The road stretched away across the moor, disappearing and reappearing with every undulation of untamed land. Edward Fenwick peered into the distance in both directions. The view yielded only miles of lonely heather. He fished in his horse’s saddlebag for the creased square of parchment.
“Well this is a fine business. Digby’s map surely shows Cransland House, yet there is not even a cow shed to be seen!” Edward looked down at the horse. The mare whinnied, and bent her head to nibble at the grass verge.
Edward took his pocketwatch from his waistcoat. Only 3pm, and yet the shadowy fingers of dusk already felt their way across the moor. A cloud crossed the face of the low sun, and Edward shivered. The crammed dwellings and clamour of London could never prepare him for this.
“I am late! Thirty minutes, no less. I should have taken the cart that was offered,” said Edward.
He gazed across the moor, as if expecting the dilapidated old hall to materialise before him. Nothing. Not even a sheep or cow to break the monotony of the view.
A gust of wind danced around Edward, carrying a faint ringing. The mare lifted her head and pricked up her ears; Edward leaned forward in the saddle, straining to make out the sound. Regular yet insistent, Edward recognised the call of a small bell. He flicked the mare’s reins, but the horse refused the budge. Unable to urge her forward, but keen to discover the location of the bell, Edward clambered down out of the saddle and set off down the road.
Hidden by a swell of moorland, another road crossed the empty landscape. A wooden post gave directions where the two roads met, and a mound of earth lay heaped at the foot of the sign. Edward ignored the westward arm pointing toward Cransland House, focussed instead upon the mound. A narrow wooden contraption protruded from the ground, topped by a small copper bell. Sheltered from the sudden gusts of wind by the ground’s swell, the bell continued to ring.
Edward snatched his hat from his head and turned it in his hands. He spun around, casting wild glances in all directions. As before, he was alone on the moor. He crossed to the loose mound, searching the ground for clues as to the grave’s occupant. Stories tumbled through his mind unbidden, tales told by his old nanny about the witches and vampires buried at crossroads. Even at the age of 43, he found himself unable to pass through London’s many crossroads without wondering about the ground beneath his feet.
Edward mopped his brow, his teeth chewing his lip in time to the bell’s call. Leaping devils pranced before his mind’s eye. His feet tried to direct him back to the mare. He shook his head, trying to dislodge his thoughts.
“Come along now, this will not do. You cannot believe in such superstitious nonsense,” he chided himself. “You have heard the stories of premature burial – some fellow could be gasping his last down there while you dither up here.”
The bell’s ringing grew louder, as if in reply. Edward forced himself towards the mound. Nestling his gloves inside his hat, his fingers got to work on the soft earth. The soil broke apart and fell aside as he scooped handfuls to his left and right. His red face shone with a halo of sweat when his fingertips finally brushed the splinters of untreated wood.
“Hallo there, I am here! I shall have you free in a moment!” called Edward. He hauled the last of the clods behind him, laying bare a rough wooden box, some six feet tall and three feet wide. Edward worked his fingers into the crack between the lid and the box, pulling upwards with all the strength his accounts clerk arms possessed. His mare neighed somewhere in the deepening twilight behind him, a call filled with panic.
“I shall be back, dearest horse!” shouted Edward, looking back over his shoulder as his hands finally pulled the lid free.
Edward looked down into the coffin, expecting to see a grateful face gasping for air. The box was empty, lined with rough sackcloth. He looked up to see if the trapped victim had hauled themselves to freedom when he called to his mare. Nothing but shadows surrounded him. He turned back to the coffin.
Something hit Edward square between the shoulder blades and he tumbled forwards. The last thing he felt was sackcloth against his face.