Friday, October 3, 2008

One of George's spooky stories

Typing that about my anemia earlier, just reminded me of one of the stories my grandparents used to tell when I was little. We all lived in this same house, 3 generations and a couple of cousin's too most of the time. My Grandad, George, had loads of brothers and they used to call round a lot as did my Gran's family. They were very raucous and as kid's back in the early seventies, my brother, cousin's and I, all used to love "sneaking" into their living room and hiding under the table with our dog, Boo-boo, while they sat round into the night gossiping and telling tall tales. I'm sure they knew we were there.

We also used to share Boo-boo's dog biscuits, but that's another story...

AS evening fell, talk would start to turn ghostly, as the brother's took turns to outdo each other recounting tales of strange happenings and unexplained events. My favourite tales were about my Grandad's childhood, a time when the Hooson household was bursting with more children than it could hold or feed and so George decamped to live with his "Nain" Jones (pronounced like the number 9, that's Welsh for Grandma). Nain Jones was reputed to have eaten a piece of "green eagle" and it had given her "the eye" - Grandad used to say this in a very knowing voice and all the clan used to nod their heads sagely...to this day, I have no idea what that meant, except obviously a great deal to them.

Anyhow, Nain Jones was someone well regarded in the village in those days, the early 1900's, people would come and ask her advice about all sorts. She could tell you what sex your unborn child would be, that sort of thing. Grandad was most intrigued by a frequent late night visitor, about whom his Nain was very tight lipped and secretive. He would lie restless in bed at night waiting for the furtive tap at the door and then hear his Nain tiptoe across the hallway and usher in this most private guest. If ever he asked the usually sunny Nain Jones about these nocturnal visitations she would scowl and tell him to mind his business.

All villages have a haunted house, of course, and Bagillt was no different. My Grandad had grown up with the schoolyard wisdom on Fanny Bwgan, an elderly resident of the village who seemed to have no immediate family in the area (always a cause for suspicion) and was reputed to be a Vampire, Witch or possibly a Ghoul, the exact nature of her supernatural inclinations always in dispute. All the children, along with many of the adults, avoided the end of the street where her dowdy old house stood. I have no recollection of the poor woman's real surname but I think Bwgan means either a ghost or a hobgoblin. When the cat would get riled and his tail would fluff up my gran would say he'd gone all "Bush bwgan" like he'd seen a ghost!

Anyway, Fanny Bwgan was a recluse, never seen in daylight, rarely ever seen beyond the gates of her own unkempt garden. She dressed in black mourning clothes, hooped skirts and such that must have been elegant in their Victorian heyday, but were now dusty, slightly frayed and torn. Her skin was deathly pale, luminous even - so went the breathless accounts of those few brave children who had dared to approach her house after sunset and spied her ghostly candlelit face at the window.


Eventually, one night curiosity got the better of him. George, mindfull of the "thick ear" his Nain had promised him if he should ever try to sneak down and spy on her mysterious sundown visitor, crept down the stairs, careful not to cause too many creaks on the incredibly vocal boards. He reached the bottom stair and sat, trying to subdue his noisy breathing, full of excitment and fear. He could barely hear the hushed voice of his Nain's companion, raspy and broken. His eyes could just make out a dark huddled shape in the firelight, sat with it's back to him. Nain Jones was busying herself with some vegetables and groceries that she was putting into a sackcloth bag, chatting all the while in colloquial Welsh to the attentive visitor. George, absorbed in the scene before him leaned forward from the shadow of the stairs, feeling a sudden chill as Nain looked up from the task, suddenly catching his eyes with her stare.

George froze and his heart sank as anger flashed in his Nain's eyes, but worse still was the look of utter horror on the face of the turning visitor, realising that they were being spied upon. The tiny creature shot up from it's chair and in a whirl of tattered black rags scuttled through the hallway and out through the door. He recalled that as the visitor shot past him he saw a look of panic on the ancient, wizzened bleached out face and realised that this person, was in fact, terrified of HIM.

My Grandfather had to face the anger of Nain Jones that night and there was an atmosphere between them for several days. George feared that she would send him back to his Mother's house where his brother's were already sleeping 3 to a bed. Beside he had always been Nain's favourite and was sorry to his bones that he had disappointed her. A few evenings later his Nain called him and said he must run an errand for her, to take a bag of groceries to an old friend. "You have met her already and you were very rude, you'll take her these provisions and your apology, I think you KNOW where she lives". George certainly did.

He knew that he must walk down the street and turn the corner, pass the waste ground and walk right up to the rusted gates of that neglected garden where so many of his classmates feared to tread. He would slam hard on the tarnished knocker and wait while the owner of the pale face in the upstairs window shuffled her way to the door - all the while lurid stories of her supposed evil playing in his head. George faced his fear that night and so, eventually, did Fanny Bwgan.

At first suspicious of the boy, she took the bag and slammed the door. When she had first become ill people were kind, they had come to the house, they had helped her all they could but as the years passed by and her health failed yet more the children had become her tormentors, always throwing stones at her window or trying to sneak into her garden. They told frightful, mean spirited tales about her... and now those same children had grown, and so had the tales, passed on from one generation to the next. No one remembered her before the illness when she had a blush to her cheeks and would walk in the sunlight smiling and chatting to her neighbours. Only one girl, the bold one, the one who told fortunes and claimed to "know" a person just by looking at them. She had walked right up to the door one day and calmly asked if Fanny was in need of anything. "I know the sunlight hurts your skin, I can fetch things for you" and so she had, for so many years that Fanny could not count them.

And so, that night my Grandad became Fanny Bwgan's delivery boy. The Vampire's Assistant, as he became known for a short time in the schoolyard - before a few bloody noses put a stop to that. Nain Jones had explained to him that the lonely old lady had a disease of the blood that meant her skin and eyes were very sensitive to light and that over the years she had developed a morbid fear of being seen in her deteriorating state. In her youth she had been proud of her beauty and the ravages of the disease had left her emotionally scarred. It seemed the villagers and their specter lived in fear of each other.

I suppose that's the route of my fascination with all things supernatural; passed down from Nain Jones to George, to my Mother and passed on to me. I think we all have the same instinct that there will always be a rational explanation, tinged by a whistful desire to be proved wrong. If only things that go bump in the night would turn out to be a little more elusive and ethereal than the badgers rummaging through the bin again.

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