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Saturday, November 05, 2005

Bill Griffiths: Ghost Story 2: HAZARD

Pixies are known as BOGLES in this sector of the remoter North East. Nor are they exceptionally frisky, happy-tricky, or harmless-prankish. More malevolent.

The quaint will-o-the-wisp of legend, for example – not up here, that is transformed into a dire ecperience for the traveller. You ask your way… A stranger of smiling mien offers to help… Actually shows you the way… Gains your confidence… Indicates a short-cut (woodland path or side alley) – and then, at the blank end, turns, reveals its true shape, and, according to its true nature, rends you limb from limb, vessicle from vessicle.

Others have suffered from bogles, have been led astray in the most unexpected of ways.

I remember the case of a couple returning to Mirk from the isolated hamlet of Hazard, now. Hazard was once, maybe, a prosperous coal-mining village, but long since decayed into a few houses, a lot of gaps, and two pubs, one of which was only part-time. Public transport ran from inconvenient terminuses at inconvenient times. Miles of moorland separated it from Mirk and other middle-scale settlements; and the most direct route was a cross-country nightmare of narrow, hedged roadway, barely accommodating traffic in two directions, that meandered up and round and bedazzled those who were not born to its land. Probably a bogle designed it.

Well, this couple had paid an obligatory Xmas visit to acquaintances in Hazard, and found it as tedious as it ever was. Noticing of a sudden the lateness of the time – it was certainly quite dark by then – they made their excuses and got up to leave. Their hosts saw them safely into their car, and concerned they had held up the couple unduly, pointed out the short-cut back to Mirk. Not that there was any real rush (I presume), yet the driver thought it unavoidable to take the indicated route, or seem to be inventing excuses.

It was dark beyond normal urban reckoning. Who would drive about dangerous roads, unlit by street-lamps, unguided by proper road-signs, given a choice of that or luxury motorway? These were urban drivers, in this car, and possessed of strictly average headlights and eyesight. In those conditions, a car has to slow to the point where you can see any bends, any dips and swallies, any sudden fox or badger, as far in advance as you can. And it is puzzling how gauchely the car responds when the rate of motion is slowed also.

After a mile or so of this tortuous progress, ignoring side-tracks to farms, that might have been the main route, and slowing for hills, Z-bends, and even one small ford, they were grateful to spot the rear-lights of a car travelling before them, at a sensible and confident rate. It never occurred to them, that they should not have come up on this vehicle if it were indeed managing 40 or 50 per hour; it imparted confidence. The idea of turning round and heading back by a clearer road no longer held sway. All they had to do was follow.

And so they did, faster and faster, as the steering became easier and easier. Just keep such and such a distance between you and the car in front – which obviously knew the road very well indeed. Became almost a pleasure. Certainly seemed a responsible and mature intelligence in front… And then the bogle lights led them right off the road, at a dangerous bend, and sent them ploughing into a tree which killed them outright.

How do we know? Well, for a start, no one would visit the B--------s at Haswell for pleasure. It must have been Christian Christmas duty. Mr B-------- admitted he recommended the shorter but more isolated route back, and watched them take it, quite safely at that time. And then a farmer’s lad, who was walking his lass home to the next farm, spotted the rear lights or two cars careering off the road. So he said; she was uncertain about that. Two cars veering off, but only one crash. Must be the bogle.

So they assured Henry, who used to drink at Mirk on festival days, and whose sister Anne crewed a chiropody stall at the local fetes round about; and Henry telled me when I mentioned the problems I was experiencing with the folk of Hazard. That’s nowt – he said – you’re lucky to gerraway from that dump. Listen to this…

And so he passed the legend on. Bogles, I mused, as I sipped and listened, is like you hoyed a peanut up and caught it in the gob, and chewed it down, to find it turn into some resistant vampire-grub, whose leathery claws cycled up your throat, beasting for the cave of the chest when you try to cough it up, or struggling to evomit itself when you swallow. I have no high opinion of pubs or fellow drivers.

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(Remember: there will be another ghost next month, and a story too.)