As a child, I lived in the town of Halifax, in the county of West Yorkshire, which is in the North of England and where my story is set. I had a paranormal experience which was pivotal to the start of my interest in all things other-worldly. I guess you could call it my origin story. It goes like this…
I must have been about 8 years old when we saw them. We were at school, playing out in the playground when it happened. There had always been a rumour about so-called Bradshaw ‘zombies’ that wandered around the old, derelict house in the middle of the field near school. In our minds, however, these monsters were not anything like the traditional idea of zombies, but somewhere nearer to a type of Grim Reaper or hooded monk. Children in the village would whisper about them walking around in their hooded, black cloaks, chasing the cows and eating them. To be honest, it sounded unlikely to me even then –and I really had no idea what a ‘zombie’ would look like, even if I met one. However, I was small, and it was exciting to continue the tradition of scaring each other to death in the playground at school.
Bradshaw, our small village in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, was rife with mysterious stories of haunted houses and strange happenings. The hillsides were peppered with old, derelict houses and mills, crumbling away into the ground, making exciting and dangerous playgrounds for us to explore. We’d dare each other to go into darkened, wind-whistling rooms and scare each other with tales of dead babies being found half-eaten by werewolves. All the while brave, yet terrified.
There just so happened to be one of these derelict houses within sight of our school field and on this particular day, the weather was fair (it was winter, I think) but windy and we were all chasing around in the playground as usual. Suddenly, one child shouted out above the rest, “zombie, zombie, I can see a Bradshaw zombie!” A huge group of us raced over to where the kid was pointing.
“There, there it is. Oh, there are three of them!” She squealed excitedly.
We all followed her eagerly pointing finger, across the school field, over the next and into a long field which sloped gradually upwards towards the hill where the ‘haunted house’ was. As I looked, I blinked in disbelief. There, in the middle of the long field, were three black figures in long cloaks, moving slowly behind a herd of cows. The figures were dressed like reapers, each holding a long wooden staff, their faces hidden from view under their long, dark hoods. The cows did not seem to be afraid but wandered, unconcerned up the hill as the ‘zombies’ herded them slowly in the direction of the house.
Myself and the other children were going crazy, jumping, shrieking and pointing at the figures. The Midday Meals Supervisors looked very confused and worried as they tried to contain the hysterical mob. The one thing that really stuck in my mind was that the adults could not see the figures. I do remember asking if I could go over to the other side of the school field to get a better look. I was sharply told, “no” and as I was an obedient child, did as I was told. However, I longed to get closer, to see properly what these creatures were and what their faces looked like!
Soon, we were all hastily ushered inside, as we were so over-excited, and break-time was ended early. I reluctantly walked towards my classroom, keeping my eye on the figures all the way back until I got inside. I was desperate to carry on watching the Bradshaw ‘zombies’ from the window but unfortunately, we couldn’t see into the field properly from the classroom and, as I pressed my nose against the glass, straining to see around corners, I knew I would never forget this day for the rest of my life. I didn’t understand what we had seen but surely twenty children couldn’t be wrong?
As I grew up, the events of that day were put firmly to the back of my mind, and it wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that the memory of the Bradshaw ‘zombies’ would return to haunt me.
One Sunday, my friend Dee and I were walking back from my house when she suggested we go to have a cup of tea with her friend Alice. Dee told me that Alice’s dad owned the village farm shop.
We trooped up the hill to the farm and Dee led us through the farmyard to two small apartments built next to each other at the edge of the long field next to the school where I had attended. Alice’s dad had built them for her and her brother, so that they could have their own space when they were teenagers.
Alice answered the door immediately and led us into the small apartment. While she made us a cup of tea, I rifled through her book collection and spotted the book, Maribou Stork Nightmares, which I had always wanted to read. Alice kindly said that I could borrow her copy.
As we stood in her kitchen chatting, we gazed out onto the field, talking about nightmares, ghosts and such like. Alice told us that she believed in ghosts and how her dad had always encouraged her to trust her instincts, not stifling her imagination as a child. Looking out of the window, I realized that Alice’s flat was built right at the top end of the field which had played out such a disturbing scene in front of me all those years ago. Feeling slightly embarrassed, I told Alice about the so-called ‘group hallucination’ my friends and I had had in the school playground, describing the figures with their black hooded cloaks and wooden staffs, herding the cows to their death. Without a flinch, Alice looked at me straight in the eye and said, “oh yes, I see them all the time”……………….
Talk about a moment where your blood runs cold! I’ve never forgotten that moment, it’s etched on my memory forever.
Having since done further research on the hooded figures, I believe that what I saw are the Genii Cucullatti, which are said to be guardians of the land, fertility and children. They were worshipped by common folk in Celtic Britain and France. The reason they are said to wear the hoods is to shroud themselves from the eyes of those who do not possess the knowledge to truly understand their ritual power.