Every Buentoilliçan knows not to go down to the coast in mid-to-late November at night. The sounds of ghosts are unmistakable, their strange hoots a squeals echoing off the cliffs and being cast out across the bay. There are little flickers of light, bright blue flickers here and there, barely noticeable; perhaps they are the energy that comes off these ghosts as they bump into each other? According to Buentoilliçan folklore these are all the unsettled spirits that inhabit the City, clamouring as they petition the boatman to take them to the Other Shore. Quite why the boatman is on the Buentoilliçan shores for a couple of weeks, starting tonight, is a matter that has never been settled; perhaps he is on holiday? Perhaps he awaits a special passenger?
If you were of a brave, foolish, or merely sceptical and curious disposition, you might choose to walk down to the coast, to see these ‘ghosts’ for yourself. Many have done this over the years, and few have come back with anything interesting to report; it seems that as soon as a human presence enters the coastline, the ghosts fall silent and hide away, yet from afar you can see their faint blue lights in the dark, and hear their voices, a chilling call often rising in unison, that strikes straight to the heart of any normal Buentoillitant.
There is no centrally organised response to the haunting tonight, no mass exorcism or ghost-laying, thought this is not to say that these things haven’t been tried over the years. There have been hundreds of attempts to lay the shoreline spirits to rest over the years, but none have ever succeeded; each year the ghosts are there once again, causing an unholy racket. There are, however, certain protective rituals undertaken by the City’s seaside residents, and by any fishers who are brave enough to venture out on the sea tonight. Above the windows, doorways and fireplaces of those in earshot of the terrible noises that emanate from the shore are placed wreaths of dried chilis or (more traditionally) thyme, both of which are thought to protect against errant ghosts. Others like to place mirrors in their windows, or hang black cloth behind them so that they appear to be mirrors from the outside. Another common trick is to place lines of salt beside routes of entry, or to rub lamb’s fat into door and window frames.
The edges of fishing vessels are specially painted with red zigzaging patterns before fishers set sail. These patterns allegedly confuse any ghosts trying to climb aboard, keeping them circling the boat, recursively looking for an entry point. Fishers are also known to sing special songs, such as ‘No Way Through’ designed to deter any ghosts from mistaking them for the boatman. A common tale told in the pubs that surround the Buentoilliçan seafront features a fisher who sings the song wrong, and sees three sets of ghostly hands grip the side of the boat. She grabs the oar and begins hitting them, but only succeeds in capsizing the boat. Then, in a comic twist, she is mistaken for a ghost herself when she tries to board her friend’s vessel in a similar manner.
The issue with all of these ghost-warding measures is that they are entirely pointless; there are no ghosts, only birds, spectral curlews to be precise. There is nothing truly ‘spectral’ about these migratory seabirds, and the name only came about because they’d been mistaken for ghosts for many years. The curlews are nocturnal creatures, which are excellent at hiding behind rocks and the like when approached by potential predators, rather than flying away like many other species. It is in this manner that they remained undiscovered for so many hundred years; it was only in 1822 with the invention of the electric torch that they were first discovered. Before, with simple hand lamps, those searching for the source of the noise had to get very close, and the spectral curlews heard them coming and managed to evade notice. The occasional bird may have been seen, but as they go deathly quiet in the presence of people, the connection may not have been made. As torches cast their light much further, the birds could be spotted together and watched whilst they made their strange calls.
And what of the flickers of ghostly light? Do these birds glow-in-the-dark? This was something of a mystery to scientists for a long time, as dead specimens didn’t exhibit any bioluminescent characteristics. This cast enough doubt on the bird theory that many maintained, and still maintain, their belief that the sounds and lights were ghosts. The birds must simply be attracted to their ethereal presence, folk thought. It wasn’t until the beginning of the last century that the flickers were explained, when it was discovered that the primary food of the spectral curlew was the piddock, a common clam that burrows into the rocks of the Buentoilliçan seashore, and which emits a faint glow when plucked out of its shell and squashed between the curlew’s long beak. Spectral curlews are specialised in digging the clams out from their burrows, a feat that few other animals are capable of. As such their diet is almost entirely comprised of piddocks, and they have to move on once they’ve depleted the population in any given area.
Still, tonight is the first night they’ll arrive on, and they usually stay for about two weeks before moving on. If you are the superstitious type you may wish to stay indoors for this time, away from any potential malign spirits. If, however, you are a bit more adventurous, you may wish to join the school science clubs that gather by the shore after nightfall with high-powered torches, trying to catch a glance of the shy spectres.
Other festivals happening today:
- Ferris Wheeler’s Day of Fun
- The Blinkered Ape Festival
- The Festival of Icy Water Wading