Daughter Ely’s Tale

Written for the Ghost walk by Billy O’brien, performed by Ely Todd-Jones

The Silence of the Flies
The Drang, Chagford, at night.
A pale girl wrapped in a cloak and holding up a lantern, peering with kindly face.

I welcome you all… Kind sirs. Sweet ladies….
I welcome you all!
Do you find it cold?
I find it most miserably cold… day after day.
Are you comfortable… can you hear my words?
Then I shall begin…. I have much to tell!

August, The Year of Our Lord 1666
I remember it was hot that day… hot all summer.
It was the cow giving blood with the milk that I remember… in the heat and the silence… (though not as silent as later on) …she weren’t with calf… the cow.
…no beestings that milk,
…growth from mother for a new suckler,
…no …no calf inside her!
…and this blood not welcome, just black-clotted blood, squeezed out into the bucket with the milk,
…and the woods still and heavy in the heat.

The flies woke me each day… they crawled on my face, …got caught in my hair!
…my Uncle tried hanging a foul smelling basket of over-ripe fruit…
…he said it kept them off – but I think it drew them closer.

The stranger: had his travelling cloak on
…I noticed it, …because of the heat
…and because it were red… a blood like red!

He were young, fair haired – and all commented on his beautiful smile… he stood on the Western road at the edge of the trees,
…and stared at our village in the valley
…and the birds stayed away.

We didn’t hear the crows for a month or so.
…Just a peculiar silence.

He ate his meal outside the Inn and some of us gathered. He said nothing.
…As the day wore on more gathered… men and women from the fields as word of his presence spread.

When he seemed to judge the crowd suitable enough, he asked us questions, in a quiet voice and listened patiently to our answers.
“Nope… No people came through here in the last week.”
I thought; ‘it could be a month since we’d seen a soul’. “Nope… We’d heard no hunt… no horn in the distance. No hounds howl.
“Relatives from away… stayed away.”
“His Lordship’s exchequer men did not pass through.”
“No monk, nor vicar came.”
“…we’d waited for the mass but the church remained empty.”
“There’d been no sunday service, for a month”,
…something about the heat and the flies had whisked away all our concern… but that concern grew with his plain questions. I felt it all around.
“Any sick?” he’d asked.
“Any mad?”,
“Any unusual… signs?”
I could not help myself (though I regretted it after) …I told him about our cow and the clotting dark blood and the milk going sour.
And others, like a flood, murmured likewise – of beasts strangely ill …of the birds quiet.
And …the unusual amount of flies.

He stood then and still with that smile… he talked and he talked and he talked.
…he told us of doom.
…of the last days as written.
…of repentance and sin
and of a SPREADING PLAGUE… soaking through the countryside and taking with gnarled hands the young the old, the sinners and the sinned against!

We knelt in silence before him… but accompanied still by the buzzing of the flies!.

He took a drink of water… I saw his Adam’s apple move and clearly hear his gulping swallow.
He looked around and pointed at a small, tumble down house. “Is SHE here?”

Old mother Wright… harmless… half mad.
…I did not think to ask how he knew of she.
…heads nod in the direction.
…she’s indoors!

I don’t know if it is a madness, this giddy belonging feeling among a gathering like that,
…but some I saw were too eager to put things together in their own heads.

He did not mention Old Mother Wright again, but I saw several women turn and stare at her tumble down house with eyes that were changed… turned grey… turned cold – like granite on a November morning.

He changed the subject then… sat back down and talked quietly about the Lord sending him to warn all the hamlets,
…to warn us.

“He was”, he said, “a medical man – from the town” and that, “he knew of this plague… it’s sickness and… it’s signs…”
…and (so quiet we had to lean in) – “It’s cause!”

He examined each of us… checking our hands, “For”, he said, “…it is in our hands that the pestilence leaves its sign!”.

I realized – we were blessed he had come to help us… for he found two with the sickness that very day.
The plague was amongst us!

They wallowed in hot liquid,
…sweat like a cloak on them
…and the lumps grew black!

He allowed none in to see, but word spreads fast.
He sealed their houses and we turned our back on them.

Then cousin Imelda fell sick and she were taken to the Church …the doors shut behind her.

And that night they burnt Old Mother Wright’s house
…with her still inside
…banging on the blocked door.
…her screams consumed by roaring of flames.
On the third day the men barricaded all approaches to the village …like they’d done in the old bad days …a-feared of vagrants from the woods.
…none were allowed to come
…or leave!

Again he examined us… separating out kin.
Those he said “Carried the sign!” were put in the Church.

He took into his charge, our two bylaw men and the Steward of the village became his eager assistant, (perhaps the he thought it would save him) …but next day his fat-on-pride and privilege body weighed heavily. I know… I helped carry it’s stinking weight to the church.

The cloaked stranger made rules… “For your protection!”
“All signs of madness – like Old Mother Wright’s doings -to be reported.”
Some objected.

By weeks end, four more had been wrapped in sheets and carried to the Church… and left in cold community on the tiles.

Margaret Pennycroft held that the stranger was a liar, and worse… with red eyes and shaking hands, she screamed her accusations.

On the Seventh day, the Lords day… the stranger had the corpses burnt… (for their sweet smell had settled on the village, clinging to our clothes and driving the flies mad), and atop the pyre he had the bylaw men fling Margaret Pennycroft
“For being like Mother Wright …a whore of the Devil!”

(Though Margaret had done favours for my kin and helped me – when I had the red stinging rash. I turned my back and covered my ears to her screams.)

When, on the 13th day he examined us… only six remained alive.

Still he talked quietly and smiled… but I perceived an eagerness – as he examined each of us.

One, an older man, had the sign and we locked him in the Church.

The rest – all young – were sign free.

We sat by the stranger in the silence of the flies.
…no more died.
…he had saved us.

“It is the lord’s doing”, he told us, and began our teaching.
“Your survival is no mere luck… you have a purpose… A divine purpose as the chosen ones!”

And he taught us, (his eyes shining with holy brightness) the method of examination, as had been taught by his master to him.

And he sent us out across the land…
“To warn”, as he had done.
“To educate”, as he had done.
“To save” as we had been saved.

And now, I will teach you…
‘Reach and clasp the hands of the penitent… for it is only by the contact of skin on skin, of the intermingling our sacred breath… breathing into the faces of the unclean, that we shall find the signs,
…the signs of pestilence!’

That is my tale.
…that is why I am here tonight.
…come, don’t be afright – show me your hands!

Show me your hands my sweet folk!!

Father Todd’s tale…

Written for the Ghost Walk night of The Chagford Film Festival, by Dave Edmonds & Todd

Keeping watch

Keeping watch


PHOTO CREDIT: SIMON BLACKBOURN

The Vampire Lord of Chagford

Who’s there!

Leave me alone!

I’m saying my prayers!

Still here are you?

Desperate to know?

Wanting to hear the gory details?

Then gather ye round and leave the shadows to the dead.

Let me see your faces, for I must know that none amongst you is him returned.

Come closer now… for I must whisper.

I will tell you the story of this place, it centers on one Sir Hugh of Chagford, who rode long ago… who rode to the crusades with King Richard.

Take your minds back… it is 1189 and en route to the holy land it is said Sir John left the march of the army with his four squires, upon hearing tales of immortality to be gained… awarded to those worthy… and he being a worthy knight, would of course merit such a gift

When he left his hair was gray and age was upon him, but when he returned, he was younger and stronger and alone… his young boys were never seen again. And his hair was turned to a dark blood red colour.

As the crusading army moves closer to the holy lands young men go missing, but aren’t really noticed put down to desertion/ change of heart. Upon arriving in the Holy lands Sir Hugh is noticed for his proficiency at arms, but also for his blood lust and enjoyment of killing his opponents. Bodies of the enemy with heads removed and blood drained litter the battlefieds.

Suspicions arise and the King releases Sir Hugh from his promise and orders him to return home.

That journey is not documented, but I can tell you, that in many villages along his way, girls cried over the loss of their dear young men.

Once back in Chagford, Sir Hugh takes up his place as local lord and for a while there is normality… like others of his class, he spends his time hunting.

But stories come from his servants that he is cruel to them and that when he brings down his quarry, it is never as a clean kill… he revels in slow and pain filled death… never taking the meat home to consume, but leaving the carcass instead to rot upon the moor.

About the parish, dogs shy away from him… when touched by his shadow they strain at their tethers yelping and crying.

The old women of the town spit from toothless mouths and make the sign to ward off evil… but only when they are sure the knight is not watching.

And on the moor… amongst those living wild, a tale grows of a blood-lusting beast, who takes boys that walk alone in the night.

The mothers try to keep their sons in, but it is hard, when there is ale and pretty wenches.

Soon there were many empty cots, of boys not returned from revelry.

But then there was an incident… the drained & headless corpses of two of Chagford’s young men were found in the ore-washing pit below this very barn, down in the shallows of Belacouch leat…
The marks upon their bodies showed signs of brutal attack and slow death. The Beast had grown bold and was now entering the town.

Watchers were put at the road, empowered to challenge any one, or any thing that tried to pass… doors were bolted at sundown… and kept that way till light was in the sky again.

And so summer passed.

Autumn came, and Chagford, as it has always done, celebrated the harvest moon… A special service was held, thanking the lord for his bounty, with the bishop in attendance – he, having taken his usual residence of Bishops House – that he might collect the church’s tithe of the seasons returns.

But at the height of the service… when the bushel sheaf was meant to be brought in… none came. After a few minutes, the congregation started looking around, the bishop became agitated.
The task had been assigned to a young boy… to carry it in from the church yard, but when the wardens went out to investigate… no boy was to be found.

Whispers went from pew to pew… “the beast has taken young Wilf!”
The whispers grew to a clamour… The clamour to a roar… and as one the congregation rushed out in search of the missing boy, or whatever it was that had taken him.

They came through here (for it was known that Wilf liked apples) and past the Bellacouch barn is an apple tree, who’s sweet fruit was ready.
They crossed over from the sacred ground… you will note the holy cross marked on the slab in the doorway before the leat, that marks the boundary.

And on the path beyond… they hear terrible sounds coming from The Dead House at Belacouch barn… where the towns newly departed were washed and laid out in preparation for Christian burial!

They batter at the door, but it is barred from within.
The bishop calls upon whoever is inside to open, “in the lords name”… his demand answered by a loud unearthly screech!

He calls upon his four stout men to batter down the door, which they duly do, only for all gathered; to be confronted by the most horrific sight… a monstrous and gore sodden Sir Hugh is holding high the limp remains of poor Wilf, and sucking the last drops of hot blood from the boys severed neck.

The bishop orders his men to subdue the beast… but it is with great difficulty, (for Sir Hugh has strength beyond mans after feeding) that their staves bring the Beast Knight to his knees.

They bind him and he is dragged to the Ringers, which was at that time the court room… all along the way, the folk of Chagford scourge him… beating and kicking and stoning the blood luster, but in response all Sir Hugh does… is grin manically at them, through bloodied teeth.

There the bishop, as is his right, gives sentence for Sir Hugh’s crimes against God & man…
“He shall be executed forthwith and receive no Christian burial on consecrated ground… instead, his body is to be cast on the town’s waste dump, for the dogs to rip.
And his heart… shall be cut from out his chest, to be kept in the safe keeping of this church for all time… that he might never prey on the innocent again”
Out into the square he is dragged, then pulled straight between two draft horses… there is the sound of dislocation as each of his joints lets go, there is the crack of bone and twang of ripped sinew… but still he shows no remorse… nor pleads for mercy… nor begs for his body to be prayed over for the salvation of his soul.
Finally the butcher is called for and before the assembled townsfolk, with practiced precision… Mr Martin removes the knights corrupted heart… it beats in his hand and the knight with death about to claim him breaks his silence, with a curse…

“I shall walk again each September harvest moon and seek out my heart, wherever you place it… and once it is returned to my breast, my reign over you shall begin afresh… and none of your sweet young boys shall be safe!”

At which Sir Hugh gives up his mortal breath and is no more… a dead broken thing… a tangled bloody heap.

With cheering the townsfolk bear the corpse to the stinking dump and with curses foul they cast it amongst the rotting carcasses and steaming piles of excrement.

But friends… you think it over?

Wait, there is more…
That night a storm raged about the village…
A storm the likes of which none has witnessed – before or since… None dare step outside for fear of losing their lives or more likely – their sanity to what-ever foul demons rode upon the winds of that maelstrom.

First light brought welcome peace though it was but temporary, for the night’s watchman gave out a horrified shout shattered that still, “He’s gone, the beast has gone!!!!!”

And it was true, the Sir Hugh were gone! Not one hair, not one drop of blood, nothing remained.

The Bishop sent forth his men to search… from to tops of Nattadon to Meldon hill they searched. Kestor to the woods of Gidleigh, from Waye to St. Johns and Murchington and even as far as Throwleigh… but nothing was found then… and nothing has been found since.

So… a holy writ was proclaimed that for each harvest moon, as it is now… a friar would be entrusted with Sir Hugh’s heart…
“I have it here”

I am to hold vigil in this barn built on holy ground… this side of that carved cross… which along with the running water, will be barrier enough, or so we hope… it all depends on the strength of the prayers offered by the faithful.

AND SIR HUGH LURCHES OUT OF THE SHADOWS AND ATTEMPTS TO CROSS ONTO HOLY GROUND TO RECLAIM HIS HEART!

Father Todd: “Back I say… you cursed thing. Back to the pit that has held you these centuries… for this night – you shall not pass!”