Fog hung thickly over the hospital car park. White and dense, it blocked the view of the main road and of the hospital visitors. Importantly, it prevented Rhianedd from making out the dark silhouettes of the Sanderson family in the distance. The distraught, dark forms that had just lost their daughter, and who she, regardless of the facts, keenly felt she had killed. Drunk drivers are one thing, but medicine is another. She’d been used to saving people, used to stepping in and making things better. People had died but it had never been her call. She was this close to losing the title of junior doctor; she was in charge, it had been her call. Now the Sandersons were without their daughter and she knew from now until forever, that it would haunt her.
The life of Dr Rhianedd Jones had been blanketed by a fog as heavy as the one she sat frozen in. After years of being slammed from one corner of the country to another she was finally on her way to something stable, something with respect, something with more time and more money. And then it had all fallen apart. Her partner Sam had finally done the kind thing and broken up with her. Three years of neglect had driven them apart. They had become different people, but without him there was no at all to fill in those narrow gaps between shifts.
To rub salt in the wound she had found herself falling for a co-worker and when he turned her down, in an epic display of patronising respectability, the loneliness cleaved its oar in. She’d been miserable ever since. Now there was no one beside her. There was no extra time, there was no extra money. There was just more responsibility, more exhaustion, the utter heartache of a life alone. And now there was the cold hard feeling of Leila Sanderson’s death digging into the far corners of her brain.
Rhianedd sat for what felt like an eternity in the car park. When she opened her eyes finally the fog had cleared. She watched the cars pass by on the main road, the sun setting in the distance. Her heart sank as she realised she was only a few hours away from her next shift starting. She turned the key in the ignition of her car and drove. She drove further and further away from the city, away from everything, to a place where the noises disappeared. She came upon green, and fields, and hills. Finally she recognised the sign to a park, and she pulled into a side road. The road opened up into a large muddy car park; cyclists and dog walkers were emerging from the woods as the sky began to darken. Rhianedd sat there, watching the cyclists lovingly wash the mud from the bikes as the dog walkers towelled off their eager fragile friends. She watched as a man gently washed and dried an excitable spaniel. And for a few brief moments, she forgot about everything.
When the sky turned dark Rhianedd’s heart began to ache again at the prospect of another shift. But the back of her brain pushed everything aside and forced her to start her car. She emerged from the park and turned. Her stomach sank as she realised she had no idea where she was or how long it had taken her to get there. She found herself taking wrong turn after wrong turn until she ended up in a small village. She drove to its far side, where civilisation stopped and the nothing but dark began. She took a deep breath and pulled into a side road. Passing the cottages, she drove into the far end, and pulled on to the muddy grass. She started her GPS into life and found the hospital, not twenty minutes away. She’d been heading in the right direction, but not through any country she’d seen before.
She gave herself a minute to take in her surroundings. She tried to breathe deeply, but something was stuck. She got out of the car and took a few steps on to the wet grass. She walked down the hill and past a small copse. The moonlight flooded the valley below and Rhianedd could make out the shape and serenity of the landscape. She turned to her right and inspected the large stone building that stood there, long and flat like an old school house. A ‘For Sale’ sign leaned, old and broken, against an outside wall. She watched the house for a moment, letting the cool breeze drift over her. She took a deep breath and exhaled deeply.
It had been two months since the death of Leila Sanderson, her colleagues all agreed she had done the best job she could, but still the loss hung heavy. Amid the pain of the days that had followed Rhianedd’s only respite was in thinking about the stone house standing over the valley, where the breeze had freed her, even if only for a second. She had gone back many times, to look at the stone house, and stare across the valley. The village she had been lost in was called Mangham, and the house itself had been built by a factory owner named Charles Andrews. The man had long since left the town, but his affect on the village and the misery he brought had scarred the people deeply. Even now, some eighty years later, the house he had built could not find an owner.
The village said that the house was cursed, injuries and deaths had plagued the owners. But there were only a few cases that Rhianedd had actually been able to find evidence of. The suicides of two owners were an absolute possibility even before they even took ownership, and the injuries of a few others were no more disconcerting than those that affected the normal lives of every semi-detached, suburban dweller. She was a scientist, she erred on the side of logic. Even still, the history of the place fascinated her. And with the money she had saved, by having little to no life outside of her work, she was able to afford the dirt low price asked for the Andrews House.
She had discovered that if she drove down the narrow country lane at the end of the road, and into the valley, she could get to the hospital in less than fifteen minutes. It was ideal, it was different, and it made her feel at ease. And so on this lowly Tuesday afternoon, when she had finally secured a twenty-hour gap in her schedule, she moved the last of her things into the house and began to create her home. The house was oddly shaped, she felt it had once been a hall, or a school house. Something about it didn’t fit right. Still, it was open, and the light bouncing up from the valley below made it shine like no other building of its age. She took great joy in moving her things around, making her own space for the first time in years. She hooked up the TV and allowed the sound to blare around the echoing, barely full living room. She drank wine and smiled to herself. She fell asleep on her half made bed at around midnight.
Rhianedd woke at two in the morning, the one thing she had unpacked was her alarm clock and its frantic beeping shook her awake in the unfamiliar space. She moved about in the subconscious routine she’d fine tuned after years of inhuman shifts. That’s when she looked through the curtain-less windows to the valley below. Lights pricked the darkness. Small balls of light, torches perhaps? bounced around the valley floor, occasionally catching on the ceiling of her bedroom. When she drove down into the dip of the country lane some thirty minutes later, the lights had gone. When she got home later that day Rhianedd looked closely at the valley floor for some time. Noticing its shape for the first time she saw a flat, stony floor, covered with mud and leaves. On the same patch of ground she made out the foundations of some old buildings, extending out from the valley wall. Mining hadn’t been uncommon around here, and the site had all the markings of an industry long dead.
In the weeks that followed Rhianedd saw the lights again and again. She noticed a security gate buried in the hedges of the country lane, and when she entered the lane from the opposite side of the valley she saw the detritus of bonfires and late night parties. Her beautiful valley had been marked by industrial failure, and was tainted still by modern indulgence, and even death. The longer she lived in Mangham the more stories filtered through; the deaths in the valley, from drink and drugs, from car accidents and suicide. The ledge across from the Andrews House was steep and more than one driver had lost control on that bend. Unhappily she noted the bends and breakages in purely symbolic concrete pillars and chain link fence. The locals called the valley The Devil’s Pit. Rhianedd’s tranquil spot was sagging under her, and once again she felt lost.
She had been at the house for a few months and the excitement she’d once felt there had dispersed. There were no distractions out here, no noise. The pain and loss of the last year was catching up with her, and every waking moment felt like torture. She slept more than ever, ate very little, she felt hopeless. There was no way out. As the lights in the valley increased so her anxiety built. She thought of murders, rapes, car accidents. More than living so close to such a thing what scared her was that she might be needed. She may be the one to witness an event, a car accident perhaps, and she would be responsible. She didn’t want to be responsible anymore.
To add to her injuries the people of the village talked, relentlessly. Did she know this and that about the house? Did she know the story? In the end she couldn’t think that it would be worse than what was going through her own mind, and one day she relented to an old lady who lived in one of the cottages. Charles Andrews, she said, was a hard man. Rhianedd’s house was originally built as what passed for an office block at the turn of the century. Andrews had watched over the factory and small mining company he owned below. The men were worked hard, and punished for their disobedience. Andrews watched them all. One evening an explosion in the mine caused a fire, forcing the men out into the valley, and trapping many down below. Andrews and his senior staff had watched from the house above.
Just over one hundred men had died, yet Andrews had done nothing. There was no apology, no recompense to their families, no memorial. The event was treated as an unavoidable accident. Soon other factories opened and men moved on; some of them for better conditions, others because they couldn’t stand to be watched by Andrews any longer. He eventually left, and some years after he and his senior staff were presumed long dead, the pit began to claim its victims. As vulnerable as she felt Rhianedd shook off most of what she was told; the valley wasn’t claiming anyone. The deaths, accidents and suicides had begun in the sixties, in the dawn of the modern age. The valley wasn’t killing people, she had seen the reckless stupidity of those that haunted her A & E. People didn’t need ghosts to kill them, they were more than capable of doing it on their own.
Life had become brittle. Rhianedd’s anxiety was taking control and she shook more and more each day. She became unable to hide it from her colleagues. Her body and her mind was wrecked. The memory of Leila Sanderson’s limp, warm hand lying in hers, it was all she could think of. The lights from the valley punctuated her thoughts, and too much sleep had turned into not enough.
One evening it became all too much. Rhianedd walked into the hospital car park, got into her car, and broke. She cried for everything she had worked so hard for, and everything she had lost over the last decade of her life. She cried for Leila, she cried for herself. When she was finally able to pull herself together she turned the key in the ignition and drove. She drove and drove, but as she grew closer to her new home so her stomach sagged with tension and her body began to freeze.
She rounded the corner to turn down the country lane, and her eye caught on some lights across the valley. House lights, on, in her house. In the briefest of seconds she saw it all. The house lit up; dark shadows of men standing at windows. Down in the dim, almost black, light of the valley she saw torches, she saw flames. Then the world slipped away from beneath her. Her car had lost itself on the corner and she was hurtling over the ledge, the car skidding and rolling down the valley into the pit below. Every thought flashed through her head, how could she survive this? How would she survive this? She grabbed and pulled on everything to steady her body, all the while bracing herself for the sudden crash. It was only as she rolled onto the valley floor that she contemplated what really lay waiting for her at the bottom.
The car landed on its roof. She lost consciousness for the briefest of moments. It was when she woke that she began to hear the whispers. Travelling through the broken windows; voices from behind a veil of time, breaking through. She breathed carefully. The voices increased in numbers and intensity. Then she heard it, a moment of clarity in the blur of whispers: ‘her’ and ‘she’. Rhianedd’s heart rate began to soar as the whispers stopped and she heard the fall of footsteps. Lightly, crushing mud and gravel, then more solidly, on rock. The footsteps were careful, then agitated; they grew in number. Rhianedd watched as the glare of firelight approached the car, then she saw the feet, and the legs, of the dark shadows that surrounded her. She gasped as the shadows moved closer, her voice caught in her throat.
When she finally drew breath enough to scream it was lost in the violent roar of fire. A fire starting close by, on the car, at her feet. As the adrenaline raced through her body she looked around. The shadows sharpened into life and she saw the feet and legs of more men than she could count, surrounding the car, jeering over the sound of the fire and the roar of her screams. The smoke began filling the car, she coughed and spluttered as it fell in through the broken windows. She saw how this would end, she felt everything being pulled away from, she was losing. And in the clarity of the briefest of moments she saw her way out. Out of a life she found too hard any more. She saw how easy it could be.
She thought that.
Then she screamed. Again, and again, and again. She clawed at her seatbelt, she kicked at the car, the doors. She wailed and she howled like a trapped animal. She coughed, harder and harder. She felt herself fading, and she grabbed for the seatbelt once more. She felt herself falling, she hit her head, and the world began to blur ahead of her. Then she felt a hand. A soft, warm hand reaching in and grabbing her. She looked up at the silhouette of the young woman who reached for her, and she took her hand. She crawled from the car, the young woman pulling her under the arms and helping her stumble to safety. The young woman took her to sit by the security gate and Rhianedd heard the sirens in the distance.
Rhianedd didn’t remember much after that. She was taken to the hospital and treated for her injuries. The minute her energy returned she resigned from her post at the hospital, maybe she would leave medicine altogether, she didn’t quite know yet. She put the Andrews House back on the market. And she went to stay with a friend up north who was in need of a flatmate and was so desperately pleased to see her.
To return to her friends, be closer to her family, and to be part of a world so unlike the pain and pressure she had felt before was more than she felt she deserved. She went to therapy, she thought about what she wanted to do next. She tried to not think at all, she walked, she listened to music, and she was herself for the first time in a long time. Occasionally she thought about The Devil’s Pit and the Andrews House. She thought about Charles Andrews, the men who had died, the men who had bared such a grudge toward their overlords in the cold, remote house. But more so than anything she thought about Leila Sanderson’s warm hand and how strong and alive it had felt the night she had reached into Rhianedd’s car and saved her life.