The previous day had been quite a revelation. It all began with a simple email to altorro and now Nick, was feeling elated. The trawl through the archives was complete. The Micro Fiche’s had held him up slightly, due to the technology involved and of course, the several trips to the Central Library to view the damn things, but it had eventually been completed, with a little dedication and many hours of hard work. The original findings of The Historical Society, furnished by Alan, had provided the last few pieces of priceless corroborating evidence he required.
Nick, had revelled in all that historical stuff and now he was seriously thinking of a change of profession. Possibly, it was just another one of his fanciful whimsy’s and he was in fact, going to ‘pop his clogs,’ while sitting behind the same old wooden desk, in the same old office, at the same old hostel. It was after all, a secure position, with certain benefits.
“For fuck’s sake, listen to yourself man,” he cursed. “That’s hardly the attitude to take, if you’re actually going to do anything about it.” He chastised himself again, for being prey to these kind of thoughts. “Any decisions like this, should not be undertaken in these circumstances,” his tired mind was screaming to him, but he did not listen.
By the time he managed to calm his over stimulated mind and cart himself off up the stairs, to bed, he was exhausted and barely had the strength to remove his jacket, throw it on the exercise bike and flop onto his bed. “Ooooh,” he groaned as his body, hit the sheets. Almost immediately, he drifted off into that blissful state, that inhabits the region between sleep and wakefulness but the full arms of Morpheus escaped him. Nick was caught in a loop and he couldn’t find the way out. He tossed and he turned, hopelessly searching for that cool, comfortable spot in his steadily warming bed. Seek it as he may, it remained just out of his reach. So, frustrated and overheated, he fell back on the pillow, with his arms outstretched, as if he were mimicking some kind of desperate Jesus, on a cushioned cross. He just lay there and waited for either sleep, or the need to relieve his bladder to win the steeplechase that his mind was undertaking. That night, the only dreams that troubled his barely unconscious sleeping mind, were of The Ravens Gate Bridge, all dark and foreboding. Dead women and a troubling report, that in his micro- dream, seemed to be traveling rapidly backwards along a dirt road, before fading away into the far distance.
Nick awoke in a particularly confused state of mind. His alarm clock continued to insist he did something about it’s incessant, repeating ringing tone.
“Ugh, what time is it?” he spluttered and with a struggle, he rolled over and reached for the off button on the infernal device. As he did so, he simultaneously rubbed his eyes and looked hazily at the readout on the annoying clock. It felt to him as if he’d barely closed his eyes, then suddenly he’d found himself awake again, as if somebody had stolen five hours of his life.
“Who’s daft idea was this?” he asked, as he sat upright on the side of the bed and farted loudly. “Jesus, you should have buried that thing a little earlier,” he commented, as the acrid smell rose up, to infiltrate his nostrils. “Still, better out than in,” he said, as he stood up and pulled his pants on.
During his previous pleasurable sojourn to Barton Basin, he had promised himself that he would give this fishing lark another try. On his return home last time, Nick had placed his rod and tackle box, along with the rest of the equipment, underneath the stairs for the sake of convenience and there it had sat ever since. He’d attempted a similar trip out several times, but the inclement weather, the report and his duties at the hostel, had conspired against him. Fishing, had previously been one of his favourite pastimes and he was now looking forward to spending a relaxing day by the water and getting his head back on track. He was in pursuit of inner calm and tranquility more than fish, then again, a bite or two would be nice.......
When he’d been a younger man, adversity had often seemed like adventure. Downright dangerous situations were quite easily put into the ‘Thrilling Events’ cupboard and then, almost instantly forgotten about. Not that you could class fishing on the canal as dangerous, but in his youth he had been undaunted by bad weather. Nowadays, it was a fact whether he liked it or not, that he had somehow joined the ranks of what was commonly known as, ‘fair weather fishermen.’ The prospect of sitting under a big green umbrella in the pouring rain, was not something that filled him with joy. The thought of sitting around, on a muddy wet bank, obsessing about a float, delicately dancing around, on the raindrop disturbed water, while wearing a set of steaming clothes, was nowadays, completely out of his comfort zone.
“No siree, fishing is a dry, still and tranquil affair and evermore shall be so,” he piously exclaimed and then frowned, as if he were considering a matter of grave national importance.
Today appeared to be as close as it got, to perfection. He was eager to get out there and enjoy just sitting peacefully by the canal. To simply chill out after all his efforts, with this project. The mournful sky, was a flat grey and there was almost no wind. Fortunately, it wasn’t too cold, so Nick quickly gathered all the things that he would need for his day out, piled them into ‘Deke‘s’ boot, then pulled smoothly out of the driveway of Lilac Cottage, heading for Barton Basin. At this time of the morning, the back lanes to Barton were always quiet, so, as expected, it was a peaceful drive. When Nick drew up to the parking area in front of ‘The Pelican Lounge,’ he found no difficulty in slotting ‘Deke,’ in an almost perfect spot which allowed him to sit and simply observe the mists, rolling effortlessly up the canal, whilst barely touching the water’s surface.
“Well, it’s not going to rain today, so let’s go enjoy it,” Nick thought and set off towards the edge of the canal bank, with his old whicker fishing basket, slung over his shoulder and his trusty rod, safely secured in his hand. As he walked the old basket creaked incessantly and it suddenly occurred to him, out of the blue, that many years ago he had given this particular rod, the very one he was now cradling securely in his right hand, a name. His mind was flitting all over the place, seeking to recall this name from the distant past.
“It was Lilly, or something along those lines,” he whispered. “Lilly, Lilly.” He repeated, as he wracked his brain, seeking the correct name. “Lilly?” Suddenly, something clicked....... “No, not Lilly ......... Got it,” He exclaimed loudly, to anybody who was listening. “Rosie,” I called it, “Rosie,” because of the colour of the finish, yes that’s it. “Rosie.” Now relaxed and a little smug, Nick sauntered jauntily along the towpath with his confidence high.
Having found a secluded spot, shielded from prying eyes by a good covering of undergrowth, Nick put down his basket and sat on it, which immediately complained loudly. The water was like dark grey glass and the fading mist just gliding by, gave the morning an almost etherial quality, which was not lost on Nick. He efficiently organised his equipment so everything was within easy reach, then commenced to ‘set up,’ for his day of tranquility by the water side. There was something, both pointless and beautiful about sitting in silent solitude, watching a bobbing float in the stillness of this channel and simply appreciating nature. The trees, had long ago lost their leaves and all the flowers had wilted and died but there was still a certain exquisite beauty in the bare tranquillity.
Once he was sure, that everything was just right, Nick stood up and took a casual look, in every direction, to reassure himself there were no surprises on the horizon. Although his previous trip had been oddly relaxing, this time he had no wish to engage with Samuel, or anyone else for that matter. So, he not only looked but he listened intently too. He couldn’t hear a sound on the bank side other than the occasional bird and there was little, or no traffic on the road, only the occasional hum of an engine, as it lazily passed by, disturbed the peace. Reassured there was not a soul to be seen in any direction, Nick retook his seat on the whicker basket and lazily stared into the water at his float.
“I could be the last man on Earth and nobody would know except me and if I forgot to inform myself of this fact, then who the fuck would give a shit?”
This was indeed heaven and just to cap it off, he reached into his coat pocket and retrieved the big Joint he had rolled last night for just this occasion. He caressed it between his fingers, to ensure that it would have the Marijuana distributed evenly along its length and then, with an almost religious reverence Nick, tore off the twist at the end, put the thing in his mouth and lit it. The sweet aroma filled his nostrils, he drew the pungent smoke deep into his lungs and he was in paradise. Suddenly, he thought that he could detect the sound of somebody whistling far away, pausing mid inhale, his senses alert, he realised it was getting slowly closer.
“Bloody hell, can’t a man get stoned in peace,” Nick queried, exhaling, “Is that too much to ask?” Then, he looked up at the grey sky and asked, “Well is it?” He obviously got no convenient answer to his enquiry, so he followed that with, “Fuck you then” and took another deep toke of his Joint and started to make himself invisible to the whistling stranger, who was nearing his position.
Nick wound in his line and stowed his rod under some convenient bushes and then, tried to sneak a surreptitious look at the approaching warbler but his seated position made it impossible to observe anything, more than a few yards in either direction. To get a better view he would have to stand up and that, would only have exposed his position to the fast approaching, whistling entity. He had no choice, he would just have to stay in this position, which was somewhat shielded from anybody casually passing by. Nick needn’t have worried, the whistler just strolled on past, without even turning his head once. It seemed to Nick that this bloke was actually enjoying his solitary walk, he seemed to have no intention of stopping to speak to him, or anyone else for that matter.
'Greensleeves,' thought Nick, as the melodious tones of the whistler slowly faded as he moved further off down the towpath. 'Not a bad version,' he thought, 'That guy must practice a lot.' Without more ado, he set about retrieving his rod from the undergrowth and re-baiting his hook. Then he took another long pull on the Joint, that was hanging out of the corner of his mouth and cast his line back into the water. He settled back again, for what was to become, a rather pleasant day by the water. As he sat there, on his old whicker fishing basket, Nick absentmindedly, began softly whistling 'Greensleeves.'
Billy, saw the strange puffs of smoke, which were curiously emanating from a bush, still quite a distance ahead of him.
“There’s another one,” he jokingly said to himself, as he slowly approached whatever was responsible for creating the effect. Then his mind got silly on him, 'maybe, it’s a baby dragon' he silently mused, 'Or maybe, somebody’s got a steam engine hidden in the undergrowth?' Either way, the thought of having to interact with some idiot on the towpath, filled him with dread. He didn’t give a toss, about the minor things of the everyday world. He’d been there and done that and generally, it was rubbish.
His present life, revolved entirely around food and warmth. The prices on the stock market, or the exchange rate, didn’t have much relevance these days. More pertinent, was he still couldn’t get this annoying bloody Greensleeves tune, out of his head. Well anyway, as he’d discovered, whistling was always a good way to fein indifference to those you met during a days travels.
He spotted the tip of Nick’s fishing rod easily and, as he drew closer to the spot where Nick was making a poor attempt to hide, he got a good whiff of the smoke that now lingered about the towpath. Billy recognised it instantly. He purposefully slowed his pace a little, to allow himself the opportunity to inhale a 'cheap hit’ of the stuff, if he got the chance. If he timed this right, the person who was smoking in the apparently 'burning bush,’ would exhale just as he approached and that way, he would be afforded a good big hit of whatever it was. This was his lucky day. As he reached the spot, another large puff of smoke billowed from the bush, and Billy took a deep breath as he slowly passed by. For a few precious moments, he remembered better days. 'Greensleeves, you are my delight,' he gently sang in his mind as he paced down the canal bank, smiling.
Just over 3 years ago, everything was going fine, in the 'world of Billy.' Then one morning, his life turned into a bad blues track. All that was missing from the story, was the fact, that 'Buster,' his dog, who was in fact an inappropriately named Border Collie, didn’t die. No, 'Buster,' was still with his ‘ex-wife’, Jill, along with the best parts of his life. Now, he found himself, on this road to nowhere, with only time to give him any solace. William Postlethwaite, known nowadays, to one and all as ’Billy,’ was an intelligent man, who had fallen on a period of, ill fortune. He had been walking along this section of ’fucking canal,’ for days and now and he was cold, tired and very hungry.
His marital home had been on the outskirts of Whitehaven and his office had been located in Lancaster, which required a reasonably long daily commute but the remuneration was high. So high in fact, that he and Jill could afford to purchase a four bedroomed farmhouse, renovate it and send their two children to St. Athan’s, a rather expensive Private Boarding School, that Jill thought was essential to gaining any status within the local community. William, as he was known then, enjoyed working hard and long hours, rarely finding time for home life. Slowly, his wife and family had slipped into the background. He had found status and purpose in the pursuit of his profession. He drove a rather handsome bottle green, Jaguar XJ courtesy of the company. In William’s mind he was “The Man”.
Initially, he had been bitter about his wife’s treatment of him. He had done all the dutiful husbandly things, such as obtaining a high paying job with an Internet Company and provided Jillian with a beautiful home in the country. He had given her two wonderful children, one of each flavour and he had mistakenly assumed that she and the kids, were blissfully happy. Imagine his surprise, when despite all his best efforts, the company he was working for crashed and he found himself unemployed and car-less, for the first time in his life. He had thought, that he and Jillian could weather the storm and grow from the experience. Any such fanciful ideas he may have harboured of getting through this together, were quickly and irrevocably damaged, when Jillian had informed him that, due to his constant absence from her life, she had been involved in a rather torrid affair with one of her friend’s husbands and to make things worse, the affair had been going on for years.
Nine days later, William, returning one day from job hunting, had found all of his belongings scattered on the lawn below the bedroom window and the locks had been changed. There did seem to be something very final about this set of circumstances, so he just picked up some of the essentials, another pair of pants, a couple of shirts etc, and departed this painful scene. He wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of seeing him cry and so he carefully avoided looking back towards what was his home, in case she was inside watching from behind the curtains. He reached the gate of the farmhouse, with his meagre possessions tucked under his arm and once having passed through it, Billy began his ‘journey’.
It was a stone cold fact, that life had not been treating him too well of late and now, another Winter was biting into his heels. The first cold season after he’d started on his endless 'journey,’ had been the hardest few months of his whole life. He didn’t even know there was something called 'The Rules of The Road’, so he made more than a few mistakes, while he slowly became acquainted with them. Things had improved as time went by, now The Winter was simply uncomfortable and anyway, Spring, was just around the corner. Billy had more or less forgotten, just how comfortable his old life had been.
Now, some three years down the road, he found the freedom that traveling the less frequented highways and byways could, especially during the warmer times, be distinctly preferable to sitting indoors and killing time, while waiting to die in an office in Lancaster.
Billy, began his journey on the coast of Cumbria, moved along myriad waterways, towards The Lake District but found the weather in that area far too unpredictable, way too much rain for a knight of the road. So he had swung south and ended up here, on the side of a canal, just outside Manchester, heading for god knows where? At least in the more populated areas, he could find better shelter for the winter and it was well known, that where there were more people, there were more opportunities and right now, he was struggling. If this kept up, he feared that one day, he was going to be discovered frozen to death, in some lonely spot, all alone. Billy, attempted to steer clear of area’s that already had too many ‘roadsters,’ residing in them because this usually meant all the best bunking down spots, were taken.
However, this particular area, appeared to be somewhat deserted, and at least this steep embankment leading up to the main road could provide some shelter from the worst of the elements. Up ahead though, he saw some derelict factory spaces that looked more promising, maybe they would provide some quieter bunks for a few good nights of relatively undisturbed sleep.
He stopped whistling Greensleeves as he slowly made his way underneath the road bridge, towards what appeared to be an old broken down crossing of the waterway, which was in fact, Jenkins’ Walkway. Through the deepening mirk, he thought that he could just make out some further spans across the canal ahead. For the past few miles he hadn’t seen a soul and it was getting dark, so he was looking for a spot to rest his weary bones for the night. He could take up the route again in the morning but right now, the early evening light was fading and the mist on the water was causing the air to turn distinctly chilly.
“Don’t just pick the first available spot, Bill, take a quick look around and choose the best pitch,” he said to himself, as The Ravens Gate, loomed up before him. 'Perfect,' Billy thought, as he stood before the metal birds guarding the deserted entrance. The light breeze, that had been blowing steadily all day along the canal side, suddenly relented and the air was still at last. This was promising and so Billy stepped forward, lifted the old rusting hook that fastened the wrought iron gates together and pushed.
The gate swung gently open with only the slightest of sounds and he slipped through the gap, into the old works silently closing it behind him. Through habit, he stopped and tried to breathe quietly, while at the same time listening for any sounds of occupation by other ‘roadsters.’ Billy could hear nothing.
“Fuck all,” he triumphantly stated and took a few more steps into the deepening darkness, of the deserted works. “Shit,” he said under his breath, “Why do you never find these places, while it’s still light enough to see what the fuck you’re doing?” Billy, was now becoming a little annoyed with himself.
“You could always hunker down here and wait until it gets light again but you’re not going to do that are you?” He knew that option was out of the question. He really did need a good nights sleep, so he pushed on into the Ravens Gate works and headed for the centre of the structure, which in the failing light, was merely a faintly visible pylon, rising crookedly upwards towards the darkening sky, about fifty yards ahead of him.
As soon as he had entered this place, even the light occasional breeze, had fallen away and a deathly silence had descended on the ancient structure. He cautiously stopped again, to listen for any sounds permeating the distinctly warmer air and heard nothing but his own breathing. The place seemed to be deserted but instead of quieting his suspicious mind, it only increased his doubts. This didn’t seem right somehow. It couldn’t be possible, that he was the only roadster to have discovered this place. That flimsy latch was not designed to keep people out, it was just too feeble for that.
'Why no chains and a big padlock,' he wondered? 'The busy bodies at the local councils, usually see to that kind of shit.' He stopped and turned, to look quizzically back at the iron gates, now twenty or so yards to his rear. Again the thought, ‘that he couldn’t possibly be alone’ in this dream pitch, crossed his mind, there must be others in here. 'Somewhere.'
However, as difficult as it was to believe his good fortune, he reluctantly accepted that there was nothing apparently stirring inside this place. After a few more minutes of consciously straining his ears to hear the merest of sounds, Billy resigned himself to the fact of his good fortune and with a shrug of his shoulders, he moved slowly onward and deeper into the works. The warmth of this place was remarkable, which made it’s desertion by another knight of the road, even more mysterious. As a wave of exhaustion washed over him he started looking for a good spot to get his head down, for a few welcome hours of peace. What he found, was indeed a godsend. It was an enclosed metal shed, with a swinging door, on a broken hinge and a sound roof. It was quiet and relatively cosy in there. Billy was falling asleep on his feet. After all, he’d been on his way since just before dawn today and he’d covered quite a distance along this canal bank. So, giving in to his fatigue, he just threw down his ‘bedroll,’ lay down and curled up on this charity given mattress and in no time, he was fast asleep.
When he awoke, it was with a jolt and he was pouring with sweat. It seemed, as if he had only been asleep for moments, but in fact, it was just after midnight. 'Fucking hell Billy. It’s just another bad dream. Let it go, man' he thought and slowly closed his tired eyes again and took a few deep breaths. He was trying to make some sense of his latest episode of night terrors. Billy, turned his head and stared vacantly, out through the broken windowpane at the cloud filled, moonlit night sky. 'Don’t move until you’ve pulled it all back together. Just lie here and relax for a while,' he advised himself. He knew the routine by now and it wasn’t as if he’d never been in these circumstances before. The nightmares had started when Jill had dumped him and he was convinced they were getting worse. In the beginning, it had all been stress related, but the visions had progressed and now, what once had been rather ugly metaphors, had become really scary monsters.
“If only Buster was here,” he mournfully said and a small tear escaped from one of his staring eyes. Billy, often missed that old dog, when he was feeling a little lost and vulnerable. “Buster,” had listened to all his woe’s and that dog, had at least appeared to be interested in Billy’s problems. Which was a lot more than could be said of his ex-wife, Jillian. Once upon a time, she appeared to be his soul mate, but that was when he seemed to be going places in the digital world of, Dot Com but her ardor faded, as the years passed and died the death, when the dot com bubble burst and he was made redundant. Although, he did think it was somewhat odd, that over the years, he had come to miss his old pet dog more than he ever pined for his wife, or the children. 'Now, that’s saying something,' he thought and smiled a little inside, while he continued to stare mindlessly outside at the night, through the smashed window frame.
Slowly, the memories of his latest nightmare faded away and soon those horrors, once seemingly so real, started to drift away into the cool night air. 'Maybe, I’ll get another dog,' he mused. 'At least, it’ll keep me company on cold nights.' Then he froze, he became aware of a curious eerie glow, which seemed to be coming from outside. 'I knew, that this place was too good to be true,' he thought, as he strained his neck in an attempt, to get a better view of whoever it was, lighting up the place.
From his position, he could see nothing, except the faint silhouettes of other equally dilapidated structures, surrounding his location. Billy, again focused on this faint sickly yellow glow, emanating from further inside The Ravens Gate Works. It could be another fellow traveller, or it may be drunken youths, bored but unwilling to go home just yet. The first could be trouble but the latter, could be very dangerous. He had only recently heard of an old tramp who was badly beaten up by a gang of teenagers then, while he was lying on the floor unconscious, one of his assailants had dowsed him in petrol and set him alight. These things, though rare, did happen and Billy, did not intend to be the next victim. So, he slowly and quietly dragged himself fully upright, shifting to get a better view of this strange glow, while still remaining hidden within the dark shadows of this old abandoned structure.
As he looked out of the broken window, with its cracked and missing panes of glass, he was careful not to make a sound that may give his presence away. Whatever it was, casting its sickly illumination over the area, just beyond the scope of his vision, Billy knew it was in his self interest to discover the source.
'You’re going to have go out and take a look, Billy boy,' he reluctantly thought. 'It could be anyone and you wouldn’t want them to find you, while you’re asleep, would you?' It was at times like this, that he was thankful he had an old pair of trainers on his feet. At least they were soft, pliant and made little noise when, on occasions like this, he chose to sneak around unobserved. Billy made one final check, to make absolutely sure he needed to venture outside of his shelter, to see just who it was making this etherial glow, inside the derelict works.
Then, fully aware of the dangers involved and being extra careful, he hesitantly stepped out of the smashed door, with it’s broken hinge and quickly ducked down, so as not to be seen by the barer of this unearthly yellow glow, that had caught his attention.
Outside, it seemed as if the night had taken on an added darkness. Only the arching glow of the light being given off by the mysterious luminescence, provided guidance towards it’s source. He stealthily crept slowly onwards, each step drawing him towards the putrid glow, that arched upwards into the night. As he crept closer, Billy thought he could hear the resonance of something else purposefully scrunching, on the hard ground and his heart missed a beat. He halted his progress, just stood and listened. In amongst the scraping sounds, he could detect another series of tones. Billy thought it was reminiscent of young children whispering to each other but there, within the hushed tones, there was another voice and this one had a distinctly less benign sound. It was the deeper tones of something else, something darker, something more malignant.
Billy, was now both curious and fearful, at the same time. The hour, was surely too late for all those unattended kids to be out, and who were they with? Just another step or two and then, he would be able to peer around the corner of this derelict shed and reveal exactly what was creating the pale, putrid light. Mores to the point, just who or what was whispering and what was making that disturbing, scraping sound?
His heart was now pounding in his chest, as he carefully approached the end of the passageway. There was the slight problem of getting his legs to obey the commands his brain was issuing to them. For some reason, it felt as though he was trying to move slowly through treacle. He looked up again at the glow, which from this proximity, could plainly be seem, rising above the rusting buildings, that were giving Billy some protection from prying eyes.
With every small step, he drew closer to his goal and the whispering grew incrementally louder and harsher in tone. Now, he was beginning to ask himself a different question. 'Was this really the sound of children at all and if it wasn’t, did he really want to know what it was?' This thought was frightening and he halted his progress and pressed his back up against the grimy corrugated surface of the shed, to his left hand side. He stood there motionlessly, as if he were a piece of petrified rock, totally unable to move his legs. As his breathing, which had become quite ragged, began to calm down again, he became aware of the thumping sound of his own heart beat pounding in his ears.
Billy, paused like this, for several moments, forcing himself to breathe quietly and gain control of his heartbeat. 'Fear is the mind killer,' he quoted to himself over and over until he calmed down. His footsteps, made a gentle crunching sound on the uneven floor, as he again slowly inched his way towards the corner of the building.
'Get a fucking grip, man,' he silently cursed under his breath, as his legs failed him again and he remained static, in the darkness. However, having come this far in his efforts to expose the bearer of the light and his whispering friends, he wasn’t going to back off now. By sheer force of will he began to edge forward again but with each small step, the whispering voices, which now seemed like splinters of razor sharp glass cutting through his skull and piercing his brain, grew agonisingly louder in his mind. They made his ears ache and as the harsh whispering grew louder joining with the beating of his heart, throbbing in his head, he found he was just standing there motionless. He was almost daring himself to peer around the corner at the ‘thing’ creating this fear, now coursing through his body.
His blood felt like it ran cold in his veins, then taking his courage in both hands, he leant forward and peeped round the edge of the metal clad structure, at the object of his curiosity and fear. Billy, stuck his head out and just stared, almost mesmerised by the vision which met his eyes.
There, right in the centre of the entire works, was a figure which appeared at first glance, to be a man in rags but who it seemed, was almost impossible to get in focus. The yellow glow seemed to emanate from this being. No sooner was this figure locked into your gaze, than it just seemed to almost ‘dance away’ and slip, effortlessly out of phase, only to reappear and then, slip away again. The rhythmic, sinuous motions of it’s dance, captivated Billy.
Slowly he became aware this creature was entwining him in it’s world with it’s enthralling dance, he could sense it cast a deadly spell upon it’s audience. Part of Billy knew he should be fleeing from this place, but he stayed where he was, utterly entranced by this sensuous, almost erotic display. As he stared at the swaying figure, he could feel his senses leaving his body and he became a little woozy, his head seemed to float in motion with the dance. He became unsteady on his feet. Almost falling, he reached for the closest solid object and clung on tightly. Nervously, Billy looked back towards the entity, trying to gauge if his movement had been seen. Mercifully, it appeared that his slip had gone unobserved.
As he reluctantly tore his eyes, away from the ’spinning, whirling, phasic creature,’ that continued it’s sensual dance inside the circle, he attempted, impossibly, to sum up the extent of danger he was in. Things like this didn’t happen every day. Reality was not of any great concern to him right now, after all these were surreal circumstances. The whispering sounds, emanating from the unseen galleries on the exterior edge of this bizarre open air hall, rose and fell in unison with the movements of 'the dancer.’ What the glow, from the incandescence had revealed, were sporadic glimpses, of something laying motionless around the edges of this makeshift amphitheater, communing with the swaying spectre.
His eyes were now acclimatising to the shimmering light, allowing Billy to see more clearly into the semi darkness, at the jumbled collection of girders and piping surrounding the main pylon. On every piece of piping, or jutting girder, perched an enormous black bird. There were hundreds of them, standing motionless, as the entity in the centre of the mass, continued swaying, while phasing in and out of focus, before his very eyes.
His mind was cold steel now and he surmised these Avians were in fact, Ravens, just as were depicted on the wrought iron gates. It was time to move to a more secluded position. Without taking his eyes from the 'dancer’ he stepped slowly backwards but as he did so, his foot caught on a long discarded soft drink can and kicked it forward, towards the circle. The skittering sound, as this rogue container bounced it’s way across the hard surface, instantly drew the attention of the exotic entity and the mass of Ravens.
Suddenly, the dancing stopped and every Raven, turned it’s glittering red eyed gaze towards Billy. Then, with one single guttural,
“Caw,” which resonated around the circle, it seemed a thousand birds took off at once. The spectre at the centre of this chaos, had halted its mesmerising reel and was now staring straight at him. The luminosity the being had generated, faded, as the dance had slowed and was now extinguished. The surrounds of the circle became indistinct, as the multitude of Raven’s took flight and even though he could physically feel the draft they were creating and hear the sound of the myriad of their beating wings, he could’t see them clearly. His vision was being shattered by the stroboscopic effects the birds were creating with their quicksilver criss crossing, of their wings, before his eyes.
Billy, now frozen in his boots. Having been momentarily blinded, turned his eyes away from the birds and focused instead, on the centre of the circle, only to see the ‘Dancing Spectre,’ was moving towards him. Deep inside Billy knew he, like the birds, had better fly away from this place and quickly. He stared, wide eyed at the creature advancing towards him and to his dismay, he saw that it was already more than half way across the stone circle. Gone was the blurring effect, that was caused by the phasing. Now it looked like a creature, that must have come straight from perdition itself. It’s attire, looked like it had not changed since medieval times. A hooded garment, as dark as the night and tattered all over, obliterated any features, except for the long white boney fingers, which were occasionally exposed when the air, drafted the ragged strands of cloth aside and these long, sharp talons, which appeared more like claws, were briefly visible, as it silently descended upon him.
Billy could see it appeared to be floating, a few inches above the ground and that he had no time to spare. It was time to leave, fast! Wrenching his gaze away, he spun on his heels, ready to run but as he turned, he could see that the spectre, was already there at the end of the passageway, baring his exit to the gates.
'How did it get there so fast?' He thought. 'Maybe, there’s more than one,' his mind answered. This possibility, made him glance behind but there didn’t appear to be a second pursuer, so he returned his gaze back towards the figure standing by the iron gates, blocking his only way out. Billy stood motionless, peering through the mirk, at the figure, 'What the fuck are yougoing to do now, Billy?'
The dark figure, just stood it’s ground and appeared, from under its shrouded countenance, to blankly stare back, directly at him, almost inviting him to make the first move. 'That thing’s just standing there, waiting for something to happen,' he desperately thought, 'think Billy and think fast, or you’re a dead man.'
His mind raced but before he could put any crazy plan into action, he was distracted by a sudden strike, on the top of his head and he immediately felt the blood trickling down his face.
“Fuck,” he spluttered as he protectively put his hand to his head whilst trying to gauge the damage that had been done. “Christ almighty,” he said in a whisper, adding “Shit, one of the bastards has cut me,” and he quickly looked down the alleyway at the creature that was still waiting, barring the gates.
“Caw,” came the sound from one of the Ravens. Now the full impact of the sight of hundreds of enormous black birds, sitting around the inner circle, in that putrid glow and the sounds of all those children whispering came back to him.
“Shit, one of those bastards has cut me,” he squeaked again. As he finished his utterance, suddenly, what seemed like a million terrifying Ravens, were flapping all around his head, pecking and clawing at him. Billy couldn’t see a thing as the blood went in his eyes and blinded him. He waved his arms defensively, then crouched momentarily, to wipe some of the warm blood away, before he ran for his life.
That, was his great mistake. Suddenly, the mass of birds were on him, talons dug deep into his flesh and sinews, chunks of flesh were pecked from his face. Billy was screaming now as the pain tore through him. His eyes were tight shut against the ripping horror of those beaks, he was trying to run.
Gradually he became aware that his feet had no purchase. The birds had lifted him slightly off the ground. Billy opened his eyes, the pecking had stopped, now he was floating a few inches above the ground, arms outstretched like a cruciform being propelled down the ginnel, towards his wraith like tormentor.
Frantically his eyes searched for something, anything, that he could use to slow down his seemingly endless passage towards this hideous persecutor, this gatekeeper from hell. One post, or a rusty iron tube half buried in the solid packed ground would have done, but there was nothing. He strained his neck, in order to see his winged assailants but what he saw, filled him with even more dread. All the Ravens carrying him inexorably towards the phantom by the gates, had glistening red eyes and heavy blood stained beaks.
Billy writhed and twisted, but his captors seemed totally oblivious, to any struggle to free himself from their morbid grip. Billy watched, with his eyes wide, as they got closer to the now swaying ‘shade,’ at the end of the passageway. He caught glimpses of the long white claws, that he had seen before, as the entity was crossing the stone circle. As he and the wraith drew closer together the claws were uncovered fully from the tattered material that made up the Spectre’s raiments. The Ravens, carried him ever onward and then he saw the face of his nemesis. It was the snarling face of pure malice and as he opened his mouth to scream, he felt the hot intrusion of the boney spikes, as they thrust effortlessly through his skin and the long white fingers of bone, pierced his chest and closed mercilessly on his still beating heart. In an instant the claw drew back ripping it out, then held his heart aloft for Billy bear witness to his fate.
In that moment, just before he died, Billy thought of “Buster,” and then his light blinked out and he was gone.
Up in Whitehaven, there was a clear full moon shining down on the Cumbrian town. At the very moment that Billy died in The Ravens Gate, “Buster,” started howling and at that precise instant, Jillian awoke and sat bolt upright in her bed, petrified. Her body was soaked with sweat and she couldn’t help herself, as she cried out, just the single word,
“Billy!” which issued from her throat, in a voice, that came directly from the underworld.
Some 120 miles away, in Gildabrooke, “Powderfinger,” had claimed another victim and at this moment, only one terrified woman and a dog, named “Buster,” knew anything about it.