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The International Writers Magazine: Ghost Story

Moon Steere
Mark Cunliffe

The year is 1744.
A big fat harvest moon shone that night upon the forests of the village of Moon Steere as Tom Carter ran for his life. He’d been out poaching and the gamekeepers weren’t far behind him. He knew that if they caught him he’d be in deep trouble

He knew what he was doing was wrong but Carter and his family were poor and it was hard being a farm labourer and having to feed a family of nine. So he ran, ran as fast as he could, as fast as he had ever done crashing through the trees, breaking bracken, and across the stream, sending water splashing up his legs.

He could hear the shouting men and the howling of their dogs behind him but he dare not turn around. He knew that he had to keep moving, and he did until he reached a fallow field just beyond the stream. For some reason the field unsettled him, he felt chill in his bones and he tentatively began to walk across it. He couldn’t put his finger on why he felt so uncomfortable but he realised that it now felt colder and windier in the field here than what it did through the woods or across the stream. He looked around and with some shock noticed that a fog was rolling across the area. He began to grow scared and started to quicken his steps, but he felt like he was wading through a thick substance, as if someone was pushing him back, keeping him in the fallow field. Suddenly breathless and weary he stopped and tried to hear for the gamekeepers approach, but he could not hear them. Instead he heard a muffled sound, like a whirring, a sound unlike any he had heard before. It began to drive itself into his ears, growing louder, attacking his skull from the inside.

He threw his hands up to block out the unholy sound, sending his brace of pheasant to the ground and the fog’s murky depths, but it was no use, it grew louder and louder, hurting so much that he screwed his eyes tight. He staggered through the grass until he felt compelled to open his eyes. What he saw was improbable, a huge beam of blinding light attacking him from all directions, the noise as if from very hell now open him. He felt things whiz passed him and looked down to see if the gamekeeper’s dogs had caught up with him, but there was nothing to be seen. It was as if the noise and lights were brushing past him with an alarming power, the forces hitting him felt so strong it was like he was in the middle of a violent storm. Suddenly the noise and the lights and the winds became as one, one horrible God defying entity that overcame all his senses in an instant, he tried to look far into the mist but he could not, he could not move no matter how hard he tried, it was all too unbearable, he needed it to stop and then he felt nothing. Felt nothing ever again.

The gamekeepers came to the fallow field and were stunned by what they saw. Lay there below them in the grass was the body of their quarry Tom Carter. Completely eviscerated, as they had never seen before. There was bone sticking out through twisted flesh and blood pouring out across the moonlit grass like a black inky sea escaping from his body. The dogs began to whimper and back away, one of the men was sick whilst another could only mutter ‘Holy God’, the rest were struck dumb.

The village of Moon Steere was horrified by the news and deeply troubled to think that some demon may reside in the fallow field. The Squire, Matthew Hookton, owner of the lands, was mortified and in the days after the death of Carter gathered the villagers together to discuss what could be done to solve this grotesque mystery. Several men decided that they would go into the field to see what, if anything, was in there. These were God fearing men, one of whom was the local Priest, who took crosses and holy water to arm themselves against what many presumed to be the devil himself. Of that party of five men, only two came back. Clem Tolliver, a local farmhand and Matthew Hookton who wisely fled the scene as soon as they felt the winds pick up and a hard chill take the air. The three others bodies were ripped apart and, they claimed, sent skywards by an unseen enemy as a cruel and unnatural mist came across the field. Hookton added the last he saw of the group was the Priest struggling vainly to raise his cross as the winds picked him up from where he stood and snapped his body in two.

By now the village was in total panic and outside help was required it was deemed. Yet who could they consult? They had tried to seek God’s help by sending men armed with his tools but to no avail. Who was able to rid the village of a foul and terrifying unseen beast? It was decided by Tolliver, a man who had worked the land for many a year, to consult an older practice, that of paganism. He informed the village that he knew of a man from another county who was a believer in the trees and the earth who claimed to see things others could not. His name was Tobias Swift, but many of the villagers on hearing his name branded him a witch. They were fearful of such a man for witch trials were common. "We don’t want a man like that here, we have been damned enough!" cried out one local. Tolliver tried to set them at ease but in the end it was Hookton’s words that resolved their plan "Who else can we turn to?" he said, "Now that God himself could not provide?" He turned to Carter’s widow who had hardly said a word throughout the recent arduous days; placing a hand upon hers he asked softly for her thoughts. "Send for him" she said thickly through tears.

Word was sent and three days later the stranger Swift rode into town. He was a tall man in a black cloak with a kindly face. However such softness in his features did little to stop the suspicions and mild fear rise up in the villagers as they saw a pentacle on a chain upon his neck and a daisy chain round his wrists. He assembled the village and pledged to do his best to rid Moon Steere of their demon. Taking Hookton and Tolliver with him, he went into the forest that very night to see for himself the field that had slain so many.

They walked solemnly through the forest with hardly a word between them until they reached the stream. Swift bade the two to stand here in safe distance and let him enter the field alone, something that, if they were honest, they were relieved to hear. Slowly yet surely the tall stranger walked out through the stream with determination so strong he hardly noticed the trickling waters soak into his boots. He was soon into the field as a mist rolled across its tall golden grass.
The fog began to steadily roll across making the tall figure of Swift hard to see for Hookton and Tolliver, who looked at each other with hope in their eyes for they knew this was their last chance to banish whatever lay out there.

Out in the field Tobias Swift struggled to see out beyond the eye of the impenetrable fog. Noise and winds as if from the Devil’s mouth itself came with great force determined to send his body crashing to the ground and decimate his limbs. But Tobias Swift was a wise man who saw more than the average two eyes could see and he stared deep and hard into the centre of the field as the mists enveloped him and the beast did its worst. With great concentration he looked and looked as hard as he had ever and saw something beyond the wind and the harsh lights. His eyes trained on what was beyond the lights and he saw strange visions. Slowly he looked down at his feet and saw no longer the comforting long blades of grass that his faith had him worship. Instead he found himself on hard yet smooth ground the likes of which he had not seen. He realised in that very moment that he had done as he had hoped, he had transcended the world he knew into another realm, the realm of whatever it was that had killed the men of Moon Steere. He raised a hand and saw that he could see straight through his own limb as he hoped he would. Finally he took in his surroundings clearly and saw before him wave upon wave of large carriage like objects of four wheels with piercing lights and loud earth grinding noise speed up and through him. There were several lanes of this aiming directly at him and others to his left passing by him. He looked out into where he knew the stream was and saw the shadows of Hookton and Tolliver through time. He knew now what it was; it was a rift, a rift through time and he had seen the future.

Slowly he faded out and back into the field of Moon Steere. To Tolliver and Hookton he seemed to float back towards them through the mist and across the stream until finally his peaceful face was in front of them once more.
"You have survived the very Devil sir?" said Tolliver with wonder. "Tell me, what is it?" Hookton added gravely.
"It is the future," Swift replied. "It is not the devil nor a beast, it is ourselves, man, the ultimate beast. For man will in the future seek to destroy what I worship, the very Earth."
"I-I do not understand you sir," Hookton said astonished.
"You have in your field, a gateway, as if a door to the years ahead of us. I warn you sir, nay I urge you, if you value your villagers’ lives you must keep this field fallow in your lifetime and in the lifetimes of the generations to come. The Future will take care of this field, it’s value has already been marked."
"You mean to say we have a crossover to what is to come?" Tolliver said with great fear in his voice
"Yes" Swift confirmed
"But how sir, how can our very future destroy us?" Tolliver asked
"It is nothing to fear, it is just life, your villagers crossed over into this different realm yet to be and where slain by what is kept there entirely by accident"
"What-what is there?" Hookton asked shakily.
"Progress they will call it. Carriages of enormous speeds that if one where to step in front of, one would be crushed just like your people. But it is not an evil sir; it is quite unknowing in what it did. The people back there, well they are not to be blamed for the passageway, but lives will be taken if you let the field be entered again" and with that he walked up the hill leaving a fearful and astonished Hookton and Tolliver behind him staring out at the field.

The great roar of diggers and cement churned up the very earth as the town planner with his hard hat looked out at the plans "Imagine it" he said over the incessant din to the foreman "roads up and down the country all linking together, taking man to wherever he wants faster and quicker than ever before"
"Aye" answered the foreman as he rolled his woodbine "London in a matter of hours"
"It’s progress, progress, the 1960's, the modern world" said the planner.
The foreman chuckled "Modern world, that’s what this village up over that hill needs" as he fired up his rolled up woodbine
"Eh?" asked the planner distracted from the tarmac being laid down.
"That village of Moon Steere, they were going on about the land we’re working on, saying it’s been haunted for years, it’s been fallow ‘til now apparently"
"Stupid superstition of inbred backwards eh?" The planner chuckled. "Well we’ve got a use for it now, it’s a motorway, gateway to wherever. The future, my friend, the future." And he beamed with pride.

© Mark Cunliffe April 2008

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