Saturday, 9 June 2012

A Horror in York

Church Passage is but one of many narrow alleys and passages that link the main streets of the city. All of them are so narrow that only pedestrians may pass through them, and not a few are wide enough only for one person to pass at a time. They are known collectively as snickleways and together form a network of mazelike complexity running through the ancient city. They are generally thought to be of medieval origin, but probably date back to at least the Viking period.

It is in these narrow thoroughfares that the horrendous Barguest is said to lurk. This supernatural beast is generally said to be ill disposed toward humans, and some think that it is downright evil. It usually takes the form of a huge black dog, more like a donkey in size, that has a coat of shaggy black hair. It eyes are the worst aspect of the fearful hound, being as big and round as saucers and glowing red as hot coals as if with a deep inner fire. It is these eyes that are the mark of the Barguest and by which he may be recognised. Although it is usually said to take the form of a great black hound, the creature may appear in a variety of guises. It has been seen as a calf, as a horse and as a shapeless, shifting, slithering thing.

These days the snickleways are lit by electric light, but in years gone by they had no illumination at all except for that provided by the moon, stars or the travellers lantern. They must have been dark, eerie places at night - just the sort of area where a supernatural beast might roam. There are numerous stories told about the Barguest and its malevolent actions. It is generally held that if the Barguest pushes past you, then you are safe. But if it stops to look at you with its terrible, fear-inducing eyes then it has fixed upon you as a victim. Death, or at least serious misfortune, will not be far away.

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