‘A Town Called Hague’ is a spin-off from my second published piece of work, called ‘The Springs’, both born of my Stephen King-inspired fear, love and overall fascination with what I’ve coined ‘small-town horror fiction’. Small towns are places where everyone knows everyone – their patterns of behavior, interests, history and secrets; some small and innocent, some extraordinarily dark and disturbing.
Small towns, unlike cities, leave little room for full un-interfered-independence, almost forcing – by method of condensed radius – their residents to interact, react, fight, love, hate and, if needs be, build or destroy together. The town I’m about to walk you through has one hell of a secret which the residents tend to daily in order to keep things ticking over. A secret so deadly that, if ignored, they may never see daylight again or, worse, develop a strange aversion to it. So, find somewhere comfortable to sit, turn out the light, and let us head down into a little town called Hague, where the way of life is not as simple as we would like to believe...
Jim didn’t look at him and continued to wipe the bar, his dish rag so filthy it probably spread more germs then killed them.
“Why’d you care?” Replied Jim, his voice exhausted.
Paul stared at him, then down into his cider as if it were a bottomless well he had heard his name called from. Paul sighed and put the drink to his head, the yellow nectar flowed down his throat. He slammed the glass down and wiped his mouth with his jumper sleeve.
“You’re right, I have all the supplies I need here, give me another, and uh pack of them nigger nuts.”
Jim stood straight and looked over at him from the far side of the bar; his lips pressed together, his face thunder. He shook his head and released a sigh.
“Why’d you have to lower the tone Paul…?” Jim replied, unhooking a pack of chocolate covered peanuts from behind the bar and sliding them over to him.
“Isn’t that the colour of their balls? Watch one of them blue ones and tell me them peanuts aren’t the same colour, minus the frizz…”
“I have a wife, I don’t watch filth la- “Jim stopped before he said too much.
Paul looked at him his face frozen in an expression that couldn’t be attributed to any one emotion.
“Sorry…” Jim said
“You will be” Paul replied in jest, his brow dipped.
Jim smiled with nerves, glad Paul hadn’t flown off the handle and span around the pub like a shell shot helicopter fuelled with anger and cider. Paul could cause a lot of damage. He wasn’t just big, he was enormous; his ass hung out of his trouser at every opportunity when ever he sat, knelt or bent; his knuckles menacing, even when his palms were flat.
Jim pulled him another cider and Paul looked over his shoulder at the empty tables and chairs, normally filled by the good people of Hague, especially on a Saturday night.
He looked out of the old wooden framed windows crowned with silver crucifixes torn out bible pages and small bottles of holy water. Outside was pitch black, freckled by white snow coming down diagonal.
The TV up high in the corner began to lose signal, till it went black and never came back No signal received it read.
Jim placed Paul’s cider down and wiped his hand down the front of his T-shirt. Paul was slow to meet it, the snow’s consistent flow almost hypnotic, sending him into a sort of trance.
“Paul!” Jim called for the third time.
Paul span round; Jim pointed at his drink.
“Where’d you think everyone is tonight?” Paul asked.
Jim had turned to start counting the takings from the first till. Paul took another slurp.
“Their beds, the same place I’m going when you’ve finished that.” Jim replied
“Closing early then?”
“Too right I am, it’s not exactly bustling in here is it.”
“Well I’m here aren’t I?”
Jim turned and placed the empty plastic coin tray back into the till and moved down to the next one.
“As much as I appreciate your custom Paul, your cider is hardly paying for the lights to be on.”
“Fine! Give me another pack of them nigger nuts and some of those posh crisps”
Jim smiled with annoyance, having lost count again.
“Hold on uh sec, you’re making me lose count”
The door leading to flat above the pub opened and his wife Fiona stepped out in her night gown and bed time scarf. They both looked her over.
“Paul, Jim, there’s a man outside walking up and down at the bottom of the street, he looks lost…”
Both Paul and Jim looked at her as if she were speaking a foreign language. She looked from one to the other.
Jim looked at Paul.
“Do you mind?” Jim asked.
Paul nodded and stood, his head almost touching the over hanging lights above, his shoulders wide and uncompromising.
Fiona lifted the old wooden bar hatch and went out behind him, two sides of her gown pinned together with one hand. She followed Paul to the door. The moment Paul opened it, it was as if a giant were screaming at the top of his lungs, the way the wind and snow pushed them back in, who ever it was, they weren’t from Hague Paul thought.
It was so cold Fiona was forced to abandon her spot and head right back to the bar shivering.
Paul continued to watch, the man virtually walking in circles flanked by darkened shops closed from earlier, and street lamps that pierced the night like stars. If only Jim had fixed that hanging neon sign two years ago, the man would have seen the pub was open, even at that distance.
Paul zipped up his coat, pulled on his hat and erected his collar as if he were the Fonze from Happy days. He walked out and stood under one of the lamps and waved with both arms, the man slowed, stopped, and after a few seconds waved back and began to walk towards him.
Paul turned and walked back inside the cheeks on both his face and ass freezing, going home was going to be a bitch he thought. Uh real cold bitch…
Paul sat down at the bar reunited with his drink.
“Well…” Jim asked.
“Well what?” Paul replied.
“Where is he?”
At that moment the door swung open. Fiona, Jim and Paul turned to look.
The fella wore a navy blue puffer jacket, grey woolly hat and no gloves.
His face was the colour of chalk; his eyes squinted by the cold.
“I na…na…Need your help” the man said, his teeth chattering.
They continued to stare at him, he at them, his fingers curled into frozen claws.
“My car is broken down in the Springs” the man said pointing towards the door with bent, petrified fingers.
Paul released a tut and turned back to the bar. Jim and Fiona looked at each other, their stare stern and steady.
“Please! My son and eldest daughter are in the car waiting for me; My phone has no signal, can I use yours to call my breakdown company or the police?” The man pleaded.
“No point…” Paul said, not even bothering to face the man.
The man looked at Paul’s back, but didn’t respond; instead he looked to Fiona and Jim for an explanation.
Jim shook his head in disgust
“What he meant to say is the weather is so bad it’s hard for anyone to get over there, I’m surprised you made it here to be honest.” Jim replied
The man’s hands and face had begun to gain colour.
“It wasn’t this bad when I started out, it wasn’t even dark, but when the snow came I got disorientated…I was trying to head back the way I came but before I knew it, I ended up here.”
The pub embraced a pause.
“Well, you’re basically on the other side of the moor, fifteen miles to be exact.” Jim said.
“Fifteen miles…Ha! Not far enough” Paul added sipping on his cider.
“O-shut-up-Paul, can’t you see the man doesn’t need your commentary right now” Jim snapped…
Paul didn’t look up; instead he shovelled more chocolate nuts into his face.
Jim gave the man a warm drink at the bar and let him try the phone which couldn’t even muster a dialling tone, let alone a call; their mobiles no better.
“What should I do?” The man asked, his eyes welling up.
“My son is only three; I need to get back to them tonight. Can you help?”
Fiona began to shake her head before she even spoke.
“Sorry honey, the weather’s too bad, that moor and roads around here have taken many uh life in weather not even half as bad as this. Feel free to stay till the morning and we’ll drive you back then.”
The man shook his head.
“I’m not leaving my children out there…”
The pub fell silent once more. The sound of the wind howling outside and the thought of even thinking about going into the Springs sent a shiver down Jim’s spine, erecting hairs all over him, despite the thought of the man’s children stuck out there alone and vulnerable, disturbing him something rotten.
“Look, just direct me back down to the moor and I’ll go over myself. Can you do that at least?”
Jim looked at Paul and Paul looked at Fiona.
Jim agreed and Paul called him crazy and a few other colourful words.
Fiona went upstairs and gathered a pair of Jim’s hiking boots, thermal wear, hat, gloves and under garments for the man.
As the man got dressed in the toilets; Paul and Fiona spoke to Jim.
“Don’t do it, insist he stay, it isn’t too late.” Fiona said, pleading with her husband.
“I’m just showing him back to the moor, I’m not going anywhere near the Springs, we’d want someone to at least do that for us right?” Jim said looking at the pair, they looking every which way but at him.
“Yes or no?” Jim demanded.
Paul shook his head.
“You and I know them kids are finished, you’re walking this bloke to his death.” Paul added.
“You don’t know that, he made it this far, how do you know he won’t make it back?”
“He might make it there, then what? Face it Jim, his blood will be on your hands, plain and simple”
The wind blew the door clean open as if Satan himself had entered. Snow scattered the floor till it shut. Jim’s heart beat heavy.
The man emerged from the toilet looking two stones heavier with Jim’s gear on.
They didn’t dally; Jim wanted shot of him, his story and any mention of that damn town.
He took a kitchen blade and stuffed it down his waist band; he also took two small bibles and two small crucifixes from behind the counter. Shops and pubs in Hague, unlike most other places, kept bibles and crucifixes under the counter as opposed to baseball bats or knives, the nature of the threat somewhat different in these parts.
The pair went out and walked down the centre of the road the snow up to their calves, the shops either side of them, kebab, off licences etc normally full of life, now looked like hollow store carcasses of an abandoned ghost town.
The wind pushed against the pair, their walking greatly impaired, and then it dawned on Jim that Paul was right, this man would die for sure. Either by the elements or something within that God-forsaken town.
Fifteen miles in this…Jim thought…Yet, he knew telling the man, as a parent, that his mission was doomed was harder than letting him go.
Get him to the moor and head straight back he chanted over and over in his head. After what should have been a five minute walk, twenty minutes later they were finally at the moor’s edge; its length so vast and black, it was as if they stood where the earth met space. The black so thick it would be hard for anything or anyone out there to see properly.
The pair stopped just before the walkway that took you out across the moor.
Jim took from out of his jacket the bible and crucifix and held it out for the man to receive, Jim shouted above the wind.
“Take this, you’ll need it and God bless you and your children”
The man looked at the items offered and shook his head.
“Are you serious!?” The man shouted
“Yes!” Jim replied even louder
They both stared at each other the man swallowed and took the items reluctantly “This is absolutely preposterous!” The man shouted
They enjoyed another pause; the man looked as if he had grown cold feet.
“Litsen! Go straight and if anybody begins to call you and it sounds like a song run and hold your bible and crucifix ahead of you, don’t stop and don’t look at them”
The man stared at Jim, fear building within him; his eyes light hazel and blood shot.
The man shook his head and took the first step out into the darkness, the snow up to his knees, hitting him at speed, wind pushing him this way and that. The man walked on, striding for his children.
Jim crossed him self and didn’t linger. He made his way back virtually running. He slammed open the doors of the pub, Paul turned on his stool to watch him. Fiona rushed to her husband.
Paul stayed in the guest room that night, none of them got a winks sleep, not even a minute, Jim the worst. The vision of that man walking out into the darkness playing over and over, the man walking into certain death, or worse the Springs, where he may be made to live forever with that wretched eternal thirst.
After a week the snow had subsided and Hague was back to normal. It was Saturday night and the pub was full, laughter and drinking as usual. Paul burst through the doors and walked right up to the bar, his size thirteen boots making music across the floorboards.
He hitched up at the counter and placed a newspaper down on it open at page ten, the face of the man and his two children looked up happy and smiling.
Missing it read – ‘Can you help us find Phillip Burns and his two children Emma and Fredrick Burns last seen heading towards Slain Town on the 13/08/2015?’
Both he and Jim inspected it and said nothing verbally but their eyes spoke, like most people in the Hague smiling and laughing with their face but their eyes always aware, cautious, communicating at frequencies out-of-towners like Phillip Burns couldn’t.
Paul closed the paper.
“It’s that turning, people always get it wrong and head into the Springs” Jim insisted
“It’s as if it’s deliberate I swear…” Jim added.
Paul nodded in agreement.
“Well the Springs has to feed Jim, and I’d rather it be them than the good people of Hague” Paul said lifting his glass in tradition, but by then Jim had walked away and was serving someone else.
A few weeks later after Jim had locked up and sent the drunks home to their wives, he went up to his. He brushed his teeth, washed his face and said his prayers. He went into his bedroom where Fiona slept, sipping air softly.
The shop strip was deadly silent outside, except for what sounded like singing, soft and delicate; it carried across the cool autumn night in the distance getting closer. Jim knew the sound and patted him self down frantically for his ear plugs but couldn’t find them, then his brain slowed and against his will, to the window he went as if remote controlled.
He peeked out to his left nothing; but to his right, walking towards the pub were three figures. The small and medium figures were obviously children, illuminated under the street lamps and darkened in-between each post at intervals.
The biggest lagged behind, Jim knew him for sure, even though he couldn’t make out his face fully, any man could surly recognise his own clothes.
Jim tried sloppily to pat him self down for the ear plugs once more, the ones he had obviously left down stairs in the pub. His wife and the rest of Hague slept on, immune to their call, the infectious song sang by vamperic sirens, sweet so, so sweet…So beautiful Jim had to hear it closer. He went down stairs, his feet bare, dignity forgotten. Out Jim went into the street to welcome Phillip Burns and kids back from across the moor, back from the Springs.