Received Special Mention in the Flash Fiction contest, Memories from Books
‘Moors?’ I looked around with interest. ‘You mean this is The Hound of the Baskervilles country?’
Exactly on cue, the car gave up with two deep coughs, stuttering a reply to my query before it halted. I was on a road trip with my sister, Hina and her English husband Sam, to the Lake District. It was supposed to be a pilgrimage of sorts for me. We were on our way to visit Dove Cottage, home of my favourite poet, William Wordsworth.
As Sam flung up the car bonnet to peer in, I stepped out to stretch my legs. It was a perfect English summer day…all grey skies, damp and misty. I strolled through the brushy undergrowth with its peculiar clusters of yellow, pink and purple heather. Here and there, undulating plains were broken by rock cropping that stood up like sentinels. In his story, Doyle had truly conjured up its lonely, desolate aspects.
All of a sudden, a brown hare hopped out of a bush. Stealthily, I followed it. After bouncing along a few yards, it paused before a huge rock face and its long, erect ears twitched. Probably, it had sensed my presence. It leaped up a couple of times and then, simply vanished. Curiously, I rushed to the spot and realized that my feet were sinking into squishy mud. Instantly I drew back, remembering Sam’s advice just in time. Apparently, numerous bogs dotted the moors and have been known to snare animals, the oozing, adhesive clay pulling them in until they drowned. I stood there trying to see whether the swamp had clutched the little hare, when the mist began to become thicker.
A little apprehensive, I looked backwards. The road, the car with its yawning bonnet, Sam and Hina were hazy but visible. Something caught the corner of my eyes and I glanced back at the rock face opposite me. Silhouettes were moving on it. Even through the spiraling fog, I could see that the shadows outlined a huge four-legged animal and beyond it a figure wearing some kind of long garment and a tall hat. Their profiles seemed to suggest that they were gliding across the quagmire where the rabbit had disappeared without a trace. I was puzzled because the figures had to pass in front of me for the shadows to fall on the rocky screen behind them. But I could see nobody at all in front of my eyes. Then how…? Transfixed, I stared until the contours went past the rock. Then, I swiveled round and ran up the slope to the car.
Sam was still twiddling with the engine while Hina helped by beaming a torchlight towards it. I joined them and as the three of us squinted inside, it became darker around us. I didn’t want to talk of my recent experience because I was not sure of what I had seen.
‘Can I help you?’ said somebody behind us. We turned as one. A figure had materialized out of the fog. Tall, dressed in a long trench coat, he had a top hat jammed on his head. Who wears a top hat nowadays? I thought. I was reminded of the rock shadows. The brim of the hat was so low that it shaded the upper part of his face. The collar of his coat was turned up to cover his lower face. The atmosphere had suddenly turned considerably clammy and uncomfortable. I shivered in my tee and jeans. He is certainly dressed for the chill, I surmised, but who goes for a walk in the middle of nowhere in this weather?
With a gloved hand, the man gestured to the car.
‘Certainly,’ said Sam, who looked very relieved. ‘I believe I could do with some help. Do you know anything about car engines?’
‘Let’ see,’ he muttered, coming forward. We scattered to the sides to give him room.
He didn’t even turn up the sleeves of the excellent tweed coat. Instead he extended both his arms into the cavernous front of the car. I don’t know what he did but within five minutes, the engine kicked into life. Sam ran around to the driver’s seat to pump the accelerator several times and then he revved up the engine a few times. Hina smiled her thanks at the man, who didn’t smile back…or the collar hid it if he did. She slid into the front passenger seat. I didn’t even take a moment to quickly clamber into the back seat. Somehow, I wanted to be away from this place as fast as possible.
Sam reversed the car a few feet while the man stood on the roadside and observed us. Then Sam drove forward slowly, stopping beside him. He saluted the man and said, ‘Thanks a ton, mate.’ The man only nodded. The car began moving. As the man came abreast my window next to the back seat, I was startled out of my wits. Standing beside him was a huge, black animal. It looked like a dog, a cross between a mastiff and a hound but I had never seen such a large dog. He stood beside the man, massive jaw hanging open and red eyes glowing like coals.
I turned and nudged Hina and Sam. Pointing backwards, I shouted, ‘Look!’
The underlying horror in my voice made them whirl instantly and then exclaim together, ‘What?’
At that, I rotated completely in my seat to look through the rear window at the man and the dog. The car was still moving away slowly. The spot by side of the road was empty…absolutely vacant. The yellow fog swirled upwards like a smoky question mark.