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 to happy to take the job, swapping the horror of the festive season in Edinburgh, for horror of a different kind in the freezing 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 the best of my remaining obsidian scrying glasses and a ouija board – just in case I really wanted to get down and dirty 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 had to use it though, because although it might slow the supernatural critters down, it hardly ever killed them. The old wives’ tales, like silver killing werewolves or stakes for vampires, were just that. True, a silver bullet had more effect than the ordinary kind, but you could also be assured that if 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 after.
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 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 demolishing an old song, aided and abetted by its elderly creator who had previous 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, like 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 called summer, this part of the country bowed before its insect conquerors and became a biting, buzzing, stinging hell – only alleviated by the deep freeze of winter when you got snowed in and had to eat your own kin to stay alive. If I’d had a family, I’d have given it a go.
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 although it wasn’t even lunchtime.
Once free of the trees it brightened slightly 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.