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The Vampire’s Grave

A Ghost Story for Christmas.

By Simon CurtisPublished about a year ago Updated about a year ago 12 min read
The Real Vampire’s Grave, Saint Aidan’s Church, Billinge

November is a transit month in my mind. There is the build up to Halloween in October then by December the focus is on the festive season. November seems to be cold and empty and disappears far too soon. My friend Richard used November as his opportunity to prepare for a busy working period after a hectic October. That is if you could consider what he does ‘work’ as he claims to be a Podcaster and YouTuber or something of the like. I have known him since I was at school and despite his very good GCSE and subsequent A-level results, he never really settled into a regular job. With the advent of the much easier production of audio and video to get onto the Internet he found his niche. Not that made him much money, and he topped up his income with bar jobs, and the occasional stint delivering takeaway food.

I live in the north-west of England, Lancashire to be precise. I was born further south, but my parents wished for me to be brought up away from the overbusy city centres of the midlands and more like their own childhood amongst semi-rural villages. Where they chose to bring me up was probably the most dull part of the world. Other than it is links with the witch trials of the 17th century it served to drive me to a childhood of sitting in the woods drinking budget range cola, then graduating onto budget range cider. However the friendships that were forged over bag fulls of unhealthy snacks were strong and long lasting.

We drifted somewhat during our years away at university but always reconnected during the long holidays so when we returned after three years we fell back into our old habits. I picked up a job in the local estate agents and Richard, well he just did whatever turned up. It was after about eighteen months of us having returned that he started the videos. He would ring me up on a Friday afternoon and tell me he would pick me up first thing the following morning without any further explanation and sure enough he would turn up and I would find myself in an old woodland, or graveyard, or condemned building holding his phone while he regaled an obscure legend in what was admittedly a very engaging way. I quite enjoyed these little trips out and was always impressed by the professionalism of what he produced. As were, it would seem, his small but loyal following.

October, as you can imagine, was a particularly favourable month for that sort of thing and he would try to make a few of his videos, this meant he would go without me to get more of his filming done, and that is exactly what had happened this October. We had spent Saturday at “Old Meg’s Boot” an odd shaped rock halfway up a hill near Bradford, then on Sunday it was the “Trial Pond of Delglie Woods”. Both had fantastic stories attached and we had great fun across the weekend. Richard said he had a couple of really good stories for the next weekend and as we said our goodbyes on Sunday we agreed he would call on Friday evening to set up the plans for the following weekend.

I was understandably surprised when Richard failed to call on Friday, or indeed across the weekend, he didn’t even respond to my calls. I decided he was too busy preparing his videos and let things pass. However when we reached Halloween and he had neither contacted me or uploaded any new videos that I began to worry. I resolved to visit his home to check he was not unwell.

Richard lived in a first floor studio flat on the outskirts of the town centre. His front door opened straight into a narrow staircase at the top of which was the fairly small living area which included a bed, small two seat sofa, kitchen area and bistro table that doubled up as Richard’s editing studio. From the outside you could only see the frosted window of the bathroom at the front, the windows from the rest of the flat were around the back. When I arrived and there was no response at the door I had no immediate way of spotting if he was home. However I stepped back onto the street to see if I could see a light in the bathroom window. It was then I noticed the brown paper. For some reason the inside of the window had been covered with a strip of brown packaging paper.

I pulled out my phone and sent a text letting him know I was outside and was surprised to hear the front door latch click.

“Is that really you?” Came the voice from behind the door.

“Yes, it’s me.” I replied to which the door opened only wide enough for me to squeeze in sideways, a hand shot out and I was dragged inside. Before I knew it the door was slammed shut and locked behind me. Without a word Richard scurried back upstairs and disappeared from my view. I followed, in a far more reserved manner and arrived in his dark home. He had returned to the bed he had clearly not moved from much in the past few days. He had never been a tidy person but the state of the flat now was one of disorder and a discontented mind. What made it look worse was that every window was completely covered in brown paper which did not completely blacken the room but did enough to give it an uneasy dimness.

I probed my friend, who sat huddled under his duvet, as to why he was living in such a condition. He did not answer, or indeed look at me, he kept his gaze on the stairwell behind me. I decided this was a fruitless line and chose to make us both tea and would then try again. This method worked immediately as he swiftly clicked from his trancelike state and looked at me.

“Were they out there?”

“Who?” I asked.

“Them, Mr and Mrs Harlow.”

He said the name as though I should have known them, but I did not. I enquired if they were his landlords to which he snorted something of a laugh.

“Richard, you don’t look well, can I get you anything?”

He shook his head.

“Just stay a while. I feel safer with you here.”

It was these words that really concerned me and I grabbed my friend’s shoulders firmly turning him to face me. He looked into my eyes and he filled with a fortnight’s worth of terrified tears before collapsing into uncontrollable sobs. He wrapped his arms around me and held onto me like I was some sort of life raft. He cried for a while before composing himself and beginning to explain his situation.

He had been locked in his flat for over two weeks and had not left. He was terrified to risk opening the door even for one moment as he was convinced a murderous couple named Harlow would find him and kill him. Evidently he had visited a local churchyard that held a dark tale to complete one of his videos where he had found the infamous “Vampire Grave” in which rested a couple called Mr and Mrs Harlow. He had completed the video and as he was putting the finishing touches to his narration he sat on the grave which angered them and had led them to follow a vendetta against him. He claimed that they knocked on his doors and windows every day and every night, he had even seen them at his windows which was why he chose to cover them up.

I recognised how seriously he took this and chose to not belittle his fear. He invited me to watch the completed video, which had yet to upload. In it he explained the full story of the Harlows. According to his research they were a young couple of means who unexpectedly arrived in a very small, quiet Lancashire weaving town in the years following the civil war. Their arrival caused a stir in the village, not least because of their glamorous lifestyle but that the church records had previous entries for a Harlow family having resided in the village at various times over the centuries, the family living there for some time then moving on. There was nobody in the mid 17th Century who recalled the Harlow family and so it was decided they were distant relatives returning to their ancestral home to restart the familial connection.

Soon after their arrival the plague arrived and struck down many in the village, in fact Mrs Harlow was one of the first. She was fortunate enough to survive while many did not. This caused suspicion and anger and led to rumours spreading that Mrs Harlow had visited with every one of the victims in the days before they became I’ll and it was her that brought the plague by drinking the blood of the living and infecting them with her living death.

This cruel rumour became a criminal charge and she was arrested along with her husband. The pair were confined to their home with an armed guard while an inquisitor was found and brought to try the pair. Unsurprisingly the plague continued despite their incarceration but this, rather than proving their innocence served to create even more bizarre theories that saw Mrs Harlow escaping in the form of a black dog and continuing her bloody rampage at night with stories of her being seen stooping over her victims across the village.

When the inquisitor came the outcome was inevitable and the pair were sentenced to hanging, a sentence the villagers duly carried out. However the inquisitor insisted that the incarceration must continue into death. They were not to be buried in consecrated ground but must sit above it as their unholy feet would not survive touching it. They should be in a stone coffin with iron clamps around their heads and secured to the coffin. The coffin should be inscribed with a symbol it show they were vampires and on it would be carved a skull to signify each of the couple’s victims. Once completed it should be placed in the furthest point of the churchyard under a yew tree.

And there it lies today. In Richard’s video it is quite clearly in a dark corner of the churchyard, a stone coffin (of the shape you see in movies) on it, in the centre, is a skull, with bat wings surrounded by a snake eating itself. Along the edge are marked 53 skulls.

The story is a fantastic local legend and had clearly been perfect for Richard but for some reason it had triggered some kind of episode in him. There was no physical way someone could have tapped on his first floor windows, even less be able to peer in. I resolved to support him until he returned to his normal self and then try to encourage him to visit his doctor. For the next few weeks I did just that, visiting him as often as I could and bringing with me food and any other things he needed. I managed to get his flat tidy again. He even ate better, though he rarely showered and would only do so if I visited as he didn’t feel safe doing it alone.

Some days he was better than others, I even brought him an advent calendar as we headed into December hoping that the optimism of looking forward to an event might give him cheer. I think his good humour was more often for my benefit than the reality of his own feelings.

We talked about the Harlows and vampires in general. When I suggested he would be fine to get outside during the day he chastised me for submitting to the lore of a century old story book that ‘only served as a handbook to isolated teenagers of every subsequent generation’ and that true vampires were more Bathory than Stoker in their nature. I decided he was lost in his own lore and chose not to delve any deeper there.

In the week before Christmas I had hoped to persuade him to join my family for dinner and while he never said he would, there were glimmers in him that suggested he wasn’t entirely dismissive of the idea. I left the option open and as I trudged through the ice and snow to his flat on the 22nd of December carrying a small pre lit Christmas tree for him I was beginning to feel optimistic. Indeed when I arrived he had showered and was wearing clean clothes, I felt a corner had been turned. While we drank our tea he suggested he was feeling ready to get on with his life and might take me up on the offer. I said I would visit again on Christmas Eve and check on his final decision to which he smiled a positive smile. I left that day in the highest of spirits.

Christmas Eve was a cold and snow filled day. I arrived early at Richard’s flat carrying a gift and waited for him to come to the door on my text. Unusually he did not, I had, as a matter of practice, stopped knocking at the door as in the early days of his episode Richard had found this distressing. But with no response to my text I knocked. As I did I noticed the door was unlocked and it slowly moved open with my knock. I walked up the stairs cautiously and into his flat. It was how I had left it two days before, lights on, but no Richard. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have been concerned about his absence but the unlocked door offered uneasy evidence of something untoward having occurred. In such a small space calling out seemed pointless but I did it anyway. He clearly wasn’t there, but where was he. In my mind there was only one place he might have gone. I left his gift on the table and headed down the stairs.

It wasn’t a long drive to St Stephen’s church and when I arrived there were a few people making their way around the snowy graves leaving their Christmas flowers for their missed loved ones. I walked past them all and headed to the far end of the churchyard. The giant yew at the back the signpost I was in the right direction. This part of the churchyard was undisturbed. The snow creaked as I broke it with each step however when I arrived at the coffin I noticed that despite not being any other footprints leading there, there, right next to it were two pairs of prints, as if two people had stood over it very recently but how they had got to or from it was a mystery. I concluded that without there being any prints Richard could not have come here and was about to leave when I felt compelled to look once more at the stone coffin. Something about it was different, it felt wrong. I took a moment to think and then decided to count the skulls. To my surprise I was right, there was something different, there were 54, not 53 skulls on the coffin. I looked again, I was unquestionably right.

I made my way home and feeling slightly unnerved decided to contact the authorities. They began making their enquiries immediately and by the evening contacted me to say they believed he had left of his own accord and I should wait for him to contact me. I wasn’t wholly satisfied but knew there was little more I could do. I spent the evening eating mince pies and drinking mulled wine with my family trying to put my missing friend from my mind before retiring to bed. As I lay in the dark I began to worry about Richard again and picked up my phone to send him one last message when suddenly.

Rap rap rap.

What was that?

Rap, rap, rap.

There was a knocking at my first floor window. I lifted my phone and in the dim light coming from its screen I was certain that for just a moment I saw a face at my window.


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