Robert turned over in the antique bed and sighed as he heard the springs of the old mattress move under his weight. In that ethereal state between waking and dreaming he reflected that elderly beds in solitary ancient holiday cottages were a hazard to be accepted when on solo walking tours of the Welsh countryside: at least he was only here for the one night before shouldering his rucksack and moving on. Even the dubious delights of this place that both looked and felt as if it still belonged to the Middle Ages were better than sleeping outside. Especially, he thought, as the rain was beating intermittently against the small, single glazed window. He hoped the weather would be better by the morning.
Then Robert froze. The mattress springs groaned under the shifting weight of another body - yet he was here alone. He could feel the motion as the other person rolled over and sat up. Although he didn’t dare to move, Robert opened his eyes. Bright moonlight filtered into the room through the ill-fitting curtains. The intruder stood up, leaving the bed, and Robert heard the bedroom door open. At last he found the courage to roll over and sit up. Warily turning his head, he saw that the bedroom door was now wide open and he could hear footsteps in the corridor leading to the main entrance. With a sudden surge of unexpected bravery, he flung the bedclothes away without noticing that the duvet on the other side of the bed had lain undisturbed. He heard the sound of a handle turning and Robert ran around the end of the bed and looked out into the corridor. The moonlight shone through the open front door, and he could see that he was alone.
The front door slammed shut, the sound terrifyingly loud in the silent cottage. Robert walked cautiously to the door, and looked out. Across the field, he could see a single figure slowly walking away from him. The person was wearing an ankle length white nightgown and had long auburn hair reaching halfway down the back of the gown: she was clearly female, and his instincts were stirred by her figure. Transfixed, he watched her walk away from him. Robert was inexplicably saddened as, driven by the wind, clouds drifted across the moon and she vanished from his sight. He turned back into the cottage and pushed his feet into his walking boots without bothering to tie the laces. He grabbed his jacket and strode out of the house, across the field. The light of the full moon shone again as the clouds shifted and there she was - ahead of him on the track that returned to the Coastal Path.
Her hair was mysteriously unmoved by the wind that tugged at his unfastened jacket, but Robert didn’t notice. He was completely confused; who was this woman, and how had she been in his bed? Why had she been in his bed? He wanted answers to these questions, so he picked up his pace and walked faster towards her. Yet without seeming to increase her speed, she remained always ahead of him.
“Hey! Hey! Wait!” he shouted. She didn’t seem to hear, and Robert shouted again. “Who are you? What do you think you were doing?”
She reached the gate that opened onto the Coastal Path, just as the rain started falling again. Robert cursed as he hurried after her, occasionally slipping as the path became muddy under his feet. At the gate, he stopped to catch his breath, yet she continued walking at that same deceptive pace, southwards now along the cliff top. The earthen track showed an occasional footprint in the mud, footprints that slowly filled with dark rainwater and reflected the brilliant full moon. Robert wiped the rain from his face and licked the water from his lips. He tasted salt and realised that the water was not rainfall but sea spray, driven over the top of the cliffs from the waves that lashed against the rocks far below.
Half slipping now on the mud, Robert ran after the woman. At last, at a turn in the path, she stopped. Panting with the effort, he hurried towards her. The woman walked on for maybe ten paces and then stopped again. At last, thought Robert, he could catch this strange person. The surface became more slippery and treacherous under his feet, so he slowed his speed and walked towards her with some caution.
“No good going over the cliff,” he said aloud to himself and took care in placing his feet. The edge of the cliff was perilously close; indeed the woman was standing now on a dark grassy spur away from the path. Still she faced away from him, but now the wind tugged at her nightgown, revealing a full figure that stirred his blood. Her hair began to stir and fly in the wind. As Robert slowed his steps further and finally approached her, she spread her arms wide to the wind and tilted her head back to bathe her face in the light of the full moon.
“Right,” demanded Robert a little breathlessly, as he reached her. “Who are you, and what the hell were you doing in my cottage, in my bed? In my bed, for god’s sake?” The woman lowered her arms and turned to face him. With a gasp, Robert saw that she had no lips, no eyes, and no face: just a white skull, gleaming in the moonlight. Skeleton hands reached out for him. With a stifled scream, he staggered backwards and lost his balance. His feet slipped on the wet grass and falling he slid over the edge of the cliff. For an instant his right hand scrabbled vainly for a grip on the grass, then with a cry, he was gone to the welcoming mouth of the raging waves that thundered on the jagged teeth of the rocks a hundred feet below the Coastal Path.
The clouds briefly obscured the full moon, and when they were gone the cliff top was empty and silent.
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