28 October 2013

A Halloween story from Sam

Barter gravestones, Waterville cemetery
It was late last fall that I was coming home through the old Mill Road at about midnight. The damp wind was sighing and moaning through the fences awakening in me thoughts of weird ghosts and hob-goblins and more ghastly things that are supposed to be abroad on such sombre nights.

The darkness was becoming more intense and as the clouds got denser, raindrops began to spatter the road. As I hurried along, I heard voices ─ Oh, so death-like! ─ and a rattling as if someone was dragging a box over the dirt road. My hair stood on end and my nerves quaked but, seeing some figures moving towards me, I stepped aside to let them pass as they came closer.

Oh! Terror of terrors! I could see that the first figure was the tall skeleton of a man who, alive, must have weighed near 180 pounds. He was hauling a casket after him. His own bones grated together with a ghastly sound as he walked and I realized that it was the casket making the rattling noise as it was dragged over the stony roadbed. My curiosity aroused, I overcame my terror and asked my departed friend: "Why are you here and where are you going this time of night? And, pray, why are you dragging that casket?"

He sighed wearily and sat down by the road, not seeming to notice me, but just then the casket cover raised and a skull was slowly pushed out while a sepulchral voice asked "Why has this stop been made?" Then the skeleton by the roadside replied "I'm almost discouraged."

"Well," says I, "what causes this migration and where are you going?" Then, from the canny spectre in the casket, "Come here and I'll get out if you lend me a hand." My blood was up now as I stepped over to help him. His hand was cold and sent a chill over my whole body, nearly freezing the blood in my veins.

As the spectre rose, the tall apparition by the roadside moved away taking the casket with him, the foxfire just showing enough to make it appear more striking. The spectre sat down by the road and, as I sat down next to him, a couple more skeletons passed us arm-in-arm.

The taller skeleton held on his once-strong arm a tiny human frame. After them came a slight form around which hung loosely a shroud and as it passed I heard it whisper, "You won't lay with your feet to my head will you dear?" Then it pressed the small skeleton to its own bare ribs making a truly awful sound.

I could see further now and a delicate frame encircled by a winding sheet approached and there seemed to be more of them, farther away, but I couldn't make out any forms owing to the darkness. But after they had all passed us, my weird friend began, "Well, in answer to your question, I'll tell you all now. I died in 1883 and am, I almost think, forgotten." He was sobbing now and his friend continued. "As there is no fence around the graveyard," she intoned, "and no one tends it, the cattle have free access and they tear up the soft dirt. Then the graves get hollowed and the rainwater settles in giving us cold and ague and rotting our last, long house."

Then the spectre broke in again saying, "To tell the truth, friend, my coffin would have been gone long ago if I didn't bring it with me and that's why my bony friend has taken it on, for his own is completely gone." He paused and I asked, "Where has he taken it?"

"Wait and I'll tell you pretty soon," he replied. "Our last meeting place was so cheerless that we had a little meeting about a year ago and decided to find some place to retire to when it was wet in our narrow homes. So now when we hear the winds whining and moaning through the trees we get out and go down to the old shingle mill and stay until the rain is over. Tonight we are going to spend the night in the old mill where we can enjoy its warm shelter and hear the solemn roar of the old dam."

Rising as he spoke the last, the ghostly spectre stood before me, its bones rattling and its fleshless arms hanging listless. "We will be alright when the ground is frozen," it said, "but, oh my, I dread the cold spring weather when the water will lay so deep in our graves." Ending this with an unearthly sigh which made me start, I woke sitting straight up in bed, my forehead covered with cold drops of sweat and my nerves sadly shocked.

  • This story was committed to paper about 60 years ago and was probably based on an older tale told by Sam Barter over many years. In an introduction to this ghost story, Sam says that someone in another village told it to him but based on the description of the village, it sure sounds like Avondale!