A shotgun blast rings out. It echoes across the moor for several seconds, startling birds nesting in the heather and then silence. No one is around to hear it, no one is around to find out why the shot was fired.
Row upon row of giant metal towers stand guard across the crest of the moorland hills of Saddleworth. The structures are silhouetted against the night sky, moonlight glints off the rounded edges of the tower. Ruffled clouds pass silently behind the towers, unaffected and uncaring of the vicious looking but unmoving metal fingers of the windmills.
Nothing is moving apart from a small lone figure. Its tiny frame is captured in the moonlight as it weaves through the colossal towers, disappearing for seconds at a time as it moves behind the structures until it appears to just vanish into the night.
The farmhouse and small barn sits in the shadow of the turbines, its tumbledown appearance is in stark contrast to the marvels of modern engineering that stand behind. Nearby a defunct old tractor and sled sit rusting away into the earth.
A small group dressed in black stand outside the front of the house, they are congregated around a hearse and another black car, a highly polished extended limousine.
A number of men dressed in the garb of funeral directors solemnly appear from the front door carrying a coffin from the house, they are forced to duck slightly under the low door frame as they exit.
The coffin is loaded gently into the back of the hearse, the pall bearers shuffling elegantly as the load is moved from shoulders to hand. There is a long floral wreath that dominates the elongated window of the hearse, it says simply ’father’ spelled out in a variety of coloured chrysanthemums. A burst of colour in an otherwise gloomy scene.
One of the funeral party, a woman, closes the front door. She fumbles with the door as if unfamiliar with the keys or just with grief. As the tailgate of the hearse is lowered, the group move towards the limousine and get in.
As the cars slowly pull away, a lone figure emerges from the barn. Dressed in black like the mourners. It stands unmoving for a few moments, it’s head tilted towards the direction of the receding cars, before slipping back into the darkness of the barn.
A single light can be seen in the farmhouse, the light appears to waver slightly as if it’s a candle being carried rather than a torch. Travelling, room to room the light can be seen until it reaches the final window on the first floor when it’s suddenly snuffed out.
Rain, nothing but rain as far as the eye can see. Thundering rain beats at the ground. Huge droplets bounce back up in defiance of gravity, briefly, before collapsing back to earth adding their volume to the mire that is quickly forming.
Looking out across the moor, all you can see of the windmills is the lower half of the immense towers. The blades are obscured by sheets of rain and low mist. If you were to listen closely you would just about hear the steady thrum of the turbines working, an octave lower than the downpour.
The day gets no brighter than slate grey and obscures the exact moment when night arrives.
A single light can be seen again in the farmhouse. Moving from room to room, wavering as if it was a flame caught in a breeze. The cycle of the light moving from room repeats itself until dawn.
Sunbeams illuminate the motes of dust as they dance their random pattern across the sharp blades of light that cut through the broken roof above. The jagged edges of a dozen different objects crowd the small dark space of the barn making it difficult to discern if it’s old furniture or discarded farm machinery.
A single narrow path twists and winds its way through the clutter of the barn. Organically grown over time, the trail ends abruptly in the rough centre of the space. Here, a fissure of unnatural darkness sits several feet above the ground. Darker than night the inky blackness is simply a complete absence of light. A sunbeam that cuts across the void is abruptly cut off as it hits the anomaly, only to suddenly reappear and continue its journey on the other side.
The absolute darkness of midnight on the moor is suddenly broken. Lights blaze from every window of the farmhouse. The brightness pulses to a silent but brilliant concerto with an inaudible score. Many minutes pass as the light show continues to paint the farmyard and out-buildings and then, just as suddenly as it began the lights blazing from every window shut off simultaneously and darkness returns.
The farm was a steal! The previous owner had sold most of the farming land to an energy company and not long after passed away. The remaining family has just wanted a quick sell and who was I to argue?
Living out in the middle of nowhere in an old farmhouse had been mine and Kelly’s dream for as long as I could remember. Breathing in an endless supply of fresh air, we would be able to have a family, grow our own veg, keep a few chickens and pigs and generally try to live the good life. We loved the buzzing pace of the social scene in London but increasingly we wanted to opt-out of the daily grind.
Saving hard, scrimping at every chance, we eventually built enough equity in our poxy little flat in Highgate to sell up and get out. Kelly was an established, well respected copywriter for a large multinational and she could finally afford to ditch the office using her extensive contacts to work from home. My own job in a creative agency was a little less flexible, but I’d managed to arrange that I would just go in to the local satellite office a couple of days a week and rely on rural broadband for the rest of the time.
All in all, we thought the farmhouse was a great place to start a family, free from a crippling city mortgage and rising urban crime rates. It had felt so good moving in, a fresh start and a chance to live our dream.
I couldn’t sleep. The silence was deafening, even the windmills were silent tonight. I was still a city boy at heart and hadn’t realised how much I would miss the steady rumble of traffic outside the window.
We had been living out here for a few weeks and whilst Kelly, sleeping soundlessly, having totally taken to the change of lifestyle. I however had struggled, the dawning realisation that I was definitely better at thinking about being at ’one with nature’ than actually ’doing it’ was really starting to sink in.
The farm definitely had plenty of rustic charm but needed a significant amount of fixing-up to get it into a state we would want to live in for any period of time. I spent the rest of the night running through impending DIY jobs in my head, hopelessly trying to figure out the right order of work and unable to stop thinking about it. Sometime before dawn I finally fell asleep.
In the early days of owning the farm any free time was consumed in what felt like an extensive amount of manual labour.
There was a caged-off area for the chickens to be created, compete with a hand-built henhouse. I even made a small pen for the 3 pigs we’d bought at a local auction, although I had already convinced myself that these would be pets rather than a Sunday dinner!
I also spent countless hours spent digging through the peaty loam of the small field the farm sat in to make way for our future vegetable patch. Much to Kelly’s chagrin I’d taken to calling it the outdoor pool due to it constantly filling up with water every time it rained, washing away the freshly laid compost.
Evenings were taken up with interior repairs. Every window on the house was badly sealed or didn’t close securely and therefore needed to be fixed. Almost every door internally didn’t quite close quite right and needed to be re-hung. We both spent ages on our hands and knees filling cracks and annoying holes in the ancient rendered walls that were going to let out precious heat in the coming winter.
Rain battered the house and was a constant feature that first summer. Buckets littered the upstairs rooms in a vain attempt to catch the drips from all of the leaks in the roof. I had been up on the roof several times to try and locate the damaged sections, but to my untutored eye it all looked the same. Knackered!
I’d already lost count of the amount of times I’d toed one of the bloody buckets and tipped it over as I went to the loo in the middle of the night, more water soaking into the already damp floorboards.
Trying to put these annoyances out of my head I tried to get to sleep. Outside I could hear the barn door being slapped open and closed by the wind, but couldn’t face the trek across the muddy yard to go and fix it.
When sleep eventually did take me it was fitful.
All in all, our dream wasn’t really pan out how we’d hoped. Cracks began to show even before all of the boxes were unpacked. I was made redundant within weeks of getting the keys thanks to a restructure at work that closed down the local office. I had to take another job quickly, before I knew it, I was driving for three hours a day back and forth to Leeds and a job I hated.
A month later Kelly’s work had all but dried up thanks to the economic downturn and cheap outsourcing, only her longest standing contacts could still supply some work, but it was infrequent and not very well paid.
We quickly got trapped in a cycle of just ’getting by’ which meant our dream of the ‘good life’ quickly degraded into arguments and running battles between us on stupid, stupid, stupid every day things.
Before long I dreaded the everyday pattern of sleep/work/argument/work/sleep/fighting. Without realising it, I had started to become paralysed by the thought of the night to-come as it always led to the day ahead. Trapped, spiralling into a deeper depression we were no longer the close, strong couple we had once been, everything had changed when we came here. There seemed no way to reverse or escape it.
I wasn’t sure what had woken me, I thought someone had called my name. I sat up, head muzzy from not enough sleep. Rolling my tongue around my mouth felt rancid. The water glass next to my bed was empty. I’d have to go downstairs and get more
Careful not to wake Kelly, I swung my legs out of the bed and tried to avoid as many of the creaking floorboards as I could. Making my way downstairs in the dark I relied on touch to navigate my way to the kitchen.
Standing at the sink I turned on the cold tap, letting it run for a second to clear any crap out of the pipes. We hadn’t gotten around to getting any curtains or blinds on the window overlooking the yard, there wasn’t much to see. The total blackness of night here was hardly breached by the weak porch light I’d fitted.
I must have zoned out just looking out of the window. I shook myself and filled my glass, turning off the tap I briefly looked out of the window again. There appeared to be someone standing outside less than 10 feet from the house, I shook my head not quite believing what I was seeing. Who on earth would be out here at is time of night? I looked again and the figure took a step forward, something was fundamentally broken in the way they moved, like a badly animated puppet it seemed to jerk forward in a motion covering too great a distance to be natural.
I stumbled back, away from the sink dropping my glass onto the tiled floor in the process. The noise of the tumbler shattering woke Kelly, her voice panicked called out to me from upstairs.
Not quite able to reconcile what I’d seen and wanting to reassure Kelly I shouted up, telling her that everything was ok and I was just clumsy. I could just about hear her cutting remark as I stepped forward towards the window again. A sharp stabbing pain in my foot as I stepped on a fragment of broken glass triggered an outpouring of curses from me and another, louder, shitty remark from Kelly.
Looking out of the window again there was no one there, just the pale yellow halo of light from the porch light. My sleep deprived mind must have imagined it, sighing heavily I picked up the largest pieces of glass I could find and placed them carefully to one side of the draining board, I grabbed the small dustpan we kept under the sink to sweep up the remaining shards I could see. Then I grabbed the first aid kit from the cupboard next to the sink and set about cleaning the wound on my foot and plastered it up.
Breakfast was a tense affair, neither of speaking more than a few single syllable grunts to each other. I was glad to escape to work that day.
I stopped on the way home to pick up a nice bottle of wine and some flowers to apologise. This was just a rough patch, every couple had them, we’d just have to work harder to make this work for us. The wine, a cuddle on the couch watching crap TV and one night ban on any DIY would be just the ticket. Spirits lifted I drove home.
Kelly wasn’t in when I got home. A terse note left on the kitchen table said she had gone into Manchester to see friends and that I shouldn’t wait up and she planned to be late.
Annoyed that my planned reconciliation wasn’t going to happen I skipped food and drank the whole bottle of wine along with a few cans of beer from the fridge, in a fit of pique I chucked the flowers into the bin making sure that they went in blooms first.
I crawled into bed sometime around midnight after being initially determined to wait up until Kelly got home, but tiredness and alcohol defeated me. I woke before dawn and crept out of the bedroom, my head pounding. I grabbed some painkillers from the bathroom, got ready for work and left the house and decided I would grab a greasy bacon barm from the roadside van near the motorway.
Facing the entrance to the barn I felt an overwhelming dread seep through my body. It was the one job I had been putting off for months. Finally, under pressure from Kelly and after a week of uneasy truce between us, I’d promised to get it sorted this weekend.
The problem was I was frozen to the spot, I couldn’t move towards the barn door and open it up. I just didn’t want to do it. Behind me, I heard the front door open and Kelly asked me what was up. Faking a laugh I just said I was building up courage for a day of hard graft. She laughed and said she’d get the kettle on now for what would probably be one of many tea breaks I’d need. I said thanks back as she closed the front door and I moved towards the barn.
As I got closer I could definitely hear a scratching sound and movement. I immediately thought back to the imagined visitor from several nights ago, paralysed with a schoolboys fear of a hundred bad horror movies. Rats, it must be rats. I was being bloody stupid. Taking a deep breath I grabbed the latch and yanked the door wide open. Naturally nothing jumped out. Decades of dust and accumulated crap awaited me, a right dumping ground of tools, tea chests, assorted heavy looking items of furniture and lengths of timber
Fears forgotten I checked the gloves I was wearing and pushed up the dust mask I had around my neck and got stuck in to pulling everything out into the front yard. It was going to be a long day.
I could hear someone moving around downstairs. After a week of peace we’d had a blazing row and Kelly had decided to sleep in the spare room, so I assumed she had woken up and gone downstairs.
Resolutely deciding not to go down and try and apologise to her I grumpily turned over and tried to ignore it. The sounds from downstairs continued and eventually I could feel myself getting increasingly wound up. I got out of bed and went to see what was up.
No lights were on downstairs. I flicked the switch but nothing happened, angrily I flicked it a couple more times as if that would somehow magically make the current flow. The damn electrics like everything else needed replacing. Why on earth Kelly was sitting in the dark I didn’t know, but I wasn’t in the mood for another argument I just wanted to make sure she was ok.
As I went down the stairs to the living room I quietly called out Kelly’s name and got no answer. She must be in the kitchen, as I moved towards the kitchen I heard a voice “something terrible..” Immediately I halted, the voice was saying the same two words over and over again like a stuck record “something terrible..” the quality sounded like it was coming from a shortwave radio station.
Thinking Kelly was either on the phone or playing some prank on me, I called out to her again as I entered the kitchen. The room was empty, no Kelly, no voice, nothing. Just the occasional drip from the tap and the steady hum of the fridge.
A little freaked out I went back upstairs, looking in on the spare room on the way back to bed. Kelly was there in the single bed, covers twisted around her. One leg poking out, PJ legs rumpled up to her knee.
I went back to bed and lay on top of the covers, waiting to hear something, anything from downstairs. I didn’t go back to sleep.
I don’t remember much about today. I arrived at work with no recollection of the commute. Concentrating hard I vaguely remember walking out into the yard in front of the farmhouse, trudging towards the car and then nothing until I pulled out of my space at the office to go home. I had lost an entire day and I couldn’t feel anything other than glad it was over, glad that I didn’t have to face anything I didn’t want to, at least for another day.
I was awake. Somewhere in the room, there was movement – undefinable, almost like I’d imagined it. I waited, holding my breath and then, there is was again. It sounded like a hand brushing against something, it was almost a ’non-noise’ a subliminal awareness of something moving.
My ears strained to try and locate the source, but there was now just silence. Convinced I’d imagined the noise I rolled over and tried to get back to sleep.
Typical! I was already late for work thanks to a pre-breakfast argument and now I’d broken down on the moor, miles from home and many more from anything you could call civilisation.
I’d called for the breakdown service, but I wasn’t totally confident that my poorly understood sat-nav-powered location details that I had given would be enough for them to find me anytime soon. There was nothing to do but wait so I sat on the bonnet of the car and tried to enjoy the early morning light when something over on the moorland caught my eye. Crazy really, but I was sure that a few hundred yards away there was a kid out walking amongst the heather.
The moor was all one big nature preserve and there was no path out there. Worried that they were out alone at this time of day and separated from their parents I called out. The figure stopped and although they were too far away from me to be much more than a kid-shaped-shadow they definitely turned to look in my direction but made no move towards me.
I called again, shouting to ask if they were okay and if they needed a lift. Nothing, they just stood still. Poor kid was probably frightened. I started to make a move towards the car and my mobile that I’d left on the seat thinking that I should probably call the police or something.
Grabbing the phone I went back to the front of the car. Out of the corner of my eye I could see that the kid was now much closer, there was no way they could have covered that much ground in the few seconds I had taken going into the car!
As I got to the bonnet my breath caught in my throat and it felt like my heart had stopped, it most definitely wasn’t a kid it was a child-shaped ’thing’, entirely black the ’thing’ was like, like a total absence of light. It stood just yards away from me now, a terrible keening noise issuing from its throat.
Somewhere behind me a horn sounded, reflexively I turned to see the breakdown truck arrive. I turned immediately back to where the ’thing’ was, totally expecting it to be inches away from me, but it had vanished.
The ’non-noise’ was back, it was the ’thing’. Without question that explained all of the strange occurrences to me. Kelly sleeping soundly next to me, totally undisturbed by the movement in our room. Still partly convinced I was imagining it, I tried to locate the sound. For an age I strained my senses to try and make out a shape or identify something, anything that shouldn’t have been there, all the while fighting an urge to just jump out of bed and issue a challenge.
Our bedroom was a large, simple square. The door from the landing in one corner opened up with the bed immediately on the right with two bedside tables at either side. Straight opposite the bed, there were two large, ancient oak wardrobes standing guard, framing a large bay window that had an old elegant dresser sat in front of it.
It was a mish-mash of styles becoming of furniture bought at second hand shops, we had loved each item thinking they had ‘character’. Now the bedroom felt like an alien environment and I was its prisoner. Familiar shapes during daylight had been transformed by the night into a jagged landscape of blackness, draped over a deeper darkness of shadow, capable of hiding anything. Right here and now, I would have loved some of the previously-hated light pollution to aid me in locating the source of the sound.
Not wanting to move and wake Kelly or worse look like an idiot, I lay in the darkness, waiting.
I had been determined to stay awake the previous night but without realising the exact moment I just fallen asleep. Next thing I knew was the damn alarm was going off. Kelly grumbled in her sleep, annoyed at being woken by the abrasive noise. She turned over mumbling a ‘have a good day’ leaving me to get up.
As I got out of bed I had an impulse that I would be grabbed or attacked, but now the room, naturally was empty with no sign of the early hours visitor, but then I hadn’t really expected there to be anything to see. In the cold light of dawn, it was easy to brush it off the sound as stress, just a bad dream.
The drive to work felt like a chore. I was drained by a lack of sleep. The working day passed in a blur. I felt like I was a rock stuck on the middle of a fast flowing stream. I couldn’t begin to tell you what happened today or what I did, I simply have no idea.
Lying on my side in bed, I opened one eye to see the electric green of the bedside clock pulsing steadily – 3:06am – my eyes focused on the clock, it’s weak glow illuminating the bedside table.
I knew I was waiting for the sound. Waiting for my nocturnal visitor to put in an appearance. My daytime self fully willing to put it down to stress or mice in the walls. By night I was considering crazy notions like black-void monsters, ghosts, zombies or redneck serial killers with chainsaws. Something, anything more tangible than a nondescript sound for me to pin it on.
I don’t know how long I waited that night but I eventually fell asleep.
Nothing was going to piss me off today. I made breakfast in bed for Kelly and left the house a little later than usual to avoid rush hour traffic.
My boss was annoyed by my lateness, but I didn’t care today. I even decided to leave work early and see if Kelly fancied a pub meal out somewhere as a treat. I promised myself that I would just work harder tomorrow to make up on any missed work.
As with every evening this week we had argued about the swathe of red letters for overdue payments, demands for things we couldn’t . As was becoming the norm, it resulted in smashed cookware, uneaten food and slammed doors.
Now, laying together in bed we might as well have been a million miles apart. I couldn’t say sorry, I couldn’t broker a peace-deal or try and make amends. Sheer stupid bloody mindless stopped me from trying to cuddle up, stopped me from doing the right thing. I was so wound up that a tight band of pressure had formed across my chest, my heart constricted I thought it was just going to give out. I almost wanted that to happen, it would end the torment. It would make this impossible situation stop. It would give me the ‘out’ I so desperately sought.
Just as the tension gave way to exhaustion and I was drifting off, I was sure I felt something touch my cheek, something so light that it must have been my imagination. Immediately I was awake, adrenaline pumping with the tightness in my chest back with a vengeance. I was still lying awake when the alarm went off. Smashing the cancel button a little too hard, I got out of bed and staggered out of the room and to the day ahead.
Today was a series of endless, pointless, stupid damn meetings. I just wanted to scream, I wanted to shout, rage and violently shake my head. Simply wanting just to scare the living shit out my colleagues, to force them to get a grip. I had such a clear waking dream of kicking over a chair and punching someone in the face, that I almost did a double take when I realised that I was being asked if I was okay. Putting on a fake smile and I nodded away, blaming too much good living as the problem, when all I wanted to say was how meaningless life was and that I couldn’t see what the hell was the point anymore and to leave me alone.
It was a ‘thing’, the noise had been made by something I simply believed to be ‘a thing’. A creature, a demon, an imp. Something sent to torment me, something to make me pay for trying to strive for things I didn’t deserve. I know how irrational and stupid it sounds, but it’s real. It’s here with me right now. In the darkness it has power to terrify me. A thing that shouldn’t and doesn’t exist in a rational universe. Offended to the core that such a thing could ‘be’ I whispered “fuck off”, coming out of my mouth in a barely audible, pathetic gasp.
Kelly slept on, totally unaware of the terrible danger just feet away. She mumbled in her sleep and turned over
There was no immediate reply and the silence dragged on for seconds and then into minutes, then broken by what I was sure was far-away laughter that could just as easily been the sound of the turbines on the wind.
Kelly was gone. Her side of the bed was empty and cold. There was a note on the kitchen table when I came downstairs. It didn’t say where she had gone other than she couldn’t carry on. Her neat and precise writing seemed so clinical and matter-of-fact, it brooked no room for argument or discussion. It was presented as fact.
I spent the entire day slumped in a chair in the living room and drank an entire bottle of whiskey that we’d been given by Kelly’s father as a house warming gift.
Tears were now pouring down my cheeks, I can’t ever remember being so frightened. Suddenly there was a slight increase of pressure on the duvet by my feet then quickly as it was felt, the presence was gone. I could almost feel it, the room now seemed lighter with the shadows softening around the edges of the furniture I could barely see. I felt such relief that I immediately fell into a dreamless sleep.
Just one spin of the wheel and it would all be over. Gone. Snuffed out like a light bulb going out. Ahead of me brake lights flashed on as traffic ground to a halt ahead. I didn’t follow suit, ignoring the rushing red lights in front of me. This is it. Blackness and release awaited me. Then I thought of Kelly, what life would be without her, I could get her back, we could be happy! Not being able to see her smile or hold her, just to be in the same room. Realising what I was doing I slammed on the brakes, a chorus of angry horns blared behind me. I barely stopped in time. Heart in my throat, I waved my hand feebly to the drivers behind me in apology.
It was stood at the end of the bed, watching. Waiting for me to look at it, to challenge it. To look at its darkness and confront it. Beneath my head could I feel the solid, reassuring shape of the bread knife I had started to keep under the pillow. I carefully adjusted my position, trying to make it look like I was moving in my sleep.
“something terrible…” its voice grated, “something terrible” its snake-like sibilance freezing my movements.
A slow, drawn out scratching sound – felt more than heard – as its black fingers dragged along the duvet towards my face.
My hand slid, millimetre by millimetre towards the knife. After what felt like an age, my fingers reached the place where it should have been but it was gone!
“Loooooking for thiiiss?” Through the gloom I could see the glint of a blade and then as suddenly as I saw the glint I could feel it pressed lightly to my throat.
I could smell its breath. A terrible rotten odour, mingled with something else much darker. Smells shouldn’t have a pulse, but this one did, it vibrated out of the creatures mouth “something terrible is coming!” its voice teased.
Unable to take it a second longer and ignoring the blade at my throat, hands reached out and gripped the blackness around the neck, its black skin pulsed and tensed beneath my grip. It struggled, thrashing, kicking, spitting at me. Black jaws snapping, the pressure of the blade increased against my neck…Then nothing. Blackness.
Suddenly I found myself outside in the front yard, right in the middle of the bloody vegetable patch! I don’t know how I ended up here. In one hand I had petrol can, the other the bread knife, it was dripping with a deep black liquid. It seemed totally normal to be here so I didn’t really question what should have been such a strange circumstance.
The farmhouse was on fire. Flames were licking at the windows downstairs, it was gaining momentum as the fire found fuel in the furniture and possessions that Kelly and I had so carefully collected. I was sure I could hear screams coming from the house, but then I was also pretty sure that the flames would take care of that.
Copyright © 2014 – Si Donbavand