The Hidden Churchyard

Not so long ago I decided that I would start taking a walk on my own every evening once I had got my 3 year old daughter to sleep. It was my husband’s suggestion, and I was reluctant at first because by the end of a day with Layla I was always totally exhausted. That was why Greg suggested I start going out alone for a little while once she had fallen asleep – to wake myself up a little, get some exercise and feel fresh. I decided to give it a go, and I never expected that a simple walk would lead me into the most terrifying experience of my entire life.

I suppose all the horror started on the first night I took my walk, though I didn’t realise that at the time. I ended up finding what seemed like the perfect circuit. I left our little family cottage, walked past the village school which Layla would start at the following year, then past the village hall. Next I passed by the symbolic handful of ‘local shops for local people’ that made up our village centre. This brought me to a large field with a public path which led to the outskirts of the forest that lay North of our little dwelling. I walked past but not through the forest, as I wasn’t prepared to start trekking through the woods at sunset. So instead I carried on right past, which took me to an area that was hidden by large brick walls. I was very pleased when I saw there was a gate leading in because this meant I could cut through and end up near the bottom of my road, resulting in the entire walk being complete in 30 minutes.

The chill of the early autumn breeze woke me, the beauty of our surroundings inspired me, and being alone revitalised me. It reminded me that I was a person, I was more than just wife and mother. It was just what I needed.

On that first night, as I walked alongside the tall brick wall I felt more at peace than I had in a long time. I opened the iron gate that led into what I discovered was a churchyard. It creaked with age and the weight of it caused it to slam itself shut behind me.

The churchyard was a large area, with slanted graves and old trees. Most of it was grassland, apart from a small cobblestone path that led up to the church itself. The church was quite small… a single storey, typical small village church. There was large wooden cross nailed to the wooden archway that protected the door. The middle of the cross was wonky and the paint on the arch was chipped, so I could tell that this was a place that hadn’t been taken care of in a long time. I wondered briefly if it was private property, but the gate hadn’t been locked and I’d never heard of anywhere being off bounds in the village of Upper Chalston. Anyway, I knew everyone who lived here so I wasn’t worried, I was more intrigued.

A foggy memory came to me… Yes, Greg and I had stumbled across this place when we first moved here and were exploring… what, 5 years ago now? But as soon as we’d walked away from it it had slipped from our minds, and I’d not heard it mentioned by any of the locals. How odd. It was so well hidden away by that huge wall that I’d all but forgotten about it, and I wondered why it wasn’t used.

On that first evening, my first impression of the churchyard was that I thought that it would a wonderfully spooky place for mischievous children to play hide and seek in. I didn’t even get the slightest hint of the terror that was to come. As I walked over the cobblestone path, I felt an urge to try the church doors to see if they would open. I wasn’t sure why – curiosity, I suppose? I thought I knew the village like the back of my hand, so I was surprised that I had forgotten about this little place. I fought the urge though, because I knew Greg would worry if I took too long. Plus, this was simply a walk to wake me up… not a sightseeing trip or an adventure. There would be another time for more. I decided I would ask about the church at the village meeting in a couple of days and settled with walking past.

It wasn’t until I approached the gate on the other end of the yard that I felt someone watching. I turned around, expecting to see someone walking behind me; maybe Mary who ran the village shop, out walking her little dog, or Percy who worked at the post office, on his way to the pub. Perhaps this was a popular gem of a walk that I’d somehow missed during my years here. But the path behind me was as empty as it had been when I entered the churchyard. I shrugged to myself and left, closing the gate behind me with a rusty creak.

I told Greg happily about my walk, but do you know something? I forgot about the church! It completely slipped my mind for almost 24 hours, until I was on my second walk. It wasn’t until I reached the tall walls that shrouded it from the world outside that I remembered. “Oh!” I muttered aloud, completely surprised.

I pondered for a moment about how easily I’d forgotten it, putting it down to such a busy day with Layla. Then I opened the gate and took more time to pay attention to my surroundings. It was slightly darker than the previous night, as the sun was setting earlier every evening as we approached the throes of autumn. I suppose there should have been something quaint about the little unused church, but on the second look I found it more creepy than alluring. Maybe it was the way it was so shut off from everything outside, or maybe it was because I didn’t know anything about it.

The sunset draped lazily over the churchyard but it didn’t meet the church itself, which gave me the impression that it was surrounded by darkness. As I walked slowly up the path that would take me past the church, I felt like I was being watched again, earlier than I had the previous evening. There was nobody ahead of me, and – of course – there was nobody behind me. I picked up my pace, shuddering to myself.

As I walked past the grubby windows on the side of the church, I glanced at them. The third window from the church door – closest to to the exit gate – caught my eye. I was sure I saw a face looking out at me. I squinted my eyes to try and make them focus better but I couldn’t make anything out. I supposed it was just a trick of the light on a dirty window. I was glad to close the gate behind me and walk away from that funny spot on the edge of the village.

I made sure I remembered the church that night. I asked Greg if he had any recollection of the place.

“What are you talking about? There isn’t a church in the village.” He said, flicking through our watched list, impatiently waiting to start the second episode of the series we had started.

“There is! It’s behind a huge brick wall. We went through the churchyard when we first moved here, you know… when we went out to get to know the village a little better? It’s just past the trail by the woods.”

Greg was barely paying attention. “Nah, I don’t remember that, love.” He pressed play and I didn’t think much else of it. After all, I’d forgotten it myself, until I’d stumbled across it again.

The next day flew by in a whirlwind of tantrums, nursery rhymes and crafts. That evening, Layla sat in her bed facing away from me. I watched her plait and unplait her dolly’s hair over and over. She was growing so fast. I got into bed with her and we cuddled until she drifted off, then I slipped out of her bedroom.

I enjoyed my walk that evening, even though it was almost dark when I approached the trail by the forest. I had wondered just that day if I would have to stop going once the autumn hit, but I decided right then that I would simply bring a torch the following evening. It was so good for me that I couldn’t let it go.

As I left the trail by the forest and approached the tall walls, I realised that they reminded me of the walls that surround a prison. I thought about walking around it, admitting to myself that the five minute cut through did unnerve me, even though I didn’t quite understand why. However, the shortcut meant that I would be home 20 minutes earlier, so I opened the gate and entered the churchyard.

It was much darker in here now and very quiet. I hadn’t realised how quiet it had been before. Where were the birds? Surely the grass in the yard would be a delight for them, with no humans around to disturb an evening feast of worms and slugs.

This time I had only got near the church doors when that feeling of being watched crept over me. I followed the slight curve of the path and watched the windows as I walked past.

I was sure I saw a face again and the outline of someone’s shoulders, this time in the middle window rather than the one near the gate. It was as though they were getting closer to the door! I stopped and stared right at it, and because I detected no movement, not even a flinch, I was sure it must just be a trick of the imagination. I ignored it the best I could, speeding up to a light jog. I wanted out of there.

I told Greg about the face when I got home. “Seeing faces in grubby windows, eh? I think you might be going mad,” He laughed before pressing play and pulling me in for a cuddle. I know he’s right, I thought, as I lent against his chest. I was sure I was being silly.

The next night, torch in hand this time, I lingered at the gates to the churchyard for a while. Should I just skip past, adding on that extra 20 minutes to my walk? I battled internally. In all honesty, I knew my body wasn’t ready for the extra exercise just yet and I would find myself tired out if I went the long way. That wasn’t the aim of my walk – it was supposed to wake me up, so I could actually do something! I gave myself a ticking off. A grown woman should not be afraid of walking through a churchyard, I decided.

As soon as I had stepped through the gate I felt my heart rate pick up. It was all good and well telling myself I shouldn’t be afraid, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t. I shone my torch around to get my bearings, oddly comforted by the graves and a large willow tree that stood in the corner. I relaxed a little and began to walk towards the church.

I lifted my torch up and illuminated the cross that sat on the arch, noticing that the middle beam had dropped slightly. One half of the horizontal beam now leant towards the bottom of the vertical beam. I felt watched, of course, so I also checked out the door. All closed, no signs of disturbance. I looked behind me, no one there. So I continued around to the side of the church.

I wanted to just shine the torch on the path ahead of me, to keep walking and refuse to even glance at the windows. What was the point? I’d only end up getting scared by them. If I didn’t look then I could just walk through without a bother! I almost made it to the end before curiosity won. When I was just a dozen steps away from the gate, so close to the exit, that feeling of being watched overwhelmed me. I couldn’t resist turning back and shining my torch towards the windows. If there was something watching then I wanted to know what it was.

The third window seemed clear. No odd trick of the light, no pattern in the grime. I sighed with relief then quickly moved the light onto the middle one, where I had seen the face the night before. Again I saw nothing. I felt myself relax and laughed a little. Of course, it had all been in my mind.

I turned to leave but then I felt eyes bore into my back. I can barely explain it, but we’ve all experienced it at some point. We usually turn and see someone there. It was a stronger sense than I’d had before, something about it alerted my senses to danger, so I spun around and shone my light at the first window which was the furthest one from me now, the one that was closest to the door.

This time there was no doubt about it – there was a woman stood at the window staring at me. This was not a trick. She looked bald, but her angular features and slim shoulders told me she was female. I couldn’t quite make out any more detail because I was so shocked and nervous that I spun back around and ran out of the gate, leaving whoever she was behind me.

I jogged all the way home. Greg laughed when he saw how spooked I was. I told him to piss off, which only made him laugh more.

“I don’t understand why you’re reacting so strongly, love.” He said. “A woman was in a church in the village. So what?” I understood his attitude and I even felt a little embarrassed. But Greg hadn’t felt what I had. I decided then that I would absolutely not be taking the shortcut again.

The next morning I didn’t even think about the church. It was a musing lost in the business of the day. Greg was at work, so in the afternoon I took Layla to the village hall for the monthly meeting over cucumber sandwiches and cupcakes and tea. I was the youngest there by far and it was always a pointless meeting, but I cherished the tradition and I knew the elders of the village did too.

I sat with Bert, a retired gardener, and we chatted about our week, as we always did. I told him about my walks and how I was hoping to lose a bit of weight. “You don’t need to lose weight, sweet. You’re lovely as you are. A mother needs her energy!” He nodded towards Layla, who was running around the hall with a bucket on her head, pretending to be a robot.

I’d always felt uncomfortable with compliments, so searched my brain for something to change the subject with. “Oh, I’ve been meaning to ask!” I blurted. “What’s going on with that old church, the one out by the forest?”

I watched Bert frown with confusion. “What church?” He asked.

“It’s a little thing, abandoned by the look of it. You can’t see it from the outside… it’s behind massive walls. Like it’s not meant to be seen, rather bizarrely!” I laughed, nervously. The memory of the night before still chilled me, and though I kept my tone light it wasn’t something I found easy to achieve.

Bert thought for a moment, and then I saw his face startle with realisation. I watched as the blood drained from his face. “Oh, don’t go in there, sweet.” He said, ominously, shaking his head.

“Why?” I asked quickly, scared now. “I saw a woman in there last night.”

“You couldn’t have. No one’s been in there for a long time. It’s not a nice place. It’s blocked off for a reason.”

I asked what the reason was, of course. Bert was a kind old man who had nothing but everyone’s best interests at heart, so when he said he couldn’t remember and just to trust him, I believed that he meant it. He made me promise I would walk around the churchyard and not cut through. I didn’t bother saying that I had already decided I wouldn’t be going back again.

The wind picked up over the afternoon. We’ve had bad weather in the UK over the last week, the North being hit particularly bad. We’re in the South and we escaped the worst of it, but the back end of the storm was hitting us. It was a little wild outside but not dangerous.

I watched Layla from her door as she plaited her dollies hair and then cuddled her until she drifted off. I toyed with the idea of staying home in the warm. However, one night off is a slippery slope for someone like me, so I pulled on my jacket and wellies and out the door I went.

It was windier than I expected. The gale howled around me so loudly that it made my ears ring. I kept my head down and trudged on, looking forward to a hot chocolate under a blanket when I got home.

When I approached the walls, I quickly crossed over to the other side of the road and pushed the church out of my mind. I fully intended to follow the road home. It would take longer but at least I would have a peace of mind that I certainly wouldn’t find in the churchyard. It wasn’t to be, though. Ahead of me there something long and dark in the distance that stretched the full length of the road. As I approached, I saw that a thick oak tree had come down in the wind. It had even taken a chunk of the field with out with it, and, of course, it completely blocked the road.

I could have tried to climb over it, or I could have turned back and gone back the way I’d come from. But it seemed very extreme when I could cut through the churchyard with such ease. I’d be home quickly and able to alert the police so they could cordon off the road and make sure nobody got hurt. I felt a responsibility, and so I went back to the gate.

As it clanked shut behind me I was shocked by the abrupt change in my surroundings. The wind no longer wailed around me, seemingly blocked off by the walls. It was darker than it had been before and the graves and tree did nothing to relieve me this time, because as soon as I’d taken a step forward I knew without a doubt that someone was watching me.

I waved my torch towards the church and jumped out of my skin when I saw that there was someone actually stood in front of the door, under the arch. I thought about turning back but that felt silly. Someone stood at the door was less creepy than a face in the window, surely? Because suddenly it was a real person, rather than a spooky form. Somebody I could meet, or someone I possibly already knew.

I waved at the figure in the near distance even though I doubted they could see me in the dark. I wanted to be friendly though. I shook off what I felt was a childish fear and walked down the path towards the church.

As I got closer, my footsteps slowed. I noticed that the middle section of the cross had fallen on both sides and it now looked more like an inverted cross. Directly underneath was the slender form of the same woman who had looked out of the window. I was sure of it. She was facing me directly, as though she was waiting for me. I wanted to turn and run but something pulled me forward. At the time I brushed it off as the typical English desperation to not appear rude, but looking back I can see that there was a sinister force at play that night.

As I approached and more of my light could reach her, I saw that the woman was short – much shorter than me – and though the top of her head was bald, she had loose straggles of thin and greasy silver hair dangling around her shoulders. At first I thought she wore a baggy grey dress, but as I got closer I saw that she was actually naked. I shivered on her behalf, cold in my thick winter jacket and jeans. Her skin drooped down as though she was melting, and it was drab and ashen. Whoever she was, she was clearly ill.

Reluctantly I kept going, keeping my torch light on her. I know it was foolish of me. Oh, how I know that now. But at the time I wondered if might be an old homeless lady, in dire need of help. I was scared, of course! Terrified. Yet onward I went, my civilian duty overpowering my instinct to run.

Then my torch light illuminated her eyes and I stopped dead. She had no eye whites nor iris’. There was nothing but an endless pool of blood red. Everything in me urged me to turn and run, but now I had caught sight of those awful eyes I was trapped. I couldn’t take my own away from hers, and neither could I couldn’t move.

Frozen in place, I watched as she gradually began to smile. I begged my body to shift but it was as though invisible chains held me in place. Suddenly she lurched forward, approaching me at a speed that was impossible in her frail and haggard state. In fact, the speed seemed almost inhuman. I impulsively went to scream in fright but I couldn’t do anything but watch her in silence.

Within the blink of an eye was before me. A force emitted from her so strong that it physically pushed me backwards onto the ground, causing my head to hit the cobblestones beneath me with a thud. She hovered above me, her body lying above mine. It was impossible! She was levitating!

Her blood pools bored into my terrified eyes. The wilting skin on her stomach and breasts sagged down, just inches away from touching my own body. The top of her scalp was covered in scabs and welts. Her hair dangled above my face, so thick with grease that I was sure it would drip onto me. I wanted to flinch but I couldn’t move a muscle.

She smiled, if you could call it that. It was more of a snarl. Her teeth looked sharply jagged and they were stained brown. Then she started to whisper.

I don’t know how long I lay there listening to her whisper, but it felt like the entire night. I couldn’t understand a word she said at first. Still frozen to the spot I could do nothing but let my warm tears spill down my cheeks, listening to her garble in a language that sounded as though it came from the depths of hell.

Then the odd word here and there started to become more comprehensible. It felt as though I had been lying there in terror for a lifetime by the time I was finally able to make out a full sentence. “We’re coming for you, you bitch!” She snarled at me. Her voice sounded as though several people were speaking at once. I felt my bladder go and my jeans became soaked at the crotch.

Then I heard the creak of the gate behind me and her head darted towards the source of the sound. Now she was no longer looking at me, I found myself able to move. I lifted my hands up and did the first thing my adrenaline fuelled instinct told me to – I grabbed a handful of her hair and pulled.

I expected a shriek, or a fight, or something. Instead, she looked back at me and smiled once more. “We’re coming for you, you bitch,” She said again, then moved away from me as fast as she had come at me, hair ripping from her scalp in the process.

The atmosphere of the churchyard changed immediately and my body relaxed. I had a thousand emotions running through me at once and I lay there sobbing, wanting to get up and run for my life but too exhausted to move.

I heard footsteps approaching and perhaps I should have felt scared, alone in the dark with someone unknown coming towards me. Nothing could possible scare me like that beast just had, though. “Come on sweet, let’s get you home.” I heard Bert’s gruff voice and I had never felt so relieved in my life. He guided me up then supported me as we stumbled through the churchyard together.

“Did you see her?” I breathed out urgently, as we went past the windows. “Did you see her on me, Bert?”

“Shh now, sweet,” The wind roared around us once again as the gate shut. We left the churchyard behind us.

He helped me into my house where I collapsed into Greg’s arms, crying hysterically. Greg waited until I had calmed slightly then lay me on the sofa. I heard him whispering to Bert in the hallway. Whether they were trying to stop me hearing their conversation or trying to avoid waking Layla, I wasn’t sure. I could hear them well enough though. Bert told Greg that he had found me in the churchyard rolling around on the floor screaming.

So he hadn’t seen the woman. I opened the palm of my hand and was glad to see that I had managed to hold onto the hair I had torn from her head. I had a feeling everybody would have thought I was crazy without it.

After Greg had said goodbye to Bert, I told him what had happened. I saw his expression turn from concern to disbelief when I told him how she had levitated above me, so I showed him what little evidence I had of my encounter. He held it up and stared at it, admitting that he was puzzled by the whole thing. Then he bustled off to make a call to the police. They told him that as long as I was safe for now then it would have to wait until tomorrow, as the weather was causing havoc all over the county. They directed us to drop the hair into the station the next afternoon and make a statement so they could start an investigation. It did little to relieve me, but at least I was home. At least I was safe.

Greg put the clump of hair into a small bag and took it into the kitchen before returning to help me up to bed. I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. It had all been too much, and my mind and body were exhausted.

The next day, Greg stayed home from work and the three of us had a lazy morning together. I was shaken to the core and he urged me to go to the doctor because my hands wouldn’t stop shaking and every little noise made me jump out of my skin. I refused though, as I didn’t want to face anybody until I’d made the statement to the police. Instead I cuddled into my husband as our little Layla pottered happily around the house, pushing her dolly around in a toy buggy.

Even though I was in the safety of our home, something didn’t feel right. Maybe it was because I still had to go to the police station, maybe it was just trauma from the attack. Whatever the reason, things felt very unfinished. Then just before we were leaving to go to the station, Greg went into the kitchen to get the hair. He returned to the living room looking nervous.

“What?” I demanded.

“It’s gone, love. The hair ball that you… Look, I’m ever so sorry. I must have chucked it out by accident.” His cheeks blushed with the guilt of being so careless.

It didn’t sit right with me. I knew Greg wasn’t lying, but I didn’t think he would be so silly as to lose something so important. We searched the kitchen high and low and I even made him go through the wheelie bin outside, but it was nowhere to be found. “It’s just one of those things,” Greg shrugged. It took all my strength not to slap him.

As we drove to the police station in silence, I looked out at the fields that surrounded us and wished I’d never bothered going on that stupid walk. That I had been depressed about being ‘nothing but a mother and a wife’ made me feel sick to my stomach.

The police didn’t seem particularly bothered that the woman’s hair had been misplaced, telling me it was unlikely they would have found anything from it anyway. When I relayed everything back to them I avoided their eyes, but I could still tell that they were looking at me as though I were mad. I felt judged and alone. I begged them to speak to Bert again – surely he must have seen something. I was devastated when they informed me that he was in hospital after having a funny turn in the night. Was all of this drama to blame?

We went home and relieved the babysitter. It was almost Layla’s bedtime and I needed to try and push the previous night from my mind. I picked a couple of stories to read to her and headed up to her room, ready to try and pull back some normality.

From the doorway I watched her plaiting her dolly’s hair. I saw the back of her blonde curls moving up and down as she bounced slightly on her bed. They were so different from the lank strands that I had ripped from the scabbed scalp of the woman the night before. Layla was so precious, so angelic. I was safe here, in my home, with my lovely daughter and my caring husband.

I took a step towards her, ready to surprise her with late evening stories. “Layla!” I called, as cheerily as I could muster. Suddenly she spun towards me at an insane speed. I saw that her little hand gripped her dolly around the neck as though she was strangling it. Then I noticed my daughter’s eyes – only they weren’t my daughter’s.

To my absolute horror, they were pools of red just like the woman from the churchyard. She opened her little mouth wide and exposed jagged and brown teeth. I felt my stomach churn and my chest ached in terror.

“We’re still coming for you, you bitch!” She suddenly sneered. I’d never heard her innocent little voice sound so vicious. I started screaming hysterically, all sense lost as I backed towards the door.

Greg was alerted by the commotion and ran in, pushing past me and sweeping Layla into his arms. He held her close to him as she sobbed into his shoulder. I watched from the doorway as he snapped at me, “What the hell are you playing at?!”

Layla peeked up at me from the safety of her daddy’s arms, her blue eyes full of tears and her little white teeth showing as she wailed with her mouth wide open. I put my shaking hands to my head and backed out of the room.

Was I experiencing post traumatic stress disorder? Had I just had a hallucination, caused by my brain being unable to process the night before? Or had I really seen something in my 3-year-old daughter? I felt confused and helpless so I decided to stay downstairs, away from them both. Greg was fast losing patience with me and I didn’t want to push him over the edge. I heard him settling Layla then stomping into our bedroom. It stung that he hadn’t checked I was ok, but I could understand that he was angry at me for scaring our baby girl.

When I was sure they would both be asleep I crept back upstairs into Layla’s room. My heart hammered in my chest as I gently pushed open her door. Part of me didn’t want to know what was beyond it, but another part of me forced me to look at her. And there she was – just my little Layla, my sweet little daughter. I watched her sleeping peacefully and my heart felt ready to burst with relief and love. I just wanted to hold her. I walked across the room, intending on getting into bed next to her, wanting her to wake up next to me in the morning so that I could make my actions up to her. But on my way I stepped on something in the dark.

I looked down and saw her dolly. I picked it up, holding it to my nose so I could smell Layla’s scent. But it didn’t smell like the usual mixture of baby shampoo and chocolate. No. It smelt like rotten, charred meat. I winced and pulled away, looking at it in shock. Weaved into the doll’s plait was the scraggly silver hair from the woman! Layla must have taken it out of the cupboard and wrapped it into her dolly’s hair when she was plaiting it!

My mind spinning once more, I left the room clutching Layla’s doll. I bolted downstairs and pulled on my wellies and jacket. I didn’t quite know what I intended on doing but I needed to do something. So despite my terror, I left the house and sprinted as fast as I could until I reached the walls of the churchyard.

There was no way I was going back into that place. Absolutely not. Just standing outside it made the hairs on my arms stand on end. Instead, I decided to throw the doll as hard as I could in the direction of where the church lay unseen. I was relieved that I managed to throw it high enough that it made it over the wall. I didn’t have any answers to anything but I knew that I absolutely had to get that hair away from our home, particularly away from our child.

The following day things returned to normal. Layla forgave me for the night before after accepting my apology in the form of homemade pancakes. Of course, she was distraught about her dolly being ‘lost’. I took her into the city to get a replacement, and on the way I stopped off at the hospital so we could visit Bert. He was recovering well and insisted he had seen no other women in the churchyard, only me. I believed him. He told me that all he knew about the place was that he used to play there when he was a boy until something happened. He couldn’t remember what and said he didn’t want to try. He’d only gone because he had been worried I wouldn’t keep my promise. I let it go.

I know I encountered pure evil that night and I think I had a very close escape. I believe that I brought whatever it was back home with me. Layla has been very much herself since, so I do think that throwing the doll back into the grounds of the church ‘worked’. How long for though? If I stumbled across this mysterious area that nobody seemed to remember, how long will it be until somebody else stumbles across it? How long until that hellish thing attacks someone else?

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