Closing the inn door behind me I discerned a sudden lull in the conversation. To be more precise, a silence had fallen over the pub’s clientele as suddenly as if it had been dropped from a great height onto a hard and unyielding surface.
“Ah, good afternoon,” said Holmes in his usual jaunty manner. Shuffling out of his overcoat, he flung the garment carelessly over a nearby barstool and approached the innkeeper. “Fine weather we’re having, ay?”
Every eye in the place had turned towards us, and I was all too aware that the low hum of conversation had not returned. The only sound was the crack and hiss of wet logs burning in the fireplace.
Holmes gave me a signal which I took to mean ‘Be Merry’, so I hastened to his side and plunged in: “Two pints of Old Irregular, please, landlord.” I fixed my gaze on the fellow behind the bar and raised an eyebrow in a manner I hoped would intimate that I was not to be kept waiting.
The man sniffed and rubbed a hand across his hairy chin, rummaging in his beard as if searching for a lost item of food. Casting a meaningful glance at his regulars, he gave two short nods and turned his attention to the beer kegs behind him. Miraculously, the two dozen or so men presently inhabiting the Lounge Bar, resumed their various conversations, though there was a definite lessening of enthusiasm, as if the entire brigade had heeded some unseen warning. (That is, some unseen warning other than that of the two short nods given by the landlord).
“Tourists, eh?” said the barman, pushing two pint glasses across the counter.
“Something like that,” said Holmes. He took a large gulp of beer and licked his lips enthusiastically in an exaggerated show of satisfaction that fooled no-one. “Bit off the beaten track out here, aren’t you?” His keen eyes darted round, missing nothing.
“As are you two,” noted the landlord, with a smirk.
“Yes,” said Holmes, leaning his back against the bar. “But off the beaten track is where one is most likely to encounter items of interest. Rare breeds, unusual wildlife, that sort of thing.”
The barman grunted, and his eyes narrowed. “Such as?”
A hush had once again fallen over the room and I coughed loudly, hoping my companion would adopt a less threatening line of enquiry.
Holmes shrugged. “Arctic foxes, perhaps?”
“In Yorkshire?” The barman laughed and the whole room erupted in a gale of guffaws and derision. A moment later, the silence had restored itself, and all eyes were on Holmes.
My companion now had his back to the barman and, keeping his eyes on me, he turned his head towards the hearth, where the fire blazed merrily. Above the Inglenook, a curious shape had been painted on the wall. I hadn’t noticed it at first, but now it caught my attention like a slap in the face. Though it appeared to have been painted over at some point, the original design was still clear.
“A pentagram,” I said, thinking Holmes might not be alert to such pagan symbols. “Commonly used in ancient Greece and Babylonia, also in the Christian faith representing the five wounds of Christ.”
Holmes gave me a withering look. “Well done, Watson. You have once again confirmed my belief that you see but you do not observe.” He pointed a bony finger at the wall. “It’s a reverse pentagram – see where the two points are uppermost? This is not a symbol of good, old friend, but of evil.”
A chair scraped across the floor and a thick-set chap strode across the room. Positioning himself rather too close to my hindquarters for comfort, he muttered, “Oi think you gen’lemen ‘ave outlived your welcome.”
“Come, come,” said Holmes, “we haven’t even paid for our drinks.”
“On the ‘ouse,” said the landlord, firmly.
“Ah, well in that case perhaps we’d better…” I had turned to go but Holmes grabbed my sleeve.
“Hold, Watson.” Moving closer, his mouth almost touching my ear, he whispered, “Look out of the window.”
As I turned my head in the direction of the door, I had the curious sensation that everything had slowed down. My whole body seemed to be moving like some badly-oiled machine, barely able to move more than an inch or two at a time. When I was finally able to fix my eyes on the window, the anticipated view of moorland fells and cloudy skies had gone, being replaced by an all-encompassing darkness.
“What the fu–” I started.
“We must go,” said Holmes pushing me towards the door.
“Yes,” bellowed the thick-set man. “Go now.”
Reaching out for the door handle, I stepped forward, then a shriek came from behind me.
Spinning round, I saw the figure of a woman behind the bar, an open door beyond suggesting she had entered the room only seconds earlier.
“You can’t let ‘em go,” she yelled, addressing the room as a whole.
“Shut yer gob, wife,” countered the landlord. “We can and we will.”
The newcomer emerged from behind the bar and hurried to where we stood. “Don’t ye be goin’ over the moors, it ain’t safe.” The urgency in her voice convinced me, but Holmes was pulling open the door and pushing me out into the darkness.
“No,” yelled the woman, striving to drag us back inside.
Something thudded into my shoulder and a young lad gripped my arm. “Yous got ter go, but take heed – keep to the road. Don’t go across the moors.” His face was ghastly white and once again I needed no further convincing, but a second later we were shoved across the threshold and the door slammed like a bolt behind us.
The sudden silence engulfed me and I grasped my companion’s hand. “We’re going to die, Holmes, we’re going to die.”
“Don’t be such a Nancy-boy, Watson, the pony and trap is over yonder. We’ll be back in town in a jiffy.”
“But what about the werewolf?” I whined.
“Yes, well I always said it was a load of tosh, now…” His voice tailed off and I saw he was staring at something over my shoulder. “It appears we have company, Watson.”
Swivelling round, I peered into the darkness. A figure was walking, or rather stumbling towards us. At first, I could barely make out his features, but as he drew near, it was the blood oozing from his neck that focused my attention.
“My God,” muttered Holmes dashing forward. Catching the fellow before he fell, Holmes urged me to help. Grasping the man under the arms, we struggled to keep him upright. Thankfully, my medical training leapt to the fore and whipping off my scarf, I fashioned a bandage of sorts and pressed my hand against the worst part of the wound.
“I say, Holmes, this chap looks awfully familiar.”
My companion nodded stiffly. “Of course he is Watson – he’s been tailing us for the last two days.” Then grabbing the man’s face, Holmes gave him a shake. “Caddy? Inspector Caddy, are you alright, man?”
The policeman raised his head and stared at me. “Beware the moon…”
As if on cue, a low howl echoed from somewhere distant.
“Oh, crap,” said Holmes. “It’s coming back!”