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.
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 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