The Dark Rider - By Andrew Critchell

Chapter One

The slow and heavy tick tock of an old grandfather clock sounded out across the still air, shutting out the sound of rain lashing against the window. The sky was a leaden grey that sapped color from everything underneath, while its mass was a physical presence, pressing down on the land and weighting the air with darkness. Outside, street lights began to snap on as darkness started to consume everything around him.

His name was Paul. Nineteen-years-old, he was tall, muscular and slim, with short dark hair and blue eyes. He was sitting in a chair by the window, reading by the remaining light, while all around him the room slipped into shadow. The furniture, bookcases, ornaments, all were losing their sharpness and definition, becoming a part of the greyness that seeped in through the window and settled on everything like a blanket.

It was getting too dark to read so Paul closed the book and raised his eyes. The room had never changed, as far as he could remember, since the very first days, years ago, when he and his sister, Alex, had sat on the aged sofa, looking excitedly at the array of ancient books that lined one wall of the room, each with its own secrets. They would sit there in the morning, waiting for their aunt to call them for breakfast, and all the time they could smell the fresh sea air and feel its beckoning pull.

A particular memory came to him. It was the second summer they were here. He was sitting on the sofa on his own, lost in a book. Sunlight was streaming in through the open window, filling the room with warmth. Outside seagulls and Jackdaws were calling, while the grandfather clock’s comforting tick tock came from the recess in the corner. He had heard something then and looked up to see Aunt Gwen standing in the doorway. She was looking at him in a strange way that he had never seen in her before. He smiled nervously but her face remained serious.

“What’s the matter?” he had asked. She moved into the room and sat next to him on the sofa. She turned to him, as if composing herself. It seemed like a long time until she spoke.

“You know I have waited a long time to find you Paul.”

Paul looked up at her quizzically.

“I don’t understand.”

“There is a reason why you feel different. Why you don’t fit in. Why you spend a lot of time on your own.”

Paul shifted uncomfortably on his seat, wanting to forget.

“You have been chosen for a very special task.”

“What do you mean?” asked Paul. “What special task?”

“It is not really something I can tell you,” she had replied raising her hands, her fingers gently touching his forehead. His skin had tingled under her touch.

“I can only show you.”

Paul blinked. The memory was gone as quickly as it had appeared. He looked around half expecting, half wanting, to see his aunt standing in the doorway looking across at him but there was nothing. The still, grey room lay before him, unchanged and empty of everything but his memories, and the sound of the grandfather clock, and the rain pattering on the window.

His heart thudded heavily in his chest.

Startled, Paul opened his eyes. He had fallen asleep and now night had fallen. He pushed himself upright, stretching cramped muscles, and then checked his watch. It was time. Slowly, Paul rose from the sofa, dread filling his stomach. He walked up narrow stairs to the box-like space that served as a landing between two rooms. He knocked softly on the door of one and then entered, closing the door quietly behind him. A double bed sat in the middle of the room facing the window. A haze of light lay around the bed from the lamp outside while the rest of the room lay in darkness. In the bed lay the frail figure of an old lady. He stood and stared at her, sickened by how small and haggard his aunt had become, shocked at how quickly it had happened. He thought that she was asleep until he realized she was staring out of the window at the rain.


Paul’s heart wrenched as she spoke in a quiet, brittle voice, broken by sickness. Her breath came quickly and harshly. Paul tried to speak but his throat was caught by tears. He watched her move her head round until her eyes met his, round grey eyes that looked as old as the sea itself,