To plan a journey far ahead can be a mistake from several points of view. In the instance I recall here the fault, so it seemed, was in the weather. I had arranged to spend a few days at the turn of the New Year in the West Country with my in-laws, the wife and daughter having gone ahead by train two days earlier. And who doesn't know how a build-up of high pressure around Iceland can send a sudden icy blast across the UK? This can lead to heavy snow, with drifts that isolate villages and farmsteads - and, as well as the inconvenience, creates a great hush over the countryside which takes on an extraordinary beauty.

As I drove west on that late-December day precisely a year ago, I could already sense the change in pressure. Certainly it was forecast, and certainly I planned around it - as well as one can - and the day had begun well: crisp and fresh with clear skies and bright sunshine. But the storm was early coming by several hours; by mid-afternoon when it first appeared I was halfway across Bodmin Moor. To add to my woes, I drove into an inexplicable patch of fog, bumped the verge - at which the radio ceased to function - and emerged unscathed yet feeling strangely different; no amount of fiddling or adjusting the radio could reinstate the cheerful Beethoven sonata I'd been enjoying. I continued in gloomy silence.

An opaque wall of grey rose far off to the north. As the road climbed, so the sky darkened; and within several astonishing minutes the final glimmer of exposed sky vanished behind me. A few rogue snowflakes flittered around the screen. It seemed that dusk was falling two hours early. I shuddered and switched on the lights.
I would have turned back, but from my position, nearing a plateau, I could see that to do so would have been pointless: behind me the moor was as bleak and exposed as ahead, and looking north again, as the road wound towards the summit, I saw with dismay that the main body of the storm approached faster than a car could move on such a road - which in places dipped and curved, often sharply, with deep ruts and gullies either side.

Upon reaching the crest, the whole scene opened suddenly before me like an enormous painting, at once portentous and striking. The vast shadowy panorama of rolling moor was being swallowed from the north by an equally vast dark-grey front. I had never seen anything to equal it. At another time I would have regarded the scene as magnificent, spellbinding, impressive. I had paused often to observe many a lesser spectacle. This, though, was unsurpassable, breathtaking … yet awesome and scary; one might even say: unworldly!

But there was little time for pondering the fineries of extreme nature. The wind had got up and buffeted now with increasing violence; I had to leave this exposed high point and find shelter: a sturdy thicket, a high bank to the north or west, an old stone wall, anything that might offer protection. There was no knowing how long the storm would continue, and the temperature was dropping fast. On top of that, I had seen no other vehicles for miles, ever since that inexplicable fog, and the snow was already beginning to settle. Accelerating, I made haste across the protracted ridge towards the next valley.

By the time I reached the decline, the sky had come to resemble an immense arched roof of almost black. Gigantic swirls and contortions were whipping through formations high above - as if being worked by the invisible hand of a giant sculptor - and this was engulfing the entire moor, stretching in a billowing wave to beyond the horizon. It was enough to make a dinosaur shudder. Then, for a brief second, about a mile off at the edge of this encroaching front, I thought I could make out the diffuse shape of a house. An incongruous sight, perhaps, and truly warming; but a house, out here? Either way, I decided that this structure would be my saving refuge. Perhaps it was a farm or an inn: had I detected a faint light showing? Who could tell? The imagination can play odd tricks at such times, when one's senses are sharpened and one's fears aroused.

With eyes peeled, I jabbed the accelerator again and raced on down the hill, swerving and lurching amidst huge snowflakes now that spun and danced across the windscreen, becoming thicker, beginning to stick, forcing me to slow. Although no more than ten minutes had elapsed since the snow had begun, the road had become scarcely distinguishable from the moor, and the wheels slid from side to side as though the gusting wind was intent to wrestle the car from my grasp.

A section of the building emerged again, a mere glimpse, then it dipped once more and for a few tortuous moments I wondered if it had been a mere outcrop of rock, a mirage even, a trick of what little light remained in that murky landscape that was now all but completely obscured. Then, abruptly, the structure reappeared almost on top of me. In appalling visibility, I slowed to a crawl and edged the car, which slithered like an intoxicated snake, onto a wide forecourt - and stopped. The old house loomed intermittently through the whirling snow.

I switched off the engine and lights, and sank back in the seat with a sigh, rubbing my face in my hands. What a day! What a night! What would I find here? A friendly welcome? Hostility? I tried the mobile; no signal. Either the aerial was down or I was out of range; probably in a hollow.

Squinting through the side-window at the blinding gusts, I could see no lights, though for an instant in the twilight I thought a tall man in a hooded anorak was coming to meet me. But the form wavered and expanded as in a distorting mirror, and to my astonishment seemed to rise above ground-level. This concentrated my mind immeasurably. Was it another trick of the light? An uprooted tree perhaps, dancing randomly in that mutinous wind? Finally, the shape dispersed in the gloom as if swallowed by the swirling snow.

Draped now in my coat, and clasping a small overnight bag into which I'd stuffed a few essentials, I got out and fought my way to the house. Soon I stood under a porch canopy. Without delay, I banged my fist on the solid oak door. The wind whipped around my head like an invisible rope. Surely someone was in? A small plaque on the door displayed the name: Doughty. Then I lost myself in a daydream, hypnotised by the howling wind and that gorgeous smell of fresh snow in my nostrils. I was momentarily lifted from my stricken circumstances, and seemed thrust back decades: a youth again, throwing snowballs, running and leaping…

And there appeared, as in a lucid dream, an entire scenario from those days. There were three of us: a big surly kid of about 15 named Doughty with a gun he had stolen from a territorial army firing range. He fired a blank to prove it! Another kid from the range who later informed on the theft, sided with me against Doughty's lethal stone-reinforced snowballs. As the fight petered out, the kid vanished and Doughty approached me, snarling: "You'll pay for telling. I'll get you some day. I know your name. Who could forget a name like THAT?"

"But it wasn't ME." I protested. I recalled that Doughty had been killed a year later in a climbing accident, and soon after that his family had moved to Bodmin.
"All the same, I'll get you…" he repeated over and over in a voice that like his apparition shrank into the distance, "I'll get you…" he went on, his form getting fainter till there was only me standing there shaking.

Suddenly I was in the present again, shivering violently, pulling my coat up round my ears. How long the daydream lasted I cannot say; I shook off the snow that had come at me from the side and banged again on the door. The plaque was gone; I must have dreamed that too. All the while the wind groaned mournfully in the trees to either side of the old house. Just as I began to consider breaking in, the door clicked then moved open, just a fraction. Pushing carefully at first, I soon flung it wide and for a moment seemed to be staring into a cave. Shivering like a nervous dog I had no intension of waiting further on that step, and I was in, the door slamming startlingly behind me as though on a spring. I turned but could see nothing. All was black.

'Hello!' I cried, over the muffled din of the wind, which roared like a well-primed boiler, 'Anyone there?' Gradually my eyes began to pick out the shape of the room. I was in a grand hallway, it seemed, the shape of a wide staircase ahead of me; all around, for all I could see, was ebony panelling. A window high above the door provided the only light, which verged on none. I moved forward and shouted again, this time at the top of my voice: 'Hello-O-O-O-O.'

The sound seemed to fall dead. Then, for an arresting second, I thought someone answered. Alas, it was only a coincidental plaintive howl from the telephone wires, and some loose fixture outside: a weatherboard, gutter, or something in the eaves, which vibrated intermittently with a deep sonorous groan: Oooohhhhhhh… Oooohhh… Even so, and most curiously for a heathen such as me, the idea came into my head that the wind may not be the indifferent inanimate entity I had previously supposed, an entity powerless to do other than obey the laws of physics and weather systems; rather, it had taken on a kind of hostile, menacing quality, as if at the mercy of some malevolent force. But what was I thinking? Bracing myself, I took another step forward, then another… something bulky underfoot, lumpy, soft and slippery.

Although the air had been fresh when I entered, a sudden stale momentary waft of mustiness blew across my face; a sour smell common to neglected old buildings, I thought, a combination of dampness and poor ventilation - and maybe a dead mouse or two. I withdrew my foot and using the mobile phone as a source of light, tried to see. An old silk-lined coat? That would slip. I leaned closer. No, A long heap of slimy, filthy old rags… Then… Uhhh….! A body!
I moved back, and turned away to take breath and recover myself. Sod, I thought, what was this? After a moment, I returned for a closer look. Hollow eye sockets; white skin stretched over a small skull; a few long strands of white hair. A body, nothing more. No sense of individuality. Just a plain human body. It must have been dead months. Was this some poor old woman, Mrs Doughty even, left to die out here alone on the moor, with no-one to keep an eye, no-one knowing or bothering? What else might I find here?
I moved to a door at the side. Stiff as it was, it creaked open. Dust seemed to flow from all around the top, assisted by what I took for the moaning draught from a chimney. An equally gloomy expanse confronted me, high and dark. Was that a chair and table? Again black… dreary, everything strewn in cobwebs, more ebony panelling. Then a sideboard; a candelabra! I went over, fumbled for my cigarette lighter, my hand trembling. 'At last,' I sighed, shaking away the dust and catching the wicks, 'Illumination!'

I held the candelabra high. The dark-panelled walls and ceiling flickered eerily into view as I moved. There was indeed a table and chair. And even a sofa beside a huge open hearth that gaped like the jaws of a dragon. All the while moans echoed sombrely in the chimney. The sofa was draped with cobwebs thick as lace like I'd not before seen, not even in neglected old barns. Foolishly, I ventured to touch it; my hand sank deep in grey powder like pulverised bone. I shuddered and recoiled. Despite the draught, a distinct smell of rot and decay pervaded the room. I returned to the hall and held the light up to an enormous gold-framed oil painting of a figure from an earlier age wearing a ruff and black tricorne hat. The face distorted, grotesque; eyes big without pupils, just white, staring at nothing. Sensing only horror, I looked away. Who would do a thing like that? Why? What kind of a nightmare was this? How had I landed here of all places? A hellhole if ever there was!

Always one to pride myself for a sober, down to earth disposition, for my customary stable, sensible, level headed temperament, not inclined to give so much as the time of day to irrational fantasies, I found this new circumstance tried my limits. Obviously, I was in danger of loosing my grip. I had to concentrate. I told myself to wake-up, to be reasonable, realistic; now was precisely the time when I most needed my faculties, the very time NOT to give way to nonsense and humbug.

But I was cold and tired. I realised that I wouldn't find food in this wretched house, and that all I really needed, all I could hope for, was somewhere to lie down and sleep awhile, somewhere away from draughts. The hall ceiling was higher than I could see, and outside had grown entirely dark now - the window black as the panelling. Stepping well clear of the body, I went to the stairs. Scarcely had I touched the first step when, as if in response, a sudden raucous howl came from outside, followed by a vicious tearing sound as if the roof was being clawed at and ripped away. 'Wind,' I reasoned, trying to steady my nerves, 'merely the wind… a violent gust. Nothing more.' After pausing to pick up a heartbeat, I proceeded, still accompanied by the relentless rising and falling of the moaning wind, accentuated now and then by a sudden hollow roar from the chimney in the big room.

Upon reaching the landing, the noise mysteriously subsided and became a sad whimpering sound. More absurd tricks of the imagination, I thought. Probably the pipes, I told myself, or an old wind musical instrument. I nodded as if to confirm my resolute rejection of the absurd illusions that insisted on creeping into my consciousness. But now the high ceiling was in view, and I approached a door, touched the handle - was this another trigger? That very instant there came from above a devastating crack like a firework, followed by the sound of splintering wood.

The shock spun me back and I fell against the balustrade, which bent and creaked as if to give way. But it held, and I somehow kept the candelabra upright in spite of shards and splinters of wood flying in a great shower around me. The candle-flames flickered violently in the sudden gust. Then came a wild burst of fluttering. Pigeons? Together with this, a fierce acrid current of air shot down, which caught my breath. I coughed and raised myself, and brandishing the candelabra - whose flames fought heroically against the downdraught which carried with it snowflakes and dust and other debris - I saw there above me a gaping ragged-edged hole. My attention was taken now by a rhythmic banging that had started in some remote part of the old house, as though a fixture had come loose and was hanging free, every now and then swinging and hitting something.

The moaning wind, together with its reverberating growl, had begun to increase again, and my crazed imagination seemed to tell me as I stood there that a voice was calling, trying to speak to me through the sounds the wind made. I even wondered if such a thing was possible? It came and went in waves.

First the voice was angry like a band-saw and rose menacingly in volume and pitch, then it calmed as it fell. 'Go away!' It kept saying. 'Away. You don't belong… Awayyyy.' Was I going mad? The "voice" struck me as so authentic, so deliberate, so appropriate, that it was impossible to dismiss. It was damned right, I thought: I shouldn't be here. Yet all was interpretation; I knew that well enough. Every word, I tried to tell myself, was simply a sequence of chance vibrations, tones and inflections, distorted random phonons echoing, beating, resonating against howls of wind, gusting and whimpering, all playing tantalisingly near-familiar patterns in my ears. And this with my brain at its most vulnerable: tired, worn to exhaustion, but kept awake and alert through an unquenchable fear - fear of the unknown, of impending terror, of horror unimagined, of imminent death - or worse: some kind of perpetual limbo on the verges of hell.

Still holding the candelabra, I struggled along the landing in distraught confusion. 'Where now?' I thought, 'Somewhere to rest?' A door ahead of me seemed to waver. 'HELLO!' I cried out, driven by terror, 'WHO'S THERE?' I used all the force I could muster for my voice, yet it was a feeble empty nothing against the bellowing groans from the chimney and attic. The moans quivered with such sorrow, such plaintive, mournful, abject misery and gloom as to almost provoke me to weep. Gently, I touched the door. How easily, how unexpectedly, it swung open.

I staggered into the threshold - and froze. A man, solid as myself, bold, upright, stood facing me. He didn't move. All around him was darkness, yet the light from the candelabra dazzled me, and him too, so it seemed. I could swear my heart stopped briefly. But I raised my arm, as if preparing to defend myself, in case he should… but he raised his arm too. I was ready to rush him, to pound him with my fists, to claw and fight with energy…Then I realised: 'Idiot!' I snapped. Murky and flawed as it was, I stared unhindered into a mirror, breathing heavily.

In the room, a four-poster, its curtains closed; a tall sash-window, the side curtains in shreds. Outside through the window: black. Not even a snowflake.

That was when I saw it. The same hooded shape as had approached me outside. Hovering just beyond the window, monstrous now, with huge white eyes, like the picture, trying to get in. The window creaked. I turned quickly and made for the door. The glass crashed in, shattering behind me. A terrific gale thrust me forward but slammed the door before I could reach it. Suddenly, all was calm. Silence. I remained still, not moving a muscle for fear of disturbing something. It was behind me, waiting. For several minutes, longer perhaps, I fought the agony of anticipation, of confronting the great horror of whatever this monster was. I stood there so long that my legs began to ache and soon I could feel them trembling. Eventually, I began to sink down, and then I forced myself to look round. This action precipitated what I had expected all along. Now, as if time had been suspended under my unwitting command, everything began again like a projector put back in motion. The creature, waiting with its blank yet vengeful expression, came at me now, floating and expanding. It was Doughty all right, grown into a grotesque contorted brute, unbearably ugly and twisted into the most hideous rendition of a human being imaginable. It was definitely him; as I remembered. Then, in that same deep protracted roar as has been playing all along, he bellowed out: 'I'LL GET YOU!' - and lunged at me.

I fled first to the corner - then seeing that I had only one option other than to be trapped or even consumed by this quivering fiend, I dived at the curtains of the four-poster, which seemed to open for me as I leapt.

But beneath me now was no soft mattress or eiderdown, not even an old sheet. I had unwittingly launched myself into the mouth of an abyss - blacker than night - and I plunged, followed by a deafening howl from my pursuer which faded as I fell, tumbling and twisting down into the black bottomless void, deeper, deeper, and still deeper; deeper than the deepest mine…

How long this lasted I cannot say. Minutes, hours? I was only half-conscious. But suddenly, a huge jolt. I had landed by some remarkable stroke of good fortune backside first, in a soft-sprung chair: WHOOMPH! I felt my body buckle then recover. Was I safe? The springs that had given to my weight were familiar, but where was I? I seemed to be swaying, as if on a boat at sea. Then, faintly at first, I could hear that Beethoven sonata; now light surrounded me, grey misty light, at first indistinct, and then sunlight.

I was in my car. A van sped past, hooting irritably. I was back on the road, bumping along the verge as in that inexplicable fog. I would have pulled over and stopped, but the road was narrow, and other cars were in sight. Shaken to hell, but in one piece, I drove on, as before, up the incline to the plateau. I wondered: Did it really happen, all that? I glanced at my coat. It was filthy with cobwebs, dust, smears of white. And when I looked up, true enough, the sky was overcast to the north, but not in any strange or unusual way. Everywhere around was green, the moor was all green. No sign of snow. I felt I'd returned to paradise. A paradise rarely appreciated for what it truly was. A paradise, I decided, that I was determined to remain in, come what may! 

But now I had traversed the plateau and was beginning the slow decline, the road twisting as before, but everywhere clear and bright. And there was the driveway. It was a snap decision, pure impulse, that made me swerve in. I got out, removed my coat, slung it in the back, then walked over to where I had been only moments before. No house, just rubble, and some broken wall a few feet high, with grass and moss, nothing more. Otherwise, everything precisely as I remembered. Yet I had not been here before…. before today. I kicked at some bricks where the porch would have been 30, perhaps 50-years earlier. What had happened? Why me? Was all this some sort of vicarious self-inflicted repentance on behalf of the kid who informed on Doughty? Was it some kind of a dream, or maybe a few seconds of blank-out - during which I went through all THAT? But if so, how did I know, how was I able to recollect, the shape of these rooms?

There was the big room, the huge curved lintel over the fireplace. I wandered over to where that chasm might have been, the great hole I finally fell into. Some peculiar whim made me start to clear the rubble, to look beneath. I found myself scrabbling amongst the dirt like a kid searching for a treasured toy. What was I trying to do? I stopped and stood up. 'Idiot!' I snapped. That was when I saw it, when I realised what was missing: my mobile phone. And there it lay, inches from my foot. It was black now, with silver edges where, I presumed, it had been scuffed as I searched. The whole thing originally resembled stainless steel or even titanium. I bent and picked it up. It opened, but was corroded and broke in my hands. 'Well,' I thought, examining it carefully to be certain it was mine, 'Could I possibly have dropped it only just now? And could some unlikely ground contamination have caused it to corrode like that?' Either way, I decided, I'd have to get a new one. My initials were intact as I had scratched them very clearly a few weeks before. You see, my name is Harold Lancaster. And after my two grandfathers, my middle initials are E. L. And I've wondered ever since that day whether that could have made any difference… Who, indeed, as Doughty had observed, would want initials like that?

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