THE NIGHTMAN BEFORE CHRISTMAS

A long time ago the community who lived alongside the canal existed under a heavy burden. Every Christmas Eve a newborn would disappear from the safety of its home never to be seen again. The people became timid and frightened and the ground itself became grey and barren. The canal which had once brought beauty and prosperity to the area was now dark and overgrown. It became a place to fear and to avoid.

One dark cold night, the wind howled up from the river and the old houses themselves seemed to huddle around the canal for warmth. Even the rats knew better than to venture outside. The full moon looked lost up in the purple black sky as it cast a pale shadow on the church below. It was then in the gloom that a side door began to ease slowly open and a tall willowy figure emerged from the Black Church.

In Midgehall Street in Holy Cross little Billy O'Mally turned fitfully in his sleep, he found this hard as he was one of four brothers sharing a tiny bed. Eight year old Billy was a small frail boy. His favourite place was the Fountain of the Lady on Marybone, he often sat there alone, some people said that Billy talked to the statue. His father called him a dreamer, tonight his dreams were about to come true.

Outside the black church the tall figure dressed from head to toe in black swayed across the graveyard he never hesitated or broke stride but simply passed straight though the surrounding walls as a knife would through butter.

He was the Nightman and he had chosen this night to carry on with his deadly business. Gliding up Silvester Street. He headed to-wards the small flats in Ambrose Place.

Untroubled by the wind and the rain he found the door he was looking for and simply faded through the wood and into the small front room where in the far corner lay a baby sleeping close to the dying embers of the fire. This was to be his next victim.

Billy was troubled and knew he would not get back to sleep again soon. He gently climbed over the still figures and dressed silently. He could hear the howling of the wind outside but decided to go and sit under the statue of The Lady of the Fountain. It was so dark that he didn't notice until he was standing on the first step that the Lady had disappeared. Billy was distraught, the Lady who was sent by God to help the poor people was gone.

He slumped to the ground put his head in his hands and began to sob till his tears began to flow in great puddles all the way down to the river. Billy might have cried forever if it wasn't for a tap on his shoulder. He looked up and through tear stained eyes he saw her, skin glowing white complete with robes of silver beckoning him forward. Billy followed as she glided back towards Vauxhall Road. Catching hold of her cloak he too was lifted way off the ground and down towards the old canal.

The Nightman, pleased with his work, quickened his pace as soon as he saw the Cast Iron Bridge. His aim was to reach the centre and throw the newborn into the darkness below. It was a task he had completed every year and it was a burden the poor people of the area carried heavily on their weary shoulders, a burden that tied them to the misery and the poverty to which they had long became accustomed to.

But he did not notice the two figures who landed silently on the roof of an old grain warehouse at the side of the canal, one was a beautiful woman clad from head to toe in silver and the other a small and very frightened young boy. He reached the centre of the bridge and looked down at his prize, the baby seemed to mock him with its innocence, which he could endure no longer. Lifting the small bundle over his head he paused only for a moment before tossing the infant down into the cold dark waters of the canal below.

Billy was blind in this darkness as the small figure disappeared into the night, from his vantage point he could not even see the canal itself let alone the baby. At that moment the Lady pointed and a bright light which seemed to emanate from her fingers cast an eerie glow lighting up the banks and the canal itself. Billy knew why she had brought him here and immediately dived into the ice cold waters and swam swiftly to-wards the tiny bundle as it floated down.

Up out of the canal and onto the bridge still dripping wet the young boy cradled the baby gently in his arms, the Lady was nowhere to be seen. The Nightman, however, was now lying on the ground throat slit from ear to ear to ear, a silver handled razor lay at his side. Small rivulets of blood flew down and away from the bridge to the sides of the canal seeping into the lifeless brown earth. Billy walked across the bridge in a daze, along Vauxhall Road he saw the glowing figure of the Lady, he followed her all the way back to the old courts were the infant was returned safely to its cot. The spell was finally broken.

On Christmas morning at the Cast Iron Bridge no body was to be found. In time the blood which had seeped into the ground aided by the sun and the rain pumped new life back into the land and the very people themselves. Flowers sprang up to be picked by the young girls and boys would come to fish and to swim in the waters. Once more the canal had become a place of beauty to be used and enjoyed by the community. The reign of the Nightman was truly over.