Chanter's Hide

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Chanter’s Hide nestles in its own cove on the Dorset coast. Although it lies between Burton Bradstock and Abbotsbury, no-one from either village knows of its existence. Ben Ebbrell, an editor with a leading publishing house in London has visited Dorset once before with his wife, Jan. She is expecting their first child and intends to give up her well-paid position at an up and coming ad agency to become a full-time mum. As Ben is resigning himself to being the sole bread winner and putting his dream of becoming an author himself on the back burner, he learns that he is a beneficiary in his uncle Ted’s will, a man he remembers vaguely from his childhood. The bequest is a cottage in the tiny village of Chanter’s Hide. It appears his prayers have been answered. He and Jan can sell their Knightsbridge town house and move to the south coast, looking forward to a life where they can put their baby first and not worry about money. Their house sells quickly and, a month later, they are on their way to a new life. Chanter’s Hide is revelation, the villagers producing their own food and brewing their own ales and wine. Solar panels provide the village with electricity, whilst a reservoir and dilapidated pumping station supplies the residents with a creaky but serviceable water supply. Jan is over the moon with its primitive charm and when the local vicar arrives to welcome them to the v

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The old man closed the door to his cottage. A mist was rolling in, its tendrils creeping across the face of the moon. He turned up his collar and shivered. He willed his feet to move but they remained rooted.

‘Come on, you have to do this,’ he said through gritted teeth. He began to shuffle down the path, the chill combining with fear to increase his shivering. He hugged himself, rubbing his biceps with his gloved hands. The thick, winter coat he wore felt like tissue paper.

The garden gate hung askew but open, attached to the gatepost by a single screw. As he walked out onto the footpath it felt like he was wading through quicksand. The mist was thickening by the second as it often did – just another February night on the Dorset coast. His breath joined with the murk as he ambled up to the junction. He glanced up. The moon was being smothered; its usual brilliance dulled. It reminded the old man of a rusty, old penny.

‘A devil’s moon,’ he said softly.

He reached the junction and turned towards the sea, wishing his friend were with him, although he understood why he wasn’t – of course he did. He had a son to think of. No; this was his fight. He’d started it and now he must finish it – one way or another. He wondered if he’d see the mist disappear, the weak, late winter, morning sun’s arthritic fingers tearing at it as if it was candy floss. He put the thought out of his mind.

He looked back towards the village, a place he’d called both home and prison for the past ten years. It was in total darkness. He wondered if any of the spineless bastards were watching him. He took his glove off and shoved his hand into his coat pocket. His fingers searched for the amulet but closed into an empty fist. He was just making sure he’d put it into a safe place, and not brought it with him. The confirmation was relief and disappointment in equal measure. Deep down, he knew, for this to work, he needed the amulet with him, but he also knew that if everything went to shit and it fell into the wrong hands, it was the end – the end of everything.

He reached the driveway, hoping his surveillance for the past two months hadn’t been in vain. Unless something out of the ordinary had occurred, he should have the place to himself for at least an hour. He hoped that would be long enough.

The gravel crunched under his boots as he made his way up to the house, the ball of fear in his gut growing with every step. He wasn’t afraid of dying. He’d had a long life, not particularly happy, but better than a lot. To keel over from a massive heart attack or die in his sleep in his own bed held no fear for him. What he was afraid of – was dying in this evil place.

He reached the front door, the oak, black and forbidding. He took a deep breath, turned the handle, and pushed. The door swung inward without a sound. He stood on the threshold taking more deep breaths, fighting the panic that wanted to force his legs to turn and run.

‘You’ve come this far,’ he said to himself. He stepped into the hall and listened. The house was silent, and he was sure they were over on that God forsaken rock. It didn’t take long for his eyes to adjust to the blackness of the house as it was only marginally darker than the misty night.

He began to shuffle deeper into the building, not knowing the location of the final piece of the puzzle. He was sure if he’d brought the amulet it would have guided him. Suddenly, he felt like a fish out of water, lost and alone. The darkness closed in around him.

‘You’re an old fool,’ he said, the panic increasing. He had never been a timid man, never one to turn the other cheek. Never afraid to fight his corner. However, alone in this house, he felt like a frightened child.

“Indeed, you are.” The voice came from the gloom ahead, but the old man recognised the owner immediately.

“You’re on the island.”

“Yes, I am.” A face emerged, hovering in the darkness, bodiless, grinning. “Did you really think a pathetic, old relic like you would be any threat? You should have taken a leaf out of your friend’s book and kept your nose out.” The face smiled. The old man knew it was all over. He cursed his stupidity as he heard the tiny, scuttling feet and felt the insects crawling over his boots and up inside his trousers. He started to cry, slapping at his legs. They were all over him. He could feel them biting, burrowing into his flesh. He lost his footing and fell, his hip slamming into the wooden floor, the joint snapping like a twig. He screamed in pain. Cockroaches and spiders of all sizes emerged from the collar of his coat and scurried into his open mouth and up his nose. He flapped his hands uselessly as his airway was blocked. His last thought before he died was one word – ‘Sorry’.

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