"Are ye proud of yerself, ya ninny!"
James Dunner was livid and not about to let his mate off the hook for what he saw as his total lack of good sense.
"I specially told ya NOT ta open ta caffin, until Matilda got 'ere to keep tings on the track. Now, 'tis awake and on the loose."
He would have said more, but Matilda McDonahugh poked her gray head into the shed.
"I come as fast as ever I could, lads."
She was panting as her thick body threw off waves of heat even as she entered.
She bustled into the dimly lit out-building belonging to old man Dunner.
He held a tiny croft near the village of Bailycline. Not much by way of a farmstead. His only livestock a few motley sheep, a dozen barren chickens, one lazy rooster and a milk cow he called, Bertie, after the Queen's adored husband.
"Now, what's all dis I been hearin' from the gossips? 'Bout yous two boys findin' a caffin in yonder woods? En why have ya sent fer these old bones? "
"Yer our onlyest hope, Matilda, a findin' dat ting as got out, afore it does some wickedness 'pon the village folk," James answered with sincerity spread across his face like butter on warm bread.
"Stuff 'n nonsense ya speak, James Dunner. I aint no sort a magic user, 'n dare's ta truth a it!"
James opened his mouth to respond to her denial, but his partner, Paddy O'Laughlin jumped into the verbal fray.
"Tis not us sayn' ye use dark arts, Matilda. Nay. Tis whispered 'ear 'n dare, 'bout ye sailn' ore' cottage 'n woodland, like a wee boat on dark waters! Tis said ye sit astride a black cat, screechin' like a horny owl!"
This lively conversation was only interrupted long enough for old Dunner to retrieve his jug from his cottage. This required shooing away the sheep, the cow and the lazy rooster, who seemed to sleep through every sunrise since he was hatched.
Returning to the shed, now even warmer with the bodies sitting around on various stools and barrels, the liquid was most welcome to the discussion.
"I can see ye 'ave a right badly perdikment lads, 'en because I know a wee bit a folk remedy, I ken lend a bit a help. Firstly, ye 'ave told me naught regardin' who ya found lien' in yonder caffin."
The long wooden box in question was leaning precariously against the back wall of the shed. It was obvious from the shattered lid, that it had been pried open none-to-gently. This occurred during Paddy's haste to retrieve any rings or baubles buried with the deceased.
The story he related to Matilda went like this; though he did leave out the part where he was scavenging for valuables.
"Tis like a dream, Matilda" he was saying with a wispy voice.
"James 'ere, left me wit the caffin, as e had ta look to findin' a crow bar, or ta like. We planned ta pry away the lid, ta see who twas rattlin' round in dare! Whilst e was off searchn', I taught I heard a scratchy kinda noise comin' from da box. It skart me plenty, I tell ya!
I woulda run ta fetch James back, but I knew it might be better ta see if 'twer a livin' bein' burried afore e's time!"
Paddy took a deep drink from the jug as it was passed to him from Matilda who herself had quaffed a good quarter of the heavy brew. James sat on his stool looking over at the empty coffin while listening to the tale. His eyes were only slightly more bleary that the story-tellers.
Paddy wiped froth from his lips on his rough woolen shirt.
"Well, I used me brute strength 'n tore open its lid, ta let in some fresh breeze don't ye know. I looked inside the hole and me breath clogged in me throat like mud on a pig! The bloody body were wrapped like a rag doll as far as I could see! I pulled away them other pieces 'n afore long, I was lookin' a a giant, wavin'' long rag-covered arms about en pullin' his own self out o ta caffin!
I near pissed meself I tell ya true and only me 'er to stop the raggedy brute!"
His two listeners were nodding their heads and making sounds of alarm and fear, but that was mostly due to the level of brew left in their jug.
"Ah, Paddy," Matilda finally said, leaving a loud hiccup to finish the comment.
"We need to find the rascal afore it can do a mischief!" James was slurring a tad, so the words sounding foreign to his friends who merely nodded knowingly.
"It appears ye do need me wee bit of magic lads! I'll be back in the shake of a lamb's tail."
Matilda rose from her perch to her plump, unsteady feet and exited the shed. Good to her analogy, she was back in a thrice of a wag, cradling a round iron pot with a heavy felt for a lid.
"This here is me own magic brew, laddies. It'll bring dat livin' dead creature back 'ear to 'is caffin. When 'e cums, we put 'im back into 'is box an carry it back ta where James found it."
They all nodded agreement with this fine plan and Matilda proceeded to remove the cloth cover. The contents of the black pot let off an odor so pungent the three gave a collective gasp. Matilda studied the faces of the two friends, speaking as from a pulpit said "Praps we'd best test a wee sip afore dat ting returns."
The villagers were holding their own search the next day when three of their folk seemingly disappeared in the night. They scoured the countryside, avoiding the deeper parts of the woods. No sense was seen covering ground none of the missing would have gone. A few searchers reported seeing flashes of white floating through the woods and thought again about chasing after such an enigma.
When one of the search party returned to the village for two hunting dogs to aid in the task, he passed directly by James Dunner's old shed.
He was taken with a vague, but unpleasant odor wafting out of its partially opened door. Approaching to investigate the source, he threw the door back and let out a scream.
Many of the other villagers were nearby and hearing the cry, came pelting back to the croft.
James, Paddy and Matilda sat on their barrels and stool, stiff as the boards around them. Each clutched their drinking cups like an owl would a mouse. Their eyes were fogged over with the vacancy of death, for which there was no outward cause.
The village constable and the doctor were called from a nearby town. Both said the trio "...looked like they'd seen sum kinda monster, or ghost." Besides the bugged out eyes, their mouths were all twisted in silent howls and screams.
The only bit of evidence found at the scene of the mysterious deaths, was some pieces of white rags clinging to the rough wood around the door. The constable named it a case of poisoning by a putrid batch of spirits, but the other crofters had a different take on the deaths.
Late in the day, when the sun colors their fields in purple and crimson, many a farmer has reported seeing a human-like form shambling through the surrounding woods, wearing long white rags around its body and limbs. If anyone knew the truth of the deaths, they were certainly keeping mum!