“The stew’s ruined, but you should have been home a half hour ago.”
Emily sat near the Rayburn, the clothes on her back so warm they were almost burning her chilled skin. Her thawing fingers tingled as she dug a fork into her heaped plate. The stew wasn’t ruined. It was delicious. Grandma was full of false threats. She was incapable of handing out punishments to her loved ones. Even now, full of her own family’s betrayal, she was helping Granddad to more cabbage.
One thing Emily didn’t miss about home was her mother’s cooking. Her mother wasn’t built for cooking. She was designed for looking pretty and saying witty things, but those rare skills definitely had their place. Emily got the impression that her grandparents did not wholly approve of the match their son had made. The odd remark here and there about homemaking and ‘don’t cry over anything that can’t cry over you’. But, though the cooking hadn’t been great at home, Emily felt she hadn’t missed out on anything. The social whirl of her girlhood was something she treasured. Especially now, stuck in the middle of nowhere.
“Any news from the village? I haven’t had the time to go down for three days.” Grandma said.
It was one of her pointed ‘poor me’ remarks that generally passed uncommented, much to Grandma’s chagrin. Emily opened her mouth to tell everything and Granddad fixed her with a meaningful stare.
“Not really,” she said, and shoved another mouthful of stew in to stop any more words coming out.
“Last time I went down, Mrs Bottomley said she thought someone should go and check on the Morleys.”
“In this weather?” Ned was incredulous.
“Precisely in this weather.”
Ned shook his head. “For one thing, nobody would get up there now, and for another, what’s the point?”
“She’s got another delivery of books addressed to them.”
Emily frowned, lost, and then remembered that Mrs Bottomley was the post-mistress. She knew very well who the Morleys were. They were legend. “Don’t they usually come down to pick their parcels up?”
“He does,” said Ned, “Nobody ever goes up there, and they’d be doubly daft to go now.”
Emily didn’t miss the exchange of wordless expressions between her grandparents.
“Go on, then. Tell me more.” She set her fork down and crossed her arms, waiting for information.
“It’s tall tales, that’s all,” Grandma said.
“There’s no smoke without fire, Betty.”
“You’re as bad as the rest of ‘em,” Grandma said, narrowing her eyes, “They just like to keep to themselves, that’s all.”
Granddad ‘humphed’ again just as Moss the dog began to whine. Emily shifted to look at him. He was pressed up against the Rayburn behind her, his lip caught high on his teeth as if he’d just woken up. His stare were fixed to the door, ears pointed.
“I thought he was going deaf.” Emily said.
“So did I,” Grandma said.
They watched him hoist himself onto his feet and trot to the door. Emily put her fork down and followed him. “What is it, Moss?”
She clicked the latch up and pushed the door open.
“Oh, it’s freezing, Emily. Shut it behind you,” her Grandma said.
Moss squeezed past her. She stepped into the covered porch and pulled the door closed behind them. The snow was a deep violet colour under the glow of the creamy moon and the indigo sky. Emily watched the clouds circle and drift around the moon like wraiths.
Moss cocked his ear, listening hard, his gaze angled to a spot high on the moors above them. Emily copied him. “What can you hear, Moss?”
And then she heard it too.
Barking. High and frantic. Barks that raced across the hillside, growing stronger and then fainter with the breeze.
A brief blast of warm air, and she realised her granddad had come to stand next to her.
“There are dogs barking up on the moors,” she told him.
He nodded. “That’ll be the Morley dogs.”
She cast her eyes over the blanketed world spread before them. “What can they be barking at?”
As she said it, she found she already knew the answer. But her granddad was already opening the door to go back inside.
He closed the door behind him.
He didn’t want to know.
Moss took a few steps into the snow and turned back to look at her. Suddenly, he didn’t look old anymore. He looked keen. It was almost as if he was saying ‘Come on. Let’s go and see.’
She thought of the noise. The plane. The crash. How nobody was going to do a thing about it.
“I wish I could, Moss,” she said, “I wish I could.”