that time of year again: the High Street filled with fairy lights, brass instruments
blasting out Christmas carols (badly), and shoppers squandering the last of
the money provided by the friendly, neighbourhood loan shark.
Moon didn't mind the holly, ivy or mistletoe so much; it was the celebration of a virgin birth, clergy in canonicals spouting the message of goodwill to all men, which was promptly shelved for the rest of the year, that made his soul sink. How did this absurdity start? Despite the best intentions of the Church (which he also had no time for) to keep the season holy, Christmas now started in September, cleared all sensible products from supermarket shelves, and created such an anti-climax in January most people went into social hibernation until it was time for Easter.
At a least the gaudy glitter and razzle-dazzle had not infiltrated the environs of the ancient parish church. It was peaceful here, as it should be. This land was sacred long before Christians arrived, and the building's foundations rested in ground that had witnessed millennia of rites welcoming the sun and mourning its loss at the onset of winter. The lives of whole communities had once depended on the whim of the season that was now used as an excuse to drink, party, and eat to excess.
The sky was filled with moonlight that cast a silver sheen on the ivy covered tombstones. A blackbird chimed, almost in time to the bell calling the faithful to six o'clock prayers, then fell silent at the warning hoot of an owl. A vixen, having spent a fruitful evening fossicking in the neighbourhood's restaurant bins, wended her way home to cubs that had long been weaned, yet were still unable to rootle out their own half eaten hamburgers. Nettles rustled with beetle devouring hedgehogs and Moon was just able to detect below the muffled cacophony of the other wildlife the faint sound of snails munching through the petals of an expensive annual wreath laid on the grave of a much loved grandmother.
The church bell ceased to peal.
Moon took a long hazel wand from his coat and started to circle the church, stopping every now and then to tap its flint facade, the root of a tree or flagstone, at irregular intervals. Visitors to the cemetery paid little heed to his monthly ritual. It was a harmless, regular occurrence that had gone on for as long as they could remember and, like the moss cladding the bell tower, added an odd, pagan gravitas to the ancient stones.
As the overgrown path narrowed to accommodate the new community hall the brambles somehow failed to snag Moon's ankle length coat as he walked through them. The gaunt young man proceeded as though the overhanging branches and nettles were not there, waving his long wand in the direction of the boundary they now concealed. The blackbird sounded a brief alarm then, as though realising it was only a friend, stopped. The hedgehogs did not fear his footfall either and continued to snuffle through the rotting autumn leaves.
Moon at last stepped out of the unkept thicket between the new extension and boundary to reach the north facing stones so covered with lichen his wand made no sound. Then on to the flint facade of the vestry recently cleaned of ancient encrustations where the tap, tap, tap could be clearly heard inside the Lady Chapel.
The curate watched from a slightly ajar window, wishing the young man would go and have a decent meal instead of circling the consecrated stones like the mediaeval phantom that was rumoured to walk the cemetery. She was a modern woman who did not believe in spectres from the past, let alone that they needed exorcising. The only impulse she had was to invite the mysterious visitor with the wand inside and fill him with communion wine and the sandwiches prepared for the Sunday school party. Over the years Barbara had tried to inveigle the young man inside and find out who he was, but he always seemed to disappear before she could reach him. Moon certainly wasn't beating the bounds, or performing any sort of pagan ritual she recognized. The mystery continued to gnaw away at her until the excited chattering of children filled the community hall. Time to pour lemonade and arrange the Nativity crib.
Tap: Mistress Chandler the candlemaker was laid to rest here, her bones now intertwined with the roots of a yew. Tap: four daughters and a son of Master Bridgforth, twice mayor and cloth merchant, lay together against the foundations long sunken over the centuries. Tap: below the flagstones of the bridle path rested five families, 32 souls in all, poor weavers starved during the harsh winter of 1316. Tap: the sacrificed child under the first standing stone of the original temple now lay deep beneath the crypt. Tap: here, under the oldest remaining tombstone, lay the wealthy miller and his wife; once both so plump and long-lived, but remembered all the same. All souls from a time the modern world had forgotten, yet still lives punctuating a page of history that was this parish. They could not pass into oblivion unremarked.
His ritual completed for another month, Moon replaced the wand in his long coat and dissolved into the shadow of an ancient yew tree.
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