My rucksack sat heavy on my back, weighing me down.
Sabrina walked next to me, hunched over by the weight of her own luggage.
The sky was a mellow shade of light blue, swept with soft swathes of white cloud.
The path ahead of us stretched forever, a slight upwards incline adding extra strain to our journey.
‘Wait up a sec, I’m gonna check Maps again.’
‘Forget that, Google Maps is awful… we’ve been through this, Ezra.’
‘How do you figure?’
‘Well, it’s got us here for starts.’
I shed the rucksack from my back, sending it thudding into the dirt.
Sabrina did the same, her entire body rising and falling with a sigh.
I stood for a moment, letting the temperate air of late summer caress my skin.
Ash trees towered above us.
The trees always felt taller in Cornwall.
Sabrina dropped to sit on her rucksack.
Her chest was pulsating with heavy breathing.
If I didn’t do something soon she was going to start crying.
I opened up Google Maps, desperately willing GPS to place a blue dot with which to navigate.
A bead of sweat crawled down my forehead.
Sabrina sighed again.
Still no GPS.
Two weeks of camping had left my body loose, but I could feel the familiar roots of tension building once again.
The GPS somehow configured, finally laying down a marker.
‘The GPS is working!’
‘Google Maps is useless – I already said.’
I stared at the blue dot.
It was marked in a field of green, nowhere near any conceivable path.
‘We have to keep going.’
Sabrina didn’t respond.
She didn’t even look at me.
‘Come on Sab, we have to keep going.’
Still, no response.
I gritted my teeth, letting out a whispered curse to the heavens.
Trying not to let my discomfort show, I hauled my rucksack back onto my shoulders.
Its straps cut into my skin, causing my legs to buckle.
‘Come on. We have to keep going.’
Sabrina let her soft face fall into her hands.
Her cheeks were red with strain.
A teardrop came crawling down, settling next to her lip.
I looked back at my phone, dumbly waiting for a road to appear across that damn dot.
With little choice, I started to walk onwards.
I could feel Sabrina behind me, simmering.
I’d walked almost a hundred yards before stopping.
I looked back at her as she slowly heaved the rucksack back onto her shoulders.
Then she started walking.
Grey houses started to appear where there were once trees and bushes.
A field of cows.
A milk float.
A shrine complete with an ornate stone crucifix.
Sabrina had steadily picked up pace.
Now she was only a few steps behind me.
In the distance I could hear rhythmic voices chanting.
I paused for a second, letting Sabrina catch up to my side.
My body felt empty.
My feet were aching in my shoes.
‘I think we’re nearly there.’
Sabrina nodded ruefully.
She wasn’t crying anymore.
A seagull hovered above us, cackling, taunting.
I laid a hand on Sabrina’s shoulder, a gesture which felt oddly platonic.
‘Come on then – last stretch.’
As we continued to walk the voices began to get louder.
I followed them, hoping they led to some kind of civilization.
I began to make out words.
I turned a corner, skirting round a gloomy looking farmhouse.
A sign appeared: ‘welcome to Lizareth.’
‘We made it!’
Sabrina responded with that same rueful nod.
I felt somewhat indignant, feeling as though I deserved more credit for our passage.
‘I wonder where that singing is coming from’.
We continued down the road until we came to what I assumed to be the town centre.
A crowd of people stood around a Catholic monument.
A stone Jesus watched down on us with customary mournful sorrow.
The chanters were dressed in strange black and white outfits, frilly, covered in odd stitching.
They stood in formation, chanting a song in unison:
Out on those high seas
Our boys wouldn’t fail
That great white whale!
They’d keep their path
If the decking splintered
Across the waves
In summer or winter
The path stays true
Beyond the pale
Till they harpoon and haul
That great white whale!
I stood and watched, fatigue casting me into a state of hypnosis.
At some point, I was aware, I’d have to track down our inn for the night, The Cutlers Arms.
For now though, I was catching my breath, taking in the surreal sight.
A sullen looking old man sat on the pavement pensively observing the spectacle.
Every now and again he’d let out a few rasping coughs.
Other than him and the chanters, the town square was empty.
Sabrina, clearly entertained by the scene, seemed more settled.
My body began to relax.
I could have stood there for hours.
Still, I didn’t want to tempt fate, so, after a couple more minutes, I headed over to the old man to try and track down our abode for the night.
‘Excuse me, mate. You wouldn’t know the whereabouts of The Cutlers Arms would you?’
The old man looked at me, a glint of moisture glistening in his faded eyes.
‘The Cutlers Arms? Sure I know it. We’re just round the corner. I could take you there if you’d like?’
‘That would be… amazing. My girlfriend is just over there… we’ve been walking all day, I really appreciate this.’
The three of us walked down a side road, flanked by those same ubiquitous grey houses.
It only took us a couple minutes to reach The Cutlers Arms.
The exterior of the place was inviting, made of a tasteful blend of brick and wood.
We stepped inside, instantly smelling the homely aroma of oak and beer.
The decor was atmospheric, full of local cultural artefacts.
A stag’s head.
A model of a gig.
Sketches of strange sprites and spirits.
We’d largely walked in silence, but now the old man took the opportunity to speak up.
‘Well folks, I’m Charlie. I usually have a few beers here, so go and get settled and come and say hello. That’s Mickey on the bar, he’ll tell you what you need to know.’
‘Thanks, Charlie. You’re a hero. You really are.’
Sabrina finally mustered a smile.
I shook Charlie’s wrinkled, weathered hand, and sauntered up to the bar.
Mickey was an overweight thirty something year old with long wavy hair and stubble dotted around his bulbous neck.
‘Evening folks – can I have a look at your booking?’
I looked on blankly.
‘That’ll be on an email we sent you.’
I flashed a look of recognition and took out my phone.
It felt weird to flick through gmail in such an antiquated space.
Wooden beams held the structure, a healthy looking fire cast an orange glow across the green and blue patterned carpeting.
I showed Mickey our booking.
‘Standard or premium?’
‘The booking? Oh, I’m not sure. My parents sorted it for us.’
Mickey took my phone and began to scroll.
‘Premium. That includes a meal on us. It’s steak or lobster tonight – that OK?’
I eagerly nodded, trying unsuccessfully to mask my pathetic gratitude.
‘Yours is room 6. Drop off your bags and we’ll see you back down here.’
Our room was simply put together, tidy, cosy, structured with the same wooden beams I’d seen downstairs.
Sabrina put her rucksack down on the freshly made bed and let out a sharp exhale.
‘Well, this is nice.’
‘Ah, so she does talk.’
She raised a caustic eyebrow.
‘Don’t try your luck, mister.’
After letting my own bag sprawl across the carpet, I gently lowered Sabrina onto the bed.
We cuddled, lapping up the comfort of each other’s tired body.
‘Steak dinner, ay. How about that?’
Sabrina grinned from ear to ear.
Just when everything seemed to sweeten, ensconced in our intimacy, a chilling creek sounded from the floorboards.
‘What was that?’ Said Sabrina.
‘I’m sure it’s… nothing.’
The creek sounded again, cutting through the stillness of the air.
Sabrina sat up, listening for more.
I did the same.
The sound seemed to have abated.
‘Come on, let’s eat some steak.’
We returned to the toasty dining room.
Charlie was sitting by himself, nursing a pint of ale.
Sabrina and I made easy conversation, me over a beer, her over a gin and tonic.
After a short wait Mickey bought us two steaming plates of steak with roast potato, shallots, stem broccoli, and pools of dark brown gravy.
We fell into silence, indulging in the sweet morsels of tender meat.
By the time we’d finished my core was adorned with a satisfying warmth.
‘Well… that was pretty damn good.’
‘Why did you say it like that? Pretty damn good. You sound like you’re in a Hollywood movie.’
I shrugged and hit Sabrina with a goofy grin.
A rasping cough sounded from the corner, reminding me of Charlie’s presence.
I lowered my tone.
‘We should say hi to Charlie… just to say thanks.’
‘Urm… Ok. Don’t you think he’s a little scary?’
‘Don’t be rude. Come on, we have to.’
I pulled up a couple chairs next to Charlie and introduced myself.
‘Hiya… Charlie, was it? I’m Ezra and this is Sabrina. I just wanted to thank you for your help.’
‘No worries at all. It’s quiet around here. It’s nice to see some young faces now and then.’
‘What’s that accent, if you don’t mind me asking?’
‘London. I’m from Millwall. Never spent much time there though.’
Charlie swigged his beer again before letting out another rasping cough.
‘… I was a van driver my whole life, y’know. Never spent much time in any one place.’
Mickey came over and placed another frosty lager on our table.
I took a sip, the beer tasted cool, hopsy, and refreshing.
‘Wow. Sounds like hard work.’
‘Hard work it was, son. That’s how I found myself here. I appreciate the… quieter side of life.’
‘Those singers outside were quite a sight, no? What was all that about?’
‘Morris dancers, they were. We’re actually in the middle of the summer celebrations. Today was shanty day. All shipwrecks and fair skinned English lasses. Not really my thing, but it makes them happy… you like football?’
‘Sure. Villa till I die.’
Charlie placed a hand on the top of his vest and pulled down the hem to reveal a faded lion tattoo roaring from the white carpet of his aged chest.
‘Millwall boy. As I said, never spent too much time there, but I know where I’m from.’
I glanced over at Sabrina.
She was absently gazing into the darkness of the window.
We went silent.
‘Wow… that’s quite a tattoo.’
An element of awkwardness settled in the air.
I readied myself to leave, but before I could get up that same creaking sound came cutting through the air.
Mickey, who had been polishing pint glasses behind the bar, looked up at the ceiling, an unnerving look of concern plastered on his fat face.
Charlie chuckled to himself again.
‘Wanna know what that is? I bet you do.’
‘Yeah, we heard it up in our room… I thought it was nothing.’
‘Nothing? That’s far from nothing young man.’
Mickey was still looking up at the ceiling.
‘That, that is what we call The Final Terror.’
Sabrina, for the first time since joining Charlie, looked in his direction, holding back laughter.
I felt embarrassed for Charlie, but he seemed unperturbed.
‘You must think I’m silly… a mad old man. I’m not. Everyone knows about The Final Terror ‘round here.’
‘What is it? What does it do?’
‘It doesn’t do much. It just sits. It follows. It’s inescapable.’
‘What is it, though? A poltergeist or something, a ghoul?’
Charlie drained the last of his ale.
‘It’s not a poltergeist. It’s The Final Terror. Nothing more, nothing less.’
Charlie’s face had soured into something of a scowl.
‘… not nice, is it? That creaking. You wouldn’t understand, just staying here for the night. But that creaking is everywhere, all ‘round Lizareth. It’s constant. Nobody can place it. No one has found the source.’
Sabrina placed a gentle hand on my shoulder.
‘Come on, baby, I’m tired, let’s go back upstairs.’
I looked back at Charlie one more time.
‘Nobody knows what it is? Surely somebody has some kind of idea… some suspicion.’
His expression was impenetrable, not particularly resentful, but not friendly either.
‘Ezra… please.’ Sabrina tugged my sleeve.
‘Well… not everybody seems as bothered by it… it affects some worse than others. If you’re of a particularly vulnerable… temperament… it can be bad. Troubled nights, son… very troubled nights.’
‘How often does it happen? This creak… this ‘Final Terror?’’
‘I suppose you’ll just have to wait and see, won’t you?’
I focused on Charlie’s glazed eyes, trying to glean some kind of insight into his motives.
Was this all some kind of hoax? The bored ramblings of a retiree with nothing left to live for?
Mickey rang a hand bell behind the bar, sending a metallic jangle echoing into the pub’s shadowy corners.
‘Last orders folks! Last orders now!’
‘Well… it was nice to meet you two. You sleep well now… try and sleep well.’
Sabrina was already halfway upstairs.
I gave Charlie’s clammy hand one last squeeze.
‘Thanks… for everything. Sleep well.’
I sprawled out on the bed.
The plump duvet felt impossibly soft underneath my tired back.
Sabrina emerged from the bathroom, her hair up in a bun, dressed only in a green kimono.
Metal piping was still hissing furiously from the heat of the shower.
She strolled up to the side of the bed and dropped the gown, giving me a flash of her naked body before burying herself under the covers.
I nuzzled my face in her hair, pressing myself into her.
My hand rested on her knee before slowly drifting up the roundness of her thigh.
I guzzled a greedy breath and kissed her on the cheek.
My hand continued to rise, lingering just next to the area between her legs.
‘Not tonight. I’m tired.’
I let my hand fall back to her knee.
‘… and no sulking either. We can do it another night.’
‘Wouldn’t dream of it.’
I laid onto my back and stared up at the wooden beams on the ceiling.
Sabrina reached for a paperback on the bedside table and started to read.
We laid in silence as I lost track of time.
Eventually she lent over and turned off the bedside lamp, leaving us in darkness.
‘Night, hun. I love you.’
I took in the room’s heavy atmosphere, static and unflinching.
‘Do you think it’s true? The Final Terror.’
Sabrina didn’t respond.
‘Ezra. I’m trying to sleep.’
Soon, my girlfriend was deep in slumber.
I just lay there.
Staring into the darkness.
Dylan notes: “I am a young short fiction writer from the UK. My writing utilises the natural idiosyncrasies of UK culture to create narratives engaging in their weirdness and offbeat tone. I am influenced by Marianna Enriquez, HP Lovecraft, and Brian Evenson. I am writing constantly, my main ambition being to share the colour of my vivid imagination with anyone who cares to listen.”
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