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The Legend of Old Chokey

by Simon Curtis 8 months ago in Mystery
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The blood runs thickly.

The Legend of Old Chokey
Photo by Roan Lavery on Unsplash

Despite it being the middle of summer the weather had decided to rise to the occasion and provide a grey, miserable and misty day for the funeral. Harry hadn’t spent much time in his home town in the past decade and the monotony of the surroundings today matched his embedded memory of the place. He was now sat in the silent living room of his childhood home with two of those he had left behind. Opposite him was his father Ed, the past few days had aged the already old man even more and his ancient black suit did little to help make him look any less old. Next to him was his older brother, 15 years his senior he too was looking far older than he had when they saw each other during their last fleeting Christmas visit. Harry struggled to keep his eyes off his father who despite his stoic expression looked like a dam at breaking point.

Harry’s mother had been the glue that held everything together and there was something about her energy and life that made it feel like she would be around forever. That’s probably why her sudden death had hit everyone so hard. Harry had rushed home when he got the shaky phonecall from his brother and the week between that and today had been a blur. Somehow between himself and Jack a funeral and wake had been arranged, along with more admin than either could fathom and their dad had been kept above the sinking mire of his grief.

Harry had never fallen out with his family, rather he had outgrown them. It was their own fault really. His childhood had been all about giving him opportunities, and he devoured each and every one. He was the first in his family to go to university and at 18 he left the home town never to return. He had seen the world and never looked back. His brother Jack on the other hand had followed their father into the factory and stayed at home. He was 45 now unlikely to move out, especially not with his dad an unexpected widower. Harry always felt sad for Jack, every time he woke up in a different country he wished he could have shared it with him. He had lived in Belgium for a while and offered to send Jack return tickets to come and stay, it was at this point he realised Jack didn’t have a passport and didn’t seem that concerned about getting one.

Harry’s freelance role left him with flexibility in his time and he had decided that he needed to stay at home for a while. He wanted to reconnect and he knew his father needed him there. He had decamped in his old unchanged bedroom and prepared himself for a slow few weeks.

The funeral went smoothly and his father had hidden his broken soul for long enough to give his friends the impression he was fine. The wake was small, while they had been contacting people Harry and Jack realised just how small their family was. Both his parents were only children and had very little contact with their extended family. Jack had managed to get hold of a couple of cousins from the Christmas Card list but that was about it. Harry had never even met his grandparents, he arrived late in life for his parents and at that point they had all passed. Jack had very sketchy memories of them but between them they couldn’t muster much of a memory. They had hoped the wake might be the time to pick up stories about their mum but other than some very dull anecdotes from a couple of childhood friends they were left much as they had been before.

Once they had returned home and the pretence of coping was dropped the three returned to their seats and slumped in silence and intermittent tea.

“Dad, I don’t think I know anything about you and mum, or your parents. Actually I don’t even know their names.”

The older man stroked his chin and smiled, he picked up a pencil and began noting things down. Occasionally stopping and counting on his fingers before continuing on.

“That’s all I can remember for now, let me have a think on it. I’m going out for a smoke.” He said calmly before rising up from the armchair and heading out the back door into the yard. Harry picked up the paper and scanned through the list, it was far less impressive than he had hoped, he folded it and placed it into his pocket before wishing his brother a good night.

The following morning Harry rose early and made his way into the kitchen where he found his brother already making a pot of tea.

“Seen the news yet?”

“No,” replied Harry grabbing a second mug from the cupboard.

“They’ve found a body behind the off license. Not said who it is yet.”

This didn’t have the same amount of interest to Harry as it did for Jack as he didn’t know where the off license was and was very unlikely to know who the victim was.

“I texted Sammi, she works there on weekends, she said it was some bloke who pops in for a packet of fags on his way home from work every night. But what she heard was that he was really badly beaten up, like his jaw was pretty much ripped off.”

“Nice” Harry replied.

Jack laughed, and returned to making the tea.

“Where’s dad? Not like him to lie in.” Harry asked.

“He was up late, I left him smoking that whole packet, he didn’t come in after you went and I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was bad for him.”

The brothers resolved to let him lie in. Jack had to be in work later that morning so Harry agreed he’d get their father up before lunch and take him for a walk.

Once Jack had gone Harry decided to have a little trawl into the names his dad had noted down and downloaded an app onto his phone. He was pleasantly surprised just how quickly he managed to construct a simple family tree, particularly on his father’s side. Gradually he managed to pick back through several generations and by the time he felt it was reasonable to wake his dad he had managed to get back to the middle of the 18th Century.

Harry took his dad through the names he found and the pair laughed at how many Jack, Edward and Harrys there were. The lack of originality amused them greatly, but made them feel a little closer to their namesakes in the past. The more they looked the more enthused Ed became. Harry dug out his dad’s underused laptop and set it up on the kitchen table with a notepad and a fresh pot of tea.

The only thing that broke his dad’s focus was the mention of the murder behind the off license.

“Wow, we’ll that’s not happened around here for an awfully long time. They called him the Bear, it was before you were born. It was a pretty grim time. Nobody went out in the dark for months. He killed quite a few, ripped them up, it’s why they called him the Bear. They never caught him. Disappeared as quickly as he started.”

Harry had never heard of anything remotely interesting happening in his home town and immediately started searching for “The Bear”. He was shocked at just how many hits there were. He was even more surprised there were quite as many books on the subject as there were. He left his father clicking around the family tree while he settled into an armchair in the living room to fall down a rabbit hole of gruesome tales and even more unpleasant photographs.

It didn’t take long for him to discover that during 1972 there were five completely random and incredibly brutal murders which led to a massive manhunt which was completely hopeless and ended without a single suspect.

“Dad, how much do you remember about this stuff. It’s crazy that it all happened round here.”

Ed mumbled something and Harry joined him in the kitchen.

“I don’t remember much. It ruined my 30th birthday, nobody was willing to stay out. We had a couple of pints and home before 9. It was rubbish.”

“Found anything interesting?”

“Not really, I’ll leave it to you.”

Harry was only to pleased to take over again and spent much of the afternoon trying to work through the census records and probate documents to attempt to build his family something of a story. It wasn’t long before he stumbled upon his father’s grandfather’s heartbreaking tale. He was a dockworker, a considerable distance from where the family now lived. He had been found unconscious in the dock in 1911 and suffered such severe trauma lived the rest of his life in an asylum. Harry resolved to get to the bottom of his great grandfather’s misfortunes.

Food and a chat with his brother was a distraction from his dip into the past but when the television went on in the living room Harry retired back to the kitchen. He couldn’t quite believe how many different types of documents he could have access to and finding the patient notes from 1911 was like opening a forbidden door. He hungrily devoured every paragraph he could find about his Great Grandfather and was astonished at the shocking truth he found. When he was sure he had exhausted every note, newspaper story and diary page he rejoined his family in the living room to distract them from their mundane television viewing.

“So are you ready for this. It’s unbelievable.” Harry began. Neither of the other men seemed that enthused but went along with it. “So your grandad was a docker just before the First World War, he had lived a fairly ordinary life can’t find much of any interest until 1911. Well, it seems there was a suspected German saboteur on the prowl and he was targeting key workers in the ship yards and torturing them for information before killing them. I don’t think your grandad was a key worker but after they had been a few deaths the police put on extra patrols round the docks and the shipyards. So nobody knows exactly what happened but the best guess is that the German attacked your grandad and knocked him out but a policeman spotted it and got into a fight with the bloke but he beat him to death and threw him in the river then pushed your grandad in after him. The policeman was already dead but a few people heard what was going on and rescued him.

Looks like he never remembered what actually happened but he was unable to sleep ever again. He had horrific nightmares of the policeman’s face as he was beaten to death and would wake up screaming and fight off anyone who came to help him. He ended up being strapped down most of the time because he was always somewhere between his nightmares and being awake. Did your dad never mention it?”

“Dad always said his dad died before he was born, my dad was born in 1910 so to be honest he was about right. I didn’t even know he worked on the docks, I assumed they had lived round here.” Ed said absent mindedly.

“That’s a bit weird.” Jack chipped in. “If he was unconscious before the policeman arrived how the hell did he know what his face looked like?”

The three pondered this but not for long and returned to the television. Harry got up and headed back to the kitchen. He persevered looking into his very dull Great Great Grandad who worked in a fish-market before he shutdown the laptop and prepared for bed. His father joined him in the kitchen.

“One last smoke before I go to bed. Your brother has already gone. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Harry hugged his dad and made his way to bed resolved he would work on his great great great grandfather when he got up in the morning.

Harry’s plans for a peaceful morning’s genealogy were thrown into chaos as a rapid knocking at the door woke the whole house up far earlier than any of them had planned to be awake. Harry got to the door first to see a policewoman stood with a very serious expression.

“Sorry to wake you but we are going to have to shut your road down for the foreseeable future. If you need to use your car you might want to pull it down onto the side road there.”

“Sorry, what I didn’t really get that I’ve just woken up.” Replied a groggy Harry.

“We’ve had a major incident last night at the bottom of the road there and so until we are all sorted you will need to move the car.”

Harry acknowledged what had been said and pulled on a T-shirt and slippers before moving both his and his father’s cars onto the side street.

By the time he had finished a policeman was walking down the street towards him, Harry decided to find out what was going on.

“Can’t really tell you sir, you understand. I can tell you it’s very serious and be aware you’re in for some disruption. The press will turn up soon so it’s going to be a bit of a circus I suspect.”

“You’ve found the killer haven’t you? Was he on our street?”

“Wish it was sir. Exact opposite. I’ll leave it there for now.” The policeman added realising he had probably said too much.

Harry acknowledged the policeman and hurried back to see if his brother or dad were up, they were and Jack was already on the phone.

“Jesus Harry, Dave reckons somebody has killed the alcoholic guy who lives at number 12. Said he was a mess.”

“It can’t be the Bear again surely?” Chipped in Ed, “He must be ancient now.”

“I don’t care who it is, I’m not making any late night trips for the foreseeable future. Especially not with our family’s run of luck! Judging by what I’ve found, if there’s something that can go wrong it will!” Harry joked.

He was only half joking, there was something about the titbits he had gained so far that suggested moments of real tragedy in their family tree. He was soon to uncover more.

With their movements restricted by the endless uniformed activity in the street Harry entrenched himself in the mid 19th Century with his Great, Great, Great Grandfather, who to Harry’s enormous surprise was an Anglican minister.

What shocked Harry initially was how far away this part of the family had lived, the shift to the coast with his dad’s grandparents had been unexpected but to find that this part of the family had lived up in the Scottish Borders was a revelation.

It had seemed he had lived quite a quiet life in his small farming community, he was named Edward, had married reasonably young, had three children and had taken the role as the local vicar at 25 when the previous incumbent had succumbed to old age. There was even a picture on the website as he had previously been researched by another genealogist. He didn’t really look like anyone he’d ever seen in his family, especially with the collar on.

Harry was grateful that somebody had already looked into him, it saved him a lot of time and effort, in fact given how historically insignificant a local vicar in a tiny little village was there was a lot of documents. It wasn’t long before he realised why.

It seemed that Reverend Edward had spent 29 very mundane years. There were examples of his signature on various certificates and a couple of clippings about his appointment but in 1865 things seemed to go very wrong. The first document that had been scanned in was a letter from his wife to the local bishop. It was very odd but one paragraph stood out.

“My dear Reverend Foster, I beseech you to hurry to us. I fear my husband is affected by a demon. The wickedness he tried to fight from our village has taken him. He is himself for most of the time but when he loses to the demon it changes his eyes, his face, he greys, becomes darker. He fights it and he wins but I fear he is weakening.”

A possessed vicar, now this was the kind of story Harry couldn’t have dreamed of uncovering. He delved deeper into the vast collection of documents that had been collected. There were stories from a local paper of a village in fear of a demon living in a deserted farm in the hills. It had sacrificed livestock and terrorised the locals to the point that they decided to create something of a posse including the local vicar to find the demon and bless the farm. The shocking part of the story seems that they found it. The group of 10 “brave and prepared” men left the village in high spirits. Only 7 returned and with them they carried the limp body of the vicar close to death.

The group had split, 4 of the men, including the vicar stayed in the farm to bless the building. The rest set about the land surrounding the farm hunting for the beast. When they returned to the farm they found four bodies drenched in blood lying in the middle of the upstairs bedroom. Only the vicar had survived, and barely. They grabbed him and fled.

The documents showed that from that point Reverend Edward was never the same man. His nerves were shot and his services were shorter and often very difficult to hear. But the thing that stood out was the belief that he was now possessed.

The Bishop did reply, but clearly didn’t want to make the journey himself, he sent a delegation and their notes on the case were also in the collection of scanned documents. They made very surprising reading.

“Our brother needs help. He is in good health if not filled with vim. But he is no longer alone in his spirit. We have witnessed what his dear wife has observed. He does experience a physical change, which he battles, when it subsides he has no recollection of what has happened. I believe it is a demon in him which he fights with all the love of our lord.”

There wasn’t much more of any interest but it seemed the unfortunate clergyman died of ‘infirmity’ less than a year later. His family were moved from the village to the coast and his children were given money for their education. Harry was pleased to have uncovered the reason he had found his great grandfather by the sea but was shocked by another tragedy in his family. Engrossed by what he had found he looked at the Reverend’s father Christopher and for all the detail on Edward there was nothing more than the records of a long and dull life.

That evening he regaled the stories to his family before settling down to another evening of tea and television. Harry decided to have a night off his research and enjoyed a peaceful couple of hours as Jack held court telling stories from work about people Harry had never heard of, he laughed along even though he wasn’t sure why much of it was funny.

As the night drew on Ed realised he was running short on cigarettes, he got out of his seat and picked his coat up off the end of the bannister and headed for the door.

“Not be long, anyone want anything from the shop?” He shouted as he unlocked the door.

There was no reply so he headed out into the dark.

“Should we have let him go on his own, you know, considering what’s going on?” Harry said to his brother who shrugged and grunted something. Harry thought for a moment and jumped to his feet, he picked up his shoes and hunted for his coat before bundling himself out onto the street.

There was still a police car at the bottom end of the street but not in the direction of the shop. Harry turned out of the front garden and walked briskly towards the shop, he began to feel more and more nervous the further he moved from the police car but he knew he was closer to the shop and therefore his dad and safety in numbers. When he got to the shop he was enormously disappointed. The lights were off and there was no sign of his father. Even though this was a minor inconvenience, in the current circumstances it began to induce panic.

Harry turned the corner and began to sense the danger he, and his dad were in, he started to run towards the next shop he could think of, when he got there he found it had clearly shut down some years ago. His emotions took over and blindly he darted round the streets taking no care to think of where he was or what he was doing.

Without realising it Harry had made it home, he burst into the door sweating and breathing heavily. He was about to ask where his father was when the very person walked into the hallway.

“Where have you been, I’ve been back ages. Tea?”

Harry looked incredulously at his dad.

“But the shop was closed!”

“Course it was, shuts early these days, I went to the garage.”

Harry dropped like a wet rag onto the chair and stared at his brother who was sat chuckling at his flustered appearance. After a few minutes of catching his breath Harry started chuckling himself, laughing at his own foolishness and at just how ludicrous the situation was with him running around to protect his dad when in reality he wouldn’t have been able to protect himself.

The evening followed a similar pattern to the previous two, though Harry’s escapades had left him buzzing with adrenaline and far from ready for bed. He returned to his research and all the way back to the turn of the 1800s. He found the Reverand’s Grandfather, but not in the far North of England, this time his family were in the far South West. William was a farm hand not far from Dartmoor. He had been born into poverty and left in the care of the local poor house. His parents died soon after his birth and he lived in the poor house until he was sent to work at a local farm aged 12. The records on him were scarce, whoever had previously looked for him had managed to collect as much as they could and they found he married at 22 to a local girl called Elizabeth and they had three children very quickly. What was most suprising was just how abruptly the details on him stopped. There was a record of his death in 1813. The cause of death was ‘drowned by others’. But no more than that. This piqued Harry’s interest. He immediately began a dive into what he could find about the crimes in Dartmoor at the turn of the 19th Century. It didn’t take him long to find a shocking story which seemed to have too many similarities to be a coincidence.

In 1813 the villages near Tavistock were under siege from what they called “Old Chokey”. It was a legendary monster that appeared every 40 years and killed anyone who crossed its path. It had killed 10 in 1780 and ‘scores’ in 1740. The locals had even created a festival to scare off their nemesis. Annually on the 19th June they dressed a local man in a ridiculous costume with a sack cloth hood, goat skin robe and large wooden robes. They would match around from Village to village ‘chasing’ Old Chokey’. They would arrive, scare him and then be treated to ale and food by the locals before they moved onto the next village and the same thing was repeated.

However something went awry in 1813, Old Chokey made an appearance before the festival and between mid May and June there were six brutal killings. There were calls to cancel the festival but superstition got the better of the angry and terrified people. The Scarers were chosen and Old Chokey picked and the chase began. The story says that after a number of villages and even more ales the chasers were lagging behind their quarry. When they finally caught him they found him asleep under a tree. Or that’s what they thought. When they moved to wake him they found that their Old Chokey was dead, his face so badly beaten he looked like he had the sack cloth over his head when he did not.

As they prepared to head to the next village to raise the alarm. As they did they spotted someone running from the scene. They hunted him down and wrestled him to the ground. The statements they gave to the local justice of the peace all agree that he seemed like a man but his skin was grey, his eyes like fire and the strength of an animal. To subdue him together they held him under the water in a shallow bog. When he was dead they dragged his body to the village. When they arrived they presented Old Chokey to the local people. When they did they found it was just an ordinary man, no grey skin and ordinary brown eyes. This caused something of a scandal so it was hushed up.

It didn’t take Harry a great leap to connect William to this unfortunate man. But the next leap terrified him. Every other generation one of his family was involved in a murderous rampage, and it was highly likely that maybe they were the murderer. He shuddered at this thought and closed his laptop for the night.

Harry woke the next morning to find his brother standing over him with a cup of tea.

“There was another one last night. Down near the Garage. I reckon dad must have only just missed it. He needs looking after!”

Harry woke himself up with a shake and digested what he had just heard, he began to think the utterly unthinkable, his father was of the right generation, he was around when the last murders took place and he was near the garage last night. Was his father the latest Old Chokey?

Harry mulled the possibility around all day. He concluded that the only way to be sure was to watch his father, not let him out of his sight and as the sun began to fall he determined that whatever happened he would watch his father and if in that time there was another murder he could discount his far fetched theory.

The three men sat watching television, Harry had not taken any of it in. He was contemplating what he was actually doing, watching his father to check if a genetic quirk had turned him into a monster, and if he had would this mean he himself would have to reconsider having a family and bringing the next generation of Old Chokeys into the world. He sat and watched his dad feeling terrible that he was even imagining such terrible things about this kind and even tempered old man. Jack went to bed first and Ed said he’d not be long up, just wanted one last cigarette. Harry was relieved, he was tired and knew he’d been nodding off in his chair.

Harry woke with a start. He had fallen asleep in the armchair, the television was still on and there was no sign of his father. He jumped up and made his way into the kitchen, he checked the kettle was full and flicked the switch. As he waited for the water to boil he noticed the back door was slightly ajar, assuming his father was either already up or had forgotten to shut it before he went to bed Harry moved over towards the back of the kitchen. As he reached his hand out to grab the door handle he looked out of the small window above the sink. In a flash he threw the door open and ran into the garden. There, in a pool of blood lay his father.

The arrivals of the ambulance and the police were all something of a blur. Harry had no idea who he had talked to or what was going on. Jack had somewhat taken over and was dealing with everything and every one. Eventually a detective cleared their living room and sat the brothers down.

“I’m sorry I can’t give you more information but it does look like your father was attacked by the same individual who was involved in the previous incidents. I’m going to need to speak to you both to try and get a timeline. Can I just check, it’s just you three who live here?”

“Harry, is just visiting at the minute, it’s usually just me and dad.” Jack replied.

“Ok, and so no other siblings?”

“No, just us.” Harry added.

“Thank you, it should make it all much easier. We will get your statements and then can we take you somewhere else for the time being?”

Jack arranged for the police to take them to a local hotel and hurriedly threw himself a bag of clothes together, Harry followed suit. The ride in the police car to the hotel was silent and neither brother really talked for some time. They both sat on the end of their beds looking into the big mirror at the end of the room.

“Harry, are you ok?”

“I don’t know, are you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Harry, before they start going through everything I want to tell you something I probably should have told you years ago.”

Harry turned to look at his brother.

“I did something really stupid when I was about 13, I got my girlfriend pregnant. We were too young and she wanted nothing to do with the whole thing. Well when the baby was born Mum and Dad decided to bring it up as theirs and so umm. I’m not your brother Harry, I’m your Dad.”

Harry stopped and stared at Jack, trying to take in what he had said. Jack gave a pathetic smile back. Harry scratched his head and rose to his feet. He walked over to the mirror and stared deeply at his reflection. The close he looked the more he could see it. The slow colouring of his skin to a lifeless grey and if he looked really close he could see his eyes getting a slightly red tinge.

“Oh. So I’m the next generation then.” Harry said with a tremble.

Mystery

About the author

Simon Curtis

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