Stolen Breath: A Haunting Short Story Based in The Lonely Wicklow Mountains of Ireland
The lonesome road stretched for miles and miles through the mountainous terrain. The maroon landscape disappearing into the far off distance. Dusk was well settled and the night was eager to arrive; her grey cape already in decent. The only sound to be heard: had any body been listening, was a low murmur; the hum of an approaching engine; a lone car...
''I told you we were lost hours ago.'' Louise moaned from the passenger seat of the little rental car. ''But... oh no... you had to keep driving and you had to take the God damn scenic route. We're like Hansel and Gretel. Lost in the middle of bloody nowhere. By the looks of this spooky road we're driving straight to the witch.''
''Louise, we are not lost. All these old Irish back roads lead back to a main road somewhere. We just need to keep driving.'' Dan said; trying his best to remain calm. Why oh why had he bothered to organize this weekend? Dan had surprised Louise with a mini break in the Southeast of Ireland. He'd booked the flights, car rental and a beautiful hotel over looking the ocean. He'd wrongly thought a weekend away from the hustle and bustle of London would do them both good. Heck! he'd even thought he might get lucky. God knows he hadn't had much luck lately.
''Keep looking for a road sign or a house or anything! There must be a farmhouse around here somewhere?'' Dan looked encouragingly at Louise. He raised a hand and stroked his girlfriend's pretty young face. ''Oh come on it's an adventure.'' He added.
Louise glared out the window. ''Some bloody adventure. And I'm cold,'' she snapped, pulling her coat tighter around her small body and rubbing her hands up and down her denim clad thighs. Dan turned the heating up to full blast. Louise was right; it was cold and they were getting low on fuel. Dan ran a hand through his short brown hair. He was starting to feel the first stirrings of panic settle in. Damn Clio; he should have opted for the bigger car.
''Look! over there.'' Yelled Louise sitting up in her seat, pointing toward the horizon. ''I saw a light.'' Louise glanced at Dan. The first sign of a smile on her face, since they'd left Heathrow Airport that morning. Dan looked toward where Louise pointed. A small wood loomed; an oasis on the horizon a few miles further along the dark road. A weak but certain glow glimmered through the trees.
''Alleluia! It's a house. Thank God for small mercies.'' Cried Louise as they pulled up outside a big old fashioned looking house.
''We can ask for some directions. I bet we're close to a town.'' Dan enthused.
They got out of the car and made their way up the porch steps to the front door. The remnants of dusty blue paint clung to the wooden frame. An old swing seat sat to the left of the door. A small light hung from the porch ceiling. The light creaked as it swung slowly back and forward. Yet the air was still. Shadows played hide and seek with the yellow glow. Dan glanced at Louise. Her short red curls peeked from under her hat. Her pale blue eyes looked tired. He took her small hand in his and held it tight. Louise squeezed his hand and smiled up at his youthful rugged face.
''Shall I knock or shall you?'' Louise asked. The hint of a smile growing.
Before any decision could be made the door opened and a small elderly woman dressed from head to toe in black poked her head around the door. ''Yes!'' She stated in a matter of fact tone looking directly at Louise. The young couple stole a quick glance at each other.
''Err... excuse me. We're lost and are looking for directions to the nearest town.'' Dan said in a small apologetic voice realizing for the first time just how late it was. The woman looked over her shoulder, turning back she opened the door and smiled; exposing a set of perfect white teeth. Her small features, almost transparent.
''There's nothing around these parts for miles, nothing but hills and roaming heather. Let's not stand here yapping; it's cold. Perhaps you should come in.'' The old woman beckoned for them to follow. The young couple looked at each other, shrugged and followed her into the house.
Floor boards creaked underfoot as they made their way down the dimly lit hallway to the back of the house. The corridor was narrow. The walls a red rusty brown colour. A strange wet hair smell hung in the air. ''What's that weird smell?'' whispered Louise.
The old woman spun around. Her pale blue eyes seemed to bore through Louise. ''It's probably my dog. I live alone. Cane is my only company. Here we are, the kitchen.'' The old woman opened a door that lead into a large room.
The room had the same colour walls as the long hallway. The lighting too was dim. A large earthen pot boiled on an old range. The smell of meat filled the room. ''Cane likes bones.'' The old lady said nodding to the boiling pot. ''His old teeth can't manage raw ones these days. Take a seat. Warm yourself by the fire. I'm just going to check on Cane.'' Before they could say a word, the old woman left through another door at the end of the room. A key turned ever so quietly in the lock.
Louise sat down on a comfy chair by the fire. Holding her hands out to warm them. A large polished table sat in the middle of the room. An elaborate silver candle holder sat at each end. Padded chairs with high backs were tucked neatly around the table. The kitchen was old but elegant. A beautiful belfast sink was surrounded by wooden presses with brass handles. A large window was adorned with primrose yellow curtains. The high walls reached to a decorative ceiling. Right in the centre surrounded by coving hung a magnificent chandelier.
''What are we going to do now?'' Louise asked in a low tone.
Dan walked over to the window, lifted the curtain and looked out. Pitch black darkness stared back at him. ''We're low on petrol Louise, and I don't fancy sleeping rough in the car.'' Dan answered equally low. ''We can't get a signal on our mobiles either... so if we ran into trouble... well.'' Dan shrugged and turned back to the window.''There's a lot of lonesome road out there.''
Louise stood and joined Dan. ''Maybe she has a phone we could use.'' Louise mused.
After what seemed like an age the old woman returned. Having been told the old lady had no use for phones it seemed her invite to stay the night was their only option. A farmer lived about ten miles away, it was decided they would go see him in the morning. The old lady reckoned he had a petrol pump to supply all his farming machinery. He definitely had a phone.
''I've made up a room for you. It has it's own bathroom, so you'll be cosy. I've left fresh towels and sleeping garments. They belonged to my daughter and her husband. There's plenty of bathroom products too.'' The old woman informed as they walked up a sweeping staircase to the next floor. The hallway on this level was wide and the walls adorned by paintings. Soft yellow lighting guided their path.
''There's no need for that. I'll get our stuff from the car.'' Dan answered.
The old lady stopped at a door. Taking a rather large ring of keys from her pocket she unlocked the door. ''It's best not to. It's very dark out there. You won't see a thing. Besides I've bolted and locked the front door already.'' She stood back from the door. ''Please, enter. I'll go fetch you some hot tea. It will help you sleep Louise.'' The old lady nodded at the young woman.
''Thank you... I er gosh! I never even asked your name... sorry.'' Louise stuttered. The old lady smiled, her white teeth glistened.
''No matter.'' Turning she walked back down the hallway. Dan called after her.
''Er... what is your name?'' The old lady kept walking.
When she reached the end of the hallway, she turned and looked back. Her silhouette seemed to fill the corridor. ''Martha. You can call me Martha.'' And she disappeared down the stairs.
The young couple entered the bedroom. They stood hand in hand surveying the delights before their eyes. A magnificent four poster bed sat in the middle of the room. Pale blue curtains tied at each post with silk ribbons. Powder blue cushions adorned an ivory lace bedspread. A sea blue carpet covered the floor. The walls were covered in wall to ceiling wardrobes. The doors; polished mahogany with gold handles. A beautiful old style dressing table sat in one corner complete with a delicate pale blue cushioned chair. A white chais longue occupied a bay window. Baby blue curtains flowed from a large gold curtain rail. Each end of the rail was fitted with what looked like an ornate animal head.
''What a beautiful room.'' Louise said running her hand along the bed. ''It's the most beautiful room I've ever seen.''
Dan smiled. Perhaps his luck was improving after all. He walked over to her. Putting his arms tightly around her waist he lifted her gently. He tilted his head and was just about to kiss her sweet rosebud lips...
''I'll leave the tea here, shall l?'' asked the old lady eyeing Dan.
Dan almost dropped Louise. ''Err... please. Thank you so much Martha. You've been very kind.'' He stammered.
The old lady smiled, cocked her head to one side and said. ''Stolen breath, Dan... that's what my daughter used to call a kiss! Sleep tight children.'' And she was gone.
''Jesus that was a bit creepy.'' Louise whispered.
Dan strode across the room. The key was gone from the lock. He shut the door. ''You know I don't remember telling her our names.'' Dan said.
''She probably heard us using our names.'' Louise suggested sitting on the bed.
Dan opened the bathroom door, turned on the light. A splendid blue bathroom stretched before him. A magnificent freestanding bathtub the focal point. ''I think she locked the door, the one in the kitchen when she went to check on her dog.'' Dan said turning the bathroom light off. ''You know! I don't remember telling her we were low on petrol either.'' Dan mused. ''And why all the locks and bolts on the damn door?''
Louise patted the bed beside her. ''Come, sit down. Your just tired. And like I said she heard us talking that's all. If I lived all the way out here alone I'd lock and bolt my front door. Dog or no bleeding dog.'' Louise draped her thin arm around Dan's broad shoulders.
''I don't know... I suppose you're right. Although that last bit about the stolen breath; that was weird, kinda freaked me out a bit.'' Dan said.
Louise leaned her head against Dan's strong shoulder. ''Do you want to steal my breath?'' Louise giggled. Dan looked at the tea and back at Louise. No contest. Louise started to take her clothes off. ''I'm not wearing any one else's pajamas either.''
Dan grinned at Louise. ''I'll get the light.''
Sunlight streamed through the pale blue curtains. Louise opened her eyes to find herself alone in the great big bed. For a second she didn't know where she was. Then the memory of last night flooded her brain. She jumped from the bed, quickly got dressed and headed down stairs.
Dan stood by the front door. ''Dan!'' Louise called. She continued down the stairs.
Dan waved a piece of yellow paper in the air. ''The old lady left this on the kitchen table. It's directions to the farm. Come on lets go, the door is unlocked.'' Opening the door he headed to the car.
Louise ran after him. ''Dan... Dan surely we should say thank you and goodbye.'' Louise cried.
''No! I don't think so. I didn't sleep a wink last night. I could hear something or someone outside. It was like they were circling the house.'' He got in the car and started the engine.
Louise glanced back at the old house; she felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. ''Let's go find this farm.'' She said, jumping in beside him.
''Ya say ya spent the night at ole Jessup's place.'' The old farmer said filling the car with petrol.
''Yes! the old lady there looked after us. We felt a little creepy but in hindsight perhaps we were just tired.'' Dan said leaning against the car. Louise had gone into the farmers house to use the bathroom.
''Well son. There's no way of telling ya this only the straight way. The ole Jessup's place 'as been boarded up for years. The ole girl; Martha, I think her name were. She died shortly after her daughter's death. Ah! the daughter was killed by a wild dog. Torn ta bits she were. Gorgeous young thing. Red hair and pale blue eyes. Not unlike yer misses. Poor ole Martha never forgave herself. Died of a broken heart I reckon. There that's yer car full, son.'' The farmer closed the petrol cap and walked around the car to Dan.
Dan stared at the farmer. ''Th... that's not funny...'' He stammered.
''The names Bill. No it ain't, it surely ain't. Don't reckon yer misses needs ta know this story. Mind ya yer car is the first car I've seen in a long while.'' Bill patted the bonnet with a huge gnarled hand.
''Wh what... happened to th the daughter's husband?'' Dan swallowed not sure he wanted to hear the answer.
''Never knew the daughter had a husband. Never saw one neither. Ole Martha never had a husband. Her daughter was all she had. Martha used to say her daughter was the result of a stolen breath. Whatever the hell that might mean.'' Bill raised an eyebrow.
Dan looked toward the house. Louise was approaching. ''I'm... ah! I'm having trouble digesting this information. You don't seem to be having the same problem.'' Dan gulped rubbing his hand across is tired young face.
Bill looked directly at Dan. ''Son, when ya lived as long as I 'ave. There ain't no surprises. Just stories is all. Best be on yer way now and don't stop till ye get to Wicklow Town, ya hear. The sup of fuel there is on me.'' The old man wiped a hand on his blue overalls and held it out to Dan. Dan took it and the two men shook hands.
Back at ole Jessup's place the old woman took a large ring of keys from her pocket. ''There'll be another car before long. More lost tourists. I just couldn't give her to you Cane. Her red hair and those pale blue eyes. My stolen breath.'' The old lady turned the key in the lock. Opening the iron gate she threw the stewed bones into the darkness. A low growl rumbled in the dark. A huge shadow descended and began to feed. The sound of grinding teeth and splintering bones seeped into the lonely night...
Dusk was settled and the night was eager to arrive. Her grey cape already in decent. The only sound to be heard had anybody being listening was a low murmur. The hum of an approaching engine; a lone car...
The End... For Now...
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