By C.P. Webster
Lost in the Welsh boondocks
slanted down, blotting out any obvious landmarks and reducing visibility to a
meagre thirty feet. Mike crunched the old Volvo into second, muttering curses
and stomping on the clutch.
As the old car
crawled up the tiny potholed road, the driver frantically snatched glimpses out
of the streaming windows, hoping for a clue that he was on the right track. But
the too-close grey stone walls that edged him in and the rocking and shaking of
the road forced Mike to focus all of his fraying concentration on the gloomy
obscurity in front of him.
Two miles and half
an hour of bumpy frustration later the track forked. At the junction was a road
sign. Battered by fierce mountain winds and now swinging and dripping on a
single rusted wire, the sign seemed to offer little in the way of guidance.
Mike squinted in an effort to read the words on the bent, moving metal, but to
no avail. Resigning himself to a good soaking, he felt for the flashlight on
the passenger seat. The Rent-a-Car rep had insisted that the American take his
personal ‘torch’ for ‘emergencies’, perhaps it was to make up for no satnav
thought bitterly, “what a holiday this is turning out to be.”
The world outside
the warm car was an overwhelming ocean of grey. There was an almost metallic
tinge to the dullness, as if all color had been leached away and Mike had
fallen into a monochrome world. Not for the first time did he wish he had taken
the time-tested route to the Catskills with Gerry. Never mind that Gerry earned
twice as much as he did, or that Gerry constantly reminded Mike of that fact, and
was as irritating as hell. Even the company of his erstwhile brother-in-law was
preferable to this.
Mike lay a hand on
the door handle, then withdrew it, reaching instead for the battered hip flask
that lay inside his breast pocket. Thoughts of Gerry always made Mike want to
drink. Taking a long pull, he relaxed back into the seat. Only once, in all the
years that he and Gerry had been fishing in the Catskills, had the weather been
anywhere near this foul. Then they’d had the comfort of the Happy Days Lodge
where the bar always seemed open and the beer was cheap. But Mike had decided
to make this year different.
“Are you kidding?!”
Gerry had exclaimed when Mike told him. “Wales? What the hell do you want to do
Mike had explained,
but Gerry still didn’t get it. Mike told him again, told him about why it was
important to him to find out about his ancestors. He had a Welsh surname,
Maddox, and given time who knew what he might turn up? Mike had done a little
research, spent a few bucks, tracked down family records, and located a likely
area. Besides, he had always wanted to visit Europe.
Gerry had thought
Mike was mad and told him, “If you ask me it’s a complete waste of time and
money. This is because of the divorce from my worthless sister, isn’t it? For
Christ’s sake, Mike, take my advice, forget Wales!”
That had settled
it. Mike booked his ticket.
But from the moment
he had arrived in Wales things had gone wrong. First, his train from the
airport was cancelled due to ‘industrial action’ and he had been forced to pay
a small fortune for a taxi ride to his hotel. Then, the Hotel Glendower in
Tregeder did not have a reservation in Mike’s name, a clerical error he was
assured. Mike had been forced to wait for two hours in the hotel lobby before
the irritable desk clerk found him a room. The next day the Rent-a-Car people
only had an ancient Volvo for hire which cost double what it was worth. Dire
warnings about leaving a bad online review had no effect on these people. Now,
two days later and several hundred dollars shorter, he was here—lost in the
wildest, wettest, most depressing mountains he had ever seen.
Mike looked at his
cellphone in forlorn hope. No signal. He roughly pushed it back into his coat
silver flask, Mike reached for the handle once more. Making a finger at the sky
he steeled himself, opened the door, and clambered out. The rain, soaking,
drenching, feeling with icy rivulets for any exposed skin, dissolved the last
of Mike’s tenacious romanticism.
trudged over to the corroded sign and shone the flashlight at it. He frowned as
he tried to read the words. “Onfi Ys Coed… What the hell does that mean? Is it
a name or a direction?”
He shone the torch
about him. Left or right? Shrugging
he turned back to the car. As he reached for the handle he froze. Far off, but
uncannily distinct, came the mournful howl of…a wolf? Mike opened the door and
flopped inside. Christ, he thought, why
the hell am I so spooked? I hear the
wind, or some poor farm mutt, and I start thinking goddamn Transylvania!
berated himself and started the engine. Slowly and deliberately he steered the
unwilling machine down the left-hand, gray-walled, narrow track into the
The rain still
fell, the monotony of its thrumming presence broken only by the jolts and bumps
of the car’s creeping progress. Mike gritted his teeth as the suspension
creaked and groaned and was beginning to think of simply stopping and sleeping
in the car. Then a distant light gave him sudden hope, and he reached once more
for his hip flask. Taking a good swig of the rye, he held the car steady to the
On the hill the black dog waited. Standing
as tall as a calf, it bore the brunt of the wind and lashing rain in obedient
howled across from the west; like a malevolent spirit it shouted and mourned
through the ancient and eroded mountains. On the wind’s breath the dog heard
its summons, and from the wind’s music the black dog learned what to do.
Howling once more, the beast set off for the lake.
on the door again.
“Come on, come
on,” he muttered. He was soaked from head to toe, his feet squelched inside his
shoes, and water was running down inside the collar of his coat.
Within the old
farmhouse a wan light appeared. Mike sighed in relief and waited for the door
to open. Instead, he heard a tentative voice questioning from behind the thick
oak of the door. Unable to make out what he was being asked he raised his own
voice in reply.
“Hey, open up! I
can’t hear you! I need help…”
Suddenly, the door
swung inwards, and Mike was kissing the end of ancient and none too steady
shotgun. He felt his bladder contract. Then the figure behind the barrel
motioned him slowly into the entrance. Gradually the gun lowered.
“What do you want,
English?” The farmer was a short man, as grey and weathered as the hills where
the farmhouse sat. His Welsh accent was strong and guttural.
Mike studied the deeply lined face and then glanced around. Besides the hurricane
lamp now resting on a nail in the wall the room was in darkness. He saw the dim
outline of large, old-fashioned furniture and a plain crucifix hung on the
Recovering some of
his dignity now that the gun was lowered, Mike felt a spasm of anger. “What the
hell are you trying to pull here, eh?”
“What do you
want?” came the repeated question.
Shaking his head,
Mike tried to explain. “I’m lost; I’ve been driving for what feels like hours
and I can’t seem to get out of these goddamn hills.”
The farmer nodded
him inside and shut the door. Mike followed the old man and his lamp through a
narrow hallway into a small but cozy parlor. A bright fire burned in the grate
and there was a pop song playing on the radio interspersed with clicks and
crackles from the mounting storm.
Conscious of how
wet he was, Mike did not sit and was not invited to do so.
The old man
regarded the interloper warily. Mike, chilled to the bone, desperately wanted
to get closer to the fire. So much for
Celtic hospitality, he thought bitterly.
After a long and
uncomfortable silence, the old man finally spoke. “I have a map. Wait here,
The farmer lit a
candle and, holding it aloft, left the room. Mike was surprised but relieved by
the absence. He moved closer to the fire seeking the heat and light. A low
growling warned him not to move again. The sheepdog was as grey and worn as his
master and, judging by the growls, equally unfriendly. Mike stayed still as the
dog stretched itself impudently by the fire, keeping one eye fixed firmly on
returned his attention to the semi-lit room. The place was old, and Mike
wondered if the farmer was the inheritor of a homestead farmed by the man’s
father and grandfather before him. Wooden beams supported a low ceiling and
lonely spiders spun unmolested in the darkest corners. The fireplace was huge,
seeming far too large for such a small room. He also noticed that, apart from
the light of the flickering flames, there was only the old oil lantern for
illumination—no electricity then, an isolated home for the old man.
Mike guessed the farmer lived there
alone, a state he could sympathize with. Debra had left him months before and
the divorce papers had finally come through. He tried to shut that memory out;
it still hurt too much. A cold draught from beneath the door reminded him of
the fearsome conditions outside and brought his wandering thoughts back to the
“Here we are,
Mike jumped, surprised.
The old farmer stood behind him holding out a torn and faded road map. The
Welshman pointed to a near invisible white line surrounded by close-packed
“This is the road
you are on,” the farmer tapped the line with a gnarled finger. “Leave here and
turn left, keep going until you meet this road here…” he traced the line with a
cracked and blackened fingernail. “When you come to this track turn left.
If you go right, you will end up on the mountain, and you don’t want to be
there tonight. There will be a mist—the Cŵn Annwn is abroad…”
Mike frowned. “Say
mist up there,” the farmer reiterated sharply. “Keep on this road…and you
should get to Troedyraur alright; from there it’s a straight run to Tregeder.”
Before Mike could
raise any questions, the old man was shepherding him to the door.
could I just…”
The front door
closed in Mike’s face. “Thanks a lot,” he called sarcastically as the rain and
wind buffeted him once more. “Real nice to meet you; thanks for the tea…” He
turned, fumbling in his pocket for the car keys.
As the car pulled
out of the rutted unkempt lane, he noticed an old wooden name plate screwed to
the open gate. He squinted and read it as he passed slowly by. “Alec Maddoc…
Maddoc! Jeez!” Mike exclaimed, “You’re
probably a goddamn cousin!” Revving the Volvo, he turned left and began to
crawl up the narrow road.
the edge of the lake the mist had reached
the shore. Like a huge clinging blanket, it rolled in argent gleams, enveloping
the hills around the water. The lake, however, remained clear, as if the mist
recoiled from touching the glassy surface. The moon, rising full and bright,
shone its sharp, clear, cold light over the placid waters, turning their
quicksilver depths into a forbidding, bitterly beautiful realm.
On the far shore a great black shape emerged like a phantom
from the dense vapors. The black dog sniffed eagerly at the water’s surface and
moaned softly. Then, padding forward on its great paws, the beast quickly
circled the lake, sniffing in excitement, its eyes burning brightly in the
dimness. Slowly, so slowly, it stopped and raised its head to the moon above.
Shuddering, it howled pitifully into the immense dome of the night sky where
the moon now hung like a shining silver disc. The cry went on and on until it
seemed that it would wring the stars out of the eternity above.
Its call finally ended, the black dog turned and was once
more swallowed up by the mist.
The moon hung unmoved above the scene, yet, somehow, its
intensity was enhanced. A shimmering breeze brushed the surface of the water,
disturbing it for the first time, and in the air hung a breathless expectation.
junction Mike pulled the car to a shuddering halt.
“Ah crap!” he
swore. “This really does it.”
He sat for a
moment staring in disbelief at the collapsed tree that now spanned the
left-hand way. Lightning flashed across the sky, and he could see there was no
way he was going any further on that route. He looked to the track on the
“This road must
lead somewhere, and even if there is a mist on the freaking mountain it will be
a whole lot better than sitting here freezing my butt off.”
He turned the car
slowly to the right and ground the lever into a lower gear. Ponderously, the
car began to climb the steeper right-hand way. Mike bit his lip at the painful
sounds coming from the engine and winced as the car crashed and banged along
the potholed road. He began to wonder if it might have been better to have gone
back to the farm, but there was no way to turn around and he knew the farmer
would not welcome his return.
Mike glanced at
the gas, but it was still at half. He was sure there would be enough to get him
well over the mountain and back to civilization. What’s more, as he climbed the
steep gradient, the rain seemed to be slackening, though the wind felt as
powerful as ever. As the car went higher the high sides of the mountain rose
around him. Grey and bare cliffs towered over the tiny creeping box of the car
as it ground its way along a passage that was fast becoming a vague rock-strewn
track. He looked nervously up at the precipices that rose about him and his
unease grew. But Mike pushed the Volvo on.
rolled down to meet the interloper; the wind seemed to have no obvious effect
on the wall of mist that flowed down from the top of the mountain.
As the car crashed
on, Mike’s anxiety grew until, at last, the car finally nosed its way into the
denseness of the fog before him. Then, Mike felt an unaccountable sense of
release, as if the cloak that now concealed him might also protect him. He
shook his head and reached for the hip flask once more. The silver flask was
nearly empty; the usually calming alcohol ran cold in his veins. Mike vowed he
would offer up a silent prayer of thanks once he was safely back in his hotel
But the mist only
grew denser and Mike’s speed dropped to a bare crawl. At a snail’s pace, he
persevered up the dim way while transparent specters grasped insubstantially at
the car’s sides. Dimly glimpsed shapes passed slowly on either side of the
beleaguered car, dark and light, gray shadows and shades, crowding around the
Mike craned closer
to the steering wheel, trying to penetrate the murky depths of the dancing
phantoms before him. The wipers scraped to and fro in pointless resistance to
the vapors that smothered the car. The mist went on forever, and Mike began to
believe that he would never see an end to it, caught in a twilight world, an
eternal gray limbo that led to nowhere and meant nothing, a meaningless end
after an unfulfilled life…
His mind swept
back over the wasted years, the nine to five drudgery, the childless marriage,
the rut that had become a robotic routine alleviated increasingly by pills and
alcohol—props that had promised to console him but that had ultimately enslaved
him. In the end these had not been enough, but Mike had hoped to find change.
This trip was the start of something new: to find his roots, find meaning to
his life, and discover a future from a past that he did not know. Burying
himself in the search for his ancestors had at first given him new energy, even
at times exhilaration. He remembered the optimism he had felt on the long
flight over the Atlantic, how he had even flirted with the flight attendants.
That all seemed like another life now. The darkness had returned. His quest,
his search for meaning against a pressing wall of nihilism seemed destined to
take him nowhere—a fool’s errand for a fool.
Mike shook his head,
trying to break the dark spell that seeped into his mind, to avoid the sleep
that tried to press his eyelids shut. He knew that the cold air of the night
would soon waken him, but felt strangely unwilling to open the window even a
crack. He gripped the wheel in desperate determination, forcing his
concentration on the road in front of him.
The road leads to nowhere…the end….You don’t want to be
there tonight….There’ll be a mist….What the hell do you want to do in Wales? There’ll
be a mist…a mist…mist…
slammed on the brakes and stalled the engine. He reached for the window and
jerked it open. With a sigh of release the cold night air rushed in. Mike let
it caress his leaden eyes and breathed a deep draft that immediately set his
heart pumping and banished the cobwebs of sleep.
Then from nowhere
the voices in his mind returned and Mike thought he would go crazy. The dark
mood numbed him. No…no…no!
He knew the voices
were just in his head because he was tired, had drunk too much, and had doubled
his medication. He wasn’t mad—Mike Maddox was NOT nuts! Then he could picture
faces: friends shaking their heads, putting it down to the divorce and a
too-heavy workload. He could hear his landlady’s voice telling the neighbors
she had always suspected something…
Mike picked up the
flask and drained it. The rye whiskey tasted bland on his parched, sandpaper
together Mike,” he gasped aloud.
Mike needed to
escape this mist. Ever since he had been driving in it, he had felt suffocated,
claustrophobic. It was the mist that was doing this, he felt sure.
Then, as if in
response to his thoughts, the curtain parted in front of him and Mike saw the
lake. At first he thought it was another trick, another taunt of madness and,
as he stared at the unruffled surface of glass, he truly believed for the
briefest of moments that he was falling, falling into a place beyond reach,
With an effort he
focused his eyes, slapped his face. Mike knew he was not mad—the lake was real.
He had stalled the car barely ten feet from the edge of the still waters. He
let out a deep sigh and began to shake when he thought how close he had been to
driving into those depths. The water looked deep and mysterious, both inviting
The mist was all
around the car, but the way to the lake was clear before him. Mike opened the
door. He felt like a child entering a forbidden room, or an explorer
desecrating the taboo temple of a tribal god. The view was awe-inspiring, a
long thin stretch of water shining in the light of the full moon.
Mike’s damp shoes
pressed noisily on the rattling stones of the shore as he stumbled forwards.
Somewhere deep inside of him a warning knell sounded, but it was muted,
deadened. Mike paused for a moment, a vague look of puzzlement crossing his
blunt, unshaven features. He looked back and saw the car fading away into
the greedy embrace of the mist. Mike had left the headlights on, but their
light was wavering and dying. He tried to shake his head, took a step towards
the car, but it was lost. Shaking, Mike reached down and picked up a large
rock. Something was coming, he could feel it. He turned his back to the water
and faced the mist.
First came the
It was sweet, so
lulling that Mike felt a huge wave of nostalgia flow over him. It swirled and
twisted with the movement of the mist that lapped the lake shore. Memories
came, his memories so near, yet so distant. Then other memories came that were
forgotten until that moment. He remembered pasts that had nothing to do with
his own life, but knew they were an intrinsic part of his being. He felt
carried away, part of something at last, something deep and wholesome and
important. Mike gripped the stone until his knuckles turned white…and then it
tumbled to the ground at his feet. His spirit soared as the music lifted him
with it—rising above the lake, above the mountain.
And then falling,
in slow motion, to the stony beach below and…Mike saw the black dog.
stared at the monstrous thing before him. There could be no doubt. The dog was
standing only yards away. Mike had never seen nor dreamt of anything like it.
The thing stared back at him with eyes that seemed to be blazing red in the
reflected light of the moon.
The black dog watched; it could feel the man’s mind raving.
It waited for a moment longer, then tensed, ready to spring.
Mike saw the dog
readying to leap, and cringed. He watched in horrified fascination as the lips
drew back from that monstrous maw in a horrendous snarl. Mike shut his eyes at
the sight of the gleaming teeth, and waited for the inevitable.
The black dog
Mike screamed, his
eyes flashing open despite himself. He fixed his gaze on the soaring monster.
The still waters
rose up. In a cascade of silvered crystal, the lake caught the dog in watery
arms and pulled it gently to its breast. The black dog sank beneath the surface
and the water closed above it without a ripple.
“Holy Mother of
God,” Mike whispered.
The mist hemmed
closer. Mike wondered where the car was. He stared about him wildly. The moon
was slipping behind the crags that ringed the lake.
Then the voices
returned—other voices, deeper voices. “Sleep….Come with us…home….Sleep….The
Gwragedd Annwn call you….Come…”
Mike turned to
face the lake. There he saw, or thought he saw, figures in the mist, beckoning
to him. Trancelike, he now staggered to the very edge of the fast-changing
waters. The formerly still surface danced with energy and the last of the
moonlight shivered madly on the surface.
For the first time
in his life Mike felt something akin to true release. All the burdens that had
lain so long gathering dust in the lumber rooms of his mind picked up their
mats and walked. A shining fire had kindled in his soul.
Opening his arms
wide and crying aloud, Mike launched himself into the water. The lake took him
in an infinite embrace.
As the song ended,
the lake vanished.
C.P. Webster, firstname.lastname@example.org,
of Llanafan, Aberystwyth, Wales, who wrote BP #90’s “Black Dog,” was born near
Liverpool, in Cheshire, England in 1965. In 1982 his family moved to South
Africa for his father’s work. In 1989 he graduated from art school there, and
afterwards lived and worked as a photographer and art lecturer in the
Johannesburg area for several years. In 1996 he was appointed lecturer in fine
art at Aberystwyth University’s School of Art and still lives and works in
Wales. Always passionate about horror and weird fiction, before commencing his
career as an artist and art lecturer, he had some early stories published in
genre magazines. He has now returned to this first love, writing.