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
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
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 http://www.suffolkchurches.co.uk/offton.htm showing pictures of the church as well as a tiny bit of the cemetery.