Saturday, 19 September 2015

The ghosts of Janefield Street

The ghosts of Janefield Street

Scott ran as fast as his legs would carry him. Those chasing him were serious people and they meant him harm. He raced up Springfield Road and turning left sped past the St Michael’s Church and then the Black Bull Pub. Two elderly men, smoking outside the bar watched him with jaundiced eyes as he splashed through the puddles and flew past them. They’d seen enough of the grim gutter theatricals of the east end to know that only fear put such speed into a young man’s legs. They stepped back from the pavement into the entrance of the pub instinctively, knowing the pursuers would soon be along. Within a few seconds they were and the old timers saw that one of the three men hunting the young lad was a well know local chib man. The two grey haired men backed into the warmth of the pub not wishing to see the outcome of the chase. Sometimes it was wise to look the other way in Glasgow’s east end.

Scott Corrigan swung left into Janefield cemetery and threw himself onto the damp grass behind a large, granite Celtic cross, hoping they hadn’t seen him. He breathed heavily and carefully glanced beyond the stone towards the entrance of the cemetery. He was beginning to regret taking his chances here as it was quiet and secluded. If big Donny and his thugs caught him here they could take their time with him. He watched the gate and said his first real prayer in years. ‘Please, God, make them walk past.’ Three burly figures appeared at the entrance of the cemetery and stopped as if deciding what to do next. They glanced into the cemetery where Scott lay hidden a mere 50 yards away, his face pressed into the cold, damp Scottish soil. There was an eerie silence save for the chirping of birds who went about their business unconcerned with the fate and foolishness of men. Scot waited for a long moment before glancing surreptitiously again at the graveyard entrance. The three men had gone. He exhaled and lay on the grass watching brooding, dark clouds flit across the iron Glasgow sky.

After waiting for another few minutes he decided to make an exit from the graveyard over the back wall at the football stadium. The huge bulk of the north stand of Celtic Park loomed over the cemetery like some huge alien spacecraft which had somehow landed in the east end. Scott picked his way through the gravestones towards the back wall, occasionally looking over his shoulder to make sure Donny and his thugs hadn’t returned. To his consternation he found that the council had repaired the wall and it was much higher than he remembered it, when he and his friends would scale it after Celtic games and take a short cut home. Undaunted he took a short run and leapt up, seizing hold of the top of the wall. As he pushed himself up with his feet, he suddenly felt his hand slip on the smooth, wet capstone on the top of the wall and fell backwards. The last thing he noticed as he fell was the glowering Scottish sky, before his head struck something hard and stars danced before his eyes. He felt little as the swirling blackness took him.

Are ye alright young fella?’ a voice said in a soft Irish accent. Scott opened his eyes and saw that it was almost dark. He looked around him, confused and a little dazed. A short man dressed in a rather grubby, old fashioned suit stood observing him. He wore a cap and had a pale, thin face, framed by some impressive, greying side whiskers. ‘Did ye have a fall?’ Scott sat up a little, rubbing his head, ‘Aye, I fell off the wall.’ The man nodded, ‘Best ye sit a while till yer senses return.’ Scott did as he was bid and leaned against the very gravestone he had hit his head on. He glanced at it and saw the name, ‘George McIntyre. Died 1894’’ Below the name was a line of poetry which read…

They, looking back, all the eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late their happy seat…’

The old man saw him read the inscription in the fading light. ‘It’s from Paradise Lost by John Milton. You know of his work?’ Scott shook his head, ‘Sorry, I left school early that day.’ The man looked around as if he heard something stir in the gloomy, darkening graveyard. ‘The others are stirring. Tis perhaps best you leave us now,’ Scott pulled himself unsteadily to his feet. ‘The others? Do folk meet up in the graveyard at night?  The man smiled a little, ‘Yes, you might say that.’ Behind the man Scott saw several figures approaching. A woman with a thin, sad face wearing a long, tattered dress stopped by the man and spoke softly to him, ‘You have a visitor I see, George?’ The man nodded, ‘Seems this fellow fell and knocked his head.’ She looked at Scott as if she could see right through him, her dark eyes boring into his very soul. A creaking sound caught Scott’s attention and he glanced to the right of the two figures to see a stout man pushing an ancient looking wooden wheelbarrow. ‘Ah, Finn, you still moving the earth?’ said the grey haired man. ‘Tis all I can do till the holes be filled,’ the man replied. ‘The good brother needs the quarry levelled if his team are to use it for their sport. Two of my horses fell in that damn pit, two of them, and nothing to be done but bury them.’ The grey haired man smiled as the wheelbarrow creaked off into the darkness.  Scott was beginning to wonder what the hell was going on. Perhaps he had hurt his head and was hallucinating? ‘I better go,’ he mumbled and headed past the figures towards the London Road entrance to the cemetery. ‘Aye,’ the grey haired man said, nodding, ‘tis best you do.’ Scott walked unsteadily away from the characters he had been conversing with and headed for the London Road exit of the cemetery. When he reached the exit and saw the first cars roll past on the London Road he stopped and looked back into the cemetery. It was calm, quiet and apart from some swirling October mist, quite still.

The next day dawned dull and misty. Scott awoke with a headache which cut into his skull. As he sat up in bed his pillow rose with him. Congealed blood from his cut head had dried and stuck the pillowcase to his matted hair. ‘Jesus,’ he mumbled, easing it off his head. He cast his mind back to the strange goings on in the cemetery. Fear of big Donny and his gang coupled with the bang on the head he got must have addled his brain, he thought. You can imagine all sorts of things when you’ve had a head knock.  He headed for the shower stopping only to down two paracetamol and a long, cool glass of water. He had football to go to tonight and he needed to plan carefully how to avoid the thugs on his case. All of his current woes were down to a noted liar telling the local tough nuts that Scott had shopped one of their number to the Police who had in turn knocked down his door one quiet dawn and caught him with enough drugs to stock a small chemist shop. It was nonsense of course but as someone once said, a lie is half way around the world before the truth has got out of bed.

Scott kept a low profile that day as he waited for the evening match at Celtic Park. Celtic were taking on Juventus and there was a score to settle after the ludicrous award of a last minute penalty in Turin had robbed them of a creditable draw. Amoroso’s dive still rankled and the huge Celtic support were heading for Celtic Park with revenge on their minds. He met his friends on Springfield Road and was glad to be lost among the crowd, just another face among thousands. As he sat in the Lisbon Lions stand looking around him at the packed stadium he thought of how Celtic had played here since Victorian times. Often giving the poorer east enders’ some joy in their hard lives. This emerald rectangle which glowed under the lights truly was their theatre of dreams and on that misty Halloween evening in 2001 was at its mesmeric best.

The brilliant Del Piero scored with a beautifully arced free kick to open the scoring but Sutton and Valgaeran had Celtic ahead as the titanic tie swung this way and that.  Moravcic was weaving his magic too, spraying passes all over the field and on one occasion slipping the ball through the legs of the talented Nedved who had the grace to smile at his audacity. How the Celtic fans roared and sang as their team fought like lions. Trezeguet made it 2-2 early in the second half before a Larsson penalty and an incredible volley from Sutton had Celtic 4-2 ahead. Trezeguet cut the deficit on 77 minutes but Celtic held out for a marvellous victory against a top side. The Celtic fans departed the ground, elated and exhausted in equal measure, Scott was no different. He said goodbye to his friends at Parkhead Cross and headed for home replaying the incredible events of the evening’s game in his head.

He reached his street and had a feeling something wasn’t right. He was about to enter his close when he noticed someone in the shadows and heard a voice say, ‘That’s the bastard now, get him!’ Scott turned and without hesitation sprinted for all he was worth. He could hear them close behind him and didn’t dare even to look back. Once again his route took him past Parkhead Cross and along the Gallowgate. A few stragglers from the game watched the chase but no one intervened. He saw the opening of Janefield cemetery ahead and thought he could fool them as he did the day before by slipping inside. His luck was out as they saw him and stood smirking in the entrance way. ‘Got ye noo ya prick’ one of Scott’s pursuers called into the dark, misty graveyard. Scott headed for the furthest spot down by the back wall but they fanned out like lions stalking their prey. He was in serious trouble now and he knew it.

Scott stopped at the back wall, his heart pounding in his chest. He could see that he was trapped and scanned the ground for a rock or stick but saw nothing in the semi darkness. The dim lights of Celtic Park and the mist which was thickening combined to cast an eerie greenish glow over the cemetery. Then he saw them closing in on him and in his mind decided that whatever happened he’d go down fighting. Big Donny was first to speak, his red, bloated face contorted into a cruel smile. ‘You’re dead Corrigan ya grassing bastard.’ Scott replied in a voice which sounded braver than he felt, ‘I never grassed anybody, maybe you should stop listening tae liars. The three young men closed on him and one of them slipped his hand inside his jacket and produced a cruel looking knife. Scott’s felt a cold shaft of fear glide through him. As they closed to within a couple of yards of him a voice cut across their thoughts, ‘I wouldn’t be doing that, young fella!’ They froze and turned to look around them. From the mist, shadowy figures appeared and at the forefront of them was the man Scott had spoken with. So it wasn’t a hallucination! The squeak of a wheelbarrow could be heard somewhere in the gloom and the three thugs seemed unsure of what to do. The one holding the knife tried to hide his confusion by blurting out, ‘You’d best fuck off and mind your own business.’ But the voice remained calm and replied, ‘You’re in our territory young fella, I think it best you leave or there will be consequences.’ The ghostly figures seemed to surround the four young men and Scott could see real fear in his erstwhile pursuers’ eyes.  The temperature seemed to drop even lower and Scott could see his warm breath on the night air. Big Donny stepped towards the figure Scott knew as George and reacted as unintelligent people often do by throwing a punch. Scott watched the scene unfold in the strange half-light of Janefield cemetery. Donny’s punch seemed to pass through George without any discernible effect on him. The effect on Donny was electric though. He fell to the ground screaming in pain and holding onto his right arm. His two friends rushed to him and where astonished at what they saw. Donny may have been concerned with the pain in his arm but even in the eerie light of the cemetery it was clear that his hair had turned purest white. The young man with the knife dropped it and looked around with terror in his eyes. He hauled Donny to his feet and they staggered away from Scott and towards the exit of the cemetery.

Scott watched all of this unfold, his back pressed against the cold rear wall of the graveyard. The man he knew as George looked at him, ‘I don’t think they’ll be bothering you again son.’ Scott looked at him and replied somewhat incredulously, ‘Thanks George, I…’ Scott’s voice trailed off to silence, he simply had no words which fitted the situation. George smiled knowingly and surprised Scott by changing the subject totally, ‘That was a din from the stadium tonight. Many of us helped build the old place and it’s fitting we rest so close to it.’ Scott was utterly bewildered, ‘You worked on the new stadium?’ George shook his head slowly, ‘No, young fella, we worked on the old place, filling the quarry and a thousand holes in the ground. A labour of love you might say.’ As the realisation of what the man was saying hit Scott, George smiled his easy smile again, ‘Tis best you go young fella, this place isn’t for you.’ Scott’s legs moved almost of their own volition and he stopped only briefly to turn and say, ‘Thank you, George. Thank you all.’ George said nothing but he smiled and nodded. Scott hurried out of the cemetery and back along the quiet streets of the east end.