An Appointment with Fear

I can remember that wintry late November night as if it were yesterday. In fact, it was seven years ago. Although I am now twenty-one, any fourteen-year-old would never forget events that brief, terrifying night. No matter what your surname is. As we entered Buckfast Abbey Graveyard, outside the confines of the tall grey granite rock wall surrounding the ancient abbey building, the excitement started to fade, and fast. If my best pal had not encouraged me forward, I’d have fled that place like a bullet blasting from a gun barrel. But I was determined I would not be the first to dart away.

The red soggy Devon clay tugged at our inadequate shoes and mud squelched over their sides. It was bitterly cold and wet from the ground-hugging mist. Noises carried further, seemingly crossing the desolate and deserted moors; we, therefore, spoke in whispers. Although the famous abbey was built on the southern edge of this moor, the notoriously ghostly mists hung in the atmosphere as if nailed there for the long, cold winter nights. Moisture dampened our jackets, as droplets rested on our eyebrows like dew-laden spiders’ webs.

Then we both froze in the clinging mud as a terrifying howl echoed off the tall cold granite walls. It seemed to go on rebounding forever until the mist swallowed it up. Paul grabbed my coat. Startled, I dropped the torch. Its dim beam went out, and everything was pitch black. We clung to each other as sweat began oozing from our pores. We could see nothing. By now the silence eroded what courage we had possessed.

Then, suddenly, the howl started again; flying around the walled graveyard. Locals kept quiet and turned away when visitors asked about wolf-like howls during November nights. I now firmly believe folklore rumors suggesting Conan Doyle did uncover something whilst researching the area for his novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles.

We groveled in the mud and grass for the torch, we couldn’t find it on the slope. Neither of us voiced how on earth we were going to find our way out until dawn – it was difficult enough when we looked at it earlier that day. Just mass of tall toppling gravestones, untended graves and several piles of clay alongside freshly-dug awaiting holes.

“I don’t know where the hell it is!” Paul screeched angrily. “Wasn’t my fault anyway.”?

“Not so loud, someone might hear us,” I replied quickly.

“Who?” he countered.

I quickly changed the subject. “Find that damn torch.”

Suddenly, another even louder, more piercing howl chilled our spirits as a bout of shivers started. This one seemed closer than the other two as beach pebble-sized goose pimples rippled on my cold skin.

We both stood up. “Blow the torch,” Paul whispered, ‘We must get out of here.”

“But which way? We cannot see a thing.”

Paul slipped the first few steps. I followed his squelching shoes as I held his jacket, and the thickening fog seemed to be holding us; like invisible hands gripping our backs.

We started across the sloping ground, which on reflection was wrong, we should have known better but it was too late now. The next thing I remember was the ground opening up. Wet mud covered my hair and face as I pulled myself upright.

The several inches water, a throbbing head I grabbed as best I could the sides of the pit. But the sodden side easily came away. Both panting, we stood as clods of earth splashed into the waterlogged grave.

Neither of us said a word as another, even closer howl echoed across the graveyard. The exact time neither of us knew, but I guessed it was near midnight.

“Stand on my shoulder,” I whispered to Paul as the howl faded. I crouched down, leaning against the cold wet side, and felt his shins as he pulled himself onto my back. Slowly I straightened. “Can you reach?”

“No,” he replied, slipping as I wavered trying to support him when he tumbled, bringing down loose clay.

We held our breaths as a howl almost deafened us, not daring to look up into the blackness. The howl was directly above us; we could clearly hear that animal’s coarse, strained panting. I have never been so terrified before or since.

Suddenly a shaft of light, engulfed by the thick fog, swung around the eerie grave. Still, neither of us dared to draw a breath. We were amazed to hear a voice with a strong Devon accent.

“What the devil’s goin’ on down ‘ere. What’s yer name?” After a few seconds, the man’s voice ordered, “Grab ‘old”.

A thick tree branch brushed my wet head. I needed no further prompting – I reached up and in one strong thrust was on drier ground. Paul was quickly hauled up. Soaking wet, we stood wondering who the rescuer was, as we shielded our eyes from his torchlight beam. We didn’t recognize the voice, as the donkey-sized dog – or whatever it was – nudged my side.

We followed Ben; at least that’s what he said his name was, back to the welcome granite wall and the heavy iron gates. We thanked him, shook his large hard-skinned hands and dashed off, giving no thought as to what we would tell our parents who were down for a long weekend at our village cottage.

As long as my name is Baskerville, I’ll never go near that graveyard again; to hell with ancestry. However, it’s strange – despite making inquiries, no one had ever heard of a local man named Ben with a huge dog as his pet, in Buckfast or any other Dartmoor villages.

Or perhaps they have, but say nothing to strangers.