Short story set in The Lake District

Crummock Water by Phil Atherton on Flickr
Crummock Water by Phil Atherton on Flickr
Up in the north of Britain lies a sleepy village set among the mountains of The Lake District. In the summer, torrents of water flow down ancient peaks and fields are swathed with lush, green grass, craggy rocks and the shadows of clouds dancing high above.
This particular village has a popular, cosy pub within which locals fill almost every weekend. Punters pour in, just as they had for many hundreds of years, ducking under low wood-wormed beams to sip cold pints of bitter after a long day’s work. The Willow Inn is regularly full of men and women of the village by sun down; a log fire burns slowly, warming the faces of drinkers and the smell of ale and crusty steak pies fills the air.
A young, fair woman works behind the bar called Sally. She has a soft, welcoming face and strong hips under a black apron. Sally is a chatty woman in her early twenties and has been working at the pub since leaving school five years ago. Every evening she tends the bar, putting out fresh beer mats, polishing wine glasses and filling up the cash tray. On this particular July evening, the pub is hot and crowded; Sally has another barmaid helping her pull pints and take money. A hard faced bearded man leans over the bar, stooping at the shoulders a little to fit under the beam.
“Evenin’ Sally” he greets her with a slightly disingenuous smile.
“Hey there, the usual?” Sally replies, looking a little flushed. She has seen this man come in numerous times; he knew her, but she had never caught his name- she now feels it’s too late to ask.
“No. I’ll have a Fosters top tonight seeing as it’s summer and actually warm for a change.” he slides his hand into his back pocket to retrieve his wallet and adds “Nice and refreshing.” Something about the man doesn’t seem quite right, he holds Sally’s gaze for too long; she feels put on the spot.
“Sure”
She pulls back from the bar and grabs a pint glass from under the counter. Sally holds the glass at a right angle to the lager tap and pulls down the tab, watching closely as the orange fluid slowly fills the glass. In the waiting time, the young woman glances around the pub to observe the chatting people, leaning against walls and tables and conversing near open windows that let in a small amount of fresh air. The tap must be faster at filling than usual because without realising, Sally fills the whole glass to the top and it is now overflowing and running down her hand. Sally hastily flicks the tab up and pulls the glass away. The lager then drips onto her black shoes. Feeling watched by her customer, Sally tries to amend her error by pouring some of the beverage into the overflow container; she then tops it off with lemonade from the tap. Sally places the full glass on the bar and meets the man’s staring eyes.
“Made a bit of a hash of that didn’t you?” He looks serious now, almost scary. Not knowing how to respond, Sally half-shrugs and laughs softly, hoping he will pay her and move away soon.
“That’s three pounds fifty please.” Sally is wiping her hands on a tea towel, trying to rid herself of the sticky alcohol that she had spilt. Of the whole job, having beer on her hands at the end of a shift was her least favourite thing. The man slowly counts out his change into the barmaid’s hand, and gives her an accomplished look when he’s finished.
“Thank you” Sally smiles and turns her back to him to put the money into the till. She rotates back round to serve the next customer but still he stands in the same spot. He looks at her and lifts the glass to his lips, tasting it to make sure it’s right. “mmm” he murmurs finally, and shuffles away from the bar.
Sally breathes a sigh of relief. Something about the man makes her feel unsettled. The night wears on and the last orders bell finally sounds. The young barmaid looks forward to getting home to her double bed and cotton sheets, to waking late and gazing across the many fields of wondering sheep.
Finally, Sally’s shift comes to an end. After saying goodbye to her co-workers she retrieves her torch from her handbag and set out into the cool, dark evening. Leaving the pub, a calm breeze blows around Sally’s shoulders; she takes a deep breath of fresh air and walks along the dark, quiet lane. The ground is slightly wet because it had rained in the morning so she is careful to avoid puddles and enjoys the wind down after work.
Grassy banks lye either side of the narrow lane, with high hedges and Oak and Beech trees that create and arch over the road. The trees and foliage gently rustle in the breeze, but other than that it is silent where she walks. Minutes pass, Sally is nearly home where she lives with her mother in a small cottage with a stream running through the back garden. She always has to be quiet when she comes in from a shift because she knows her mother will be asleep upstairs.
Sally is just about to take the left fork in the road to struggle up a steep incline to the cottage, but she is suddenly aware of a presence behind her, and steps growing closer. Paranoia, she thinks while quickening her pace slightly. Gradually, the steps get loader and faster. Sally’s heart jumps with fear and with a trembling hand, she turns around to shine her torch in the direction that the steps came from.
Nothing.
Nothing but a slight rustle in the hedge. Must have been a bird, thinks Sally. The young woman continues up the steep road, beginning to get breathless and eager to get a door between her and the night.
Finally, Sally reaches her garden gate and hastily swings it open making sure it latches behind her.
He was waiting.
A figure lurches up from behind the hedge in the garden and grabs her by the arm. Screaming, sally tries to free herself from the man’s clutches. Realising there’s not enough time to get her keys from her bag and make it to the front door, Sally quickly knocks the man over the head with her torch and sprints to the back garden. Hearing him fast approaching, Sally runs for the small shed near the stream and throws herself inside. The door opens outwards so she hangs on to the handle inside, pulling on it with all her weight while the intruder tries to force it open.
Suddenly, the attack on her ceases as the mystery assailant is thrown onto the ground by a second person. Sally peers through the moulding Perspex window of the shed to see what’s happening by the light of the moon.
Two men are struggling against one another on the sodden grass, punching and kicking, they aim to force the other to the ground.
“I warned you not to come here Drew.” Shouted the bearded man that Sally had served in the pub.
“It’s my house, my bloody family!” replied the other man, who is now sprawled in a heap on the grass and at the mercy of Sally’s defender.
“You lost the right to see them long ago.” Said the other, breathing heavily after their short scrap. “You abused Sally’s mother and left them to fend for themselves; alone and isolated. You don’t deserve to know your daughter.” He stands upright over the man Sally has now learnt is her father.
That man, who frightened and chased her, is in her blood.
Sally finds a bike chain and lock on the floor and proceeds to loop it through the handle of the door and attaches it to the lawnmower to secure herself inside.
“I can do what I like” she hears him say “why are you here anyway Ray?”
“I’m an old friend of Sally’s mum, and I knew you’d be coming. You’re a sneaky rat, get the hell out of here. No-one around here wants to see you, not since what you did to Carol.”
The old man on the grass tries to fight Ray once again but is kicked hard in the stomach. Ray gets Drew in a headlock and pulls him over to the stream, he then hold his head under the painfully cold water for a few seconds before pulling him out by the hair.
“Leave!” shouts Ray, clenching his teeth in anger.
Drew slowly rises to his feet, battered and bruised he hobbles off towards the front of the house like a wounded dog.
Ray stands on the lawn, and after watching his opponent leave, stares at the shed trying to make out Sally’s frightened face in the window. She can see him, but he can’t see her. The moonlight falls brightly on him, casting a large shadow on the grass.
Minutes pass, she waits.
Sally stays in the shed until sunrise, listening to the running stream for comfort; she is too afraid to leave the safe enclosure just yet. When the light streams into the shed at last, Sally stands up and glances outside the window. The lawn is empty now.
What lies beyond the flimsy door of her shelter is a world of unknown. It is not the natural world, baring all its brawn that frightens her. Not the storms, torrents of icy water, thick layers of granite and other such substance below us, nor the predators, vast expanse of ocean, driest deserts, widest planes, highest mountains, most barren canyons, volcanos peaks or deadliest plants. It is humanity that terrifies Sally. The raw, barbarousness of what people do to each other; the pain we inflict on ourselves.
Written: April 2013

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One Day in October

Fallen caramel leaves crunched underfoot as Samuel walked briskly through his nearby Sussex woodland. Dusk was descending and with it a misty chill gently rocking Oak and Beech branches. Samuel zipped his parker up to the top and tucked his woollen scarf in; his attempt to exclude draughts. At six foot two and broad shouldered the young man of twenty felt very at home wandering the forest at that hour, it made him feel very primal; Like a hunter seeking his prey. Sometimes he would crouch to observe the herds of dear running frightfully through the pine areas of the forest, a rich peaty smell would rise from the ground enhancing the splendour of observing natures fine occurrences.
On this particular afternoon Samuel walked with purposeful steps, devising a longer route around the forest to delay his return home. His emerald green eyes, humorous character and unknowing ability to charm the opposite sex had gotten him into trouble with a girl he simply saw as a friend. Samuel never meant to lead anyone on, or behave dishonestly but the girl had taken just two months to fall helplessly in love with him; or so she thought.
Temporary infatuation. That’s what Samuel was repeating in his brain as he breathed deeply, striding up a clay covered hill, his breath hanging heavily in the air with his wellington boots leaving large footprints on the ground. He was trying to clear his mind of last night’s events. Trying, at the same time, to work out what he should say, and when, to the girl.
Samuel reached a style that separated the forest and a path in a field that would lead him to a road, and back to his house. He paused there, raking his fingers through his soft brown hair, starring at smoke curling out of cottage chimneys, imagining married couples enjoying tea and crumpets by the fire, he drew in the scene before him. Samuel came to realise that Autumn is the most beautiful time of all, a point of reflection on the year; a chance to shed past baggage and take in clean, fresh air. He couldn’t find the words to express to others that he did not want a relationship, no matter how sweet the girl. Nature and air was all he would ever need.
Written: October 2012

Numbers

“Eighteen…. Three and eleven….”
Lucas sat forward on his plastic-protected sofa, eagerly awaiting the next numbers on the lottery draw to be called. His dark brown eyes stared, mesmerised at the TV which cast out a dim white light into his living room. Hands sweating, Lucas clutched the thin paper ticket; three of the numbers had already appeared, it only needed another three to define his future and release him from the life he’s grown to loathe.

Just two days before, Lucas had been woken by the mundane sound of his alarm before folding down the covers, hauling himself out of bed and switching on the light which he would then proceed to turn off and on again another nine times. He opened his curtains one at a time, ensuring each of the hoops on the rail was not twisted or facing the wrong direction. Lucas took take eight steps into the bathroom and brushed his teeth in the same, systematic way that he had completed the task everyday previously. He could not walk away from the sink without giving it a quick once-over with bleach and a sponge to clear the remnants of toothpaste from the bowl. This consequently meant that Lucas’ hands were red raw with the damage of cleaning products, his nails cut so short that the bleach stung his sensitised skin. But it was a pain Lucas had come to enjoy; it was part of his ritual, part of his life.
The excessive cleaning and secluded lifestyle meant the young man had developed a stoop, so that he stared at the ground when he walked. His strides were swift on his walk to work, Lucas was known for his punctuality and he liked to keep his travelling time as short as possible so he did not look up too often to see the half lit blocks of flats, or the sea of pebble dashed semi-detached houses nor the tired looking, paint peeling bungalows at the latter stage of his walk.
Entering the Industrial Estate where he worked satisfied Lucas greatly; there was something about the huge, metal-clad fames, so sturdy and symmetrical, that offered release and serenity for the young man. Lucas slowed his pace to enjoy the wide roads and perfectly proportioned buildings, taking pleasure from the absence of people, the quiet and the abundance of clean pavement before reaching his place of work; ‘R.D Stationary Storage and Dispatch Centre’. Lucas swiped his key card through and hung his possessions in their usual place, three hooks from the door, and walked into the main storage space.
Home.
‘A place for everything and everything in its place.’ Mused Lucas, breathing deeply to drink in the smell of parcel tape, freshly made paper, ink cartridges, sticky tack and plastic wrap. To his dismay, Richard had made it into work before him, and was already removing a pallet of boxes off the top shelf with the fork lift.
“Morning Lucas” Richard, who was balding and over-caffeinated glanced at Lucas who stood limply in the isle, agitated and awaiting todays list of tasks.
“Morning” Lucas smiled with all the energy he could muster, but feared it looked more like a pained grimace. “Grim day eh” he continued, shifting his weight to the other foot, conscious that his work boots made him look unequally proportioned and awkward.
“You can say that again” his colleague replied “my son’s got a football match this afternoon so I hope it doesn’t bloody rain. Still, my wife’ll insist we go even if the weather is awful, that woman’s got nothing better to do with her time.”
“I’m sure your son will appreciate it though” Lucas was clutching at straws- he’d never been any good at relaxed conversation.
“Well! You’d think so but…arghh! Christ Almighty this blasted thing is stuck again. Get me a ladder will you” The pallet had got wedged up against the shelf bracket and wouldn’t come down.
Lucas winced a little at Richards’s blasphemy, and not wanting to watch him yank the fork lift into reverse, he obeyed the order and fetched a ladder. Richard slid the ladder up to where the desired goods were stored and began to ascend, demanding Lucas secure the apparatus.
On reaching the top, the middle-aged man sighed deeply before tugging the heavy load towards the edge in an attempt to free it from between the brackets. What Richard hadn’t realised was that the piece of timber he was pulling at was broken and loose. Before either man had time to react, Richard plunged backwards, the broken timber gripped pathetically in his hand, plummeting arc-like towards the concrete floor. His decent was intercepted by the sharp edge of the fork lift prong which collided with his cranium and severed his skull.
He was dead, Lucas was later told, before even hitting the ground.
In the short time before Lucas sprinted to the office and informed them of the incident, he stared, dumbfounded at his colleague who lay lifelessly on the ground, face up with his eyelids half open to the world. The man’s green polo shirt had ridden up over his front, revealing his hairy abdomen now spattered with blood from his head. A piece of paper peeled out from his trouser pocket; the only item on his person untouched by the sticky red fluid which was now creating a pool on the floor.
Something told Lucas to take the piece of paper. He shouldn’t take it. He knew this. But Lucas was already committed and standing over the body, trying not to step in the blood, he plucked the paper from Richards pocket, folded it, and slid it into his own.

“The fourth number on tonight’s lottery draw” chimed the presenter’s voice, which pervaded Lucas’ flat “is forty-one!”
Lucas couldn’t believe it; he had all the numbers so far, just two more and that was it. His heart was pounding so hard he that could almost hear it, prickles swarmed over his back and he began to sweat more heavily. Teeth clenched, nostrils flared, Lucas awaited the two numbers which could be the most important of his life.
“The next numbers are… thirty-two and.. oh, here it is… nine!”
Lucas threw himself back onto his sofa, the plastic covered cushions squeaking against each other. He shut his eyes tightly. I can get out of here. With this money I can do anything, I no longer have to live this life! Then the pang of guilt crept in. This isn’t my ticket, this isn’t my money, it belongs to Richards family.
Lucas exhaled and let his muscles unclench. He didn’t know what to do. He pictured himself growing old and dying in his grey flat, versus the freedom this money could bring him.
What they don’t know won’t hurt them.
On the way to the door and outside his flat he pictured all the things he could now do with his life. It would finally be the success he had longed for, this money will open so many doors. He walked out into the street, taking the mandatory twelve steps to reach the zebra crossing. It was a cool, calm evening in October and with his mind awash with money, Lucas stepped unhurriedly into the road failing to notice the alloy-wheeled Corsa travelling at sixty miles per hour in his direction.

Written: February 2013