Postcards from the Wastelands: Pendle Hill

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Some years ago, on a whim, my partner and I travelled to Pendle Hill to watch the dawn. For those unfamiliar with the location it is famous for the trial and execution of the Pendle Witches. It was the dawn of Samhain, the time when it is said that the interface between the worlds of the living and those of the dead are at their thinest. It seemed like a good idea at the time but we should have known better.

 

We set off around midnight in our old citroen, reaching our goal at around 2.30am and parking on the side of the road. The night was clear and crisp as we pulled on our coats and stared up at the Hill, our breath creating cobwebs of mist.

 

The Hill was a dark and strangely looming presence, rising steeply up before us. In high spirits we began to climb, yet each step felt heavier, our breathing more laboured, the Hill more forbidding. The silence oppressive.

We had hardly climbed any distance at all, when the first wisps of wind could be seen silently rippling gently through the grasses, that covered the body of the hill. We started to hear a soft whispering sound approaching from around the side of the Hill.  It grew steadily in volume, whistling as it approached our position. Then, like a screaming Banshee, it tore past us in a single, chilling gust and moved off towards the town of Pendle, which could be observed in the near distance.

 

Disconcerted yet determined, we climbed ever higher as the strange gusts of wind seemed to increase with every step we took towards the summit. About half way up the hill, we stopped and sat looking out over Pendle and the plains to the East. We poured ourselves a steaming mug of coffee, infused it with a nip of cognac and took in the moonlit view.

 

“Listen….”

“Nothing…., no wind.”

 

Tapping the mug on a stone to dry it, we stood up and brushing the grass from our pants, turned to carry on. The first few steps seemed to alert the Banshee’s that we were moving again and the wind, started to blow once more but with increased icy ferocity. As each gust screamed past us we could hear more and more whispering voices and howls within it, sweeping down from above.

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To me, these high-pitched disembodied cries sounded like distraught female voices, though my partner would later describe them as, “wailing witches.” Either way, it was obvious to both of us that the Hill did not want us there. About a third of the way from the top we stopped, turned around and began to make our way back down the Hill as the gloaming began.

The trip to Pendle Hill, had been intended, as something of a laugh but it turned out to be something else. We hardly spoke a word to each other, on the return trip but personally, I’ve never forgotten those disembodied screams, as they tore down that lonely hillside and dissipated in the grassland below.

Death Dances in the shadows: Wyndwrayth Chapter 6 excerpt

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“I think that I prefer, “Wyndwrayth, rather than Wyndwryth,” Nick muttered into his beard and read on. The writer claimed that over the years, there had been many reports of a creature, occasionally seen on moonlit nights, flitting between the bushes in the undergrowth. However, when a search of the grounds had been undertaken by the staff, nothing had ever been found.  The author concluded that these stories regarding a haunting presence wandering around in the grounds, were just superstitious tales told to the families’ children, in order to scare them into being good at bedtime. Nevertheless intrigued, Nick read on. It appeared that many times the local children were told that if they made too much noise, the spirit of the lake would come and get them, carrying them away to its deep dark depths, never to be seen again! The description of this ‘shade,’ varied but it was nearly always described as small, thin and pale.

“Typical Celtic horror story,” murmured Nick, as an imagined vision flashed across his mind. “Jesus, I thought my parents were crazy! Those poor kids must have been utterly petrified.” There was more to read and research but right now, Nick fancied another joint before he ploughed on, “and a nice mug of Coffee wouldn’t go amiss right now,” he commented to Heddi, as he bookmarked the link and closed off the connection. He was two-thirds of the way through this latest information and after a relaxing break, he would be back at it, refreshed and raring to go.

Nowadays, his iPod contained close to five thousand titles, so the once simple act of choosing the correct music to match the moment, had become a lot more complicated. Calming down after a stint at Heddi’s wheel wasn’t the simplest of tasks, ‘Krautrock, or Classics?’ Nick asked himself as he made his way into the lounge, to roll another doobie. ‘Sit in front of the window, man and just take fifteen minutes to regroup before you carry on,’ his conscious mind said but it wasn’t going to be all that easy.

The house plans of Wyndwrayth, were his next topic on the list of exploration. The place had looked intriguingly constructed to Nick, as he’d stood in that entranceway with its knocker in his hand. Furthermore, there was that mysterious tower, rising up and piercing the ever-present single cloud of mist, hovering slightly above the roof of the main house.

Sitting in his recliner overlooking the lake, Nick took a sip of his coffee, waggled his foot to the music and lit his joint. The house, he mused, was around a thousand years old and it must have seen all sorts of changes in that time; ranging from the day that Olaf Gunderson had built his citadel to the dwelling abandoned by the bankrupt Richard Davis, who’d left the island, never to return in 1931. The island, it’s house, lake, lakeside land and properties had then been bought by the grandfather of the present Lord Cleaver, primarily for farming, just using the lake for its fishing rights. Its story was thus complete, nobody else had lived at ‘Y Wake Gwynt’ after the elegant but bankrupt Edwardian gentleman, departed at the start of the thirties.

In its time, the house had seen the fall of Llewelyn, the domination of Wales by the English and the bloody insurrection of Owen Glendower, followed by his mysterious disappearance. The Civil War, where a King lost his head and a huge empire was forged and then lost. Plus, two world wars, the first one had seen it turned into a hospice for returning shell shocked soldiers. “Now that’s what I call history! A citadel, a private home, a monastery and a hospice!” He excitedly exclaimed and slapped his hands down, hard on the leather armrest.

Nick couldn’t wait to get back to it but over the years, he had learnt to take things more slowly and steadily, rather than going at it like a bull in a china shop. ‘O.K, sit down, close your eyes and take in all that information. The house isn’t going anywhere, so just relax and anyway, what difference is an hour, or so going to make, really? You’re not getting paid for this one…..’

For twenty minutes, or so, Nick gazed across the water towards Ynys y Niwl, picturing the house sitting there on that island amidst the trees, brambles, thickets of bracken and lilac rhododendrons. The old Preseli, granite built house, ‘Wyndwrayth,’ had been deserted for decades and from what he had seen, would be for many more to come. It was hard to imagine Gayle and Harold renovating the place, or having it rebuilt as a restaurant, or something equally esoteric. ‘Wyndwrayth,’ in its brooding silence, fully occupied his mind and Nick found himself, both lost in the past and washed up in the stillness of the present. He’d learnt, that to get the most out of this kind of research work, it was often best to immerse yourself in the topic and just allow your imagination to roam free. Many time’s past, he had, using this method of transcendentalism, opened up whole new avenues of investigation, which from time to time, had resulted in a unique insight.

Later, back on Heddi, he opened section four of a house plan document, entitled ‘Inner Spaces.’ To his surprise, before him on the screen was a veritable maze of secret passageways, which appeared to lead from anywhere in the house, to anywhere else that you cared to go, without once being observed by anyone. ‘Wow! It’s like a honeycomb,’ Nick thought, observing there was barely a single wall which didn’t contain some form of hidden walkways or ‘priest hole.’

“I need some help here,” he murmured and Alan Turnbull’s name sprang into his mind. “He’ll know who to get hold of, so that I can start to understand the meaning of all these passageways.” Why such an intricate web should exist at all, was in itself a mystery, which Nick was determined to unravel the truth behind.

“This’ll be right up Alan’s street and it’ll give him something else to do, besides play with his train set,” he commented offhandedly to Heddi. “I’ll stick it in tonight’s e-mail and see what he makes of it.”

However, now Section five was catching his eye, it appeared to contain details regarding which levers to pull and buttons to press, to open and close all the hidden passageways distributed around this intriguing property. “Christ, it’s like a secret code. It’s going to take ages to decipher……. I need copies of all these plans,” he whispered. He searched around the cluttered desk, for some ink for his printer and loaded some paper.

This was simply exciting! Making sense of something, which on first viewing appeared to be utter indecipherable gibberish, was what Nick did best. His patience knew no bounds and he would dedicate vast swathes of time, to decrypting anything as enthralling as this was proving to be. ‘Looks like another double shift’s looming tonight, Mr. Swann,’ he thought as he reached for the print outs, grabbed a series of coloured pens and headed for his lazy boy. Resting his printouts on his lap tray, Nick settled into his leather recliner, turned towards the lake and started to use his coloured pens to trace pathways through the maze that was, Wyndwrayth.

 

 

Wyndwrayth: Gideon’s Journal 1538

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Journal 1538

May 19th 1536, was I can suppose, the day that The King totally lost his reason. So, now it is our turn to feel his guilt, manifest in slaughter. Nearly all the monasteries in Wales have been destroyed, by order of King Henry! Only a few of the Welsh Fathers have chosen to remain, fleeing the kings’ retribution by seeking sanctuary on pin pricks of rock, like Ynys y Niwl.

Being forced to pass my days on this island, means there is some delay in the receipt of news of the world beyond. Only when somebody, usually another member of the same Order, reaches The Monastery that I hear any information about distant parts, it’s frustrating…

Indeed, it’s taken a couple of years for me to hear that King Henry has executed Queen Anne; chopped her head off no less!  If it wasn’t for that wet and bedraggled Monk in a faded blue cassock, who washed up on the island three days ago, I’d still be none the wiser. The Abbot doesn’t realise how much his fellow Brother’s like to gossip and I like to listen. However, those papist Monks who sought sanctuary in this old Viking refuge of Wyndwrayth, have mostly found only death, at the hands of Millar. I suppose I should have at least a modicum of sympathy for these poor souls but I don’t, the centuries of his slaughter have taken a toll on what little humanity I ever had.

The ‘Dissolution of the Monasteries’ continues apace. Millar finds times like these, stimulating but I can hear the fear spreading by whispers in the cloister. Everybody knows that Henry’s men will be arriving on the shores of Llyn Isaf before the summer ends and then, what will be left of this place?

So much for the mercy of their Lord. If he exists at all?

I have read many of the brethren’s holiest books and concluded they are simply folk tales, like parents recite to their children, in essence, to teach and frighten them into obedience. They would have done better, to frighten them by telling them tales about The Millar of Souls, at least he is real! When all is said and done, their Bible is like many other holy books. Mystery meets cruelty in a clash of unprovable events and long forgotten people, in the hope of giving birth to another religious movement to challenge the power and orthodoxy of the last doctrine.

My years have taught me, that this process usually ends up with many more dead than both sides can afford to lose. Civil wars and conflicts often herald the decline of their civilisation. It seems this latest argument of power is between two codes of the same fantasy religion, ridiculous! 

*

 I rarely see Millar these days and in truth, I am not aware of what he does for the majority of the time, up there in his tower room. When the Monks were slaughtered by the King’s men and they left the island with their plunder, he seized that feature of Wyndwrayth for himself. He pleasured himself creating a couple of slaughter rooms, practically placed and within easily accessible locations in the tower.

I am becoming aware of his growing agitation, which usually indicates he smells the approach of a death and hence the opportunity to feed. Over the long years that I have been his guardian, I have learnt that this is the point where I have to keep my wits about me and be ever more vigilant. Up until now, I have found no limit to the true depths of his depravity. With each life he takes, he not only grows stronger but larger and more formidable. It is my place to keep control of him, to contain his size and strength, thus preventing his free reign of terror being unleashed upon the earth.

Well, at least I have a good spot to bury the corpses where the soil is soft and mercifully deep. I did try to keep score once but it all became far too pointless, so these days I just make educated guesses. My latest best guess is 410 souls, accumulated over our time on Ynys y Niwl. I’ve considered those numbers for quite a while and upon reflection, 410 is not too high a number for the years. So, maybe I’m not doing too bad a job when it comes to keeping the barrel lid on Millar’s homicidal tendencies.

I have realised during the passing of these endless years, Millar and myself are inexorably bound together, in a form of mutual dependency. The world we inhabit together, lies somewhere between ‘tick and tock.’ Neither in this world, nor out of it, neither alive nor dead.  An empty space furnished by imagination. We are sustained by Millar’s life force, which in turn is fed by his rather disgusting delight in slaughtering the innocent, preferably as slowly as possible, to extract the most horror and pain from his victims. He is like some monstrous, hairless, yet slimy feline, toying with his prey.

Millar seems content to live in his imaginary world within the tower, furnished by those memories of the souls he has taken. Over the years my skills at their manipulation has increased. I can now conjure up people for him to order and dispatch again and again. Those poor tormented souls will never be released.

 

**

 

Wyndwrayth: Chapter 5 excerpt

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Sitting on his bed, Nick looked down at his little gut, which was slightly protruding from his splayed open dressing gown and sighed,

“Well this won’t do,” he casually observed and rose to go to the double wardrobe and choose some more useful clothing. He didn’t really have much choice to pick from, because whenever Nick found something comfortable and easy to wear, he had a rather annoying habit of buying several of the item and storing them in his giant wooden dresser. He reached into the nest of coat hangers and selected a washed-out denim shirt and a pair of soft blue elephant cords. ‘Hmm, jacket, or waistcoat,’ he mused and without much delay, withdrew his much-favoured leather bomber jacket, gave it a quick shake and then threw it on the bed.

“May I suggest, that Sir might like to complement this look, with a nice soft scarf, or maybe a hat of some kind?” He said, self mockingly and struck a hard man pose, one which Robert Mapplethorpe would have been pleased with. The whole concept made him chuckle, even as he attempted to see which of his options, best suited the planned day ahead.

“Well Sir, we’ve got a rather fetching blue scarf, or perhaps I can tempt Sir, with a navy cap?”

He was snapped back into reality, by the scrunching sound of a vehicle pulling into the car park by the lakeside. Out of sheer nosiness, Nick moved over to the bedroom window and getting up on his tip toes, just managed to see the top edge of the rest area. His restricted view didn’t stop him observing the arrival of Lady Cleaver in a Range Rover, which immediately decanted one of their farm workers. Nick lost track of him as he appeared to move towards the old Land Rover with box trailer, the one he’d noticed on his way to the pub last night. A moment or two later, he watched as Lady Cleaver left the car park in the Range Rover and sped off towards Kornwy village.

“You fancy a morning joint, eh Nickle-arse?” He asked himself, as he applied todays liberal ‘splash’ of patchouli oil to his wrists. “Just a little touch of ‘Hippie Juice’ for good luck,” he added, as he rubbed another dab of the Indian scent on his neck. “Yes! And why not,” he both asked and answered his own question as he headed downstairs to pour his coffee and roll a doobie.

Fully prepared he parked his arse on the leather seat in front of Heddi, ‘Now to see about that e-mail,’ he thought, taking another toke on his Joint. The communication, turned out to be Alan T’s monthly update on his life and as usual, Nick took the time to read it fully. ‘Altorro,’ had been following this particular path of writing a sort of blow, by blow account of his life, ever since Nick had relocated to Anglesey. He seemed determined, that they should never lose touch with each other again. So, they wrote and tried to get together for a natter, at least once a year. A task made much easier since Alan had changed his day job, from Head Honcho at The Central Library, to what he referred to as, The Chief Engineer on The Snowdon Mountain Railway.

‘I’ll write back tomorrow, man,’ he silently promised. There was also a piece of junk from somebody offering him an ‘Amazing Diet,’ which he summarily deleted after it made him think of hot crumpets. Nick headed for his bread bin, only to find his stash of crumpets had gone mouldy. ‘Dammit Nick, what a wastrel,’ he thought. ‘Hmm I bet I know who’ll have some and it’s a while since I caught up on the local gossip.  Maybe she knows about this Land Rover……Yes! Time for a trip to the Heath House!’ Nick threw on his Patchouli infested leather jacket, as he walked through the door.

Nearing the car park, he spotted the single bloke delivered by Lady Cleaver, in his overalls standing by the Land Rover, with its empty trailer still attached.

“Won’t start eh?” He offered, not waiting for an answer. “It’s the damp. It gets into everything around here.” The some-time mechanic, smiled back at him and muttered something about “damp starter plugs,” to which Nick simply offered, “I know the feeling,” continuing on his way with a wave.

Buckie spotted him and started barking as he opened the garden gate. “Not got anything for you today, I’m just looking for a drink this time…and a few crumpets.” The words had barely left his mouth, when Gayle opened the top of the door and called out,

“Black, two sugars? I’ve got some crumpets toasting if you want?” He’d been miles away and her intrusion, made him jump.

“Shit Gayle, you trying to kill me, or what?” he enquired, laughingly. “And the answer’s yes….., to both.” Nick called back, whilst rolling Buckie around on the grass and stroking his stomach.

Gayle soon appeared with the tray of crumpets and coffee, setting it down in the conseravatory and opening the door for him to come and sit with her. “Looks like this is our lucky day, old son,” he confided to Buckie, “play your cards right and we’ll both be winners,” he said quietly to the upside-down Cairn, who just continued squirming and wagging his tail.

“I knew you wouldn’t be far away, when I saw them come around to fix the Land Rover,” and before he was able to respond, she went on, “I called that bitch Lady Cleaver about it this morning. Knew it was one of theirs. That’s our car park and the new sign clearly says, ‘No Overnight Stays!’” She pulled a face, “They still act like they own the whole place.”

Gayle and Harold had bought their place from the Cleavers five years ago, on the understanding that they were going to sell the lake with the island and that the Heath’s, would have first refusal. They had spent a lot of money knocking down the old farmhouse and erecting their modern lakeside palace, in anticipation of purchasing the lake with the island and turning it into an exclusive hotel. Then, the Cleavers had announced that they had no intention of selling the lake, much to the annoyance of both Gayle and Harold.

“Do you think there’s something untoward going on, with Cuthbert down at the lake?” She asked and indicated to the car park, with her thumb.

“No, the man’s an idiot. I think we can forget about Cuthbert,” scoffed Nick, stuffing a crumpet in his mouth.

“Well, what about the Land Rover?” She replied curiously. Even though he couldn’t see the vehicle from here, he pointed out to her that the farm ‘mechanic’ was getting it started and it would soon be gone. “Hmm, I suppose so but you can’t be too careful these days…. ‘n anyway, I wouldn’t believe what that bitch said!” She retorted and sat back to drink her coffee.

“OK, what she said was probably true. It was just a problem getting it started after one of the farmhands stopped for a break, after delivering some sheep to one of the fields.” She sighed resignedly.

“Well there’s an empty trailer attached to the back of it you know,” he commented, reassuringly. “It would fit four sheep in nicely,” he added and smiled at Gayle, knowingly. Just at that moment there was the sound of an engine firing up and a pall of black smoke rose into the air. Moments later, they saw the offending vehicle heading off towards the Cleavers Estate dragging its empty trailer. Nick finished his last bite of crumpet, swilled it down with a final gulp of coffee and laid the empty mug, carefully on its provided coaster. Getting to his feet, he mumbled something about, “e-mailing one of his colleagues” and made his way directly towards the gate.

“Thanks for the refreshments, Gayle, I was just being nosey, that’s all,” he said as the gate swung open.

“I know you were and before you ask, yes, it was that obvious.” A now chagrined Nick, comically hung his head and purposefully winced,

“Oooh, right between the eyes, show a little mercy, won’t you?”

He was soon back home, still trying to put the remainder of his day into some sort of order. ‘Now for that e-mail,’ he thought and turned ‘Heddi’ on. ‘Hmm, joint first, Alan second,’ he added, rolled a quick one and lit it, before looking out of the window towards Ynys y Niwl and its mysterious mansion.

“It must have been nice living there once upon a time,” he opined. “All that quiet solitude and nothing to disturb the peace……” Nick continued privately postulating. ‘Bet he was an author,’ he mused, imaginatively filling in the gaps in his knowledge…“OK Altorro, let’s see what you’ve been up to then,” he commented as he headed back to the computer.

“Rack and Pinion y’all,” read the header, so as far as he could discern, it was genuine. “Yo bitch, how yer doin?” It read in utter comedic excess. “This bitch is doing fine,” Nick responded, in character as he sat down and reached for the ashtray. Alan’s frequent correspondences, which usually arrived at the start of each month, always had one thing going for them; they invariably had a solid vein of humour and intelligence running throughout. Plus, they always contained at least one intriguing concept to consider, or argue over if it came to it. During their school days, Nick and Alan Turnbull had been both bosom buddies and the bitterest of enemies, over some minor, though crucially important point of principal, be it political or ethical. Nick sat back in his chair, took a toke and read on. The next sentence, once again let him know, why Altorro and he had been friends for all these years. It simply read, “Mr. Swann, put down that joint and pay attention.” Nick, smiled affectionately and almost silently muttered,

“Fuck, am I that easy to predict?” Then, took another drag and began reading the e-mail carefully.

It seemed, that this year’s visit to Anglesey, which normally happened in the space between Santa calling and Hogmanay, was going to be delayed until mid-January because of Alan’s commitments to the railway.

“Funny, I was going to suggest that to you, when you called round,” Nick quietly said to the mail, on his screen. Then, so he wouldn’t forget, he made a note and stuck it on Heddi, for future use. ‘There’s too much going on at Christmas and things always seem to be rushed. If you call around, roughly on my birthday, you could stay here for a few days.’ Happy with that, he carried on reading and learnt all about what Alan was planning to do in his back garden. Then he ran across the question Alan wanted his opinion on: ‘Did he think, that there were too many Herons around for him to think of a pond with fish in it, or would that be simply too tempting for the beggars?’ Just exactly why Altorro thought he should know the answer to this one, was anyone’s guess. It was not a part of his everyday knowledge and was going to need some looking into before he replied, which was going to have to wait at least until this evening.

Nick’s Sunday’s had a certain routine and this one, had already been disrupted enough by his visit to Gayle’s. Normally, after Saturday night in The Poacher’s and a late get up in the morning, the day had planned itself. A bit of politics over the crumpets, followed by a game of Footie on the box and some relaxing music, while he planned for the week ahead. Any e-mailing of clients, or Alan in this case, was usually done after dinner, while some riveting serialised shit, was playing out in the background, on the T.V. He looked at his wrist watch, just to check the time, ‘two minutes to three, excellent!’ He picked up the stashbox, made his way into the lounge and turned the television on.

Due to his foresight in recording the game, he would not have to put up with the half time break, or the inane language and idiotic statements of the pundits. With the press of a button, half time would be eliminated and the game would continue unabated. Concentration was not something that normally worried Nick on a Sunday but the much-anticipated game, turned out to be a cold squib, dominated by two defences that totally stymied both attacks.

“Well this is tedious, they should have offered these idiots a point each and sent them home,” he commented with twenty minutes still on the clock. Nick thought about turning the game off but instead, chose to mute the sound and put the stereo on. “Best of both worlds,” he commented to nobody in particular and sat himself down again. ‘I could always have a look, for the name of that house,’ Nick proposed, as he rose and made his way over to the window. As he approached, the island came more clearly into view and he stopped to take a good look at Ynys y Niwl, floating on the calm water.

“Let’s check you out….” Nick, muttered and moved to the computer. He typed the name of the island into the search engine section and clicked. It was the fifth topic raised, after all the translation tools and Wikipedia entries had been discounted. ‘Ynys y Niwl. Unpopulated island on Llyn Isaf in Anglesey.’ Was all that the search engine could come up with.

However, further down the listings, there was more. Like the Welsh to English translation and its various meanings. Disappointingly, there seemed to be nothing that may lead to information about the forgotten house. Just as Nick was about to lose interest and go back to the boring football match, a map came to his attention. Again, he clicked and lo and behold, when the thing popped up, it was an old surveyors ground plan from 1726, which had been submitted when new owners had applied to alter its name from Wyndwrayth, to the Welsh, Y Wake Gwynt.

“Yes,” he exclaimed, “there it is, Y Wake Gwynt! That’s the name of the place” Now, Nick was intrigued. He had been living on Anglesey for over three years and had picked up quite a bit of the Welsh language but ‘Wyndwrayth,’ was a different tongue. “I wonder what the origin of that one is,” he asked the empty room and yawned. “Oof, time to relax,” he commented, stretching.

‘Wyndwrayth, can wait until this evening, along with the e-mail to Alan,’ he decided.  It would be an interesting item to raise later and it just might give him something to get his teeth into. Feeling well satisfied with himself, Nick clicked ‘Heddi’ off and sat himself down once more, in front of the television, reached over for the Cognac decanter and his stashbox.

“Ahh, it’s Sunday ‘n you done good, kid,” he said to himself, in a terrible Brooklyn accent, as he poured three fingers of the brown liquid into his glass. Then between sips, he stuck the cigarette papers together and placed them on the lid, before loading and rolling the doobie. ‘Two birds with one stone,’ he thought as he took a sip, then lit the joint and closed his eyes, letting the music carry him away, on an aromatic cloud.

 

**

 

Death Dances in the Shadows: Wyndwrayth – Excerpt from Gideon’s Journal.

The year 1349?

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During the past few decades, I have made an effort to talk with Millar. Several things have been clarified for me, mostly concerning life, or as I should more aptly call it in our case, living death. The years pass and although I seem to age very slowly, Millar on the other hand, ages normally for him, an immortal. In a conversation that we had last spring, he casually estimated that he was over 4,500 earth years old but he could not be sure, as time has no meaning when you’re immortal. However, it did give me the knowledge that my position as Millar’s guardian, was far from unique. When I asked him about this, he clarified the situation by guessing that I was the tenth, or maybe eleventh holder of this role.

“Never mind,” he added, “You can console yourself with the fact, that you will die one day but not until you have fulfilled your part of the bargain you struck with my Father.”

I am not sure he tells the truth about the number of previous guardians, Millar lies for fun. After all, if they had lasted 1,000 years each, as in my own bargain, then that would mean a maximum of 4 previous guardians, as he was a young adult when sent here in punishment. Then I think what do I know, demons are notoriously manipulative.  Maybe they struck shorter deals, or maybe Millar got so strong he destroyed them? It is worrying to be sure.

Millar is hard to like and I’m unfortunately stuck with him, for Odin knows how long but not more than a thousand years. I tried to trick him by asking him how long will I live. He just laughed mockingly and said:

“You Gideon, are to be my nursemaid,” he said sarcastically. He was laughing, on and off, for the next few days. Sometimes I could hear him chuckling, if such a thing is possible, somewhere from within in the copse of Lime tree’s. Eventually I asked him what was so funny about my question. His answer chilled me to my core.

“Well then,” he hissed. “How long do you think you’ve been stuck here on this godforsaken rock?” That was a very pertinent question, for as hard as I attempted to remember some event I could at least lock onto, the more the memory slipped away into the mists of time.

“Do you want me to tell you?” Millar said, looking out over the lake and grinning. Then somehow, he turned up the menace level and for the first time in god knows how long, I felt an essence of fear.

“You can’t remember, can you,” he sarcastically stated and repeated his question, revelling in my fear and confusion. “Come on then, give me an answer, or I’ll tell you,” Millar hissed and drew close to me, his foul breath flooding my nostrils and almost making me gag. “Three hundred and thirty-three long years and now something deadly, is coming this way.” He grinned widely and began to drool.

I suspected that he was just attempting to rattle my chains and spat back at him:

“How can you possibly know that?” I asked, sharply.

“I can smell it on the wind,” he idiosyncratically replied and then fell silent. Millar sat there and continued to look out, towards the far lake shore as if expecting something. Although I didn’t know what it was that I was looking for, I too crouched down and stared out across Llyn Isaf.

“There’s Plague on the far shore,” Millar said, with a distinctly twisted smile on his face, “and soon it will be here and we shall feast!” He said it with an alarming surety and more than a touch of glee in his voice. It was a tone, which I didn’t have the will to counter and the brethren would be left to pay the price.

*

Over the years, I have learnt through experience, that when Millar says “we,” much of the time, he is talking about himself alone. Looking back, I have seen many of these, so-called attacks of Plague, in many places and I fully expect this latest one will be nothing like as bad as the doomsayers predict. I don’t doubt, that many of the deformed, or those who have been weakened by age, along with some of the very young, will undoubtedly perish in its grip. However, I don’t see this island community having much to worry about. The Christian Monks have absolute control, when it comes to who’s allowed to set foot on Ynys y Niwl and they will protect the community, from the pestilence.

Millar is an uncaring and selfish creature. I don’t know exactly what it was he ate last night but eventually, after several hours of invisible, yet nevertheless continual consumption and just as I thought my stomach would burst, thankfully he stopped. I got the distinct impression, that he was out there, in those trees, which border the grassy hill. So, I went and took a squint at what he was up to these days….

*

I’ve just seen the remains of our shared meal and now I can’t dismiss the disgusting image of it, from my mind. I was just about to finish the setting of the fish traps, my lips craving their taste. After all, I reasoned, a small meal of my own wouldn’t make much difference to Millar’s growth, when I turned the corner by the great oak tree and tripped over what I naturally thought was one of its mighty roots. It wasn’t. It was the butchered body of some pilgrim who had made it no further than the shoreline, in his quest to pray with The Holy Father’s and that way, seek absolution.

The body was brutally mutilated, drained and discarded, once it had served its primary purpose. Great chunks of flesh had been ripped from the corpse and what remained, was simply left for the crows to feast upon. They had certainly taken their share of the spoils, beginning with the eyes.

However, it was the black pustules, which could clearly be seen on the remaining skin, that were the biggest distraction. The man was a plague victim and Millar had eaten much of the corrupted flesh, straight off the bones.

The prospect of devouring Plague victims, revolts me to my stomach but Millar insists that I’ll be ‘thankful for any such morsels’ by the time this Pestilence is over. I can but hope, that he’s wrong.

Death Dances in the Shadows: Wyndwrayth Chapter 3 excerpt.

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At first, Stuart thought he saw something move in the mirk below but he couldn’t be sure at this distance. He stood there frozen to the spot, as he peered into the shadows, senses on alert, trying to verify his perceived vision. ‘Did I imagine that, or is there really something down there,’ he mused and exhaled. He was about to give up and move along the landing, to the next room, when something caught his eye in the corner, by the bottom of the staircase. ‘It’s a dog, or something,’ his mind said to him but it inconveniently added a rider. ‘Yes, fine but whose dog would that be, on a deserted island?’ Now his imagination went into overdrive for a moment, running every unlikely scenario it could conjure: ‘It’s a Werewolf, a Morlock, or the Devil himself,’ his racing mind suggested before he regained control of its wilder flights of fancy. ‘Get a fucking grip Stuart, it’s most likely just the wind, blowing loose leaves around, or a rat….. most likely. So, let’s get on with it and get back to the tent, for something to eat and stick a plaster on this thumb.’

The thought of food seemed to have the desired effect.  He moved on down the landing, checking door handles and giving doors a swift kick. The third door remained the only one to open as he approached a small wooden door unlike the rest. ‘Hmm maybe to the tower? Bet it’s locked.’ Despite the threat of an imaginary Werewolf, Stuart was finding this investigation of the old house, quite exciting and secretly hoped this one would open, so he could climb up to the top of the tower.

“Now let’s see what secrets lie beyond that final door,” he impatiently grunted. ‘There must be something in the air, a spore, or something like that but my imagination’s just running riot in this place,’ Stuart thought, as he slowly reached down for the final handle, which looked well worn. Then, he noticed an old key in its lock.  It moved smoothly, releasing the levers with a barely perceptible ‘clunk.’ He grasped the well-used brass door knob and turned it.

“Open Sesame Bun,” he demanded as he turned it. Surprisingly, the door slid smoothly open, as if it had been well oiled, for many years. As it opened a wave of warm humid air rushed eagerly over him. Suddenly, Stuart felt he was doing something wrong by entering the tower uninvited. He quickly scanned the area to make sure that nobody was watching, before he took the first step inside.

He stood, transfixed by the sight of a spiralling stairway, ascending into the semi darkness. For a moment a faint green glow emanated from above, then was extinguished. ‘What….!?’ He clicked his torch on and shone it upwards….. ‘Nothing. I must have imagined it….. this place is getting to me,’ he thought.

He only had two choices, go upwards, or leave, re-locking the door, hoping against hope that it would be enough to keep a pack of inquisitive Scouts out. He wavered, ‘You’re here now, so don’t hang around, just get on with it and climb, unless you want to come back tomorrow?’ He looked at the cold dark grey steps, as they made their way up the tower. ‘You could always go and have a look at Room 3 and knock it on the head until tomorrow, it’s not like you’re camped miles away.’ He looked at his watch, it was later than he thought.  The time seemed to have raced while he’d stood still and it was already becoming gloomy. There’s no rush, Stu,’ he interceded forcefully, ‘time to retire to the tent and return in the morning, after breakfast, all bright eyed and bushy tailed.  After all, you’ve got the downstairs to check out yet…’

Argument over, Stuart turned, stepped out onto the landing, closed and locked the door behind him. By the time he reached outside, night was almost upon him and he struggled to find his way along the path to his tent, getting snagged by several brambles along the way. Then he emerged into the frosty light of the rising moon, which lay upon the glade, illuminating his tent.

“Full tonight,” he stated and turned to have one final look at tomorrow’s target, the tower, which was now bathed in a cold silvery light of gossamer mists, ascending into the crisp dark blue air of another clear, moonlit night sky.

 

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Death Dances in the Shadows: Wyndwrayth – Chapter 2 excerpt

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During this last summer, he’d spent a great deal of time, fishing from this boat, holding one sided conversations with ‘her’ and as a bonus, he’d also eaten an awful lot of Trout for his evening meals. However, today the rods had been left at home and the maps had come out.

“Different kind of thing today,” he informed her, as he climbed aboard and put his rucksack down in a secure place, still easily accessible from the ‘Captain’s Chair.’ Nick had set his own rules, ‘for conducting oneself on the water’ and as pretentious as that was, the humour that it engendered was worth it. There were only three boats that plied the lake and they were rarely on the water together but that made no difference.

“Standards have to be maintained,” he said loudly, as Venezuela sedately made her way out of the boathouse at 5 miles per hour, with him standing stiffly, like some kind of crazy figurehead, jokingly giving the stiff right armed Nazi salute.

Ahead lay Fog Island and for some unknown reason, his heart was beating a little bit faster as the mist shrouded island drew ever closer. He had to circle the island carefully twice before he found a spot to tie up on.  There was nowhere remotely possible except on it’s far side, facing the sheer cliffs rising from the lake. Even the spot he’d found meant he’d have to leap for it……. Giving himself the customary one wet foot:

“Shit!”

When he was sure that everything was secured, he grabbed the rucksack, with its map and provisions, slung it across his shoulders and headed in shore. At the tree line Nick turned and cast a look back across the lake towards the dark, forbidding escarpment before setting off into:

“The dark interior of Fog Island,”

for which he employed a really rough Glaswegian accent, then laughed. Here he was, a mere eight hundred yards across the watery surface from his boathouse but at this moment, it could have been measured in years. A shudder of childish excitement rippled through his body. He recalled the dull glow of light he’d imagined he saw last night, coming from a source deep inside this green and tangled domain. 

“Well, it’s hardly darkest Africa but it is equally deserted, or so I’m led to believe.” The Glaswegian had spoken again and it was now, that Nick realised he would be with him on the island, all day.

He’d barely taken half a dozen steps, when he ran up against the first major problem. Fallen trees and thick vines, seemingly blocked his way at every turn. He quickly realised that he was going to have to walk along the narrow shoreline of pebbles, which dropped steeply away into the lakes depths, until he could find a track that led inland.

“Inland, to what?” He cried out loud, as it seemed to him there was no break in the unforgiving foliage. Fog Island was quite large, as far as lake islands went, measuring roughly eight hundred yards in length, by two hundred and fifty, in width. Nick reckoned that he must have already covered at least half of its length by now, without seeing anything which promised him an easier path into the centre. He was about to give up and head back to Venezuela, when he spied a narrow gap in the tangle of tree limbs and creeping vines.

“Hmm,” he muttered. “Don’t get your hopes up, Nicolas, it’s probably just an animal track,” he said and then, suddenly stopped when he realised it was too wide for a rodent or bird. The island was supposed to be uninhabited and if that was so, how did the whatever it was that made the track, get here? He looked back along the trail, that he’d just taken, to the shoreline and from there, out across the expanse of water beyond. From shore to shore, there was a great deal of rather deep and very cold water, too much for any local animal to traverse, to reach the Island without a boat and there seemed nothing to sustain them anyway.

‘Indigenous?’ Mused Nick but dismissed that proposition, it was hardly the Galapagos. “Aye well, perhaps it’s a long-lost family of Velociraptors, or a wee Welsh Nessie,” he depreciatingly whispered in the rather pitiful Scottish accent. “Rats, plural!” he expounded as if a light had suddenly been turned on. “Of course, now why didn’t I think of that earlier?” Nick stated confidently, as if such a revelation was somehow novel. “Rats,” he said again, as he looked down at the trackway and attempted to estimate their size and number, by gauging the width of the path he was following. “They’re big buggers too,” he muttered, as he walked slowly onwards, his eyes darting from side to side warily….. “and there must be a lot of them….”

As he moved deeper into the hinterland, following this ‘Rat-way,’ Nick noticed that the air grew ever warmer and the humidity was rapidly rising. Underfoot, the ground became increasingly boggy and a thick layer of moss now replaced the slippery, pebbled landscape of the shoreline.  There was a strong smell of mulchified and rotting vegetation in the dead air. Nick was starting to question the wisdom of coming here at all. ‘Maybe I should have told somebody I was going to come here today,’ he considered. ‘It might, after all, have been the wisest choice,’ he cautioned himself as he stepped into what could only be described as the prefect, Fairy Glen.

The red and white caps of Fly Agaric mushrooms, grew abundantly amid the bows of a surrounding copse of Silver Birch trees and in the short grass beside them, what appeared to be thousands of Psilocybe Semilanceata, better known as the liberty cap ‘shroons’ he’d consumed in great numbers, when he was a younger man.

“Look at them all,” he gasped and he bent down to pick a few, for old times’ sake.  In his murky past, the discovery of this number of ‘magics,’ as they were parochially known, meant a couple of V.H.S Videos and a night or two of belly laughs. ‘They were indeed great days,’ Nick thought absentmindedly and smiled.

He didn’t know it at the time but he had inadvertently stumbled onto, what was the old croquet lawn of the once great house and as he looked up and over to the right, there stood the ivy-covered ruins, of ‘Y Wake Gwynt.’ 

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“Wow! So, you really do exist…,” he smiled to himself.

Only a limited amount of dappled sunlight made it through the overlapping branches of the trees, crowding in on the observer, creating an intense feeling of claustrophobia. Nick sat himself down on the nearest piece of flattish land and after rummaging around in his ‘sack, withdrew his trusty old Ordinance Survey Map and laid it out on the mossy grass before him. According to the map and judging everything by the rule of thumb, he reckoned he was almost in the very heart of the island. Nick stopped and looked all around, for any sign of another living soul but nothing moved in the silent space. All around the old lawn was a thicket of knotted ivy and interlocking tree branches, which created the illusion of helpless imprisonment. It was almost as if the gardens, were still being tended by a ramshackle gardener, who had some unspoken ambition, which would be revealed only by the passage of time.

Strangely, as he’d approached the central area, a slight and somewhat sporadic breeze could be detected, drifting in from a South-Westerly direction. Since, this was a more comfortable area of the island, he decided to take his lunch here on this long-lost croquet lawn, before pressing on with his exploration. Taking his time, he ate his egg sandwiches, some biscuits and drank his coffee whilst smoking one of his pre-rolled joints. There was still more than enough time to take a closer look at the ageing mansion, glimpsed beyond ‘the green wall’ that lay between him and the dishevelled stonework, of ‘Y Wake Gwynt.’

Finished, he moved to secure the weighty rucksack into its position on his back and shrugged, to locate the straps that were trying to bite into his shoulders. Then, Nick stopped his struggling as he realised that since he was the only living creature on this island, there was no need to carry it. ‘Unless you account for the apparently massive Rats,’ he thought and just to be sure, secured the sack with the rest of its provisions, high up in a nearby Oak tree. 

“Figure that one out, sucker’s.” He said with a self-satisfied sense of superiority, even though he hadn’t seen one of these imagined adversaries all morning. Confident his supplies were secured, Nick took his first step towards ‘Y Wake Gwynt.’ Eagerly, he sought any place to gain access to its inner sanctum…….