Friday, 13 January 2012

Friday Flash - The Bell

The road stretched away across the moor, disappearing and reappearing with every undulation of untamed land. Edward Fenwick peered into the distance in both directions. The view yielded only miles of lonely heather. He fished in his horse's saddlebag for the creased square of parchment.

"Well this is a fine business. Digby's map surely shows Cransland House, yet there is not even a cow shed to be seen!" Edward looked down at the horse. The mare whinnied, and bent her head to nibble at the grass verge.

Edward took his pocketwatch from his waistcoat. Only 3pm, and yet the shadowy fingers of dusk already felt their way across the moor. A cloud crossed the face of the low sun, and Edward shivered. The crammed dwellings and clamour of London could never prepare him for this.

"I am late! Thirty minutes, no less. I should have taken the cart that was offered," said Edward.

He gazed across the moor, as if expecting the dilapidated old hall to materialise before him. Nothing. Not even a sheep or cow to break the monotony of the view.

A gust of wind danced around Edward, carrying a faint ringing. The mare lifted her head and pricked up her ears; Edward leaned forward in the saddle, straining to make out the sound. Regular yet insistent, Edward recognised the call of a small bell. He flicked the mare's reins, but the horse refused the budge. Unable to urge her forward, but keen to discover the location of the bell, Edward clambered down out of the saddle and set off down the road.

Hidden by a swell of moorland, another road crossed the empty landscape. A wooden post gave directions where the two roads met, and a mound of earth lay heaped at the foot of the sign. Edward ignored the westward arm pointing toward Cransland House, focussed instead upon the mound. A narrow wooden contraption protruded from the ground, topped by a small copper bell. Sheltered from the sudden gusts of wind by the ground's swell, the bell continued to ring.

Edward snatched his hat from his head and turned it in his hands. He spun around, casting wild glances in all directions. As before, he was alone on the moor. He crossed to the loose mound, searching the ground for clues as to the grave's occupant. Stories tumbled through his mind unbidden, tales told by his old nanny about the witches and vampires buried at crossroads. Even at the age of 43, he found himself unable to pass through London's many crossroads without wondering about the ground beneath his feet.

Edward mopped his brow, his teeth chewing his lip in time to the bell's call. Leaping devils pranced before his mind's eye. His feet tried to direct him back to the mare. He shook his head, trying to dislodge his thoughts.

"Come along now, this will not do. You cannot believe in such superstitious nonsense," he chided himself. "You have heard the stories of premature burial - some fellow could be gasping his last down there while you dither up here."

The bell's ringing grew louder, as if in reply. Edward forced himself towards the mound. Nestling his gloves inside his hat, his fingers got to work on the soft earth. The soil broke apart and fell aside as he scooped handfuls to his left and right. His red face shone with a halo of sweat when his fingertips finally brushed the splinters of untreated wood.

"Hallo there, I am here! I shall have you free in a moment!" called Edward. He hauled the last of the clods behind him, laying bare a rough wooden box, some six feet tall and three feet wide. Edward worked his fingers into the crack between the lid and the box, pulling upwards with all the strength his accounts clerk arms possessed. His mare neighed somewhere in the deepening twilight behind him, a call filled with panic.

"I shall be back, dearest horse!" shouted Edward, looking back over his shoulder as his hands finally pulled the lid free.

Edward looked down into the coffin, expecting to see a grateful face gasping for air. The box was empty, lined with rough sackcloth. He looked up to see if the trapped victim had hauled themselves to freedom when he called to his mare. Nothing but shadows surrounded him. He turned back to the coffin.

Something hit Edward square between the shoulderblades and he tumbled forwards. The last thing he felt was sackcloth against his face.

21 comments:

jackkholt said...

Most excellent! Some great ideas in here - the bell tolling, the crossroads, his final destination...

But I reckon the horse kicked him in. Horses are evil.

Finally: last orders at the bar(n)? - Anyone? No? Sorry.

Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

Icy, you just can't end it there!
That poor sod, just trying to help and then, wham, he ends up in the coffin.
THIS WAS GREAT.
The suspense, the atmosphere, all of it sucked me in and put me right in that barren place. Well, well done!

Allie Slater said...

I agree with Cathy - I want to know more! Great atmosphere/setting, and I liked Edward's character - he seemed like a very well-meaning fellow. Poor man.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Jack - How could the horse have kicked him when there was no one behind him? It's a case for Jonathan Creek...

Cathy - Haha, sorry! Glad you liked it though.

Allie - I've been doing loads of reading on the Gothic and I think it's bled into my writing...

Laurita said...

Loved it! Fabulous atmosphere. It reminded me a bit of the old jack-o-lantern stories. The ending was wicked.

Jose said...

I really like this. Edward is wonderfully realised and the tension is superbly done - great stuff!

Tony Noland said...

The build to the end was great. Poor guy... he should have just run for it.

Tim VanSant Writes said...

I kept yelling, "NO! You saw the signpost. Go to Cransland House." But he must not have heard me.

Craig Smith said...

These demons are getting lazy, getting people to dig their own graves...

Great story.

Carrie Clevenger said...

Ha! Fantastic! I'm wondering if the horse pushed him in. O_o

Peter Newman said...

Poor Edward!

And the moral of the story is: "Don't help people." Or maybe: "Listen to your horse."

John Wiswell said...

Poor guy, always felt doomed but I hoped at least for his horse.

FARfetched said...

No good deed goes unpunished, eh? This is a great character sketch, I was bummed to see him come to this end.

I'm with Jack and Carrie, the horse is a prime suspect even if she tried to warn Edward.

Michael A Tate said...

I guess that's why we have the saying, "No good deed goes unpunished."

I really liked how you managed to really jack up our sympathies to Ed in such a short piece. He's just some guy late for an appointment when he throws it all aside to try and help somebody.

Super piece!

daniellelapaglia said...

You do such an excellent job of painting the atmosphere in your stories. He should have listened to his horse.

Steve Green said...

Y'know Icy, if my memory serves me well, we've learnt the dangers that crossroads hold on these pages before, oh if only Edward had done a little backreading before setting out on his adventure...

And of course you ARE going to write a follow-on... Aren't you?... Please?

Helen said...

Oh my I wasn't expecting that ending.

Love the slow build up of tension Icy and the reference to "Dead Ringers' - now I want to know, no, need to know what happens next! ^__^

mgideon said...

This is why you always listen to your animal sidekick! Horse, dog, cat, whatever. Just follow their lead and walk on. Great read, Icy.

storytreasury said...

Hey! That ending is a tease! Where's the rest?

brainhaze said...

Pow - the suspense was awesome - I love it. Well done Icy!

tom gillespie said...

Very atmospheric and scary.. I was right in amongst the action. Some fantastic phrases and evocation of place, events and a sense of urgency "his teeth chewing his lip in time to the bell's call." Fab stuff Icy

At last, I have found a way to comment!!! I've joined the club (doh)

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