Powderfinger by Keller Yeats

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Chapter 30

As top dog in the Local History Society, it was part of Alan’s role to be “The Face of The Past.” It was the advertising departments idea, of using a slogan which read;

“Local History: Simply putting a face on the past.” It was not a position he was all that happy to occupy but from the moment, he was stuck with it. Today, he had another meeting with Mr. Nathaniel Jones scheduled. This time it was about the arrangements for the re-internment of the people from the unconsecrated ‘graveyard,’ within the grounds of The Quaker Meeting Hall. There would undoubtedly, be some kind of ceremony and a few notable guests, who would require him to be amiable. Generally, he expected the arrangements would run smoothly and the day to pass without incident. These sort of events, where The Local Notary had a certain presence, could be viewed from either the angle of the facilitators, which generally meant the providers of the money, or from the loftier perch as the instigators of the project, who had conceived of the idea in the first place. Today, he had the unfortunate task of having a foot in both camps, simultaneously.

Alan, could already see the rest of todays business, fading away into the distance. Firstly, he had agreed to a meeting with Nathaniel Jones, at The Meeting Hall. Later, as the head of The Local History Society, he would be required to give an update, on the goings on in the old graveyard, to the press, in order to keep local interest alive. He would undoubtedly be answering questions, that involved reports of ancient bodies being discovered and then being removed for further investigations, to take place. This was an excellent delaying tactic. It was always easier to invoke the,

“We’ll have to wait until the results of tests come back and the research of the archives is complete before we can make any definitive comment.” or the equally evasive, “You do have to understand, this is far more complex, than it originally appeared and it’s going to take some time.” Both, were tried and trusted methods which he’d often employed to deflect any speculation and rumour, by the news hounds. However, initially this morning, he had a meeting with Mr. Jones at the Hall and he needed to concentrate on that encounter, before he began to consider the press.

They had agreed to meet at the Hall, so they both could inspect the new mausoleum and the plaque, ahead of the reconsecration, which was scheduled for Thursday morning. Alan, was the first to arrive outside the hall, mainly due to the short distance he had to travel from home. Since he was alone, he relaxed and casually turned around to see if Mr. Jones, was anywhere to be seen on the long track, leading up from the bridge, which bore the Quaker’s name. He saw nothing, the roadway was both silent and still but Alan, did notice that this place seemed to be cocooned within a bubble. Up here on the gently sloping ground, in front of the Meeting Hall, the modern world seemed to slip away. The traffic on the main road sounded quieter and the overall rumble muted.

There was, an un-natural stillness to the air and it began to make Alan feel quite sleepy. “Enough, enough,” he barked and he tried the main doors once again. Annoyingly, they remained steadfastly closed. “Jesus, if you arrange a meeting with someone, at their choice of some ridiculous hour, surely it’s incumbent upon you to be there,” he cursed internally. Now, he was looking impatiently down at his wrist watch, it said 9.33am and they were supposed to meet at 9.15. “Where the fuck is he?” Not willing to wait indefinitely, for the Church Elder to make an appearance, he reached into his breast pocket and withdrew his mobile phone and started to dial. Just, as Alan was about to punch in the final number and press the ‘call’ button, he saw a Black Mercedes Saloon car with dark tinted windows, turn around the corner at the foot of the driveway and begin to make its way sedately up the hill towards him.

“At last,” grumbled Alan to himself as he allowed the phone to slip back into his pocket, just as the vehicle drew to a halt in front of him. From the driver’s side, the shiny black door of the saloon car, slowly opened and dressed in a matching black morning suit, the elegant Mr. Jones, slid out of the automobile.

“It’s good to see you again, Mr. Jones,” said Alan as he reached out to shake the old man’s hand. “I trust, you had a pleasant journey here this morning?”

Nathaniel Jones just nodded at Alan as he shook his hand, then reached into his jacket pocket retrieved the keys before silently opening the entranceway to the empty Hall and stepped inside. Alan followed behind him and although he was totally familiar with the Hall’s exterior presence because he could see it from his lounge window, silently brooding on the hilltop, he had never stepped into the interior of this veritable sanctum and he was almost rendered speechless, by the experience.

Their footsteps echoed, as they slowly made their way across the parquet floor, towards the anteroom, which was located at the rear of the main congregational area.

“I love the sound of this place,” Alan commented, as they both sat down, at the wooden table arranged before them in the small room. “It had to be the acoustics,” offered Alan absentmindedly, while he was imagining, what it must have sounded like in olden times, when the place was crammed with the god fearing. “It’s certainly an impressive effect,” he added, as Mr Jones, still silent, opened his briefcase and spread the contents out on the surface of the polished wooden conference table.

Jones, then reached into his breast pocket and retrieved a slip of paper and read from it. “Arrive at 11.30am. Speeches 12.00. Internment 12.20. Light lunch in the hall 12.30am to 1.30pm and then, Departure by 2.00pm.” Finally, he asked, “Are those arrangement O.K, with you, Mr. Turnbull?”

Alan, appeared to have little choice, other than to acquiesce. “Fine. Fine. Whatever suits your people,” he calmly concurred. This shindig, was, after all, not his party, he was only a guest and the representative of The Local History Society. “Everything’s fine with me, in fact, things couldn’t be better.” The old Quaker, seemed happy with that answer and lowering his voice, to a hushed tone, as he spoke again.

“I have something here, which I think, considering your local history interests, you may be interested in,” he said, as he fumbled about in his leather briefcase. “Ah yes, here it is,” he said and then he sat back in his chair and opened the folder. “Tell me Mr. Turnbull, have you ever come across the name, of Constance Goodchild, during any of your researches?”

Now, that name rang a bell in Alan’s head but he could not precisely nail it down. “I can’t place it right now but please feel free to continue, I’m sure it will come to me as you speak.”

Nathaniel Jones, carried on regardless. “Constance Goodchild, was a revered Elder of our Church some years ago and how should I put this?”

He paused at this point, as if he were gathering his thoughts before continuing with his tale. “It was said Constance, had a curious ability,” he paused again, “which enabled her to, see things in this world, which came from another.” His words, sparked something in Alan’s tired brain and his eyes shot up and met with Mr. Jones’s piercing blue’s staring back at him, in the hope that there would be a response from him.

A bell went off in Alan’s head. “Constance Goodchild, go it,” he blurted out and then, went on “The spectre on the bridge. Of course.”

Mr. Jones, just smiled dismissively and looked at the clock, which was located above Alan’s head. “May I continue?” he asked.

“Yes, please and don’t mind me, you just carry on.”

Jones, very obviously straightened his assembled papers once more and cleared his throat, as if in admonishment of Alan’s rude interruption of his story. “As I was saying, Constance, was what we in The Society call, “A See’er and to put it bluntly, she was one of those special people, who are aware of the entities, as they cross over from this world and then back again. However, in those distant days, it was not good to advertise this fact lest you be seen as mad, especially if you were a female, or you may have found yourself on the way to an asylum. So, to prevent idle tongues wagging, she told next to nobody about her visions and just wrote them all down, in her chronicle. She kept it for the next 43 years, until her mysterious death at the age of 66 in 1903.”

He reached down, for his briefcase again and pulled an old tattered leather bound book from inside and almost reverentially placed it on the table in front on Alan. “Before you, is the only surviving copy of ’The Chronicles of a Quaker.’ I believe, that it’s her own, hand written copy of the book, that she had compiled over a span, of more than four decades.”

Alan, reached out and eagerly touched the weighty tome, that had just been laid before him. Before he could open it Jones placed a hand over his,

“I am lending you this unique volume,” continued Jones, “so that you may see for yourself, the reason for my actions regarding the lost souls, that you and your history people unearthed, in the'Cemetery of The Unredeemed.’ May their spirits be at peace.” He then, bowed his head and fell silent.

Alan saw his opportunity. “You say Constance Goodchild’s death was mysterious. How come?” he asked, as Jones removed his hand and Alan lifted the cover of the leather bound volume.

Mr. Jones considered for a moment, then realising Alan was waiting for him to elaborate, replied “Well, most of the old records say she simply grew tired of all the mockery and so one day, Constance, just walked away from all the other brethren and disappeared, into the world of men. However, a few of the more scholarly, members of our congregation, who are the more learned historians in out blessed Society, mention a mature female relationship with another member of the flock. Sadly, due to the lack of understanding at the time, they both experienced ridicule within the closed community, that was The Quaker Movement of the time. They took to taking walks together along the canal. Often, they would journey up to Gildabrooke Hall, under the pretence of giving His Lordship comfort, following the death of his son in The Crimean War.”

Then, his tone changed and it became a little darker. “If you ask me, it was just to facilitate opportunities, in order for them to advance their wicked affair.”

Alan picked him up on that one. “You’ll get in trouble, saying things like that these days. You never know just who is listening and perhaps, they were just two lonely older women, nothing more than that.”

The barbed comment, just went straight over Nathaniel Jones’s head and he simply continued with his interrupted statements, as if nothing had been said. “Both of their subsequent deaths, were supposedly at the hands of Constance Goodchild’s much mentioned ‘Spectral Being‘ but just how real that was, is anybodies guess, as only Constance had ever seen it. Some believe it had become vengeful due to her new relationship and so, it decided to remedy the situation and kill them both.”

That, made Alan look up. “What exactly, are you saying Mr. Jones?” Alan asked. “Are you seriously intimating, that, you believe, we’re dealing with something, along the lines of a jealous ghost?” he sarcastically said. “Pull the other one, it’s got more bells on it.”

Nathaniel Jones, gently pushed his chair back a couple of inches and turned towards Alan.

“I seriously think, you should read this before you say anything more. I sincerely believe, that it may alter your opinion of Constance and her abilities.”

He stood to leave but stopped and then walked over to the window and looked out, onto the new garden. “Before I go, I feel that I must tell you, that all the bodies, bar one, were cremated yesterday, ready for the ceremony on Wednesday morning. The remaining lost soul, will be placed in a new coffin and interned later but in a separate chamber, in the main graveyard. A regular consecrated burial has been granted for him, as it appears his death was caused by a gross act of mob inspired, public fear and dread. To allow a proper full service for this individual, is the correct form of action for us to take but is of little recompense, in the face of such an appalling injustice.”

This course of action, deviated considerably from the original idea for the mausoleum. Surprised by the changes, Alan stood up and strode over to join Mr. Jones at the window, with a thousand questions rolling over in his mind.

Both men, simply stood and silently looked through the glass, at the small plot of land, that in a little more than 24 hours, was to become, “The Constance Goodchild Memorial Garden.” Both men stood there and it was Jones, who broke the spell, when in a very scholarly tone, he informed Alan that,

“Shortly after her death, the newspapers got hold of her manuscript, from an unknown source, embellished it and renamed her book 'The Quaker Wraith.’ In it, she tells a tale of something malicious walking the canal bank, under the light of a full moon.” He looked at Alan, to judge his reactions to the story so far and continued regardless. “Unexpectedly, even the change of title, did not endear the book to the general public. Over the years, the few copies that were purchased, were misplaced or destroyed.”

Actually, it was the League of Friends themselves, who bought up most of the copies, that had fallen into the hands of the populace and they promptly destroyed them, to prevent their beliefs, being held up for public ridicule. “Now, the only surviving and original copy, is temporarily in your possession and may I suggest, that you read it privately and return it to me on Wednesday.” said Jones. “Rest assured Mr. Turnbull, we are doing the best for all concerned” he said, almost as an after thought. Then he moved slowly but deliberately towards the door and held it open for Alan adding with finality,

“Especially, the dead.”

As Alan stepped out of The Lodge and re-entered the world of mammon, Nathaniel Jones, aware of his discomfort regarding the summary treatment of the bodies from the dig in the cemetery commented in his ear, as he made his way to his black Mercedes Benz,

“Well Mr. Turnbull, what would you have done?”

Alan, heard the question and just stared incomprehensibly at his back, as he moved around to the drivers side of his black car. As he opened the door to get in, he turned to face Alan and in his flat tones said,

“Remember, you have until the ceremony in two days, to read the book that I just gave you. Then, I will expect it to be returned to me.” Jones, got in the car and the engine started. As the aging Quaker Elder, eased his automobile away from where Alan was standing, he slowed down and opened the window, calling, “I advise you not to show this book to anyone else. Simply, read it and then hand it back to me, before the ceremony. I think you may find you concur with our revised arrangements.” He then wound up his open window and drove sedately down the driveway, towards the gates.

That act in itself, somehow broke the strange trance like state, that Nathaniel Jones had engendered in him. Alan’s body jerked, almost imperceptibly, as the black automobile reached the gates of the lodge and drew away from view.

'Jesus fucking Christ Man,' he thought and repeated those sentiments out loud. “Mr. Nathaniel Jones, you really are one weird fucker.” He uncomfortably felt, that Jones, was more like some kind of Gatekeeper, than an Elder. “That guy, could creep you out, big time, with no problems, en route,” he said, in a final effort to convince himself, of what had just happened. Then, he looked down at the leather bound volume, held tightly in his hands, promising himself that he would take Mr. Jones’s advice and read it as soon as possible, but right now, he had to get to work.

He could read Constance’s book, later this evening, with a good meal inside him and a Whiskey on the table. “That sounds like a plan, let’s go with it,” he said and then dismissed Constance Goodchild and her Wraith, in favour of the task ahead.

Later, as he sat down in the soft antique leather easy chair, relaxing after his evening meal, Alan reached over and casually picked up “The Chronicles of a Quaker,” a.k.a “The Quaker Wraith,” opened it at page one, put his glasses on and began to read.

It was the story of a young Quaker woman and her relationship, if you could call it that, with a spiritual entity, that seemed to only reveal itself, to her alone. From her first encounter with it, on the bridge that misty night, to its long periods of inactivity between the periods of frenzied killing, she catalogued it’s movements along the canal bank and observed it’s activities for many years. She listed both the goings on, at the various points in the rush for growth and the resultant consequences, that ensued. There was mention of an etherial glow, that emanated from the entity and there was comment, on the generally disbelieving brethren, regarding her insistence that her creature, did actually exist. It also listed their reactions to, her invisible friend’s apparent killing spree’s, which though infrequent, were certainly bloody.

Then, the tone of the writer changed.

Constance, mentioned temptation for the first time. Around this period, she began to question the tenants of her faith. She also noted, an increasing feeling of being observed and occasionally, of being followed on her evening walks along the waterway.

“This stuff is unbelievable and fortunately, I know a discreet man, who loves sorting through this sort of document.” He stroked his chin, considering his options. “Jesus, these old writings are right up Nicks’ street,” he said and only then, realising just how long it had been since he’d last visited the toilet, he tried to move his aching legs. As he was slowly rising, he glanced at the clock in the corner of the softly lit room. Incredibly, it read seven after midnight and it was definitely time to stop for the night. He reverently closed the book and just stood for a moment, or two while he regained his composure.

“What if Constance Goodchild’s wraith, was the same creature, that their little cabal was seeking and furthermore, what if her entity, was also, their ‘Powderfinger?’ He looked curiously through the smoked glass, squinting, as if that would allow him to see through the mirk. He was really looking outwards, at the faint outline of the cold dark canal, reflected in the pale moonlight below him and even though he knew, that there was nothing tangible out there, he couldn’t help but look. In truth, he was looking for that translucent glow, which she had described several times in great detail, moving along the bankside.

Alan, was now starting to believe .....in something and should he by chance, see something out there in the night, it would give added credence to the old Quaker’s visions.

When his crazy suspicions, involving the existence of a timeless ghoul, stalking the canal bank, right there below his lounge window, he involuntarily shuddered, as if someone had just walked across his grave. Alan was dog tired after reading the Quaker manuscript, it was past midnight and his bladder was fit to burst. So, unlike him, instead of tidying up after himself, he left the detritus of the evening on the table and shuffled off down the hall, to the bathroom. Having relieved himself he traversed the few steps to his bedroom door and opened it, went inside and flopped onto the bed. As his head hit the cooling pillow, a single enquiry, kept on going round and round, in his exhausted brain and as he drifted away. Alan once or twice more, mouthed the question sitting at the edge of wakefulness.

“What if?”

Unsurprisingly, he experienced some difficulty in sleeping that night, his dreams, were punctuated with disturbing images. All manner of spectral beings plagued his mind and he could not escape the knowledge and possible insights, he had acquired from the reading of Constance Goodchild’s journal. He had learnt much that night and unfortunately, he now had the concept of a creature, that he and the others called “Powderfinger” and if these tales were to be believed, it was haunting the canal bank, just below his lounge window..... !

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