Cold Edge Road
This hill is firm under my boots; they clump along wearily, one over the other. Old Harry trots next to me: fur shaggy; cold, wet nose held high, twitching on the wind.
This road, ragged grey webbing splashed with shiny puddles stretches over the bleak midwinter moor. In the distance frothy pewter clouds scud along the summit underlined by a smear of antique white. Withens gap farm is a cluster of gull grey matchboxes. A host of wind turbines like ghost daffodil heads hang from leaden beams.
This is Cold Edge Road. These are the five dark days of winter. December deep.
Old Harry weaves in and out, a film of road sludge coating his hocks and pasterns. This is Offa’s Valley. This road, probably named by chilled bronze age settlers plunges into folds of earth marking a wavy gambol from Pellon, through Wainstalls, up to the old Hebden Bridge road as it swishes round the contour of the moor.
The icy wind tugs at my scarf. I pull my red wool coat closer. There is a growling, a roar, behind me, A car. Over my shoulder its headlights, fiery white like Black Shuck’s eyes, wink. Then it’s gone past, whoosh! Like the Devil in a tin can, its two, bloodied, snake-bite tail lights diminish and disappear in the hollow. It scuttles away over the hill.
My red leather glove is on the floor. Old Harry is gone. The sky exhales.
I can count every stone in this wall. I find myself staring over it into this rain saddened field. Sixteen sheep with twisting ribbons of pearl coloured wool stupidly munch. Their ram, a brown fellow with insane eyes stares back at me.
‘What have you done with Harry?’ I scream into the wet stone. His horns spiral towards the floor, his yellow madman eyes vacant, his bony jaw chews.
Then I hear him, barking, somewhere far off.
‘Mum, tell me the story again.’
Jenny grips the steering wheel, uneasy. It was different now she was actually driving on the road in the wind and the rain.
‘Please tell me the story.’
Elsie’s brown eyes glisten in the light of the last street lamp before the moor. She tries to think of some excuse.
‘We’re nearly there Else. There won’t be time.’
‘But Mu-um,’ she whines, ‘it doesn’t matter. Just tell me the one about the lady in the red coat.’
It’s just a story to Elsie. She doesn’t know it is the tale of a tragic accident on this road fifteen years ago. They’re climbing out of Oxenhope now. The air is like black ink. The headlights of the little car are feeble. Jenny takes some comfort from the high beam as it illuminates the track.
‘What’s that noise mummy?’ Says Elsie. The cattle grid rumbles beneath them. ‘Is that the troll foll de roll’s hungry tummy?’ She asks.
Jenny is in no mood for this folly.
‘Don’t be silly, it’s the cattle grid.’
‘What’s a cattle grid?’ She misses a gear round the tight bend and the engine complains. Damn this rain!
‘It’s a metal ramp that the sheep won’t go over…’
‘Why isn’t it called a sheep grid?’ The inane babble of children. But at least she’s forgotten the story of the woman walking her dog on Cold Edge Road, the dog got lost and…
The barking. It’s the kind a dog does when it’s trying to tell you something.
‘Here! I’m here! Here! Here! Here I am!’ But where? I can only float over the road in the direction I think he’s gone following the car.
I’m scared. Things don’t feel right. I think of all the things I’ve ever been scared of; catching glimpses of something in a dark window, something following me in the cellar, that presence behind when you’re trying to get to sleep in the dark, the melancholy view of chimneys in the rain. But none of them match the way I feel now’ Like whem your spine shivers but worse. I’m one big shiver.
I can’t feel my legs touching the floor any more. It is so cold. But I am moving towards the car and Old Harry barking.’
Jenny curses. The fuel gauge says empty. How stupid. How utterly stupid to run out of fuel and out here of all places.
‘What are those funny windmill things?’ Says Elsie pointing at the eerie white turbines like giant aeroplane propellers. Not one is moving even though the breeze bends the trees of the garden of the house opposite. Some kind of farm. Maybe they’ll have a petrol can. She’s torn. She wants to be quick and Elsie with her questions will make it take ages. She’ll be alright here on her own for a few moments. She can make sure the child lock is on. She imagines the jolly farmer filling her tank, the tenner she’ll press into his hand.
‘That’s just what they are, Elsie, windmills. They make electricity. Listen, Mummy won’t be a minute. She’s just going to see the farmer. See if you can count the windmills while Mummy’s gone.’
‘Ok Mummy, I can hear a dog barking.’ But Jenny shuts the door, the wind flings her hair back in her face. There is no dog barking now. Maybe Elsie heard something from the farm when the door was open. Maybe it’s stopped.
The car is in between the turbines and the farm when I reach it. Old Harry is barking at me. He looks mad, rabid. His eyes are wild and his fangs are bared. There’s a little girl in the car looking out at the turbines. I tap on the window but Old Harry snarls. Whatever is the matter with him? A man and a woman come out of the farm. They’re pointing at the front of the car. The windscreen is cracked and there is a dent in the bonnet. They’re talking but I can’t hear their voices. Must be the wind. Old Harry is jumping at the window as if he wants to leap through it and savage me. The woman opens the door while she says something else to the man and Harry cowers in the back seat. What’s matter with everyone today? She’s pointing back down the road and shouting, tears streaming down her face. I twist my head round to see what she’s pointing at but can’t quite get my head round. There’s something in the road, a lump. Is it a sack of something? A red sack?
‘You get yourself off then Missy,’ says the farmer as Jenny presses the note into his hand. ‘This can be a bad road in the wet.’ Jenny knows what he means. He opens the door and gives him a cheery wave as he turns back to his home.
'Twenty-three,’ says Elsie as she turns back to her mother. Jenny is grateful to hear the car turn over and shivers slightly.
‘Twenty-three what, Elsie?’ she says irritably turning the heater up/
‘Twenty-three windmills Mummy, you said I had to count them.’ As the car urges forward over the hill dropping down into Wainstalls, the greyness lifts. The sea of twinkling lights across the Calder Valley speaks of warmth, people in cosy homes; They’ll soon be in theirs.
But Elsie is twitchy, she is waving out of the window, twisting round like a rope unravelling.
‘Elsie, sit still, we’ll be home soon. What’s the matter with you?’
‘But mum…’ Jenny fixes her eyes on the road, the Halifax sign lit up as the headlight catches it.
‘But mummy… where is she?’
‘Who, Elsie? What now?’
‘I don’t know where she’s gone. She helped me count the windmills. Where is she mummy?’
‘The lady in the red coat. When did she get out of the car?’