Nick Swann Investigates Book 1
by Keller Yeats
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A strange heavy air of serenity, was engendered by the low wisps of mist that clung to the dark water and the clear, cold starry sky above. It washed over Debra and she smiled to herself as she strode on into the darkness. After she had taken a few steps, Debra instinctively stopped and glanced back over her shoulder, just to check again for signs of danger behind. You just couldn’t be too careful these days. “Ye Gods, I sound like my bloody mother,” she reckoned. Then followed that with, “Every cloud has a silver lining,” another one of her mothers’ favourite sayings. In the clear moonlight, she could easily see that there was nothing moving back down the walkway. Turning back, all that Debra could see ahead was the faint glow given off by the lights of Barton, a village of about three thousand souls and a renowned brewery, Barton Ales, which for the past two hundred and thirty-eight years had been the producers of ‘Old Oddity,’ a celebrated multiple award-winning beer. Reassured that there were no bogeymen on the banks behind or ahead, waiting to mug, molest or rape her during her journey homeward, she dropped her gaze and looked at the gravel covered path, took a deep breath and assuredly set off again towards home.
Debra noticed the sounds of the traffic on the main road, faded with each step that she took along the path, until, after about fifty metres, it vanished altogether. The night was now silent. All she could hear was the crunching of her trainers on the gravel and the steady rhythm of her breathing. It was a good job that she had brought a change of footwear, she thought, along with water, essential if you suspected you were going to be doing a lot of sweaty dancing. During the evening’s revelries she had quietly slipped away to the “Powder room,” because her heels were killing her so it was time to drop all the pretense and go for comfort. The painful stilettos came off and the well-worn in Nike’s slipped on in their stead. She loved dancing but, as every girl knows, high heels are not the best option for impromptu dance marathons. The club D.J had been hot tonight; one great track followed another and she had the time of her life. In her teens she had been quite a “Raver” so having comfortable feet was something that she put great store in and right now, scrunching along the towpath, she was very happy that she had acquired those snippets of knowledge. Ahead of her, lighting her way, was a full moon, which hung in an indigo sky reflecting mournfully onto the still water of the canal.
Once beyond the reach of the hubbub created by the town going about its late-night business, she began to appreciate the calm sedate nature of her surroundings. There was a comforting tranquility, that accompanied walking down the canal bank at this late hour. It had been a good night, better than expected but she didn’t think, that these days “The Gagging Goose,” was really her kind of place. This quiet walk home was exactly what Debra needed. A little time to herself and lots of space around her, after the jostling of the club. She was passing under one of the pedestrian access bridges that had, over the years, been strategically placed for public convenience. They were a good marker of the distance that she had already walked and how far there was, still to go. Debra Foxx, had been fully conversant with this stretch of the canal since she was a child. The distances involved in getting from A to B were hard wired into her brain, not through study but repetition. Some of the spans had retained their given names, but a couple had, over the years due to some popular colloquialism, or a piece of catchy slang terminology, had their names ‘localised.’
The one that she was walking under right now, had in 1899, originally been dedicated as, The Balaclava Bridge, to commemorate yet another excursion into a foreign land that had not ended too well. Debra was unaware of this fact, she had always known it as ‘Echo Bridge’ due to its strange alignment of the brickwork and canal, which meant there was always an echo underneath the structure. In her youth all the children used to love to go down to ‘Echo Bridge’ and shout obscenities, which to great public outrage, could be clearly heard for a considerable distance. In later years, nobody went down there to vocally express their defiance, they just painted graffiti on the walls of the span instead. There, in day-glow Lime Green for anyone to see, was the triumphant statement some poor heartbroken lad had written in his moment of lust and anguish; ‘Brenda Izza Slag.’ Next to it in a much neater script somebody had written ‘What a Dickhead,’ and just to add insult to injury, a third party had added ‘Yup, and his name’s, Dave Riley.’ Debra chuckled to herself as she passed through the span and set off towards ‘Quaker Crossing,’ the next footbridge on her way home.
She had gone no more than ten paces, when she heard something splash in the dark water behind her. “What the fuck!” Debra stopped suddenly and spun round to answer her own question. Reeling a bit, then steadying herself, she peered into the darkness but observed nothing, not even a ripple on the still water. Reassured that her impromptu investigation yielded, “Nada,” Debra thrust her hands deeper into her pockets, turned and strode on towards the ghostly Quaker Crossing.
As a youngster, she had always been told this place was haunted. It was said, mostly by grandma’s and old men, that on clear nights under a full moon, at certain times of the year, you may chance to see spectral figures of mourning women, slowly crossing, with heads bowed and palms upturned to heaven, as if carrying the weight of the world. These figures, were never mentioned before the First World War, when the country had been plunged into a state of collective grief for all the husbands, sons and brothers, that had fallen. So, like all good children, she had passed quickly underneath it, with her fingers tightly crossed. Debra, was wondering if it was still a requirement for a twenty-six year old to adhere to the superstitions of the prepubescent, but then she would do it anyway because “you just never know” with these things.
Nowadays, beyond Quaker Crossing and for the next mile or so, there were several passable reproductions of Victorian gas lights to illuminate her way. She slightly upped her pace, to reach and get past “Quaker,” more rapidly. Fingers tightly crossed, she quickly came upon the rather elegant architectural form that was The Quaker Crossing. It had been built out of pale Limestone and it shimmered slightly on nights like this. The crystals catching the soft light of a full moon and glistening in the lonely, pale glow. To this day, it was still a favourite spot for lovers to meet, as they had been doing for almost a century, but tonight the walkway was deserted and the silence still held sway.
As she walked under the curvature of the span, Debra crossed her fingers even more tightly and looked straight ahead to the sodium lit stretch of the towpath that was still to come. No sooner had she stepped beyond the span into the yellow glow of the first lamp than she was greeted by the sound of something much larger and heavier than last time, landing in the water not far behind her. Debra stopped short, senses on alert.
‘Fuck me, what was that!’ She was really scared this time, she did not dare to look back. Listening intently, she also became aware, that there was another, almost imperceptible sound, which was coming from further down the towpath. This new auditory intrusion, sounded like somebody dragging something along the rough ground, behind them. As the ominous scraping sound drew nearer in the darkness, illogical feelings of dread started to torment her mind. It was clear that she couldn’t stay like this, barely breathing, standing motionless in the middle of the path, like a rabbit caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. She was exposed, illuminated by the light and a long way from any help.
Clenching her fists and gritting her teeth, she plucked up all her courage, turned and through squinted eyes, looked back at the canal water under the bridge. Nothing, no ripples, no missile. She quickly scanned the towpath, again nothing. Next, the bridge came under her increasingly frightened scrutiny. Some idiot, must be throwing stuff off it just to freak her out, she thought and gave a long look at its boardwalk, again. Debra, could see nothing and just like last time, there was indeed nothing and no one to be seen. Still, the cold sound of something scraping along the bank side was easy to decipher in the empty silence. Also, she could not dismiss the fact, that this had been the sound of a much larger projectile hitting the water. Surely there had to be some signs of it, ripples that could be seen even in the darkness? ‘Someone’s taking the piss,’ she concluded and screwing up her courage, called out.
“Fuck off will you, this shit don’t work on me” and then, as an afterthought, “you really need to get out more and get a life, you stupid motherfucker.” Happy with that repost, Debra set off walking again and silently congratulated herself, on her show of bravado.
However, inside, she was beginning to grow increasingly alarmed. Here, in the soft glow of the lights, she was feeling vulnerable and the scrapping sound of something approaching, was still there in her ears. Whatever it was, came from the general area of ‘Echo Bridge’ and the longer she listened, the closer it got. She drew in a deep breath and walking more quickly now, she pressed on for home. There was only one and a bit more miles to go. At this rate, with no further spooky interruptions from any more idiots, she would be home, sitting in her favourite chair, enjoying a nice warm mug of drinking chocolate within the hour. Her feet made a reassuringly crunching noise on the gravel as she walked on and Debra joined in and counted, as she paced.
“One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four,” she mumbled as she approached the next span.
The ‘Raven’s Gate Bridge’ and its accompanying Basin, was originally an old mooring position for the tar barges which used to come over from Partington, to pick up their cargoes of the hot sticky goo, used in the making of the early road system. In olden times, this area of town was often hidden under a pall of acrid smoke, that emanated from the ‘Raven’s Gate Tar Works’ and those dark, bitumen-soaked clouds had stained the bridge and its gates, a sickly shade of sulfurous yellow. Nothing escaped the cloud. The workers at the basin, were daily stained black by the tar and soot. By midmorning, the menthol nature of the bitumen had made their noses run which they would wipe away with the back of their sleeves, making their noses appear like black beaks. Back in those days unhealthy working conditions were commonplace. It was noted, that after you had worked there for two, or three years, you started to perspire a yellow sweat, that stained the skin permanently, no matter how often you washed off the black sticky tar. The blackened and beaked workers, would flood to and fro across the works bridge, passing silently through its ornate cast iron gates, looking like the ravens that adorned them. Hence the workers and locals alike, referred to the whole place as ‘The Raven’s Gate.’
This bridge was actually called The Joel Battersby Bridge. The Mr. Battersby in question, was the original owner of the tar works and this bridge was a monument to his pretension. No lovers had ever canoodled around these smelly and grimy edifices. Young love would never blossom here. Negotiating the basin area, Debra approached this span with a certain amount of trepidation. She wondered what would happen this time. Jesus, if the missile had gone from a small pebble, to something that sounded like a half brick, the next piece of masonry would have to be pretty damned large, to keep up the escalation. Well, she thought, if they dared to try that one again, she would fire off such a mouthful, that their ears would set on fire.
As she passed under ‘The Raven’s Gate’ span, her senses were on full alert, but nothing happened. There was not a sound. Neither splashing, nor scraping. Debra, stopped to listen more intently. She was sceptical, surely it couldn’t be so easy to rid herself of ‘The Splasher,’ or ‘The Scraper’ with it’s even more unnerving sound of some unknown and unseen thing, scratching its way, ever closer to her position? Perhaps, she had been jumping to conclusions. Perhaps, her imagination had been getting the better of her common sense. Her fear began to subside as the silence flooded over her. Debra, relaxed a little and once again she began to appreciate, just how peaceful the canal bank was at this late hour. It seemed that sound was carried for a great distance by the water and she was beginning to think that maybe she had overreacted to the sounds of the night.
Debra took a deep cool breath, relaxed her shoulders and did a full scan of her surroundings. All was still, all was silent. She forced those feelings of fear to the back of her mind. With that she clapped her hands together and stepped out from beneath the protective span of the Raven’s Gate and strode off towards the Jenkins’ Walkway. From there it was only a short distance to the incline that would lead her up to the main road and home. Even though the evenings revelries had been an unmitigated success and it certainly appeared, that every one of her guests had enjoyed themselves, the situation she now found herself in, was one that she vowed she would not be repeating,
“You’re too old for this kind of shit, kid. Perhaps ten years ago, but not now.” The scrunching of her trainers on the path and her steady breathing, was all Debra could hear, as she made her way down the softly illuminated towpath, towards the old Jerkins’ Hollow Walkway. Only a couple of hundred yards, or so to go now and she again increased her pace along the path.
Suddenly, there was a noise behind her. Alerted, she stopped, trying to gauge the location of this new, metallic scraping sound. It was similar to the scary, dissolute scratchings of earlier. Again, it seemed like the creator of the eerie sound, was a fair way behind but getting closer. ‘No worries’, she told herself, she would be up the incline and well onto the main road before the person following reached her position. Instinctively, Debra surreptitiously glanced behind trying to see who it was, that was pursuing her. Attempting to look without being observed doing it, was proving to be of little practical use, she still had no vision of who it was moving along the towpath behind her. The scraping sounds, approaching from the rear, were getting louder and now the fear was again rising in her chest. It could be a rapist, the ‘Splasher’ or simply a mugger out looking for some easy pickings. Debra, didn’t know the answer to her own question, but she did know she was getting very frightened and she was too scared to turn and face her tormentor.
This jaunt in the moonlight, down the canal, had not been a smart move. She was feeling very vulnerable. Debra chastised herself, as her blood chilled. She should have waited for the bus, or even tried to hail a cab and now, anything could happen. She glanced back again into the darkness. Nothing, but the creepy sound kept on getting closer and with the proximity narrowing, the volume of this unknown scrapping grew in her ears. With growing alarm, she realised her instincts had been right all along, there was something on the path with her! Something malevolent. A sudden feeling of dread overwhelmed her and she started to run. It was only a matter of covering a hundred yards, perhaps a little more to Jenkins Walkway and then another hundred and she would be on the up ramp. From there, it was just a few more paces to the main road and she would be safe from whatever it was, behind her.
As she ran, so the ominous cacophony following her, increased its pace. The distance between Debra and her would-be unseen assailant was closing fast. A flood of abject panic started to overwhelm her, it caused her to carelessly trip on an unseen stone and she stumbled forwards on the uneven surface but did not fall. Debra, somehow regained her balance and her headlong flight continued unabated towards the cobbled incline and salvation. Behind her, came the weird scraping sound of her pursuer, forming a curious kind of harmony with the beating of her own heart. Her unseen tormenter, was gaining ground, quickly she continued her desperate flight along the towpath, towards Jenkins’ Walkway. The muscles in her legs, were burning and her breathing was becoming ragged from all the effort. Yet still, the sounds of her assailant’s pursuit along the gravel, grew louder with each passing second and she could run no faster. It was then, with a sickening realization, she knew ‘it’ was going to catch her before she could make her escape.
The pounding of her own blood coursing through her temples, grew louder and louder in her ears and just as Debra took one last great gulp of air, to get her to the span of Jenkins’ Walkway, she felt a huge thump in her back, from a powerful blow. The burning pain was excruciating and Debra let out a muffled scream as she felt the intense agony flowing through her stricken body, but she did not fall to the ground. Something was preventing it, holding her up. As she writhed and wriggled in her burning torture, Debra vaguely realised that she was suspended above the ground. As her feet kicked at the thin air seeking some purchase, she looked down towards the hard ground in puzzlement. Protruding from her chest, she saw the four white spikes, that had pierced her body from the rear and were now sticking out through her chest. Then, almost instantaneously from the left side, something reached out and slit her throat, cleanly and swiftly. Just as Debra Foxx died, she thought that she saw the four white blades, that were piercing her chest, holding her aloft, disappear. She screamed silently, one last time to the heavens, at what she could see, out of the corner of her eye standing there on the towpath, grinning mercilessly, before it released its hold and let her riven body fall to the ground, like a discarded rag doll.
Her murderous assailant, then effortlessly rolled her lifeless body into the water, with a soft “splosh.” As the ripples died down, the water once more resumed its previous peaceful condition, as if nothing had ever disturbed its tranquility and an enveloping silence returned to the darkness along the canal bank.
Nick Swann Investigates Book 2
Its moldering edifice holds many secrets and treasures, some of which draw Nick and his old friend Alan, into dangerous realms. Death stalks the island and as the dangerous spectral figures of The Millar of Souls, The Paladin and Gideon reveal themselves, it becomes increasingly difficult to discern between reality and dreams.
As the death toll rises, Nick finds himself, along with his new partner, Wendy and her Wolf, Mir embroiled in a struggle not just to maintain sanity but to stay alive.
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“Different kind of thing today,” he informed her, as he climbed aboard and put his rucksack down in a secure place, still easily accessible from the ‘Captain’s Chair.’ Nick had set his own rules, ‘for conducting oneself on the water’ and as pretentious as that was, the humour that it engendered was worth it. There were only three boats that plied the lake and they were rarely on the water together but that made no difference.
“Standards have to be maintained,” he said loudly, as Venezuela sedately made her way out of the boathouse at 5 miles per hour, with him standing stiffly, like some kind of crazy figurehead, jokingly giving the stiff right armed Nazi salute.
Ahead lay Fog Island and for some unknown reason, his heart was beating a little bit faster as the mist shrouded island drew ever closer. He had to circle the island carefully twice before he found a spot to tie up on. There was nowhere remotely possible except on it’s far side, facing the sheer cliffs rising from the lake. Even the spot he’d found meant he’d have to leap for it……. Giving himself the customary one wet foot:
When he was sure that everything was secured, he grabbed the rucksack, with its map and provisions, slung it across his shoulders and headed in shore. At the tree line Nick turned and cast a look back across the lake towards the dark, forbidding escarpment before setting off into:
“The dark interior of Fog Island,”
for which he employed a really rough Glaswegian accent, then laughed. Here he was, a mere eight hundred yards across the watery surface from his boathouse but at this moment, it could have been measured in years. A shudder of childish excitement rippled through his body. He recalled the dull glow of light he’d imagined he saw last night, coming from a source deep inside this green and tangled domain.
“Well, it’s hardly darkest Africa but it is equally deserted, or so I’m led to believe.” The Glaswegian had spoken again and it was now, that Nick realised he would be with him on the island, all day.
He’d barely taken half a dozen steps, when he ran up against the first major problem. Fallen trees and thick vines, seemingly blocked his way at every turn. He quickly realised that he was going to have to walk along the narrow shoreline of pebbles, which dropped steeply away into the lakes depths, until he could find a track that led inland.
“Inland, to what?” He cried out loud, as it seemed to him there was no break in the unforgiving foliage. Fog Island was quite large, as far as lake islands went, measuring roughly eight hundred yards in length, by two hundred and fifty, in width. Nick reckoned that he must have already covered at least half of its length by now, without seeing anything which promised him an easier path into the centre. He was about to give up and head back to Venezuela, when he spied a narrow gap in the tangle of tree limbs and creeping vines.
“Hmm,” he muttered. “Don’t get your hopes up, Nicolas, it’s probably just an animal track,” he said and then, suddenly stopped when he realised it was too wide for a rodent or bird. The island was supposed to be uninhabited and if that was so, how did the whatever it was that made the track, get here? He looked back along the trail, that he'd just taken, to the shoreline and from there, out across the expanse of water beyond. From shore to shore, there was a great deal of rather deep and very cold water, too much for any local animal to traverse, to reach the Island without a boat and there seemed nothing to sustain them anyway.
'Indigenous?' Mused Nick but dismissed that proposition, it was hardly the Galapagos. “Aye well, perhaps it’s a long-lost family of Velociraptors, or a wee Welsh Nessie,” he depreciatingly whispered in the rather pitiful Scottish accent. “Rats, plural!” he expounded as if a light had suddenly been turned on. “Of course, now why didn’t I think of that earlier?” Nick stated confidently, as if such a revelation was somehow novel. “Rats,” he said again, as he looked down at the trackway and attempted to estimate their size and number, by gauging the width of the path he was following. “They’re big buggers too,” he muttered, as he walked slowly onwards, his eyes darting from side to side warily….. “and there must be a lot of them….”
As he moved deeper into the hinterland, following this ‘Rat-way,’ Nick noticed that the air grew ever warmer and the humidity was rapidly rising. Underfoot, the ground became increasingly boggy and a thick layer of moss now replaced the slippery, pebbled landscape of the shoreline. There was a strong smell of mulchified and rotting vegetation in the dead air. Nick was starting to question the wisdom of coming here at all. ‘Maybe I should have told somebody I was going to come here today,’ he considered. ‘It might, after all, have been the wisest choice,’ he cautioned himself as he stepped into what could only be described as the prefect, Fairy Glen.
The red and white caps of Fly Agaric mushrooms, grew abundantly amid the bows of a surrounding copse of Silver Birch trees and in the short grass beside them, what appeared to be thousands of Psilocybe Semilanceata, better known as the liberty cap ‘shroons' he’d consumed in great numbers, when he was a younger man.
“Look at them all,” he gasped and he bent down to pick a few, for old times' sake. In his murky past, the discovery of this number of ‘magics,’ as they were parochially known, meant a couple of V.H.S Videos and a night or two of belly laughs. ‘They were indeed great days,’ Nick thought absentmindedly and smiled.
He didn’t know it at the time but he had inadvertently stumbled onto, what was the old croquet lawn of the once great house and as he looked up and over to the right, there stood the ivy-covered ruins, of ‘Y Wake Gwynt.’
“Wow! So, you really do exist…,” he smiled to himself.
Only a limited amount of dappled sunlight made it through the overlapping branches of the trees, crowding in on the observer, creating an intense feeling of claustrophobia. Nick sat himself down on the nearest piece of flattish land and after rummaging around in his ‘sack, withdrew his trusty old Ordinance Survey Map and laid it out on the mossy grass before him. According to the map and judging everything by the rule of thumb, he reckoned he was almost in the very heart of the island. Nick stopped and looked all around, for any sign of another living soul but nothing moved in the silent space. All around the old lawn was a thicket of knotted ivy and interlocking tree branches, which created the illusion of helpless imprisonment. It was almost as if the gardens, were still being tended by a ramshackle gardener, who had some unspoken ambition, which would be revealed only by the passage of time.
Strangely, as he’d approached the central area, a slight and somewhat sporadic breeze could be detected, drifting in from a South-Westerly direction. Since, this was a more comfortable area of the island, he decided to take his lunch here on this long-lost croquet lawn, before pressing on with his exploration. Taking his time, he ate his egg sandwiches, some biscuits and drank his coffee whilst smoking one of his pre-rolled joints. There was still more than enough time to take a closer look at the ageing mansion, glimpsed beyond ‘the green wall’ that lay between him and the dishevelled stonework, of ‘Y Wake Gwynt.’
Finished, he moved to secure the weighty rucksack into its position on his back and shrugged, to locate the straps that were trying to bite into his shoulders. Then, Nick stopped his struggling as he realised that since he was the only living creature on this island, there was no need to carry it. ‘Unless you account for the apparently massive Rats,’ he thought and just to be sure, secured the sack with the rest of its provisions, high up in a nearby Oak tree.
“Figure that one out, sucker’s.” He said with a self-satisfied sense of superiority, even though he hadn’t seen one of these imagined adversaries all morning. Confident his supplies were secured, Nick took his first step towards ‘Y Wake Gwynt.’ Eagerly, he sought any place to gain access to its inner sanctum.
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Tell us something interesting that happened to you!
We set off around midnight in our old citroen, reaching our goal at around 2.30am and parking on the side of the road. The night was clear and crisp as we pulled on our coats and stared up at the Hill, our breath creating cobwebs of mist.
The Hill was a dark and strangely looming presence, rising steeply up before us. In high spirits we began to climb, yet each step felt heavier, our breathing more laboured, the Hill more forbidding. The silence oppressive.
We had hardly climbed any distance at all, when the first wisps of wind could be seen silently rippling gently through the grasses, that covered the body of the hill. We started to hear a soft whispering sound approaching from around the side of the Hill. It grew steadily in volume, whistling as it approached our position. Then, like a screaming Banshee, it tore past us in a single, chilling gust and moved off towards the town of Pendle, which could be observed in the near distance.
Disconcerted yet determined, we climbed ever higher as the strange gusts of wind seemed to increase with every step we took towards the summit. About half way up the hill, we stopped and sat looking out over Pendle and the plains to the East. We poured ourselves a steaming mug of coffee, infused it with a nip of cognac and took in the moonlit view.
“Nothing…., no wind.”
Tapping the mug on a stone to dry it, we stood up and brushing the grass from our pants, turned to carry on. The first few steps seemed to alert the Banshee’s that we were moving again and the wind, started to blow once more but with increased icy ferocity. As each gust screamed past us we could hear more and more whispering voices and howls within it, sweeping down from above.
The trip to Pendle Hill, had been intended, as something of a laugh but it turned out to be something else. We hardly spoke a word to each other, on the return trip but personally, I’ve never forgotten those disembodied screams, as they tore down that lonely hillside and dissipated in the grassland below.
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