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The Choir

by reverend 

Posted: 02 May 2011
Word Count: 1908
Summary: A Ghost Story

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THE CHOIR Alex Simpson 2011
Paul stepped out of the cottage, the snow was falling hard now. Wonderful he thought, a white Christmas away from London. How lucky they were to buy this cottage so cheaply in this enchanting village street.
Chantry Cottage it was called. He was not sure of the meaning but had been told that there was a chapel hundreds of years ago up the lane next to the cottage and monks used to go to it chanting. Nice these old stories, good to live in a place with an interesting history.
He looked up the street and through the falling snow could make out the Inn. The Choir Inn it was called, intriguing name for a pub he thought, its lighted swinging sign was just visible and looked so welcoming.
He was escaping the all Christmas preparations that his wife and children enjoyed so much, decorating the tree and cottage, and he was looking forward to a little relaxing pub company and a pint or two of real ale. The drive to the village had been a rather stressful, with the weather warnings on the car radio. Now they were here safely but snow was heavy and beginning to get thick on the ground. Glad I don’t have to drive to the pub thought Paul but, snow on Christmas Eve, magical ….. the stresses of the City ebbed away as he stepped carefully through the snow to the inn.
Picturesque inside, low beams, horse brasses, hunting horns, yard of ale glasses, and he thought how they use odd things for ornaments, but they look so good. Paul found it surprising that the there was only one other person in the pub, standing by a small section of bar in the next room.
The barman said good evening and Paul ordered a pint of local real ale.
‘Ask the other chap if he would like a drink’
‘I don’t think he will, he hasn’t ordered anything and he says he’s waiting for someone’
‘Why so few in tonight? I would have expected quite a number on Christmas Eve’
‘None of the locals will come ‘till much later.’
‘Because the Choir are probably coming’
‘Carols I suppose and asking for money?’
‘No, that’s not it’ He handed the pint of ale to Paul,
‘It’s fear’
‘How can you be afraid of a choir singing carols’ The first swallow was lovely, he licked his lips.
‘You’ll see, I’m glad I’m this side of the bar. Nothing has ever happened to a barman, as far as I know and I’m getting double time for this evening. I wouldn’t blame you if you went home now, you’ve still got time.’
‘I’m not going to waste this pint, I’ll stay’
‘’OK, ring the bell if you’re here for another.’ Heavily accenting the “if.” The barman went through the door behind the bar. Paul was left alone with the other customer.
Silence in a pub, on Christmas Eve, so unlike London, thought Paul.
He drank more of his ale and was thinking about another when he heard the sound of the outer door opening and noise in the lobby. More customers I hope, thought Paul. The inner door swung open and in trooped about a dozen people of mixed ages from young teenagers to one or two who looked quite old. All their clothes were authentic Victorian. They’ve gone to a lot of trouble Paul thought, and started feeling in his pocked for money. Then a very stern looking middle aged man stepped out from the group and stood in front of them with his hands raised. They started singing, he was obviously the choirmaster, the song they sung was The Apple Tree, a Christmas song that Paul had never heard before, but he was enchanted, the part singing was lovely. Paul felt that there was nothing on earth he would rather do than to sing in this choir and make such lovely music. The song ended and it seemed that the whole group were looking at him expectantly. Then they started to file out, the choirmaster last, he looked at Paul as he went and beckoned him to follow. The choirmaster held the door for him as he started for the exit.
‘Another pint mate.’ A loud and urgent call from behind the bar.
Paul started, as if waking from a dream and found he was standing in the doorway, the choir were gone and he was alone in the bar. He looked up and could not see the man who had been there when he came in, he was gone too.
‘Shut the door’ Said the barman, in a matter of fact voice, ‘It’s cold in here now.
Paul wandered back to the bar wondering what had happened.
‘You very nearly went with them’ said the barman.
‘I did; I’ll have a double whisky and an explanation, if you have one, and have one yourself’
The barman got the double whisky and pulled himself a pint, Paul drank the whisky and asked for another pint. When the barman had given him the ale he began his explanation.
‘The choir were from that church at the end of the village street, St Martins it was called, hasn’t been used for years now, long before my time. The story as I was told it is that this choir was a very good choir and used to sing every year through the village. They started outside the church and then to this pub, where they used to encourage people to join them as they went round the rest of the village. In 1880 it snowed very heavily but the choir still came out, through the snow to the pub. After the pub they went up Chantry Lane, just down the road, up the lane to the farm house that was there and they sung to the farmer who was warden of the church. The lane was narrow, as it is now, overgrown with trees and bushes, the snow had been very heavy and while they were singing the trees collapsed under the weight of snow and killed them. They all died, men women and children, there were about a dozen of them, those you saw tonight probably. Ever since then, when it snows on Christmas Eve, the choir are seen, always in this pub but sometimes in the lane.
‘What would have happened if I had gone with them?’
‘Well I can only tell you what I’ve been told. Some time ago there was a chap from London who had heard this story and he decided to come up here and find out about it. I think he was what you might call a ghost hunter. It seems he came to the pub, one snowy Christmas Eve and waited for them. When they went, he went with them. They found him dead next morning up Chantry Lane that’s the story. I’m told it was in the papers, but I’ve never checked.
‘Could that be the bloke who was in the bar tonight?’
‘Possibly, I suppose’
‘I have never believed in ghosts’
‘This is a very weird and haunted village, stay here long enough, and you will. I’ve been here about ten years and I would now, never say that there aren’t such things a ghosts’
‘What else goes on in this haunted village?’
‘Well, the cottage at the bottom of Chantry Lane is haunted’

‘That’s the one, they found it very difficult to find a buyer once it got the reputation of being haunted, but they have sold it now I think.’
‘They have, and I’m the one who bought it! What sort of haunting is it, I mean what happens’
‘The story of the snow deaths goes on to say that they took the bodies and laid them out in Chantry cottage because that was the home of the leader of the choir and the nearest suitable place for the families to collect them. Ever since then, so they say, dead bodies have sometimes appeared in the large room at the front, that’s one story, another is that the choirmaster sometimes appears at the front door and also singing is heard in the house sometimes, it always that song The Apple Tree. There are probably other stories that have been told but I don’t remember them and anyway, you know how things grow and get exaggerated, especially in a village. You will probably find the cottage very comfortable.’
‘I must go home’ said Paul. He gulped the last of his pint and left, going as fast as he could through the snow, toward his house.
He went in through the front door that opened into the living room, there was a log fire burning in the inglenook fireplace, all seemed very cosy and very normal. Except that his wife Penny, was sitting on the settee talking to a man who was vaguely familiar.
‘Hallo Paul, after I put the children to bed then I heard singing outside, I opened the door, and saw this gentleman from the village who had called to see us, isn’t that nice?’
Then Paul recognised the man. He dropped into an armchair, trembling at the knees and almost unable to stand. It was the choirmaster, Paul was speechless and just stared at the figure sitting next to his wife.
‘Saw you in the Inn a while ago’ said the man. ‘You almost joined us’
‘Y, y, yes’ Paul stammered.
‘I used to live here, years ago’
‘So your name will be on the deeds’ Said Penny.
‘O yes, you’ll find me there, Mr Gray, I bought the house in 1870, I think it was.’
‘You must be very old’ Said Penny.
‘O no, I’m not very old, I’m dead but I am finding it difficult to leave the village’
Paul sat there amazed at the conversation, astounded with his wife, especially when she said,
‘You must be a ghost then?’
‘What is a ghost, I’ve never worked it out myself, I think of me as me, but with no continuing life, nothing to do, nothing to look forward to, just repeats of things happened in the past over and over again. It is quite boring actually, but I don’t know what to do about it.’
‘How about the man who died, who you killed when he followed your choir’ asked Paul, recovering a bit of his composure.
‘I did not kill him, he just fell over and died, perhaps it was his heart?’
‘What can I do now, because I am keeping all the choir trapped here too’
After a few moments thought, Penny answered him,
‘Think about the words that you love to sing, I know that carol and it is a lovely tune but like lots of musicians, you love singing the melodies and think nothing of the words, take the words seriously and you may find your way.’
‘Thank you, I will do that. You are the only person in all the years I have been stuck here who would talk to me, can I come back sometime if I need?’
‘Of course.’
He got up from the settee and walked out through the closed front door and was gone.
‘You’re not scared.’ Said Paul
‘No, and I do not think he will be back again, it was good to have met him.’
‘You amaze me.’
1904 words

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