I wrote this years ago. The opening scene is based on a nightmare I suffered on two occasions when I slept in the same room in a then friends house. The spooky thing was years later when I mentioned it to my friend he told me I wasn't the only one to have a strange experience there. Apparently in years gone by the house had been a manse and somebody else had woken up to find a man of the cloth standing at the end of the bed...
Joe felt himself starting to panic as once again his mind struggled to form any rational comprehension of his situation. No matter how hard he tried it just didn’t seem possible, it was almost as if his thought processes had been detached from him in some obscure form of suspended animation. He was, he realised in a room which was vaguely familiar, he had been there before, but it had been very different then. The floor that was covered from wall to wall with an old fashioned heavily patterned carpet should have been polished floor boards, and the bed. The bed, there was something about the bed…
The room started to spin, and he found himself gasping for breath before he lost consciousness, or it was more is if he was on the edge of consciousness, not quite in this world and not quite in the next. A wave of nausea swept over him as he suddenly found himself looking down an endless tunnel toward a distant speck of light. There was something ominous about that seemingly innocuous speck which caused him to shake with fear. Was this the portal to the afterlife, had his time finally come?
There was a blinding flash of light, and the tunnel became a kaleidoscope twisting and turning until it was no longer a tunnel at all, but a bottomless abyss down which he was uncontrollably free falling. Joe felt himself trying to cry out in alarm, but it was as if he had lost all capability of speech.
Just when it seemed all was lost Joe found himself back in the room lying face down on the floor. He craned his neck to take in his surroundings. He was closer to the bed this time and its black cast iron frame towered over him. He fought back repeated waves of nausea as the room swung in and out of focus. Somewhere in the recesses of his befuddled mind realization dawned…the bed should have been a modern single bed. made of pine, not this relic from a bygone age which all but filled the room.
There was something else too, a feeling of restricted movement which he couldn’t quite rationalize. Then it came to him, both his hands and feet were securely bound behind his back. He struggled desperately, trying to get free but his efforts were in vain, and he resigned himself to lying there in a state of fear filled impotency.
He became aware of a shuffling sound in front of him and raised his head to see a pair of boots three foot or so in front of him. They were old black leather boots, almost clog like in appearance with odd looking buckles in place of laces. Above the boots towered a pair of grey flannel trousers. Joe tried to crane his head back far enough to see who was wearing them but found it virtually impossible to see anything above the knees.
“Please help me,” he sobbed pathetically.
The boots took a deliberate step backwards and a second later something dripped on to the floor close to his left cheek. He turned his head and saw a shiny wet patch of what was obviously blood. He let out an involuntarily cry of despair as another crimson droplet tapped into the carpet directly in front of him. All he could do was watch helplessly as the drips increased in frequency. It didn’t help that each droplet burst in to a myriad of much finer, stickier droplets which peppered his cheeks.
Joe became aware of the sound of someone sobbing in uncontrollable anguish. It took him a while to realise that someone was him. All the while the black leather boots remained in menacing silence in front of him. In desperation he rolled on to his side and kicked for all he was worth against the old bedstead which reverberated against the bedroom wall. Despite his frenzied efforts nobody heard, nobody came to his rescue and the boots steadfastly remained where they were.
He did notice however, that they had taken a step back affording him a better view of the person wearing them. He took in what details he could, the grey trousers were an old-fashioned cut, high in the waist and wide in the leg. Above the trousers he could see the lower portion of a loose-fitting threadbare waistcoat which had seen far better days. A hand dropped into view; it was an old bony hand with gnarled tobacco-stained fingers wrapped around some type of blade dripping for most of its length with thick congealed blood.
All at once the room started to blur and Joe realised he was about to black out. In desperation he jerked his head back hoping to see the face of his tormentor. To his dismay he saw a stiff white dog collar, his tormentor was a man of the cloth. In that moment he was aware of a swift overhead movement and realised with a shot of pure terror that the blood-soaked blade was descending toward him
“No, no,” he screamed in mortal terror...
Joe woke up and stared with unseeing eyes at the bedroom ceiling. Thankfully, it was his bedroom ceiling not the one in the nightmare. He groaned and groped for his watch which lay on the bedside cabinet beside him. He held it up so the luminous dial caught what little ambient light there was filtering through the bedroom curtains. It was twenty minutes past midnight. He wasn’t surprised the dream always came just after midnight. Whether there was any subliminal significance to this fact Joe didn’t know. The dream was always the same, it never changed, and he had long since given up trying to analyse it for any hidden meanings. One thing he did know was it wasn’t linked to Sue’s death, he had been having the dream for years, long before her accident.
He pulled back the duvet and swung his legs over the side of the bed, he knew from experience sleep was out of the question. After a moment or two he switched on the bedside lamp and focused his eyes on Sue’s smiling face beaming back at him from a photograph on the wall.
“Hi sweetheart,” he whispered softly running a finger the length of the photograph. He would have given anything to feel her touch or hear her voice. His thoughts were suddenly rudely awakened by the sound of someone knocking forcibly on his front door.
“Who the fucks that?” he thought swinging open his bedroom door and shouting down the stairs that he wouldn’t be a minute. Whoever it was obviously never heard him as the knocking continued unabated.
“For Christ’s sake give me a minute,” he yelled struggling into a pair of pants.
“It’s me, Mr. Harper. Billy Dodd’s,” a vaguely familiar voice yelled back.
Joe inwardly groaned. Billy Dodd’s, full time layabout, alcoholic and small-time petty thief. What could he possibly want at this time of night? Or any time for that matter as usually when Billy encountered Joe or any of his colleagues walking toward him he made a point of crossing to the other side of the street. Doubtless there were those who would have called him a bit of a character or lovable rogue. Joe wasn’t one of them as far as he was concerned Billy Dodd’s was a malingering pain in the arse. Still Joe had a job to do, and he wearily made his way down the stairs and slid back the bolt to his front door.
“Evening Mr. Harper.”
“Fuck me Billy, its half past bloody midnight. Long past evening.”
Joe saw a toothless smile fleetingly cross Billy’s dark, ingrained features. He hadn’t changed much over the last twenty years or so Joe thought. He had the same trademark greasy black hair straggling from under a dirty flat cap down the back of an equally dirty wax cotton jacket. A jacket which Dodd’s wore day in and day out regardless. It didn’t matter whether it was the middle of winter or a sweltering hot summers day. Joe strongly suspected Dodd’s slept in it.
“What can I do for you Billy? Or have you come to give yourself up.”
Billy glanced around furtively before asking if he could come inside. “I’d rather not be seen talking on your doorstep. You know how it is.”
Joe sighed and shook his head. The only thing likely to see billy Dodd’s malingering on his doorstep at this time of night was next doors cat. The thought of Billy’s unique cologne, a mixture of fag smoke and stale sweat permeating through his house didn’t exactly fill Joe full of joy. He grasped for a reason to fob Dodd’s off until morning only, when he looked in to his face he saw something in those bloodshot, drink addled eyes he never expected to see. It was concern, genuine concern tinged with a hint of fear. Joe looked at the small Police sign at the bottom of his garden and stood back..
“Best come on in then. We don’t want to ruin your street cred do we?”
Dodd’s nodded, took off his cap and followed Joe into the narrow hallway. He looked decidedly uncomfortable and even though Joe could tell he had something he desperately wanted to get off his chest Joe could still sense a certain reticence. Something was holding him back.
“Well come on then Billy what is it?” Joe asked, his patience wearing increasingly thin.
Billy cast his eyes to the floor whilst his demons fought a mental battle inside his head. After a few seconds he looked up,
“If I tell you something will I get into trouble?”
Joe sighed; he should have known.
“You haven’t murdered anybody have you?”
Billy shook his head, “No Mr. Harper its nowt like that. It’s just I think I heard something. Trouble is I was somewhere where I shouldn’t have been if you get my drift. Anyhow with that girl being missing I thought I’d better come and tell you. You know just in case.”
If Joe had been half asleep before he was wide awake now and Billy Dodd’s had his complete and utter undivided attention.
“Woah Billy, what do you mean by that?”
Dodd’s didn’t say anything instead he just looked at Joe questioningly. He knew as well as Joe did a twelve-year-old girl had disappeared three days ago on her way home from school. Her bike had been found a day later on the Thornton Road which was five miles off her normal route.
“It’s ok Billy whatever you have to say’s off the record. It stays between you and me.”
Billy visibly relaxed as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
“Thing is Mr. Harper I was on Carlton moor doing a bit of, shall we say bird watching.”
“Go on,” Joe said whilst doing a quick mental reappraisal and adding poaching to Dodd’s CV.”
“I was up on’t moor close to Scurragh House. Don’t know if you know it?”
“Yeah it’s an old ruin if I remember rightly.”
“Aye an old hunting lodge on Lord Carlton's estate. It’s supposed to be haunted. Fucking place gives me the creeps and I usually keep well clear of it. Especially when its dark. Only I ended up being closer to it than I would have liked. That’s when I heard it.”
“A noise, like a wailing sound. I nearly shit me sen. Thought it were’t Blue lady that’s supposed to haunt the place,” Billy said sheepishly. “I definitely heard it and it weren’t the wind as there wasn’t none. Well I ran as if devil himself were after me Mr. Harper. I can tell thee that and see when I were running I heard it again. I wasn’t imagining it. There was definitely someone or something up there.”
“You sure it wasn’t an old ewe bleating on looking for her lamb?”
“Give me some credit Mr. Harper. I’ve spent most of me life on those moors. Know them like the back of me hand and I aint never heard a sound like that before. The thing is the more I thought about it the more I thought it could be a young girl crying out. That’s why I came straight here. I know you don’t think much of me Mr. Harper, but I couldn’t live with me sen if it were her and I did nowt.”
Joe nodded and thanked Billy for coming forward, he knew it couldn’t have been easy for him. Even so he thought whatever it was Billy had heard it was probably more animal than human in origin. Even so he knew he had no other choice than to go and investigate, there was after all a chance Billy Dodd’s had heard something far more sinister.
“You did the right thing Billy. We’ll go and have a look. I don’t suppose you fancy being our guide for the night?”
A look of horror shot across the old rogue’s face. “Fuck that Mr. Harper, I aint going anywhere near the place. Not now, not ever.”
“Well thanks for coming forward. I know we’ve had our ups and downs over the years but thanks anyway,” Joe said opening the door.
Billy pulled on his dirty old flat cap and turned to face Joe one last time.
“Like ii said Mr. Harper it might be nowt, but I wouldn’t be able to live with me sen if it were.”
Joe watched him shuffle off down the garden path before closing the front door and leaning his forehead against it. What the hell did he do now?. Should he call the cavalry and send half the force on to Carlton Moor, or should he go and see for himself? Dawn Cairns disappearance had sparked a huge media frenzy, one which had seen his nemesis Chief Inspector Peter Mitchel making daily bulletins live on national TV. He could only imagine the fall out if it was a false alarm, Mitchel would have a field day. In his mind he saw an image of Peter Mitchel deftly loading a bullet into a gun. A gun which was aimed directly at him. Joe picked up his phone and began dialing the force control room, he didn’t really have a choice. Or did he? He put the receiver back down and picked it back up and dialed another equally familiar number, Sledale 367. It seemed to ring for ever and Joe was on the verge of giving up when the ring tone was replaced by the sound of Tony Barninghams sleep laden voice.
“This can’t be good.”
Joe imagined his colleague standing in his hallway wearing his old-fashioned striped pyjamas.
“No, your right it’s not. How do you fancy a walk up on Carlton Moor?”
“What now? It’s the middle of the night,” Tony answered in a voice which was less than enthusiastic.
“I’m afraid so. You know Billy Dodd’s?”
There was a derisory snort down the end of the phone.
“He was up on Carlton Moor,” Joe continued. “Reckons he heard what could have been a young girl crying for help near Scurragh House.”
Joe didn’t say any more, he didn’t need to. Tony would have had to have been on another planet not to have heard about the disappearance of Dawn cairns.
“Best come and pick me up then lad.”
The phone went dead. Police Constable Tony Barningham was a man of few words at the best of times.