They do say the strangest things happen in the most agreeable of places. At least according to one fellow traveler I happened to bump into on a rainy day in late autumn. Even now, my fellow traveler is still unsure that what she experienced actually occurred. However, it was a pleasant enough pastime swapping the odd story of our journeys over the years as we waited for the rain to cease while sitting in a small cave opening barely big enough to fit us both in. The view was stunning, if a little hazy because of the rain, our eyes drifting over the spot nestled in a green peaceful valley between a couple of mountains and a lake.
I digress of course. You want to know the actual story rather than our current disposition. Therefore I shall begin the tale of Darcy Grainger…
+ + +
The Boars Head Inn occupied a prime spot in the middle of the village of Massem, nestled in a valley often closed off from civilization in the winter and open to a trickle of foreign and domestic tourists in the summer. The town boasted a population of two hundred and one, the one being the birth of a girl two days previously, and having hastily been graffiti on the population board at the entrance to the town. It was a cute addition and caused a chuckle rather than consternation.
Alongside the Boars Head Inn there was a butcher’s shop with all manner of quaint delicacies, like pork pies and interestingly flavored sausages, mouth-watering cheeses as well as some beautiful cuts of fresh meat. On the opposite side of the main street there was the post office cum general store. A cottage building covered in overhanging ivy. In front of which was a wonderful smelling country garden with old fashioned blooms such as hollyhocks and foxgloves. Anything not provided for here had to be shipped in from the nearest large town or city. Families who had lived there for generations often inhabited old villages like those.
Darcy Grainger grimaced as she stepped on another boulder, and felt the pain of several blisters hit hard in her new walking shoes. She made her way gingerly towards the Inn, where a sign proudly announced home cooked meals and comfortable rooms for the night. Darcy had set out from Keswick six hours earlier and was now cursing her confidence that new boots wouldn’t cause her any problem. With a glance at the offending items she kicked the gravel road and bit her lip as sharp pains shot through her feet.
“Ok, so I need to rest up. I’m going nowhere for the rest of the day.” With a furtive glance around the small village she smiled. Just like in the books at home-quaint. Home for Darcy was the mid west of the United States where they had similar remote towns of this populous though none this old worldly. The ending of her long time relationship had prompted her to redefine her life and take the trip of a lifetime to the United Kingdom. Her friends had applauded her action but Max her ex had acrimoniously wanted to know how she could afford such an expensive vacation. In Darcy’s mind it was just another reason why she’d sold her most treasured possessions to afford the trip-to get away from all that was familiar people and places.
An old man with an ornate walking stick stood at the entrance of the Inn as she walked up the small path towards him. He didn’t move. His old tired brown eyes stared at her intently as she smiled and nodded at the closed door. Hey I’m about six inches taller than he is so he can’t intimidate me.He does look kind of intense though.
“Hi, would you excuse me please.” Darcy pointed to the entrance.
The old man didn’t waver in his direct stare, and then he moved slightly to allow her to enter. “You’re one of them yanks aren’t thee?” his accent soft yet abrasive, similar to his gnarled features.
Ok, not sure if he thinks that’s good or bad. “Yeah, I’m from Illinois. Do you know the US?”
“No. Just remember one thing Yank she’ll make your life misery if you’re not true in heart.” He moved away his walking stick click clacking on the pebbles as he traveled towards the main street.
Darcy moved her head from side to side as she pondered that. Now isn’t that the truth but it’s already happened my life was a misery for way too long with Max. Odd comment though I wonder why he said it. Oh he’s just an old guy probably still hasn’t gotten over the fact we helped them win the Second World War.
Her hand went to the worn door knob and she pushed hard on the sticking wooden door and almost fell inside the Inn for her efforts. As she did, she saw it was similar to others she’d seen on her first week of traveling in similar terrain. The inside, although lit by electricity, had that aged darkness that old buildings possessed. A wooden bar was immediately in front of her, probably as old as the building, which a plaque listed as 1593, was clean but marked. Makes you wonder just who had drunk at this very bar three centuries ago. Rows of bottles with a back light enabling the purchaser to choose his or her tipple became the main feature. A shiver ran down Darcy’s back. You don’t get this back in time atmosphere back home.
She glanced around the low wooden beamed ceiling area and didn’t see anyone at first then she heard voices. A man and woman were talking but the accent was so thick it was hard to understand. You’d think they were speaking a foreign language instead of English. Taking a seat at the bar Darcy waited, relishing the scent of old wood and the sheer impact of being in a place that had existed longer than the American continent in European hands.
As she rested her painful feet, lifted from the ground by the bar stool, she waited patiently for service. When none came she decided to try calling out. Her first timid attempts met with little success. Then she tried again, this time she yelled at the top of her voice, “anyone here?” A scuffle in the background heralded that her last attempt had met with some favor.
A man as large as some of the mountains she’d seen on her travels greeted her with a wide grin. “Now then Miss what can I do for you? I hope you didn’t have to wait?”
Darcy liked his look. He was enormous but his tone was conciliatory but his eyes twinkled. “No…well…not really…it was only a few moments.”
“What can I do for you love?”
“I’d like a cold beer and do you have any rooms available please?”
He grinned, “A half or a pint love?”
Darcy liked the twinkle in the man’s eyes, friendly but not embarrassingly so. “Whatever you’d have, and do you want to join me?” It was rash, but it worked. The barman grinned and nodded, pulling then both a large beer in schooner dimension glasses, as she settled down to drink hers.
“Thanks love you wanted a room you say?”
“Yes, my feet her killing me I doubt I can go any further. I came out with new walking shoes.” Darcy shrugged as she saw the man raise his eyebrows. He’s probably heard it all before.
“Just the one night I presume?”
“Yeah I think so.” Darcy peered at her feet. You’d better behave I want to see as much as I can this will probably be the last time I ever have the chance. I’m gonna be working the rest of my life to make up for this. I’ve no cash reserves left -Max ran me dry.
“Leave it with me no problem.” He grinned and left the bar for the backroom where he’d entered.
Darcy sat contemplating the things she’d already seen. Then the old man’s words hit her again as she speculated on what he could possible mean. Maybe he reads minds and saw Max in my past! He’s probably a local legend around here and we tourists are supposed to soak it all up. With a chuckle she silently added, I did too.
“Hi, you want a room for the night?” A pleasant-sounding voice rang out as Darcy took a sip of her beer, before glancing across to the small door at the back of the bar. A broad shouldered woman with ruddy cheeks and a ready smile looked directly at her.
“Sure, if you have one that would be good.” Darcy replied and felt her lips tug involuntary into a smile matching the one from the woman.
The woman who was either slightly younger than her or about the same age, not that she was a good judge of ages, cocked her head to one-side. “We don’t have many American’s stay the night or even pop in for a look around the village-we’re off the beaten track.”
Darcy shook her head wryly, “I can vouch for that, my feet are covered in blisters that’s how they feel anyway.”
There was an attractive peel of laughter that had Darcy give the average looking woman another quick glance this time with more interest.
“I’m sorry to hear that, why don’t you let me take a look at your feet when I show you the room. I’ll come up with an herbal remedy to help you along.”
Darcy was surprised at the easy way the woman offered her help. Do I want to share my feet with a stranger? Yeah right get a life Darcy she isn’t after the rest of your body. “Oh I don’t want to trouble you I have antiseptic cream and Band-Aids, thanks all the same.”
With a good natured shrug, the woman grinned. “Well don’t be shy if you find you need extra help ok. I’m the closest thing to a doctor in this area. When you’re ready I’ll show you your room. Oh, and don’t let Ben drink you under the table before dinner. I take it you’ll want dinner?”
“If it isn’t too much trouble…I can always.” The rest of her sentence was waved away in a flurry of a large hand.
“It will be my pleasure to cook for someone other than the usual crowd. Beef, veggies and Yorkshire pudding, or chicken pie and veggies with potatoes, or, I can do you something totally veggie if you’re not a meat eater? We don’t have an extensive menu haven’t the time or the volume of trade to make it worthwhile.”
Darcy understood that she’d worked in a small retro café in her home town catering for the locals mainly when she was a dental student. “I understand, the beef sounds tempting.”
“Then the beef it shall be.” The woman wandered back through the small door and disappeared from view.
With a feeling of having accomplished something today, even if it was simply finding a place to stay and a meal for the night, she grinned. It could have been worse. I might have been stranded on a hilltop, my feet refusing to move another inch, and had to sleep in the open. The man who had served her earlier pulled up a chair alongside hers at the empty bar and took a large draught of his beer.
“Tempest, sort you out then love?” His thickly accented voice made it hard to understand him unless you listened intently.
“Yes, well at least she will when I’ve finished my drink.” Darcy took another swig of the ale, pleasantly surprised at how much she was enjoying the beverage.
“Aye she’ll take care of you have no fear. We don’t get many American’s around these parts. It’s mainly the odd hiker who has their accommodations on their backs.”
Darcy lifted a puzzled brow at the comment. “On their back?”
The man called Ben laughed heartily. “A tent love…these days everyone seems prepared. Not like in the old days when we used to have our fair share of visitors who used to stay for a night or two. Back in the days of the stagecoach there used to be a roaring trade especially in the winter. Now, transport is so good and people are so busy they seem to miss out small places like us. You’d think we were like that Brigadoon place. Aye the tales we’d tell if that were the case.”
Darcy listened to the man and didn’t say anything for it was good to have someone talking in her company. She’d spent the past three weeks virtually alone the hotels she’d booked that were bustling with people but remarkably solitary for one on their own. This place had a different feel about it.
“…we do have a resident ghost do you want to hear about it? Not that I’m the best one to tell this story…old Marylebone Jacobs is, but he won’t be back until six.”
Darcy pricked up her ears to that particular storyline. “I’m interested sure…go ahead tell me, please.”
“My name’s Ben Bones by the way and you are?” He held his sinewy hand out that she clasped and shook.
“Darcy Grainger.” When the man released her hand, she was pleased that it didn’t feel like it has been inside a mangle. Some men and women never knew their own strength.
About to begin his story, the barkeep heard a shout from the back about a delivery. “I’ll tell you the story later then. I must be off young Cliff from the butcher’s doesn’t like to stick around. He’s got an eye for the pretty girls and you can’t blame him for that.”
“No problem. I need to check into the room.” Darcy wouldn’t have minded hearing the ghost story but the temptation to soak her feet in a hot tub was equally as persuasive.
With a nod, the man smiled and left. Seconds later, the woman called Tempest shot back into the bar area. “Ben tells me you’re ready to look at your room.”
Ten minutes later Darcy was ensconced in a comfortable if cramped room. A common occurrence she’d found in England-lack of space in the rooms. Oh well, she couldn’t complain she at least at a bathroom, not much bigger than her walk in wardrobe at home but it had the essential shower, toilet and basin. It’s not like I’m staying forever.
On the bedside table she found a sachet and looked at it carefully, a note scrawled on the side read… Soak the towels in this mixture and wrap them around your feet for an hour you’ll feel the difference I promise. T
“What the hell,” Darcy carefully extracted her feet from the boots and peeled back her socks, grimacing as the wool stuck to the blisters. Swearing at the agony, it would have made a sailor proud, she finally looked down at her feet. Each one had at least two blisters and one of them looked angry and inflamed.
An hour later, having done exactly what the note asked, she felt the pain easing as she lay on the bed contemplating her current predicament. Dinner was at seven, which left her another two hours to kill. Shower and change will take me all of half an hour. My hair is so short so I hardly need to spend much time grooming it. It will probably take me longer to get down those convoluted stairs especially if I can’t find something comfortable to wear.
With a sigh she hauled herself off the narrow bed, it was a supposed double room, and on the opposite side wall was a duplicate narrow bed. How they expected folks of my generous proportions to have a good night sleep defeats me. Darcy wandered over to her knapsack and withdrew some fresh items of clothing, neatly smoothing them on the bed she wasn’t going to use. Then she glanced out of the window. It gave a view of the courtyard at the back of the Inn. Darcy cursed the blinkered view she had as she saw the flowing multicolored dress Tempest had been wearing float by. From the angle, Darcy only saw the hem and the flax like sandals, clip along the cobble stoned yard. Ah well, I’ll thank her later.
With yet another sigh she pondered going back to the bar. Nope I don’t want anyone to think I’m a drinker, not that it really matters what anyone thinks. I might go down earlier in hopes that I’ll hear that ghost story…it might be interesting.
A chill went down her back as she thought about the story, and she glanced around the room the hairs on her forearm sticking up. Whoa it’s gone cold in here. I suppose these old places are drafty, it must cost a fortune to heat.
Reaching inside her knapsack, she withdrew a sweater and pulled it on. Then sank back down on the bed and began to read the paperback she’d been carrying around for three weeks. Once more she reached inside the knapsack and pulled out the novel, an Anthology of classic British Ghost Stories. Another blast of cold hit her and this time Darcy shot up from her prone position on the narrow bed. “Now that’s real creepy. I think I’ll take that shower and go downstairs. It’s got to be warmer than this room. Maybe I’ll ask for a different room or extra blankets.”
+ + +
“Why Tempest Summerfield, I’d never have thought you had it in you!” Darcy smiled as she heard the quip from an elderly woman who was leaning at the bar, obviously in conversation with the barmaid. For a few moments she glanced around and noticed several people in various corners of the room, and one or two at the bar. They gave her a cursory glance but then continued with their own conversations or contemplations.
Walking up to the bar, Darcy smiled at Tempest who gave her a wink in return.
“I’ll be with you in a minute Miss Grainger.”
“Sure no problem, take your time, I can wait.”
“Now there’s a thing Lily, if you had half the manners our current guest has you’d not be asking about my love life.” There was a chortle of laughter from several customers within earshot.
Darcy not prone to flush did just that, and then walked towards a painting of a country scene on the wall beside the bar to prevent her surprising reaction being noticed. As her eyes glanced at first idly over the scene she found herself drawn to the picture, the era was actually not as old has she would have anticipated. A vintage looking car, at least a thirties-forties model was passing a field where several laborers were lounging on a haystack along with several women they were indulging in a good old fashioned picnic. In the distance the village, at least she presumed it was the village of Massem, appeared in the background.
Darcy almost shot out of her skin as a voice invaded her preoccupation.
“Now what can I get you Miss Grainger?” Tempest asked her in a low voice that had a sexy ring that made a shiver go down Darcy’s spine.
“Hi, I thought maybe a glass of white wine before dinner.” Darcy was still coming to terms with the voice sending a shiver down her back. At least it’s from a much better reason than in my room earlier.
“Hmm we don’t have much call for wine but I’m sure I can find a bottle in the cellar, it’ll be Hobson’s choice I’m afraid.” Tempest smiled warmly as she turned away in search of her quest.
Darcy frowned. “Hobson’s choice?”
With a tinkle of laughter the larger woman shook her head. “Aye you’ll probably not understand that. There won’t be much choice I’m afraid, what I find is what you can have basically.”
“Gotcha, it really doesn’t matter I can have a beer.”
Tempest placed a hand on her shoulder. “Out of the question, a wine you ordered and wine you shall have. Ben might ask you to polish off the whole bottle. Though I’m partial myself so I could help you out there.”
Darcy didn’t answer as Tempest moved like lightening and disappeared behind the door of the bar. Things are looking up. She ambled across to the bar just as the old man who she’d almost bumped into earlier in the day arrived at the bar. He gave her a quick appraisal and then nodded silently, acknowledging her presence.
Ben Bones gave her a jolly smile and placed a jug of dark ale in front of the old man. “There you go Marylebone, you’re usual.”
The old man gave the barman a similar nod and drank thirstily from the dark liquid, the froth on top of the beer settling on his upper lip, which he savored by collecting with his tongue, his eyes gleaming at the sensations.
Darcy managed to stifle a giggle as a thought hit her. He looks like he enjoys beer more than sex.Not that I know what he’d look like during sex- dumb thought, mind in the gutter. Then, as she became the target of several pairs of eyes, she dragged herself from her ridiculous thoughts. Oh crap what did I miss?
“Isn’t that right Miss.” Ben Bones was staring right at her and she’d definitely missed the point.
With a perplexed frown she inclined her head. “Sure,” she said waiting to see what indent that would make, barely a ripple it appeared.
Ben turned to the old man. “See there you old coot I told you she wants to hear about our resident ghost.” A groan went up in the bar from those that heard the content of the conversation.
Darcy was then transfixed by piercing gray eyes, it was quite disconcerting and she didn’t know why, it feels like he’s seeing into my soul. “That’s right sir, Mr. Bones was going to relate the story earlier, but he mentioned that the story was better told by an expert.” Yep that worked. I’m glad we didn’t have time to talk over several subjects earlier. I could have looked a fool. She saw the gray eyes sparkle at her compliment.
With a throaty cough the old man pulled his stool closer to the bar and drank another long draught of his beer, almost draining it.
“Well it’s like this…back in 1941 there was this Yank.” He turned to look at Darcy waiting for any reaction. He didn’t see any other than her listening intently and continued.
“He arrived in the village from the local airfield, where he was part of the RAF. He’d joined the war earlier than you folks had generally. Nice looking chap seemed ok too, name of Richard Smith. Brought in the odd luxury for a few of us that knew him back then. Chocolate, brandy, gum that kind of thing. Young Diana the barmaid here was quite smitten with him, though some said it was only because he brought her nylons. Anyway, they ended up falling in love…at least she did. He promised to take her with him when he transferred to another squadron.
It was a hard thing for a pilot to promise in those days. Of course, he didn’t take her and she never forgave him especially when she found herself pregnant. Back then it was a sin to have a child out of wedlock. She committed suicide the evening a friend of his left her a letter. Fell she did from the window of one of the rooms. They say she walks the corridors most nights and on the anniversary of that very night she died she’ll appear in the room she occupied. Some say, if she catches you without truth in your heart, you’ll not see the morning.” His tone had been easy and lilting until the final sentence that held a menacing truth.
At least that was what Darcy felt as she held her breath. Then a voice whispered in her ear, “Here take this. Old Marylebone has always been the best storyteller around these parts. Bless him.”
Tempest placed a white wine in front of Darcy who smiled her thanks. She thought, if I were in my own environment I’d think she is coming on to me. “Thanks, it’s a great story though. This Diana didn’t happen to have the room I’m staying in, did she?”
Again several pairs of eyes tracked to her. Tempest enquired, “Why would you say that Miss Grainger?”
Darcy shrugged and sipped the nice crisp chardonnay. “No reason, just making conversation I guess.” No way am I going to admit to thinking that a ghost might be responsible for the cold room. Crap that means I can’t ask for more blankets now. I’ll feel foolish.
“Are you sure?” Marylebone Jacobs asked quietly. “You know if you don’t have truth in your heart you might not see tomorrow. It’s the anniversary of that very day the poor child took her and her unborn child’s lives.”
Darcy felt the hairs stand up at the back of her neck. Now I want to leave this place altogether. “I’m not lying, merely making an enquiry.”
Ben Bones gave a hearty laugh. “Now then Marylebone don’t you go upsetting our visitor. It’s been a while, as you know, since we last had a paying guest.” He turned away to serve others who had arrived at the bar.
“Aye well it’s true even if some of you youngsters don’t believe me.” The old man peered at the bottom of his empty glass.
“Would you care to join me in a drink,” Darcy said. “I appreciated the story thank you. It’s sometimes lonely on this type of vacation. It’s great that you shared the story with me.”
Darcy wasn’t sure if it was the offer of the drink or the sincere words but the man cheered up. Then with a ready smile, accepted her offer and began to tell her tales of when he was a lad.
+ + +
The whole day as it ended had a surreal nature about it. As Darcy navigated the winding stairway to her room, she figured it might have something to do with the copious amount of alcohol she’d imbibed.
After her generous offer of a drink she’d barely had to pay for anything else. Several other regulars gave their versions of living in the valley and as they did they had Ben Bones or Tempest pour her a drink on them. Lively, friendly, and downright enjoyable, was her version of the evening’s events.
After spending ten minutes in the bathroom Darcy emerged with clean teeth in boxer shorts and T-shirt and climbed into the narrow bed. A fresh set of small towels and a note on her bedside. How did I miss those?
Reading the note she smiled. Place the salve on the towels and wrap them around your feet, put socks on if you can’t keep them in place. By tomorrow your feet will be able to walk a twenty-mile hike. T
With a smile still beaming, Darcy did as the note suggested. As she lay back in the bed, her head almost was touching the headboard and her feet dangling off the end. Oh well, the socks will keep my feet warm, was her final thoughts. The earlier trepidation she had about the room and the story of the ghost of Diana had receded into background as sleep beckoned her.
+ + +
A distance sound called to Darcy in her sleep not certain it wasn’t part of a dream. However, the more she concentrated on the sound the louder the wailing became. With a shudder down her spine, she shot bolt upright from her prone position, and glanced around.
Darkness veiled any chance she had of seeing anything clearly. Just as she was about to settle back down to sleep she heard the soft whimpering of a woman or child-perhaps. Shaking her head, she tried to peer through the thin veil of darkness but to no avail. It must be something or someone in another room Darcy thought as she ran fingers over her eyes. She contemplated going to the bathroom but a draft of cold air similar to what she felt earlier but much more intense, made her shiver and she decided to stay put. Reaching for the switch for the bedside light, she thought why I didn’t think of that before is beyond me. A mist of pale light from the lamp filtered beside her bed and she groaned when she picked up her wristwatch. “Darn, I’ve only been in bed an hour.”
She had the shock of her life as a gentle lilting voice with an accent similar to ones she’d heard earlier spoke to her. “Aye at last you’ve returned. I’ve waited to hear your voice for a long time now. Come my love it’s time to join me again.”
“Who’s there?” Darcy’s voice wobbled, as she tentatively asked her question. Unsure what to expect exactly, her eyes scanned the small room. Probably some of the locals playing a trick on me…yeah, I’m sure that’s what it is.
A whimper, similar to the one that she’d heard earlier, drew her eyes hypnotically to the other bed. At the bottom, a tiny figure was huddled making the features unrecognizable. “You don’t remember me my love, is that why you left me for so long? I said I would wait and wait I have.”
Darcy, hypnotically drawn to the voice, felt the pull of the unknown. Even as the sensible part of her felt like screaming for help. The other part, desperately wanted to help ease the pain of the sorrowful lamenting voice that called to her. “I’m sorry but you have me mistaken for someone else. I don’t know you.”
The reed like voice echoed around Darcy. “It is as they said…you no longer want me in your life. I cannot believe that you would be so cruel that you would send a friend with your message instead of facing me as a gentleman.”
Darcy held her tongue as well as her voice when she realized that the voice wasn’t exactly speaking to her directly but reliving of the situation. Is this the ghost of Diana? Who else can it be? Darcy chided herself silently. Its way to good to be a prank, but at the same time, do I believe in ghosts?
“You have no words to speak for yourself Richard?” the voice whipped inside Darcy’s conscious mind.
Lost for words, Darcy swallowed hard then replied cautiously, “I’m sorry I’m not Richard, perhaps if you tell me where he is I could locate him for you?” Crap what a thing to say! Think woman think. Maybe I really do need to shout for help or something. Nope, I don’t want the others calling me the crazy yank!
“Richard, Richard, Richard, I loved you and gave you everything and this is how you betray me. Where, are your sweet words of love? Am I no longer your sweetheart of the Isles?” the voice wailed as the huddled figure moved quickly toward Darcy.
What Darcy perceived previously as a fragile form, now loomed menacingly close to her bed. The pain manifesting in every feature of the ghost’s facial expression became contorted and ugly. All Darcy could do was clutch at the bedclothes and hope that what she heard earlier wasn’t going to happen to her. I told her the truth I don’t know Richard and I’m not who she thinks I am.
Then the features calmed and the smooth features of a young woman appeared. Where once there had been color in the eyes, now they were devoid of any of the spectrums of light as a dark abyss greeted any brave enough to stare.
“I shall leave now as I did once before. Thank you stranger, if you can find my Richard, please tell him I still wait, I will always wait. If you are true to this, I shall reward you. ” The ghostly apparition moved with frighteningly quick speed toward the small window and with a pitiful wail leapt out of the opening.
Darcy shut her eyes as tight as possible and felt the tears of fear and pity she’d been holding well up and leak out. She heard the last of the ghost of Diana give a terrible cry and then total silence shrouded the room. In reaction, Darcy pulled the bedclothes over her head and gasped several breaths to calm her nerves.
The sound of footsteps in the hallway had Darcy scrambling out of bed and opening her door so violently that she almost ripped it off the hinges. The light from the corridor almost had her blinded under its harsh fluorescent glare. “Hello.”
A familiar tinkle of laughter was the initial response. “Well hello yourself Miss Grainger. Is there a problem?”
Darcy closed her eyes, grateful that it was Tempest and not an apparition in the corridor. “No…no…I thought I heard something that is all.”
Tempest raised her eyebrows and smiled as she narrowed her eyes and looked at Darcy’s attire and then quickly looked at her feet. “I see you took my note seriously.”
Slightly flustered, Darcy wondered what she meant before it dawned on her. “Ah, you mean the socks and stuff.”
“Yes and stuff, Are you ok you look a bit pale? Did the locals make you drink too much? I told them you might not be used to drinking as much as they do.” Tempest moved closer.
Darcy could smell the faint lavender perfume the woman exuded from Tempest. It smelled almost natural as if she secreted it from her pores. There you go again living in a fantasy land because the real world hurts too much. “I’m fine…at least. No it doesn’t matter. Goodnight Tempest.”
A large hand reached out and surprisingly griped Darcy’s forearm gently. “You saw her didn’t you?”
It was a gentle enquiry and Darcy could easily have shrugged it away by saying nothing-she didn’t. Strangely enough, on some level the woman called to her inner being. “You said you’d join me for a drink, how about we do that now?”
Tempest gave her a smile of understanding. “How does hot chocolate sound. I think you consumed the bottle of wine much to Ben’s appreciation.”
Darcy felt the specter of the ghost leaving her as the gentle woman drew her away from what she was now wondering if it had been a dream. “Thanks that would be great.”
+ + +
Darcy yawned as she sipped the remains of her hot chocolate as she related the events of her experience in her room not only an hour before but earlier as well. Tempest, for her part, listened and occasionally narrowed her eyes in concentration.
“Thanks for listening. Do you have to do this every time one of your guests sees the ghost of Diana?” Darcy said attempting to bring some levity to the conversion.
“No, this is a first for me,” Tempest announced gravely.
Blinking rapidly, Darcy stared at the larger woman, whose features were contemplative as she sipped her hot chocolate,. “Do you mean you’ve never had a guest have this experience or that you’re new to this whole thing too?”
“God no, I’m part of the furniture. I’ve worked here for over twenty years. Not much around these parts and initially I needed to take care of my parents. Then …well I love it here wouldn’t think to live anywhere else.”
“So you mean no one has ever mentioned having this experience before… I thought Mr. Jacobs said…”
Tempest grinned. “Oh, old Marylebone adds bits and pieces to the old story, but it’s a first for me that anyone has admitted seeing the ghost of Diana.”
Darcy bent her head deep in thought. Bet she thinks I’m nuts! I am nuts it was a dream fool, nothing more than a dream and having too much to drink only increased the experience. “Hey look, I’m tired, thanks for the drink and the chat. I guess I’ll let you got to bed,” she said looking at the wall clock. “It’s after one.”
Tempest gave her a long thoughtful look then nodded. “It was my pleasure. I won’t be here in the morning when you leave. My shift is the afternoon and every second evening. I wish you a safe journey to your next destination Miss Grainger. Maybe you might return one day…we could do with a dentist in town.”
Darcy stood up. She felt bereft to the point that it was worse than when Max told her it was over. She’s not even my type! “Thanks for all your help Tempest and for the foot remedies. I know I’ll make that twenty-mile hike yet.”
Tempest held the door open for Darcy and as she passed through the natural lavender smell of the woman drew her in again. “Perhaps when you do, you’ll drop in again,” Tempest said.
Darcy nodded automatically since her thoughts were in chaos. Heading back up the stairs, the earlier feelings she had about the stairs, the corridor, and her room were over-all was at peace.
Settling down in bed again, she sighed. Maybe I should think about setting up a practice here…it does feel like home. Those were her final thoughts as she drifted off to sleep.
+ + +
Darcy awoke to what sounded like birds singing at the end of her bed. As she opened her eyes, she rubbed them hard when she saw a clear blue sky above her and fields all around her. The birds weren’t at the end of her bed but on the wooden fence a few yards from her position. That position was her legs outstretched as her back rested against a wooden signpost. She was out in the open.
Her mind ticked the most likely scenario of why she was where she was. Ok this has to be a dream. It was probably the hot chocolate. Thinking it was a dream she stood up swiftly and immediately wished she hadn’t. She jolted her back and pain coursed through her body. Damn, I don’t need pain in a dream. When she gazed around, the landscape appeared familiar. It was the entrance to the valley she’d traveled the day before. Yeah it is all a dream.
Her eyes then cast on the signpost. It had two directional indicators-the left to Keswick the right to Threlkeld. Scratching her head, Darcy didn’t understand. She was certain that the sign the day before had Massem as the next village.
She looked at her wristwatch and noted that it was seven. What was more fascinating was that the date was actually the next day. That’s weird.
The tooting of a horn drew her attention to a small vehicle approaching and she stepped back to allow the vehicle to go past her safely. When it drew to a halt, she blinked in surprise. Ok it’s still a dream, maybe Melissa Etheridge will be my rescuer. A girl can dream can’t she?
A young man with a cheerful face grinned. “Do you need a lift its twenty miles to the next village.” He smiled and let his eyes do a once over. “You look kind of disorientated…are you ok? I bet you haven’t had any breakfast yet?”
Right, what do they say to do to break a dream pinch yourself…ok let’s try that? She pinched herself as hard as she could and yelped in response at the pain in her thigh.
“Are you ok? If you don’t want a lift that’s fine with me I need to get moving.”
Darcy gazed at him with an expression of puzzlement. “Sure that sounds good. Yeah, I’m hungry too. Thanks.”
On the journey to the town of Threlkeld the young man was chatty especially when he realized she was an American. On their arrival he deposited her at the Ole Whistling Kettle café.
This is not quite what I expected. Ok I can get through this, whatever this is. She pushed open the door and found she was one of five breakfasting tourists. An hour later, replete from her traditional breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast, and something called black pudding that was quite tasty, she contemplated what was real and what wasn’t. Ok this is easy I just ask about the Boars Head Inn.
As the other visitors left, Darcy found herself alone. When she went to pay her check she asked, “I was told about a place called the Boars Head Inn, in a village called Massem that I think is not far from here. Can you give me directions please?”
The young woman shook her head. “Sorry I’ve never heard of it. I’ll ask May since she’s lived here all her life…I’m sure she’ll know.”
The young woman posed the question briskly to a woman who looked elderly in the backroom. The woman frowned and stepped forward. “Massem you say? How do you know of that? The maps you have been using must be old.”
Darcy complimented the old woman’s frown with one of her own. “I’m sorry. I can assure you the map I have is up to date. Here see!”
She withdrew the map she had and pointed in the general direction as the older woman peered at the creased paper.
“Sorry love, but whoever told you about Massem must have visited before the war.” The old woman gave her a kindly look.
“I’m sorry, what do you mean?” Darcy asked with a crease in her brow.
The old woman gave her a long stare. “You’ve seen it, haven’t you?”
“What? What exactly have I seen?”
“I thought so for it’s in your eyes. You’re only the second since it happened and the first was way back in the sixties. It’s just a ghost town love…it’s all in memories now. In a bombing run the German’s obliterated Massem and all who lived there in nineteen forty four. Would you believe this very morning is the anniversary of the bombing?” The old woman’s face had a sad expression. “I once knew a man from Massem…Cliff the butcher’s assistant. Ah, now those were good times…” the woman said drifting off into her own memories.
Darcy drew in a breath. So that was all a dream and this is reality! Or is it? She walked out of the café and looked down the pebbled main street. Her eyes drifted back to the direction she’d come. “Was that all a dream? My feet were aching so much I fell asleep at the sign and dreamed everything?” she whispered to no one but the wind. As she walked towards the local library to check out what she heard in her dream, her thoughts were chaotic. I’ve never read anything about the place…I didn’t even know it existed. How could I have dreamt such a thing? Now, I find out that it is a dead village. This is all so crazy. It felt so real the place and the people. I need to find out if those people ever existed. There must be a register someplace.
As she mounted the stairs to the local library she looked down at her feet. She moved to a bench and quickly untied one boot and removed it and the sock came next…
+ + +
Now readers you might wonder what happened next.
Simple really Darcy spent many years researching everything she could about the place. There was a Ben Bones patron of the boars head inn. There was a Marylebone Jacobs who lived in the village and a few others mentioned, even one Tempest Summerfield. They all died in the obliteration of the village. As with a lot of traditional folk tales, some are made of fancy while others steeped in truth. Darcy chose to believe that Massem did exist for her for those few short hours. She’d even tried, and successfully found a pilot named Richard Smith.
From what she could garner, Richard died the day before his friend supposedly took the letter to Diana. As to what was in that letter, if it ever existed, said only Diana would ever know. Darcy chose to think that Richard wrote the letter on the chance that he might die and wanted Diana to move on with her life.
What makes this story complete, if you can call it that, when I met Darcy she was an older woman in her later stages of life. She’d decided this was her last possible chance to travel again before death and had chosen this area in the hope of finding Massem again. That was the woman who shared her story. As we parted company she gave me her address and said to contact her if I should find anything on my travels about Massem.
Of course I never did but I wrote her anyway. Several months passed by without a reply so I decided to do some checking of my own about Darcy Grainger. I found that she went missing that same year I met her in the Lake District in England and then she seemed to have vanished. Several police searches found no evidence of her or her belongings. Even when a fellow traveler mentioned the area she may have visited they found nothing.
I readers, was that fellow traveler. You may think what you will…I like to think she found that place called Massem again and they welcomed her home…
Oh did I forget to tell you what the trigger was that made sense to her after many years of researching. Under her sock was the linen that Tempest had given her with the salve on. Embroidered on the linen was…the Boars Head Inn.