The blackness of night conjures thoughts of a featureless world, devoid of colour and life but the image is wrong. The blackness of a night without the harsh pollution of electric light is alive. The smoky mist rolls in over the tors, wrapping its tendrils around the jagged heather, the dark flowers inky black with the softer shadows of the brush beneath. The moon casts a pale glow over the thin mineral streams, creating glittering veins to bring life to the harsh landscape. The blackness is beautiful in its detail, a monochrome world where legend lives alongside the real world.
A small stone farmhouse stands between the powerful jut of the tor and the six ancient stones that reside, menacing and captivating, on the hill. Fashioned in local stone, it bears the scars of years standing up to the storms of the moor. Life has been hard but it has been loved as it offered protection from the elements. Lonesome on its small patch of hill but cosy and welcoming all the same. A candle flickers in the top floor window, casting its own glow out onto the moor.
She sits by her dresser, watching the play of the light against her raven black hair, reminding her of the moonlight caressing the granite outside. Her friends often comment on how solitary her house is but she loves it. With no electricity, she is far removed from the stresses of the world outside. This is her sanctuary, her silence, a place to escape from the world of technology that demands people be ever available to respond and react every moment of every day. Whilst others obsess over the latest series of an American soap she is content to read by candlelight, the atmosphere of the moor a perfect backdrop for the classic horrors she adores.
She fancies herself kin to Shelley and Stoker on nights like this, though sometimes she is given over to the romanticism of the Brontës. She laughs at her own fancy. She’d even bought the house because of the stories but none of them had proved true in the two years she’s lived there as she’s almost disappointed. She’s held seances, invited psychics, made offerings but the house is silent, just bricks and dust and the odd spider hiding in the corner of a room. Despite the disappointment she loves it.
She wanders over to the fireplace, coaxing the flames down to a warming glow before she returns and snuggles into the warmth of her bed. With a puff, the candle is extinguished and the room plunged into darkness.
For a moment all is black, her eyes sightless, and she takes the brief moment to enjoy what her other senses can conjure. In the distance an animal cries out, a fox she thinks, its cry that familiar yelping sound, almost a baby’s cry. The light summer breeze carries the smell of heather through the open window, heady and deep, a perfume that could not be mimicked by any artificial means. Slowly the moonlight intrudes on the darkness, bringing with it the pull of contented sleep.
It isn’t a sound that wakes her, nor is it a change in the light but the flutter of faerie-like fingers against the back of her neck. With each spider-silk brush, every nerve fuses with a spark of electricity, causing her to bat away the feeling with a sleep cramped hand. Blinking away the last of her dreams she sits up in bed, her eyes adjusting to the darkness as the moon is shrouded by a passing cloud. Nothing moves. The only sound is the rustle of the breeze through the heather, comforting familiarity in the silence of the moor.
With a sigh and an accusatory glance at the book of ghost stories next to her, she settles back amongst the pillows. It isn’t a conscious decision to open her eyes again but when she does her sleepy gaze catches the small flicker of movement in the shadowed corner of the room. The far corner; that distant point of any night blackened room that children learn to fear when they can make nothing out of its shadowed recess. That same section of her hind-brain kicks in now, raising the hairs on her neck despite her adult rational. She strains her eyes in the dim light; fumbling beside her for the box of matches, her hand catching the wrong edge and sending the box clattering to the floor. The matches break free, racing each other for every gap in the floorboards.
In the corner farthest from her, a tiny red light flickers intermittently, like a television left on standby. She gropes for a blanket and wraps it around her shoulders, feeling the chill of the floor as her bare feet slip onto the wood.
‘Who’s there?’ she whispers despite there being no one else to disturb.
The little red light flickers again, calling her. She gets to her feet but stops as the light freezes. Her heart flutters in her chest. She has read so many paranormal books, she knows what she is seeing. Light anomaly, light growth and finally, she blinks in disbelief, manifestation. The red fades but something remains, black light on shadow, growing. She forces herself not to recognise a figure in the form of the shadow. Her imagination, just her imagination.
With a bravery she doesn’t know she has, she flies at the corner, screaming with her arms flailing as though chasing a hawk away from a rabbit on the moor.
When her cries die down she looks over the room from her place in the corner and laughs. The room is still, nothing out of place. She buries her face in her hands, shocked to feel the perspiration on her skin and she curses herself for a fool. She takes her hands from her face and looks down at them, squinting at the dark sparkle on her fingers. Blood.
She gasps, her hands coming to her face as she whirls towards the mirror above the fireplace. Wide eyes and a thin set mouth stare back at her but no blood. She looks down at her hands once more, nothing but a film of sweat marring her fingertips. She brushes her hands on her nightdress to dry them as a strand of hair escapes its tie and falls over her face. She looks back up to the mirror to fix it and freezes, her image not the only one in the glass.
The face is stocky and puffed with waste, black eyes boring into the depths of her soul. He’s stark white against the black of the room and, as his stump like fingers close around her throat, she can see the slight waiver at the edge of his form. She feels the pressure build at her windpipe, the throb of her pulse beneath his fingers. Her hands come up to claw his away only to pass straight through and leave harsh red marks from her own nails on her neck. She wants to run but her feet are rooted to the spot, held in place by the unnatural spell echoing like white noise in her ear.
An icy hand closes around her slim wrist and it’s wrenched up behind her back, tendons popping and bones snapping. She tries to move again, the charm around her leaving her defenceless. She should have listened to the stories, feared rather than revelled in the history of the house. Now she sees the legend in the mirror behind her, his mouth curling into a vicious smile as a single tear coursed down her cheek.
She’s forced to turn, unable to resist and sees her fate too late to prevent it. The window stands unmovable as she is pushed through it; feeling the unforgiving slice of the shattered shards as they rip through her, indiscriminate of cloth or flesh. The impact steals the blackness from her mind and she has a second to spare, flipping and grabbing a handful of ivy, ceasing her fall. She yelps in pain as her broken wrist takes her weight before she gathers herself enough to climb down. Then she is running, bare feet tearing on the bracken and granite as she plunges onto the moonless moor.
She feels the blackness in her mind again, slowing her feet and accelerating her heart. The monoliths loom ahead, silent sentinels beckoning her to their protective circle. She pushes onwards, pitching herself forward as the breeze changes to a wind, pushing her back towards the house. Frozen fingers close around her shoulders as the wind dies down, the loss of its support sending her tumbling to the ground. She rolls onto her back and screams.
Sunrise brings an orange glow to the granite slabs, bathing the land in richness as the light mixes with the lilac of the heather. Birds chirrup in the trees, hawks circling in wait of the timidly appearing rabbits. An old stone farmhouse stands silent between the jut of the tor and the regal elegance of the standing stones, scarred from a hundred years at the mercy of the moor. A runner puffs his way along his traditional path, pausing to admire the break of dawn over the stones. He shakes his head in surprise, he needs his eyes tested. Where once he could have sworn six monoliths there now stand seven. He shrugs and continues his path, leaving behind the perfect monument and the soft cry of the wind through the heather.
Elizabeth Montague is a multi-genre author from Hertfordshire, England. Her short story collection, Dust and Glitter, was released by Clarendon House Publications in May 2019. She has also featured in over a dozen short story collections from various publishers including Iron Faerie Publishing, Clarendon House Publications, Scout Media and Black Hare Press. She is currently working on her first novel alongside continuing to produce short stories in several genres.