Such a Quiet Place. Part One

Such A Quiet Place
Part One
Written & Illustrated by Andy Paciorek
With Special Thanks to Andreea V. Balcan.

So bitter is the touch of the cold fingers of fate, that should a car engine suddenly cease on a long winter night’s journey; it never does so outside a cosy inn, brimming with fine wine, real ale, hearty food, good cheer and a roaring log fire. No, it is typical, cliché perhaps, that when on such an evening, should a vehicle suddenly give up the ghost, it will decide to do so in the cold, dark middle of nowhere, situated to the back of beyond.
And so it happened to me.

The journey had run smoothly from Nottingham to Scotch Corner, where I took a short break at the service station and the opportunity to fill the tank with petrol and my own yawning belly with hot coffee and convenience food. It was upon resuming my journey north that my troubles began. Firstly the GPS stopping working and then the radio that had kept me company and kept me alert, with its mixture of music and talk descended into a crackle of static and no attempts to retune to any station were successful. By coincidence or otherwise, this coincided with a fall of snow. First a few flakes upon the windscreen, but then rapidly progressing to a flurry and then a heavy and rapid bluster. In both sound and vision now I was beset by quiet white noise.

Had my wife, Caroline, been in the car with me, I would have indulged her in jovial banter about the north – south divide (her being a native of Cumbria and myself hailing from Hertfordshire; the Midlands home we shared being our happy median) and how once past Scotch Corner I would have jibed her about how we were now approaching the ‘end of the world’. But she was not travelling with me; in fact it was to join her that I was making this journey. Earlier in the week she had received a telephone call informing her that her Aunt Isobel had taken ill. Being her nearest living relative, since the death of her own parents, my wife felt an obligation to the old woman, cantankerous and strange as she was. And she was a peculiar woman, short of temper and both very religious and highly superstitious in her ways. And old, very old, in her late nineties at the least but still for the most part strong and independent of character, despite her wizened frame, though she had been very lean and stubborn in the thirty odd years I had known her.
We would make a point of visiting her maybe once or twice a year and take walks along the coast with the old lady or play chess with her in her ancient yet solid and attractive cottage. Chess was a passion of the old lady, and so sharp in mind and strategy was she that neither my wife nor myself ever came close to beating her in a game though we were rather adept players ourselves. “The sport of Kings … and Queens”, Aunt Isobel would cackle when claiming an inevitable checkmate. Yet in life she was never made a queen by any man. Unmarried, childless, Isobel was a true maiden aunt …apparently; however I recalled vaguely a conversation with my wife’s mother many years ago, when she spoke of a man whom Isobel had loved. He was apparently a seafarer – a fisherman or a trader, perhaps a smuggler or pirate for all I knew, but whatever his trade, for one summer he had seduced the Isobel and melted her heart. Apparently the man appeared, by my mother-in-law’s recollection, to be a couple of decades at least older than the teenage Isobel. It was not meant to be, as though he told Isobel he would return for her after his next sea voyage, he was never seen in those parts again. Isobel grieved fearing him lost at sea, but the truth may have been that there was an ‘Isobel’ in every port, the last one forgotten as soon as the next succumbed to his charms. It was said that after the second summer had passed without his return, Isobel never mentioned her erstwhile lover again and never fell into the arms or bed or another man. Though sometimes on our strolls along the shoreline I would see her gaze wistfully across the waves as if she still hoped against hope, after long lonesome decades, that her seadog paramour would still return.

Such a Quiet Place. Part Two

Such A Quiet Place
Part Two

Written & Illustrated by Andy Paciorek
With Special Thanks to Andreea V. Balcan.

I gazed through the misty haze below the orange glow of the electric streetlights that cast long deep shadows on the chaste white snow. I listened to the low guttural growl that issued from the end of that long terrace and squinted my eyes to discern the source of this noise. Silhouetted in the shimmering golden light were a pack of dogs. There seemed to be quite a few and the sight of them filled me with trepidation. Though the clarity of my view was obscure, I sensed instinctively that there was something not right about these hounds but even so their very presence seemed wrong. On holidays abroad in Europe and Asia I had viewed upon packs of feral dogs roaming the towns at night but never more than a couple of strays at a time had I witnessed in Britain. Especially here it would be assumed that their occurrence would not be tolerated, for Cumbrian sheep farmers are extremely protective of their flocks and the salt-marsh mutton and lamb of this area commanded a very good price at market.

There was something so unnerving about the gathering of dogs, that although it was a slightly longer walk and would mean being exposed to this wintry onslaught longer still, I decided to turn and take an alternative route down Lumley Lane. Here the walking was more hazardous even without the gathering inches of snow, for this street was still cobbled. The terraces of Derleth were mainly Victorian and though there were a couple of 20th Century builds, the rest of the buildings were older, mainly 18th Century cottages. I remember Aunt Isobel had said that all new building in Derleth had always followed the same labyrinthine pattern of what came before. She supposed that the mixture of hiding points and escape routes were of great use in the bygone days of sea smuggling (which she hinted were perhaps not quite as bygone as some may assume). She also said that there ran a greater maze of caverns and tunnels that led from sea-cove mouths to deep below the streets of Derleth, meandering out and upwards from the cellars of certain houses.

Though I slipped a couple of times and gathering myself up, dusting myself down and cursing, I made good headway to Aunt Isobel’s house and was soon at the wrought iron gates of Ambrose Cottage. I unfastened the latch and with a little difficulty as I moved away the gathering of snow behind it I proceeded up the path to the door. I found the door locked and gave it a gentle rap of gloved knuckles. No answer. I tried again a little harder and still no response. I moved around the house and could see the comforting luminance of lamplight radiating gently from out of the windows. I gazed into one and saw nothing except for the old leather chair in which Isobel would often sit and read her way through the copious collection of books that stretched along the walls. Isobel was a voracious reader of many diverse subjects, though the shelves were notably absent of the Mills & Boon type books that are a favourite amongst many women of Isobel’s age. I moved further along and gazed through another frosty pane into the sitting room. There I saw a small table, upon it a game of chess in mid-play.
My mind ran over the pieces and I could see that a white knight was about to be claimed by a black bishop but beyond that I could not foresee any potential developments; the mind of Isobel would however already have been many moves ahead and the word ‘Checkmate’ would already be tickling behind her thin, tight lips. For some unfathomable reason the sight of the abandoned chess match disturbed me and a shiver ran down my already cold spine. In the hearth, only the bare embers of flame remained in the dry pool of grey ash.

I speculated on what the situation may be. If my wife and Aunt Isobel had just gone out somewhere for a little while (and would they in this weather?) then Isobel would have ensured that only one lamp at most would have remained lit and that the fire would be safely stoked to burn until their return. My wife had mentioned Isobel’s condition in her text and I wondered whether the situation had worsened and she had been taken into hospital. I was uncertain where the nearest hospital actually was, Whitehaven perhaps.
And still the snow fell. I huddled onto the small porch, looking under flowerpots in search of a door key to no avail. I popped another of the sweet and nasty clumps of candy into my mouth and contemplated my next action. Standing there in the freezing cold and waiting for who knows how long for their return home, did not seem to me the most enticing prospect. Otherwise I could walk further and try a neighbour’s house, though Derleth people were defiantly private and parochial by nature, surely they weren’t devoid of all compassion particularly on such a frigid night or alternatively I could try to break into Isobel’s house, causing of course the minimum of damage possible, and to get warm and to use the land line to ring Caroline’s mobile phone. Isobel, if well enough, would be most displeased at this, but rather her wrath than hypothermia. And perhaps if my prospects as a ‘burglar’ were not great surely a police cell would be warmer than here. I chuckled at this imagining, but my reverie of pondering was very soon to be shattered with an alarming ferocity.

Such a Quiet Place. Part three.

Such A Quiet Place
Part three

Written & Illustrated by Andy Paciorek
With Special Thanks to Andreea V. Balcan.

I had to keep moving though, I did not doubt that soon others of its kind would smell blood and discover their kin lying near lifeless in the frost. But where could I go? I just had to keep on moving. If the beasts did not kill me then surely the devouring winter would soon claim my life. To retrace my steps on Lumley Lane would likely be a fatal idiocy and Glannoventa Street was certainly a no-go area. With some difficulty I scaled a wall beside the garage into a yard and then finding the back gates of the yard locked and bolted, I scaled another which was no mean feat and sapped me of more energy still. I then made my way limping down the back alley towards Gaiman Road again.

There I traversed along the nearest thing to a main road that Derleth possessed, though with the deepening snowfall it was difficult to differentiate between road and field. I would have to keep my wits about me not to wander too close to cliff or to shore. As best I could I kept to the shade of hedgerow and the dark shadows of the scattered gnarled trees that lined the route. Slow progress, especially as constantly I looked around in all directions for the approach of more of these monstrous talking hounds. For the most part, luck finally seemed to be on my side, as I would only gaze upon the occasional beast at a distance or hear their howling carried on the wind. As I traversed over a dip, the most intense light I had seen all night momentarily blinded my eyes. Could it be? Could I dare to hope? But yes, indeed ahead of me upon the road was a car parked with its headlights at full glare. With trepidation I approached the car and as I neared I saw that the driver’s side door was open. Keeping to the shadows still I crept closer. My eyes then beheld a scene of the most gruesome atrocity. The driver of the car, a man as best I could tell, had been dragged from his vehicle by three of the abominations, which now were indulged like hellish gluttons in tearing him limb from limb.
Against wisdom and conscious effort I dry-retched groaningly and one of the creatures stirred and glanced upwards, its muzzle a mass of blood and flesh. Thankfully for me, though it was more concerned with the others claiming all the choice spoils and it dived its head back into the gory mess that had once been a man.

Again another route had been denied to me and what was the sense of heading that way anyway, back to my dead car, to my own death by freezing, on the slim chance I would make it that far?
I again edged backwards keeping my eye on the car and the foul activity around it, and slipping behind a tree I climbed a barbed wire fence into a farmer’s field. This was a risky manoeuvre as I was heading away from any source of illumination in the darkest and most dangerous of situations, but I knew not where safety and comfort could be sought on this terrible night.
So wading through the deep snow in a gradually upwards incline, I wandered aimlessly, my clothing stunk of frozen blood, my leg and head ached and my lips were chapped to bleeding point. I felt nauseous, exhausted, disorientated and desolate. I was truly lost in all senses of the word but still something, some spirit deep inside of me spurred me onwards. I could barely see in front of me, the blackness of the night was impenetrable and clots of blizzard stuck to my eyelids and face. I fell over something, my hand touching something sticky and cold. Raising myself to my feet I realised I had stumbled over the remains of a slaughtered sheep, its body a filthy tangle of fleece and bone and scarce remnants of innards. Looking about me squinting my eyes, I realised that what I had taken for small hillocks of snow were in fact the carcasses of many more sheep, scores of them. All of them butchered roughly and callously, the field was a swamp of offal and wool. The predators had been here obviously, but where they now?