trailed with a scratch of his head.

‘It’s fine. See you all later,’ I said and waved everyone off.

Watching them all leave, I wondered if we had done the right thing. But what would we really told the police? And surely, because we all intoxicated they couldn’t really take our word? I shuffled around the bed where my carrots were, debating what to do.

‘Did we really witness a murder?’ I muttered.

I tried hard to recall what I’d seen but it was all shadows and dust. Deciding to go home, I finished my tea and packed everything up. As I waited for the bus, spots of rain fell. It seemed I had left just in time. My thoughts were still stormy like the sky when I got on the bus then off it at home.

My wife wasn’t in, I guessed she was still out visiting the poor vicar’s wife. I put the TV and lamps on then sit in my armchair. I couldn’t settle though. Finally, I reached for the phone and called the local police station.

‘Hello, I’d like talk to someone about the vicar’s murder….I have some information.’

Yestreen #atozchallenge (Part 1)

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Yestreen; during yesterday evening. 

‘This says he was killed yesterday evening,’ came my wife’s voice from, behind the newspaper.

I grunted, shuffled my own paper and turned the page.

‘Up at that old church in the glen!’ she added.

Grunting again, I reached around and felt for my teacup. My fingers clinked against the bone china and I groped for the handle. Finding it, I raised the cup and brought it to my lips, taking a few mouthfuls of tea.

‘Dear? Weren’t you up there the other night?’ my wife asked in a pondering voice.

I chocked on my tea little then coughed loudly to cover it up. Setting my teacup back on it’s saucer and my newspaper down beside it, I looked at my wife. She was looking fine in her Sunday best dress which she had worn to church earlier. Her grey hair was curled tightly and pinned up. There was a puzzled expression on her wrinkled face and a demanding look in her blue eyes.

‘What? Er, no. Course not. No where near!’ I spluttered.

Her face hardened, turning into the pinched and knowing look she had been famous for as the headmistress of the girl’s high school years ago.

I felt a wave of guilty school boy in my belly. There was no lying to my wife. I had to be careful now.

‘Oh, maybe we did a little,’ I said, trying to wave it all a way.

‘What did you do?’ she asked sharply.

I shrugged before replying, ‘just stayed at The Woodsman pub, talking and drinking. Played some darts, arranged that golf rematch with Bill. Then four of us went for some fresh air and we took Bob home. You know, he lives close to there…’

I smiled and picked up my teacup again. Dropping my eyes to the small table as I drank, I saw the reminds of our Sunday breakfast; greasy plates, empty toast rack, jar of jam, bottle of brown sauce, the teapot with it’s knitted cosy on, the small jug of milk and the sugar bowl.

My wife ruffled her newspaper again and looked down at it, ‘no details of how he died,’ she muttered under her breath, ‘police still investigating and asking for witness….Who would kill a vicar?’ she said loudly.

‘No idea,’ I answered and got to my feet.

I began cleaning the table, avoiding my wife’s staring eyes. Gathering up the plates and other things on the tray, I went into the kitchen. I put things away then began washing up. My wife had left the radio on and there was some song from the sixties playing. I hoped she didn’t come in here and went out instead. I tried to remember if she was visiting anyone today.

Washing the plates, my thoughts turned to yesterday evening. I hadn’t told her the whole truth. We had been up in the church, we had all been drunk and fancied a laugh. It had been Bob’s idea really, he had a spare key to the door but it had been Ernie who’d come up with the ‘joke’.

At the wooden front door though, we had heard voices shouting, a scream then a thudding noise from within. Bob had flung open the door and we had piled in to see a shadowy figure fleeing through the back door.

To be continued…

Jump

14 John Robinson 17 September 2017

There were flowers on the bridge again. I noticed them on my way to work. It seemed to be the way around here and everyone knew what they meant so no questions were ever asked.

I’d never seen anyone jump. I heard they did it at night so there was less chance of them being stopped. I didn’t understand it. What could make people decided to do that? Only they could answer, for only they knew what was in their heads.

I went to church and learnt it was the Devil that made people jump. Walking over the bridge the next day, I stopped and looked over the wall. Below the murky waters flowed, looking as inviting sewage. And yet, I felt drawn. It looked so calm down there and so peaceful, not like the madness of this city. You work or you die!

You jump and live…..

 What was that voice? Where had it come from?

Why did I feel the urge to climb the wall?

Be Free! Jump!

I was climbing up. I was dropping my things, taking off my coat. People were gasping, shouting. The wind felt so good on my face. My feet were leaving the wall.

I wanted to be free.

 

(Inspired by; https://sundayphotofictioner.wordpress.com/2017/09/17/sunday-photo-fiction-september-17th-2017/ with thanks).

Chapel Keys

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It had been a long day of spreading God’s message, but the two Mormon men were still happy. As they walked down the street, dressed in their fine suits, back to their rented apartment they were tried but still prepared to greet anybody who crossed their path.

A clunking sound and clattering of metal on metal made them pause. They glanced down and saw they had just walked over a rain grid. The tallest one patted his pockets and came to a realisation.

‘The chapel keys! They’ve fallen out of my pocket!’  he declared.

‘Double check,’ the other suggested.

The first did then shook his head and looked down into the gloom of the drain pipe.

‘We’ll have to get them,’ the second replied.

With a nod to each other, they hurried to their apartment were they gathered torches, ropes and buckets. Heading back, they removed the grid, which was heavy and shone their torches down.

A small stream of  dark, dirty water was running by and the keys on their long thin rope could just be seen underneath.

The Mormons quickly set to work. They tied ropes to the handles of the buckets and lowed one down at a time to try and scoop the keys up.

A heavy set man walking his small white dog passed by them.

‘Lost something have ya?’ he asked.

The Mormons nodded and the first one replied, ‘yes.’

‘Good luck,’ the man answered and walked away with his dog.

Setting back to work, they brought up bucket after bucket of sewage water but none contained the keys. Desperately, they tried to think of another plan, but nothing else other than praying came to their tried minds. So, they carried on.

Twenty minutes later, the man came back with his dog.

‘Still at it, huh? What ya lost anyway? Car keys?’ the man questioned.

‘The keys to the chapel!’ the first Mormon replied.

The second was hauling up his bucket and looking deeply grim.

‘Oh….Not good then?’ the man asked. He seemed to be holding in his laughter.

‘Not really…’

‘What’s that?’ the second Mormon cut in as he looked at the scrum in his bucket.

The first peered over and respond, ‘it’s the keys! You got them!’ and he pulled them out.

The keys and rope were covered with something unspeakable but the Mormons were so happy that didn’t seem to bother them at all.

‘Well, goodnight,’ said the man and calling for his dog, he walked down the street, trying to still his laughter.

The Mormons tidied up as best they could then headed back to their apartment. They thanked God doubly in their prayers that night.

(Based on true events)