July 10th – The Festival of the Chattering Skeletons

Things are getting cooler today. Apparently the inevitable summer storm that ends the July heatwave will come this afternoon, so the folks sleeping in the parks will likely pack up and go home, or get very wet. Thankfully today’s main festival is held mainly underground, although there are concerns that it won’t happen at all, because of the shortness of this year’s heatwave. There is only one way to find out, really.

The chattering had probably been happening for a few years beforehand, but it was first noticed in 1932, when the heatwave was slightly earlier than usual, meaning that it could be heard before the children of Clifftop Secondary School had broken up for their summer holidays. In one of the small classrooms next to the sports hall, the children started complaining to their teacher, Mr Sotheman, who was partially deaf and at first didn’t notice it. When they persisted for longer than they would with a joke, he investigated, and found that the odd sound was coming from an air conditioning grate in the wall. It was very perplexing.

Mr Sotheman asked the caretaker, Miss Olpheri, a venerable personage who had been serving at the school for longer than anyone could remember, about the noise. She held her ear to the grate, nodded, and then led Mr Sotheman out of the classroom, around the corner to a door on the corridor that he had seen many times but had never thought much about where it led. Miss Olpheri wrangled with her large keyring for a few moments, then found the correct key and opened the door. Behind it a flight of steps led down into the darkness. The rattling could be heard more clearly now. ‘They built the school over an old crypt,’ said Olpheri.

This, apparently, was news to most of the teachers and school administrators. A few of those who had been there for longer had heard tell of a crypt beneath the school, but had thought that it was far underground, or some kind of urban myth. It seems that Olpheri was the only one who’d ever been down there, but her sight was failing her and she didn’t want to go down there again. After a few hours of deliberating, the sports teachers Douglas Trimshaw and Bettle Velair were thrust into the darkness with spirit lamps to investigate the source of the mysterious chattering noise. It came and went, and sounded like the rattling of bones. The teachers were down there for about 30 seconds, before they came running out, shouting about two skeletons sitting upright on their tombs, chattering to each other.

It didn’t take long for the story to spread to the student body, who generally found the whole thing terribly exciting. More than one child was found trying to pick the lock to the crypt, and rumours whipped around the school, gaining force as they did, like a summer storm. The two skeletons were students who got trapped down there, they were old teachers who were buried alive, they were a long-dead wife and husband arguing on their anniversary, they were twins who died on the same day but only given one grave, and who took turns once a year, chatting as they switched. Some of these rumours still float around the school today, even though the real cause of the chattering has been found.

On that first day, Miss Olpheri was scornful of the frightened sports teachers, telling them that those were just tombs. They had stone skeletons carved on their lids, sitting up as if they are in conversation. She told them to go back down there, but then the chattering stopped, a convenient excuse to lock the door and forget about the whole thing. The history teacher, Miss Yeltsam, looked up the crypt and found that it hosted the bodies of the Ambroise family, a once wealthy family who owned a fleet of fishing boats but who died out in the late 16th century. The two skeleton lids were those of Effy and Emelia, sisters who were always chatting together and wanted a fitting memorial. But none of this solved the chattering problem.

The noise didn’t reappear the next year, not that anyone expected it to, except children who believed some of the more fanciful stories surrounding the crypt. It wasn’t until three years later when the new caretaker, Kolarm Greede (Miss Olpheri sadly passed away), was doing some routine maintenance during the summer holidays, in the classroom where it was first heard, that the chattering was heard again. Greede had heard the stories, and (perhaps rather foolishly) went down to investigate. They heard the chattering, saw the stone coffins, but couldn’t find where the noise itself was coming from.

After the third instance, on a different day once again, folk worked out that the chattering happened at the end of the July heatwave, when the air turned colder in anticipation of the storm. Knowing this, it was the geography teacher, Mrs Beedle, who finally worked it out. Looking at the diagrams of the school’s construction, she worked out that the natural cavern in which the crypt was located lay directly beneath the playground, the asphalt laid over a very thin layer of rock. She also found, on the side of the cliff atop which Clifftop School sits, a small fissure which led directly into this natural cavern. With these two pieces of information she formulated a theory which, whilst technically unproven, is the best explanation of the chattering we have.

According to Beedle, in the July heatwave the asphalt is heated up tremendously, which in turn heats up the air in the cave below. Over the course of several days it gets rather hot inside the cave. When the air outside suddenly cools, the hot air from inside the cave, at a higher pressure, escapes through the fissure. Presumably there is a loose stone somewhere in the fissure which is agitated and causes the chattering sound. Because of her discovery, folk are no longer quite so scared to go down into the crypt and hear the chattering, which really does sound like it is coming from the skeleton statues, the fissure being located directly behind them. Today a few visitors will be allowed into the school, which broke up for the holidays at the start of last week, where they will listen to the strange chattering noise, and tell ghost stories in the half-light of their torches. They try their best not to disturb the two sisters and their kin, who, we hope, peacefully sleep in their stone caskets, regardless of the usual noise and ballgames happening above them.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Unborn Messiah
  • Crystal Prescription Service Day
  • The Festival of the Broken Tor