Thursday, November 10, 2011

Christmas Jump Story

In my last post I talked about the Victorian English tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas Eve. These stories are often more fable than scary; all were shared for their entertainment value. The following story was often told in English households on Christmas Eve it is inspired by William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. It is also as the ending will attest a traditional jump story.

John Poole lived in house once owned by the local priest. It was situated so that its back windows looked upon the local churchyard. It was said the local priest had moved away with his wife for she did not like the view especially at night. Poole a widower lived in the house alone. He was not a friendly man so he spent his days very much by himself.

During this time it was the custom to bury people at night by torchlight. It was remarked upon that John Poole was always at one of his back windows looking upon these funeral ceremonies. One stormy winters night Poole watched as the old Wilkins women was buried. She was an ugly hag known to be stingy and cruel. Bad luck followed her and even the beggars in the town would not knock upon her door. To the surprise of all she left a large sum of money to the church but she was so disliked a large fee had to be paid to the bearers and torch carriers that accompanied her body to the churchyard.

As Poole watched from his window he took note that she was buried in a woolen without a coffin and that no one attended except those few men who were paid. Just before her grave was filled in the parson stooped down and cast something upon her body—it clinked as it landed. The parson in a low voice stated, “Thy money perish with thee.” He and the rest hurried away leaving only one torch and the sexton to shovel the earth in.

The next day being Sunday the churchgoers noticed how untidy this fresh grave was in comparison to the rest. They criticized the sexton for a sloppy job. When he inspected the grave he was concerned for it looked worse than when he left it.

Presently the locals had yet another surprise, John Poole started to be seen out and about. People noted he appeared happy but nervous. He spent more than one evening at the inn, which was very unusual considering his normal unsociable habits. He hinted that he had come into some extra cash and was looking for a better house. The smith patted him on the back and stated, “Well it is about time, that house is too spooky by far. I imagine you fancy all kinds of scary things at night. They say old Wilkin’s grave has been disturbed. If I were you I’d be worried she might climb up to my bedroom window one night.”

The landlord intervened, “Don’t be scaring our friend here.” He glanced at Poole with a fatherly concern. “But they do say there are lights in the yard when no is about, do you ever see the lights, Master Poole?”

Poole now in a foul mood denied ever seeing any lights and sulked over to a dark corner table with another drink. He headed home later than he had planned. Once home he found himself in bed unable to sleep. The wind outside lashed out at the house. He crossed to a cupboard in the wall and took something out that clinked and tucked it inside his nightshirt pocket. He went to the window that framed the churchyard.

The drink or his imagination was playing a trick on him for he thought he saw a figure draped in a shroud. The shroud was bunched together at the top in an odd manner. This figure was near the grave in a part of the yard that Poole knew very well—he darted back to his bed and lay there very still.

A few moments later he heard something rattle the casement of the window. With dread he turned his eyes in that direction. Outlined in the moonlight was a curiously bunched head—then there was a figure in the room. Dry earth pelted the floor.

A low cracked voice said, “Where is it?” Faltering steps rustled back and forth with difficulty. The figure peered into corners, stooped to look under chairs; finally it fumbled with the doors of the cupboard in the wall, throwing them open.

Poole heard a scratching of nails on the empty shelves. The figure whipped around, stood for an instance at the side of his bed, raised its arms, and screamed hoarsely, “YOU’VE GOT IT!”

At this point the teller of the story lunges toward the closest or most scared listener of the story…

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