This is the winning entry in the over-16s section of The Southern’s Scary Ghost Story competition, written by Ros Anderson of Darnick. We picked this as the winner as it’s locally-set, it reads beautifully and, above all, it’s really scary! Don’t read with the lights low. Enjoy.
Excitement was mounting.
Plans for village carolling were under way, but their 12th-century church, struck by lightning two months before, could not be repaired for the magical candlelit Christmas Eve services.
Carols would still be sung around the village Christmas tree, marking the start of Advent, but for Christmas Eve, what could be done?
The North Mains Barn was suggested, but too hazardous if candles were lit. The ruined abbey was ruled out as the forecast was for sub-zero temperatures. The insurance rules for the village hall meant full lights only, no candles.
Sir Findlay’s offer of the old chapel at McTavish Hall, was therefore hugely welcome by everyone except Miss Eilidh.
She had lived in the village for 106 years. A lady of few words, she said, to anyone who asked: “It’s no the right place. I winnae be there if that’s yer choice. There’s been folk badly done tae there. Who kens whit spirits are sleeping?”
Although everyone respected her, some politely suggested an over-active imagination, whilst Sir Findlay vehemently dismissed her anxieties.
It was true the chapel had been little used for several hundred years, but he would make it warm and magical, with lighted tapers at the pew ends.
A nativity scene in the hall courtyard would include a real donkey. From the rampart of the Peel Tower he would play the pipes. Staff would provide mulled drinks for everyone.
It would be even better than the old village church.
So it was agreed. Everyone hoped that Miss Eilidh would change her mind, but mention of the lighted tapers just increased her anger.
Two days before the service she took to her bed, muttering phrases including “He’ll aye be there,” “sparks‘ll fly” and “dinnae gan”.
On Christmas Eve, quite a procession left the village for the hall. Everyone arrived, faces aglow and with frosty breath. As they supped, they enjoyed the skirl of the pipes. When all were seated, the minister and donkey moved down the aisle.
Ancient carols were made more magical with excellent harmonies. The sermon reminded villagers of families living without heat or light, for whom Christmas was no celebration, just another difficult day.
As agreed, tapers were extinguished to end the service in total darkness.
The villagers sat in silence and suddenly, as if from nowhere, came the loudest scream, which to everyone sounded supernatural and spine-chillingly close.
All feared the worst. Before anyone could do or say anything, another heart-rending scream rent the air, combined with the donkey’s own piercing sound, which reinforced the fear everyone felt. An eerie light lit up the chapel. Images of burning fir branches flickered across the walls, illuminating the plain glass windows of the nave.
Simultaneously, two terror-laden screams returned, joined by those of the congregation, unable to move themselves from this terror.
As the donkey galloped away in fear, Sir Findlay somehow found his pipes and started playing, leading everyone out of the darkness to the moonlit courtyard.
Sobbing and hugging each other, villagers looked back at the chapel in shock and horror, wondering if they had imagined everything. Perhaps the mulled drinks weren’t so innocent after all.
Quickly, Sir Findlay made his way to the top of the chapel steps. He did not re-enter but turned to face the villagers, apologising for the fact that the magic had become a nightmare. He explained that, having dismissed Miss Eilidh’s concerns, something had caused him to check the McTavish family bible. In the history pages of this massive tome, lay the sad record of Christmas Eve 1562. The family service had been interrupted by a band of Reivers, brandishing burning fir branches.
In the resulting inferno, further fuelled by lighted tapers, most of the family and Reivers died. A single McTavish escaped, pursued by the head Reiver. McTavish used his well-concealed stiletto blade to save his own life.
The scream of the dying Reiver echoed loud and long around the courtyard, joined by the scream of McTavish, as reality hit home. He was the sole survivor of that dreadful night. It seemed that tonight’s activity in the ancient chapel had indeed disturbed the spirits, as Miss Eilidh warned.
Sir Findlay was clearly full of remorse, but thankful, beyond words, that all had lived to tell the tale.
He vowed to seal the chapel, making it a memorial to his ancestors and the Reivers.
Many were shocked that he included them, but he felt this with a passion. The Reivers were fighting for a cause and, like his family, theirs would have been grieving with, perhaps, even greater concern of the hardships ahead.
And what about Miss Eilidh? She had decided to see another Christmas. She was relieved that everyone was safe, and that the chapel, with the gruesome history, would remain closed.
When asked to explain she winked and said: “Ken those Christmas Eve stories, well oor papa wid tak me on his knee wi the older yins sat aroon aboot.
“He used to scare us oot o ’oor wits wi that one. He never let on if it was true or no, but on his death bed said to me: ‘Dinnae gan in that chapel at the Hall, ken, or ye’ll mebbe no come oot alive.’
The villagers made a decision after this scary Christmas Eve. Many were sad, but knew it made sense.
There would never be candles or tapers at future events because, as everyone now wondered, maybe lightning could strike twice?