It was midday, the sun’s yellow disc was high in the clear-blue, summer sky and it was sweltering. The heat burned into every cell of my body and mind. I could feel my back beneath my rucksack wet with sweat, and drops of it ran down my face from time to time. The grass beneath my walking boots was dry and brown, there’d been little rain for weeks. “I think we should take a break, it’s too hot.”
My girlfriend, Sara, turned to me. Her eyes were hidden by dark black sunglasses but her face was pink and beads of moisture covered her sunburned forehead. Dark pools stained her T-shirt under the armpits.
I looked around at the desolate moorland – parched grass with the odd brown rock, all that was visible to the horizon in every direction. There was no sign of life, no sheep, no birds, nothing.
“Look, we can go and rest on those rocks over there,” said Sara, pointing to a jumble of boulders in the far distance, off to one side. A haze of heat rose from the moorland before them, and my heart sank at the thought of walking so far out of our way. But we only had five miles to go to the next village, where we’d booked a room in a pub, and we had plenty of time to spare, in theory anyway. “OK, yeah, I might have a little nap too.”
“Not one of your two-hour ‘naps’ I hope,” she laughed.
As we approached the rocks, we were amazed to find a pool of clear water, perhaps the length of a train carriage in diameter, and deep, more than a man’s height in depth, by the looks of it. We could see square-shaped rocks, far down at the bottom, tinged with brown algae, but there were no reeds or any sign of life within the pool, just clumps of brown-green grass around its edges.
“Wow, this is amazing!”
Before I’d realised what was happening, the pink, naked form of Sara had plunged into the pool with flapping pale breasts and a huge splash.
“God, this is lovely, nice and cool!” She kicked out and swam backstroke across the pond to the rock face on the far side. I wished she would trim her pubic hair.
“Tom, come on. This is great!”
I looked around, no one in sight for miles. I stripped off, dumping my rucksack down with a feeling of hatred towards it. I tiptoed to the edge and gingerly stepped across a square brown rock. It was slippery with algae and I found myself losing balance. I tried to regain my stance but realising it was no good, jumped. The coldness of the water shocked me like an electric cattle prod as I sank down through the still depths. Looking up through shafts of golden sunlight, filtering down, I could see the bright blue sky through the water as if it were itself blue. I surfaced, gasping for breath. Sara was right by me, treading water, laughing. She put her arms around me and kissed me on the lips, poking her tongue into my mouth. There was an unusual, slightly sweet taste.
We splashed around for several minutes, then lay in the sun to dry off. “We must come here again,” I said.
Sara smiled. “It’s peaceful, mysterious too.”
We dressed and lay in the shade of some of the bigger rocks, where I soon drifted off to sleep.
“Tom, Tom.” Sara was pulling at me and whispering in my ear.
“Wh … what?” I didn’t want to wake up.
“Look, there’s something … a creature. You must see.”
I jolted awake. “What? Where?”
“On that big rock over there. Directly opposite. About four feet down.”
I looked to where she was subtly gesticulating. I couldn’t see anything. Was this some kind of joke? Then suddenly I saw it, a small brown figure crouching on a ledge in the rock. I guessed no more than a foot high. It wore a brown tunic and trousers, and its tawny face was topped with a pointed cap. It was too far away to see its eyes but I sensed it watching us with curiosity. I stood up, waving my arms. “Hey, hello!”
At that, the creature jumped into a gap between two rocks and was gone.
“You idiot, Tom, you frightened it.”
“What the hell was it?”
“It looked like some kind of pixie or imp!”
It was hard to disagree.
It was a beautiful summer’s evening when we arrived at our night’s lodging. The landlady was there to welcome us and made congratulatory noises about our day’s walking. “It’s been so hot and you’ve walked so far, across all that moorland too! Freshen up, my dears, and come and have a drink before your supper.”
We took a very welcome shower in our old-fashioned but well-appointed room. I was looking forward to getting my head down in the four-poster bed.
Soon we were back in a corner of the bar, fresh and clean, and the landlady brought over two glasses and a bottle of wine. “Complements of the house. Is white OK for you? It’s well chilled.”
We sat, sipping chardonnay, whilst she sat with us for a while, making small talk, occasionally glancing around to see if any of the other customers, few in number, needed attention. “It’s been the hottest day of the summer, they said on the news!”
“We went swimming in an old quarry on the moor,” said Sara. “To cool down. Do you know it?”
The landlady’s smile vanished and her expression became inscrutable. “Yes, it’s well known. Knocker Quarry. They worked it until, maybe fifty years ago.”
“Why did it close?” I asked.
“Well, there were so many accidents, no one would work there and it was sold. Then, a few years later, the new owner reopened it and they dug deeper. They hit an underground stream and it filled with water.”
“What happened then?” I asked.
“Well, the gentleman who hit the water was drowned and it’s stood as it is since. But ….” The landlady looked around, then lowered her voice. “But they say it’s haunted. Haunted by his ghost … and watched over by the little people. Any who swim in it … well, I may as well tell you … they say will be cursed. Women will be barren, and men infertile and money will slip through their fingers like sand. They’ll always be poor.” She brightened up and laughed, “But it’s OK, they say that’ll only happen if you actually make eye contact with one of the imps! Oh, excuse me, my dears, someone needs serving. Enjoy your wine and your food will be ready in half an hour.”
Sara and I looked at each other. Suddenly the wine seemed to taste sour.
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