I have kept bar at the Attercop for nigh on
twenty years and have seen nothing coming close to the look in Mark
Empsons eyes that November night many years ago. For myself and my
patrons it had been an ordinary Friday afternoon. A handful of men leant on the
bar discussing the UEFA cup as they waited for the weekend to start. Smoke from
their ashtrays drifted up and hung under the bright tube lighting. Two of our
older regulars sat in their usual corner nursing pints of bitter. A tired black
Labrador snoozed at their foot. Soft murmurs and the crack of snooker cues
drifted over the pub.
As the sun set a couple more drifted in to the
light and warmth replacing those whod taken their hats and coats from the
stand and gone out into the dark with their breaths frosting on the cold night
air. At the bar I pulled pints and made small talk with the new arrivals before
they settled themselves in. Most of them were hikers whod trekked from
Heavygate. Theyd sink a few beers and catch the train home again.
Mark Empson stumbled in at around half past
ten and staggered his way to the bar. Id just come up from the cellar
where Id been mopping up the mess from a changed barrel. I knew Mark, he
was a logistics manager from Cob End. Normally a sensible and calm bloke, the
man in front of me was transformed. Two flushed and sweaty hands gripped the
bar for support. The men either side of him cleared some room but did not say
much, as is the Maltshire way.
Are you alright Mark? I asked. He
bowed his head and considered the question. I noticed that he was panting
heavily. At first he nodded, then he shook his head. When he looked up at me I
saw that there were tears in his eyes and something else too, some glimmer of
desperation and horror. Like a trapped animal or a rabbit in the headlines.
Something reaching out and reacting terribly. I will never forget that look.
Whatever emotion was seizing hold of him, I felt it keenly too. We all did and
we were shaken.
Get this man something to sit on.
Someone pulled up a spare stool and Mark sagged into it. I took two whiskey
glasses off the shelf and poured out two doubles. Eagerly he seized his in a
tremulous hand and took a gulp.
Now whats the matter? I
said. He shook his head again. Now youre not going to come in here
looking like that telling me nothings wrong. You look half dead. At
this he shivered and swallowed.
I was driving back from Hobsfield,
He said. and I hit something in the Barrens.
Well thats OK Mark, I patted
him on the shoulder plenty of us have hit pheasants and deer driving
through the Barrens.
It wasnt a deer. He drained
his glass. It wasnt an animal. The realisation of what he was
saying caught me sideways. Had Mark knocked down some walker out in the
Barrens? It was an area popular for tourists looking for rugged untouched
England. My business relied on it.
Mark, did you- Was it a-?
It werent a person neither.
Mark cut across me before I could accuse him. It was something
But if it wasnt a person or an
animal then what-? This time he interrupted me with a glance that made me
shudder. I still hadnt touched my drink. Marks hand shot out and
drained it in one.
It was then that the strange smell hit me.
Something like a cross between jet fuel and burnt hair. A glance over
Marks shoulder revealed the source; his odd filth tracked into the bar.
Whatever hed stepped in was corroding my floor slowly. Each footprint was
a shade of brown that Im not sure Ive ever seen in nature. Either
the muck itself or whatever it was doing to my floorboards whipped up such a
stink that I hope I shall never have to smell again.
Tell me what happened Mark. I
insisted, my voice more firm than comforting.
It was dark, he began and I
was driving home from work on the A175. Id come over the hill by
Northcross and passed Trap Lane. It werent raining and my headlights were
full beam. I hadnt seen anyone coming the other way on that stretch of
the road for a bit. He paused and wiping his nose with the back of his
Then something veered out into the road.
It was white and the shape of it, you should have seen it Alan. I cant
describe it. It took me but such a surprise. I tried to swerve out of the way
but then- Alan it made such an awful noise. I thought that it would split my
After I was sure that I hit it, I pulled
over on the verge and stepped out into the woods. By the brake lights I could
see that Id cut it in two. There was this mess all over the place, mixed
up in the leaves like. You couldnt imagine. I think that I could.
This thing was fleshy and flabby with no
limbs to speak of. It quivered and gurgled as it died. But its face Alan, you
should have seen its face. It had the face of a man! The mouth whispered things
to me. Terrible things, I could never repeat them to you. I only hope that I
forget them. I only hope that there arent more of them out
That was all he would say of the matter. After
a third drink Mark broke down in tears and had to be helped home by one of his
brothers friends. I poured a drink to myself and thought about what the
broken man had said. I wondered if there was any truth in it. The trail from
the door to the bar is evidence weighing in his favour. To this day I
havent been able to scrub those footsteps away no matter what I use.
I rarely saw Mark after that. Within the year
hed uprooted his family and taken them somewhere south. That was the last
any of us heard from him. The marks on the floor he become entwined into local
legend, few of those who were there that night have bothered to correct the
many shaggy dog stories about them. As for the strange tale itself; a pub has
stood on this ground since the civil war and I would put money down that
nothing as bizarre has ever occurred here, nor do I reckon that it will again.