DON’T PLAY GAMES

The other day I was talking to Kevin, the manager of the local estate just up the road from us, when I mentioned I’d bought a small booklet on local ghosts.

“Do you know Winchbourne is supposed to be one of the most haunted towns in England,” I said quite innocently. “Apparently nearly all the pubs have a ghost or two; plus the friendly ghost of the dog that keeps people company up Holly Lane – the story goes that years ago it lost its owner on a walk up there and it’s always looking for him.”

“Oh, yes,” Kevin affirmed, leaning on his hoe and scratching his forehead. “I know the stories well but I’ve actually experienced one of them, well sort of…. T’was my first wife that really suffered the effects.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Go on.”

“One summer, in my very early twenties, I and my mate Mike were employed to dig out the foundations of The Roebuck as the then owner wanted to extend the pub and add function rooms – the rooms at the back, you know, the ones that stick into the pub car park off Vineyard Street. Bloody hard work it was too, especially as it was during a hot spell.

I nodded. I knew the extension well as I’d been to an anniversary party in the upper room fairly recently but never to any do in the lower room. In fact, as I said to Kevin, in my limited knowledge of the pub the lower room seemed to be hardly used.

“No the locals won’t use it much. Mainly outsiders or visitors,” Kevin replied. “When you’ve heard the story you’ll understand why.”

“As I said, when I was a youngish lad, Mike Hemming – you know, Mike who now runs the hardware store – and me were asked to dig out the old foundations of the extension. We reckoned the basement hadn’t been used for hundreds of years. Whilst we were digging out the foundations we came across what seemed to be a really, really old stout wooden cover to a shaft of some sort. We thought we ought to check what was under the cover and the two of us struggled for quite a while to prise it open – we’d wondered if it had been somehow sealed to prevent access. And, slightly odd, the cover seemed to be in really good nick, though by rights it should have been rotten to the core if it had been there for a good few centuries. Anyway, after half an hour’s backbreaking work there was a crack and we prised cover open revealing what we thought must have been a well. It was a circular stone shaft leading down into utter blackness. But I remember that as we opened it up, we’d felt this really weird icy blast eerily blow up mysteriously from below.

We got some torches and had a good look down the shaft. It did seem to have been an old well as the shaft was not in fact that deep and we could make out the bottom with some water in it about twenty or thirty feet down. Not having a long enough ladder handy, Mike had gone across to the hardware store and secured two lengths of stout rope which we’d put knots in and then knotted together. Over lunch, we tossed a coin to decide who should go down the well to investigate and decide whether proper builders needed to be called in. I lost recalled so I was “volunteered” to go down the shaft.

“Bad luck, mate,” Mike had called cheerily with a big – but rather insincere smile.

So down the shaft I went. As I approached the bottom, it became very cold and in the beam of Mike’s torch I could make out shallow water – oddly pretty clear given the fact the well was obviously so old. Then I saw what appeared to be the bones of a man together with something silver next to the bones lying in the water.I remember thinking out loud,

“Bugger me,” shivering in horror and hastily scrambling back up and out of the shaft.

“What’s there?” Mike had asked. “You look as if you’ve seen a ghost. You look ill.”

“There’s a body down there, I’m sure of it,” I’d replied. “Plus something glinting in the torchlight – metal or the like.”

“Well, we’d reported the find to the owner of the pub who’d called the Police and they then advised calling out the County Archaeological team. After a week of inaction, the archaeologists arrived and set to work in the shaft in white suits with various tools and equipment. After a further week they’d come up with their provisional conclusions.

“We are pretty sure the bones are the remains of Eagmund, a nephew of King Offa of Mercia who had a palace somewhere here in the Winchbourne area,” some guy called Dr Leonard, who was in charge, told us. “The silvery thing you saw is actually a small coronet which confirms the royal rank of the person in the shaft. It’s been sent away for testing – but if they confirm what we think then the body is almost certainly that of Prince Eagmund, so it’s a very important historical find.”

“But what about this Eg….. what’s his name….?” Mike had asked. “Sounds as if he was murdered to be chucked down a well.”

“Well quite,” Dr. Leonard had told us. “He was a nephew of King Offa – quite famous – you might have heard of Offa’s Dyke built to keep the Welsh out of Mercia. His capital was at Lichfield but the kingdom extended down here and he had a palace hereabouts – unfortunately lost now. Anyway, Prince Eagmund was apparently conspiring to overthrow Offa but was, how shall we say, “rumbled” and was pursued by royal troops to Winchbourne where he sought refuge in the Abbey. By rights, he should have been granted refuge but the Abbot was a close friend of the King and, inexcusably for a Christian monk, refused to let Eagmund into the Abbey Church. The King’s soldiers caught the Prince and reputedly killed him and threw the body down a well.”

“But I said to this Leonard guy that it seemed so cold down there. And when we opened the cover, there was a sudden icy chill. Like something nasty or evil was at work.”

“Well, I can’t comment really other than what records there are say Eagmund apparently roundly cursed the Abbot and Offa and the town generally immediately before his death. The Abbot died soon after of some horrid disease – probably small pox; Offa himself not much later. So maybe there was some spirit there, who knows? We’ll bury the bones in Winchbourne o more likely Gloucester Cathedral and the coronet will be cleaned up and displayed in the County collection. We’ll send you an invite to its installation – it’ll form an important part of the County Historical collection, you know.”

After all that, the owner had the shaft filled in and redeveloped the function rooms.

After a pause Kevin continued the story.

“A few years later, Vicki my ex-wife, agreed to go to a ouija board “party” with some of here girlfriends in the The Roebuck and the woman organising it hired the lower room in the pub. Well, I went with her but decided to stay in the bar upstairs with a few mates as somehow I didn’t fancy a seance. Perhaps I’m superstitious but I somehow felt scared – got a bad feeling in my gut – and I remembered all too well the shaft and the skeleton. I’d tried to persuade Vicki not to go but she wouldn’t listen. And, truth be told, I used to get cheap pints off the landlord after my efforts in the basement. I think he felt a bit guilty.”

“I’d wished the girls a happy hour or two and they’d gone off merrily with plenty of drink and the seance leader to the lower room. Me and my mates, we settled in intending to enjoy a few bevvies, watch the cricket on the telly and chat away for a few hours.

“Well, after half an hour or so, the girls were back from the bottom room screaming with fright. And I mean real fright, terror…. Never seen folks look so scared. They’d come in the bar crying and shaking….. Nor have I seen so many women drink strong whiskies or brandies neither, their hands trembling. Vicki actually spilled some whisky – not like her at all to waste a drop of alcohol. There were tears streaming down her cheeks.”

“I only found out what happened when we got home. Vicki was really unsteady, though I think that was as much fright as the whisky, although she’d consumed a couple by then.”

“We started the seance OK,” she’d almost gibbered. “But after ten or fifteen minutes or so we’d felt an icy chill descend on the room and we’d begun shivering violently. Then, as we continued, we’d slowly become aware of a presence in the room, coming like smoke out of the floor and twisting and turning until it seemed like there was a figure above us meaning us no good. And the smell was awful, sort of putrid smell.

“What figure?” I’d asked.

“Well, like an old man but in weird clothes – like you get in those really old pictures in churches and the like – and looked as those he’d been cut or stabbed as there was bloody marks round his neck and chest. But his face was the weirdest, all white and drawn with bad teeth exposed. And the nuttiest thing of all…. He appeared to be wearing some crown or something like it.”

Kevin stretched and scratched his forehead, red and shiny from the heat,

“So I leave you to think it through,” he said. “But reckon I’ve experienced a ghost of Winchbourne – and a nasty one too.”

The End.

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One thought on “Don’t Play Games. An entry written for the August 2019 tcwg competition and submitted by Colmore.

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