Thomas Robert Parker
Not too far from where I live, if you follow that road through the moors, there’s an old stone house. It’s not too hard to find; just carry on until you pass the ‘Dog and Duck Inn’ and after half a mile or so you’ll come to a fork in the road. If you go on a day like this, when the sun’s high and the birds are in full choir, you’ll find the walk a pleasant one. Many a time I’ve walked up that way with the family. You often see hang-glides out over the tops, trying to outdo the hunting Peregrine falcon, (though you’ll be lucky to spot one of them.)
The walk usually continues along the main road on to the ‘Golden Fleece’; where the cider’s chilled and the tables have a perfect view over the Dales. But today, if you decided not to follow the main road, you’ll see it forks sharply to the left. A car would miss the lane entrance under the strangling growth of Bell Heather and Bilberry plants. Fortunately, without the hindrance of machinery, you’ll find walking down the reclaimed lane to be a minor challenge.
Only about a mile down the lane, the crawling plant life gives up and clears. Here, in this clearing stands an old stone house. And it is just that; don’t be fooled by the moss burdened, wooden post claiming it to be ‘Moor Top Cottage’. For this does not resemble a fairy-tale, thatched roof cottage, straight out of a Disney film. It is a two story Yorkstone house with heavily weathered, wooden windows that are just too small for such a dominating building; and a dry stone wall clinging to the perimeter.
Feel free to knock on the door. Don’t mind the peeling paint. Two people will greet you; a man in his late thirties, already showing a patch-quilt of greying hair; and his wife whose tempestuous, red locks are being held at bay in a tight ponytail. Both share piercing dark eyes that almost betray their soft smiles. They are well dressed and do not seem out of place. The offer of a cup of tea and rest from walking seems almost natural and is certainly welcoming. It is all innocent enough for you to take a moment to sit in the front room and accept a glass of juice instead; the walk back is still to come.
The room is non-descript with neutral colours and a simple layout. It is the fire surround that will catch your eye. The dark mahogany mass dominates the room, glaring at everything else. On top of the mantel piece sits a photo in a pale, wooden frame. You can see the faces of the husband and wife, smiling happily in each other’s arms and a small child at their feet. At first the image appears to capture the almost too perfect family; but the more you look, the more it reveals. The girl shares her father’s dark hair but her eyes are bright and innocent. They are a stark contrast to the dark eyes of the parents; their eyes have lost all innocence and gazing into them will likely produce a shudder from the observer.
If you should look around the house, perhaps excuse yourself to the bathroom, you would find it quite ordinary, if somewhat plain. The small windows make the artificial lighting necessary and furniture is sparse. The kitchen is clean, too clean if possible; sterile. Upstairs there are two bedrooms, one a child’s. The bathroom door will not budge, holding film against prying eyes; yet no voice sounds from within. At this point you may feel unease; perhaps it is time to leave?
Again the couple are at the door, ready to say goodbye and wave you off. But as the door shuts you may hear a faint laugh on the breeze; or was it a sob? A quick glance into the back garden will present a modest space with only one occupant: a lone swing, slicing forward and gliding back. No child sits upon it. No child is seen, or heard. Only hinted at.
Begin the walk back, stop off at the ‘Dog and Duck’ and order a drink; I recommend the Guinness. Ask, if you like, about the house on the moors. Ask about the family that seemed so welcoming and their daughter that wouldn’t show herself. The bar maid will turn to you with a puzzled face. The owner will give you a soft look and tell you:
‘No-one has lived in Moor Top Cottage for near a decade now. There is no girl hiding in that house.’ But I may call you over, offer to share my table and I will tell you why she is hiding.