Kathleen Clifford reading The Boogie Man

The Boogie Man

by Kathleen Clifford

'The 'Boogie Man' is comin' to get you if you don't go to sleep'; so threatened my mother to us children. We squealed and cowered under the coats which served as blankets, and every so often peeped out to see if the 'Boogie Man' really was coming. 'I saw him, I saw him I swear', my sister screamed, and we hugged each other in fear. 'What did he look like?' I asked her. 'Janey Mac, he's tall and skinny, an' his face was all white, an' he was floatin' over the floor, an' he had long black hair, an' he had his hands held out like he was goin' to grab us, an' his nails were all black.' 'Oh Janey', I said, not questioning how she could have seen so much in one quick peek.

Matters weren't helped by the fact that we had no electricity. Our supply had been cut off the previous week for non-payment and we lay there watching our small candle burn down. The fire in the grate too, had burned low, and the pulsing light from the cinders cast moving shadows on the walls and ceiling. There were many places in the room where a 'Boogie Man' or any other ghostly fiend could be lurking. The door was half open and it seemed now as if something was hiding behind it as it creaked in the draught which blew down the chimney. There was another full candle lying down beside the almost spent one and it was only three or four steps away to reach it and light it from the smaller one. But neither of us was willing to take those few steps and risk being grabbed by 'something'. It was then that we realised we badly needed to visit the toilet.
'Mammy' we called out to the front room 'Mammy we have to go toila'.
'What's wrong with yis at all? yis have me heart scalded, afraid in the dark like that. Go on in there now, an' I'll wait in the door till yis come back'.
Having tried to make us go to sleep through fear my mother was now reaping the rewards of her terror tactics.

I can remember many occasions when we sat around the fire, with the only light coming from the flames, listening to ghost stories. My father's favourite one was about the time when he was a young lad, and he and his friends were coming home late at night from a 'card school'. They were all fearful already about what would happen to them when they got home so late. Added to this was the knowledge that they had been gambling and the apprehension they felt in case their parents - especially their fathers, had somehow found out about it. This was an offence punishable by a good few thumps. In any case there they were slinking along the road when their attention was caught by the sight of an old woman. She was sitting outside on a window ledge combing her long white hair with a strange, shiny-looking comb. The moon cast an eerie light on her and it was then they noticed the strange pallor of her face, and the fact that they couldn't see her eyes - so deep set were they in the sockets. A couple of the lads started to titter nervously. The old woman took offence at this and threw her comb at them. This was the signal for all-out panic, and they ran and scattered in every direction. 'It's the 'banshee', one of them shouted, don't let her get ya or hit ya with her comb or you're a gonner'. This warning was my father recalled, too late for one of them, as the comb touched off his sleeve and fell to the ground. He screamed as if a red-hot poker had touched his skin. Whether it was coincidence or not this young man was dead within a month.

It was now my mother's turn to tell her story. She was sitting in the front room of our flat, which was situated on the third floor when she heard three knocks at the door. She went immediately to the door and opened it but there was no one there. She was puzzled by this, as the landing outside was made of concrete and there had been no sound of footsteps. There were a few steps down from our landing to a smaller landing below and this could be seen from our door. There were no flats on this smaller landing so it was a mystery as to how anybody could disappear so quickly. She went back in and sat down. To her surprise, the three knocks were repeated again. She went quickly to the door, thinking that maybe some children were playing games, and she was prepared to give them an earful.  Once again there was nobody there and she began to be fearful. She quickly closed the door and had barely sat down when the three knocks came again. The hairs stood up on the back of her neck. She didn't want to open the door but something drew her over, and she found herself standing there with the door open. She said she'd never forget what she saw. A small, young woman dressed in nineteenth century clothes stood there. She wore a shawl and bonnet and she seemed to be carrying something in her arms. She gazed steadily at my mother, as if trying to tell her something. It was when my mother's glance went downward, that she said her heart nearly stopped in her chest, for the young woman's feet weren't touching the ground, but floated a few inches above ground level. As my mother watched, the little woman's image slowly began to fade until there was nothing to be seen. My mother went back inside and collapsed in a faint. When she recovered she went up to John's Lane Church and lit a few candles and said a few prayers for the woman's soul. For it was her belief that the poor woman's soul wasn't at rest because of some wrong done to her. The next day my mother heard of the death of a neighbour. Ever after this any time she heard the three knocks, even though she never saw the ghostly woman again, she expected to hear of a death. My mother always left salt and water on the table on All Souls Night for the poor souls she believed had leave to be about on that night. 

As time went by we became a little more prosperous and didn't have to resort to candles quite so much. The light from a one hundred or one hundred and fifty watt bulb didn't lend itself to the telling of ghost stories, and there were no dark corners any more in which a 'Boogie Man' might hide. Still, sometimes late at night when a floorboard creaks or the wind comes moaning down the chimney you could almost imagine a dark shape standing - waiting. Or when the moon hides behind a cloud and the night becomes very still - there are strange sounds to be heard, if you listen very carefully.

 

Recorded at Kevin Street Library Creative Writing Group, facilitated by Orla Ní hAonigh.
Sound effects by David McKeever

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