The moment I step off the tarmac road onto the rough track leading to the small village of Eden I feel a tremor of unease run through me. I stop and gaze around, everything looks as it should be, except for a faint haze out at sea.
When I’d been here six hours earlier to visit an elderly lady, it had been a glorious morning. The sea had sparkled; while rocks glistened as the tide withdrew leaving clumps of seaweed and algae to dry. Birds had sung and flown back and forth from hardy bushes and hedges; there’s no trees up here, the wind is a force to be reckoned with.
Eden’s location is on top of towering cliffs, it’s isolated and open to the elements. On a beautiful day the views over land and sea are exquisite. I look now towards the horizon and realise with dread that I’d been mistaken, it hadn’t been a haze out there as I’d thought, but an approaching haar.
My heartrate quickens, a haar, unlike mist or fog seems to me to be a living element. It has a will of its own. It can travel at speed, ebb and flow like the tide, hover over buildings, fields and roads – a clear blue sky above it. I’ve imagined it configurating into objects or even the formation of people. I always fervently hope that it’s my imagination working overtime and not actually a reality.
As I hurry along the track, the sound of the sea is diminishing into a muffled thrum, and a chill is in the air, as the haar gradually shrouds the land. Passing an old graveyard my stomach flips, and I’m praying my return journey will be before the haar reaches this point. Years ago, the recovered bodies of fishermen from the village whose lives were lost at sea were buried here, in view of the waves they so loved. It’s one thing passing a graveyard in daylight quite another in the dark or a creeping mist.
I would return home, except for the fact that I’ve left my house keys with the lady I visited this morning. I’d been showing her a fob on my keys, before putting them down on the table and forgetting all about them.
Sturdy low buildings emerge out of the mist; previously they had been bright and colourful, their window boxes full of red geraniums. Now they appear surly and unwelcoming, their doors shut tight against the thick creeping mist. It must be dark inside the dwellings now with having only small windows to let the daylight in and keep wind and rain out.
How quiet it is, not a sound. My hair is wet, my clothes damp and clinging. I don’t seem to be able to figure out where the cottage is that I called at this morning. The mist eddies around, it’s thick one moment and thin another. I make out the corner of a building or shed, but before I can move with certainty towards it, it has quickly disappeared once more.
I’m terrified to move. I’ve foolishly wandered off-course while trying to get my bearings. This isn’t a place you walk around with confidence, as there are deep ravines only metres away from the road that passes in front of the cottages. There’s no fencing to warn the unwary – this is a place where only locals live. There’s no shop or pub to encourage a visitor, nor anywhere to park so you could take a walk. Arrive in a car and you’ll face a nerve-racking time having to reverse back and forth on the edge of the cliffs to get out of the village again.
I try calling for help, my voice strangled with fear. But no reply is forthcoming and I remember how the haar had cloaked everything in its embrace. I sink to the ground and huddle into myself, watchful for any break in the mist that might give me a clue to which way to crawl to safety, it’s the only way that I’ll dare to move. I recall seeing huge green waves lash up the sheer cliffs, while fingers of white foam reach up ready to pluck anyone stood on the cliff edge down into the depths, and I shudder. How long will it be before the haar disperses and I’ll be released from this nightmare? I try to keep a tight grip on my imagination, the last thing I want to see now is ghosts floating around?
Could the same phenomenon, the cause of so many boats wrecked on the rocks, enable the dead to rise from their resting place? From that old graveyard do spirits emerge to visit their cottages once more? Do residents living there now feel a chill enter their homes at this time or their animals unaccountably cringe away from certain arrears? Stop it! I firmly tell myself. I shift my position; my legs are getting cramped and . . . what was that? I sense movement rather than see or hear anything. I poise ready to call out for help.
“I didn’t mean to kill him!” a voice whined. “I was on edge and . . .”
“Shut your ruddy mouth! Do you want folk to hear us?”
“I’m just saying it was an accident.”
“And I’m telling you to shut your trap before I do it for you. Concentrate on where we are going.”
“He’s too heavy for me, just give me a second. That climb up from the beach has buggered me.”
I clasp my hand over my mouth and franticly peer into the mist, trying to make out where the sound of the voices is coming from. Thankfully, if I can’t make them out then the likelihood of them spotting me, especially hunkered down as I am, seems unlikely. They will kill me for sure if they find me. Probably throw my body over the cliff. My heart is thumping away, filling my ears with every excruciating beat.
“What the bloody hell was he doing down there I’d like to know? They must be watching us.”
“It’s not like we were doing anything wrong, attracting attention I mean.”
“We weren’t. We were only doing a check. Everything was fine until you bloody well overreacted.”
“I told you I panicked when he stepped out of the mist. Where are we taking him?”
I strain my ears to hear what they are saying. Even though they whisper their voices carry eerily in the grey atmosphere around me.
“The graveyard. We’ll put him in with Moses Munroe. He was only buried a couple of days ago; the ground will be soft. Come on, we haven’t got long, we’ve got to get rid of him before this haar retreats.”
I hear grunting and imagine them lifting their burden before laboriously moving away. I strain my ears to follow their progress and soon silence enfolds me once more. Who were they? Who had they killed? What had they been checking on? Were they smugglers in drugs or some other contraband? They had come up from the beach where small fishing boats were moored. My mind falls over itself trying to come up with answers, as question after question jumps forward.
I’ll tell the police; they will know what to do . . . but what will I say? I can’t give them any descriptions of the men; I’d only heard them talking. I suddenly remember them saying about putting the body in a grave – Moses Munroe’s. They could check that, couldn’t they?
After a long miserable wait, I realise I can faintly hear seagulls and the swell of waves slapping the cliffs. I gaze around, the harr is retreating and I can make out ghostly shapes of buildings. I stiffly rise to my feet. I find the house, retrieve my keys and quickly make my way out of the village. I slow down as I reach the graveyard and pause to see if anyone is around. It’s empty. With the sun overhead giving me courage, I step inside to look for Moses’s grave. If it has been disturbed in the last hour or so I’ll know the reason why. The majority of the graves are very old and neglected. Flowers are laid on a few of the most recent ones, although by the looks of the ground around those graves, they too are showing their age. Where was Moses laid to rest?
* * *
Occasionally when asleep I find my spirit or essence (whatever you may call it) trapped in a nightmare. I know beyond doubt that I’m imprisoned in that dream, and that something terrifying is going to happen. I viciously pinch myself; but don’t feel a thing. I fling myself around trying to create pain – anything – to jolt myself awake. I finally realize the futility of my actions and steel myself for whatever might come.
* * *
I fearfully glance around and realize that I’m in Eden’s graveyard. Bright sunlight is quickly fading, losing its warmth as a veil of cloud crosses its path. I shudder, sure in the knowledge of what’s to come. I see wispy fingers of the grey haar creep along the ground, curling around the gravestones, embracing them like old acquaintances. I also realize that I’m stood by Moses’s grave and stumble back, away from its roughly built cross and freshly laid flowers on newly turned earth. A dense silence is enfolding the cemetery, birds huddle in the abundance of bushes that run alongside the thick stonewalls. I know that I too must hide; fear is welling up inside me making my movements taut. How long have I got before the two men arrive with their burden? I wish that I was as small as a bird; able to take refuge in the foliage. A large granite headstone is my sanctuary and I crouch down behind it – fully alert – waiting.
I hear short harsh gasps and deep grunts coming towards Moses’s grave, a heavy thud, then sighs of relief. I risk a peep around the headstone and see a scrawny man keel over onto the ground painfully gasping for air. While a heavier built fellow, breathing deeply, slowly leans forward, his hands on his knees. Through the swirling mist I can make out a third figure laying lifeless on the grass.
“Get up, we’ve work to do.” A vicious kick into the scrawny man’s side has him scrambling to his feet. “Move the flowers while I find something to dig with.” The burly man snarls as he lumbers away.
I duck back behind my hiding place positive that he will come my way and discover me. At least I have the advantage of surprise and will run. I haven’t a clue where to, but I’ll not stay and be set upon. I hold my breath and listen for footfall, wishing I had some kind of weapon to defend myself with.
“Here, we’ll have to use these,” he growled moments later, “they’re all I can find in this damn mist.”
I let my breath out slowly, thankful that he hadn’t come in my direction. I glance around the headstone once more to see what is happening. They are on their knees digging away in the soft dark earth with the urgency of a dog after a bone. It looks like they are using metal flower containers to dig with.
“This will take forever; we’ll never be finished before the haar goes out again. We’re going to be discovered and hanged for sure.”
“I’m bloody sick of you. Just shut your ruddy trap and dig. And think on, you’ll not face any hangman’s noose; I’ll have killed you way before they get anywhere near to seizing us. I’ll not forget that it’s you that’s landed us into this sodding plight. You’re a damn liability.”
A tense silence follows, only broken by grunts and groans of exertion. I began to wonder about their poor victim. If the haar hadn’t come in when it had, would he still be alive? The scrawny chap had said that he’d been panicked by the man’s sudden appearance. Maybe, if the sun had kept shining it would have been a different story. Was he some kind of custom officer? If so, surely, he’ll be missed? Will his superiors have known that he’d been here today? Did he have a family? How did he die? Was he stabbed? Maybe he’d fallen after being punched and smashed his head on the rocks? Why hadn’t all these questions occurred to me when I’d been on the cliff top? I guess it was because I hadn’t actually seen the body. The body! I chance another glimpse at what is going on.
A huge pile of earth has been built up on one side of the grave. The men’s heads and shoulders disappear as they reach down to extract more. The fact that the mist creates a monochrome, supernatural portrayal of the goings on does nothing for my confidence, and my stomach twists repulsively. I watch as they unceremoniously push the body into the grave. They start to fill it in, kicking, pushing and stamping the earth, until it seemingly satisfies them enough to place the flowers back where they belong. The mist is getting lighter by the second and I start to relax knowing that the men will disappear with it.
Cramp is my undoing. I’ve crouched too long and I involuntarily cry out, as my right leg starts to spasm. Unable to do anything but straighten my leg in an attempt to release it from the pain, I slump to the ground. It’s too late to retract my cry, but I don’t want to give my location away by standing up. I realise a charged silence has fallen; how long will it be before they figure out which gravestone I’m hiding behind? I grimace with discomfort, but bite my lips in an effort to keep silent, willing the pain to go so I might have a chance to flee. I hear cautious footfall approach and twist my head to see an ugly face glowering at me, a vicious looking knife in his hand.
“Who are you and where do you come from? You’re not from around here that’s for sure,” he demands his face contorted.
I shrink back against the headstone feeling it solid, cold but somewhat strangely comforting. “Are you going to kill and bury me like you’ve just done with that poor man back there?” I gesture my head back towards Moses’s grave.
“You’ve obviously seen enough to hang me and Angus. We have a problem though, there’s not enough room in there for any more. We could throw you over the cliffs or simply leave you dead elsewhere,” he smirks and raises an eyebrow as he considers his options.
I stare in fascination at him, his eyes are bright as they glare at me, but his form is fading. I hear a bird twitter and automatically turn my head towards the sound, when I glance back the arm holding the knife is already on a downward path. Swiftly I push myself to the side away from him, immediately gasping as my leg goes into spasm again. I screw my eyes up with agony and wait for the second attempt on my life.
There’s nothing, except for a volley of birdsong. I open my eyes and blink; the haar has gone taking with it its horrors and secrets. I begin to smile in relief, until once again my leg plunges me into a world of torture . . . and I wake up thrashing in my bed.
* * *
“I think it’s a bloody liberty putting you in here with me!” Moses Munroe spluttered. “What the hell did they think that they were doing.”
“I can ruddy well assure you that it wouldn’t be my first choice of a resting place. For years now I’ve damn well been trying to catch you. And now! It looks as though I’m never going to be rid of you.” James Andrews furiously replied.
“What happened? How come you fell afoul of Angus and Cain? I thought you had more about you than that.”
“A haar came in and I was upon them before I realised. Angus overreacted and knifed me.”
“Damn fool! He’s always been known to act first before he thinks. I’d like to bet Cain’s none too happy.”
“He’s not on his own there,” snapped James.
“Huh! Well, let’s get this clear from the start. This is MY resting ground. Not that I’m likely to get much of a rest with an interloper. Especially the likes of you.”
“Have you a family who’ll miss you?” Moses asked a while later.
“A wife and three children.”
“I’m sorry for that. How old are you? You always seemed to be a young whippersnapper to me.”
"Thirty - seven. And you? How old were you when you died?”
“I remember how canny you were. Always one step ahead of me.”
“That’s a lifetime of experience for you.” Moses guffawed. “Mind, you’d blasted well turn up at nearly every meeting we had. Fact is, I missed you when you didn’t. I relished the charge in the air when we met.”
“Yes,” chuckled James. “You certainly were a wily opponent.”
Moses sighed thoughtfully. “Do you think we might be able to come to some kind of compromise in time?”
“Maybe, especially if you tell me how you managed to outmanoeuvre me?”
“So long as you let on how you figured out where and when we were meeting up?”
“It’s a deal,” replied James.
“Alright then,” replies Moses.
The Ultimate Creation
Harry Jones, tidying up the tools of his trade, turned sharply from the workbench feeling he was being watched; he scanned the room stopping at his latest handiwork: a chimera. He’d fitted the head of an ape onto the torso of a bear, swan’s wings formed the arms while the hind legs of a horse finished off his ultimate creation.
Even though an unease descended around Harry he stepped closer to appraise his work. It was good. He blinked; the chimera was beginning to look fuzzy; he rubbed his eyes, was he weary? He looked closer; it was still the same. He glanced around the room everything looked normal. He swung back to the chimera; it was even more indistinct. Harry’s breathing became ragged, the room had grown cold, the sound of the clock audible, tick, tick, as though it was counting down moments until. Until what? His mouth dried up. Seconds seemed to drag, while his heartbeat was increasing like a horse’s hoofs drumming on turf. He was transfixed, the creature he had created was now stepping wraith-like out of itself. He could see through it to the original version that stood solidly behind. The ghostly form halted in its journey its eyes ablaze with hate as it gazed into its creator’s eyes. Harry couldn’t move, fear rendering him immobile. His bladder gave way and warm liquid seeped down his trembling legs. The chimera moved again slowly.
Deep inside, Harry felt a flicker of remorse stir before the first scream left his throat, as he was encompassed by his creation. Flames erupted out of Harry’s chest and screams turned into a gurgle as his body disintegrated to the floor.
Normal atmosphere in the room returned. Everything was the same – except for the pile of ash and burnt carpet in the middle of the room.
* * *
Frazer paused, a disquiet flickering inside him like a faulty bulb. He looked around clenching his fists in anticipation of action, his sixth-sense rarely let him down. There was nothing. Whatever it was he wasn’t in immediate danger. He reshuffled his rucksack and set off once again.
A house came into view as he emerged from some undergrowth. Dilapidated, with paint peeling from window frames and shutters, the house gave off an air of despondency, only the garden looked as if someone was making an effort. He recoiled as he felt invisible waves of melancholy emitting from the house. This must be where the foreboding that he’d felt had come from. As he turned to leave, a cry for help halted his departure and he pivoted to locate its source. An elderly woman lay trapped by planks of wood and he made haste over to help her.
“It’s alright, I’ll get you free. What happened?” Frazer momentarily grasped her hand in an attempt to reassure her, before gently lifting the planks away.
“I stumbled into them and the damn things toppled over. I’ve been stuck out here for hours; I couldn’t believe it when you popped up.” She modestly smoothed down her grey skirt, adjusted her blouse and ran her hands through her white hair. “Thank goodness you heard me shout. Being so far off the beaten track I hardly see anyone, why I could have been dead before anyone found me. I’m Minnie Jones by the way.”
“Pleased to meet you, Minnie. My name is Frazer Burns.” Hauling away the last plank he studied Minnie’s legs, she had a few lacerations, but apart from that she appeared to be ok. “Right, let’s see if you can stand.”
Amid a few grunts and groans from the invalid they arrived at her front door. Where Minnie was quick to pick up Frazer’s hesitation to enter. “I’m in no condition to ravish you, young man,” she joked. Immediately adding, “I’m sorry, that was in poor taste.”
“No offence taken. I’m coming in to help fix your legs, make you a sweet cup of tea and to be sure that you’re settled before I go on my way.”
* * *
Studying Frazer thoughtfully as he tenderly bathed her wounds, Minnie asked, “Are you by any chance psychic?”
Frazer hesitated in his administrations, “Why do you ask?”
“Well, a few days ago, I had two young ladies stay overnight. I do bed and breakfast to help my finances along, plus I enjoy the company. One of them, Lucy, apparently was spooked about the house before she’d even entered it. Much the same as you. The next day she told me things that she couldn’t possibly have known . . . unless she had a knowledge that most people scorn.” Minnie looked into Frazer’s dark eyes. “Do you sense something wrong here?”
“Yes,” he returned Minnie’s gaze. “If I make us that cup of tea would you tell me what Lucy said?”
Five minutes later, after gently blowing on her tea Minnie started to speak. “From the beginning she was on edge. I thought it might have been the animals that upset her.”
“Animals?” Frazer enquired. He hadn’t noticed or heard any since he’d arrived.
“Yes, my late husband was a taxidermist, his work is displayed all over the house. Lucy told me she didn’t like the nature of the displays, but it wasn’t that which unnerved her. She murmured something about uncanny feelings. I told her I too felt something, but didn’t know what. I thought the problem stemmed from my husband’s workroom and I practically begged her to see what she thought. I warned her beforehand that his last piece was in there, a chimera.”
Minnie paused, looking down at her lap. “She went into the room, looked into the chimera’s eyes for a few moments, then fainted. She said it was because of what she discovered when she went into a trance.”
“Yes, she said it was something like that. She told me that she’d learnt how my husband had died.” Minnie glanced at Frazer. “I couldn’t take it in; it sounded so bizarre. But the fact was she knew exactly what my husband had died of.”
“And that was?”
Frazer stood and wandered over to study a display case on the sideboard. A fox was ripping a rabbit apart in harrowing detail, and although it was true to life he definitely agreed with Lucy. Were all the displays similar to this? Frazer turned. “Did Lucy come up with any solution to your dilemma?”
“She was adamant that I must destroy the chimera, I’d have no peace otherwise. But it’s Harry’s last piece. I can’t bring myself to do it. I know something is amiss in this house, but I’ve lived here all my life and I want to die here. This sensation I have is spoiling my remaining years.” Minnie mopped her face with a hankey. “I’m sorry, it upsets me so. The atmosphere started to change when he started work on the chimera, about nine weeks before he died. That’s six months ago now, but the feeling is still here.”
Frazer studied his hands reflectively. “Have you ever thought of giving the piece away to some kind of exhibition?”
“No, I hadn’t,” Minnie brightened. “But Harry had a friend who has a traveling show called ‘The Bizarre and the Beautiful.’ I could give him a phone call, to see if he’d be interested in it.”
“There you are then, problem hopefully solved.” Frazer paused, “Could I take a look at this creature?”
“Certainly, you’ll forgive me if I don’t come with you,” Minnie gestured to her legs. “Besides, I don’t like to see it. It’s the only piece he made that repulses me. Go on up, it’s the first door on the left at the top of the stairs.”
A few moments later standing outside the room Frazer could feel a presence from within, filling it, emitting an oppressive vibe that seeped out from under the door like an invisible fog to spread throughout the house. Turning the knob, he pushed the door open. A large figure stood in the middle of the room highlighted by an insipid ray of sunlight, its body a pitiful grotesque sight. Its stance was cruelly malformed. Although skilfully made this work represented someone who’s personality was vicious and deranged.
Frazer went to stand in front of the chimera and gazed into its eyes. “Speak to me, Harry,” he murmured. “After what occurred in here with the young woman, I’m guessing that you’re trapped inside there. Will you tell me what happened, up to the day that you died.”
* * *
“I was arrogant, I wanted to play God. I sought to construct my very own creation. Ghostly voices begged me not to. But the more I tried to ignore them, the more insistent they became. I became angry, this was my invention, mine to do as I wanted. The voices in my head eventually seemed to be coming from my own handiwork. To me it had become real. I spoke to it - said that if the voices didn’t stop, I would create a figure that would be made fun of before people eventually took pity. In the end, instead, of making the glorious creature that I’d first imagined, I turned it into this misshaped object you see before you. I realise now that over the years I’ve evoked abhorrent feelings in the birds and animals that I’d used in my displays. On their own they didn’t have the power to stop me, but with the addition of the chimera . . .
"On the day I died I was tidying up when I thought I was being watched . . .
* * *
". . . I knew I was dead. I could see the charred remains of my earthly body in front of me. I shut my eyes; I didn’t want to see the chimera again. I wondered what was going to happen next. Was I an earth-bound spirit? Or was I to be transported at some point to a celestial cloud? Spontaneous Human Combustion, that’s what they would put on my death certificate. But I knew that the abundance of energy that had taken my life had not come from within me, but from the source of my own making. I was aware of an anger from the birds and animals I’d used in my creations filling the room, I squeezed my eyes tighter. I knew I had no one but myself to blame. ‘I’m sorry, alright?’ I told them. ‘Is that what you want to hear?’ I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done the things I did.’
"The atmosphere seemed to lift and I slowly opened my eyes. The room was empty, no enraged or condemning spirits floating around. I tried to see where the chimera was, but found that I couldn’t move. Surely a spirit should be free to travel at will? I thought. I could move my eyes from side to side, up and down, but that was all. It suddenly occurred to me though that I was looking through brown tinted glass.
"Realisation hit me, when I peered into the mirror on the far side of the room. I could see the chimera’s characteristics, but the eyes - my eyes – looked back at me. Only they would tell if they could, of my soul imprisoned within.”
* * *
“I told the young woman, Lucy, what had happened. I begged her to tell Minnie to destroy the chimera. It’s the only way that I’ll ever be free.” Harry’s voice trailed away. “Six months I’ve been stuck in here all on my own. Minnie recoils every time she comes in here to dust, which isn’t very often. And she always tries to avoid looking in this direction. The chance of someone that’s telepathic coming to the house is unbelievable. You’ve got to help me.”
“I know Minnie won’t destroy your last piece of work; she’s already told me.”
“You’ve got to make her change her mind, damn you. Have pity on me.”
“What, the same kind of pity like you showed to all the animals you worked on?” Frazer turned and walked to the door. “I’m sorry, I don’t think so. You’re on your own.”
“Don’t dare underrate me. My spirit may be trapped inside this carcass, but my mind has been busy.”
Frazer luckily heard the knife slither on the workbench and turned in time to dodge it, as it hurled in his direction. The next moment he was outside leaning against the door, his heart pounding. The sooner Minnie was rid of Harry the better. Even incarcerated in the chimera he was a dangerous man.
As he went downstairs, he considered what he was going to say. Like Lucy before him, he wouldn’t be letting Minnie know as to where her husband was residing. Hopefully, Harry would soon be consigned to traveling around the country, instead of being shut in a room all on his own.
An excited Minnie greeted him as he entered the room. “I’ve been in touch with Harry’s old friend,” she waved the phone at Frazer. “He said that he’d be delighted to take the chimera, in fact he’s picking it up tomorrow morning.” She beamed with delight as she went on. “Harry loved his work to be displayed and admired. I know wherever he is right now he’ll be so happy, bless him. Fancy, his work traveling the length of Britain. It was one of his dreams, he’d be so proud. I wish he was here to see it happen.”
“Hmmm,” murmured Frazer. He doubted Harry would neither be happy nor proud to be around to witness it happen. Harry’s words crossed his mind about, ‘creating a figure that would be made fun of before people eventually took pity.’ Probably no one would stop to admire his workmanship. You could almost feel sorry for the poor old guy. Almost.
Pat Coates is 77 years old and lives in Sully, South Wales. Married with two children and two grandchildren.