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If You Go Down to the Graveyard Tonight

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Connemara graveyard II

The priest was fed up. He had had enough of locking up the church yard every night and finding that everything was just as it had been, all except one tiny thing. He lived across from the church yard, and he could see, every night, a silhouette in the church yard. Originally, it didn't bother him, he suspected it might be an animal, like a persistent fox. But it seemed too big. Soon, he began to stand outside his door for long intervals, watching it, and eventually he realized that it was a little girl.

What was she doing out, sitting in a dark, eerie graveyard night after night? Perhaps she was homeless. Perhaps she was ill. She would surely get her death by sitting out there night after night. Why, she needed shelter. Should he ask her if she wanted shelter in his church? It seemed like the charitable thing to do. He was a priest, after all. Yes, he would go down the night after next and see what she wanted.

The next day, he scanned his congregation to see if he had seen the girl before in any of his sermons, but she didn't seem to be there. He hadn't heard of this girl before, and he wasn't sure why she should bother him.

That evening, he went out of the church, locked up, and went home for the night. When shadows began falling he looked out of his window and saw the darkening cemetery. It looked empty as usual and the odd thing was, the girl kept coming back to the same place, night after night, but she didn't take anything. No, she just seemed to leave the cemetery as it was. She didn't seem greedy or destructive. She just seemed a little, a little foolish.

The priest decided maybe she wouldn't come tonight after all. Anyway, he wondered, what was he doing, sitting up night after night waiting for a girl to show up? Who said she had to come tonight anyway?

The night began falling and the priest had to fight to keep his eyes from closing. Soon, he got some coffee to keep awake, and when he returned from the stove he saw her.

He went outside, cautiously, taking his coffee with him. He could see her better now, she was young, about eight, with long curly blonde hair, in a white nightgown. Despite the chill of the night, she didn't seem to be cold. She seemed happy, in a reveling way, waving her hands back and forth around the graveyard night air and smiling around at the still graves.

The priest took one of his shortcuts, which led round the back of the graveyard. It was pitch black there, but he had his coffee to warm him up.

He heard the girl. "One step, two step, that's three steps there," she was chanting, sing-song. "Come step, two steps, come over here. OK sit there and tell me what you know."

Who was she talking to? The priest decided it must be herself. There was no one in the cemetery, the priest was sure of it.

There was a long silence, then the girl spoke again, "Oh that's very interesting," she said, "so you're old Father McPhillipe. Yes, and how have you been finding life so far?"

The priest suddenly stood still, bumping into a tree.

Father McPhillipe had died of cancer two weeks ago. He had definitely been dead because the priest had arranged him before burial. McPhillipe had been the oldest man in the village, and he had been a regular of the church. But what was the girl doing, mocking the man's name in vain?

"Come a little nearer, and listen to my song, don't try to hide, don't try to run..."

The priest got shaky and decided to quietly leave the cemetery as quickly as he could, taking care not to disturb the leaves or twigs.

"Sit down, Father McPhillipe, rest your tired, worn out bones, surely they've had plenty of sleep anyway."

A little shaky, the priest left the yard and crossed back to his house.

In the early hours of the morning, as the priest saw the graveyard, he knew he would have to do something. He had been patient as long as he could, the girl was getting on his nerves. Not content with disturbing his nights, she was now taunting the recently dead! What could she be but a witch?

Yes, he would definitely get his own back on her.

So the following evening, after the sermon had ended and he locked up the church, he went home. He had worked out that the girl arrived there about ten, and stayed until three in the morning. Coincidence? Three was considered Satan's hour, so did this prove his theory?

The priest waited until nine fifty then he went to his dark room and draped himself in his bed sheet, over his robes, then hurried swiftly down to the graveyard.

"If she likes to mock the dead then let's see how she faces the"' he thought as he hurried down to the yard.

This time, he made no attempt to muffle his footsteps, as he crunched down to the graveyard, and the girl, as he thought, was by her tree.

She was braiding her hair and picking grass as the night settled in and humming. But she stopped, and twisted round when she heard him.

"Hey, look, it's a spook out tonight," she said. "Who is it? Is it Mr Jacobs? Mr Samuel? Mr Gordon? -"

The priest stopped short, knowing he had been seen.

"Oooh, look out, it's not a spook after all," the girl said, "spooks often talk first. Look out, man, spook coming to getcha," she cried, pointing over his shoulder, "black ghost, white ghost, is it black or white ghost, can't tell for sure."

The priest looked back over his shoulder but could see nobody, he turned round, and the girl was still pointing with a look of alarm on her face. He was suddenly overcome by a feeling of terror, and looked back again, then fled for it, running back out of the graveyard, home.

The girl's mocking voice sang in his ears behind him: "Run, run, black ghost, white ghost will get 'ee."

When the priest woke up the next morning, he found he had a raging fever and couldn't attend mass. The sickness got worse over the next few days and eventually he was on his deathbed, surrounded by visitors, but when he tried to talk about the girl, his lips were shut tight, with the knowledge that the black ghost, white ghost would get him.

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