Remember, Remember the Fifth of November
By Jeff Baker
“Well, I’ll tell you why we don’t use the church anymore and then you can decide whether you want to go through with this or not,” the elderly British priest said.
The building was old but sturdy; a wooden church complete with a steeple. It stood on the same land as the original church which dated back to the 1590s, back when Minn-On-The Pye had been a thriving town on the way to London.
“As long as it’s haunted, it’s fine with me,” I said.
“And I’ll never understand how you can be so damn-fool as to want to sleep here on this night of all nights.”
“I traveled across an ocean to write this book,” I said. “I’ve spent the night in castles, old pubs, a barn, a tower in Ireland where I got rained on waiting for the Giant of Glannmurdoch Castle to appear. He never showed, but it was still a good story.”
“This is no make-believe giant,” Father Terrance said. “The ghost here has been heard since 1606 at least.” He took a deep breath and I knew he was going to launch into his spiel.
“November Fifth, Sixteen-Oh-Five was a grim day in our history, the day a misguided group of my fellow Catholics attempted to blow up Good King James and the Houses of Parliament with barrels of gunpowder in the basement.”
I was an American but I knew the story, so I listened politely. Guy Fawkes Night. Bonfires. The whole deal.
“And one of the plotters, young James Canby, lost his nerve and fled. He stopped by this church two nights before and pounded on the door,” Father Terrance said. “And one of my predecessors turned him away; saying whatever his business was it wasn’t church business.”
“If they had listened to Canby, the plot might have been uncovered sooner. Maybe they wouldn’t have been executed. Maybe Guy Fawkes would have fled to try again. Maybe relations between Protestants and Catholics would have become worse. Or better, if a Priest had warned the king. Who knows?” I said with a shrug. “But in the years since, the pounding on the church door has been heard. And tonight it will be heard by me.”
Father Terrance handed me the key to the church door and I grabbed my sleeping bag, flashlight and recorder from my car and took it inside, saying a silent prayer of thanks to the British Metaphysical Research Society for pushing my permission through. By dusk I had set up my equipment, checked the lock on the front door and was busy eating the ham sandwich I’d brought in a cooler. I’d had to wipe dust off the pew; the church had not been occupied, let alone used in many years. I checked the date on my phone; November third.
I was starting to doze when I heard the sound; a pounding on the door, and a voice yelling in strangely-accented English. I glanced at the recorder, it was on and recording. I stealthily crept to the side window and looked out front. There was nobody there. As I watched, the pounding at the door began again, along with the calls for “mercy” and “God’s forbearance.”
“James Canby!” I called out. The pounding stopped. I went on. “The need for you here is done. That long-ago night is past! Go to your rest!”
There was a smell, an odor, overpowering. I began to choke and gag. I ran out the front door, past my car and collapsed on the ground. After a moment, the smell went away. I was breathing heavily, and I decided to take my car and find a motel; the smell of long-ago gunpowder still in my nose.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Written on November 5th after a British writer I know posted (on Facebook) the poem from which I lifted a line for the title and reminded us that the 5th is the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, and is now Guy Fawkes Night. I don’t know how Jamesian this story is, but I wrote the first draft of another story featuring my ghost-hunter Jerome later the same day. —jsb.