“I thought tonight’s talk was on flower arranging,” Muriel whispered to her neighbour, “Perhaps they changed it at the last minute.”
The speaker who rose to address the group was imposing. She was tall and willowy and wore a long dress that shimmered in the lamplight and seemed at one moment white, the next silver and the next grey. Muriel failed to catch her name.
“Don’t you find it chilly?” Muriel whispered, “I hope the central heating hasn’t failed like it did last year. We’ll soon be into November, you know.”
“You’ll have heard of the Pendle Witches,” the speaker began, “But how many of you know about the Scorton Spectre?”
There were puzzled looks from her audience.
“The tale is generally kept quiet,” she went on, “With good reason. The Spectre appears only once a year on All Hallows’ Eve and can be seen only by certain special people.”
Muriel glanced at her diary. Today was October 31st.
“Nowadays Halloween has become an excuse for parties and silly pranks” the speaker continued, “But in fact All Hallows’ Eve, is the time when souls are released from purgatory and return briefly to earth.”
“Superstitious rubbish!” muttered Muriel.
“The Scorton Spectre began life many years ago as a lovely young girl living on the edge of the village. Her beauty was such that all men desired her and all women envied her. She had many suitors and led them a merry dance. At least two duels were fought over her and she was known locally as the Scorton Strumpet.”
“Eventually she married a rich old fellow who died shortly afterwards, leaving her a wealthy widow. There was a rumour that his death wasn’t due solely to natural causes but nothing could ever be proved. Like the prodigal son in the Bible, she lived a riotous life of gambling and debauchery. Unlike him, she died a pauper.”
“However on my deathbed I struck a bargain with the Lord. I should not suffer eternal damnation if I could persuade others to repent. Every year on All Hallows’ Eve I return to my birthplace, where I can be seen only by those who will die within twelve months.”
Had Muriel misheard? Was the speaker telling her own life story or was it a trick to hold the audience’s attention?
Her head began to whirl. She felt icy fingers stroking the back of her neck and heard a soft voice reminding her of her faults.
“Wake up, Muriel,” her friend nudged her, “They’re bringing the tea round.”
“Wasn’t that a wonderful talk,” the tea hostess enthused, “I’ve always been interested in flower arranging.”
The Spectre had vanished. Muriel didn’t dare ask her friends which talk they had heard, one on floral decoration or the grim story of the Scorton Spectre.
The following year in July members were asked to stand for a minute’s silence to remember “our dear friend and fellow member, Muriel who passed away suddenly last week.”