ten twelve trees blow in the wind
night crawls across the sky
Samuel’s hair was jostled by the breeze. It was October and the wind was punctuated by pin pricks of moisture that made his eyes sting. He had been walking through the field for almost an hour and was still yet to find the gate, even though he had followed the instructions to the letter; “Pass through the trees next to the river, walk for a mile with the bushes on your right, when you reach the third oak tree walk left into the field until you reach a silver gate.” He was starting to wonder if he was going mad.
It was only two days prior that he encountered the mysterious visitor who had shared these directions. His mum had gone to work early, as she did every Tuesday, and his dad had only got home an hour ago so was fast asleep in bed. Samuel was sat on the kitchen counter in his underwear, black china tiles carving red indents into the fleshy underside of his pale thighs, when there was a short rat-tat-tat on the front door. Assuming it to be either the newspaper boy, the milkman, or some other delivery typical of village England life, Samuel went to open the door.
He had opened it to find a tall man in a black track suit. Tall was not the correct word to describe him, as the crown of his balding head reached only Samuel’s chin, however his physical features were elongated so that he appeared long and thin. His arm was still held aloft at shoulder height, the bony knuckle curled into a pointed fist, fresh from rat-tat-tatting. When the man had seen Samuel stood on the doorstep, dressed in loose fitting boxers and a thin white vest, his lips had spiked into his gaunt cheeks in a smile. The small black pupils in his yellow eyes had briefly bulged and a pointy tongue moistened his lips.
Samuel struggled to remember how their conversation had gone. The man had started by claiming to need directions, playing the part of an out-of-towner who had got lost on the way to the church for a christening (had he said that? Samuel recalled a church ceremony but now he thought harder he didn’t ever remember the man using the word ‘christening’), before going on to bring up the story of Agatha.
The story of Agatha was a local ghost story. Legend had it that Agatha, a fierce young woman, had discovered her husband en flagrante with the reverend’s daughter. Consumed by vengeance she had sealed the room they were in and set fire to the house, before marching to the church and committing some unspeakable acts. Depending on who was telling the story, this ranged from vandalism of the church and its contents, to the seduction and murder of the reverend, but typically ended in the sudden death of Agatha within the church grounds, where her spirit still roamed to this day. The truth was, in fact, a run of the mill ‘woman scorned’ story, exaggerated by village gossip with just enough salacious details to make it familiar to locals as the story of Agatha. Rather than burn the adulterers alive, the real Agatha of 1782 had instead burned her husband’s wheat harvest, and during the following Sunday sermon she had publicly castigated the reverend for having raised a Godless wretch of a daughter, before taking her own life several weeks later. It was a testament to the lazy imagination and poor writing of the locals that this story was still told today.
The fact that his door guest had heard of the story, but did not know where to find the church, did not strike Samuel as odd straightaway. He’d obliged in local tradition by filling in the blanks in the narrative, adding his own teenage colour when describing Agatha’s revenge, then had given directions to the church, even stepping out of the porch to point out the nearby turning. The man had thanked him and seemed about to leave before turning back and fixing Samuel with a curious stare. His lips had once again curled into a pointed smile before he said:
“Do you want to know how your brother died?”