A guest blog from Keith Healing
When I was a young lad, more years ago than seems reasonable, there were two places in my home village that kids avoided. One was a particular part of the local churchyard, a rounded cross about a metre tall close to the door of the church. It was completely unremarkable, old, eroded and covered with lichen. It was, however, loose on its base. Not so loose as to be dangerous, but quite easy to turn on its axis. It attracted the myth that it could be used to summon…something vague. Satan? Possibly. Ghosts? Maybe. In truth, it didn’t matter. What did matter was the general nasty potential of it. It was the local equivalent of Bloody Mary or Candyman, although less specific.
On a different road sat a tumbledown house. Looking back it could well have been a “pre-fab” – one of the thousands of temporary houses put up rapidly after the war to deal with the problem of the number of families made homeless by the bombs. There was still rows of them behind my first home close to Boscombe Down, an experimental air base in Wiltshire.
This place was to a different design, but was made of corrugated iron and hadn’t been occupied for years. It was set back from the road in an overgrown garden and was plainly unsafe. It also, according to local legend, had a huge, deep hole in the living room from which weird sounds would issue. It was so obviously haunted that my friends and I would dare each other to peer through the mould-covered windows on our way home from school.
These were myths with no basis in history. They were local, modern folklore that were spread amongst kids and that went no further.
I now live in Gloucestershire, in a small industrial town called Stonehouse. Like many English towns it has existed for at least 2000 years, the Stone House being its main building of note when William created his big list of taxable property in 1086. It still has a decent selection of interesting architecture dating from the early 1600s. Some of these have bricked-up windows. Some were old hospitals. There was an animal pound, although no-one knows where. What are the stories that have built up over the years, or that could have built up?
In order to answer that I started writing short, one-off tales called the Stonehouse Myths. The first was a simple story of madness and the perils of listening to the Jackdaws that infest the chimney pots. The second concerned destructive invisible wallaby-like beasts in an area of town called Little Australia. It was a bit of fun and people seemed to enjoy them.
And then I was messaged by a local woman who asked whether the Wallaby piece was based on reality because she and her family had repeatedly seen something weird by the railway line – something they called the Railway Beast.
The chances are, of course, that they were seeing Muntjac deer, strange little beasts with fat bodies, long back legs and little tusks. But it doesn’t matter. The myth persists. They see something odd and someone else describes it, albeit accidentally.
And the myth grows.
People respond to stories in a way that they respond to nothing else. If they are the right stories they are believed on a subconscious level because they connect to our primal brain and they gain power because we want to believe them.
So what might happen if something enabled these stories to breed, to gain real power?
I realised that the stories I was writing were linked, so I began re-writing. Over time they will form a novel that will explore the way a small town deals with stories when they run out of hand.
I have set up a Patreon page to enable me to distribute the chapters and, as support grows I will add more layers of detail, including maps, drawings, old documents and songs.
Welcome to Stonehouse Myths – https://www.patreon.com/StonehouseMyths
(A note from Nimue – Keith Healing is also the creator of The Hopeless Maine role play game, and is an excellent chap).