If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.
– Rudyard Kipling, The Collected Works.
My great great-grandfather left the pub around closing and began the long trek home.
It had been late and it had been dark but he had taken this walk countless times, it was a walk he knew like the back of his hand, and he had set off up that hill with nary a bother in the world, just a bellyful of Mild joshing gently with a soup of Wisgi Cymreig.
This had been a long way from The Cofa’ss Tree, you understand; a small village in the depths of Wales at the deep end of the 19th Century. One can scarcely begin to imagine the darkness that would have cast upon the land on that fateful night up on that hill. This was the darkness of a kind now nigh on extinct here in the modern world, crushed as it is beneath the uncontrollable hubris of the wild rise of capitalism.
My great great-grandfather had lived in one of the small houses that overlooked the entire valley; the old track, if one could have even deigned to call it that, wound its way up the ragged hillside, passing by the graveyard, until arriving at the small hamlet of cottages and farmhouses which lay scattered about the hills summit.
My great great-grandfather had been walking for around twenty minutes or so before he passed by the graveyard. There had been a fine mist on the ascent that night, he would later say, and it had been a most bitter cold, the cold that clutches at your throat and snaps viciously at your toes.
It was at the cemetery he had first spotted the black dog as it loitered at the gates, following an unknown scent at the hedgerow before stopping at an old wind-lashed bark and staring up at the pale moon, obscured as it was amongst the fast swelling haze.
An odd thing to spy on a night such as this.
The black dog had soon joined him on his journey on up that hillside, ambling along behind him amidst the shadows, its eyes occasionally a flicker with the somber green light of passing fireflies.
It had been around then when the fear crept in. You must know the type, when the silence is suffocating, as if every poor, damned creature now left upon that desolate hillside had frantically hidden itself amongst the maze of thorn-bush and rockfall and weeds, or had squirreled itself away amongst the dirt of the furrows; the foul stench of a most terrible sulphur came billowing out from the heart of that fog, and with it a strange glow, one which flickered like the light of a flame, bathing all those trapped in the murk of that night.
And it had been The Devil himself who had stood in the place of that curious dog, atop a burning pyre the very shade of a weeping willow in Spring, his sly grin like an open vent, and out did spill a damnation song with its fill of utter loathing.
My great great-grandfather ran.
My grandmother would often paint this picture during those endless afternoons of childhood where the whole damned world deemed set to flood, where the hazy lights of the passing cars that had swashed on through Wood End had the bleary eyes of a drunken dragon, and those hunched, hooded figures, whom had plodded through the muck and the mire and the swathes of constant wet stuff, they had been the ghouls who we had once come to learn would come, rising from their tombs, in search of their lost belongings in the dead of night.
I had watched as my sister, Claire, darted off through the churchyard ahead of me, a blur of vibrant colour dancing between the weathered headstones. I, tubby wee Andrew, had been content to traipse along behind her, rigorously scouring that hallowed ground for the grave of a pirate whom may never have existed.
My Grandmother, Katie, and my Aunt Ann had been a few short steps behind us, lost in a cloud of tobacco smoke and laughter, pointing out the occasional surname etched upon the gravestone which had struck them as unusual.
It had been a beautiful day, with St. Mary Magdalene’s spire reaching for that glorious sun as the finch flew hither and yon, the freshly cut grass and the blossom of the waking trees coalescing with that of the occasional chirp of the grasshopper and the most elegant of birdsong; a conjuring almost, bringing to existence something akin to the dim and forgotten daydream of a perfect spring day,
What a strange thing!
to be alive
beneath cherry blossoms.
– Kobayashi Issa, Poems.
This had been the day that Claire had found the treasure.
She had beckoned me over, presenting the magnificent grave veiled beneath a bed of emerald diamonds which had glittered in the radiant sunlight.
We had collapsed to our knees and loaded our pockets with this most precious cargo by the hungry armful; the dreams of all we would own and all the sights we would see when it came down to cashing in came rushing upon us like the roaring of waves.
We had never felt more alive.
We had left St. Marys churchyard after a time, crossing at the Wyken Croft, with our precious stones trailing along behind us as they fell from our crowded pockets. We would come to a crashing halt after every three steps, gathering the treasure up wildly, the entire world now at our feet.
Aunt Ann and my Grandmother had seemed so oblivious to it all, still chatting away in that omnipresent cloud of tobacco smoke which had seemed to follow them everywhere, as Claire and I bounded into the living room.
The kettle started to boil in the kitchen.
We poured out our riches across the battered chequered carpet which had laid broken and defeated before the fire and counted the host of diamonds that we had tucked away, inspecting them in the sheathes of light that broke in through the purple curtains.
Tabby had sat watching us, wholly unimpressed, her spry tail striking out at the snuff-coloured sofa and whatever it was which had lay waiting just beneath, as my Grandmother entered the room and asked where we had come across these diamonds.
We had found them over at the church, we told her, just lay there on a grave, free for anyone to take.
My grandmother grumbled a curse beneath her breath and then gently shook her head. You can’t just be taking stones off graves, she said, thick Welsh accent hanging in the air. What of those who lay beneath? Hmm? What would they think after waking tonight, once they have realised that their stones are gone? Why, they would come looking for them, wouldn’t they?
They would come looking for you.
We returned those emerald stones to the grave at St. Mary Magdalene almost immediately, before sloping on back to the house, extra careful to look over our shoulders lest we should find the inhabitant of that final resting place lurking at our heels, angry and confused at a childish intrusion on his long, deserved sleep.
It had perhaps been a year or two after the events of that beautiful Spring day when Claire had mentioned the hunched figure which had visited her that night, gently humming His ancient lullabies.
I have said it once before and I will say it once again:
Never let something as trivial as the truth get in the way of a good story.
But, of course, you can also never dismiss the weirdness out of hand. We live in a world of Quantum Spookiness and Chaos Magick, the more we probe at the nature of reality, the harder it becomes to comprehend. Our planet is ancient and extraordinary; a lonely rock from which we, as a species, perilously hang, a rock that shouldn’t even exist, hurtling through the void.
How both utterly terrifying and breathtakingly beautiful that is, and funny and strange and stupid and heartbreaking. How amazing it of that each and every one of us is a mathematical impossibility.
The world is weird.
Always be wary of those who might try to convince you otherwise.
READING: The Willows, by Algernon Blackwood.