It was Sunday morning and Llandegla Parish Church was full. The congregation waited, patiently at first and then with increasing agitation when the rector did not appear to conduct the service. A boy was sent to the rectory to find the missing clergyman.
'The house is empty. There’s no one there,' said the boy, when he returned. The disappearance of the rector did not surprise everyone. He had recently seemed absent minded and confused. Villagers had seen the cleric wandering around the village muttering in a foreign tongue and chalking strange symbols on walls.
Superstitious folk said, 'The devil had stolen his mind;' other, more kindly people, 'That the rector must be ill.'
A search was made of the countryside but there was no trace of the clergyman. The rector’s clothes were hanging in his bedroom and all of his possessions were still at the rectory. Hearing of the disappearance, the bishop sent a canon to care for the spiritual needs of the parish and find out what had happened to the missing priest.
The canon moved into the rectory and unpacked his things. The rooms felt cold and dank. Strange satanic symbols were scrawled on the walls. He lit a fire to warm the house and opened some windows to air it. That night, while going up the stairs to bed, his candle flickered and went out. The canon felt his way slowly across the landing in the dark. Then, he heard a creaking noise. A door was opening but how could that be? He was alone in the house. Something pushed past him. Footsteps clattered down the stairs, the kitchen door slammed shut and then there was silence.
Once he reached his bedroom, the canon shut and locked the door. He lit a lamp and waited for another sound but the house stayed silent. It was in the early hours and the canon was asleep when a crash awoke him. He sat up in the darkness and stared into the gloom. There was another bang and cries of pain on the stairs. The screams of anguish continued until the morning sun peeped through the windows, then the house went quiet.
The canon searched the house from the attic to the cellar but found nothing untoward. The next night the canon heard more strange sounds but again, the following morning, the house fell silent.
'The house is cursed,' the people said.
'Fetch my prayer-book and bible from the church,' said the canon and held a service in the rectory to exorcise the spirit.
The next night a group of stout hearted parishioners stayed in the rectory. As it got dark the noises started again, much louder than before. The spirit was still in the house and seemed angry as it banged and thumped and shouted. The exorcism had not worked.
'Send for the conjuror Mr. Griffiths from Graianrhyd. He will know what to do. He will catch the devil,' said the postmaster, when he heard the news.
They fetched Mr. Griffiths to the rectory to lay the demon to rest. He walked from room to room, placing charms and chanting spells. He waited through the night until the spirit started to bang and yell. It was a fearful sound that made his heart turn cold. In the morning all was silent but Mr. Griffiths knew the demon was still residing in the house.
The next night, when the spirit went to work, the sounds were different. The banging was quieter and there were no screams of pain. Instead, there was a growling noise as if a huge dog had got into the rectory. Mr. Griffiths returned the following evening with more amulets and spells. Again, that night, there were strange sounds but instead of a dog’s growl he heard a cat spitting and hissing in the dark. Mr. Griffiths returned night after night. Each night the sounds were quieter and the animals he heard were smaller. One night Mr. Griffiths saw a rat. It ran across the landing and vanished. The next night a bat flew past his head.
'We will have the demon tonight,' said Mr. Griffiths the next evening. He opened a small wooden casket, put it on the landing floor and waited. Downstairs, something stirred in the darkness. A quiet hum reverberated though the house. The noise was growing louder. Mr. Griffiths could hear the frantic flapping of tiny wings. Something was flying up the stairs. The hum became a shrill buzz. Two glowing red eyes appeared. They were coming towards Mr. Griffiths. Suddenly a huge fly hit the ghost hunter in the face. Instinctively, he hit the insect with his hand, swatting it into the wooden box. He flicked the lid shut and turned the key in the lock. The angry fly repeatedly banged against the sides of the box but it could not escape its wooden prison.
In the morning, curious villagers watched as Mr. Griffiths carried the wooden box containing the spirit down to the river. The demon was still buzzing loudly as Mr. Griffiths buried the box in the river bed, near the bridge. The villagers helped him place a large stone over the box.
'If a tree grows from beneath this rock do not kill it. If you do, the spirit will be free to return and haunt again,' said Mr. Griffiths.
The following spring a strange sapling sprouted from the water. The people debated what to do with it.
'Poison it,' said one.
'Dig it up and burn it,' answered another.
'Remember Griffith’s words. The spirit would be free to return and haunt again,' reminded the sensible postmaster. They sent for Mr. Griffiths and asked for his advice.
'Let the strange tree live but its branches must never reach the parapet of the bridge. If it does, the demon will climb up from his watery prison and escape,' explained the ghost hunter.
Not wishing to have a demon in their village again, the people made a pledge to prune the tree each year. No one ever discovered what happened to the unfortunate missing clergyman. Had he been foolish enough to play with mysterious things that are best left alone? Is it the rector’s spirit that is locked beneath the rock at the bottom of the river? We shall never know but, even today, village children still snip branches off the tree to make sure the demon buried in the riverbed is kept secure inside his wooden prison.