Twenty four year old David Harrison, educated at Blackrock College and recently graduated from UCD with a first class honours “Master of Law” degree had journeyed to the deep Northside of Dublin to meet some of his college friends in Kavanagh’s Pub, Prospect Square Phibsborough. Kavanagh’s is more famously known as “The Grave Diggers” because of its proximity to the eastern wall of Glasnevin Cemetery, so close in fact that legend has it that in times past pints of porter were passed through a hole in the pub wall to the gravediggers in the cemetery, hence the name.
The location was chosen to begin creating the evening’s atmosphere, which was to culminate in a Halloween party at another friend’s house on St Teresa’s Road, also in close proximity to the graveyard. The theme for the party was all things zombies and the animals that might feed on them.
David being a rather superior person was not dressed in anything that would resemble a zombie, his nod to the party being that he brought a doctor’s white coat and stethoscope with him to don later.
During the course of the evening with large quantities of Guinness being consumed, the proximity of the graveyard and the Halloween Jack O ’Lantern made from turnips, rather than the imported American pumpkins concept, the conversation turned to the subject of the afterlife and the connection between the living and the dead being celebrated on Halloween, or Samhain as it was known in ancient Celtic times. David being a complete non believer in anything to do with the afterlife, God, or any other type of spirit or ghost was loudly poo pooing the concept when he was interrupted by Anthony Kavanagh, the fourth generation owner of the pub, who assured him that there was definitely a connection between the living and the dead and that he and his staff were so convinced of this that the pub would be closing at 11:30pm sharp, as no one wanted to be on the premises after twelve O’clock.
This early closure had been the practice at the pub since his great grandfather’s time when, on a number of all hollow’s eves, alcohol, that was definitely not consumed by paying customers on the premises, disappeared from whisky bottles and beer kegs. Bottles of whiskey that would normally produce forty “small ones” per bottle would be empty after serving thirty measures. A keg of Guinness containing one hundred pints of stout would run empty after the serving of sixty pints. The most unnerving thing was that anyone who was on the premises after twelve midnight would have the same songs rattling around in their head, as if they had heard them sung, songs that were never sung by any person in the pub. There was obviously a celebration going on in some parallel world that could not be seen but was breaking through the dimension that separates the living world from the world of those who have passed on. Possible proof of the ancient Celtic belief that it was on this night that the two worlds came closest to each other as they travelled through eternity and sometimes collided, with the actions of those who had passed on, but not yet reached their final resting place, being subliminally experienced but not seen.
On being questioned as to why the pub used turnips for their Jack O ‘Lanterns instead of the modern pumpkins? Anthony explained that it was because legend also had it that, because of their size, they represented the skulls of those who were sacrificed to please the Gods of Samhain in ancient times.
The more Guinness David consumed the more obnoxious he became, loudly denouncing what he called the primitive beliefs of the obviously uneducated underclasses that normally frequented the pub. The more sanguine of the elderly regular patrons just regarded him as a toffy nosed git from the south side but the rest of the pub had more sinister thoughts and eventually he was challenged to put his bottle where his very loud mouth was and go spend the night in the graveyard, silently hoping that he might die by falling into an already open grave.
With the confidence of a spoiled brat and six pints of Guinness inside him he took up the challenge and agreed to climb over the railings into the Graveyard when the pub closed.
There was a number of graveyard workers drinking in Kavanagh’s that night and, as people were leaving, they stopped David and advised him strongly about going into the graveyard after midnight. No gravedigger would ever go there during the hours of darkness as they regularly found evidence of sacrificial activity when they opened the graveyard in the mornings on certain days of the month, mostly coinciding with a full moon or some ancient witchcraft anniversary day. While they had never found a human body, there was enough remaining evidence to suggest that it happened and hiding the sacrificed remains would obviously not be too difficult in a graveyard with a million graves.
His friends also tried to dissuade him but to no avail, the more they pleaded with him to give up the escapade the more he shouted his derision about those who believed in ghosts and pishogues so they finally left him as he climbed over the railings and dropped onto the grass in the graveyard at one minute to midnight.
The street lights faintly illuminated an area of about thirty feet from the railings and he could see a copse of trees to his right. Walking toward the trees he saw a large oak tree with a low lying heavy branch that would possibly afford some shelter. When he reached it he discovered that the gentle curve of the branch as it left the tree was wide enough to be used as a reasonably comfortable reclining sitting place. He settled in and, with the super confidence of the non believer and eight pints of Guinness, fell asleep.
He was not long asleep when a very full bladder insisted that it be emptied. Waking, he rolled groggily from the branch to a standing position and relieved himself against the tree. The sound of his stream of liquid hitting the tree was strangely muted and the steam, instead of rising, sank slowly to the ground and lay there, floating slowly along the grass. Readjusting his clothing, he is now fully awake and realises that something has changed dramatically since he had gone asleep.
A perfunctory look at his watch to get some idea of how long he had been asleep changed to a stare of disquiet when the watch showed twelve midnight with no movement of the second hand. Taking his smartphone from his pocket his disquiet turned to a concern when the on/off switch had no effect on the dark, blank screen. Pulling his shoulders back and staring around with mock confidence he notices that the area is lit by a strange diffused greyish pink light, as if a distant rising moon was shining and reflecting off the underneath of low hanging clouds, bathing the place in a light that he felt as much as saw. His confidence rapidly dissipates when he looks left towards the graveyard railings to find instead the extremity of his vision, beyond which there was only blackness, the street lights, Kavanagh’s pub and the buildings around it, no longer visible.
With a nervous laugh he looks to his right and a shiver of freight runs through his body when he sees a big slightly stooped figure dressed in a loose fitting, hooded, full length, jet black cassock. He laughs out loud and shouts “ Get the fuck outa here ye bunch of messers, I don’t know how you’re doing this but fair play to ye, ye got me, let’s go to the party”. The figure in black turns his head slowly. His chalk white face, burning burgundy eyes and pure evil grin showing gnarled stained teeth freezes the blood in David’s veins and he passes out, falling backwards on the ground.
He wakes up for the second time that night and the scene in front of him fills him with such terror he tries unsuccessfully to will his mind to let him pass out again. The figure in black, now in full view, is standing over the naked body of a man face down on the slab of a concrete chest tomb, acting as a sacrificial altar. On the other side of the tomb there are three dog like creatures, not hyenas or wolves but a hybrid of both, huge heads and teeth with massive shoulders and chests and the low slinking stance of a hyena, staring expectantly at the figure in black, mouths slightly open, saliva dripping from their jaws. The figure in Black is at least one and a half times the size of a normal man, his huge hands and chalk white face the only things visible. The nail on his right index finger, two inches long, slightly curved with the edges sharpened like a razor blade, is shaped like a teaspoon, glowing silver white in the diffused light. Perched on a nearby headstone, a huge, black, bird, like a raven but twice the size with a long hooked beak, stares at the scene with unblinking eyes.
The figure in black looks at David and grins widely, showing his gnarled discoloured teeth. He raises his right hand to the sky so that David can see the finger nail that is now glowing on the end of his index finger, reaches around the body lying on the slab and with one swift circular movement cuts through the skin the whole way around the neck. The body has obviously been dead for a number of hours as there is no bleeding, just a brownish red line along the cut. He calls to the Raven with a harsh rasping “CAW” deep in his throat. The raven flies from its perch and clamps its sharp talons on both sides of the head and with one mighty flap of his huge wings flies backwards, pulling the skin from the skull with a ripping sound like an opening Velcro fastener. The Raven drops the skin in front of the dog like creatures, who remain motionless until the figure in black gives a commanding bark and they devour it in seconds.
A swift twist and pull separates the head from the torso. He pushes the body from the slab, barks a command and the dog like creatures consume it with ferocious snarling, tearing and ripping, breaking and crunching the bones with a sound like heavy boots on gravel.
He sits down slowly on the slab. The raven flutters its feathers expectantly as he turns the severed head to look at where the face used to be. He looks at the raven with a knowing smile and flicks the right eye from the skull with his long index fingernail. The raven catches and swallows it before it hits the ground, hovers on open wings and repeats the catch and swallow as the left eye is flicked from the skull.
Standing watching this, David has become catatonic, his screaming mind refusing to believe what he is seeing he sinks to the ground and curls up in a foetal position, puts his thumb in his mouth and whimpers for his mother.
Meanwhile, the figure in black extends his index finger in front of him and stares at it until it glows bright red. He jambs it into the skull about an inch above the nose and with a circular motion burns through the bone and removes the top of the skull, throwing it to the dog like creatures.
Taking the skull in his huge left hand he calls to the raven with a gentle “caw”. The raven lands on his right forearm and dips its beak into the cavity. It takes it about thirty minutes to clean every piece of brain and skin from the skull.
Taking a small candle from his cloak he places it in the now empty skull and pausing, he stares at his finger nail until it glows red again, lights the candle and places the Halloween Jack O’Lantern skull in the middle of the stone slab. Turning, with a bundle of clothes under his arm, including a doctors white coat and statoscope, the Black bird on his shoulder, the dog like creatures around him like presidential outriders, he walks to a nearby mausoleum and they disappear inside, walking through the door as if it wasn’t there.
David’s friends were both surprised and impressed when he hadn’t come back to the party house and decided to walk over to the graveyard when it opened at nine o’clock the following morning. Still drunk, the noise they made laughing and joking loudly as they came through the gate woke David, who jumped up and ran towards them in delight and relief that he had survived the night, even if his nightmare had scarred him half to death. To his surprise they walked straight passed him and stood looking at the Jack o ’Lantern that was still glowing faintly on one of the graveyard chest tombs. He shouted at them, “Hey guys, I’m right here, stop fucking messing, I won the bet, I stayed here all night”
They left the graveyard deciding that David had gone home rather than admit that he didn’t stay the night and lost the bet.
© Brendan Palmer October 2017