And Pray The Dirt To Hold You Down
The oldest story, as it’s told, is from near three hundred years ago. Little enough compared to some, especially in lands as old as these, but this is a story that gets longer in the telling. Each time a chapter more, through the years. And some of them are true.
* * *
His name was Wischek, and he travelled, picking up the languages of the lands he walked through, eventually finding English as he went. He picked up the songs of the people and played them through his own cracked voice, or with the penny whistle which he hung about his neck. He fed most days on bread and cheese, though occasionally his songs gained him meat or fish, or wine or ale. Rarely, a warm bed and bacon in the morning. But he travelled on. Wischek, and his whistle, and his songs, the songs of the people he met and the lands he walked.
But the only place his name is remembered, for it is cursed, is here in Hobbley, where he died. A dreadful death, and unjust. Rejecting a farmer’s daughter’s amorous advances (for his songs stirred deep within many who heard them), she told tales of her own, to her brothers, and her brothers told their friends, and these took to the roads, seeking the musician in the night.
Wischek was left hanging from the tree, his hands and feet bound, his body bloody and broken. His collected songs, his travels far and wide, the smiles and meals and conversations he had made, his every memory died with him. And when the wind moved right, and his body swayed, the whistle about his neck played a long and single note, more than any mortal breath could sustain.
And it was bad luck to speak his name again.
* * *
Marinell was a sailor, a man more at home on the heaving deck of a ship than on the solid ground. He drank as much money as he made, and he married many times whenever and wherever he came ashore. But always he left, for the pull of the sea is strong, and he brought money back for his wives when he could, and he drank less and less through all the years, and all the wives, for he was an honourable man, for all the sailing and the wine.
And when his years exceeded his ability to scrub, or weave, or hold fast to the deck, when he had outlived most of those whom he had loved, he totted up his life and stepped off the gangplank at the last place he knew where someone loved him. Someone who would smile at his return and appreciate his company for his few remaining years.
His first night in an unmoving bed, in a house warmed by the hearth, and Marinell, he could not sleep. He tossed and turned, but remained plagued by the sound, all night, of ship’s rigging pulling taut, and cracking in the salt breeze, the groaning of rope that had not bothered him in his lifetime on the sea now filled his mind each night.
When he mentioned this to his wife, her eyes grew wide and moved to the window, over the garden and up the hill, to the tree that stood dark against the sky, but not a word would she say to explain her mood.
And Marinell took again to drink, and dreams of the sea with sounds of rope he knew and loved, and one day was gone and never heard from again.
* * *
It was told that the house on the hill was once a home, but fell some time ago into ruin. Thus it remained until a Victorian doctor of some repute bought it in auction and resolved to reopen it as a sanitarium, which he did.
And while his aims were true and good, upon his death the house became known as a place of fear, a place where dreadful deeds where done, most especially against those poor souls who had come there seeking help. And, like all worst secrets, tales were told of the garden by the old dark tree where unwanted children, ripped from their maddened and insane mothers, were buried with nothing but a muttered prayer, and bare inches’ worth of dirt, were buried there beneath the tree and wailed at night, when the moon was bright, with none but the stars to see.
* * *
Everybody in the town had heard of Johnny. He was trouble, but he had charm, and he plied it around more than his fair share of the local girls. But there’s only so much trouble a town as small as Hobbley can stand, and one day Johnny felt it time to leave.
On his motorbike, as evening fell, a smile on his face, he sped up the hill and saw, from just the corner of his eye, a shape beneath a branch, and then the wheels went out from under him and he crashed through the low stone wall and into the untended garden beneath the tree.
When he came to, it was full dark, and he found he could not move. There was a whistling in the air, and the sound of creaking rope. Stories of his youth came back to him, in bits and pieces, half-remembered, mostly forgotten. Stories he would profess to disbelieve, as many would later claim not to believe his story, of how lying there, paralysed from his fall, Johnny felt the tiny touch of many hands reach out from beneath the ground, pulling him down. How the sound of penny whistle and hanging rope faded away beneath their whispered, sing-song voice.
‟Play with us.”
‟Please, Daddy. Play with us…”
* * *
These are the stories that are told. Each time a chapter more, through the years. And some of them are true…
* * *
Circle the tree, circle it twice,
close your eyes and say it thrice;
‘Penny whistle, on the breeze,
penny whistle, through the trees.’
Hush the baby, close your eyes,
the song is over if it dies.
Your mother mad, her bloody gown,
and pray the dirt to hold you down.