The Ghost Guide’s Tale

Outside the Minster, every eventide,
You’ll see him wait- the smiling Ghostly Guide.
Top hat on head, dressed in Victorian fashion,
He’ll tell you stories full of gore and passion.
“For just three pounds I’ll chill your blood,” he cries.
And people pay him, though they know he lies.
At half past seven by the Minster clock
He’ll gather them to him, like a dog his flock
And fleece them.Then when all have paid him money,
He’ll charm them with a voice as sweet as honey.
Dead Romans,phantoms, corpses limp and gory
Drag bloodstained footprints through each shocking story.
From Minster on to Bedern and the Shambles
He’ll lead his nightly paranormal rambles.
Then, at the end, he’ll finish with a joke-
A jolly ,cheerful, normal sort of bloke.

But take him to the pub and buy him ale-
A pint or three- he’ll tell a different tale.
“Twas late last year if I remember right-
A windy, drizzling, miserable night
In late December. Misty drifts of rain
Shrouded the city from Walmgate to Lop Lane.
I had a party booking- thirty one
Retired teachers from South Hillingdon,
All dressed in anoraks and sturdy shoes.
“Come on !” I said, “There is no time to lose.”
“Just wait a moment more- there is no hurry,”
Their leader said, “We’re still one short- where’s Murray ?”

Chubby and pert, a dapper little chap,
Round as a Christmas pudding, woollen cap
Upon his head, came trotting up and smiled.
“Sorry I”m late.It was a pint of mild
Detained me at the pub.I feel so foolish.
I’m dying to hear of ghosts and all things ghoulish.
Please start at once.” And so the tour began.

Along the Minster’s length to College Green
We trudged.I pointed out the ghastly scene
Where once a man, weighed down with murderous knowledge,
Paced up and down inside St William’s College.
And then to Bedern where the children haunt,
Lurking in shadows, wild-eyed ,pale and gaunt.

For every storyteller it makes sense
To keep a sharp eye on your audience.
To check if they are listening or no.
So as I talked my glance flicked to and fro.
I looked at Murray; terror numbed my mind-
He stood wide-eyed and smiling but behind
Him stood another, shadowy and dim.
His robes were all of black,his face was grim
And corpse-pale, but his eyes were black as coals.
I knew that he was Death, who steals mens’ souls.
I looked round at the others, wond’ring why
No-one saw the horror, only I
And then I knew- their faces blank and blind
Saw nothing of the ghoul that stood behind
them. Spreading wide the folds of his black cloak
He wrapped them round the jolly little bloke,
Who fell down to the ground and gasped for breath,
Twitched and lay still, for he had found his death.

The tour broke up; there was no more to say.
An ambulance arrived to take away
his mortal remnants.Someone phoned his wife.
“He was so happy ! Always full of life !”
The leader said,”He wanted to find out
Within this hour what phantoms were about.
And now he knows.Our souls are full of sorrow.
Just thirty of us will return tomorrow.”

For ten long years I’ve walked the alleyways
Where echoes of the past seek to amaze
and frighten the unwary.But that night
Destroyed my courage and unnerved me quite.
And now when I go out upon a tour
I keep on looking round me to make sure
There’s no-one at my shoulder. Yet I know
When my time comes to leave the world and go
into the unknown, there’ll be no ghost
With ash-white face and graveyard breath to tap
me on the shoulder. He I fear the most
Is plump, and smiles , and wears a woollen cap.

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Born again

 

A man botched up from sticks and bone –
all angles, elbows pointing out,
and one leg twisted round its mate
like ivy round a tree.

As we come abreast of him, I see
the sleeveless denim jacket, skinny arms
pale and freckle -spotted, his white face
wet with effort, clenched like a closed fist.

“You’ll walk with me,” a child’s voice
slurred around the edges,
a statement, not an invitation.

We stand still.

He finds a solid anchor for his crutch
then drags his tangled limbs to follow it.
We move forward just an inch or two.

His name is Tim and he was born again
ducked in the winter river last December.
Three crucifixes hang round his neck
like winners’ medals.

The square is transient space , where every hour
a thousand different purposes collide
and split away. A place to walk across
or cycle through, which only takes a moment.

It takes us half an hour to get across.

We pause.

“ Born again” he mutters , “I’m born again”
over and over.

A child cries out – a yelp of pain –
head -high above the flinching crowd
pigeons whirr like shrapnel.
I watch them swing a circuit round the sun.
“Born again …” Continue reading