Once again it is that time of year. The air has cooled and dark clouds frequent the blue skies more and more often. The leaves have begun to change colour and as they fall from their boughs they create Autumn’s golden carpet. Children shuffle and kick their way through them, hoping to find a treasure trove of conkers and sycamore helicopters but the squirrels have very likely beaten them to it as they stock up their larders for the winter. A mother’s thoughts turn to winter meals after all the salads and barbecued meats of summer. Hot pots with cutlets of lamb in a thick, meaty gravy, pea soup made with bacon ribs and fresh baked bread with best butter. Children think of toffee apples and lantern pumpkins as they plan what to wear for trick or treating. Yes, the ancient festival of Samhain is upon us once again. A time when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest and the powers of darkness gather for revelry and mischief. A time of witchcraft and pagan ceremonies. A time known the world over as “All Hallows Eve” or perhaps more correctly, HALLOWEEN.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Randall Stone specializes in dark gothic style horror fiction, and at times adds in a touch of humor. He is also an expert in the history of horror literature and the real things that go bump in the night.
My home county of Lancashire is an ancient shire that still retains much of its old traditions and pastimes. It has had a long, rich and varied history and nowhere is this more evident than in my nearby city of Liverpool. The eminent and world renowned author, film director and graphic artist, Clive Barker, was born and raised here. In his youth he attended and graduated from Liverpool University with honours in both Philosophy and English Literature. Clive came to world prominence in the 1980’s with the film release of his novel, “Hellraiser”. A series of highly successful sequels followed this which were in turn, followed by the “Candyman” series. Though few people realise it, Clive very likely based the demonic, hook handed menace, on a true life, historical Lancashire character. That of the witch, Mary Crane. And fact, as they often say, is far more stranger than fiction. . . .
The Trough of Bowland, in the heart of Lancashire is a beautiful place all year round. With it’s deep, dark forests and babbling brooks, lush green pastures and rolling hills, hiding ancientsettlements, many of which are mentioned in the “Domesday Book” of 1086 AD, and overshadowed by the ominous and towering form of Pendle Hill. It is a veritable bubble of ancient history, preserved for all posterity. In 1612, ten men and women, accused of malicious sorcery, all from the villages around Pendle, were hanged publicly at Gallows Hill in the ancient city of Lancaster. It was a time of religious reform and persecution and Lancashire had long bee associated with the practice of witchcraft. Today, the tales of feasting and dancing with the devil and his familiars, as relayed then, would be laughed out of court and treated with scorn but back in the 17th century, when night was so black one couldn’t see a hand in front of one’s face, and superstitions ran rife, as a way of explaining the world at large, these tales were frighteningly real. And so it was, in this atmosphere of ignorance and manic beliefs that Mary Crane came into prominence, giving birth to a chilling legend. . . . . . .
Before the widespread trial and execution of the Lancashire Witches, the ancient tradition ofWicca had flourished in Lancashire. If the execution of these sad and delusional individuals was meant to be a warning to others, then the authorities failed. . . . .miserably. We now find ourselves in the winter of 1812, in the Forest of Bowland, exactly 200 years almost, to the day, of the earlier, infamous trial and executions.
Three men from the village of Abbeystead, steered their cart through the dark, Bowland forest on that afternoon in December of that year. It was a crisp clear day and the bright sunlight gleamed and glistened cheerfully off the covering of fresh snow. As the two old Shire horses threaded their way between the dense trees, the three men sang and cracked jokes. They had been commissioned by the Lord of the Manor at Abbeystead, Lord Trenchard, to bring back a fir tree that he had personally marked with a white cross. The men were to cut it down and bring it back to Abbeystead for his Lordship’s Christmas celebrations. On the way to the forest however, the three men had taken a slight detour to a friend who brewed his own cider. Now that they had reached the forest, they were a little the worse for wear. Lord Trenchard had given the men a detailed map to follow and even in their merry state, they found the tree with little trouble.
John Perry, the oldest of the three and a well built, muscular man, rubbed his grisled chin as he surveyed the tree before him. It stood in excess of forty feet in height and had the girth of three men. It was going to be a daunting undertaking, given the simple tools they had amongst them, a long saw and a hatchet. The cider that now curdled in their bellies dehydrated them and made them thirsty and just an hour into working on the base of the iron hard trunk, seemingly making little impression, they stopped for a rest. Perry sat on the end of the wagon and wiped the sweat from his bow with his red neck scarf. The two younger men, twin brothers, Norman and Daniel, picked up the saw and half heartedly attempted to get through the bark again. Norman cursed as the teeth of the tool snagged yet again and he grazed his knuckles on the trunk.
‘This is going to take us all, damned year.’ moaned Daniel.
‘I’m so thirsty, I could drink the whole of the river Lune without drawing breath.’ mused Norman, wiping the sweat from the back of his neck. ‘Don’t suppose there’s any water left in that there canteen?’ He pointed to a round, leather bottle beside Perry. Perry picked it up and shook it.
‘Sorry lad.’ he replied.
‘Well how far is it to the nearest village? We can go and get some ale, bread and cheese before we set to work on this again.’ said Daniel. He ran a hand through his thick, dark, tousled hair, fixing hopeful blue eyes on the older man.
‘That was it, back there. Newchurch.’ replied Perry, hooking a meaty thumb over his broad shoulder.
‘Aw, that’s about two miles away.’ moaned Norman.
‘I saw a cottage a little ways over there as we were coming through.’ put in Daniel.
‘Where? Asked Norman.
‘Over that way.’ replied his brother, pointing to the left.
‘Maybe whoever lives there can spare us a drink and something to eat. ‘ said Perry, jumping down from the cart and planting his cloth cap firmly back on his balding head.
The house, a simple affair and little more than a crudely constructed shanty, was half hidden amongst the trees. Grey smoke rose languidly from the chimney, indicating that someone was home. The shutters of the windows were thrown wide opened and chickens scratched around the only door visible. From within, came the faint and melodic strains of a female humming. As the men approached, the door opened and a young, twenty something woman stepped out. Her raven black tresses hung loose around her small, round, pale face like coils of shiny satin. She wore a dark, ankle length, full skirt and she pulled the thick woollen shawl tight about her shoulders. She stooped and picked up a wide, open basket from a tree stump beside the door. As she looked up she fixed the strangers with her piercing, green eyes. Perry tipped his cap and smiled.
‘G’day Miss.’ he beamed. ‘It’s a beautiful afternoon.’
The woman stopped and looked the three men up and down with ill disguised contempt flashing in her emerald orbs. Without a word, she stepped past them and crouched at the base of a nearby tree trunk to pick some toadstools which she placed in the basket. Straightening up and without giving them a backward glance, she walked off into the forest.
‘Well, she’s a pretty one an’ no mistake.’ grinned Perry, winking at the two lads. ‘Let’s see if her family’s at home.’
Daniel and Norman were looking through the open windows.
‘Don’t seem to be anyone else at home.’ said Daniel over his shoulder. Perry tried the door and pushed it open.
‘Hello.’ he called, sticking his head around the door. ‘Anyone ome’?’ There was no reply. Shrugging, Perry entered the small dwelling, followed by the other two. The moment their eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, they regretted their trespass.
Hanging from an iron rail across the chimney breast was a large, black cauldron, suspended over a merry, crackling fire. Sitting on the hearth stone near the grate, was a human skull. It’s black empty eyes regarded them eerily as it grinned. Hanging from the low wooden cross beams that supported the thatched roof was a series of little effigies, dolls fashioned from clay and what looked to be human hair, most, stuck with pins.
‘Eere’ look at this.’ said Norman, his tone sounding strangely flat, yet loud in the stillness of the little hovel. The other two moved in close and looked down at the strange book he held. He flicked through the pages and they could see they were filled with intricate pencil drawings of plants and strange symbols. The writing, a muddy red in colour, looked as if it had been scrawled in blood.
‘This is the ouse’ of a witch.’ murmured Perry.
‘What’s this?’ asked Daniel. He had moved over to a small, square table and had taken a deep, blue velvet cloth from the object it had covered. On a small, brass stand, stood a globe of polished amber, roughly the size and shape of a goose egg.
‘Must be some sort of crystal ball.’ mused Perry. All three bent for a closer look. Just then, a bright green eye appeared in the midst of the amber and looked quickly at each of them in turn. With a startled cry, the three men dashed from the house.
They were breathless when they reached the wagon and they leant against it to rest. There was a look of terror etched on Perry’s old face as he threw the tools onto the cart.
‘I know whose ouse’ that was.’ he gasped. The other two stared at him. ‘It belonged to that young maid we saw.’ he continued. Norman and Daniel looked blankly back at him. ‘That young woman was none other than Mary Crane, the witch.’ Daniel and Norman paled. As young as they were, even they had heard the chilling tales of Mary Crane and her diabolical powers. They were legendary in the area.
The sudden gust of icy wind startled them and the horses began to get restless. They tossed their magnificent heads and manes as they began to paw the frozen ground. Their whinnying was pitiful to hear and the three men began to peer about them uneasily. An almost palpable, atmosphere of expectancy had settled on the forest, bringing with it a unnerving disquiet.
‘I DON‘T LIKE THIS.’ screamed Daniel over the howling winds.
‘WHAT’S APPENIN’’?’ yelled Norman but the wind snatched the words from his lips. They were almost deafened by the horrendous rattle of the tree‘s branches. Perry was trying his best to settle the horses who were becoming increasingly agitated.
‘OH DEAR GOD!’ Both Norman and Perry squinted off in the direction of Danny’s wide eyed stare. His mouth gaped, his face a mask of horror. Perry stumbled backwards, his meaty hand flying to his mouth to stifle the scream he knew was coming. Daniel felt his legs turn to jelly and he fell awkwardly against the side of the moving cart.
Mary Crane stood between two tall, straight pine trees on a small rise. The wind had whipped her raven tresses into an ebony halo, lending a look of insanity to her tight lipped features. But the most terrifying aspect of all were her eyes. They seemed to burn and glow with a light of their own, bearing down on them and boring into the inner most depths of their souls. As they watched, horribly transfixed by the sight, Mary Crane dropped her basket and. . . . .rose silently into the air her clothing rippling as if with a life all its own. Hovering at a height of ten or so feet, she glared down at the trio, her pretty features twisted into a mask of hunger filled hate. Having had enough, their hearts fit to burst, the horses bolted, charging headlong through the forest, their eyes bulging, flecks of spittle flying from their bits. Daniel feared his heart too would fail. As Mary Crane raised her arms threateningly. Daniel suddenly found strength in his legs. Not daring to glance back, he too ran, following the horses. When Daniel reached Abbeystead, he was in a state of collapse. An elderly widow, living on the outskirts of the village watched him shamble by before falling heavily to the ground. She rushed, as fast as her frail body would allow, into the village to raise the alarm.
The vicar of Abbeystead looked down on Daniel as he lay in bed. His mother sat on the edge of the cot and mopped his fevered brow. He had been unconscious when the men folk and the Reverend had arrived back at the spot where he had collapsed, led there by the old widow. They had carried him back to his home where his mother had immediately fussed over him. Everyone present had fired questions at him but he had answered them only with incoherent mumbling. Within a couple of hours, the exhaustion had left him and he had become much more coherent. The tale he wove horrified all those present but the resolve and faith of the good Reverend shone through their fear. In a rousing speech the clergyman managed to rouse the villagers into a rescue mission and together with Daniel, returned to the dreaded forest.
It was late afternoon when they entered the Forest of Pendle and a strange atmosphere seemed to have settled over it. It was unnaturally quiet, so much so that the breaths of those present, could clearly be heard over their muffled footfalls. Bible tightly clutched in his right hand, the Reverend, with a very fearful Daniel beside him, led the party to the clearing. There was no sign of the horses or the cart and no sign of Mr. Perry or Norman. At first Daniel appeared confused.
‘Are you sure son that this is the place you stopped in earlier?’ asked the Reverend. Daniel scratched his head and turned on the spot. He was regarded with nervous eyes all around him..
‘Y. . .Yes, Yes, there’s the tree with the cross.’ he cried, pointing off to his left. As one, the assembly made for the tree and what they found there would haunt their dreams for the rest of their lives.
‘Oh dear God in Heaven.’ muttered the Reverend, as his eyes searched the horrors before him. Others in the assembly crossed themselves while others, of a more tender disposition, turned and vomited into the undergrowth. Blood soaked the ground beneath the feet of John Perry and Norman. Their eyes were wide open and staring but unseeing, their mouths wide in silent screams. The Reverend, his features pale and drawn, could only hazard a guess at the horror the men had witnessed before their terrible deaths or the excruciating agony they had felt as the three foot long vicious iron spikes were driven through their foreheads and throats to pin them like a pair of grotesque manikins to the tree. With righteous wrath quickly building in the reverend to combat the horror and revulsion that had gripped him, he turned to the crowd and lifted the holy book high.
‘LOOK, LOOK WHAT THIS TRAVESTY OF A WOMAN HAS DONE, THIS WHORE OF THE DEVIL. MARY CRANE WILL HANG FOR THIS CRIME, FOR TIS’ WRITTEN IN SCRIPTURE, “THOU SHALL’T NOT SUFFER A WITCH TO LIVE” he bellowed. Yells and shouts erupted from the crowd as they were stirred by the vicar’s words. Holding their fists aloft, they turned for the witch’s house, led by Daniel. Their cries of rage and righteousness suddenly froze on their lips as a strange quiet and twilight fell upon them and the forest. An intense chill gripped the company as the dread and confusion took hold.
In a blind panic, the group ran back along the path they had come while the insane, cackling laughter of a demented woman rang through the trees and followed them. The Reverend, his eyes bulging with fright in the ever growing darkness, clutched the Holy Book tightly to his chest as he ran ahead of the pack, casting furtive, terrified glances to the left and right. Sometimes it sounded like the demonic laughter was right beside him, keeping pace. At others, it sounded like the sound came from behind or before him and he had the terrible and unnerving sensation that the witch was circling him as he moved. The dark, solid forms of the trees flashed past him as he ran, his breath coming in harsh, racking sobs. He did not see the large, raven black shape until it was too late.
In a spitting, hissing fury, the over large, ebony cat leapt from the darkness of the trees, straight at the vicar’s face. Due to the speed, weight and force that the feline hit him with, the Reverend fell back, screaming and clawing at the monster that had attached itself to his face. He didn’t hear the thundering footfalls or the screams of the crowd as they raced towards him. They gathered around and watched in stunned horror at the writhing mass of fur, claws and flesh. Blood sprayed everywhere, covering legs, faces and trees and the vicar’s screeches mingled horribly with the echoes of the manic laughter. During the horrifying melee, something small and spherical flashed amid the flailing arms and legs. It hit the trunk of a nearby tree and bounced off. As it rolled to a stop, those nearest screamed, some of them turning to retch. The detached eyeball glared up at them with a glassy stare. Suddenly, the cat, almost half again as big as a fox, was gone, melting into the darkness from which it had been spawned. On the ground before them, the Reverend moaned softly, his features a mask of scratches and blood and a ragged bloody hole where his right eye had once sat.
That night in the village of Abbeystead and the surrounding villages there was outrage. The vicar had been taken back to his house where his wife, daughters and some of the parish women tended to his horrific wounds. For his scarred mind however, they could do very little. A huge mob met in one of the taverns and fired up by Lord Trenchard himself, left just before dawn the next day, armed with hoes, pitchforks, spades, axes and billhooks and an assortment of other weapons. They were in little mood to adhere to the law of the land. Their intention now was to find the witch, Mary Crane and kill her. . .by any means possible. Led once again by Daniel, they found the tree that held the bodies of John Perry and Norman. The mob, twice the size of the previous day’s one, contained their anger and rage just long enough to prise the bodies of the two men from the bark and lay them on a cart beneath a tarpaulin, their to await their return when they would be carried back to Abbeystead for a Christian burial.
Fuelled by their fury and hatred of Mary Crane, the mob followed Daniel to the house of the witch. For a moment they stood in the clearing before the single story thatched hovel and glared at it. As before, the windows were open and smoke poured from the chimney into the crisp, cold air.
‘MARY CRANE, IF YOU’RE IN THERE, COME OUT IMMEDIATELY.’ called Lord Trenchard’s steward. There followed a few tense moments of silence as the crowd held its breath. Turning to the men who were carrying the barrels of tar, the steward nodded to them. At his signal, they stepped cautiously towards the house and began to douse it in the tar. Within minutes they had spread the thick, black substance all around the walls and retreated. At another signal from the steward men with lighted torches put their flames to the pitch, their features alight with hatred and malice. If Mary Crane was still in her hovel and she refused to come out, then she could burn, along with all her worldly goods, thought the steward. And she should be thankful because burning to death would be a kindness compared to what this mob would put her through before she died.
Again and again the men tried to get the tar to light but it refused all efforts. They glanced at each other nervously and with each passing second nerves became ever more taught. The word witchcraft, began to travel through the mob like a chill breeze. The steward bit his lip nervously as the men retreated. Now what were they to do? Feeling the hate fuelled rage rise within his breast he turned to the crowd and cried.
‘BRING THAT HELL HOLE DOWN ABOUT THE WITCH’S EARS.’ Axe in hand and with a mighty battle cry, the steward ran for the house, swinging the weapon high above his head. With all the fury he could vent, he brought the blade crashing down upon the thin, wooden walls of the hovel. Taking courage from their leader’s attack, the rest of the mob set about the house. Some ran into the tenement and began to break and smash her possessions. The evil scrying crystal was smashed with a hammer, bits of it flying off in all directions while her parchments and spell books were thrown onto to fire, along with the vile looking dolls. Taking heart from this, they smashed up the sparse and meagre furniture, spattering the pieces with oil from a lamp before putting a torch to it. They ran from the house and stood at a distance as the flames caught. Within mere minutes, a pall of thick, black smoke rose from the crackling, spitting pyre that had once been a house.
On their return to Abbeystead, the villagers and the mob gathered in the churchyard to bury and pay their respects to their two fallen comrades, John Perry and Norman. The funeral was presided over by the Reverend from a neighbouring town and even Lord Trenchard himself was in attendance. As they gathered in the tavern afterwards to drink a toast to the murdered men, they made plans to search the forest the following day for the witch. Some of their anger had been vented in the destruction of her house and possessions and it was hoped, now that she had nowhere to rest, they would come upon her dead and frozen corpse. If they found her alive, they would drag her back here and hang her, without trial, before burning her vile and evil remains and scattering her ashes to the four winds.
The tavern was crowded, fit to bursting and the chatter was lively and loud but all heard the man spit the ale from his mouth and groan. He was quickly followed by others as they did the same and men lifted their tankards to their noses and sniffed. It quickly became apparent that the ale had soured, a clear indication that witchery was afoot. Everyone exchanged fearful glances as the sound level dropped. The slap was hard and vicious and rang through the pub, bringing absolute silence in it’s wake. The barmaid covered her face with her hand as tears stung her eyes, her face frozen in shock. Those who went to her aid, slowly removed her shaking hand and as all those present looked upon her, they saw the bright red, livid weal of a hand print rise slowly on her pretty features. This mark would disfigure her and remain in place for the remainder of the poor woman’s life.
Under the bright glow of a full moon that following Christmas Eve, the two riders approached Bowland Forest from the north. The men had ridden from the city of Lancaster and were on their way to visit family and friends in Abbeystead. They each had heard the horror stories of the previous days but nothing had been heard of the witch since that night in the tavern and it had been presumed by most that she had either moved out of the area and gone to ground or she was dead. In the distance to the south east they could see the great, lumbering form of Pendle Hill, rising like a slumbering giant above the trees. An uneasy feeling began to grip their stomachs as their mounts trudged doggedly through the deep, crisp snow. As they neared the edge of the forest, one of the men reined in his horse and brought it to a halt. The other moved on a few paces more before he realised that his friend had stopped.
‘Look at that.’ said the one who had stopped. His friend turned to follow his gaze and his breath caught in his throat. Trudging through the snow on a small rise some two hundred yards away, was a line of some fifty or so people of all ages, dressed in what appeared to be white robes.
‘Oh My God! Ghosts.’ exclaimed the man.
‘No.’ said the first.
‘Yes, tis’ the season for them. Everyone knows that.’
The first man dismounted and stepped towards the hill. He turned back to his friend.
‘They’re not spirits, they’re people. People in night shifts. I’m going to see what they’re up to.’ Without waiting for an answer, he turned and began to wade through the foot deep snow. For a moment his friend sat there and watched his friend struggle up the hill. Then, with a hiss, and acting against his better judgement, he dismounted and followed, his hand gripped tightly around the butt of his pistol. By the time they had reached the crest of the hill, the line of people were just disappearing into the trees.
The first man grabbed the arm of an old woman who was lagging behind the others and stopped her. Her eyes were open but the look was glassy and unseeing.
‘She’s sleepwalking.’ he muttered. His friend caught the wrist of a young boy further up and stopped him.
‘This one’s the same.’ he called to his friend. ‘This boy too is asleep.’ Letting go of the young boy and the old woman, they followed at a discreet distance until they came to a small clearing where a fire burned brightly. There, they were met by a bizarre sight. By the light of the flames they could see the figure of a young, raven haired woman dressed in a long, black, flowing dress. Beside her sat what looked to be a black cat but its size. . .it was enormous. Her eyes appeared to be glowing and the redness of her finely drawn lips were a stark contrast to the paleness of her pallid flesh. The words she spoke were strange and unintelligible and she seemed to be directing the peoples movements and actions who, in turn, appeared to be constructing a dwelling of sorts.
‘That’s our Martha and her husband Jim.’ whispered one of the men as they hid behind a tree.
‘And there’s Our Jane and her daughter, Grace.’ said the other.
‘Then that must be none other than. . .Mary Crane.’ said the first, the tremble of fear evident in his tone. Sliding the gun from the waist band of his trousers, he levelled it at the woman and took aim.
‘We cannot allow this unspeakable evil to go on.’ he muttered. Resting his hand against the tree, his finger tightened on the trigger. Mary Crane’s head suddenly whipped around and her glowing eyes burned into the horrified faces of the men as her pretty face twisted into a mask of pure hate and malice. The horrendous cat, its own amber eyes burning in the darkness, let out a sound more akin to that of a dog growling. She opened her mouth and let out an unholy screech just as the man fired the pistol. The witch screamed in agony as the bullet impacted with her left arm. As she clutched it, blood pouring through her fingers, she cast one last hate filled look at the men and fled with a speed that defied that of mortal man, the cat following. At that exact moment, the people stopped their work and awoke, puzzled and frightened as to their whereabouts and motive. The last thing they all remembered was retiring to bed that night.
It was now June in the year 1813 and for the past six months, Abbeystead and the surrounding area had been held in a grip of fear. The people of Bowland had imposed their own unofficial curfew, only the very bravest daring to venture out during the hours of darkness and only strangers, those who knew nothing of Mary Crane or her deadly and terrifying exploits dared to travel through Bowland after sundown. After the events of Christmas Eve, the officials in Abbeystead had petitioned Lord Trenchard to put an end to Mary Crane and her evil. He in turn had sent for a professional with-catcher and so it was, one fine, bright day in June, an old man rode into the village. His name was George Mandeville and he convinced Lord Trenchard that he could indeed track down and catch Mary Crane. Having agreed a fee for his services, Mandeville took a group of armed villagers into the forest to search for her.
Golden spears of bright sunlight penetrated the heavy foliage of the forest as Mandeville and his armed cortege entered it. Nerves were tense, stretched to breaking point by the very nature of their foray. The fact that no birds could be heard singing nor creature scrabbling through the undergrowth, did little to lessen their fears. They held tight to their firearms, each one cocked and ready, as if they were holy talismans. Just a little way into the forest, Mandeville halted the company. He took the small haversack from his shoulder and opened it, taking out what appeared to be a plumb line. Where the lead weight would normally have been was a dark, green crystal of a rough diamond shape. Shouldering the haversack once more, he held the line before his face and moved off slowly.
For nigh on two hours nobody spoke a single word. Their crunching footfalls the only sound, their progress through the trees slow. They each saw the crystal begin to spin wildly and swing in an anti-widdershins fashion before Mandeville stopped.
‘She’s close.’ he whispered. He took a moment to take stock of their position and then, nodding to himself, a knowing look shining in his old eyes, he moved off to the left. As they ventured on, the crystal continued to swing and spin but then it began to glow softly. Mandeville and the others watched the soft, pulsating glow of the rock as he held it suspended, before his face. He stopped again and swung the line to the left and the right. The crystal shone more brightly when he held it to the left. He turned to the company.
‘She’s here. She’s watching us.’ he whispered. Each man in the company had been armed with an iron bar or blade for iron is a well known deterrent against the supernatural, in particular, evil and dark forces. Lowering the crystal, Mandeville began to scour the ground. He took a few steps in all directions, kicking the grasses aside, clearly searching for something. Crouching down, Mandeville held the crystal over something he appeared to be studying. The crystal shone as bright as the sun, lighting up the smile of victory on his aged features.
‘Give me a nail quickly and the hammer.’ he ordered, over his shoulder. One of the men hurried forward with an iron nail and a hammer. Taking the tools after pocketing the crystal, Mandeville positioned the iron spike carefully on the ground and lifted the hammer high. With one, mighty, downward sweep of his arm, he brought it down and struck the nail, driving it deep and true into the earth. And almighty and unearthly screamed rent the stillness, vibrating on the air and echoing through the woods. It made the hair of the men stand on end, not one of them daring to believe that such a sound could possibly come from a human being.
‘Quickly, give me another nail.’ ordered Mandeville. Another spike was quickly placed in his outstretched hand and he repeated the procedure. The second scream was even more frenzied and bone jarringly penetrating than the first. Mandeville stood and surveyed his armed troupe. It was quite clear by the looks on some of their faces that they considered turning and running.
‘Hold your ground lads. The witch is secure, trapped. Look.’ He pointed down to where the two nail heads could be seen glinting dully in the soil. Two, faint imprints of small feet surrounded each one.
‘The foot marks of the witch.’ he grunted. ‘Now, whoever has the salt, be ready on my mark.’
Mandeville strode off, following the screams to their source. Within a few feet, they came upon the black clad figure of a struggling woman. It was obvious to all that she was in great pain. Blood poured profusely from the bridges of her slipper covered feet. As they watched, transfixed, the ebony haired woman grabbed first one leg, then the other, trying desperately to pull up her feet which were apparently stuck fast to the ground.
‘You won’t be able to move until I release you Mary Crane.’ cried Mandeville. ‘I have driven iron nails into your footprints.’ He turned to the man with the salt. ‘Pour the salt upon the ground and make an unbroken circle around her.’ While all the others had their guns trained on the witch, the man nodded and set about his task. Mary Crane hissed, spat and lunged for him with clawed hands. She screamed, strange, unintelligible words at him until Mandeville thrust a leather bound copy of the Holy Bible towards her face. ‘You will do no more cursing witch. Your evil days are at an end.’ he spat.
The sight of the holy book appeared to cower her and she crouched before them, covering her head with her arms and mewling pitifully, like an injured woodland creature.
‘Get the shackles and bind her.’ ordered Mandeville. Mary Crane put no fight up as they forced the iron fetters onto her petite wrists.
There was no trial for Mary Crane, other than the official judge pronouncing sentence of death upon her. Not even the wounds to her feet were dressed, such was the hatred and loathing the people of Abbeystead and Bowland felt towards her. She was dragged from the room in the Inn where she had been chained, her hands bound in iron fetters and her mouth gagged to prevent her from cursing. People lined the streets, shaking their fists and screaming their hate at her. Her green eyes blazed but such was the “Scold’s Bridal”, fastened around her head and mouth that she was unable to retaliate. Bailiffs walked behind her with birch rods, hitting her about the head and body. They cut into and bruised her flesh, reducing her dress to tattered shreds upon her back. Eventually they came upon an old pine tree from which hung a rope with a noose. Without preamble, they threw the loop over her head, without even bothering to remove the iron contraption from around her head, and tightened it around her throat. Then, she was forced up a ladder and once high enough, they turned her off. The fall failed to break her neck and she kicked and writhed as the rope constricted around her neck and strangled her slowly. As her feet kicked in the air and her body danced uncontrollably, a terrible hush fell on the crowd and stayed with them until the last vestiges of life left her.
Mary Crane died without benefit of clergy. Her black soul and heart were deemed beyond the reach of the Lord’s redemption. After leaving her body hanging for an hour, Mandeville had it cut from the rope and buried, face down, beneath a nearby crossroads that still exists to this day. Before that night’s celebrations got under way, Mandeville ordered all those present, never, under any circumstances, to utter the witch’s name, for he believed that every time it was uttered, the spirit of Mary Crane would increase in power until eventually, it would have the power to rise again and seek unholy revenge upon the living.
The villagers obeyed this order but one of them had the presence of mind to write down the whole episode and save it to posterity. Now that you too know the story of Mary Crane, the origin of “Bloody Mary” and “Candyman”, I pray you refrain from calling on her name. . .lest her evil spirit pay you a visit. Happy Halloween All.