During the run up to Christmas, the authors of Crime Cymru have come together to post short Christmas stories throughout December to the Crime Cymru website and its social media platforms. There will be a story every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday until the 22nd of December. Each story will be by a different author to keep your thirst for crime fiction alive while the stress of Christmas takes over.
We hope you enjoy our festive tales and on behalf of all the authors, we wish you a Merry Christmas.
The Night Visit is a chilling tale by Alison Layland of a couple arriving at the eerie town of Llanwenydd.
The Night Visit by Alison LayLand
The snow whirled down, the flakes white against the dark sky, grey as they entered the beam of the headlights. No two ways about it, they were lost.
‘I’m getting worried about this; we’ll have to find somewhere to stay the night if we can,’ she said.
So much for getting home by twelfth night; what an end to what had otherwise been a wonderful seasonal break. As they passed a sign welcoming them to the scattered hamlet of Llanwenydd, they saw with relief the welcoming lights of a pub.
‘Looks as good a place as any to try,’ he said as he pulled into the rough car park, the snow filling their tyre tracks as soon as they formed.
A flurry of wind and white accompanied their entry into the mellow light and bright chatter of the bar.
‘What can I get you?’ said the landlord. ‘Whatever it is, you look as if you need it.’
‘What we need,’ he said, ‘is a room for the night.’
‘A room at the inn, eh?’ His eyes moved suggestively downwards. ‘She’s not about to…’
‘Well, you never know – two people turning up out of the blue on twelfth night asking for a room? We’ve got your three wise men anyway.’ He nodded over to a rustic trio deep in conversation at one of the tables, the lines giving character to their faces like sheep tracks on a mountain. ‘They double up as shepherds sometimes, too, you know.’
The couple looked at one another and, as if by agreement, joined in with his laughter.
‘It looks surprisingly busy for a night like this,’ she commented. And it was unusually lively – the usual chatter, laughter and clinking of glasses, but also an inexplicable air of expectation filling the low-beamed room.
‘Oh it’s a special night tonight. You ever heard of the Mari Lwyd?’
‘I think so. You mean the procession with the horse?’
‘She’s more than a horse you know. Don’t ask me what, but she’s definitely got a life of her own. Anyway, a room. I’ve got one free – well, they’re all free, tell you the truth. You’ll have to bear with me while I get things ready. Can I have your names by the way?’ He picked up the bookings diary.
‘Stephen Gray. And my wife, Mary.’
‘Mary Gray?’ The innkeeper looked quizzical.
‘We are married,’ said Stephen tetchily, ‘if that sort of thing still matters these days.’
‘Oh nothing of the sort,’ said the landlord, ‘I was miles away, that’s all.’
They followed him upstairs and into the room. Despite his apologies it looked most welcoming and they began to feel a bit cheerier as they unpacked and settled in.
‘There’s something I don’t like about this place,’ said Stephen as he plonked himself on the bed.
‘What do you mean? I think it’s really cosy.’
‘Well that barman for a start. Far too forward. Gives me the creeps.’
‘Come on, he’s only trying to be friendly.’
‘So what was that about your name?’
‘Coincidence, I think. As far as I know, llwyd means grey in Welsh. So somewhere along the line, we’re related to all those Lloyds. So I suppose Mary Gray’s a bit like the Mari Lwyd he was talking about.’
‘Oh yes, so you’ve heard of that, have you?’
‘Yes, don’t you remember, we were talking about it one night last week? I’m really looking forward to seeing it for real. I love these old traditions; it’s wonderful to think we’ve happened on something like this.’
‘Huh. S’pose. Though I’d much rather have a quiet evening and an early night. When I think of all I’ve got to do at home. Honestly, I could have done without this.’
‘Well we’re here now, you might as well relax and enjoy yourself.’
Downstairs, after a good meal, they reminisced quietly about the week they had just spent with their friends at the cottage, and continued to be amazed at how lively the pub was. A group in one corner had produced some instruments and were beginning to sing heartily. Although Mary was dying to know more about the evening’s events, they were sitting at a small table by themselves and hadn’t yet managed to strike up conversation with anyone, although they could feel many a glance in their direction. Suddenly, without any obvious warning, the room fell silent.
Outside, voices could be heard singing.
Wel dyma ni’n dwad
I ofyn cawn gennad i ganu …
The landlord opened the door, peered out, and as one, people in the room began to sing a verse in response. The cold air flowed in like a messenger from the outside world as the singing passed back and forth between the small party on the threshold and those safe and warm inside. Silhouetted against the moonlit snow – it had stopped falling for a spell – they could make out the strange figure of the Mari Lwyd: still, watching, waiting. Alive.
Suddenly, the door was flung fully open, and the Mari leapt in, a flash of white and brightly coloured ribbons, the skull-like horse’s head snapping wildly. The music started up and the crowd parted to let her pass, whirling, snapping, searching.
Despite his cynicism, Stephen couldn’t help feeling a little afraid.
He told himself this was no more than a man under a sheet, yet the thing seemed alive, real, beyond control. And his heart leapt when it stopped at their table. The empty eyes staring.
Snap-snap! It moved on. Snap! The music, the movement, the swirling colours. And the people singing, drinking, dancing. He realised Mary was up there with them, dancing, smiling, laughing. He watched, mesmerised, as time seemed to stand still, yet fly by. And before he knew it, the party was leaving, the presence of the Mari drifting out through the open door into the night.
The singing and merriment continued around him and he rose to get another pint from the bar. He looked around for Mary. Must have gone to the Ladies. He bought two drinks and returned to the table. Several people came and went, but no Mary. After about a quarter of an hour he went and asked the landlord. ‘Have you seen her?’
‘She went with them.’
‘What? Why didn’t you tell me when I ordered two drinks?’
‘Not for me to question you. Don’t worry, she’ll be back in good time.’
He felt a rising, inexplicable panic.
‘Where’ve they gone?’
‘Oh, around the houses. All over. Can’t say really. They’ll be back.’
Stephen rushed upstairs, grabbed his coat and dashed out into the hushed lane. He realised the snow had started falling again. Any tracks they made would be covered. He dashed about blindly, without purpose, searching. Panic rose in him, illogical. Of course she’d be all right, she was off glorified carol-singing. But he remembered the look in the blank eyes of the thing as it stopped in front of their table. The way she danced, not giving him, Stephen, a second glance. Went off without telling him. He wandered the blanketed village, looking, listening, following farm tracks, but no sign of anything.
After he knew not how long, he returned to the pub, nodded to the revellers, who were still revelling and nodded back knowingly, and went upstairs to his room, the landlord’s voice ringing in his ears: ‘They’ll be back, she’ll be back, before the night’s out, don’t you worry.’
He slept fitfully, getting up between night-mares to stare out of the window at the white, empty world. Eventually he fell into a deep sleep and, sure enough, despite his worst fears, she was back by the morning.
She was unusually quiet, and refused to say a word about where she had been, what had happened that night. All she did say, on the way home, was that her heart would always be in Llanwenydd.