30 October 2015

Crier Of Claife - Part 2 A silent scream.

  .......... After two or three minutes, the path turned into a road courtesy of a cattle grid and kissing gate. The home straight.
   With five minutes to spare David reached a junction and turned left on to the last few hundred metres of the ferry road. It was deserted but that came as no surprise until he rounded the final bend and saw a still empty road disappear into the lake. 

There was no-one there. More to the point he could see no sign of a ferry. He checked his watch. It was eight fifty seven. He wiped his sleeve down the plastic sheet protecting the ferry timetable. Sure enough, the last ferry was timetabled to leave at nine. David followed the line of the thick metal cable with which the ferry pulled itself across the lake. On the far shore he saw a bulky, open ended boat with railings on either side.
   The ferry was black and silent.
   He scuffed his boots angrily on the road. At best, he was facing a long walk back to Sawrey and what he imagined would be a very expensive night at The Cuckoo Brow. At worst, they would be full and he’d have to head back the five miles or more to Hawkshead.
   David wheeled round.
   ‘Sorry. I’m making a habit of making you jump.’
   ‘John! But, why – er, how-‘ David blustered.
   ‘I saw them knock the lights off on the ferry, John explained. ‘I called but the wind must have taken my voice.’
   ‘You didn’t have to come – er, I mean thanks, but I guess I’ll just have to head back into Sawrey.’
   John smiled as if he were a little embarrassed. ‘It’s okay. Like I said, I’m not in a hurry to get anywhere.’
   ‘Right,’ David acknowledged, hoping this was the last time his heart rate was going to accelerate quite so alarmingly. ‘If I ever get the time I’ll have to write them a stern letter,’ he joked, pointing across the lake to the ferry.
   ‘If it’s really quiet they do that sometimes. I’m sorry you missed it.’
   ‘Don’t worry. You’ve done enough,’ David said, holding his hand up. ‘If it wasn’t for you I’d still be stumbling through the woods.’
   ‘Actually, I followed you because I thought I could help,’ John said, explaining himself further. ‘A friend of mine keeps a boat down here. It’s locked up against a tree just back there. He’s told me the combination on the lock if I ever needed to use it.’
   ‘A boat?’
   ‘A rowing boat. Enough for two – if you like.’
   David hesitated. For the second time that evening he contemplated whether or not he wanted to spend any more time with the man who kept appearing out of nowhere. He didn’t exactly look like a maniac, David thought, but he was definitely odd. David urged his brain to hurry up. It was obvious he was trying to make his mind up but the longer he took the more offence he was going to cause.
   ‘Look, it’s not as if I don’t....’
   John looked up and smiled. ‘Sorry, I must be coming across as – well, strangely, I’m sure. I’ll leave you to it.’
   ‘No, it’s fine,’ David apologised, instantly regretting his decision. The man was going out of his way to help him. ‘You’re just trying to do the right thing and I’m maybe not used to it.’
   John shrugged, slightly embarrassed by the compliment.
   ‘Listen, it would be great to get across but,’ David gestured at the weather, ‘it’s pretty wild.’
   ‘It is, but If you look carefully,’ John said, turning out to the lake. ‘Belle Isle tends to break up any waves on this bit of the lake. If we stick to the ferry route it’s just the last stretch that’s a little rough.’
   ‘Okay, I see that,’ David agreed, trying to make up for his ingratitude with a show of enthusiasm. ‘Come on then, let’s have a look at this boat.’ 
   John led back down the road a short way and then picked his way down to a rope knotted around the broad bole of an oak tree.
   ‘This one,’ he said, pulling the rope to guide in a sturdy, squat looking skiff. The rope was attached to a length of chain secured to the boat with a rusty looking combination padlock. ‘Not particularly sophisticated,’ he joked, turning the dials on the lock.
   ‘Does he use it much?’ David wondered, looking at the moss gathering beneath the lip of the boat edge.
   ‘Does it look like it?’ John joked, pulling a mouldy green cover back. ‘I’m sorry, but I’m a bit funny about getting my feet wet. Do you mind?’ He mimed holding the boat.
   ‘Least I could do,’ David replied, sloshing into the shallow water. ‘This is really good of you. I tell you what, I’m going to enjoy my bed tonight.’
   With the boat held fast John carefully lowered himself in. He shuffled forward to the prow taking care to avoid a puddle of water in the centre of the boat.
   ‘I’ll row,’ David volunteered, not wanting to be any more in debt than he already was.
   ‘I’ll keep us straight then,’ John said turning to face forwards.
   David climbed in and settled himself on the boat’s middle seat. He tried to ignore the unpleasant sensation of dampness rising up through his trousers and busied himself, pulling the oars out from beneath his feet and fixing them in the rowlocks.
   ‘Haven’t done this for a while.’
   ‘I’m sure you’ll be fine,’ John assured him. ‘Don’t try to fight the lake, just try and keep it smooth.’
   ‘Sure. Okay, here goes.’
   David pulled cautiously on the oars. The boat wobbled then settled into motion. It was an eerie sensation, edging away from the blackness of the shore into the blackness of the lake.
   ‘So, there’s the ghost of a heartbroken monk who moans and wails on stormy nights...’ David prompted. John laughed gently behind him.
   ‘Dead ahead,’ he instructed, gathering the thread of the story again. ‘That’s right – The Crier of Claife. Until he was confined by exorcism to an old abandoned quarry on Claife Heights.’
   ‘Where I met you,’ David completed the summary. ‘So why did he need confining or was it just to keep him quiet?’
   ‘Well,’ John began, his voice rising and falling with the wind. ‘The story goes that, many years after the monk’s death, a ferryman was taking refuge in The Ferry House, nursing something warm whilst a group of merrymakers were drinking and singing. Then, all of a sudden, the singing stops.
   ‘Listen!’ one of them cries. ‘What was that?’
   There is silence in the pub until, a few seconds later, there is the unmistakable cry of someone calling for a boat. The ferryman, ever dutiful, drains his cup and makes to head across to take a fare.
   ‘What are you doing?’ one of the party asks. ‘It’s a terrible night. You can’t go across in this weather.’
   ‘Boat!’ comes the wail again.
   ‘Besides,’ pipes up another guest. ‘What about the Crier? It’s the ghost calling you, for sure.’
   Everyone in the party agrees but, despite their protests, the ferryman pays his bill, pulls on his coat and heads for the door.’
   John fell silent.
   ‘And!?’ David complained, half turning round. ‘You can’t leave it there! It’s brilliant – sorry!’ he apologised as he dipped an oar clumsily, sending up a spray of water. Out of the corner of his eye he saw John flinch.
   ‘Just keep us steady,’ John reprimanded gently. ‘Don’t worry. I had not finished.’
   ‘That’s a relief.’
   ‘So, the ferryman heads out into the night, unties his boat and sets off across the lake. Some of the partygoers follow him to the shore and watch his lantern swing in the wind until the rain forces them back inside…..    We’re halfway across.’
   ‘I’m not worried about that,’ David joked. ‘I’m going to start going round in circles if I have to. Anything to get to the end of the story. That’s not the end, is it?’ he asked, suddenly panicking.
   ‘Not quite,’ John assured him. ‘Anyway, the story goes that after a while some of the more sober members of the party wanted to check on the ferryman, to make sure he got back alright. They shouted across the lake and when they heard no reply or saw no sign of the ferryman’s lantern, they checked along the shore to see if the ferry had been moored up and the ferryman already gone home to his bed.’
   ‘And had he?’ David asked, shouting a little to carry over the building wind. The boat was starting to emerge from the lee of the island and he steeled himself for a difficult finish.
   ‘There was no sign. Not of the boat or the man. Until, early the next morning, when the storm had abated and a mist had begun to form. Then, the story goes, out of the mist a boat started to appear. It was the ferryman. His lantern had long gone out and he was pulling with ragged, desperate strokes.’
   ‘I know how he feels!’ David interrupted, throwing his weight into each stroke as the lake began to churn. There was no avoiding splashes now and he felt the lake water start to run down his chest. John continued, his voice somehow carrying the storm without any apparent effort.
   ‘Eventually the boat ran ashore and the ferryman collapsed over his oars. The partygoers pulled the boat up the bank and attended to the man. He was a deathly white and his face was drawn in terror. ‘What’s the matter?’, ‘What is it?’ They asked him but the man would not, could not, reply, beyond his stretching a finger out and pointing across the lake.’
   ‘He’d seen the ghost?’ David guessed.
   ‘He had seen The Crier of Claife and yet he had no tongue to tell of it.’
   ‘No tongue? You’ve gone all old fashioned on me. You mean he was too scared to speak?’
   ‘No. I meant what I said. He had no tongue,’ John repeated sternly. ‘The Crier had ripped it from his mouth. As revenge.’
   David felt hairs suddenly prickle on the back of his neck.
   ‘Revenge for those who failed to listen to him.’
   ‘I don’t get it!’
   ‘He died three days later,’ John concluded, still in the same stern voice. ‘Trust no-one. Help no-one. Save no-one.’
   The boat rocked as David stuttered in his stroke. Beneath his feet the puddle had increased and sloshed warmly against his feet.
   ‘Wow,’ he managed. ‘That was... a great story. So – so that’s why they confined him to the quarry?’
   Until men should walk dryshod across the lake,’ John intoned.
   ‘Okay. So we’re safe!’ David said loudly, as if trying to drown out the change in his companion’s voice. He reminded himself that he was drunk. He was imagining things. He was nearly home and dry.
   David twisted over his right shoulder, willing himself to the shore. ‘What do you mean?’
   ‘I would not turn round if I was you.’
   ‘What do you mean, ‘perhaps’?’ David yelled over the wind, trying to keep the hysteria he was feeling out of his voice. The East bank of the lake was almost within reach.
   ‘The winter of 1963!’
   ‘What about it?’
   ‘The lake froze over,’ John answered, his voice now as thick and icy as the scene he described. ‘The whole lake. And therefore men did, indeed, ‘walk dryshod across the lake. And I was free again.’
   David screamed. The puddle beneath his feet was growing deeper and warmer. He turned in his seat, desperate to see the boat reach land.
   Behind him the bleeding spirit of the monk ripped his mouth apart in a black, bottomless smile. As every fresh fleck of storm water touched his bone-white skin another gash tore itself open.
   ‘Trust no-one. Help no-one. Save no-one.’
   The Crier reached into the leather belt stretched across his habit and pulled out a knife. David Graham convulsed into another scream.
   A scream that was never heard.  

Author: Malcolm Judge
Gothic Halloween fun is happening 24 - 31 October at Wray Castle, Cumbria for details visit: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wray-castle