One grey October afternoon in the mid-1990s, a man in his late twenties named Stephen Teabook was walking up Hardman Street. He’d just left his flat on Rodney Street and was going to browse at a bookshop called Atticus. He reached the narrow frontage of the bookshop, halted, and looked at his reflection in the window for a moment as he stood beside a life-sized wooden cut-out of the Irish expatriate writer James Joyce. His reflection was starkly scruffy. His wiry shoulder-length hair sprouted sideways from beneath his homburg, and his dark calf-length coat looked scuffed. He went into Atticus and his ears were immediately assailed by the music of Mars the Bringer of War from Holst’s Planets Suite coming out of a radio tuned to Radio 3, somewhere behind the counter. The student sitting behind that counter was wrapped up in a copy of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, oblivious to the world.
Stephen, having a life-long interest in the Occult and matters of the paranormal, scanned the Mind, Body and Spirit section of the shelves. He picked up an early Fontana paperback edition of Capra’s The Tao of Physics when he suddenly remembered the interview at the Job Centre in Williamson Square for the Restart Course. He looked at his watch – 3.40pm; he should have been there seventy minutes ago. They surely wouldn’t stop his benefit for genuine forgetfulness? He’d ring them later with some excuse and hope for the best. Stephen Teabook had now been on the Dole for almost two years – ever since his break-up with Penny. Since that split he had withdrawn from a cold inhospitable reality into his comfy inner-world of the supernatural. He had cocooned himself within a vast collection of books on ghosts, the Tarot, astral travel, time travel, demons, real magic, Jungian psychology, Ouspensky, Crowley, and Fortean phenomena. The living room of his Rodney Street flat – which he called his ‘sanctum’ - had wine-coloured walls adorned, amongst other things, with Buddhist Mandalas, an embroidered Seal of Solomon hanging mat, a gold-plated athame, and a genuine Ngil tribal mask, said to be used by African sorcerers. The books were the cause of the split from Penny. The books took over the flat, lining all four walls of the spare room, a wall of the living room, and even finding their way into the toilet, where Stephen lined them up along the ledge over the cistern.
Stephen left Atticus and decided he’d go and have a drink in the Philharmonic pub, but then a familiar face with a stern look approached. It was Chris Pound, a nasty little man who had once attended the same school as Stephen, many years ago. He’d been the school bully, and was nowadays into all sorts of illegal money-making activities. He slowed down and his huge shaved head tilted at an obtuse angle as he looked Stephen up and down. ‘Teabook? God, you’ve put weight on,’ he remarked, and he smiled for a moment and then suddenly reverted to a deadpan expression as his eyes darted about. ‘Hey you’re into witchcraft and all that aren’t you?’ he asked.
‘Hi Chris,’ Stephen replied flatly, and Pound insisted on buying him a drink in the nearby Flying Picket pub. There was no such thing as a free drink as far as Chris Pound was concerned, and Stephen knew he’d have to repay the favour fourfold. In the pub, Chris came out with a remarkable story. Howard, nicknamed “Howie”, a friend of his, described as an ‘entrepreneur’ – but in reality a habitual criminal – had just died. I can’t go into the shocking details, but this man did something unspeakably evil a year before he died, and the heinous act haunted him till he passed away. Howie told the doctors, nurses, family and friends, everyone who came to see him as he lay dying of a terrible disease in hospital, that ‘they’ were coming for him to take him to Hell as punishment for something he did. He said he had never been scared of death, but was terrified of going to Hell after he died. A priest told him not to worry, as long as he repented, but Howie said he’d still suffered gruesome nightmares about demonic little things with red glowing eyes and sharp teeth invading his coffin after he died. The priest gave up in the end, believing Howie had a mental illness. A certain well-known local medium was sought for advice after Howie died, but was unable to help, and claimed that he was at rest, even though his body was seen to twitch in its open coffin at home. Sulphuric smells emanated from his corpse, and Howie’s mother had even heard her son’s tormented screams at night. Now he was due to be buried in the morning. Chris Pound begged Stephen to help.
That evening, Stephen and Chris visited the home of the late man’s mother. Howie’s mother, a retired money lender, was a rough diamond. Peroxide hair, over-tanned, gold rings on eight of her fingers, and a disgusting vocabulary of profanities. She was sobbing, face down on her sofa in the living room as her two sons looked on, lost for words. Chris winked at the sons as he and Stephen crept past the doorway of the living room, as he’d explained to them earlier by phone what he had intended to achieve tonight. One of the sons closed the living room door as Chris and Stephen entered the parlour where the open coffin stood on its stand. Right away, Stephen could smell the acidic odour in that room. It made his eyes water and he took a handkerchief out of his pocket and coughed into it.
‘See him move a bit then?’ Chris said, staring wide-eyed at the corpse of Howie, which was dressed in a sharp royal blue suit.
Stephen watched the corpse – the head quivered slightly. He took a black leather-bound copy of the Holy Bible and placed it in the coffin, snug between the right arm of the corpse and the purple satin lining.
‘Is that it?’ Chris was disappointed, and expected Stephen to perform some esoteric rite.
‘To be honest I don’t think that’ll help much,’ Stephen replied, ‘given what he did. He’ll probably have to pay for what he did.’
The body rapidly sat up and opened its eyes – and they were white and bulging. The mouth opened and hissed. Chris turned and ran out the room, stammering, unable to get his words out. He was in shock.
Stephen Teabook stood his ground. He took an old crucifix from his inside pocket, then held it out to the evil being – or beings – occupying the dead body. The possessed corpse threw the Bible out the coffin and remained seated.
Stephen recited his Exorcism rite: “Evil spirit, I command you in the name of God the Father Almighty, in the name of Jesus Christ his only son, and in the name of the Holy Spirit, that, harming no one, you depart from the body of this creature of God, and return to the place appointed to you in Hell, there to remain for eternity.’
The eyes of Howie’s corpse closed, but the body remained in a seated position for at least a minute, then it fell back into the coffin. Stephen placed the Holy Bible back in the coffin as Chris Pound peeped into the room with one of Howie’s brothers.
‘What happened?’ Chris enquired, staring at the coffin.
‘I think they’ve gone for now,’ Stephen told him. ‘Hopefully they’ll never possess this body again.’
The next day during the funeral service, the coffin stood on its bier in the middle of the church aisle. The priest spoke the solemn words he knew by heart, and a strange sound could be heard.
The corpse was kicking inside the coffin.
The priest was distracted a little by the unearthly sounds, and the mourners looked at one another in a mixture of fear and confusion. The pallbearers felt the coffin jump about on their shoulders, all the way to the grave. Howie’s mother fainted at the graveside as she heard the dull sounds of her son crying in the coffin as it was lowered into the clay. The gravediggers did their job as fast as they could, and reported seeing the coffin shaking violently as they piled the soil on to it. After three feet of soil was laid on the restless coffin, the eerie sounds could no longer be heard.
When Howie’s mother and brothers returned home, they found a smouldering black book in the front parlour. It looked just like the Holy Bible that had been put in the coffin.
All what I have told you really took place. Funeral and burial lore is very old, and such supernatural tradition states many strange things; that funerals are always come in threes; that the first body to be interred in a new graveyard is claimed by the Devil, and that the last to be buried in a graveyard was indebted to become the ghostly guardian of the cemetery until the “Last Call” – the Day of Judgement. In 1829, the first body was buried at St James’s Cemetery, and as the coffin was committed to the earth, those attending the burial were fully aware of the superstition regarding the Devil claiming the first corpse of the cemetery. It is recorded that one of the worst thunderstorms to visit Liverpool in decades began to rage as the coffin was lowered into the grave. The same storms raged when the last corpse was buried at the cemetery in 1936.
As for the possession, by evil spirits, of a corpse in a coffin, it is an ancient tradition, mostly observed by the Celtic peoples, to have someone sit with the body with a lit candle nearby. This was said to discourage evil spirits from tormenting the soul of the deceased as it took three days to fully separate from its earthly ties.
Those attending a funeral are even at risk from deadly omens, according to this ancient lore. A ray of sunlight shining upon a particular mourner at a funeral means that person is the next in line to die. Rain after a burial was said to be a good sign for the deceased, for it meant they had reached their destination in Heaven.
Stephen Teabook is still investigating ghosts and performing exorcisms today. I'll tell you more of his investigations and experiences some time.