Read A Cold Season Online

Authors: Alison Littlewood

A Cold Season

A COLD SEASON

How far will one mother go to save her child?

ALISON LITTLEWOOD

First published in Great Britain in 2012 by

Jo Fletcher Books

an imprint of Quercus

55 Baker Street

7th Floor, South Block

London

W1U 8EW

Copyright © 2012 Alison Littlewood

The moral right of Alison Littlewood to be

identified as the author of this work has been

asserted in accordance with the Copyright,

Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication
may be reproduced or transmitted in any form
or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopy, recording, or any
information storage and retrieval system,
without permission in writing from the publisher.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available

from the British Library

eBook ISBN 978 1 78087 137 0

Print ISBN 978 1 78087 136 3

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters,

businesses, organizations, places and events are

either the product of the author’s imagination

or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to

actual persons, living or dead, events or

locales is entirely coincidental.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

You can find this and many other great books at:
www.quercusbooks.co.uk

Alison Littlewood is a writer of dark fantasy and horror fiction. Her short stories have appeared in numerous magazines, including
Black Static, Crimewave
and
Not One Of Us
, as well as the British Fantasy Society’s
Dark Horizons
and the charity anthology
Never Again. A Cold Season
is her first novel. She lives near Wakefield, in West Yorkshire, with her partner Fergus.

Visit her at

www.alisonlittlewood.co.uk

For Mum and Dad and for Fergus

ONE

The fog swallowed everything: moorland, colour, sound. Even Ben was silent in the passenger seat. The road was little more than a narrow track winding across what Cass thought of as God’s own country, which she knew to be wide and rolling and open where it lay hidden behind the fog.

Cass caught a glimpse of heather and bracken, everything sapped and rendered colourless. Ahead, the road dipped into a shallow bowl before winding upwards once more. She took her foot from the accelerator and allowed the car to slow.

‘What’s up?’ Ben stirred, and she realised he had been asleep. ‘Where are we?’

‘Saddleworth Moor.’ Cass braked to a halt and gestured down into the dip. ‘Isn’t it weird? You’d think the fog would gather here, but it’s clear.’ She turned to him. His face was closed, uninterested. ‘You should take a look. You won’t see much of the moor in this fog.’

He shrugged.
Don’t care.

Cass gripped the wheel once more and took her foot from the brake. As the car began to move, she slammed it down again.

Ben jerked forward and scowled. ‘What’s that for?’

Cass continued to stare down into the bowl.

Ben followed her gaze. ‘There’s nothing there.’

Her son was right, but Cass tightened her grip on the wheel anyway. ‘Didn’t you feel it?’ She took her foot off the brake and the car rolled. ‘It’s going the wrong way.’

This time Ben saw. He straightened, looking back the way they had come.

Cass eased off the brake and the car rolled further, back. Up the slope. ‘Damn,’ she said, under her breath. She felt dizzy. ‘It’s a hill.’

‘What are you on about?’

‘I’ve heard about this. It’s – I don’t know, Ben – some kind of optical illusion. It looks like a dip but it’s really a hill. We’re on an upward slope, not downward.’

Ben’s face lit and Cass felt a surge of something. Hope? Joy? She wasn’t sure.

‘Wow,’ he said.

She reached out and rubbed his knee. ‘Feel. I’ll let it roll.’

‘Go on, Mum.’

Cass grinned, easing off again. The car started to roll back, slowly at first, then picking up speed. A sound blared into the silence, cutting through the air and dopplering away as a dark shape shot past them. Headlights made everything brilliant; then it was gone. Cass stamped on the brake once more.

‘Mu-
um
,’ Ben complained. His face was closed again,
the way it had been when they started this journey. The way he had been since Cass had told him his father wasn’t coming back.

‘Sorry.’ Cass checked the mirror, seeing only a solid grey wall. She eased down on the accelerator, going forward this time. Despite this, the car slowed again. Cass accelerated harder but the car stopped anyway and she let out her breath.

‘Mum, stop messing about.’

The car rocked on its wheels and rolled back. Cass braked heavily, leaning forward, gripping the wheel and staring out at the road. It felt as though something was pushing them, but there was nothing: only that dip, a round, natural bowl as though a giant football had landed in soft earth.

She accelerated until the engine roared and suddenly the car was free and shot forward.

Ben made an exasperated sound and crossed his arms, turning to stare out of the window.

‘Sorry,’ Cass said. ‘I don’t know what that was.’

‘You’re doing it.’

‘No – it must have been the wind or something.’ Cass’ heart raced. Her hands felt slippery on the wheel. It hadn’t felt like the wind.

Her son remained silent.

The car navigated the dip – the
rise
, Cass reminded herself – and the fog closed in once more, swallowing sound, swallowing the road save for a grey strip in front of the car and the tufts of grass that marked the edge.

Cass tried to decide whether they were going uphill or down, but it took all her concentration to follow the curves of the road. The white wall of fog drew back as the car approached, permitting them a narrow space into which they could see, and closed again behind them. It deadened everything. Cass listened for the steady hum of the car, but it only seemed to be there when she tried to hear it. The fog was a visible silence.

She hadn’t seen another car in a long time.

Ben wriggled in his seat. ‘Are we still on the moor? I don’t like it.’

‘Yes,’ Cass replied, and wondered how she knew that was true. ‘It can’t be much longer.’

She kept her eyes on the road. It was like floating. It reminded her of one of Ben’s video games: she was driving a racing car and the road was nothing but two short lines in front of the stub of a bonnet. It had been impossible to stay between them.

‘What’s that?’ asked Ben. He wriggled in his seat and turned to the window. Cass glanced over to see his breath spreading on the pane, fog coming out of his body and into the car.

‘Don’t,’ she said, and then thought,
Why not?

Ben raised a hand and spread it on the glass. Each finger left a dark smudge in the mist. He pressed his face to the window.

‘What is it? Ben?’

‘I thought … Nothing,’ he said, slumping back into the seat. ‘It’s nothing.’

Cass turned back to the road. The fog retreated as the
car went onwards, headlights shining on its white wall, making it look solid. She was still shuffling in her seat as it seemed to dissolve, showing its true nature after all – nothing but droplets of water suspended in the air, a shifting translucent thing. The centre of it curled in on itself, revealing something dark in its heart.

Cass saw a figure standing in the road, its arms held out. There were no features, only shadow.

In that instant Cass remembered the murders that had happened thirty, forty years before. There were murdered children buried on these moors. Had they all been found? She couldn’t remember. She also had no time to think. Even while the idea of lost children formed in her mind she slammed on the brakes and hauled on the wheel. The car slewed and rocked, and then the wheels gripped and she jolted to a stop. Ben jerked forward, was caught by his seatbelt and thrown back into his seat. He didn’t complain this time.

Cass and Ben stared at each other. His face was white. Cass imagined her own was too.

She glanced in the rear-view mirror. The fog was lurid in her brake lights, pressing in close. If another car came along … She looked out to the side. It was impossible to tell how far across the road she’d finished up.

A rattle made her catch her breath. Ben cried out and Cass turned to see a face peering in at his window. Ben leaned away from it, his small arm pressing against Cass’ body. She reached out and drew him in.

A tap on the glass. There was a flash of a hand curled up: not a fist, but the casual shape someone might make
when knocking on a door, the knuckle of the index finger protruding.
Tap tap tap
. There was a large ring on the middle finger, something with leaves and flowers in brightly coloured stones.

Tap tap tap
.

‘Ben,’ said Cass, ‘wind the window down.’ He pressed up against her and she remembered she could control the passenger window from her side. She put one arm more firmly around her son and felt for the button with the other. There was a loud
whirr
and tendrils of fog snaked in, bringing cold, damp air.

‘Thank goodness,’ a voice said. ‘Thank you so much for stopping.’ The figure bent and the face resolved into a woman’s, her dark curls frizzed by the moist air. ‘I’m Sally,’ she said. ‘Are you going to Darnshaw?’

‘We’d better get moving,’ Sally said. ‘You don’t want somebody running into the back of you. It’s a bad place to stop.’

Cass prevented herself from shooting a hard glance at the woman. Sally was in the passenger seat. Cass had kissed the top of Ben’s head and got him to jump into the back, where he was crammed in amid a pile of luggage. Now the woman’s dark oilskin coat filled the space. When she’d climbed in, Cass saw she was wearing boots with fur around the top. One of them looked soaked, as though she had stepped into a bog. There was a smell too, which pervaded the car. Her hair was wet, and her face and voluminous coat were damp and shining.

‘Sorry if I gave you a scare,’ said Sally. ‘I’ve broken down further back along the road.’

‘Oh,’ said Cass. ‘I didn’t see a car.’

‘It’s pulled into a lay-by.’

Cass hadn’t seen a lay-by either, but she didn’t say so. She could have passed within inches of the woman’s car and not seen it. The lay-by could merely have been a break in the tufts of grass edging the road, maybe not even that.

‘There’s no mobile phone signal up here – I’m lucky you came along. It’s a long walk home.’ Sally laughed. ‘Sharp left bend coming up.’ She went on in this way, punctuating her conversation with directions, and Cass picked up speed. Was it so obvious she didn’t know the road?

‘You’re into the S-bends soon,’ Sally said. ‘We’ll be dropping down towards the village.’ She twisted around. ‘I’ve a son about your age,’ she said to Ben.

He didn’t reply. After a moment Cass said, ‘Does he go to the Grange School?’

Sally smiled. ‘You’re the lady who’s taken a place in Foxdene Mill, aren’t you?’

‘That’s right.’
Small world
. Word had spread already.

‘Yes, Damon goes to the Grange. All the kids in Darnshaw go there. It gets good results.’

‘I heard. It’s one of the reasons I came back.’

‘Back?’

‘I lived here for a while, when I was a child.’

‘How lovely.’

‘What’s Mrs Cambrey like?’

‘Sorry?’

‘Mrs Cambrey. The head. She sounded really nice on the phone.’

‘She is – yes, she is lovely.’ There was something in Sally’s voice.

Cass glanced at her. ‘I have a meeting with her on Monday.’

‘Of course.’ Sally’s voice brightened. ‘Well, I’m sure she’ll be delighted to see you both. I am. It’s very quiet in Darnshaw. It’s time we had some new blood.’

They fell silent as Cass negotiated the bends. The road had indeed begun to snake down, edged by a steep bank on one side and a high stone wall on the other. Anything else was lost in the fog – but then the car popped out of it and the view spread around them. It was like emerging from a doorway. Cass glanced in the rear-view mirror and saw the fog as a solid line across the road. Ben twisted in his seat to look at it.

‘That’s strange,’ said Cass. ‘It’s stopped, just like that.’

Sally didn’t look around. ‘It happens like that sometimes. It gathers on the tops. When you drop down a bit it’s as clear as day. Look!’ She pointed. A pheasant stood on the wall. Beyond it was orange bracken, darkened by recent rain, and a few pines growing at a sharp angle. From the corner of her eye Cass thought she saw pale light flashing on water, but it was too late; it had already gone.

Cass remembered something. ‘Sally,’ she said, ‘you know the road further back – it looks like it dips down, like a big bowl.’

Her passenger was silent.

‘We stopped there. It looked like we were going downhill, only we weren’t. We were going uphill all the time. Do you know the place?’

Other books

Home: A Stranded Novel by Shaver, Theresa
Manly Wade Wellman - Novel 1952 by Wild Dogs of Drowning Creek (v1.1)
The Anatomy of Dreams by Chloe Benjamin
Midnight Dolphin by James Carmody
The Menagerie #2 by Tui T. Sutherland
The Good Provider by Jessica Stirling
The Cure by Teyla Branton