MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
TWENTY YEARS LATER
A young woman ran across Bodfyn Moor just after dusk, with the sun gone and the quarter moon not yet risen. The white-gray rocks, embedded everywhere in the thawing mud and unseen until she struck them, punished her feet painfully, but she did not slow until she reached the top of a small rise.
She had to stop, just for a moment, because her lungs were heaving and burning. She looked behind her for her pursuers. She could not see them in the pitch-dark, nor could she hear them clearly, with the wind howling and whipping the heather about. But she was sure they were there.
The young woman had crow’s-feet and shadows around her eyes, but they were not real. They were due to an especially heavy application of Ben Nye eye makeup for the stage. Her face was lined, but the wrinkles were drawn in with a pencil. She had ruby red lips, but they were not her preferred color. And she had blood on her hands—which was advertised as tasting like peppermint, and resistant to melting under the sweat of stage lights, but easily removable with warm soap and water, unlike the blood on the hands of the character she had been cast to play.
What was real about the young woman was her jet black hair, her startling blue-violet eyes, and her very sincere desire to be an actress—and now, her very real fear of what was pursuing her.
Her parents had once told her that she could be the next Elizabeth Taylor. And after she had Googled Elizabeth Taylor, she knew that was a compliment. But, of course, she wanted to be like Scarlett Johansson. Or like Katie Holmes. Or like the tall, famously freckled Laura Rankin. Being like any of them would do.
She was young and healthy and forward-looking, and she did not believe in curses, despite what the others back at the theater rehearsal had said. A brisk walk on the moor, with the wind blowing and Wagner playing loudly in her headphones, would clear her mind, help her ignore all the nonsense, and also help put her many lines into a context all her own.
The walk had begun pleasantly enough. With headphones on, she couldn’t hear the gusting wind, but she could see it—whipping the pink heather, stirring the early-spring grass. She saw patches of tall yellow gorse bushes moving in the wind, as well, and she picked her way around them; one had to avoid their thorns.
The wind stirred no dust—it was the moor, after all, not a desert, and except for the white-gray rocks, everything there was either living or had been.
She had hiked to the top of the nearest hill on Bodfyn Moor and paused, leaning against a granite tor that had withstood eons of weather, and hoping to see a couple of the wild ponies known to frequent the region. But no—not this time. In the waning light, she had seen only a large patch of head-high yellow gorse, the yellow flowers shifting and shimmering in the last ray of sun, and the branches still moving in the wind.
Which was odd. Because everywhere else the wind had stopped. The heather nearby didn’t seem to be moving at all.
She took off her headphones to listen, not trusting her vision alone.
Yes, the wind had stopped.
And yet the branches of the nearest yellow gorse bush she had just passed, only a few yards behind her, had just now moved again. She was sure of it; and not only was she sure she had seen that motion but now she could also smell it—the yellow gorse, when disturbed, emitted a very distinct aroma, like coconut oil—could smell it as strongly as if someone had opened a bottle of tanning lotion.
Now it was so dark that it was certainly time to head back. She wanted to walk right back down the way she had come up, using the faint gray shapes of the rocks to guide her steps.
But that would take her right by that tall patch of gorse. And she wanted to be sure.
She felt foolish calling out. But she could not think of what had moved those bushes if a person had not.
“Is someone there?”
She took a tentative step in that direction—if she could be certain that no one was there, hiding behind the thorny branches, she was going to rush right past that stand of gorse and down the slope. As dark as the night now was, she would run down the path, and if her feet hit the rocks and she tripped, so be it—she would eventually get to the safety of the theater.
But now, as she took that step, the branches moved again—she heard them, smelled them, nearly felt them—and she heard a low, guttural, and frighteningly angry human sound.
She abandoned her plan. She turned and began to run farther out onto the moor.
And then, suddenly, she pitched forward. She put her arms out but found nothing to catch and break her fall. It was just all blackness. The surprise of it was so great that she could not even think to scream.
Copyright © 2018 by Michael Robertson