Gathered on the eve before Halloween my fellow hashers were adored in spooky masks and ghostly outfits with makeup to suit their deathly disguise.Tis now the very witching time of night, when churchyards yawn, and hell itself breathes out.
Our hare tonight was a short stocky man that carried a green headed ghostly spectre on his back.
He retorted with glee "The night is chill, mein Hashers, and the trail is long and treacherous but fear not I will take care of you all. There are prizes, hot food and sweet refreshment at the end of your evening’s journey."
I took comfort to know this but all the same I felt a little strangely, and not a little frightened. I think had there been any alternative I should have taken it, instead of prosecuting that unknown night journey.
A nervous oddly clad hasher uttered quietly ‘Denn die Todten reiten schnell’— (‘For the dead travel fast.’) The strange hare evidently heard the words, for he looked up with a gleaming smile. The hasher turned his face away, at the same time putting out his two fingers and crossing himself. Without another word the hare sped off across the rough ground and we all swept after him into the darkness of the woods. As I looked back I saw the comfort of the pub lights fade in the distance and thought I could see the figures of walking companions crossing themselves.
As we sank into the darkness I felt a strange chill, and a lonely feeling came over me; but for the comfort of mind and my fellow hashers torches bright against the night chill.
The trail went at a hard pace straight through the wood, and then we made a complete turn and went along another straight track. It seemed to me that we were simply going over and over the same ground again; and so I took note of some salient point, and found that this was so. I would have liked to have asked the hare what this all meant, but I really feared to do so, for I thought that, placed as I was, any protest would have had no effect in case there had been an intention to delay.
By-and-by, however, as I was curious to know how time was passing, and in my torch light looked at my watch; it was within a few minutes of midnight. This gave me a sort of shock, for I suppose the general superstition about midnight was increased by my pass experiences. I paused with a sick feeling of suspense.
Then a dog began to howl somewhere in a farmhouse far down the valley, agonized wailing, as if from fear. The sound was taken up by Poppy, and then Summer and another, till, borne on the wind which now sighed softly through the wooded valley, a wild howling began, which seemed to come from all over the country, as far as the imagination could grasp it through the gloom of the night. At the first howl the hashers began to pause and strain, but the hare spoke to them soothingly, giving confidence to continue after a sudden fright. Then, far off in the distance, from the hills on each side of us began a louder and a sharper howling—as if that of wolves—which affected both the hare, hashers and myself in the same way. After a few minutes, however, our ears got accustomed to the sound, and the hashers quietened by the hares insistence there was nothing to be frightened of, he petted and soothed them, and with extraordinary effect, for under his direction they became quite passive again, though they still trembled. The hare again took off at a great pace. This time, after going to the far side of the woods, he suddenly turned down a narrow bridleway which ran sharply to the right.
Soon we were hemmed in with trees, which in places arched right over the trail till we passed as through a tunnel of holly bushes; and again great frowning oaks guarded us boldly on either side. Though we were in shelter, we could hear the rising wind, for it moaned and whistled through the valley, and the branches of the trees crashed together as we ran along. It grew colder and colder still, the keen wind chilling the night air as we went on our way. The baying of the wolves sounded nearer and nearer, as though they were closing round on us from every side. I grew dreadfully afraid, and the hashers shared my fear; but the hare was not in the least disturbed. He kept turning his head to left and right, but I could not see anything through the darkness.
Suddenly, away on our left, I saw a faint flickering blue light. The hare saw it at the same moment; he at once turned towards it, disappearing into the darkness. I did all I could to keep up less the howling of the wolves grew closer; but while I struggled the hare suddenly appeared again, and without a word resumed our journey in the opposite direction. It was like a sort of awful nightmare. The light had appeared so near the trail and now we were again in the darkness all around us. I took it that my eyes deceived me straining through the darkness beyond the beam of my torch we sped onwards through the gloom, with the howling of the wolves around us, as though they were following in a moving circle.
At last there came a time when the hare went further across an open field and for once the howling of the wolves had ceased altogether; but just then the moon, sailing through the black clouds, appeared and by its light I saw our hare standing on the track ahead of us.
As he swept his long arms, as though brushing aside some impalpable obstacle, the wolves fell back and back further still. Just then a heavy cloud passed across the face of the moon, so that we were again in darkness but for our torches and running as fast as fright would allow.
The wolves had disappeared leaving us all with a feeling so strange and uncanny that a dreadful fear came upon us. The time seemed interminable as we ran on our way, now in almost complete darkness, for the rolling clouds obscured the moon. We kept on ascending, with occasional periods of quick descent, but in the main always ascending. Suddenly I became conscious of the fact that the hare had safely guided us back to the comfort and warm hospitality of our pub from whose windows came a welcome ray of light against the dark half moonlit sky.
With much relieve at our deliverance from the night we all ravelled in the warmth of the Hampden Arms with prizes to Nicki and Paul for their inventive costume, a fast 50 runs acknowledged of our strange hare and more delicious chips and sweets than we could all consume.