A writer has joined us, welcome Gillian. Here is one of her stories.
Across the Moors.
The storm racketed around the valley, the torrents of rain rapidly making the road into a fast running river. Sarah wished she had taken James’ advice to go round by the main road, but she had looked at the map, and thought the road across the moor would be a more direct route to his parents. James was waiting there for her, and she desperately did not want to be late and make a bad first impression.
She stopped the car where the narrow road widened a little bit, beside an ancient tractor that had lost a wheel, and leant into the wind and rain like a injured animal. Sarah looked at her phone. Dammit! No signal here, of course. She saw a small cottage just a bit further up the road, with a faint light in the windpw. Perhaps there would be a phone there.
Terrified she would be washed away, she forced the door open and dashed towards the cottage. The door was opened by an elderly woman, who said
“Come in, my dear, you must be soaked”.
Thankfully, Sarah stepped over the threshold into a small room. The light was dim, but she was horrified to see rows of skulls grinning at her from shelves above a huge fireplace.
“You must have a cup of tea, my dear” the elderly woman said, “sit by the fire and get your feet warm. And give me your coat, I will hang it up to dry by the fire.”
Averting her gaze from the skulls, Sarah did as she was told, and the woman hung it on the long pointed finger of a malevolent imp with yellow eyes which acted as a hook.
“Do you have a telephone here?” Sarah asked, “I really need to phone my fiancée”.
“Telephone? Oh no my love, I don’t have anything like that. I use oil lamps, and water from the spring. I don’t have any electricity up here” It was now that Sarah realised she had left her bag and phone in the car, and the keys in the ignition. She prayed it would not get washed away, and leave her stranded and unable to get in touch with anyone.
“I see you’ve noticed my little friends” said the woman, gazing up at the skulls. Sarah forced herself to look, and saw that they were indeed very small skulls.
“They talk to me” the woman explained, “And I talk to them. It can get lonely up here, especially in the winter”.
By now Sarah was convinced she was in the clutches of a mad woman, and when the old woman went into the scullery at the back, remarking that she would make a cup of tea, Sarah quietly opened the front door and fled towards her car, leaving her shoes by the fire and her coat in the clutches of the imp. Thankfully, she dived into the car, did a very rapid turn round, skidding on the mud, and drove as fast as she could back down the road towards the town. Shaking, she drove into a garage, and picked up a coffee.
“Lost yer shoes then? Said the garage attendant, looking at her muddy feet. “Not surprised, if you ‘ad to get outta the car. Worst storm I ever known” and he looked quite pleased to be in the middle of such a storm.
When Sarah got to James’ parents, and admitted she had tried to cross the moor, he was very annoyed with her, but his parents were not so rude as to mention it, and the weekend went off fairly well.
The following Sunday, Sarah persuaded James to go with her to the cottage, to retrieve her coat, and possibly her shoes. James was inclined to disbelieve her whole story, though what she had got up to he really couldn’t think (not to account for her muddy and shoeless state, anyway) but eventually agreed to go with her.
They came to the broken tractor, and Sarah pointed to the gable end wall and chimney stack of the cottage.
“You sure this is the right place?” James asked. “Looks derelict to me”
As they got closer, Sarah could see that he was right. Most of the walls had fallen down, and the roof had tumbled in, scattering slates over the fallen beams.
“You’re living in a dream world” said James, turning back to the car, “there’s no cottage there, no old lady and certainly no skulls”, and he laughed and pushed her mockingly into a puddle.
Sarah took no notice, but went on to the cottage. There she climbed over what remained of the door, and looked round the little room. Nettles and scrubby bushes had pushed their way through the gaps, a shelf dangled askew from one bracket on a wall, and dirt and wet sooty stones filled the hearth.
But on the chimney breast, a malevolent imp with yellow eyes pointed with his long, curved finger, holding out a very wet coat for Sarah.
Two or three years later, when Sarah was married (NOT to James) and with a baby of her own, she told Mike, her husband, about her experience that stormy day.
“That old cottage up at the top of Deepside Cough? He asked. You want to ask my old Grandad about that. He was a farmer round those parts years ago. He’s 92 now, but as bright as a button, and would love to talk about the old days to you. I’ll take you over next time we go to Mum and Dad’s”.
Sarah asked the old man about the ruined cottage. Did ye know who had lived there?
“Us boys used to think that cottage was haunted” he said. “Dared each other to go up to the door and knock. No-one lived there then, the old lady died before I was born, but there was a lot of talk. And I think the Police were involved, but it was only that old Inspector George, couldn’t catch a thief if he trod on his foot, and he was in the pocket of our MP, that Sir Richard Fells. Useless old Tory Gentleman Farmer, they called him. Anyway, that old witch, She used to help girls that had gone off the rails, got in the family way, like. Sometimes she’d give them some sort of medicine, got rid of the baby, though I heard one or two girls were so ill they died, but she also took in babies that couldn’t be cared for otherwise. When the girls couldn’t keep them, or too many in one family, we was all very hard up in them days, and one more mouth……..” He paused and Sarah could see he was looking back into a past she could only try to imagine.
“Always said she had found homes for the babies. But no-one knew for certain. Police dug around a bit, but found nothing. But one of the bigger boys looked in the window, and said he saw skulls. ‘Course no one believed him, said he was making it up. And it all died down. I remember my father telling me about it, he farmed up there, I took over from him, but it was poor ground, and I had no reason to go to the cottage.
Why do you ask?”
Sarah could feel her stomach churning at the memory of what she had seen. She couldn’t speak, and felt quite weak.
“Sarah had a bit of a weird experience up there a couple of years ago, before I knew her,” Mike said.
“Seems she might have seen the ghost of the old lady, she went to the cottage in that dreadful storm a couple of years back. Nasty experience, wasn’t it, love?”
Sarah nodded, she couldn’t speak. She wanted to get back to her baby, and hold her tight to her.
The old man looked keenly at Sarah.
“Aye, I wouldn’t wonder” he said. “T’was a funny business, when alls said and done”.
And he leant back in his chair and closed his eyes.