Who doesn’t love a day where you expect to see black cats crossing your path and mirrors splintering? Where it’s OK to walk under ladders and stand on the cracks on the road?
In honour of such a day I have a little story for you…..
The phone rang, strident in the empty room. The line was full of static, crackling in stops and starts as if it was a party line and someone was listening in.
‘Christy, are you there? It’s me, Celia. I was hoping you could help me arrange the flowers in the church again this evening. Father Templeman was really happy with what we did last week. He says we have a knack for it. He’s left us a lovely lot of lilies and some irises. I thought we could get some matching ribbon, really splash out.’
‘I can’t. I’m busy. Actually, I’m not feeling that well.’
‘Oh, Christy, I really need your help. You were keen on doing it last week.’
‘I know. I’m sorry. I got the day wrong. I didn’t realise what date today would be.’
‘What date….oh, my God. It’s the 13th. It’s Friday the 13th. You’re not still carrying on about that old childhood tale are you? That was fifteen years ago. It’s just a story, like the boogey man.’
‘It’s not a story.’
Christy hung up. The static from the phone was making her ears ring. Her fingertips felt like she had plunged them into really hot water. It wasn’t a story. She had seen the bird.
It was always the same. Something dead to mark the day. Always something dead. Left by him. The man. Since she was only ten years old. The man Christy saw coming out of the house where the people had died. The one who made time freeze for an instant when he looked at her and saw that she had seen him. The one who infected her thoughts and dreams.
He moved across the road in the blink of an eye. It was that quick. She had heard people say it, had always wondered what it meant – in the blink of an eye – but when she saw how fast he moved, she knew.
There was blood running in a thin trickle from one corner of his mouth. Blood and spit. A little ball of it dangled on his chin like a crimson raindrop. Christy couldn’t take her eyes off it. She wondered if it was a little jewel.
‘You didn’t see me,’ the man said, leaning towards her. ‘If anyone ever asks you, you will say you saw nothing. Do you understand?’
Christy was getting nervous. She played with her necklace, the crucifix her mother had given her for her birthday. She could see the shine of it in the man’s eyes. He took one step backwards. Christy remembered that step back, she had clung for fifteen years to the hope it had given her.
He wasn’t a real man, not in the sense that her father was a real man, or her brother. But he existed. And he was nigh every time the 13th Friday came around.
Christy didn’t know where he came from. She suspected he was an intinerant from Hell itself for each time he walked he left death in his wake.
Her father died. Her brother moved away. Christy stayed in her childhood home. Every Friday the 13th she found something dead on her doorstep. A mouse, a rat, a frog. This morning it was a bird. A sparrow with a broken neck. Christy had placed the little creature in a shoebox, weeping, holding her head in her hands.
It began to rain, spatters of grey water on the glass. Someone knocked at the door, loud as thunder. Christy gasped, fighting the urge to hide under the bed as she had done when a child. The knock sounded again. ‘Christy, let me in.’ It was Celia.
They sat drinking tea, shafts of intermittent lightning splitting the gloom in the kitchen in two.
‘You have to stop this,’ Celia said. ‘You have to get over this. You have to stop worrying about this man who was never there. It’s destroying your life.’
‘He was there,’ said Christy. ‘I saw him. He comes back every Friday the 13th. I know it. That’s why I don’t leave the house. He can’t see me again. Not ever.’
‘It’s time to fight back,’ Celia said. ‘Maybe if you stand up to him he will disappear for good. You told me once that he stepped away from you when he saw your crucifix. Well, we’re going to be in a Church – there will be crosses everywhere. He won’t be able to touch you.’
As Christy watched the rain fall down the window she realised that Celia was right. Every room in her house remained unswept, littered with years of fear and anguish. Could she live like this for another fifteen years? What if Celia was right? What if standing up to the man made him disappear for good?
The Church was cold. The flowers stood like beacons on the altar. Celia lit a candle, then another. ‘I want you to find some peace,’ she said.
Christy looked out the door to the churchyard. It was growing dark. She saw a figure standing by a monument, a figure that looked like the man. She thought of the dead bird. She remembered years of horror and fear. ‘No more,’ she shouted. ‘No more.’
She pulled the crucifix from the altar, solid brass, heavy with sanctity, and plunged out into the dark. The man saw her, moved towards her as quickly as before, arms flailing as if suspended on a wire, halting only when she held the crucifix aloft.
‘Get back. Get back,’ she wailed, her voice catching and breaking in the wind. The man stepped back once, twice, three times. Christy followed, pushing him further and further backwards. He reached the churchyard wall, stumbling as if close to falling, and she followed once more, hitting him over and over again, the smell of wet earth rising, until as Celia had predicted, he simply disappeared.
A bird hovered, wings fighting against the wind, circling like a dark sentinel. Christy wondered if he feared travelling at night, alone and untrammelled. He circled once more then changed direction, plunging through a space in the clouds, dissolving, soft as mist, until all she could hear was the plaintive sound of his cry.