The old man of Yerecoin refused to have visitors into his home; he had never had a wife, and subsequently, no children to carry on his name. The house itself, a rude creation of mismatched materials, yet oddly pleasing to the eye, located fairly near the well Yerecoin derives its name from, had been erected prior to the primary schools’ establishment in the late 1920’s; the old man had been the sole occupant for as long as the house had stood.
Precisely when the man died, is fairly vague. He was at a point in his life where age had lead to frailty, and frailty had lead to unemployability. From there, his life slowed, as it does with most, and he spent his final days reclusively. Occasionally he would be seen in his garden, keeping the earth in the pores of his hands as he had always done. But now, after sitting possibly for months, as he was located in the Autumn and the Summer prior had been cruel, his decomposing corpse was found seated in an old chair on his enclosed back veranda. An old photograph of Father Christmas, aka – Santa Claus, surrounded by beaming children was the only picture of note to adorn his walls. With no known family, nor next of kin, combined with the lack of any form of a will, the local Shire Council some two years later, cleaned up, repaired and eventually sold his house, donating the proceeds, still in pounds and shillings, to Yerecoin for the benefit of the school. And that was the last anyone thought of the old man.
Having moved into the odd little house with her young children, her husband a railway worker, and away more often than not, Mrs. S. found her new home somehow ‘unsettling’ for no apparent reason. When speaking of this to the other ladies of the area, mostly in light hearted tones, she found that no one took her particularly seriously. After a time, no more than a month beyond first announcing to any that would listen, she stopped talking on the subject altogether, putting it down to her being in a new place, combined a regular lack of husband.
Or so she thought, when, one night close to Christmas, in the darkest hours when the wind was whistling through the eve’s and beneath the doors, she was awakened by first a sound she had put down to one of the children having a nightmare, which on inspection she ascertained that indeed, they were not. Returning to her room, the squeaking of a poorly laid floorboard, combined with the absence of moon from without, had Mrs. S. second guessing herself, and her sanity. With one bare foot in her bedroom, the other still in the passage, the sound that had woken her returned causing her such alarm that she left the floor. Yet the sound did not stop; the low moaning noise rolled throughout the house, and a cold breeze on this relatively warm night moved her ankle length nightie against her. Darkness took on a different form for her, creeping into her nose and eyes and mouth, so much so that she felt she could taste it. Still standing in the same spot, the gentle breeze rose again, this time through her nighty, and against the alabaster skin of the pretty face, shifting her red hair over her eyes. Gooseflesh on her arms and neck prickled, and the moaning noise intensified, getting louder and louder, breaking its way through the darkness lodged within her ears, overcoming her as she had never felt such depths of fear before; and then the blood curdling moans stopped.
Forcing terror down to a place in her gut, she moved; slowly, shakily, with the sound of her heart loud between her shell like ears, she crept down the passage to the children’s room. It was then that she truly looked about herself. Standing in the middle of the hallway, blocking her path, was a tall man, round around his middle, wearing a long scraggly white beard to the middle of his chest, his red suit in tatters. A head taller than her, she stopped in her tracks once more. Slowly he raised his eyes to hers, lifted his hands high before him, and began to shake a bell. Clanging and ringing his bell loudly , he slowly turned, showing her his immensely red suited bulk, an empty hessian sack hung from his shoulder. Starting to moaning once more, his intensity increasing beyond that of earlier, he began a shuffling, hobbled step toward the back of the house. Following him past her childrens bedroom, she watched him disappear through the flyscreen of the back door, across the enclosed veranda beyond it, stopping on the very bottom step. Turning once more, he faced her, his moaning and bell ringing ceaseless and loud. His lamented cry worse than any curlew, and louder than a train. Gasping, her fingers wrapping themselves in the cloth of her nightgown, she was transfixed by the horrid display of what was most definitely a ghost. Paying attention to where he stood on the bottom step, she screamed “GET AWAY!”. With that, he vanished.
Sprinting the eight yards back to the children’s room, she shook them awake with more force than was needed. Dragging them, dressing gowns sagging from half asleep hands, she hauled the groggy wee mites out of the front door, and across to the other side of the gravel road, the town’s main road, and set them down, looking for ant nests as she did.
When her husband arrived home a day and a half later, he encountered a tarpaulin stretched across a horizontal branch, held up at either end by freshly cut forks of ghost gum, the widow maker of Victoria Plains. Seated before a fire, cast iron camp oven suspended over mallee root coals, were his exhausted wife, and his smattering of children. Before he had the opportunity to open his question laden mouth, the tale of the ghost in the hall of the house was said to him in an sharp quiet tones. It was then explained that it would be an exceptionally cold day in hell if he thought they were ever going to live in that ‘insert profanity’ house again. He then had a tin mug of scalding black tea thrust into his muscular, heavily calloused hand, and was told to sit, which he did.
A day or so passed, and after a calmer repeating of the yarn was told, combined with the knowledge of the unfortunate position that there was no way they could afford to move, he decided to spend a night in the house to see for himself this ‘phantom’ that had spooked his wife so badly.
At exactly 4.16 the following morning, according to the clock Mrs. S. had produced from who knows where, he left via the front door quicker than Jesse Owens on a good day. Sighting confirmed, ‘yes there was a bell rung! He moaned ‘ho ho ho’, and ‘yes the phantom stopped on the bottom step of the back veranda!’
After a night of pretending to sleep, Mr. S., in the manliest of ways sat down beside the fire, and ladled the remains of the previous nights stew onto a tin plate. He then tore the end from a two day old loaf of bread, and began to eat. Whilst chewing, wondering if he had just bitten into a shotgun pellet, he overheard two of his daughters talking from within the tent with gruesome relish. “I bet he’s buried under the back step!” said one. “No, I bet he was one of them murderers what ravaged ladies in their beds around here in the olden days!” said the other. Putting his plate down, he went to the side of the tent and extracted the long handled shovel hidden within its folds, and wandered back across the gravel track, and in through the front gate. He skirted around the side of the house, and landed at the rear step. Wedging the timber of the step from its grooves, he buried the head of the shovel into the earth and began to dig, stopping with a fright eight minutes later. The white of a leg bone showing through tattered red trousers, startling in the sun, lay in the pile of dirt to the left of the hole. What looked like a black leather boot covered the foot. Beneath him though, were the bones of children. Many children. Their clothing tattered and of all sizes, yet not a shoe among them.
The Police dug the rest of the remains from the ground, with them was the bell, a red coat and trousers, a thick leather belt, and a sack. Who killed Father Christmas and the children, no one knew, but the stories at the bar of every pub in the region all came to the same point. There was a very good reason the old man of Yerecoin didn’t get visitors.
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