I haven't posted on here since the end of last year and feel an urgent need to resurrect this blog with a graveyard tale.
So, if you're housebound this Halloween, hiding from those pesky short door-to-door sugar fiends, then why not settle in with this unconventional ghost story?
Come one, come all. Gather round, gather round...
The headstone read:
HERE LIES VERNON COSSETT,
PURVEYOR OF MERRIMENT.
BORN 31ST MARCH 1924
DIED 1ST NOVEMBER 1999
Born a day before April Fool's Day and the day after Halloween. This made sense.
Vernon Cossett had run a small but successful joke shop called Just Cossett Is which his son had since inherited.
Patrick Cossett was now stood at his father's graveside, a squat man with a prominent bottom row of teeth and a ginger widow's peak. I gave him my ticket.
"You're the first," he told me, "Usually there are a few Goth types that get in early but maybe the wind blew their big black jackets away."
He laughed. I didn't.
He looked me up and down. "I didn't see you last year."
` He wouldn't have. Though I was aware of the spectacles surrounding Vernon Cossett's grave I was among those who had found them tacky and a deliberate ploy to pull in tourists.
Patrick's eyes squinted as he gave a toothy grin. "You've heard the stories though, eh? Everyone's heard them." And yet he went on anyway.
"Dad loved his pranks and japes. It became an integral part of my rearing, our household. He liked to make people laugh well enough but there was something far more worthwhile to him than that.
"You know that short, sharp intake of breath you get when someone startles you? Dad was addicted to hearing that. The way he saw it, a laugh could be faked but not that, not a breath. And if everyone was smiling by the end of it then why should it be a bad thing?" Patrick's laugh had a wet crackle to it, the kind that comes straight from the back of the throat. He saw how I was looking at him, suddenly seemed hurt.
"He didn't want to be forgotten. No-one does. He was the only one to visit granddad's grave after he died. Sad but common enough. Dad didn't want that for himself." A glint came to Patrick's big wet eyes. "So he used his unique position as a 'purveyor of merriment' to prepare for his death. He made sure that no-one would forget about him, that he would still have visitors long after he passed."
Patrick patted the headstone. It was indeed worn with age.
"I didn't know about it at first. When this thing started bleeding in 2000, I was as shocked as everyone. I was overseas but the news coverage brought me back home soon enough.
"No bugger would get close other than me. Blood is blood, after all. Still I had a hunch: the old man always had a love of fake blood. And fake it was: tiny capsules implanted in the deepest indentation at the top here. I reached inside and found a device; a timed trap, I suppose, rigged to crush the capsules around this time on the first Halloween of the 21st Century.
"I admired his ingenuity. I knew of it but never realised how far he would actually go for this." Patrick grinned again. "It inspired me. I dug through his records and found a letter addressed to me with implicit instructions which I followed though not without some slight improvements.
"The 'spectacles', as he called them, had to be done every three years. Dad knew that three would set off the supernaturally-minded folks and make it like a proper haunting. It gave me plenty of time to get the resources ready. My favourites were the light pads beneath the top soil, the sound deterrents set between here and the entrance, even the worm charming if it hadn't been a bitch trying to get them into a half-decent circle."
Patrick stared down at the soil which he had so often disturbed.
"Seventeen years now," he muttered, "And I'm still at it. I must be crazy. To be honest I'm thinking of capping it off in 2020, sort of a foresight joke, eh? Nah. It's a lot of work."
I asked him what it would be this year. He looked the most amused that I'd seen him all night.
"I can't tell you that, mate. That comes after. Then again," he said, looking behind me, "I don't know where everyone else is. The media tend to come in all-weather if no-one else."
I told him they wouldn't be coming yet.
I had stopped them from coming. All of them.
I told him that I couldn't tell him that. I didn't mention anything about there being an 'after'.
I heard it then, what his father had been talking about. That short, sharp intake of breath.
Patrick forced a smile. "So it's come to this, eh? The last prank is that there is no last prank? There won't be anyone around to see it."
I said that depends. Does anyone know that he is here?
Then there would always be someone to put on a show for.
After that I checked for the latest graveside deception. Noise boxes in each of the surrounding trees. They made ghostly groans. He had been running out of ideas, after all.
I took them all down, knowing they would be too much.
The son half-buried in his father's grave would be surprise enough.