Halloween is a wild, weird night in the lonely moorland towns of the north. It’s dark and cold, and cracks can open up in the fabric of the safest world.
Davey Bell has been trying to live safely. He’s struggled through a rough adolescence and has a decent job, a home of his own. He agrees to a meeting with his ex, even though Burdo got him into so much trouble in the past.
But Burdo has plans, armed robbery amongst them. When Davey recoils from his efforts at blackmail, Burdo swears he’ll track him down. There’s something inhuman about Burdo’s rage, and Davey panics and runs from him. The town is small, the darkness beyond it absolute. Davey has lived there all his life, but he takes a wrong turn on the moorland road and is suddenly lost.
It’s the first night of winter, and set to freeze hard. Not much chance of survival for a man without shelter, a man on the run from his past… Then Davey stumbles into the forest, and his fears of Burdo and the cold dissolve to nothing at the sound of deep, bestial growls.
The moon is full. Ancient moorland legends are coming to life in its silvery radiance. Out of the woodland steps a strange young man, and the snarling beasts fall back. He’s offering sanctuary, but at what price? He’s the most beautiful creature Davey has ever seen. If Davey follows him in fascination through the gateway of Wolf Hall, what secrets will unfold before the dawn?
The moon cleared the mist and sailed high. After a very long time, Davey realised that he wasn’t running. He wasn’t very fit. Hormones had lifted him out across the fields but now he was just down to muscle and bone. He was walking heavily, his breath scraping in his chest. His feet knocked frost out of the heather with each step. He hit a sweep of bracken and waded through it waist-deep, and it was like being part of a frost-pattern forming on glass. Emerging, he blundered on, until at the place where even bracken and heather couldn’t hang on and the hilltops were scoured by the wind to bare rock, he came to a shuddering halt.
He was lost. Somehow, within a couple of miles from the streets where he’d lived all his life, he’d crossed a horizon and entered an alien landscape. The hills were cresting in the wrong places, the valleys or hopes that gave all the little towns part of their name – with increasing irony according to how rundown and despairing they were – dipping at weird angles. Everything was bathed in pale radiance. The Blood Moon, this full moon was called, and Davey would never have understood how something so ethereal could have earned the name, except that his junior school had been scrupulously fair about comparative religions and given fair crack to everyone, even the Jehovah’s Witness minister and the authentic local witch. There were three harvest moons, she had explained. August then September for barley then wheat, and the third…
At the Blood Moon you harvested the beasts. It wasn’t a cruel thing: you had to have meat for the winter. You tried to choose the ones that wouldn’t make it through the cold.
Davey stumbled off the moor and onto a single-track road. He stood gasping and shivering, wrapping his arms around himself as the wind sliced away his body heat. He wouldn’t make it through one night’s cold, let alone a whole winter. It might have been best if he’d lain down and let John Burdon harvest him right away. A road was better than a trackless wasteland but he still didn’t know where he was. The lights of the village had vanished far off behind him. He couldn’t have found his way back even if he’d dared to try.
Shit. Hot tears pressed upward in his throat. A kind of background loneliness he’d been aware of all through his teens and into his new adult life welled up and consumed him. If he did die out here, who would notice? Burdo might, if ever he found him, but only as a hunting beast frustrated of its prey.
Surely Davey had shaken him off by now. Slowly, too tired to make the effort of concealment any more, he began to walk along the exposed road.
There was a sign. It was an old fingerpost board, weathered almost blank. One arm pointed off to Durham, thirty miles away and no more use to Davey than Mars. The other said – no distance specified – Wolf Hall.
Davey laughed, a strange sound in the inhuman stillness. He wasn’t about to set off towards a place called Wolf bloody Hall in the middle of a full-moon Halloween night, was he?
Then, the alternative was Durham and death by hypothermia. Already he was starting to care less about things. His shirt was clinging oddly to his back, the soft hairs on his arms stiffening, gathering a faint white sheen. The road forked at the sign. He had to choose.
In the event his weary feet chose for him. The tarmac ran out on the Wolf Hall branch of the road, became a bed of pine needles. They made for soft walking. He barely noticed that grey pillar trunks had begun to rise around him, that as well as feeling the cold he was hearing it, a high, sweet keening of wind through the tops of the trees. Nevertheless the track was more sheltered than the moor top, and gave Davey the sense of walking down the aisle of a beautiful church.
Something bounded past him through the trees. It was warm, about waist high, and brushed him so closely that its displaced air buffeted him. He staggered and dropped to his knees. Immediately something else shot out of the darkness: he ducked on instinct and it leapt him, not shifting a hair on his head but forcing a deep, rank scent of belly-fur into his lungs. “Jesus Christ! What the fuck was that?”
“Nobody. Don’t worry about it.”
Davey jerked his head up. The one thing weirder than asking a question in this wilderness was receiving an answer. His mouth dropped open. Towering above him was a half-naked, silver-limned young man. “You know you’re not funny,” this vision informed the darkness and the trees beyond the track. “You think you are, but you’re not.” He put one hand on Davey’s skull and drew him to lean against his thigh. The tight-muscled leg was clad in denim. He held Davey in place as if he owned him – gently scratched the short hair back from his brow, a caress Davey’s mother had known he enjoyed, but nobody else in the whole wide world. “Leave this one to me. Do you hear?”
A sound between a snarl and laughter answered him. The grip on Davey’s skull tightened – not hurting, just casually possessive. “No,” the young man told the darkness. “No, I won’t come and play with you. Not going to happen, not ever.”
The cluster of pines became silent – then, in one rush, empty. The young man stood tensely listening for a few seconds, then squatted down beside Davey, keeping his hand where it was. “Are you all right?” he asked, his voice grave and cultured. “I’m so sorry you were troubled by my – er, my family dogs. They’re boisterous on nights like this, and I’d like to say they mean no harm, but – ”
Davey tore away from him. He landed hard on his backside in the frost. “But what?” he yelled, delayed fear catching up with him, boiling into rage. “They’d have eaten me alive if you hadn’t stopped them?” This was bloody typical, Davey decided. The beautiful creature crouching beside him might not be tweed-clad and toting a rifle on his shoulder, but they were all the bloody same, these rich posh twats who bought up the derelict farms around here and used them as hunting lodges, while honest men struggled to afford the rent on their flats in the world below. “Who the hell are you? Why aren’t you…” Helplessly he took in the broad chest, moon-silvered satiny skin. No yawping lout should have curling brown hair down to his shoulders, or caramel eyes that caught the moon and turned it into gold. “Why aren’t you cold?” he finished lamely, running out of steam. “That’s it, isn’t it? I’ve died out here. I’ve fucking frozen.”
The young man laughed. There was no resemblance between that sound and anything Davey had heard before. It was quite devoid of cruelty: rich and sonorous, penetratingly kind. “You haven’t died. You will, though, if you stay out here much longer. You’d better come with me.”