Saddleworth by R.J. Gardham

Artwork by Hannah Demaine

She climbed over the turnstile. The tall grass whipped her ankles in the wind.

“Not that way,” said her father, coming up the hill behind her and turning left instead. “That way’s down to the ridge.”

“How do you know your way around so well?” she asked in awe. “It all looks the same.” Never, on any of her visits, had her father gotten them lost.

“You live here as long as I have, you learn your landscape. Speaks to you.”

“Don’t,” said Anna with a shudder. “I already think this place is haunted.”

“Not haunted. Alive. I read about it, once. This professor said that these moors change – the topsoil, the heather, the scrub – it constantly renews itself in a never-ending cycle. Reason why they never found that poor boy, and probably never will. These moors are shifting, changing. The very landscape is just as alive as you and me.”

They walked on, the rough wooden fence, broken down, their only path-marker. Ahead, the ground sloped up. A great white patch, bare and chalky, appeared like a blotch on the face of the moor.

“Is it really haunted though?”

“Not Keith’s ghost, not that little girl’s, not any of them poor souls that them evil pair took. An abstract ghost. An amorphous thing. Everything that anyone’s ever said about it, or read about it, or thought about it, and then they’ve mentioned these moors in the same breath, that’s the ghost. It will always be haunted by association.”

They walked on, past scrub and gorse. Birds flew high above, the lines of their wings smiling at them. Distant crags frowned, their rocky faces downcast. Everywhere she looked Anna thought she saw eyes. They rounded a peaty, muddy puddle and then stopped at a crest of the path. They took in the view under the grey, empty sky.

“It’s so lonely up here,” said Anna.

“The moors have always been desolate,” replied her father. “People used to see a beauty in it. They still do, in other places. Now, here, they only see the despair.”

This story was originally published by Bandit Fiction as part of the Bandit Fiction Presents… series of digital issues. These issues remain freely available, and by purchasing one, you’ll be supporting us to continue doing what we love doing: bringing the best works from new and emerging writers to the masses.

About The Author

R. J. Gardham is the author/painter of City Lights, a visual poetry exhibition displayed in Altrincham, Manchester. He has had various pieces of flash fiction published by KGHH and Bandit Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Jane Martin Poetry Prize in 2018. He recently completed his MA in Creative Writing at the Manchester Writing School. Whilst under lockdown he alternates between reading, learning French, getting through that TV backlog of amazing shows he still hasn’t seen and trying hard to stay in shape. He has made five self-portraits and counting and a spec script for TV. Projects in the pipeline include a Mancunian follow-up to City Lights and a new short story, Spill Wave.

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