In the days when I could drink ten pints of bitter and still stand, I would often find myself wandering aimlessly around the empty town having missed the last bus home by a couple of hours.
I wasn’t worried about walking home, even though it was quite a long way. In those days I wore sturdy boots that I actually cared for by rubbing dubbin into the leather at regular intervals.
I had a choice of routes home. I could hit the backroad and cross the old woolpack bridge or, if I was feeling lucky, take off my boots and wade the shallow ford. The shortest route was to follow the main road but staggering along in the middle of the night gave the bored cops something to do and they could be really unpleasant. I’d been stopped a few times and locked up once.
On this night, I chose the most scenic route, which followed the canal bank. To get there I had to walk through the old Victorian graveyard at the bottom of town.
The Victorians had a thing about marking the graves of their dearly departed with ghoulish effigies and this particular graveyard was creepy at the best of times. Without ten pints of Taylor’s best bitter swilling about inside me, I wouldn’t have set foot in the place even in daylight. But the beer made me brave and I pushed open the rusty ironwork gate with its skull motif and went in.
Forgotten and ignored by the town council, the graveyard was an overgrown tangle of knee-high weeds, vines, and overhanging trees whose roots had long since sucked the marrow out of the bones beneath. Here and there I stumbled into a hollow that marked a collapsed grave. Stone angels, some headless, pointed fingers and wings towards the sky. Grey headstones stood like injured soldiers in crooked lines, a sergeant tilting left, a corporal tilting right, a private falling forward towards his mate broken on the ground.
In the center of the graveyard I came to an ancient grave marked by a stone slab standing on carved pillars about two feet off the ground. Like the other stones, this was worn down by a century of northern weather and blackened by soot spewed out by the industrial engines that had once made the valley prosperous. Its carved inscriptions were no longer readable, the stone carver’s marks full of lichen and moss. It made the perfect bed. I lay down on my back, linked my fingers together behind my head, and gazed at the stars twinkling through the branches of an overhanging elm tree.
An owl hooted.
I fell into a drunken sleep.
And when I woke my bowels almost let go.
A few graves down a stone angel was beating the ground with its wings and trying to fly. I was rigid with fear. If I nipped my sphincter together any harder it would crack.
And then I saw another ghoul below the first, its white legs thrashing the air like giant worms fresh from the ground. And the writhing worms had a voice that shouted, “Oooo Billy, you’re throbbing!”
These weren’t graveyard ghouls, it was town thug Bill shagging his best mate’s wife.
I’d seen them in the pub earlier and they were as tanked up as me.
I’d had dealings with Billy before and it had cost me a loose front tooth. My sphincter eased but I was now desperate for a pee. If Billy saw me I would have more to worry about than a dodgy front tooth. His best friend was away on a rig in the North Sea and here was Billy pumping oil for Britain.
In an attempt to stop from peeing myself I gave a little grunt.
“What was that,” Billy.
“Shut up, it’s nowt.”
Thoughts of taking a pee went out the window. I gave a long moan.
“Stop, Billy, look, it’s haunted. Oh God!
“I can’t stop now,’ howled Billy, looking anyway.
With my hands folded across my chest, I sat up on the stone slab.
She was now hysterical. Billy took off with his pants around his ankles and went down in a bed of nettles. Screaming, she leapt right over him and fled. Hero Billy passed her before she reached the gate and ran slap into a police patrol.
I ran to where the action had been and picked up a pair of knickers. I hung them on the finger of an angel before jumping the back wall and heading home, having kicked bully Billy in the goolies, so to speak.
Note: Goolies are a Yorkshire term for testicles.