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(A long short story of 11348 words)

Starkridge

Fantasy Literary

by Cherry Potts


Hell hath no fury like a mountain underestimated, and on one bleak spring day just about everyone underestimates the Old Woman, with disasterous consequences.


Starkridge nestled into the lower slopes of a mountain known locally as the Old Woman. It was a place for those who appreciated scenery, and were oblivious to comfort; the mountain was riddled by potholes, rough water and sheer drops.

If you had a good sense of direction and there was a clear day, you could see to... Without question a place to look out from, not to look at; a landscape with a sinister personality of its own, that might make the imaginative uneasy.

Totally dominated by the Old Woman, it was perhaps inevitable that Starkridge should support a thriving mountain rescue service. People were always falling foul of the Old Woman; she had opinions, and ways of dealing with people who crossed her.

It was not easy for a mountain to have a concept of time; but in the general way of things, the Old Woman had been around long enough; relatively young in the measuring of the cosmos, but ancient beyond all reckoning to the life that crawled upon her slopes. She had seen things, heard things, and drawn her conclusions. The Old Woman had a way of making her opinions felt, and ways of interfering when she felt like doing so. She was a mountain to be reckoned with.

In this joyless spot, beguiled by who knows what opium sullied fantasy, a Victorian playboy had built his mock-baronial hunting lodge. It was a modest building of only twelve bedrooms, a turret and generally gothic design. No one quite remembered what had become of this son of the industrial age, but he had not survived to enjoy his creation for long.

A series of short-lived tenancies had each ended in disasters of various kinds, and the hunting lodge had been empty for several years, falling into an attractive decay, when it once more became a centre of activity, and a new source of irritation to the Old Woman.

The new owners, the Randall family, had gradually recovered the hunting lodge from the brink of dilapidation using a substantial redundancy payment, an ill-judged loan from a novice bank manager and fanatical vision. Their intention was to turn The Hunting Lodge into an hotel.

George Randall had fallen for the Lodge's air of genteel roguishness and decay. Once the decay had been seen to, the thin layer of mellowed charm was ruthlessly excised and the Lodge was neither genteel nor roguish. It regained the eager, insensitive brashness of its youth and no amount of work or money could convince him that the house would regain the grace he had once imagined it possessed.

George had been fooled by the mountain. It was one of the Old Woman's mists that had provoked his romantic imagination, making the Lodge seem so sinisterly desirable. It was fortunate that Mr Randall could laugh at the crass vulgarity of the Victorian architecture, but in his heart he knew that the Lodge lacked that vital ingredient, atmosphere, with which to carry off its own peculiar style.

Paula Randall had imagined that working together would bring George and herself closer, that they would develop a rapport here in the wilds, with only their own company, that had been lacking in their previous executive existence. She was quickly disabused of this notion. She felt the Lodge to be a millstone about her neck, always making demands. She had done what she could to make the house comfortable, overcompensating for the bleak locale and draughty rooms by running the central heating almost constantly and several degrees higher than strictly necessary. Her chief ambition, apart from leaving the Lodge altogether, was to be able to fit secondary glazing.

Paula had enjoyed the renovation; she and her elder daughter had worked together, doing as much of the unskilled work as they could. She justified this as a cost cutting exercise, but would not have missed it for the world. Apart from the pleasure of knocking damaged plaster off the walls, it had finally given her an opportunity to get close to Karen. Working together, choosing carpets and bedspreads, there had been a semblance of the family spirit she had always hoped for. It had been short lived. As soon as the work was completed, Karen had gone, with much relief and never a backward glance, to college...
 

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