We had chosen to take the long, winding lane up the hill. After a while we turned off onto a long, straight stretch that seemed to climb into the clouds over the top of Beeley moor. It is a beautiful road, and here the sky comes low enough to touch. I can never resist the chance to find the high places that I love. But for once, that wasn’t our reason. We had been hoping to see an ice-cream vendor. A particular one. Why? Well, it had all been a bit odd really. After a long, hot climb through the woods one day last year, far longer than it should have been, we had emerged from their shelter into blazing sun, only to find ourselves still a long way from the summit of the moor and our destination. Out of breath, sweltering and, for some reason, wearing wet weather gear and boots, we had finally reached the top and the welcome sight of an ice cream van.
All very well, but things had been weird all that weekend and were about to get weirder…
“…It is one thing to be driving a nineteen sixties ice cream van but it is quite another for the van to be still entrenched there, which to all intents and purposes appears to be the case. There is a faded, hand written price board in the window precariously perched behind ice cream adverts long since made indecipherable by the sun. The ice cream man turns out to be a woman, an old woman who stands arthritically, lumbers over to the window and beams us both a toothless smile, “You’re the first people to come up that hill in three months,” she cackles and fixes me with a piercing glare. I cannot help wondering whether she has been here for the whole of that time… waiting for us.
“We lost our way in the wood,” say I, feeling some kind of response is in order however inadequate.
“What’ll you two lovelies be having then?” says the ice cream woman straightening her back with a crack.
“We’ll have two Ninety-Nines please,” say I.
The ice cream woman turns to reach into the fridge and there is an almighty bang in the van. She immediately turns and asks, “Did you see that?”
“No,” say I.
“What was it?”
“I didn’t see anything… I heard it.”
“Didn’t you see it?”
“Didn’t I see what?” say I.
“It was just the price board,” says Wen picking it up off the counter and re-positioning it.
The ice cream woman starts to cackle again and points at Wen, “That’s a lovely top, my pretty,” and then to me, “Juice on your iced creams?”
“What have you got?”
“There’s Raspberry, Strawberry or Chocolate.”
“Chocolate please,” say I.
“Now, you don’t want chocolate.”
“Why don’t I want chocolate?”
“You don’t want chocolate because it will spoil the taste of the ice cream.”
“What would you recommend?”
“Have whatever you like, love.”
“Raspberry?” say I, hoping against hope that I have made an acceptable choice.
“Raspberry it is.”
I notice with some relief that the prices are not nineteen sixties prices.
Wen and I move away from the ice cream van towards the moor demolishing our ice creams.
“It was a black bird,” says Wen quietly.
“What was?” say I
“In the van.”
“There was a black bird in the ice cream van?”
“That’s what caused the noise.”
“A black bird flew inside the ice cream van?”
“Well it was black and it appeared to have wings and yes, it was definitely inside the van.”
“Okay,” say I and although it is the only thing I have got right so far today I am beginning to wish that I had been wrong about the ice cream van after all…”
Extract from Doomsday: Dark Sage, Stuart France & Sue Vincent
Dark Sage is the second book of the Doomsday series.