In Whitby you may have the misfortune to be caught

Photograph of graveyard in Whitby.

In Whitby you may have the misfortune to be caught
by Daphne Milne

Dracula country, graveyard seeded with teeth and none of them sprouting. Alice and Bessie swinging on the cusp of the moon. Me watching Tat the Cat knitting like a revolutionary. A new trainee starting today, young Jennet.

We start with wood. Oak’s traditional for its strength and durability, like ship’s timbers. The men hammer in the nails when the oak’s young. After that it’s up to us. They’re too squeamish and the smell upsets them. We’re used to smells, all a part of life … and death. Feeble creatures men, no souls. Easy to manipulate. Us women always have to do the dirty jobs.

Tomorrow we’ll show her the bone pinchers. An intricate job, bone picking, extracting just as much and no more than is needed. Another job for us, the men can’t stand evisceration, makes them squirm. Tat the Cat enjoys the slurp, slurp sound, yaffles up any stray flecks of flesh.

Next we’ll teach Jennet about racks, the stringing up and the stretching. There’s a knack to it. We three learned it from our grandmothers, who learned it from their grandmothers. We’ve been doing this for centuries. Since before the soul catchers with their hangmen’s eyes. If it weren’t that we did their job better than them we might have been in the burning.

Fortunately we’re right under the Abbey walls. You could say under its protection. Our magic’s safe. Stacking the wood’s an art. Three burnings: oak and beech and birch — colours the skin gold. You can hear it popping. It’s a skilled job controlling the fire and smoke, can take up to eighteen hours. You know they’re ready when the eyes film over. The men remove the bodies after we’ve finished the day’s work.

Scrambled eggs for tea, we’ve no teeth and we can’t abide kippers.

Daphne writes short stories, flash fiction and poetry. She is currently working on a flash novella and a short story collection. Her pamphlet The Blue Boob Club is published by Indigo Dreams.

Photograph of Whitby by Emily Devane.