It had started as a silly bet. Nothing more than typical male bravado. I suppose, in a way, we could blame John. John was our club secretary, had been for many years and he knew a lot about the history of the club. It was he who first told us about the haunted 13th hole Of course we scoffed. We’d heard of haunted houses or castles even pubs or shops but a haunted golf course that really was too daft to contemplate. It was obvious that John was slightly stung by our ridicule and one thing led to another and before we knew it, and several whiskies later, we agreed a bet. Two free annual memberships if we stayed at the hole all night.
It was three days later when we walked into the club bar for our usual after-round drink and John appeared to be exactly where we had left him tidying up behind the bar. Except this was not the confident, brash John we left behind that evening three days earlier. His face looked somehow more care-worn, he looked preoccupied and worried. His face changed, to one of some kind of hope, when he saw me and my friend and playing partner, Simon.
“There you two are. I’ve been hoping to catch you,” he said without preamble.
Normally he would have greeted us cheerily and said something that suggested he already knew what we would be drinking and making something of a joke about our predictability. But there was none of his usual friendliness today.
“I wanted a word with you,” he continued.
But before he could go further, Simon interrupted him.”Don’t think you’re going to weasel out of this. The arrangements have been made for this very evening. Bet’s on and don’t think about trying to put us off. Now get us our usual.” John opened his mouth as if to speak but he could tell from our faces it was useless. Our minds were made up and, although we didn’t know it, our fates were sealed.
Because of the layout of the course, formed as it was around farm and moorland, the 13th hole, after two long par fives, was the furthest from the clubhouse. At one corner of the course it felt the most exposed, the wildest of all the holes. Many, who had played it, remarked on feeling that nature had simply leased it to the club and could reclaim it at any time of its choosing. There had always been rumours in the club that something not quite proper had occurred when the land had been acquired. It was said that there had, apparently, been a certain amount of desperation on the club’s part to extend the course in order that it would continue to compete with those nearer the city. Adding the 12th hole had enabled them to achieve this plan. Truth be told though, the drift away from rural clubs like this one had not been halted and members had continued to leave and join more conveniently located courses.
It was never clear as to the exact nature of the mystery surrounding hole thirteen. There was even talk of an ancient burial site but there had never been any substance to these rumours. Either nobody knew or those who did weren’t talking. It surprised Simon and I when John had brought up the matter that evening but here we were walking towards the supposedly haunted 13th all because of the damned bet which John had tried to persuade us we should forget. Contrary to his advice, however, we had not. Our two free memberships would be won if we stayed for a full twelve hours over night. So on this early autumn evening just before the clocks went back, we walked towards the hole. It was just after six o’clock and it being late November it had been dark for some time. Needless to say the course was deserted
The evening had a distinct chill which seemed to increase the closer we got to the hole. Unlike the chattering of the birds which grew quieter then ceased all together. I shivered involuntarily and looked down the slope towards the hole. A few, now mostly leafless, trees backed the hole and beyond these lay only the barren moorland. I could hear what little wind there was whining softly through the trees. The clubhouse was more than a mile and a half away and completely hidden from our sight and although I had often thought before what a lonely spot this was, on this particular evening, it seemed a thousand miles from any kind of civilization.
I looked across at Simon, we had not spoken since we had started to walk down the long wide fairway of the 12th hole. His face looked grim and he rotated the ring on his finger in a fashion I had come to know well at times of stress. I supposed that, like me he was wishing he was at home in front of a blazing fire with a whisky in his hand.
We carried with us as many items, including a healthy supply of whisky, as we could which might help us make the discomforts of the night as bearable as possible. We had brought portable chairs and umbrellas in case of rain or as some protection against the wind should there be any. We had also carried sandwiches and coffee and a blanket each to wrap around us. We placed the chairs and our few, but vital, possessions just off the edge of the green. We wouldn’t be popular if we damaged the carefully-tended surface.
For a while we chatted freely enough, drank our coffee, ate our sandwiches, reminisced about past games and speculated about those to come. We probably carried on in this fashion for the better part of three or four hours. Then despite the chill and, it had to be said, the spookiness of the setting itself now that it had got completely dark and we had only the occasional light of our torches to illuminate this lonely spot, we fell quiet.
I must have fallen asleep despite my discomfort. I awoke with a start, picked up my torch and shone it on my watch. It was twenty minutes past midnight. I had probably been asleep for a couple of hours, perhaps slightly more. I looked across at Simon. His chair was empty. Probably needed a pee and purely out of polite instinct walked over to the trees. Strange thing to do I thought. It was then I noticed the mist. I supposed it was not uncommon for mists to gather in this modest hollow at this time of year. Nevertheless I was surprised that, given the rustling of the branches, the mist had not been in any way dispersed by the wind. The presence of the mist immediately made me feel cold and I reached for my whisky flask, unscrewed the top and took a large mouthful of the liquid. It tasted good and I calculated I had about half the flask left. I took another swig. There was still no sign of Simon. I called out to him but received no reply. I called again, louder this time. The same result. No reply.
Reluctantly, unwrapping the blanket from around my knees, I stood up. It was then that I saw the light. Had it been there all the time I wondered later. At first the light seemed formless simply hovering at the centre of the cold mist but as I looked more closely I saw that the light was in fact a beam and it was centred around the hole. The beam of light, which seemed to grow brighter by the moment, was now pulsating directly from the hole. But that wasn’t my main concern. My main concern was more immediate and much more frightening. The beam was, against all that was sensible or possible, sucking me towards the hole.
Against all my logic, I felt myself being pulled closer and closer towards the hole. I swear my arms were held out in front of me and my feet shuffled rather than walked across the smooth turf of the green. I tried to close my eyes but I could not. I tried to shield my eyes with my hands but they would not move from their horizontal position. The light grew bright and now completely focused on the hole. I could not resist, for some reason, the ridiculous thought that entered my head that I must look like a Dalek gliding across the green. I told myself this must be a dream and, in a moment, I would wake up and Simon would be suggesting hot coffee.
But the dream did not end and I moved smoothly towards what I now saw as my death. Somehow, some way I was going to be swallowed by the hole, taken to a world even now beneath my shuffling feet. An ancient burial ground as the stories had told. I had scoffed at the legend and now I would pay the price for my lack of respect. I moved to the hole.
I was no more than ten feet from the hole when my feet struck the flag. I hadn’t noticed that it was not upright in the hole as it should have been but was lying flat on the surface of the green as it would have been if we had been putting to finish the hole. Had I not been moving across the green in such a strange fashion I might have stepped right over it. The moment my feet struck the pole the spell or whatever had possessed me was broken, the beam of light disappeared immediately and more slowly the mist was sucked, as if by some giant vacuum cleaner, down into the hole. I stood for several seconds resisting the great urge to run as fast and as far as I could from this green.
There was still no sign of Simon. I still had my torch in my hand although I had not realised it. For some reason I could never explain I shone the torch on the flagpole.
It was then that I saw the ring, lying on its side on top of the fabric of the flag itself. I knew before I picked it up what I would find. I bent down, grasped the ring and placed it on the palm of my hand. It was Simon’s ring.
I called to him again but again, no answer. Then I lost it, all reason deserted me. I am ashamed to say that I did not walk around that green, nor look out on the moorland. I did not even stay to collect our possessions. In fact I half ran, half walked away from that sobering place. I stumbled along that fairway never looking back. With shaking hands I unlocked my car, which was parked next to Simon s. His car was still there but whether this was a good or a bad sign, I could not, at that point, say, nor did I care. I drove recklessly home. All I did was try and call him.
There was no answer from either Simon’s mobile or his home phone, I had not expected there would be. Wherever Simon was I doubted he was at home in bed waiting for my call. I would not call the police, not yet. I needed to be a little surer of my facts if there were any, before I did that. I lay on the couch, I did not want to disturb my wife and I knew there would be no sleep for me for the rest of that night and maybe not for many nights. In the morning I washed my face then, still wearing the same clothes, I left my house and drove to the golf course. I did not want to but I had to go back.
Simon’s car was where he had left it the night before. My heart sank, so he had not driven home after me. I opened the door with little enthusiasm, what was I going to say to John and the other members? I walked along the short corridor to the bar where I knew John would be serving coffee and bacon sandwiches to those early risers who preferred to get their round in first thing.
John was standing behind the bar. A group of four members sat in the far comer of the room where they could eat their sandwiches and look out over the course. I envied their apparent carefree state. There was one other person in the room. He was sitting on a stool at the bar. The person was Simon. I walked towards him a combination of relief and annoyance propelled me and I had started to speak to him while still a few yards away from him.
“Where the bloody hell have you been? I’ve been worried about you. Did you just decide you’d had enough and thought you’d just piss off and leave me there? You might have bloody well called me or something I thought you’d disappeared down the bloody hole.”
I suppose it took me several seconds to realise that Simon was making no reply to my rantings or indeed any sign at all that he had heard my questions. He had not moved at all. Until that is, until I mentioned the hole. With that he turned slowly on his stool and stared at me as if seeing me for this first time.
“Dave, how you doing?”
“How am I doing. Bloody strange question, Simon if I may say so.”
Simon looked at me, puzzled. I continued,
‘I suppose I’m doing about as well as can be expected considering I spent most of the night on a freezing golf course with a mate who pisses off and leaves me to the goblins or whatever we’ve got out there.”
I stopped, expecting a defence against my tirade, but none came, just the look of a man who appeared to be experiencing this one-sided conversation from the bottom of a well. Only his look of absolute sadness brought a halt to my anger.
He held my eyes for no more than a second then turned his head so that he was staring straight in front of him seemingly at the various bottles of spirits behind the bar. I looked at the side of his head. Whatever had happened to Simon I couldn’t begin to understand but I knew one thing – this was not the Simon I had known. This was not the same Simon who had been my golfing partner and friend for the past twelve years. I searched desperately for something to say. Something that would establish a bridge between us that might take us back to the people we once had been before our night on the twelfth green. My hand went, without thought, to my pocket and there my fingers wrapped around a small metal object- Simon’s ring. I looked at his hands that were gripping either side of his coffee mug so tightly his knuckles were white. There was no ring on either hand.
“Where’s your ring?” I asked gently.
He turned to look at me, puzzled again.
“What are you talking about?”
“Your ring, the one you’re always twiddling around on your finger, on your right hand.
Where is it?”
He reached instinctively for his ring finger and then a look for such incredible sadness came over his face I thought he was going to cry. He thrust his hands deep into his pockets and said.
“I must have left it at home.”
With that he fixed his face in an uncompromising stare.
“No, Simon,” I said gently. “You haven’t left it at home. You left it for me as a warning. I don’t know what you were warning me against or what hell you’ve been through since we last were together, but I know the ring saved me from the same fate. Here,” I said holding the ring out to him on my open hand, “take it.” He turned to look at me. He did not look down at the ring in my hand. Again the sadness on his face was so powerful I could not hold his gaze. I looked across at John. Whether he had heard our conversation I did not know. He shrugged his shoulders as if to say, I warned you, and then looked away. I turned back to Simon, the man I had known as Simon. This man spoke. “No,” he said, so quietly I could hardly hear him. “That’s not my ring.’ He paused, then barely above a whisper, he added one more word. “Anymore.”