At boarding school, after lights out, we were sometimes allowed to read or tell stories to each other. This was known as ‘spinning out’ and some boys were very good at it. Ghost stories were always popular and this short tale is one of my contributions to the evening’s entertainment. Read it by the light of a torch, if you wish.
Before being sent to the school, I lived in Egypt in a camp near the Suez Canal. There wasn’t a lot to do there, so the military authorities running the camp encouraged the younger boys to form a troop of cub scouts. Once a year, we would camp in the Sinai desert, and, at night, we would lie outside our tents, staring up at the stars, and telling ghost stories. One evening, the scout leader sat listening to our yarns, and when we had finished, told us this rather eerie and disturbing tale.
The leader, whose name was Bill, came from Sheffield and loved cycling in the hills and moors that lie to the west of that city. As a teenager, he and his best friend Jimmy would often ride across the moors to a cottage which they used as a base for a weekend’s cycling around the countryside. One day, Bill set off for the cottage alone because Jimmy had some work to finish and planned to follow later. After a long tiring slog up a steep hill, known locally as Hangman’s Hill, Bill reached the crossroads at the top and was glad to freewheel down into the valley below.
When he reached the foot of the hill, however, he had the bad luck to get a flat tyre and sat by the roadside to fix it. As he finished mending the puncture, he saw his best friend pedaling furiously down the hill towards him. Bill was pleased because it meant they could finish the journey together. He stood up to greet him but Jimmy did not stop. Bill shouted at him and Jimmy looked back and stared at him for a couple of seconds but kept on cycling and disappeared around a bend. Bill continued on his journey to the cottage. He’d have something to say when they met later. It wasn’t like Jimmy to ignore a fellow cyclist in distress, particularly at such a deserted spot. Why did he cycle past like a demon? And why did he stare at him? It was all very strange.
When he reached the cottage, it was deserted; there was no sign of Jimmy or his cycle. Bill assumed he had gone to the nearby village to collect some stores, so he made himself at home. By evening, however, there was still no sign of Jimmy, and as the cottage had no telephone, Bill cycled in the dark to the phone box in the village. Jimmy’s brother answered the phone. His voice sounded strained.
‘I think you better come back.’ he said.
‘Why?’ asked Bill, ‘Is there anything wrong?’
‘Jimmy is dead.’ came the shocking reply.
‘What? When? For God’s sake what happened?’ cried Bill.
The brother was brief. Jimmy had been killed that afternoon whilst cycling to the cottage. A lorry had knocked him down.
‘But,’ protested Bill, ‘I saw him just after three o’clock. He was cycling down Hangman’s Hill. I had stopped at the bottom of the hill to fix a puncture and he cycled past me so I followed him. It was definitely Jimmy because he stared at me and there was no sign of an accident anywhere on the road to the cottage.’
‘It must have been someone else,’ said Jimmy’s brother sadly.
‘No it was Jimmy. I swear it was. I’d know him and his bike anywhere.’
‘But he was killed just before three o’clock. You see, according to the police, he collided with a lorry on the crossroads at the top of Hangman’s Hill.’
"OK that's enough for tonight, boys. Pete, put the torch back in the hall and everyone settle down for the night." Just enough time to place a rubber, but lifelike, killer scorpion on Pete's pillow and sneak back under the blankets. Here he comes now!
Tony Crowley (c) 2005