Monday 17 – Tuesday 18 November 2014
Mist had settled over the village by early evening, making it difficult to see more than a few feet ahead. It wasn’t unusual that Mother Nature played this game with the inhabitants of Strangler’s Cove. Despite the name, Strangler’s Cove was a picturesque village that had a history that went back hundreds of years, and generations of families. From the outside, Strangler’s Cove was an idyllic, peaceful place.
‘The trouble with places like Strangler’s, to my mind, is that beneath the welcoming exterior there lies a bitter, twisted, insidious undercurrent of . . . of . . . of vitriol.’ Matthew Jenkins raised the Royal Doulton teacup to his lips and sipped the hot beverage.
‘And you, Matthew, are the font of all knowledge regarding this topic, are you?’
‘I certainly know a lot more than you, Fenella. That is blatantly obvious to me. You live in this world of don’t-worry-everything’s-okay, and there are some times, many times where that is not the case. You just don’t want to know about that side of life. You never have. Fenella Wilkinshaw, perpetual optimist, and seer of good in all.’
A woman of intelligence who was not daft enough to take the bait that Jenkins had offered, Fenella smiled, and then assessed the finger sandwiches that her maid had laid out of the small table in the library. She finally settled upon a cucumber sandwich, and nibbled at the crusts. Her unwillingness to respond irritated Jenkins.
‘I see. I will take your unresponsiveness as an admission of guilt,’ he sneered. Fenella finished the cucumber sandwich before replying.
‘My failure to respond, Matthew, is not an admission of anything other than refusing to buy into your insanity and stupid ideas. You are not a wise philosopher, as much as you try fooling yourself that you are. You are merely a man who must see the rot in the world in order to make himself feel better about his miserable life.’ Fenella punctuated her statement with another smile, further irritating her guest.
* * * * *
‘And so, they took Alfred Carter to the hanging tree out the front, strung him up, and hanged him ‘til he was dead. Some say they’ve seen the ghost of old Red Alfred wandering the streets of Strangler’s Cove, looking for his one true love, and anyone who gets in his way loses their head.’
The five tourists were held captive by Big John’s story, and their synchronised gasp made him beam from ear to ear. The other seven patrons and Big John broke into raucous laughter.
‘S-s-s-stop it, John. Please, stop,’ pleaded Harry, tears rolling down his cheeks. ‘Every time you tell that story, every time . . . they always fall for it. Priceless, I tell you.’
‘You mean it wasn’t real?’
‘No, lassie,’ Big John replied, ‘it wasn’t real. Nor was Red Alfred. It’s just a story we made up once upon a time to keep some restless tourists entertained during a snow in. Worked so well we decided to keep it.’
The tallest of the tourists cleared his throat. ‘I never believed it for a second. It’s all the same with you country folk. Trying to drum up the tourist pound or Euro or whatever it is that passes for currency out here. Never believed it for a second.’
‘Ray, you’re an idiot. You totally believed it.’ The young woman slapped Ray hard on the arm, and he playfully recoiled.
‘Didn’t believe it. Not for a second,’ replied Ray.
‘I know it’s changing the subject an’ all, but when is this mist likely to lift. We’re supposed to be at our next location by midnight tonight.’
‘Bradley, was it?’ Big John asked. The tourist nodded. ‘Well, Bradley, it’s hard to say. It could last until dawn. It could last longer. Has been known to happen that the mist doesn’t clear for most of the following day.’
Bradley snickered. ‘This is another one of your stories, isn’t it? Good one. Definitely makes sure that the gullible tourists spend their hard earned cash in your establishment.’
‘I’m afraid not, son. That’s the thing about mist – you never can tell when it’s going to clear. All depends on the weather. How much wind we might get, what the temperature of the following day is going to be, what’s happening out at sea. A lot of factors involved here,’ Big John said.
‘Best you just settle in for the night, and don’t go out wandering around out there. You’re bound to get lost, stumbled around up by the mill, and then fall off the cliffs. That’s happened a few times before. Tourists not knowing where they’re going, not heeding what the locals have told ‘em. Not to mention the odd local or two has died as a result of the mist. Disorientates a person. They don’t know up from down, north from south. Just stay inside until it clears.’ Harry rubbed his chin and then drank the last of the beer in his glass. ‘Give us another one, John.’
* * * * *
Castledene Mill was a formidable structure on the coastline of Strangler’s Cove. Constructed in 1754 by Jonathon Castledene, it had undergone two partial reconstructions, a total rebuild, and four or five restorations since being erected. Furthermore, it had been the site of the most heinous crime to befall the residents of Strangler’s Cove in the entire history of the village. Parish records meticulously retold the events of the fateful winter’s night in 1763, when Jonathon Castledene took the lives of his wife and four children, but it was never a story recounted over the bar at Big John’s Ravenbridge Pub. In fact, it was rarely a story that was spoken of anywhere in the village.
Carol Castledene, a distant cousin of Jonathon’s, sat asleep in her favourite chair in her sitting room. The fire was crackling, spreading light and warmth in the room, illuminating it enough for a ghostly intruder to carry out a nefarious plan. Carol was utterly unaware that her life was about to end in a most brutal fashion.
. . . To be continued . . .