A ghost story of mine from 2009
“I blame that Felicity Kendal,” said Amy, “Rob used to watch endless re-runs of ‘The Good Life’. That’s how he ended up dragging Kathy to Todmorden.”
Christina spoke next in the shabby red leather booth of El Bareto.
“He bought all the books: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Sarah Raven and John Seymour. Even got planning permission for a wind turbine.”
“Well, there’s plenty of wind up on the Pennines,” chipped in Emily.
The three High School old girls smiled, then stared into their post January Sales drinkies, thinking of poor Kathy.
“You all know what happened, don’t you?” asked Amy, passing round the chorizo frito. They all knew that look – time to order more tapas and rioja. Then settle back and enjoy the tale.
“I went there once – never again. Black Shaw Carr, up Raw Lane. Even the sat nav didn’t know where it was. Just getting there was a trial - the feeling that if you drove off the track, the bogs were just waiting to suck you down. You really needed a four-wheel drive up there: the only way in, a lumpy dirt track surrounded by windswept moorland in the middle of nowhere. It really was called Back o’Beyond. Look, there’s the sign.”
Amy passed her mobile around to prove the point. They squinted at the enamel sign, lurking behind spindly grass stalks. Its heavy black letters matched the grimy drystone wall. Below it, the crumbling tarmac was kerbed with dented granite.
“Well, it must have sounded all very desirable in the estate agent’s particulars: barrel vaulted cellar, original slabs and shelves, stone mullioned windows and a mistal (whatever that is) and three acres with a spring. Apparently, it’s a traditional Pennine longhouse.
What they didn’t mention was a lousy mobile signal, grot dial-up internet connection and frequent power cuts. Never mind the terrible isolation and the faint smell of dead things.
All credit to them, Rob and Kathy had done a brilliant job on the place. I saw the photos of it as a ruin - black and glowering like something out of Wuthering Heights. It needed the word-burning stove – I felt like the damp was lurking, just waiting to seep back in through the cold stones. And that was late August.
I left the day Rob grubbed out a rowan tree growing right by the front door. Can you believe some idiot left it to grow there? It was just after that he went off to China. Left Kathy pregnant and in charge of all the free-range chickens and organic Brussel sprouts. Kathy’s a coper, I thought.
Last thing I remember was getting out to shut the gate onto the moors – keep the livestock in, that sort of thing – and I tripped over this rock. See that thing like a milestone, all green with age. A bit rough but it’s got ‘Te Deum Laudamus’ carved on it.”
The mobile went the rounds again. Dusty memories of Kennedy’s Latin Primer began to stir.
“I asked about it when I got down to the distant village. A bit out in the wilds up there, your friend, isn’t she? says the woman. That stone’s where they used to rest the coffins on the way to burial at Mankinholes. It has a kind of prayer on it – for protection.”
Amy took a sip of her wine and shook her head.
“I shouldn’t have left her there in that godforsaken place. I should have known what a ghastly hole it was. Crags looming over the farmhouse like Miss Spolton checking an essay written in detention. Terrible even on a sunny day: wind sighing through twisted trees and all that nothing out there crowding round at night.”
“You weren’t to know, Amy,” Christina said, touching her arm. Her old school-friend took a breath, and then carried on.
“The woman at the Co-op knew Kathy. She kept coming down for bleach to tackle the mould stains. Everyone in the village was impressed with what they’d done with the old place.
She’d a distinctive voice, Lois, the woman behind the counter; strong local accent, deep and throaty. So I recognised it immediately when she rang just before Christmas. She said she’d got Kathy with her in a bit of a state and could I come up?
Lois directed me to her own three-storey terrace house. Across the barren tops, where the only colour’s nodding cotton grass and the odd demented sheep, and down to a huddle of weavers’ cottages.
Kathy was sat by her fire, swathed up in fleeces and throws. I hardly recognised her. Her eyes were hollow, even haunted, you might say. She was never a big girl but now she looked stick-thin, like something fragile wrapped up in cotton-wool.”
There was a pause after Emily’s outburst. Then Amy lent forward and spoke quietly.
“Yes. Kathy was fragile. Like china that’s only just been mended. Lois said they’d found Kathy wandering down the road, shoeless and covered in mud. It was only because Scott was out walking the dog late that they found her. They could get no sense out of her – except that she’d been flooded.”
“How could she have been flooded? It must be 300, 400 metres above sea-level up there.” Christina wasn’t convinced.
“She was rambling on a bit – but that part’s true. Look at this aerial shot from the local rag’s website.”
Even on that tiny screen the devastation was sickening. A filthy tongue of mud and stones slavered down from the dark moors above. Its tip split Kathy’s home in two.
“You won’t be surprised to hear the police cordoned the whole area off. Rob will have to salvage whatever he can when they say the hill’s stable. Kathy won’t go. She won’t leave her mother’s in Harrogate. Kathy wouldn’t go anywhere near the place now.”
“Why not? Whatever did she say?” asked Emily.
“Well, like Lois said, she wasn’t exactly coherent. You remember Kathy used to say the old place seemed to like her, that sometimes things got done all by themselves?” Amy said.
“Mm, she went a bit pagan – stuff about ‘hobs’ and ‘nisse’ and house elves,” said Emily.
“But even she admitted it could be ‘baby brain’. What’s that got to do with the state she’s in now?” asked Christina.
“I couldn’t make everything out but she seemed to be saying the Lench Hole Beck, the stream above them, had been diverted deliberately. She’d seen the stone wall being unpicked. It was like a time-lapse film, a time-lapse film of a corpse being taken apart by wriggling things, she said.”
Each of the girls took a last swig of wine. They went straight home after Amy spoke.
“She said there was a creature, a creature that broke the wall down, a creature made of roots, bones and malevolence. And that wasn’t the worst thing that Kathy said. No, the worst was that something had opened the door.
Something inside had opened the door and let that horror in.”