The next instalment of my first horror tale, find the first page here.
The days that followed my finding of the book became a voyage of discovery, I spent hours in the evening combing websites and making notes on little tabs that I stuck over key pages until the book looked more like one of my old school revision guides than a piece of literature. In addition, having discovered a collection of gruesome tales not included in my book, I made the decision to purchase a detailed map of Dartmoor and pinned it to the wall in my kitchen. There I charted out Lady Howard’s skeletal journey, Cutty Dyer’s lair, and every other story or legend I could sniff out.
I can admit now that it turned quickly from interest to obsession, that the creeping fingers of irrationality were clawing through my brain. I lived and breathed Dartmoor, even my sleep suffered as my dreams turned to dark nightmares filled with fog and black hounds baying at my heels. At the time it made sense to simply sleep less, to stumble through my days then spend my nights huddled in bed with my dog at my feet and a cold sweat seeping through my nightclothes.
I became wraith-like in appearance, make-up no longer thick enough to hide the red rims and dark circles under my eyes. After a lifetime of struggling to lose weight I finally found myself unable to stomach more than strong coffee and the occasional piece of toast, my clothes became baggy and ill-fitting, my hair brittle and dull. I began to avoid social events, in the beginning by sending apologetic messages but later I simply ignored them all until my usual weekend cohort stopped bothering to include me. And whilst I can’t pinpoint when my family first noticed the changes wrought in me, it was my mother who finally commented about my drawn appearance and her worry about the dramatic changes to my figure.
The concern about my weight shook me most I think; for the longest time she had, well-meaning but often cruelly, told me how much more attractive I’d be if only a dropped a dress size or two. To hear her tell me that I seemed a little on the skinny side was sufficient to wake me up for an instant, my mind clearing just long enough to sense I was in trouble. But I couldn’t speak up. I tried for a moment, tried to confess the insidious desire squatting in my body. Instead I heard platitudes spill from my lips, lies about diet and exercise and stresses at work that she nodded along to despite the strain in her smile.
Once, a long time ago, I watched a documentary about a church where people believed they were overcome by the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues, chanting and writhing without thought or control. Until that moment I’d found it ridiculous, but as I listened to the thin excuses I spewed I felt like a power I couldn’t understand was moving through me. It was gnawing and covetous in nature, as if the moor had taken root in my soul.
I suppose I can admit now that I’d made the space it filled, carved it with loneliness and my bitter fears of an empty future and abandoned dreams. Perhaps the power I sensed was simply my desperation to have something wholly mine. I wanted to feel my blood pound at the sight of phantoms, to become part of the legends, to have my own story to tell like a banner of heroism and purpose.
Whatever the case, from the moment when I first experienced the presence within me the direction of my obsession changed. I was no longer content with books and websites, nothing now would do but to take to Dartmoor on journey of my own design.