Death in the Rectory!
By Rocky Mason
Bert Douglas had, until just weeks ago, been a long-serving soldier who had fought in the Falklands, then the Gulf and more recently, Iraq.
As a sergeant in the Royal Marine Commandos he had seen lots of action and had served his country well. He was, however, an unpleasant man, belligerent and crude and had been just as unpopular with the men in his regiment as he was with those around him now that he was back home.
He had quickly settled into a routine, such as it was, and spent most evenings drinking in the local working men's club. His companion on these drinking sorties was his brother-in-law Alfred, who would have described himself as an acquaintance of Bert's rather than a friend. Although the subject wouldn't have been raised as it was a well know fact that Bert Douglas didn't have any friends.
It was a surprise to most of the locals that their relationship had managed to survive at all and it was felt that this was due only to the fact that their wives were sisters. There had been a dreadful and violent incident some weeks ago when the two brothers-in-law had partnered each other in a darts match against a local pub. Their particular game was the decider and the winner would determine which team had won the match. Bert, who was playing badly, became angry with himself and then his final dart, thrown wildly, missed the board completely.
Alfred, who was watching with baited breath, was unable to contain himself and uttered the word, “Plonker!” Bert Douglas ,embarrassed by his own pitiful performance, lashed out in anger and knocked the smaller Alfred to the floor, then yelling within earshot, “Nobody calls me a plonker!” Their two wives spent weeks trying to get Alfred to forgive the bullying Bert, and being a reasonable man, he eventually did. As they both somewhat reluctantly shook hands, Bert, with his usual bad grace remarked, “But if you ever call me a plonker again, it will be the very last time you do!”
Sometimes when the two men were drinking at the club, their wives would have a night out themselves and being almost devout spiritualists, this often involved a visit to a séance. These little spiritualistic sojourns would always be received with extreme sarcasm and ridicule by Bert, who had no time whatever for anything religious or in any way ethereal.
One particular night the two women, who has spent an enjoyable and spiritually inspiring evening, were on their way to join their husbands at the club. They both felt a little apprehensive and hoped that Bert wasn't the worse for drink. The two men were waiting for them and had prepared four chairs at a table near the bar. As soon as the sisters were seated the sarcasm began. Bert had imbibed a few pints and was sneering with mockery and scorn. “And who appeared tonight?” he asked with a sneer, “Disrali was it – or did Elvis come for a chat?” The club was filling up when a local couple asked if they might join them and two more chairs were placed at the table. Bert was getting into his swing now and had drunk too much beer to care. “Come on – who turned up this time, did Glen Miller fly in or what then?” he asked with scorn. “What unworldly spirit brought the messages tonight then?” The couple who had joined them were Bill Baxter, the local school caretaker, and his wife Helen. After listening for a moment Helen interrupted, saying, “You can't take these things too lightly you know, think about what happened at the rectory!”
Bert looked quizzical and asked, “What do you mean - 'what happened at the rectory?' - What did happen?” His wife joined in to say, “Well, you knew nothing about it because you were out in Iraq”. Bert was getting irritated. “Well are you going to tell me then?” Helen, who was less fearful of Bert than the two sisters, continued the discussion. “Well, the first incident occurred about a year ago, when Joe Sugden was killed in the rectory”. Bert's irritation was now plain to see, as he asked, “Big Joe Sugden? What do you mean, killed in the rectory, what rectory?”
His wife timidly tried to explain, “You know the rectory, Bert, the old vicarage place by the cemetery. It's always been haunted!” Bert was angry now. “That old ruin of a house by the graveyard! What was he doing in there then?”
Helen took up the story again, “Well, the rumour is that he was in there with a woman and she ran away before it happened”. Bert asked impatiently, “Before what happened, and what woman? Come on - don't go all round the houses!”
Helen was determined to stand her ground and continued in a very matter of fact tone, “Something must have happened and the woman ran downstairs, but Joe was too late and somebody, or something, or - whatever it was, threw Joe straight through the window! Everything went with him, window frame, all the glass, everything!”
Bert's anger appeared to subside and he was now smiling as if amused. He had seen the others nodding their agreement at Helen's account of the facts. He started to speak as if addressing some raw recruits, newly arrived for basic training. “Right, let's look at the facts then. Joe Sugden went out through the window? I'll accept that - so that's a fact, but thrown out by some thing - or whatever it was? Hogwash, rubbish, utter nonsense! In there with a woman was he? Right then! He was slung through that window by a jealous husband that's what!” Albert didn't want an argument, but felt he had to say something, “Joe Sugden was about sixteen stone Bert, what human could throw him through a window?”
Bert was determined to make his point saying, “I could for a start. Well, maybe not throw him, but a good punch on the chin could have knocked him through the window! Don't talk to me about ghosts and something because that's rubbish and there's no such thing! Anyway, you said that was the first incident, was there another?”
Helen, who was now even more bent on standing her ground replied, “Look Bert Douglas, you have a right to your opinion and I won't argue with that, but I have a right to mine and I tell you, that place is haunted. And you can say what you like!” Everyone, other than Bert, murmured in agreement. Bert made an attempt to sound patient, “Right then, another incident you said, tell me about that!”
Helen was now becoming as stubborn as Bert and she continued, “Just a couple of months later, a down-and-out was found in there and he'd been killed as well!”
Bert was irritated again, “Come on, come on, let's stick to the facts, who said he'd been killed? What did the police say?” Helen had to succumb. Well yes! She had to agree, the police did say Natural Causes”.
Bert went in for the kill saying, “There you are then, another fact, not a silly rumour, Natural Causes!” Helen's husband Bill, made a point, “Look Bert, I'm the caretaker of the school next to the cemetery and the dosser was brought into my shed. He was in a bag and my mate sneaked a look and said the poor bloke had a look of sheer terror on his face, eyes bulging out of his head and his mouth wide open as if he was screaming, explain that!”
The argument continued with Bert Douglas ridiculing their stories of local legend, passed down for years, of ghosts, fiends, and spirits - dismissing it all as urban myth! At the end of the evening the six of them, all by then quite tipsy, agreed to walk home together and stop off at the school caretaker's cottage for a night cap.
Bert walked silently, a few paces behind the others. He was still quietly brooding at the thought that they'd had the nerve to disagree with him. “Ghosts, spirits, and séances? absolute rubbish and nonsense. What did they know about life? Never mind death!” He was thinking. “They should have been with me in the Helmand Province, storming into houses filled with Taliban, never mind an old rectory filled with spooks and creepy-crawlies”.
The party had passed the school playground, with the caretaker's cottage just 20 yards ahead, and a few yards from the entrance to the graveyard. A thought came into Bert's head and he felt a tingle of excitement. Here was a chance to show them, he decided, and put an end to this nonsense of demon's and bogeymen. He quickened his pace to catch them up. “Right!” he said, his voice strict and authoritative. “I'm putting an end to your nonsense once and for all! Come on Albert, and you Bill, I'm going into the rectory!!”
Bill, with support from Helen, immediately declined. “He's going nowhere near it!” Helen said, with the two sisters muttering in agreement. Albert didn't want to go but had a greater fear of offending Bert and quietly murmuring to himself, “Plonker”, he hastened to Bert's side and they walked passed the cemetery gates together, heading for the rectory.
Albert's heart was pounding against his rib cage as if it was trying to beat a way out through his bones and he was terrified. The old rectory looked grim and forbidding and Albert just wanted to get this foolish escapade over. He plucked up the courage to say, “There's no way I'm going in there. I'll witness that you did but I'm not going in - no way!” Bert smirked in contempt as he stepped through the doorway into the pitch black sinister building.
Albert, filled with fear and foreboding, stared up at the huge, dark hole that had once been a window. He saw Bert's form appear in this space and then, with a scream, he dropped to his knees. Bert looked down with contempt and yelled, “You spineless little bastard -it's only me!” Albert, still on his knees, pointed with a trembling finger and screamed the words that would consign his companion to Hell: “Not you, you plonker - that thing behind you!”
Copyright© Rocky Mason.
Here is the second of Rocky's two tales - this time it's a short, sharp gritty Western:
Gunfight at the Crazy Dog Saloon