Pink Moon: Part Three

This is the conclusion of a three-part short story for Easter. Parts One and Two are available below, so you might want to read them before you read on… Also, a small warning of some elements of witchcraft, some creepy and some sensual (all 12 rated stuff though!)

Abi awoke. The room she lay in was dark although strong, pink-tinged light drifted through the large bay window and settled in a soft pool on the floorboards, stretching long and pale to the door on the far side. She was aware that there was blood on her sheets and on her legs, and streaks of mud. She felt no shame. She had no memory of getting to bed nor of putting on the white smock she wore now. It was all as though this was quite normal. She felt no panic, despite the blood and the dirt and the darkness which suggested she had slept through the day. She merely gazed around in the half-light to gain her bearings. She was in a small bedroom. Wooden beams supported the white ceiling and ran through the walls like roots. The floor was polished oak, worn and rutted with time. It felt good under her grimy bare feet as she walked to the sink against one wall to wash herself. She did not question the dirt. The reluctant pipes banged out a resistant tattoo before sputtering out cold water. A memory of a more luxurious bathroom, with hot running water and expensive soaps and moisturisers came and went; it seemed of little consequence now.

She peered out of the thick, warped glass of the window. In the moonlight, she could see quite clearly. Directly below the window was a small beer garden; the grass was recently mown, and bench-tables were set out in ordered rows. Beyond that, a low gated fence marked the boundary between the garden and the woods beyond. The trees were old and even in the gloom, Abi could see that they were marked with green lichen. On the trees closest to the garden, she saw thick buds on the branches, heavy and expectant. A dirt path led from a gate into the woods, but it disappeared into shadows only a short way in. The gate stood half open.

His head was thrown back, and the toothless mouth was wide open and gulping at the air. Long toenails grasped the branches like the talons of a hawk, or some terrible damnation of a baby bird.

A nagging unease tugged at her consciousness. She had a feeling that she had to be somewhere else, that someone was expecting her, but she could not place it. As she determined to dress herself and leave, (although to go where, she could not say) something very strange caught her eye, so strange that it caused a chill to pass through her and the hair on her head to prickle and raise. Uncertain of what she had seen in the shadows amongst the trees, she looked again and, this time, she was sure; there was a naked man, skin pink against the grey bark, curled up in the dense branches. He was old, in fact she thought the man to be the oldest she had ever seen. His paper-thin skin stretched tight over his bones. He had bulbous, blind eyes over which a thin layer of skin had grown. His head was thrown back, and the toothless mouth was wide open and gulping at the air. Long toenails grasped the branches like the talons of a hawk, or some terrible damnation of a baby bird.

She stepped back, away from the window, horrified. But when she looked again, there was no old man; only a twisted gnarl on the trunk of a tree which, if one squinted, could be supposed to be a figure. And the gate leading on to the path gaped, still open. Her eyes moved along the path into the shadowy nether-darkness of the trees, all stygian and black as pitch, and there, they met another, much smaller pair of eyes. The hare was sitting at the very edge of the wood, its huge ears touched with silver from the moon’s light, and its white breast shone bright amongst the dun-brown wire of its fur; it stared at her with dark eyes and she, in turn, gazed back.

Then, without knowing how she got there, or why she had opted to leave the relative security of the room, Abi was outside, the gate leading to the dirt path open before her. The hare sat only yards away from her, fixing her with a black stare. She felt the cool night air on her exposed skin, causing it to pucker into hard goosebumps. Her white nightgown clung to her form, but she was unashamed of her near nakedness, or of the abstraction of scarlet which stained the gown between her legs. Her red hair poured over her shoulders in thick, glossy waves; her lips too, bruised red against her pale skin. The pink moon was swollen and malevolent above the trees, and it tugged at her, beckoning her to the woods. She felt the pull in her womb, ebbing and flowing, growing more insistent, more needful with each sharp pang and she knew she had to follow the call. The wind pushed gently against her, shaping the gown more tightly to her body, and moving her hair as she stepped towards the gate. The hare, seeing her approach, spun around and disappeared into the shadows amongst the trees and she followed it into the darkness.

The hare was sitting at the very edge of the wood, its huge ears touched with silver from the moon’s light

They were there to meet her, Nan and the witches. They lined the path in their multitudes, dressed as she was, in white robes, or they were naked, their ancient skin drawn tight over sharp bones, thick and wrinkled by time, like the trunks of the trees which crowded around them and above them, and their fingers clawed at the air around them as though they were fashioning something from its canvas. Long, twisted toenails tore at the dry earth as they swayed and chanted, strange, guttural cawing, like rooks and ravens crying out in the night. And in the branches, men, old and naked, bent into shapes which mirrored the branches, blind eyes searching, talons clinging to the trees, returned the calls, heads thrown back so that wattles of pink skin wobbled below their ancient throats. There was laughter too, manic and cracked, cackling and screeching and, amongst it all, the name, ‘Abigail’ whispered through the darkness, a hissed chant. Abi, walking the path through the hideous crones, felt no fear. Her head was raised high to face the moon, still visible through cracks in the vaulted ceiling of this cathedral. She felt the earth beneath her feet, and felt its power coursing upwards between her legs, felt the throb of her femininity there and the pulse of her blood fresh on her thighs, as strength she had not been aware of before.

At its heart a fire raged, the flickering flames throwing broken shadows of strange creatures, angular and twisted, sharp jointed and black as pitch, that danced and spun amongst them.

Ahead of her, lined by swaying old women, all naked so that Abi could see their skin hanging from their bodies in loose folds, was a clearing in the trees; a circle of ground, bright against the shadows. At its heart a fire raged, the flickering flames throwing broken shadows of strange creatures, angular and twisted, sharp jointed and black as pitch, that danced and spun amongst them. The hare danced there too, standing erect on its hind legs, or skipping between the shadows and the air became sulphurous and heavy.

The ground softened beneath her feet as she stepped into the clearing. Thick grass grew here, soft, forgiving. And as she stepped from the path, the noise stopped.

For a moment there was a terrible, empty silence, save the whispering of the trees and the crackling of the fire; Abi’s head swam, her senses stretched thin with the powerful stench of sulphur, the dancing light of the fire and the ominous glare of the pink moon which was clearly visible above them all now that the trees had cleared. The singing began then, dark and low, a tune ancient and strange in a language she couldn’t place. It grew louder and more intense. The hare had stopped dancing and now stood before Abi and she saw that it wasn’t a hare at all, but a man. It was, in almost all description, the man she had seen tending the bar, but now he seemed larger, and his eyes, in which horizontal slices of wet blackness blinked, were quite yellow. Horns, gnarled and skeletal, curled from his forehead and his thick blond hair appeared as a coarse mane which spread down over his chest and onto the legs like fur. Powerful hooves dug at the ground where Abi was sure feet should have been. Still, she felt no fear, but a strong attraction. There was a heady scent in the air, his scent, and she sniffed at it greedily, her senses craving more. She became aware of an urgent, throbbing need for the beast. It beckoned to her, raising its powerful arms outwards towards her, and the singing grew louder, strange harmonies which made her body tingle.

‘You’re ready. Give in to your senses, woman, let them go, let it all go.’ The woman she knew as Nan was beside her although Abi had not seen anyone approach, and now rough, dry, clawed hands tore at her gown so that it fell from her shoulders and she felt the heat of the fire on her skin, and still she felt no fear, nor shame at the blood that spilled from her onto the grass at her feet. The singing grew in intensity, louder and louder still, and the smell of the beast filled her twitching nostrils, and the moon dominated the sky, and Abi, or the woman who had once been Abi, gave herself to the savagery of the beast and the night…


It is pale dawn. The sky is still dark but, on the far horizon where the woods touch the sky, a sliver of silver light marks the arrival of the sun. Birds flit between the branches of the trees, sudden flickers of black in the branches, and their song begins to burst forth, coruscating trills and swoops. Then, with a sudden flash, the sun breaks above the trees, bringing golden light. Just as abruptly, there is a heavy aroma of blossom: the apple trees on the edge of the pub garden are, at once, garlanded with white flowers and wildflowers spring from the earth around the trees, pushing through the earth and stretching upwards with pregnant buds straining and then exploding into colour: magenta corncockle, white anemone and cow parsley, brilliant yellow kingcup or Lady’s Bedfellow with its strong aroma of new-mown hay. Even an untimely field poppy with its bright scarlet flower blooms here amongst the grass. Insects hum busily in the day’s first light, bees responding to the call of the flowers and butterflies, the Red Admiral or the smaller, pale brimstone that flutter drowsily on the gentle breeze of Spring.

A hare skips lazily across the pub garden. It lopes past the old wooden door to the pub and onwards down the path, past two benches, and down to the roadside where a green Mini Cooper is parked. It stops by the car, sniffing the air, as though familiar with the scent there. It is a large hare, much larger than average. Its keen eyes fix upon the car door for a while and then, as though whatever memory it may have had has passed, it goes back towards the pub, down the path to the side which leads to the garden at the rear, and on, through the open gate into the woods, until it is lost forever in the shadows of the trees.

And there, above it all, still visible in the orange glow of the morning sky, the pink moon fades slowly until it too has disappeared from sight.

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Pink Moon: Part Two

This is Part Two of an three-part folk horror short story for Easter. Part One is available below. Part Three will be published on Easter Sunday.

It took her longer than she had expected to find the village. The roads had barely been wide enough for her car, and they wound around tight bends so she could only travel at low speed. Once, she passed another sign which said that Evercreech was still 2 miles away and she cursed the ridiculous road system that meant you could be driving for 10 minutes and be no closer to where you were going than you were before. But eventually the road widened, and she saw the lights of houses up ahead. The village was tiny; a few small cottages nestled around a green, and a pub. Although it was undoubtedly picturesque, Abi had hoped for a few more signs of life around; she was shaken from the earlier events and had been looking forward to some normal company to restore her confidence. Nonetheless, she was here now. It wouldn’t take long to find the address, pick up the bag and be on her way. She slowed to a crawl and drove up to the first cottage which was set back from the road, with a worn iron gate marking the entrance via a short path. A slate hung from the gate with the name ‘Aconite’ scrawled on it. Abi edged the car on to the next cottage. This one, similarly gated was named ‘Artemisia’. She moved on again, around the green, slowing to read the name on each: ‘Hyssop’; ‘Catnip’; ‘Sage’. Quaint. But no ‘Spring Cottage’. Had this been a waste of time? Irritation chewed at her insides. It was almost completely dark by now and the sky had metamorphosed to an inky black. It must be near here somewhere. She would just have to ask in the pub, the last stop on her short tour around the green. The lights in the pub windows glowed warmly but the last thing Abi wanted to do was go in. It had turned into a long day; she had the three-hour journey back still to face and the cramps were starting to bite into her womb.  

She was not surprised, therefore, to find that there was no car park at the pub. It was another irritation in a shitty day. She had to leave the Mini on the side of the road and walk up to the entrance, across a small, grassed area with two benches, to find the door. It looked old. Beams of gnarled brown wood were barely held together by large black iron hinges. Voices hummed low behind it. She would have to come back with some friends, she thought. They would love it round here. But in the daylight. In the dark it was somehow less inviting. She placed her hand on the weathered latch, pressed it down and pushed. The old door shuddered open.

‘…the scene was lit by a pink-tinged moon. Had she seen it, burning silent and cold in the witch-black night sky, then she would have remarked on its preternatural size, or perhaps on the unsettling strangeness of the light that settled over everything.’

As she entered, the clouds shifted, and the scene was lit by a pink-tinged moon. Had she seen it, burning silent and cold in the witch-black night sky, then she would have remarked on its preternatural size, or perhaps on the unsettling strangeness of the light that settled over everything, a light which created shadows, long and deep, which twisted and danced under the moon’s cruel eye.

But she did not see it. In fact, she remained totally unaware of its looming presence over everything that transpired that night.

Abi immediately recognised the scent of sandalwood. It was her favourite fragrance for the many scented candles she burned at home. Sandalwood was her ‘front room’ fragrance. Here, though, the air was heavy with it, the leather and burnt wood aroma strong enough for her to briefly step back to acclimatise. Low beams supported the white ceiling and she thought about ducking despite her relatively short height. In front of her, a thick, dark oak bar was festooned with dried hops and small decorations of twisted grass and twigs. There were tables scattered around the small room, and a large open fireplace against one wall in which logs burned. This seemed to Abi to be slightly ridiculous; it had been a very warm day and the pub was stiflingly hot. Nevertheless, an elderly couple were sat at the table directly in front of the flames. In fact, now that she looked, everyone in here was elderly, at least 70 years old. The women all had long, white hair which they wore bunched up on their heads, held in place with large wooden clips or hairpins. They sat in couples, some with men, some not, each pair facing one another across dark and heavy wooden tables. Each had a pint of amber-coloured ale in front of them, and, Abi noted with a slight chill, each glass stood precisely half-full. They spoke to one another in hushed tones and, if it weren’t for the strangeness of the scene, and the oppressive heat, the atmosphere might have been described as ‘warm’ or ‘convivial’.

There was one woman sat alone at the bar. She was younger than the rest of the clientele and much shorter, shorter, Abi estimated than her; her hair was not yet white, but chestnut-brown and piled up on her head in thick tresses which caught the soft light in the room in such a way as to make it appear to Abi that it moved, each tress of hair sliding smoothly over the other. It was hypnotic. The woman turned as soon as Abi entered, a wide, welcoming smile already on her face if not yet in her eyes. It was a professional welcome, Abi thought. They must have lots of day trippers come through here. That was a relief.

‘Hi,’ Abi said, presuming that the woman was the landlady. ‘I wonder if you could…’

‘Help you? Of course we can!’ the woman replied, cutting Abi off mid-sentence. Her voice was pleasant, slightly accented with the Somerset burr. ‘If you’ll just sit yourself down here,’ she said, indicating the bar stool beside her, ‘and we’ll see what we can do.’

Abi was too canny for this old trick. She didn’t want to end up buying half the pub a drink. It might work with naïve old buggers out for a Sunday drive…

‘Let us get you fed and watered first though, eh? You look tired. Bet you’ve got yourself lost on these roads. It’s easy to do round here.’ The woman waited expectantly, still indicating towards the empty bar stool.

‘No, honestly, it’s fine, I just…’

‘Need some help. Of course, and we can help you. I just wish you’d eat something first before you go out there again. It’s a long way to get anywhere else from here; you won’t regret it.’

Abi felt another jab of annoyance, this time with the woman’s habit of finishing her sentences. But, in all honesty, she was suddenly aware of a strong hunger. Maybe just a sandwich. Wouldn’t cost her much to…

‘On the house?’ The woman looked at her most insistently, and her tone was almost pleading.

‘I don’t mind…’

‘Paying? No of course you don’t, but we insist. I won’t have anyone going back to their lives with anything but good words about us.’

The woman’s choice of words was strange. What could she mean ‘going back to their lives’? Going back from what? ‘Are you…’

‘Quite sure, love. It’s not a problem. C’mon, sit down and we’ll get you sorted.’

A young man had appeared behind the bar. Abi was sure he hadn’t been there when she came in and so she assumed he had been around the back, cleaning glasses or whatever bar staff did these days. He was strikingly handsome. His wavy blond hair was long enough to tuck behind his ears, and he had crystalline blue eyes which were a striking contrast to the russet tones of the rest of the room. He looked over to Abi and smiled, revealing a set of perfectly white teeth. Once again, Abi wished she could have posted something on Facebook.

‘…a light which created shadows, long and deep, which twisted and danced under the moon’s cruel eye’

‘Vegetable soup okay?’ the woman asked. Abi nodded. ‘And a pint…’

‘No, thanks, I don’t…’

‘Course you do. It’s tradition here. You don’t have to drink it all.’

‘But I have to drive…’

Her protests fell on deaf ears. The barman gripped the pump on the bar and yanked it; each time she heard a loud gush of liquid squirt into the pint glass he held beneath it. There was something primal and lusty about the action, as though the beer was milk teased from the udders of a cow.  She watched as he filled the glass. When it was full, he lifted it so that Abi could see the frothing head of the beer continue to expand until it spilt over the sides of the glass and ran over the man’s slender hands. He held it there, waiting for the beer to settle, then placed it on the bar. ‘There we go,’ he said. He did not ask for payment.

‘On the house.’ It was the woman again, still smiling. ‘Come on. Sit down, have a drink and we’ll get you on your way.’

Abi felt that she was losing control of the situation but felt powerless to do anything about it. It wasn’t as though she couldn’t just walk out. She could, any time she liked. But it was pleasant enough in here. And she was tired. She felt a familiar tugging in her womb again, and wanted nothing more than to sit down, eat something and rest. The package could wait. Gavin could wait. It was still early evening. There was plenty of time.

‘Come on!’ The woman was becoming more forceful in her entreaties, still pleasant but more urgent. ‘Sit down, sit down.’ She held her arm out as though to guide Abi to the stool. ‘I won’t bite.’

Abi smiled. It was hard to resist the woman, even if she was being a royal pain in the arse. She supposed that it must be difficult, living amongst all of these old buggers with no-one even close to your age to talk to. It would be enough to drive her round the bend. Abi thought of her own mother, of the endless weekends trying to keep her entertained. Her mother liked to talk about the other residents of her street, even though she knew few of them well enough to really know what was going on. She had names for them all: ‘the fella with the cap’, ‘the lady in the bungalow,’ or ‘that couple that moved in last year,’ and Abi would listen and share opinions about them. For hours and hours. The only break she got from the endless chatter was when she made a cup of tea. Abi drank a lot of tea with her mother.

If it was bad for her, then God knows what it must be like for this poor woman! Abi squeezed herself into the space between the bar and the stool and placed herself on the seat. As she did, the woman sniffed the air. It was a small gesture, hardly noticeable, but Abi saw it. It was more like the movement of a rodent than an attractive middle-aged woman, excitable and urgent. She wondered which of her perfumes she had sprayed on that morning. ‘It’s Tom Ford,’ she said.

The woman looked confused. For a moment, the smile disappeared.

‘Tom Ford. The perfume?’

The veil lifted; the woman was beaming again. ‘Ah, yes! Lovely stench…’

Abi laughed at the choice of word. ‘That it is,’ she said amicably, and they both enjoyed the joke. To be honest, Abi was surprised the woman could smell anything over her own heavy scent, which added to the sandalwood was actually quite nauseating. And now she was closer, Abi noticed that the woman was heavily made-up, and not with any great care. Thick black smudges of eyeliner ran around the large green eyes; cherry red lipstick ran a little past the corners of the wide mouth. Abi supposed there was skin beneath the slabs of foundation the woman had applied to her face, but she could have no possible insight into what shade it might be. Despite all of this, Abi found her to be quite beautiful. She wondered why someone with such excellent bone structure and striking green eyes would want to hide behind so much make-up. It made her look cheap and tawdry. Ten minutes with her, Abi thought, and I could make her look like a movie star.

‘Call me Nan,’ she said. ‘Everyone else does.’

‘Nan. Okay… I’m Abi.’

The woman didn’t appear to be interested in her name, in fact she almost spoke over Abi as she said: ‘Go on. Have a drink, then.’ The woman was leaning forward and fidgeting with her long fingers, clicking her fingernails which bent like a bird’s talons. They were heavily enamelled, in a dark plum colour. She licked her lips when she spoke. ‘Go on…’

Abi gave in to the pressure. She would take a sip, say how much she liked it, thank you very much, and then she would quietly nurse the drink until it was time to go. She drank. As she did, a fiddle started playing. The sound came from the shadowy corner of the room. Her view was blocked by couples sat at tables, but she could make out the elbow of the player skipping back and forth; it made her think of an insect she had seen on a pond at a country house she had visited on one of the many days out she and Gavin had taken her mother on to kill some time on a Sunday. A Pond Skater. That was it. There was something about the way the elbow was bent, and the way it flickered back and forth that appeared insectile to her.

And then, a male voice began singing, accompanied by a guitar. It was tuneful but way too folky for Abi’s taste. The woman beside her swayed to the music, but kept her eyes on Abi, smiling all the time. In fact, everyone in the pub had turned towards the music and they were swaying too as the voice sang words of a lusty man and a chaste woman. There was a refrain that Abi began to pick up on:

‘And he said ‘Bide, lady, bide, There’s nowhere you can hide, For the lusty smith will be your love, And he will lay your pride.’

Absent-mindedly, she sipped again at the pint before her, and the woman smiled, and the people swayed, and the singer sang his song of conquest, and she felt her insides tug and pull but she did not care. The room seemed brighter now for the music, and the people were younger than she had at first thought, and the woman, she seemed more beautiful, and the deep chestnut glow of her hair seemed more lustrous than before. The singing too, became more intense.

‘So the lady she turned into a hare, And she ran across the plain; But he became a greyhound dog, And he ran her down again.’

Abi had drunk half of the ale now, without knowing that she had. Her head began to swim. Somewhere deep below the warmth of the moment, the joy in the singing, the kindness and comfort of the company, she knew that she should stop, that this wasn’t right… She tried to speak: ‘What have you…’

‘Just the ale, lovely, just the ale. Relax. You deserve to relax…’ said the woman, who by now looked radiant. Had her hair always been down, flowing over her shoulders like that? Abi had a faint memory that it hadn’t been. But she must have been wrong… she didn’t know anymore. It really didn’t matter. She wanted to dance and she slipped down from her stool.

‘…it was all one, the music, the smells, the old women and old men who danced with her, and she thought she saw a beast amongst them, a beast with yellow eyes and curling horns, but it didn’t matter, not now, nothing did, not any more…’

‘Yes, yes, that’s right, go on dear, go on,’ the woman was hissing and Abi thought that the woman’s voice was in her ear. She felt eyes on her, many eyes, and hands, hands upon her, tugging her this way and then that, and she wanted to dance, she wanted to move her feet, to move, faster and faster, and the music seemed to grow louder and faster with her movement until it was all one, the music, the smells, the old women and old men who danced with her, and she thought she saw a beast amongst them, a beast with yellow eyes and curling horns, but it didn’t matter, not now, nothing did, not any more…

‘And when she woke he held her so, And still he bade her bide; And the lusty smith became her love, For all her mighty pride.’

Abi danced and spun and forgot about her irritation, the bag, the journey home, her mother, Gavin. Outside, pink and full, the moon glared down on the pub on the green.


The moon is full and pink as a rosebud. By its light, she sees the earth all aglow, the furrows deep in shadow. She feels its pull deep inside, knows its touch. Her scent will fill the air, there to dance with the night’s fainter aroma, of apple-blossom, and jasmine and the fresh coolness of the river that runs nearby. Her ears twitch as she responds to the soft song of the water running over rocks and the cry of the owl from the woods. The soil still carries moisture; she can feel that through her paws, and she can feel the roots of the apple trees and oak trees that border the field writhe and churn in the earth, deep, deep down, inside the earth. Inside her. She shudders.

And there is another scent, a strong, heady, thick scent. There is another beast coming. It will find her smell, it will want her. Her nose sniffs the air, ascertains the direction of the threat and then she starts to move, skipping fast across the field, her powerful hind legs pushing clouds of dirt behind her as she weaves and, already, she can hear the beast breathing hard, heavy paws galloping on the same soil, she can smell the rich, hot stench of it as it pounds the ground between her and it.

Her black eyes fix upon the hedgerow, where she will be safe, amongst the brambles there, that will rip and tear at the dog’s nose as it pokes stupidly in, she will be safe there, safe…

But the chase is already up and the dog has her, its maw widening to grip her throat and hold her down, quivering, and she feels his weight on her.


She sinks her teeth into the dog’s neck, once, twice. A yelp, and she is free. And she stands on her strong hind legs, stands erect so that she looks down on the beast’s thick grey fur, its startled eyes, its claws, which now hold nothing but the earth. A swift kick to the beast’s stomach, and it whimpers, scrabbling backwards and she feels her power now, and her desire.

When it is over, and dog and hare lie entwined, the moon, pink and glorious, has grown large enough to fill the sky…

Part Three, the conclusion of ‘Pink Moon’, will be uploaded on Easter Sunday. Be sure to subscribe using the button below to ensure you don’t miss it!

‘Pink Moon’

As Easter approaches, I thought I’d share a seasonal weird tale over the holiday. I’ll be uploading the other two parts over the holiday period, so to be sure you get them all, just enter your email address into the form at the bottom of the page. You’ll receive an email when each post arrives.

Part One

Of all the holidays in the year, the one that Abi looked forward to the least was Easter. She just didn’t get what the fuss was about. Of course, she enjoyed the chocolate and Hot Cross Buns and settling down in front of the television to enjoy a film with Romans and Jesus and Charlton Heston but she was a vegetarian, so the traditional Easter roast had no joy for her, and the rest… well, she could get all of that any time she wanted to; a quick visit to her local Tesco would provide the food and she could easily access any movie she liked on one of the many streaming services Gavin subscribed to.

As a practising Catholic, she observed the minor torture of Lent and underwent the hour of agony that was the Easter Sunday service. But she only did that for her mother. Since her father had died, her mother had become unbearable. If anything, her expectations had increased, so that Abi felt the need to have her over for lunch every Sunday now. Gavin hated it. He made no effort to hide his impatience whenever her mother tottered through the front door. He didn’t even get out of his chair in front of the TV to greet the old woman, so the entire burden fell on her. It was a simmering resentment which had begun to boil over into heated arguments.

These days, the only peace she could find was in her car. The 2017 Mini Cooper was, she would tell everyone, her one indulgence in a life of sacrifice and giving without taking. She enjoyed being inside its womb-like interior so much that she had looked forward to the 100 mile journey from her home in Ealing to the small rural village of… wherever it was. Somewhere in Somerset anyway. She had bought a funky little tote bag from ebay, one that would sit nicely amongst her collection and perhaps temporarily dampen the constant niggling frustration that she felt at home.

It couldn’t be far now. She had been on the road since the early afternoon, deciding to get out of the way before Gavin came back from his mate’s. Those two were such idiots together, and he always came back even more annoying than he left. No thanks, she thought, picturing Gavin slumped in his armchair, one white socked foot on the coffee table, the TV remote in one hand, beer in the other. She didn’t think that she would be missing too much. Besides, she had started to come on that morning. The usual irritation with him would be heightened; she’d have to fight to keep the feral red beast inside under control. Better to be away from him for now.

It had been a beautiful day, the sort of day only April can bring. The sun had been warm and golden and now she was away from the urban sprawl, it bathed the hills, fields and trees around her in a sharp, technicolour brilliance. The daffodils in the verges shone bright in large clumps although Abi had noticed that much of the vegetation had been recently cleared from the roadside so that large sections were bare earth or dirt on either side. It looked tidy, which she appreciated. Obviously, the council round here took their responsibilities seriously, unlike the totally incompetent lot residents of South London had to cope with. Abi had lost count of the times the binmen had arrived late, and then refused to take half of the stuff she left out for them. It vexed her momentarily, but she remembered that she had taken this trip to get away from that sort of thing and so she let the thought drift out of the open car window and sped away from it. She pictured it, a little black cloud of urban angst hanging grey above the road, and she hoped it wouldn’t spoil someone else’s day.

She had been driving for over two hours. Her eyes, hidden behind expensive looking sunglasses she had bought from a market trader whilst on holiday in Greece, were prickling with tiredness and hay fever. It seemed too early for that, but there was no mistaking the closing of the sinuses and scratchiness in her eyes. She wished she’d taken a Piriton before leaving but then how was she to have known? It was normally May at the earliest before she needed it. But then, everything had been weird for so long now. The world just seemed to be out of sorts with itself. Despite what she told her mother, Abi had long since given up faith in any divine being. It seemed to her that there was way too much suffering in the world for there to be any great plan behind it. And her mother, who prayed every day and had never missed a Sunday service in her life, was still wreathed in misery. Her father had died painfully, the cancer eating away at him from the inside. He had faded so quickly. She had not been able to reconcile the man who had flung her about so easily, so joyfully, when she was a child to the paper-thin, fragile old man he had been at his death. Why did that have to happen? Why all this fucking pain and punishment and guilt? Fuck that. She kept up the premise of faith for her mother, made all the necessary church appearances but there was nothing, no substance to any of what she did. That said, these thoughts still made her feel a creeping guilt. Did that mean she still had some belief, buried beneath years of cynicism and resentment? Abi didn’t know. She chose not to think about it too much.

He didn’t appear to be moving but was standing perfectly still just in front of the hedgerow, growing larger as she drove closer; she realised with a start that he was staring directly at her, his head turned almost 90 degrees to his left…

She was lost in her thoughts and so she nearly didn’t notice the old man stood by the hedge up ahead. When she did, it was a sudden, sharp shock, and she had to push her fingers under her sunglasses to rub her eyes to be sure. He didn’t appear to be moving but was standing perfectly still just in front of the hedgerow, growing larger as she drove closer; she realised with a start that he was staring directly at her, his head turned almost 90 degrees to his left so that he could watch her approach without turning his body. He held this strange attitude, eyes fixed not on the car, Abi felt, but on her, without moving or, she would later recall, without blinking. As the car drew close she was able to ascertain that the man was elderly and dressed in a shabby suit and tie, a woollen V-neck pullover visible beneath the suit jacket. He wore nothing on his feet which were filthy with dirt.

Not wishing to be easily intimidated, Abi held his stare for as long as she dared until she passed the man, moving closer to the middle of the road to avoid him. He held her gaze even as she drove by, his head turning to watch her pass. He was emotionless. ‘Fuck you looking at?’ she shouted, although she did not wind down her window, and sped up a little as she went by. ‘Dick!’

Once past, Abi cast a nervous glance into her rear-view mirror and watched the figure recede into the distance until the road curved and she lost sight of him. He had never once taken his eyes from her.

‘Fucking weirdo,’ Abi muttered to herself, and she turned up the radio.

The road wound onwards for some time through the same twisting country lanes bordered by large stretches of hedgerow, broken only occasionally for an entrance to a field or where hikers had pushed their way through. Abi enjoyed the freedom she felt in the thrumming of the car’s engine and the twisting of the small country lanes, where the hedges grew higher than her line of vision, so that it seemed to her that there was nothing else, just her, her car and the road. The tune playing on the radio was one of her favourite hits from the 90s, one that she’d bought as a teenager and that she and her friends had created a dance routine for. She was about the launch into the chorus when abruptly, and totally, the music stopped. She was left singing the highest note without accompaniment, and her voice cracked into a giggle of embarrassment, despite her being alone.

‘What a twat,’ she admonished herself. It seemed that the signal for her favourite radio station had been lost. She sighed. It was the only one she listened to. The presenters were all familiar to her and the music they played just what she liked, except for the odd loud one which she presumed they played to keep the men happy. Gavin always moaned about it, but it was the station that they compromised on when together in the car, which wasn’t very often these days.

It was then she realised that she was also relying on her phone for navigation to the village and it was highly likely that, if the radio signal had gone, then so had her phone’s. She could see a junction approaching, a crossroads. Without her phone, she would, literally, be lost. Muttering to herself, she pulled the car over to the small verge, cleared of foliage in front of the hedgerow like many she had passed, and reached for her phone.

There was, as she had suspected, no signal. In fact, it was quite dead.

And so, she sat. The car idled, on the verge, a few yards from the crossroads. The sun was getting low in the sky, and the hedges were high, casting long, cool shadows across the road and the Mini Cooper.

‘Fuck.’ Abi was annoyed with herself. She had thought the phone was fully charged. She had been charging it as she drove and only unplugged it to check to see whether there were any messages from Gavin about 15 minutes earlier. How could it have gone dead so quickly? She reached for the charging cable, plugged it in and waited. Nothing happened.

It began to dawn on Abi that she had no idea where she was. She had been entirely reliant on the sat-nav on her phone and now that was gone, she was utterly and completely lost. Her memory would not supply her with the name of the village she was looking for. It had been quite short and typically Devonian; her mind grasped for it but it would not come. While she was trying to evoke some thought that might bring the place back to her something darted from the hedge on her right and bolted across the road, directly in front of where her car sat idling. She caught it in the corner of her eye and gasped, her already anxious state meaning that the sudden flash of movement caused her a further sharp shock. Before her eyes could catch up with the object, it disappeared into the hedge alongside her, rustling through the thorny branches and twisted brambles. Had it been brown? Or grey? Perhaps it was a rabbit, she thought as she once again breathed hard to regain her composure. She supposed it must have been, and logic would tell her so, but… it had been so large, much larger than any rabbit she had seen before. The way it had moved also suggested to her by now quite fraught mind that this was not a suitable explanation. Fast, yes, but loping…

A hare? She had never seen one before. Perhaps it was a hare? Larger than a rabbit; loping, lurching movements. It certainly seemed to be more likely than a mere rabbit. She glanced over at the hedgerow where it had disappeared and tried squinting through the mass of greenery and twigs into what she imagined must be a field on the other side. The only break in the foliage was the small gap through which the creature had disappeared. However, she did see a break in the hedge for a small dirt track about 20 yards ahead. Two large clumps of daffodils marked the entrance to a field which the hedge completely obscured from her vision.

And so, thinking that she needed to stretch her legs and clear her head a little before pushing on, and yearning for the warmth of the sun on her skin, Abi decided to get out of the car. She switched off the car engine and climbed out of the seat, feeling the blood start to pump again in her weary legs. The sun, now lower still, caught her face as she climbed out, immediately warming her; she stretched expansively, arching her back and pushing her head back. Her skin puckered at the touch of the sun. This was better. It was good to be away from it all for a bit, and amongst nature. She had read that it was good for the soul to open oneself to nature every so often and, right now, she believed it. She reached for her cigarettes from the well in the driver’s side door. Her secret stash, saved for emergencies. Well, if ever there was an emergency, she thought as she lit one and inhaled. The moment was perfect. She thought of posting on Facebook, perhaps a photograph and a comment about the beauty of England’s countryside before she remembered the lack of signal and power. She was disappointed; this would have been great on her timeline.

A bustle in the hedgerow startled her. The creature, whatever it was, must still be there. She pushed her sunglasses back onto her head, pulling her hair away from her face, and crouched down with her hands on her thighs to squint into the hedge again.

Something was there. Through the leaves she could make out an eye, like a polished obsidian stone, glinting in the shadows.

‘Hey, you,’ said Abi as gently as she knew how to. ‘Hello…’

Before she could move towards it, there was more scrabbling and the creature vanished again, this time back, away from her, into the field beyond. The branches seemed to close behind it so that there was no longer any sign of a gap at all.

‘Bollocks,’ said Abi, and she broke into a run, up towards the break in the hedge she had spotted from the car. It seemed further away to her now; it was some time since she had last run anywhere, and she was quite breathless by the time she found it. As she rounded the bend to enter the field her body moved out of the shadow of the hedge and into the full sunlight and, for a moment, she was dazzled. Her vision was a bright glare of white heat and it took some time for her to regain her normal vision. In that brief moment, whilst her eyes were still adjusting and the sun’s rays filled her body with a golden warmth, she thought she saw someone flying above her, a woman in white robes, and she heard laughter, playful giggling and chirruping, like a bird’s song. But only for a moment. Colour began to return to her world, and with it, a proper view of the vista before her.

In the middle of the field two large hares danced and spun. At times, they stood on their hind legs facing each other, as though engaged in a very formal stately dance. Then, they dropped to the earth and ran in elaborate patterns across the field, skipping around one another, moving first one way and then the other…

She could not speak. It was, in her mind, too beautiful. The field was brown, freshly ploughed and the earth was dry; she could feel the clumps pop into dust under her feet. At the edges of the field, oak trees stood, tall and ancient, laden with acorns, and apple trees, festooned with garlands of white blossom. Their heavy perfume made Abi giddy. She had never been so aware of the natural scent, nor of the delicate intoxication it could bring. Beyond the trees, the land stretched pure and open, fields of rapeseed and barley and corn, carefully bordered with low stone walls, or hedgerow punctuated by more trees: chestnut, ash, sycamore and wych elm, and on to distant hills, dark against the sky which, though still an azure-blue, darkened with the onset of late afternoon to a turquoise strip on the far horizon. Wildflowers bloomed around the fields too, despite the season, their vibrant reds and yellows and blues calling out to the insects which hummed in the air excitedly. Birdsong suddenly erupted from the trees around Abi and grew so loud that she thought it quite impossible. It was unlike any she had heard before. In the middle of the field two large hares danced and spun. At times, they stood on their hind legs facing each other, as though engaged in a very formal stately dance. Then, they dropped to the earth and ran in elaborate patterns across the field, skipping around one another, moving first one way and then the other, faster than Abi could really take in, before returning to the upright stance once more. Abi stood and watched as though hypnotised, her eyes wide and her feet rooted to the earth, quite still, so she thought.

After some time (she had no idea how much time had passed but the sun had begun to sink below the line of hills on the horizon and there was now a distinct chill in the air) Abi realised that she was staring at an empty field. She scanned the earth, presuming that the colour of their fur was so well matched to the soil that she had merely lost sight of them. But it seemed that the creatures had melted into the air. The birdsong, too, did not seem so loud. The flowers were less bright, and there were fewer of them clustered beneath the hedgerow. She could no longer smell the blossom, the apple trees being much further from where she stood than she had thought. And it began to dawn on her that her new white plimsolls, which she’d bought only last week, were grimy with soil. She was short of breath. Her hair, so carefully straightened and hair-sprayed that morning, was a little dishevelled. Had she been dancing? Unnerved by the whole experience, she turned and jogged back towards the exit to the field, and back to her car which waited as she had left it, parked on the verge to her left.

She had made up her mind to return home. The package could wait. She was running much later than she had wanted to, and without proper directions, there was no chance of ever finding the place anyway. She was about to open the car door when something small and black caught her eye. A stone, roughly the size of her palm, lay in the grass directly below her feet. She hadn’t noticed it before. It was unlike any stone she had seen before, in fact it looked more like a mineral or gemstone. She bent down to pick it up and noticed a pattern had been carefully painted onto the surface of the stone, in white. It looked like a very crude interpretation of a leaf, with one central stem branching off into three loops on either side. And it did seem to fit almost perfectly into her palm, so much so that, as much as Abi was unsettled by it, she wanted to keep it in her hand. It crossed her mind that it had been placed there deliberately, and she looked up and down the road for any signs of a potential culprit. To her right, the crossroads, empty and silent. To her left, the road she had travelled down, similarly quiet. There had been no sign of anyone. Surely, she would have heard, or seen, standing as she had been, only yards away from the car the whole time?

‘That’s enough of this shit,’ she mumbled to herself. She clambered back into the car, placed the stone on the seat beside her and started the engine. Perhaps, she thought, she would drive up to the crossroads, just to look, just to see whether there was anyone walking away down either of the side roads there. Anyway, she convinced herself, it would be much easier to turn the car around there. The low rumble of the engine was reassuring, even if the radio and charger still refused to work. It was getting dark. In the gloaming, she felt she needed the headlights. What made things worse was that whatever was affecting the radio seemed to have affected her entire media system; the clock now read 25:57 which made no sense at all.

Just before the junction, Abi saw a sign she had not noticed before emerging from the gloom and, as soon as she saw it, she remembered. It read: ‘Evercreech: 2 miles’. It pointed to the right.

‘Evercreech! Fucking Evercreech! That’s it!’ This was meant to be. She had found the bloody place, all on her own, no SatNav required. And with that memory, the entire address came back to her: Spring Cottage, The Lane, Evercreech. She would be there in 5 minutes, pick up the bag, find the main road out of here and be back home before midnight. She indicated right and turned onto the road, glancing as she did so, into her rear-view mirror. The light was certainly strange, that weird moment when a bright sunlight becomes slightly more night than day. Reds and browns seem more prevalent. Brighter colours fade. So, it may be that she didn’t see the bare-footed old man in the crumpled suit standing in the exact spot she had been parked only moments before, once more facing the road, once more screwing his head around to stare directly at her. She only caught a glimpse as the car turned and obscured the road behind her. And, she realised, she was still wearing her sunglasses. It crossed her mind to reverse and look, to be certain, but that, she thought as she threw her sunglasses down into the footwell of the passenger seat, would be insane. Better just to keep going. Better not to know.

Part Two will follow…

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