The mists rolled in, blanketing the town quickly and silently in its valley. Cool and soothing, they deadened sound and reduced visibility to little more than an arms-length. The town’s inhabitants stayed indoors, apart from young Danvers who insisted he needed to get back to the farm
He was filled with the bravado of youth, and the stubbornness that his father had brought to their land when he’d first started wrestling a livelihood from the sparse soil on his property. As a result he waved aside offers of the spare room above the diner. He could take it slow and even, he said, and he knew the local roads like the back of his hand.
His journey was easy enough as he started. Everyone else was off the roads, so he didn’t have to jockey for position to get out of the carpark or into the correct lane to head up into the hills along the old dry stone walls he and his father had built for so many of the properties and field boundaries.
He rounded the corner just before Farthing Street at a careful speed, relieved to see the dark mass of the huge old oak tree they’d had to build around. Then he frowned and brought the car to a stop. Someone had pulled the wall down. In fact, someone was still in the process of pulling the wall down.
He got out and walked quickly towards the slender figure levering stones away from the base of the tree. He recognised the vandal quickly enough: old Mrs Lehman. The old bike she habitually rode was propped up against the wall on the other side of the road, it’s light feebly shining but doing very little to illuminate the scene.
“Hey!” He called to her. “What the hell are you doing? You’re going to cause an accident!” He waved his hands in the air to encompass the stones currently spread over the verge and road.
“Oh! It’s you!” She responded, a note of annoyance audible in her tone. “Make yourself useful – I told you you had to take this wall the other side of the tree.” She waved at a stack of stones nearby.
“Oh not this again! It was quicker to fence it in. We talked about this!” He put his hands on his hips and refused to come any further.
“It’s a boundary marker, didn’t your father teach you anything?” She began to lay stones along the other side of the tree so that nothing lay between it and the junction.
“A what? It’s a tree next to a crossroads, and the walls are there to protect it from drunken louts joyriding in stolen Ford Focuses and losing control of their vehicles. Now, am I going to have to call the police?”
” Is your name Snow? Do you know nothing? The marker’s been here to set the boundaries for generations. You don’t just unilaterally change something like this, the Gentry don’t like it!”
“What? Mister Jabber from The Grange? What’s he got to do with it? The Council signed off on it and everything!”
“Oh if the PCC signed off then that’s everything sorted!”
“Of course not. Listen, can you hear them through the fog?”
“Who?” But he could hear a noise. Several noises in fact. The hoofbeats of several riders approaching. The jangle of harness, laughter on what breeze there was, and suddenly Young Danvers was sure he shouldn’t be here in the mists in the night.
Mrs Lehman nodded and pointed a finger as she saw realisation dawn across his features. That’s it. These old boundaries were negotiated. We can live in the town as long as the boundaries are respected. We don’t go into the Summer Lands and they don’t come down into ours. Now come on!”
Prompted by a growing chill of unease, he joined her in tearing down the drystone wall and clearing the road. They were just closing the gap on the rebuilt wall that this time went behind the oak and it’s grasping branches when the lead rider came into view.
“Don’t look!” Mrs Lehman hissed, and Danvers averted his gaze from the radiant paragon of life and health and dark mirth before him. He put the last stone in place, feeling the dark gravity of the horseman’s regard, and then suddenly it was gone. So too was the mist and the dread.
Mrs Lehmen’s bike had fallen into the road at some point, and seemed unharmed – aside, that is, from the wide scorched mark of a horse’s hoof in its back wheel.