No bats in this belfry but .......
It was an ordinary foggy drizzly Sunday in the late fifties. I arrived in front of the church at 6:35 pm expecting to meet my friend Mike as usual to ring the church bells together before the evening service. By 6:40 I realised that Mike was not going to show up on time and that was when things began to go wrong.
The front of the church was on a dimly lit street but the bell tower was at the back.
I began the walk I had taken many times before down the side of the church but I had taken no more than a few steps into the darkness when I tripped over Mrs. Browning and landed flat on my face on top of Mrs. Middleton.
Mrs. Middleton was one of the most recent occupants of the graveyard having died a mere 80 years ago. Mrs. Browning about 250 years old had not been well cared for and her small head stone tilted over the path just enough to be in the way.
I guess it was finding myself face down on a grave, alone, in the dark on a foggy night that began to play on my mind but I got up and carried on much more carefully winding my way through the tombstones. By the time I was approaching the back of the church I had more confidence but my heart was definitely in my mouth and I was getting jumpy.
I walked right to the bend in the path but overshot and ran into the 'Table' with a rather unfortunate part of my body. The 'Table' was what we called the grave that had one huge flat stone supported by six legs. It was a great place for a picnic on a summer night but not the best thing to run into in the dark.
I hobbled more than walked the rest of the way to the tower door and reached out to take hold of the padlock but ended up skinning my knuckles on the stone about an inch away.
My emotional state was now definitely on the decline so I stopped to compose myself. As I unlocked the heavy oak door and pushed it open I kept repeating to myself I am not afraid! I am not afraid!
The door led into a spiral staicase attached to one corner of the tower. Stepping through onto the old stone steps I took the two steps down necessary to turn and close the door. The darkness was now total as I began the climb past the door and up to the bell ringers' room. I knew to count the 57 stairs so as not to miss the door but my shoes were wet and I had counted no more than 20 when I slipped on a particularly worn sloping tread, hit my knee on the corner of a step and slid back down a way. Repeating my mantra I am not afraid! I am not afraid! and trying to ignore all the parts of my body that, through pain, were vying for my attention, I continued onward and upward.
When they built this part of the church they did have the presence of mind to include illumination for the staircase by inserting 3 windows ( well slits really ). Unfortunately they were less than 2 inches wide and hardly worked on a bright summer day so the darkness was absolute on a dark foggy night.
I had forgotten to count for a while but now I figured the door must be close by. Carefully I felt along the curving outer wall of the stairway trying to locate the door and finally there it was.
I pushed it open and stepped on the sill ready to take the one step inside to find the light switch just to the right. This one bulb hanging by the bell ropes was the tower's only electric light. ........Something wasn't right! .......... My senses were all on high alert by this time and I am glad they were. The room, completely dark, felt wrong. .....Maybe it was sound, or temperature, or air movement and probably a combination of all three but the room felt too big. Had I taken that step I would have missed the small catwalk that snaked between the 8 huge bells in the belfry and fallen to the floor fifteen feet below. I am not afraid! I am not afraid! I turned carefully around and stepped back into the stairway . The soles of my shoes were now quite dry and safe for the stairs but on turning to go down I realised too late the heels of my shoes were still wet and muddy. I made good time going down those first few stairs but my tailbone took a beating and I also lost a bit more flesh off both hands this time as I tried to slow my descent by clutching at the rough stone walls.
At long last I was able to find the correct door and flicked on the light. That bare room was such a comforting site that my heart rate slowed and I began to notice all of my injuries. Nothing was serious, however, and the bells must peal tonight so I went over to the ropes and began what I had done all this for. The ropes were supposed to have a covering on them at the point where I handled them but a couple of them had worn off with time and I noticed the rope burns were playing havoc with my already skinned fingers.
It was about that time that I was relieved to hear Mike coming up the stairs. He finally reached the room and I heard him step through. The door creaked as he leaned on it. I couldn't leave the ropes and my back was to the door but I asked him very nicely where he had been. (Well, really not very nicely). He didn't answer so I asked again. Still no answer. I took a quick glance over my shoulder. No one there.....
. OK. Now I'm afraid......
I yelled at him to stop playing the fool and take his turn at the ropes. Still nothing. By the time I finished with the bells that night I was ready to be carted away to the asylum. On the way down the stairs I yelled at Mike that he had better show himself now or I would lock him in. The door was kept padlocked on the outside.
.....I locked him in...
When I got into the church Mike's neighbour approached me and told me that Mike was sick and was sorry to have let me down.
I never told anyone what had happened but 2 months later I was out of town and Mike did the bells alone. The next time I saw him he told me that he had been scared to death and was never doing that alone again. He heard someone come all the way up the stairs and into the room but no one was there. We never found anyone who had heard of a belfry ghost but we knew this church was not the first on the site so someone could have been annoyed at being moved when they built it. Or maybe someone in the long distant past had taken that step that I almost took - - - he may be still there, buried by the pigeons! - I know I'm not going to volunteer to look.