A sketch in one scene by
ANNEA vigorous, no-nonsense country girl
BETHHer more delicate friend and fellow-student from the city
A hillside overlooking a rural valley
Peter D. Wilson
Seascale, October 2003
Copyright © 2004, 2016
(Anne enters briskly, looks behind, and calls to an unseen companion.)
BETH(Off) Give me a chance! I don’t spend all the year tramping the mountains like you.
ANNECall that a mountain? Barely a molehill. But you can take a rest here.
BETH(Entering wearily and finding a place to sit) Phew! Thank goodness!
ANNEThere! How’s that for a view?
BETHLet me get my breath back before I start admiring the scenery.
ANNEYou really ought to take more exercise. Get yourself into condition.
BETHDon’t you start. I hear enough of it from Dad.
ANNENot enough to get you out of the armchair, by the sound of it. The trouble is, you don’t appreciate the countryside.
BETHYou’ve seen where I live. Not much countryside there.
ANNEBut you’re not a million miles from it.
BETHLook, by the time I’ve got in and finished the chores, there isn’t much time for joyrides, let alone serious excursions. If I have half an hour to flop in front of the telly, that’s all there is. Now can we change the subject, please?
ANNEAll right. Just take a look around. It’s a place I love to come to on a fine evening. There’s something particular about the light at that time of day - especially when the sun breaks through after a storm.
BETHNow don’t wish that on us. (Startled) Good lord!
ANNEWhat’s the matter? You look as though you’d seen a ghost. You’d better stretch out for a while.
BETHDon’t fuss. I’ll be quite all right in a minute or two.
ANNEWhatever is it?
BETHJust a bit of shock. Something about that valley really hit me.
ANNEWhat are you talking about?
BETHYou didn’t bring me here last year, did you?
ANNENo. I was going to, but you had to rush off when your mother was taken ill.
BETHBut I had an extraordinary feeling of knowing the place, and being somehow threatened by it.
ANNEWell, I can’t see anything in the least threatening about it.
BETH(Pointing) That building over there backing on to the hillside – isn’t it an inn?
ANNEYes, as it happens. What of it?
BETHThe Travellers’ Rest?
BETHWell, there you are, then.
ANNEIt’s a common enough name - doesn’t necessarily signify anything.
BETHHave you been inside?
ANNEYes, a few times. My grandparents had their ruby wedding party there not so long ago.
BETHAs you go in, is the reception desk on the left?
ANNEYes, but again, there’s nothing special about that.
BETHAnd on the right, a fireplace with a copper hood?
ANNE(Beginning to show interest) Actually I think there is.
BETHAnd on the mantel a model of a square-rigged ship, about fifteen inches long?
BETHAnd then a corridor through to the back of the building, with an unmarked door at the end, and the dining room and what not off to the right? And that door opening on to a flight of stairs?
ANNEI don’t know about the stairs. But you certainly turn right into the public rooms.
BETHI seem to remember that the stairs lead to a tunnel into the hill.
ANNERemember? You mean you’ve been there some time?
BETHIt seems so. But I can’t think how or when it could have been.
ANNEWell, if you knew about the tunnel, your uneasiness might have been just a touch of claustrophobia.
BETHI don’t get that. And in any case, if you didn’t bring me here, how could I have known about it?
ANNEDescription in a travel book?
BETHNot very likely. I’d never heard of this area before I met you. And the memory’s visual.
ANNEThen you must have dreamed it.
BETHDo you know, I think that may be it.
BETHYes. Remember the end of last year, when I’d been ill and was so worried about the exams?
ANNEI’m not likely to forget it. You were getting so depressed you had me really worried. And that was when Freda started talking about suicide.
BETHJust talk – and people who talk about it never do it, or so Dad says.
ANNEShe didn’t come back the next term.
BETHNo, but that was because during the vacation she met some chap rich enough and daft enough to support her in the manner she fancied becoming accustomed to, and she didn’t see any point in finishing the course.
BETHSo I told her, but it didn’t do any good. She was always a featherbrain.
ANNELet’s hope her boy friend likes feathers.
BETHHe was no better himself, by all accounts. But that’s all by the way. That last term, I kept having a recurring nightmare. I was starting a journey from a town I knew well, but under some vague threat, then taking roads that were less and less familiar for hundreds of miles, until I came to a narrow valley bathed in evening sunshine, where I knew I’d been years before. A farmer mowing a hay field; cattle grazing in a meadow; a curl of smoke rising from the farmhouse chimney …
ANNEDoesn’t sound like a nightmare. Quite an idyllic scene, in fact.
BETHYes, but that’s what made it all the more terrible. The same sense of danger was getting stronger, but I couldn’t put my finger on any particular reason. Then I came to that inn – or one that might have been its twin – and the feeling intensified even more. Although everything seemed utterly peaceful, I knew that something horrendous was getting very near and I desperately didn’t want to meet it. And the only way to escape it was through that tunnel.
ANNEBrrrr! Scary. What was the something?
BETHI never knew. And no one could tell me where the tunnel led, so I dithered about taking it.
ANNESo what did you do?
BETHSometimes I’d go into the tunnel, sometimes I’d force myself to face whatever it was that was coming. But usually I woke up about then.
ANNEAre you still having them?
BETHNot so often. But every now and again it comes back, usually after something’s reminded me of it. I’ll probably have it again tonight.
ANNEI hope you didn’t tell your uncle Bill about it.
ANNEFrom my impression of him, he’d be sure to say you should see a shrink about it.
BETHWe don’t have that sort of money, just to be told I’d been afraid of leaving the womb or something of the sort.
ANNEI suppose not. And Mum says anyone would have to be mad to see a psychiatrist when simply talking to someone with a bit of common sense would do far more good.
BETHSomeone like her, you mean?
ANNEWell, perhaps. Actually, it wouldn’t do any harm to mention it to her. I remember once …
ANNEIt was a long time ago and a bit vague now. But for several months I kept having dreams about being in some high place and likely to fall off - a railway bridge with a train coming, or a tower with a crumbling parapet - that kind of thing. Every time I’d half-wake in the middle of it, realise I was having a nightmare, and struggle to get out of it, but invariably I’d drift back in.
ANNEMum suggested that during the interlude, I should equip myself with whatever was needed to deal with the dream situation. So the next time I found myself on that bridge, I made sure of having a parachute for the drop.
BETHLucky you happened to have one handy in the middle of the night.
ANNEClot! Just mentally, of course.
BETHDid it work?
ANNEWell, I’ve never had a nightmare since - that, or any other.
BETHWhat started them off, do you think?
ANNEI dunno. I could have understood it if it had been about ghosts or ghouls or what have you -
ANNEWell, there’d been a film crew here making some horror movie. They shot part of it in this valley - the peaceful façade of country life, I suppose, with all the sinister stuff going on behind it.
BETH(Sharply) When was that?
ANNEAbout six or seven years ago, I suppose. Why the sudden interest?
BETHThat’s it! I saw that film.
BETHThat inn must have been used for some of the scenes. That’s how I knew about it. And why I associated it with the horrors.
ANNERight. There’s only one way to get rid of those.
BETHOh, what’s that?
ANNEA bar lunch there. They do a pretty good one - and as it’s for your benefit, you can pay for it! Come on!