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Learning to fly: two

Robert takes to the air to join a squadron of witches on broomsticks, as they prepare to wreak Halloween havoc on the parish church of St George Beckenham

By Raymond G. TaylorPublished about a year ago Updated about a year ago 13 min read
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Beckenham Parish Church of St George. Churchyard at night. Photo: Ray Taylor

Having driven to Biggin Hill airfield for what he thought was a flying lesson in a light aircraft, Robert finds himself hovering on a broomstick amidst a hoard of Halloween witches.

“Okay ladies….” Announced my companion, to the general throng behind her. “and... er… young gen’leman. It’s just about midnight, it’s Halloween…

“LET’S RIDE!”

Return to part one

PART TWO

At this command, my broomstick lurched up high into the air, as if it had a life of its own. Perhaps it did. In any case, I was propelled upwards, holding on for dear life, following my ‘flying instructor’ into the inky black night sky.

I soon discovered that to steer, all I had to do was to look in the direction I wanted to go. As instructed, I desperately tried to avoid looking down, keeping my gaze up at the night sky and mostly on my companion in front who was swooping and loop-de-looping with gay abandon. We seemed to be heading for Beckenham and I soon recognized the church tower of St George’s looming up ahead.

“Here we go!” came a cry, somewhere from up front, followed by a “Target 12 o’clock. Tally Ho!” We dived down in the direction of the bell tower. Levelling out on the approach, we flew directly under the roof of the lychgate, a few feet above the churchyard, narrowly missing the tops of the monuments. As we entered the churchyard, all the headstones fell forward on their faces, as if ashamed of the sight of the blasphemous host approaching. Wheeling right, we swooped in a body around the church, brushing bush and ivy, taking a circular path around the church tower. Once we circled, twice we circled, and each time the clock on the tower spinning anticlockwise to each number in turn as we passed. Starting at 12 it passed 11, then 10, then 9 as each time we swooped around in our anti-clockwise, heretical circle. One or two of the monumental angels in the churchyard raised themselves up and started to shake their fists at us as we flew by. Several of the graves burst open and out popped a corpse or two in various stages of decay, some with a few rags of clothing, others little more than a skeletal frame to show for themselves. By this point, nothing surprised me, and I was more concerned about clinging on to the broomstick for dear life than I was about what might be happening below me.

One group of the reanimated dead from a corner of the graveyard struck up a tune, with fiddle, drum and a whistle, as the others set to with partners, cavorting around in a most unholy jig. We carried on swooping and diving around and around the church tower with its now rapidly spinning clock hands. At this point I noticed the statue of St George leaning out from its plinth on the face of the church, gesturing madly as we flew past.

As we passed around on the next circuit, the statue flung its sword, the weapon flying end over end through the air like a stone boomerang, “Steady on there, Georgie!” came a shriek from one of my fellow travelers, as she ducked, narrowly missing being struck. “Keep yer ‘alo on!” The weapon continued its trajectory, curving around towards me. I attempted an avoiding maneuver, but the sword hit the brush behind me, catapulting me high into the air.

With a loud cry I tumbled down, hands and legs everywhere, spinning and falling and gasping until I felt a sharp pain in the posterior, as I found another broomstick had plucked me from the night air, lurching me as we gained height. I had been rescued by one of the other flyers and was now perched on the front end of her broomstick, as she sat astride the other end, facing me.

“Gotcha!” she cackled, as she continued to swoop and dive above the church, with me bumping and bouncing on the front of her broomstick. It was only then that I noticed that my rescuer was not the hag that I expected but a very leggy blonde whose youth and beauty were astounding to say the least. Not only that, but beneath the black hood and robe she wore nothing but a pungent perfume that was at once bitter, spicy and intoxicating. I gasped as the wind flapped the robe around her, robbing her of any modesty she might otherwise have had. The lady was clearly unconcerned and continued to howl, laugh and generally cackle at my obvious discomfiture. Looking me straight in the eye, her face animated into a speculative grin.

“Like what you see, my little darling?” she asked. Not sure how to respond, or where to look, I could only manage an “er…er…” “Oh!” she continued, as she cast her eyes down to fix her gaze in a most unsettling manner upon my person. “I can see that you do.” With that, she continued to cackle until we both heard a shout.

“Sa… maaa... ntha!” It was my flying instructress, shrieking from below. “Drop him!” Oh no! I thought, as Samantha shouted her assent:

“Alrighty!”

The next instant, I was flung upside down and fell from the relative safety of the broomstick to return to my mid-air earthward aerobatics. Down, down, down I fell, as if forever, before I was caught, not by a broomstick, but in some kind of a sheet or blanket, a shadowy figure clasping each of four corners. I wondered who had saved me from an otherwise certain death by falling from a broomstick. As I tried to raise myself up to see who to thank, four cadaverous heads popped up, one at each corner of the cloth, with what little flesh was left on their faces stretching back into grimaces that could have been friendly, had the wearers been a little more…. alive.

As one leaned over, stretching its head towards me, mouth opening, I thought “No! Zombies! They’re gonna eat me!” Instead, the jaw started to work up and down as a hand thrust a rickety looking clay pipe towards me.

“Gotta light, matey?” The skull asked expectantly, and then when I didn’t answer, it said: “No? Oh well, looks like you’ll have to pay a forfeit. With that, all four corpses shouted “up ‘ee goes!” I was then thrust upwards again, and again, tossed up and falling back down into the sheet. Up and down, up and down I went but, try as I might, I could not escape the tossing sheet until, with an almighty great riiiiiiiiip, the sheet tore open, leaving me to land with a bump in what seemed like a dark ditch, before I realized the obvious. I had fallen into one of the now open graves. The landing felt kinda soft and, feeling beneath me, it did not take long to establish that I had landed directly on a cloth-wrapped corpse.

“Oi!” its owner exclaimed from underneath. “Quit that tickling and get outa my bed!” Without being asked a second time, I leaped up and scrambled out of the burial pit to be faced with an irritated looking cadaver leaning across the ground from the neighboring grave and trying to grasp the tatters of the ripped sheet I had been tossed around it.

“Gimme back my cloth,” it was saying to nobody in particular, before snatching the tattered remains in its bony hand and winding itself up in what was left of the shroud. Slipping back down into its final resting place with the other hand stretched out, it gripped the memorial stone. With a grumble and a rumble of marble against granite, the corpse pulled the stone back over the opening, resealing it. “… and cut out that noise!” was the final muffled expostulation from the tomb. “You’ll be waking the neighbors next.”

Distracted as I was by the incident, and with my tormentors hopping off to join the dancing party yonder, I was unaware of a figure approaching through the shadows. Unaware, that is, until I heard the clump, clump, clump of heavy footsteps approaching and, turning around, saw the stone image of St George leaping towards me, sword held high, presumably having recovered it from the throw.

Closer, the statue did not seem so big, but I was in no doubt about the injurious potential of that swishing sword, not to mention the determination of its owner. Without a moment’s hesitation I leapt off in the other direction towards the far wall of the burial ground, running, hopping, and looking over my shoulder at the pursuing statue. Looking behind me, I suddenly fell forward, as I felt something grip my leg. Bumping my head on a stone and now feeling a little dazed I looked down at the ground to see a bony arm sticking out with skeletal fingers gripping my now twisted ankle.

“Get off! I shouted, as I kicked out with my other leg, severing the bony hand from its arm, but leaving it gripped tightly around my ankle. As I saw the figure of the statuary saint looming up above me, sword raised, poised to strike, I leapt up again and, half limping on the injured ankle, hand still attached, continued to avoid my pursuer. No longer looking behind I half ran, half limped and half hopped towards the stone wall bordering the churchyard until, reaching it, I vaulted over, feeling the hand relax its grip as I did so. I fell in a heap amongst the bushes outside but quickly stood up to see my tormentor standing, hands on hips, sword re-sheathed scowling at me from inside the wall.

“I’ll speak to you tomorrow,” it said in an even voice, rather spookily, I thought. Particularly when it seemed to me that the stony face looked familiar. What on Earth could it mean? Only then did I notice the skeletal hand, which was crawling away and heading for where I had last seen the arm, creeping on the tips of its fingers like 'Thing' from the TV Adams Family. St George strode off and was heading back to other side of the church.

When he had disappeared around the corner, I heard a muffled weeping from behind me. I had landed on the edge of the village green, a rather sorry patch of lawn with a couple of benches, that was sometimes used for a Christmas fair and not much else. Turning around I saw with some concern a small girl in a heavy dress, with a jacket and scarf wrapped around her, and over-sized bonnet on her head.

“What are you doing out so late?” I asked in a voice that sounded not a little surprised, despite surprise running out given the events of the night so far.

“They won’t let me in,” she replied between sobs.

“What?”

“They won’t let me in,” she repeated, pointing towards the church.” I had no idea what she meant and so tried another tack.

“Where’s your mummy then?”

“She’s in there,” the little girl said, pointing towards a medium sized monument just over the wall. I should have known. Looking beyond the child I noticed, with a feeling of resignation, an elongated hole in the scrub at the edge of the village green, with piles of earth scattered around it, as if it had just been dug. My first instinct was to run and get away from this whole abominable nightmare, wondering if I would ever wake up from it. I checked myself, however. After all I had been through that night, what harm could a dead girl possibly do me?

“Oh, I see,” I said, rather lamely. “Do you want me to take you in there?” I asked, "nodding towards the gate into the burial ground, not knowing what I might do when I got there.

“Not allowed,” she said. “They said I had to stay there,” she continued, pointing towards the recently reopened grave just outside the churchyard wall. Then, looking up at me for the first time, she fixed her gaze on mine. She had a heartbreakingly sad face which was otherwise of the sweetest child you could imagine. “Will you help me please?”

Not knowing what to say, I told her I would, to which she smiled shyly, before casting her gaze down to the ground.

Suddenly there was a piercing 'boing'. It was the church clock.

“I have to go now,” said the little girl, stepping away from me as the bell clanged away its count of the hour. Four… five … six… “You won’t forget your promise, will you?”

She said this as she leapt away and down into the gaping hole and was gone, closely followed by piles of earth falling back into the unmarked grave, the surface rearranging itself into an almost undetectable mound. Seven… eight… nine. I didn’t know why I was counting the toll of the bell, but I had a sneaking suspicion that… ten… eleven… twelve.

“No, I won’t forget,” I said to myself. THIRTEEN! As the final bell sounded out its melancholy ring, echoing against the buildings nearby, until everything fell into a silence so total that it was almost deafening. Looking around the churchyard it was instantly apparent that the headstones had righted themselves, the skeletal remains resumed their rightful place, interred in the hallowed ground. The stone angels had returned to their constant vigil and the statue of St George was nowhere to be seen, having presumably returned to its plinth at the front of the church. All was as it should be. Or was it?

Looking up to the clock I could see that, reflecting the toll of the hour bell, the face had acquired an additional number, displacing the 12 at the top with an unholy 13. What more could I expect?

Continue reading: part three

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Please check out my other short stories and reviews on Vocal:

https://vocal.media/authors/raymond-g-taylor

© Raymond G. Taylor, 2021-2022, all rights reserved. The author has asserted his right to be identified as the author of this work.

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About the Creator

Raymond G. Taylor

Author based in Kent, England. A writer of fictional short stories in a wide range of genres, he has been a non-fiction writer since the 1980s. Non-fiction subjects include art, history, technology, business, law, and the human condition.

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