For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.
The last bit of fiction: This is the last bit of fiction (I think) from elsewhere which I will be putting on here. It is another short story which has appeared on the Brass Goggles website.
If I find any other vignettes, from Steampunk Empire or elsewhere, then I will stick them on here.
Don’t Go Out On The Moors
This story was written for the Brass Goggles steampunk website, for a post on Steampunk and / or Victorian urban legends.
Don’t Go Out On The Moors
“Don’t go out on the moors.” the publican said, as he put my pint of ale on the worn wooden counter in front of him.
Staying off the moors was something which I did not intend to do, as I had come down to Devonshire, in the year 189-, upon the recommendation of my doctor that I take a break from my work, and have a few weeks convalescing in England’s green and pleasant land. a few gentle strolls across the moors had been exactly what I planned to do.
“Why ever not, sir?” I asked, as I reached into my pocket for a couple of pennies for the veer. I could not begin to imagine why I should not go out onto the moors, unless this barman considered it a possibility that a city gentleman such as myself might, perchance, get lost in such unfamiliar terrain.
Perhaps he was considering offering some relative as a guide. I had been warned, before leaving London, not to let any of these country folk attempt to gull me.
“It’s not safe – not for the loiks of you.”
Perhaps this barman feared that I might wander into some mire, and be sucked down into some marsh, never again to see the light of day. Well, I might have spent most of my life in more genteel surroundings, but I did not consider myself to be some Tom Fool. I had a stout walking stick with me, which I intended to use to test any suspect ground before treading on it.
“Because of the wolf.” the man said.
“Sir, that is ridiculous.” said I. “The last wolf in Britain was shot more than a hundred years ago. I am in no more danger from wolves in Britain than I am from pirates.”
“Don’t say that I did not warn you.” the barman said. But I had ceased to listen to his fanciful notions. I took my pint of beer and made my way to a free table at the back of this inn.
An inn I call it, and an inn it was, the sign outside declaring it to be the Coach and Horses. Obviously it had once been a coaching inn, before the railways had done for that trade.
I had already arranged with Tavison, the innkeeper, that I would lodge here for the next five days. The rates would have been more than reasonable in London – but we were not in London, and I believed that mein host had charged me above the rate. Still, though, it was not as though I could not afford it. But such matters did not influence me to listen to any ridiculous warnings.
I sat at the back of the inn and drank my beer. It was slightly stronger than I was used to. At least I knew that Tavison did not water the ale.
I observed the other patrons of this bar. Tavison’s customers numbered no more than six. None of them looked as though they had ever gone beyond Devonshire – they were all dressed in what I consider to be rural clothes, the uniform of farmers and the like. They had to have come here from the few houses which I had observed on my journey to this place.
None of them bothered to engage me in conversation. But that did nit bother me. I doubted if any of these men would have anything to say to an eminent banker from the City of London.
I drank my beer, and then enquired about food for the evening, as Tavison had promised a stew. This was duly served, while I had a half pint of the local ale. The stew appeared to be mutton and vegetables, and had the virtue of being piping hot, but little else to recommend it.
Once I had eaten I retired to my room for the evening, as the journey from London had tired me out – and I was supposed to be at ease for these days, if I was to obey the instructions of my doctor.
The room was small but not squalid. A fire had been made up in the small hearth to the side of the single bed. There was a washbasin, with a small round mirror above it. While the washbasin drained away, this place appeared not to have much in the way of plumbing, for there were no taps. There was a tall pewter ewer with water in it beneath the basin, for the purpose of washing. There was a small table beside the bed, with a small gas-lamp responsible for providing light.
There was nothing else in the room, unless one counted the cobwebs hanging from the sloping ceiling. It did not even have a gasogene. But I supposed that I could endure the lack of luxury, as I would only be here for five days, and as I did not intend to spend that much time in this bedroom of the inn.
I read a little, but found that I could not concentrate so, with nothing else to do, I turned out the gas-lamp and went to sleep.
The next morning was misty, with a light fog lying on the ground. I could see no further than a hundred yards at the very most.
Yet, despite the fog around the inn, I decided that I would walk on the moor to the north of the Coach and Horses. I rejected the warning from Tavison, as being nothing more than superstition at the very best.
I had obtained a map of the area, and I had purchased a compass, as well. With my stout walking stick, and my coat, I felt that I had all that I needed.
So, after a less than hearty breakfast, I set out from the tavern, ignoring a final warning from Tavison concerning the ridiculous notion that the moor might contain some wolf. It was a little after eleven of the morning. I thought that I would walk for a couple of hours, before returning to the Coach and Horses. That would be a goodly constitutional, as far as I was concerned. It should also serve to whet my appetite, for whatever food Tavison could prepare for a late lunch.
I crossed the road from the inn. The inn was some miles distant from the nearest town and railway station, with only a few scattered cottages and smallholdings being in the area. The moor began directly to the north of the road; and it had been one of the reasons why I had decided to stay at such an isolated hostelry. I could think of few places further from the hustle and bustle of high finance in the City.
I paused at the far side of the road, and glanced back towards the inn. I was surprised to see, through the mist, that Tavison had come to the door of his establishment, and was shaking his head as he looked at me.
I had had enough of such rural nonsense. I got my compass out, holding it firmly in my left palm, and proceeded to walk directly north, testing the ground with my walking stick as I went. I ventured no further glances back at the old coaching inn.
I found it pleasant to walk across the rolling landscape of the moors, even if my field of vision was limited by the persistent mist. I could see not more than a couple of hundred yards at the most, and soon I would not have been able to see the road or the inn, if I had bothered to look back in their direction. But that did not bother me. I was a man of remarkable intellect and I had my compass, to which I regularly referred. Thus equipped, and with such precautions, I did not see how I could get lost.
I did not walk fast. I saw no need to exhaust myself, as this trip had been about recuperation, not exercise. So I strolled through the moors, taking my time, and enjoying the atmosphere.
The air was certainly different than the city which I had left behind. I had noticed it on the hansom ride from the local train station to the Coach and Horses. It had nothing of the smoke of London. It tasted of growing things, such as the heather of the moor. It was clean, I supposed. But it would still take some time to get used to.
I walked along almost as though I was in a dream, with the mist around me. I do not think that I thought of anything at all, as I strolled across the moor, in the mist, and all of my worries faded away, at least for a while. This was why I had left London, after all, to be delivered from the pressures of high finance. I was sure that after five days of such pacific surroundings.
I continued onwards, occasionally testing the ground with my good walking stick, although from the way that the moor undulated I was sure that I was not in any danger of walking into some bottomless marsh. For a while there seemed to be nothing which could disturb such a tranquil scene.
Then I heard a howl, coming from somewhere ahead of me, in the fog. I ceased my perambulations across the moor.
It could not be a wolf, I told myself. It had to be the dog of somebody. But I did not even want to encounter somebody’s pet hound in such circumstances.
I looked down at the compass in the palm of my hand. According to the device I had been heading due north. To retrace my steps all that I would have to do was to turn around and go die south. That should take me directly to the doors of the Coach and Horses.
I checked my fob watch, and was surprised to see that it had already passed one o’clock. I had intended to head back an hour ago. Walking through the foggy landscape I had seemingly lost all sense of time.
“Well.” I said to myself. “You will have missed lunch by the time that you get back, old thing. But maybe you will be able to talk Tavison into preparing some cold cuts for you.”
I turned around and began walking back towards the inn, as I had intended to be back in the inn by now. I wondered if, perhaps, I should have heeded the warning of Mr Tavison not to go out on the moor. Yet I had expected that the mist would melt away, once the sun was high in the sky; whereas, if anything, the fog had thickened since I had begun my walk.
Then, after a few minutes, I heard the howling coming from in front of me, to the south. I stopped walking, not wanting to run into some dog which some fool had let loose on the moors.
I thought about going to the left and to the right, but I considered that to be a foolish action, and one which might indeed cause me to become lost, as I only had my compass to guide me back to the inn. I could not deviate from my southerly course.
I waited, forcing myself to count up to one thousand. I hoped that, by then, the hound would have moved on, and that the way back to the inn would be clear.
I walked on, moving slowly, and listening out for any strange sound, once I had counted to one thousand. I moved slowly, holding my walking stick ready to use in a defensive manner, should some dog come running towards me.
It was as I was proceeding in such a manner that I saw one of the most terrifying things in my life, and one which I will remember until my dying day. I saw a wolf coming towards me. One glance told me that it was a wolf, even though I had never seen a wolf before. But it was like no wolf which ever had lived, surely, for the monster stood for and a half feet tall at the shoulder.
It had yellow eyes which seemed to glow with a soulless evil, and light up the mist which it stalked through. Its huge jaws were open wide, and I could see saliva dripping from its sharp teeth. I could see the muscles ripple beneath its dark grey fur. But the worst thing, in my opinion, was that the monster appeared to have no feet – its legs faded into the mist which it stalked through. This was no living creature, but the ghost of some giant, dire wolf.
It was daylight, yet I could see the spectre, as clearly as I could see my own feet. I did not stop to wonder about such an event. I turned around and ran, back towards the north. My only thoughts were to escape this demon before it attacked me.
I ran as I had not run since I had been a child, growing up in Richmond. My lungs felt as though they would burst; and I thought that my heart would fail me, it was beating so fast.
Suddenly I found that I was running uphill. I continued upwards, the slop making me slow sown, until I found myself in front of some rocky tor. This stony outcrop, I saw, was above the level of the mist. It was like I was on an island, in a sea of fog.
I knew that I was safe while I was next to that tor. That spectre which I had seen was a monster of the mist, and I believed that it could not leave the fog.
I waited for the mist to dissipate. Above me I could see the sun, and the mist should have melted away. But it gave no indication that it was inclined to do so. It appeared that the mist would stay all day, and I wondered if, perhaps, that ghostly wolf which I had seen somehow controlled the mist, causing it to remain.
I waited for hours on that tor, until I felt that I could wait no longer. Then I began to head back. But I had not gone far when I heard growling in front of me. I could not see the terror, but I did not need to see it to know that it was still there.
Twice more I waited, and tried to make my way back to the inn. But on the second attempt I was turned back again, hearing the growling, once more, of that terrific spectre. It was only on the third attempt to return to the inn that I did not hear or see anything other than the mist.
That walk back through the mist was, I think, the longest walk of my life; or, at least, that was the way that it seemed to me. I kept thinking that, at any moment, that spectral wolf might lurch towards me from out of the mist, and tear me apart with its unholy teeth. But I did not see the wolf, or hear it, and I somehow made it off the moor.
The road was in front of me, going to both my left and my right. There was no sign of the hostelry where I was lodging; and no sign of any people on the road.
I wondered which way I should go.
I heard another howl. It was off, in the distance, in the heart of that desolate moor. But the thought of that horrible spectre spurred me to action once more. I went to the right, hoping that I had chosen the correct direction.
I could see that it was beginning to get dark. I looked at my fob watch, thinking that it could not possibly be that late. But I had been out on the moors all day, and it was now evening.
I did not want to be out after the sun had set. The ghost of the wolf had been bad enough by the light of day, when one is not supposed to be able to witness such spectres. I feared what it might be like when it was fully dark. I chose the left, and hurried along in that direction. Thankfully I did not have far to go before I saw some hope before me.
I saw a patch of darkness looming out of the fog, the mist still thick so that I could not see where the building joined the earth. But it was a building! I had never been so glad to see such an edifice in my life before.
I ran towards it, keen to get out of the fog, and leave behind all of the ghostly monsters which it might hide. I did not go into the bar area straight away, but upstairs, to the room which had been prepared for me.
A fire had been lit in the grate at some stage, and was burning low. But that did not interest me. It was the mirror over the washbasin which I desired, for I felt that I had been changed by what I had seen.
I stood there, and stared into the small, round mirror, provided for gentlemen wishing to shave. My face was lined more than it had been when I had set out. It was something which I would have been prepared to swear to in a court of law.
Yet it was not my face which was so shocking to me, but my hair. My hair may have been grey, before, having lost most of its original brown colour, with the passage of the years, but now it was purest white. The site of that spectre had turned it the colour of freshly fallen snow.
I sat down on the bed in that room. My body shook, with realisation that I had come close to some sort of supernatural tragedy. It was a good half an hour before I had recovered enough to consider going to the bar below.
I brought myself under control, eventually, and went down to the bar. I needed a strong whisky to steady myself. I had come out to Devonshire with the intent of relaxation, but I had suffered the opposite.
I walked up to the counter. Tavison stared at me, as I asked for a small Scotch.
“I told you, didn’t I?” he said. “Don’t go out on the moors.”