Long time Hay Writers’ Circle member, Ann Riviere pens an illusive short story for January 2019.
Some years’ ago, a friend told me this rather strange tale. She told me it was true, but I wonder?
“It was a bitterly cold morning, frost lay on the bare branches of the trees which lined the lane to the church. It had fallen to her to prepare the monthly services but the one that started at 8.15am was the most arduous, particularly in the winter. Owing to the frail state of the church’s electrical wiring, the six wall heaters had to be turned on one by one with an interval of several minutes in between. This was the only way that would make it bearable for the small congregation who would, hopefully be stoic enough to attend the service so early in the morning. The same timing had to be applied to the lights.
Thus it was, that day, as my friend approached the church, about 7.30, she noticed a bicycle propped up against the lych-gate. She thought it odd as the only house further up the lane whose occupants she knew, would have had no need to leave a bicycle there.
She pushed open the heavy door – the church was never locked – and felt for the first of the switches, the light casting shadows over the interior. At the same moment a head appeared from about half way down the aisle. She nearly jumped out of her skin. Through the gloom a body rose up. She managed to blurt out:
“Who are you, what do you think you are doing?”
A man’s voice answered:
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you, I just needed somewhere to sleep for the night. It’s so cold outside.”
She switched on two more of the lights, praying they wouldn’t overload the system, plunging them both in to total darkness. Once she could see him more clearly, she realised he was not a tramp, in fact he was quite well-dressed, clean and with rather a beautiful smile. He spoke with a soft, well-educated voice.
“That must be your bike at the gate?”
He nodded. My friend suggested he might like to stay for the service and remain afterwards, if he wished.
Having recovered from her initial fright and realising he meant her no harm, she began to feel rather sorry for him. What could have happened to have brought him to the state of having to ‘squat’ for the night. He seemed to her that he was in need of a good meal and offered to bring him some food and a hot drink once she was free. He refused, saying he would find some breakfast later. She would liked to have talked with him, perhaps found out something about himself but she had things to attend to.
She left him and went in to the Vestry to turn on the heaters and collect the items for the Communion. By the time she had everything she needed and went out to the Chancel to prepare the altar, he was gone. He had taken such belongings as he had, leaving behind only an unfamiliar smell which my friend thought must be a drug, of sorts.
She said she had thought about him sometimes and hoped he had managed to get his life back together.
Some months passed and while reading her newspaper, she noticed a piece about an elderly couple who had been brutally murdered in a village somewhere in the North. It seemed their son had been arrested and was being held in custody. When the case opened, the Court Artist’s illustration of the suspect looked uncannily like the man she had found that day in the church. Yet it couldn’t have been him.
The drawing was of a scruffy looking individual, unshaven, gaunt with staring eyes. She made a point of watching for the time when the case would be reported in full and when there would be a ”mug” shot. There was no doubt about it and the date when the killing had taken place was the day after my friend had found him asleep in the church.