The client hadn’t told me much, except that something inhuman had taken up residence in the attic of her holiday home and was scaring the straights. I was only too happy to take the job, swapping the febrile demands of the Edinburgh festive season, for the still, frozen solitude of the country.
The car had been loaded with needful things: clothes, Scooby snacks, a crate of Laphroaig and, last and least, the tools of my trade – two of my best obsidian scrying glasses and a ouija board. You needed all the help you could get when you played down among the dead men.
If things did go tits up, I had a small handgun with a mix of silver and iron bullets. I’d rarely used it though, because although iron and silver slowed supernatural critters down, it hardly ever killed them. And if, by any chance, the beastie hadn’t wanted to kill you before you drilled a hole in it, you would definitely be number one on its bloody, drag-you-to-hell, screaming hit-list afterwards.
All of which meant you only really had your wits to rely on and mine didn’t stretch as far as they used to.
As I drove, the sun finally managed to prise itself clear of the horizon, revealing a clear, crisp winter’s day. A vicious frost last night had tarted up the landscape with a sheen of glimmering silver and the stubborn remnants of a creeping mist softened the stark lines of skeletal trees.
As I drove north over the Forth Road Bridge and into Fife, I switched on the radio, catching some horrendous boy band murdering an old song, aided and abetted by its elderly creator who had a penchant for violating his own work. Feeling a rant coming on, I turned the hellish cacophony off and stuck on a compilation. Placebo kicked off my one woman party with Every Me and Every You and by the time I got to Snapper’s Dumping You, I was singing along like a loon at the top of my voice, drumming my hands on the wheel.
A couple of hours later, hoarse and famished, I stopped off in Inverurie at the Manky Minx pub, devouring a massive lard-ridden fry up washed down with gallons of stewed tea. In the dim, dingy interior, a small collection of punters went about the serious, mostly silent, business of getting as pissed as possible before having to go back to whatever waited at home.
I resumed the journey on a seemingly endless, winding road that was supposed to take me to Midnight Falls. It coiled, like a serpent around the banks of a Loch with a surface as smooth and dark as one of my scrying glasses. There were always local stories about such bodies of water – drowned villages where church bells could be heard tolling on quiet nights when the moon was full. Or others about luckless victims, killed by the untender mercies of loved ones and laid to restless sleep within the glacial depths, only to return for a satisfyingly hideous and brutal showdown.
Jagged, snow covered peaks closed in as my car laboured through the narrow, tricksy mountain passes. The sky darkened and a driving sleet came out of nowhere, obscuring the windscreen in seconds. The wild beauty of these lonely places always appealed, but living here permanently had its own challenges. During the few wan, stillborn months of summer, this part of the country bowed before its insect conquerors and became a biting, buzzing, stinging hell. Alleviated by the deep freeze of winter, the only downside was that you got snowed in and had to eat your own kin to stay alive. Okay, maybe not, but a girl could dream, couldn’t she?
Heavy clouds besieged the sky and I was still in the middle of a vast nowhere. Sleet turned to heavy rain and my flat out wipers only made things worse, the world beyond now a blur of dark grey and sepia. The grunt and thrust of Snapper’s I’ll Stand By Your Man started up from my mobile on the passenger seat – probably the ball-breaking client, Lucille Harper-Hodge, checking where I was.
The road was now a one track affair, thankfully deserted. Keeping the headlights on full beam I spotted a tiny, partially obscured sign pointing to the right. On impulse, I stopped the car, got out into the howling storm and brushed the snow off the sign, finally making out the words, Midnight Falls. You’d think the inhabitants of the village didn’t want to be found – maybe this was going to turn out to be my kind of town after all. I swung the car to the right and travelled down what was little more than a dirt track, overhung with a tunnel of huge trees, spectral in a perpetual dusk of their own creation which leeched most of the remaining light from the day even though it was only just after lunch.
Once free of the trees it brightened a little as I drove up a steep hill, the gradient so extreme, the car was struggling even in seond gear. When I eventually reached the top, I discovered Midnight Falls laid out beneath me, like a dark canker on the coast, caught between the turbulent Irish Sea on one side and impenetrable mountains on the other. What manner of man or beast made their home in such an isolated, Godforsaken spot?
I was about to find out.