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Short Story Traveler’s Rest

Traveler’s Rest by Daniel Diehl Ghost short story

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Author's Note: Since releasing ‘Out of Time’ the third and final volume in my Merlin Chronicles Trilogy, a number of Merlin’s fans have asked me when and where the canny old wizard and his 21st century friends, Jason Carpenter and Beverley McCullough might turn up again. In answer to that query, herewith, submitted for your approval, is a little piece I like to call: ‘Traveler’s Rest’. It is worth mentioning that the pub where the following story takes place is central to ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’, volume two in The Merlin Chronicles trilogy, which runs as follows: ‘Revelations’, ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’, ‘Out of Time’.

Traveler’s Rest
If England’s weather is something of a topic for international humor, the local residents in the village of West Wycombe - located on the vast Salisbury Plains west of London - often seem to miss the punch line. With a latitude roughly equivalent to that of Halifax, Nova Scotia, a certain hatred for the local weather is hardly surprising. For nearly nine months of the year the climate here is alternately, or far too often simultaneously, foggy, damp, windy, rainy and cold. Not the searing knife-edged cold of the American North-East, but a gnawing, insinuating cold that seeps beneath the skin and chews away at both muscles and spirit. Throughout these long, inhospitable months the residents of No Place either huddle behind drawn curtains to cluster around the warmth of their television sets or brave the chill long enough to make their way to the one local pub, The Slaughtered Lamb.

Here at The Slaughtered Lamb, in the shared warmth and good cheer, offered up in pint glasses by the local landlord, they chat and discuss their plans for the few months ahead that are ubiquitously known as the English summer. Strangely, the locals here, like almost all Englishmen, rarely stay around to enjoy these few gilded weeks of glorious, enchantingly mild weather. Instead, they pack their bags and head off to someplace as unwelcomingly hot as the rest of England’s year is cold.

One evening in mid-April - just as the first signs that winter might actually be something less than an eternal curse passed down by some small, angry god, had begun to evidence themselves in a slight greening of the foliage - a group of locals were gathered at the Lamb, enjoying an evening’s drink and discussing plans for the upcoming summer holidays. It was into this convivial atmosphere that the great wizard Merlin, accompanied by his friends Jason Carpenter and Beverley McCullough ducked their dripping heads in an effort to escape the freezing rain. The crowd barely noticed Jason and Beverley, mostly because their eyes were riveted by the old man with the waist-length beard, dressed in a long, gray gown covered by a ratty goat skin coat. After an awkwardly extended silence, the three visitors made their way to one end of the bar counter, ordered their drinks and tried desperately to make themselves as invisible as possible. Eventually the buzz of conversation resumed as the patrons returned to telling each other about their travel plans.

A large, florid man explained that he, his wife and kids were planning a trip to one of the Greek islands where they would liberally baste themselves with sun-screen and lay happily beneath a Mediterranean sun, while another proudly boasted that he and his brood were off to Florida to enjoy temperatures in the mid-nineties and humidity approaching one hundred percent. A grinning bachelor insisted that the only place worth going was sweltering southern Spain which offered the charms of cold beer and hot Spanish women.

Only one elderly man, who was going to visit his daughter in Ireland, seemed to have opted to stay in the planet’s temperate zone.

As the landlord, pushed a fresh pint of strong cider across the bar toward Merlin, he grinned, cast a glance at Jason and Beverley and asked what holiday plans the new arrivals had.

Leaning his elbows on the bar counter, the bar keep dragged a beefy hand down across his round face, smiling. “You going anywhere this year, Mr Whiskers?”

As Merlin handed him a twenty pound and pointed toward Jason and Beverley’s nearly empty glasses, he shook his head. “I don’t think so, young man. This past week has provided us with about all the adventures I can handle for one year.”

“Come off it. Never seen the lot of you before, so you mean you’re not going to take a bit of time to explore the lost corners of Merry old England?”

Jason cast a sidelong glance at Jason and Beverley before he answered. “Actually, after what happened to us last week I’m not sure if I want to go anywhere. And I mean ever.”

This odd statement was enough to bring the hum of conversation to an end and make all heads turn toward Merlin. One by one the few customers pulled their bar stools into a tight knot, anxious for any juicy details the strange looking old man was willing to offer. Finally, after taking a long pull on the fresh glass of cider, Merlin sighed and started in to his story.

“Last week we came down here to visit Stonehenge and a beer festival near Bath. From Bath we made our way down through Devon and along the Cornish coast where we stopped at Tintagle.” Nodding toward Jason, he added. “That’s where my…er…grandson and I met up last year.” After adding a preemptory “And then we came home” Merlin shrugged and returned his attention to his drink, knowing full well he was making his audience crazy.

“That’s it?” One of the patrons leaned forward, planting his elbows on the bar and scowling. “Hardly sounds like a good enough reason not to go anywhere again. Ever.”

“You really want to know, don’t you?” By this time Merlin was playing with his audience mercilessly, making them beg him to finish the story. Inevitably, they did and just as inevitably he succumbed to their pleas.

“All right, all right. On the way back we decided to take a spin around Dartmoor. God, what a dreadful place. Absolutely barren and bleak.”

“Oh, come on.” A young man with lank, mouse colored hair and a straggly beard interjected, “Dartmoor can’t be that bad. Stark, maybe, but so are the Pennine Hills, most of Wales and the Yorkshire Moors, but they all have their own sort of beauty.”

Leaning forward across the bar, Merlin’s intense, blue eyes flashed. “Lad, you ever been to Dartmoor?” The kid looked embarrassed, shook his head and admitted that I hadn’t. “Well, let me tell you, Dartmoor makes Wales look like the garden of Eden. Bogs and rocks, bracken and gorse…even the sheep won’t go there. It’s a dreadful place. We got so lost on a tangle of nasty little side roads we didn’t even find a village where we could stop for a bite to eat for an entire day.”

“Come on, Granddad, you’re not telling us everything. What happened down there that was bad enough to put you off ever going on holiday again?” The bar keep was now thoroughly sucked-in to the tale and wouldn’t rest till he had heard every last word of it.

“Well...” Merlin continued to talk - and drag out the story - while he pushed his empty glass across the bar, nodding for a refill, “to make a long story short...”

“Wi’ all due respect, lad, I don’t think anything is being made short here.”

As Jason and Beverley barely contained a chuckle, Merlin cocked one eye at the speaker and continued. “As I was saying, to make a long story short...” he shot a playful, withering glance toward Jason “we could have been on the moon if you were judging by all the signs of life we saw. By the time we came on the first hint of human life it was already pitch dark. Finally, we came on a high stonewall that followed along the side of the road. It wasn’t one of those low, dry stonewalls they use to enclose a sheep meadow or anything; this was a finely built wall, made of cut stone and mortared into place. I told Beverley to slow down and we followed the wall till we came to an opening flanked by a pair of massive stone gate posts. There wasn’t any gate like you might have expected, though, but mounted between the gateposts was an old, wrought iron arch with writing worked into the ironwork. At least half of the words were covered by overgrown tree branches, creepers and vines so I could only read the last bit of the writing, but the part I could see said 'Rest'. We all agreed that it must be some sort of an inn or a B&B or something, you know, like maybe it said Travelers Rest. So we pulled through the gate onto the gravel entry road.

“I couldn’t see much of the front garden in the dark, but I could still tell it was all overgrown and it looked like the grassed area was full of tree stumps that had never been pulled out. They stuck up a foot or two above the grass and there were dozens of them. Honestly, it was a bit of a mess. Still, there was a squat little one-story building at the end of the lane so I thought somebody must live there. There weren’t any lights on in the place, but if the people were elderly, and went to bed early, that wouldn’t have been all that odd. I hated to wake them up, but we needed a place to stay. Even if they didn’t have rooms, at least they might ring around to someplace else and find us somewhere to stay the night.”

“And...” The entire crowd was now urging him on.

“Patience, patience. I’m getting there.” After a maddeningly long pull on his cider, Merlin decided he had tortured his audience along enough. “We drove on down the road and up to the building. I noticed there weren’t any cars parked there so I thought there would be a good chance that we could get a room right there at the something-or-other-rest. Jason and Beverley stayed in the car while I went up to the door. It was one of those massive, ancient plank doors with huge, ornate iron hinges like you see on old churches. I couldn’t find a bell or anything, so I knocked on the door. I only had to rap two or three times till I heard somebody shuffling around inside and a few minutes later they pulled open the door.”

“Astoundingly, in front of me stands a man dressed in a fancy suit and tie. It was almost as dark inside as it was out so I couldn’t see much, but here he was in a dark blue or black three-piece suit and one of those starched, wing-collars like butlers and solicitors used to wear.”

“Everybody used to wear those.”

“Maybe, but everybody doesn’t wear them anymore, do they, young man? And certainly not at ten o’clock at night.” Heads nodded as smiled smugly and pressed on with his tale. “So here he is, all done up like some grand Victorian footman, at this hour and he is old. I mean ancient. I know I look old, but this man looked like he remembered when Methuselah was a boy. He must have been ninety if he was a day. He smiles this dry, lipless little grin and asks if he could help me. I explained that the three of us had gotten lost out on the moors and we were looking for a place to stay and did he have a couple of rooms we could have for the night. No problems he said, and invited us in. Told me that he and his wife didn’t get many visitors way out there and they were always glad to be of help to lost souls whenever they could. That’s the way he put it 'lost souls'. It sounded like such an odd thing to say.

“Be that as it may, I went back out to the car to get Jason and Beverley and by the time we got back the old gent’s wife had joined him at the door. I swear to you, she must have been at least as old as he was, maybe older, but dressed to the nines in an evening gown, pearls, earrings, the whole lot.”

“When the three of us finally got inside, the place was eerily dark. Nothing but a few candles scattered around the room, here and there, so it was impossible to see any decorations or anything which might have been on the walls but the place looked like maybe it had been originally built to serve as the gate lodge for one of those old great houses from the seventeenth century. All flag stone floors, bare stone walls and perpetually cold and damp. Quite frankly, the place chilled me to the marrow.”

“So you didn’t stay?”

Merlin cocked an eye at the man down the bar who had spoken, raising an eyebrow. “I didn’t say that? We didn’t have much choice, after all. Here we were out there in the middle of nowhere. Where were we going to go? I wasn’t about to sleep in the car, now was I? Besides, we had hardly gotten inside and the old woman asks us if we would like some refreshment. Couldn’t very well say no, so Jason and I chatted with the old gentleman and Beverley talked to the woman. Du ring the course of conversation we learned that their name was Twyckenham and they had been out on the moors for their entire lives. I heard the woman tell Beverley how lonely it was; they never had anyone stop by and see them and how nice it is to see young people once in a while. Eventually the woman excused herself and returned with some tea in those old-fashioned Chinese teacups with no handle. Personally I had been hoping for something a bit more substantial...”

“Beer?”

“At the very least. It was impossible cold in that house and I’m not as young as I used to be.” As Jason rolled his eyes knowingly, a general snickering and snorting crept around the bar making Merlin put on an indignant look. “Still, I didn’t want to be rude, so what can you do, right? Anyway, while we were sipping our tea, the old lady apologizes for their not having any double beds and asks us if we all minded sleeping in singles. Not that we had anything in the way of options, but we told her singles would be fine and I asked how much the room would be. You wouldn’t believe it, she told us that since we were the first people they’d had there this year there wouldn’t be any charge.”

This revelation was met by amazed stares and murmurs of assent followed by urgings for Merlin to continue his story.

“Well, when they showed us to our rooms I could well understand why they didn’t charge us. The beds were narrow, cramped, little things with high sides like some berth off of an old sailing ship. Hard, thin mattresses that were dreadful to lay on. Honestly none of us got a wink of sleep, neither of us. Finally, it must have been five o’clock in the morning - the sun wasn’t even over the horizon yet - we gave up. We got up, packed our bags, tossed them in the car and left. I tried to find the landlord to get some directions, but they must have still been in bed – which is exactly where we all wished we had been.”

“It does sound like you had a pretty bad experience, what with no beer and hard beds and all” said the florid faced bartender, with a sly grin, “but that’s hardly enough to put you off ever going on holiday again.”

“Don’t get ahead of me, young man. I haven’t finished yet. It must have been about ten in the morning, when we were already a hundred miles down the road, and Beverley realized she left one of her brooch pins back at the place and that we have to go back. It seems it was one her mother gave her.”

Murmurs of agreement and sympathy rumbled around the little crowd.

“So we turned the car around, not having a clue in the world where the place had been. It took us most of the day to relocate that God forsaken spot which we had no idea how we had stumbled across in the first place.”

“Did you find it?”

“Oh, yes. Eventually. It was late afternoon when we finally got there and you would not believe...”

When Merlin paused for dramatic effect, held up one finger to hold his audience’s attention and took a long pull from his cider, the young man with the ratty beard prompted him with a sharp “What?”

“Where was it?” Shouted someone else down the bar.

“The point is now where it was, but what it was.”

“Ok. So what was it?”

“That sign. The one that said the something-rest. What it really said was Eternal Rest. It appears that the place was a cemetery and the stumps I thought I saw in the garden - they weren’t stumps at all, they were the tops of tombstones sticking up out of the tall grass!”

“You mean this old geezer and his wife had turned an unused country church in to a bed and breakfast place?”
“Not at all. This was not a churchyard it was a cemetery. Stuck way in the middle of Dartmoor, and there wasn’t a church for miles around.”

“Well, what was the place you stayed in, then?”

“It would appear that it was a mausoleum.”

“Oh-ho, no.” said the barkeep, wrinkling up his nose. “Who’d turn an old mausoleum into a guest house?”

“It hadn’t been turned into anything. Don’t you see? When I went up to the door - or at least where that massive old door had been the night before - there was nothing there but a big iron grate across the doorway. Above the entrance, carved in the stone lintel, it said 'Twyckenham'. And on an old brass plaque by the door post it said 'John Twyckenham, beloved husband, 1832 to 1921' and below that was ‘Edith Twyckenham, beloved wife, 1836 to 1929’. And that’s why I’m never going on holiday again.”

Visit Daniel Diehl On Readers Gazette.

Images used for the article belong to Daniel Diehl except.
Paddock Cottage, Lyme Park On Flickr used for the pub sign.

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If England’s weather is something of a topic for international humor, the local residents in the village of West Wycombe - located on the vast Salisbury Plains west of London - often seem to miss the punch line. With a...

Revelations (The Merlin Chronicles Book 1) by Daniel Diehl

Merlin the Magician only exists in myth and legend – at least that’s what archaeology student Jason Carpenter thought until he discovered the mysterious orb that had housed history’s greatest wizard for 1,600 years.
Forced into an uneasy alliance, Jason and Merlin are sucked into a web of deceit, intrigue and murder that sends them on a chaotic race to outwit, and out run, Merlin’s ancient nemesis, the evil sorceress Morgana le Fay, her gang of drug smugglers and a 500 yearold...



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