Don't Pick Up Hitchhikers 
By Katrina Rasbold

Before all is said and done on the Spooky Story section, you will likely have several England stories from me.  I spent three years there and overall, it’s a really spooky-assed place.  If you ever wondered why it was so “conveniently” damp, foggy and dreary in all those old Basil Rathbone movies, there is a very good reason for that.  If you ever wondered why in movies like “American Werewolf in London” the rolling moors and suspicious pubs look so eerie and intimidating, there is a very good reason for that.  If you ever thought whimsically to yourself, “Gee, why don’t *I* live in England,” there’s a very good reason for that.  Those reasons are as follows:  1) It is always damp, foggy and dreary in England, 2) The moors and pubs are freakishly eerie and intimidating and 3) Because you weren’t born there and they really, really don’t want you there (excepting the lovely British National readers we have – cheers!  I loved England.  My husband (at that time, not the good one I have now) hated it.  I’m an herb person, so the huge fields of bright yellow rape (it’s a plant) and vast myriad of wild-growing herbage was fantastic.  I come from a British heritage (the Chapmans) and he comes from an Irish family, (the Humphreys), which creates conflict right there since the British and Irish despise one another.  I’m a Pagan and being right smack in Anglia, the dead-on center of Merlin’s Country was an incredible rush.  I took to darts like a little ducky to water (free cigarettes and liquor if you won the match was a brilliant incentive), so I was able to break into the pub scene quickly whereas Paul was uncomfortable, couldn’t understand the dialect and did little other than hide in a corner and suck on Carlsburg lager.  Overall, in the part of England where we live, the British actively despise us “Yanks.”  I was called “Yank,” even by my friends, right up until the day I left.  I don’t think a lot of them even knew my real name.  I was told the animosity goes back to “The War,” in which case I figured it was WWII since they were really pissy about American men coming over to fight and leaving with a war bride.  Turns out, that’s just fuel on the fire and “The War” is the Revolutionary War!!  I was shocked because to me, that was centuries ago and should be a big deal, but England is so old that it was like yesterday for them and they are PISSED about it.  It doesn’t help that when I was there, 1982-1985, there wasn’t a great deal of American TV available on the 4 British TV channels available.  Two of the channels were instructional (classroom, math and such) until around 4pm and the other two showed British shows and a few American shows.  Dynasty, Dallas, Laverne and Shirley and Football were the four I mostly remember.  The upshot was that the British folks thought we were like Laverne, Shirley, The Carringtons and The Ewings.  It is also important to know that in the Winter, the sun comes up around 10am and goes down around 3pm.  Wacky latitude/longitude issues allow very little sun in the Winter, but as you can imagine, in the Summer, the sun goes down around 9pm and rises around 4am.  There is no dark like the dark that falls on England at night.  It’s made of some velvet substance melded with molasses and ice cubes.  Black, black, blackest night.  When some long ago writer coined the phrase, “Darkness fell,” s/he was in England.  One minute you’re in your yard, thinking it’s getting a little dusky, then BOOM, it’s black as onyx.  

As you may have also seen in movies or read in books, most of the houses there are named.  Ours was called “Maltings House” because it is where malt was made for ale or something like that.  We lived on Somersham Road (many of the roads are named for the town that they lead to) in the town of Ofton (yes, we made and heard all the jokes).  It was not far from Ipswich in Suffolk County.   Our house was built in the 1400’s and I still, at least twice a month, dream about that house and there will be more on THAT later.   That’s a spooky story in and of itself.   God, I wish I could live there again, with my current husband who is metaphysically inclined! 

Maltings House was right across the way from Yew Tree Cottage, where my very, very best pal, Kate Bryant, lived.  I miss her so dearly and due to a move she had to make right after WE moved back to the states (the hill behind her house was unstable and threatening to come down onto HER house so the County made her move), we lost one another.  I *think* she moved to New Market, but don’t know and all efforts to find her have been in vain.  If ANYONE knows a woman in England named Kate, Once Bryant, had a husband named Trevor, a son named Paul, a daughter named Holly and a cat named Sammy, please, for the love of God, point her in my direction!!  Kate was just…*sigh*…fab.  Anyway, Kate got me going down to The Limeburners, which was a pub just about a quarter miles from our houses.  “Want to go down the pub?” did not ever involve arm twisting.  The quarter mile in dead-assed darkness was usually a safe stumbling home distance (the security light from the pub was swallowed into the darkness after you’d walked only a few feet…the molasses, I think)…usually.  Often, I would drive because it was cold or because it was spooky.  It should be noted that I did not drink and drive, both as disclaimer and for the validity of the story I’m about to tell. 

Once I got good at darts and started smoking again, I made a lot of local friends.  Many lived down in the little village of Ofton, which was down the hill, about 2-3 miles back a little road called (guess it, go on!) Ofton Road.  The village was very, very old and had been going much longer than my house.  Most of the folks who frequented the pub would walk to and from (since they did drink for the evening).  Since I was driving, I would frequently give them a ride home at night.  In England at that time, and I presume it is probably the same way now since little seems to change (a popular T-shirt at the Air Force Base Exchange read:  “You have arrived at RAF Bentwaters.  Please set your watch back twenty years.”) – although I hear they now have cable TV! – you could not purchase liquor of any kind after 11pm.  The policy of the landlord (bartender and owner) of our pub was that he couldn’t sell it, but he could damned well give it away, so he would lock the doors at 11pm and it would become a private party.  No one ever took advantage of his generosity and we would always push him a few extra pounds the next day.   After a rollicking night of darts, I was taking 3 of my friends home.  Kate hadn’t been able to make it that night, which was a bummer.  

I dropped Nigel, Chris and Darlene off in Ofton and was heading back home.  Once you leave the approximate quarter mile length of the village, you are again immersed in that British dark like no other dark.  Drive for about a mile or so from the down, round the corner by the church, drive up the hill for about a mile, swing onto Somersham Road again and drive about another mile home.  The churches in England are also incredible.  They are mostly made of stone and are old beyond old.  The cemeteries are big and have markers that date well into the 1800’s and 1700’s, alongside ones that are new.  Again, I’d love to go back there now, knowing what I know then and with the appreciation I now have for such things.  I turned 21 a few months before I got to England, so I wasn’t far enough out of Kentucky to know what I should be looking for and writing to my memory drive.  What happened next, however, is indelibly burned there. 

I was rounding the corner by the church, getting ready to go up the hill to Somersham Road when very suddenly, the car just died.  I had a 1981 Honda Civic Station Wagon that was only 3 years old and ran like the finely tuned piece of machinery it was.  Back then, you couldn’t beat a Honda to death with a stick and they were #1 for many years running in customer satisfaction.  You could fully expect to turn over 300,000 miles on one.  I owned three Hondas (granted the 87 DX Accord was a lemon) and would probably still be driving Hondas if I didn’t need the space and if they weren’t pieces of crap with most parts made in the US now.   As I got to the church, as I said, the car didn’t click, didn’t moan, didn’t grind…it just weirdly sighed into silence and all of the dashboard and interior lights went out.  Remember the molasses, velvet and ice cubes, please.  Remember about a mile and a half to my house, about a mile and a half back to the village.  Remember that I am right smack by a very old, very dark, very spooky cemetery and church at just before 2am.  Remember that I had NOT been drinking.  I waited a few minutes, then turned the key.  It was as though I’d put the key into a stick of butter and turned it.  It was smooth (no clicking to the ignition points) and offered no results.  My father was a 20-year Master Technician for General Motors and I could think of NOTHING that would cause this in a fairly new car.  Not even an attempt at juice to the lights, the radio, anything.  Just that freaky, smooth turning motion.  I considered my two options.  One was to walk up the hill to my house (the pub was already closed and it was common knowledge that Joe would not open the doors to God Himself after the pub closed, so I’d be banging at the doors to no avail).  The other was to walk back to the village where my friends would no doubt, still be awake.  I opted for the third, which was to lock my car doors and pray that either the car would decide to start soon or I’d be found alive in the morning.  After about 5 minutes of sitting there in the cold, feeling the cemetery nearby, the hair on my arms and the back of my neck was standing at full attention.  After about 10 minutes, I was debating the wisdom of my choice and wondering if anyone would still be awake by the time I walked back to the village or if I’d have the nerve to leave the car and walk PAST the back half of the cemetery and a mile and a half into Ofton.  After 15 minutes, I was wishing cell phones had already been invented.  At about 20 minutes after the initial stall, (get ready for this one folks, because I swear to God, it’s true), the lights flared on inside and outside my car and the engine turned over and started.  I touched nothing, didn’t even turn the key.  It just…started.  O…K…  Not waiting to be asked twice, I drove home.  

When I got home, I flew inside and bolted the door behind me, then tiptoed into the room where Paul was sleeping and quietly undressed.  I crawled into bed and cuddled under the covers, trying to get warm.  Our house was heated by (wickedly expensive) kerosene through a poor heating system, so I wasn’t having much luck and I knew if I tried to use Paul as a foot warmer, he’d wake up and be grumpy.  I could see well in the room because there was a security light at our neighbor’s house (This would be Miss Neve Windham, the spinster lady who did indexing for a book publishing company lonnnng before there were home computers.  She did it by hand on 3x5 index cards – hence the name) that shone right through our curtains, so it was a bit like late dusk in the room.  I closed my eyes, knowing I’d never sleep that night, but giving it a go, nonetheless.  The last thing I saw before I closed my eyes was the bedroom clock:  2:35am.  If I could get to sleep within the next twenty minutes, I’d have four hours of solid sleep time before the kids were awake and needing me. 

The first thing I noticed, was the smell in the room.  It came on suddenly, like someone had sprayed perfume, but it was a smell of dirt and molded leaves and compost heap and decay and something almost like sandalwood, but not quite.  It was strong and getting stronger.  I opened my eyes (laying on my side facing away from the middle of the bed because I feel claustrophobic if I have to breathe “used air”) and in the dim light, saw, about 8-10 inches from my nose, a very, very old ragged pair of pants.  My insides froze like you could not imagine.  I turned my head on instinct and saw standing by the bed, a very, very, very dead man.  His skin was starting to slip away from his skull, taking his longish, badly matted hair with it.  His clothes were hanging so loosely on his frame that I couldn’t believe he was still wearing them.  His eyes were dull and cloudy and his mouth was pulled back tightly from his teeth, which were wobbling loosely in his mouth.  His nose had been partially eaten off by something.  He was covered in black mud and leaves and the smell of death and decay radiated from him.   I took in all of this in a matter of nanoseconds.   He began to lean over, coming in quickly, moving toward my mouth as though he was going to kiss me or whisper something.  He opened his mouth and a lump of *something* (what was once his tongue, leaves, mold, mud, who knows?) began to tumble out.  I quickly became unfrozen and rolled to my right, screaming like mad.  

The next thing that I remember is Paul holding me very, very tightly and yelling loudly in my hear for me to “stop!”  I finally realized that he wanted me to stop screaming.  I could hear the screaming, but was so disjointed, I couldn’t figure out it was coming from me at first.  I stopped, but was still hysterical.  Was it still there?  Did he see it?  Did he feel it?  He pulled me close to me, spooning me from the back, and told me I was having a nightmare and to go back to sleep.  The smell was no longer in the room.  My visitor was no longer in the room.  I was shaking spasmodically.  Paul mumbled, “My God, you can sure scream” and drifted back to sleep. I looked at the clock.  It read 2:45.  I’d been in bed exactly ten minutes.  I finally drifted off, fitfully, around 5am.  Paul was nice enough to get up with the kids the next morning and let me sleep.  I was so grateful and luxuriated until around 10am.  As he was dressing to make breakfast for the kids, I heard Paul give a snort of derision.  I asked him what was up and he said, “I would think that you could at least clean your shoes before you come inside.  You’ve tracked mud and leaves all over the floor…”  …by my side of the bed…right beside my side of the bed, and my shoes were where they always are…by the door…the back door…on the other side of the house…perfectly clean. 

Your mom was right.  Picking up hitchhikers = bad idea.


Update:  A dear friend of mine blessed me with this link showing pictures of the church as well as a tiny bit of the cemetery.