Catherine slipped almost invisibly into the sleepy northern village in which she’d been born and raised. The sun was already sinking and the midges feasted on anyone foolish enough to walk by the river at dusk. She’d left Weardale with her parents while in her final year at school, and after four years at university she'd taken a junior position with a respectable city law firm, never sparing a thought to the serene and tranquil life she’d left behind. She’d married shortly afterwards to a man 10 years her senior and after five years together they now rarely spoke, except kiss goodnight or to ask for the salt at dinner.
It came as a tremendous shock when, out of the blue, the purchase of Heights Quarry landed on Catherine’s desk and she was grateful that she’d return to Weardale anonymously as Catherine Montrose LLB rather than Cathy Sinclair, the kid from Eastgate.
She grinned as she headed north on the M1; how pissed they’d all be at the plans to turn the quarry into a land fill site. “Fuck-em!” She swore, "Village full of bumpkins and farm hands; they need to move with the times. Besides, we all need a hole in the ground in which we can burry our shit."
Although she’d been driving most of the day and desperately needed a shot of something from the top shelf, she couldn’t wait to visit the quarry where, as a girl, she’d catch frogs and skinny dip in the dark pools. The quarry was almost invisible from the road, but she remembered the way well enough and drove slowly in case she caught the bottom of her car on the neglected road. The sky to the west was shifting from orange to deep crimson as the sun approached the horizon, but the residual glow was enough for Catherine to find her way. She locked the car and slipped the keys into her inside pocket, removing her jacket as she squeezed through a weathered fence. The ground fell away sharply and Catherine dug her 3 inch heels into the soft earth as a mountaineer would dig his crampons into ice.
Cautiously she edged towards the quarry, aware of the sheer drop onto jiggered rocks and Icy pools and she stood one cliff top for a moment peering into the lengthening shadows and imagining death waiting far below. In the distance she heard an engine, coarse and loud, a motorcycle or quad bike, both commonly used by farmers in these parts. The roar grew louder and Catherine imagined how embarrassing it would be if she was trespassing. She turned to climb the incline, but her designer city shoes gave poor grip when climbing and she slithered upwards using her hands to assist her laborious ascent. As she approached the summit and reached for the fence, she was dazzled by the Quad that raced recklessly towards her. She raised her arm to shield her eyes from the blazing lights and tripped on some tree root or some other hidden obstruction, tumbling backwards towards the edge of the cliff. She clawed at the earth, slowing her descent, but inexorably she slid towards the chasm.
Miraculously her hand found the root of a tree balanced precariously on the edge of the cliff, and Catherine clung to it for her life. Her legs swung outwards over the precipice, a shoe falling into the darkness, followed by the jacket she’d been holding. She cried for help and in the still night only the shrill cry of a curlew came in response.
Her grip was weakening and she could feel her fingers slipping on the damp, muddy root as she desperately searched for purchase with her free hand. With the abyss set to swallow her, a dark figure loomed above and a firm grip locked around her wrist, dragging Catherine back onto solid ground. The shadow held her firmly, pulling her bodily up the slope and through the fence into the spotlight projected by the silent quad bike.
Catherine wiped the terror from her eyes with her sleeve and her saviour became solid before her. Her rescuer was a woman, a girl perhaps a few years younger than she and dressed in rough camouflage gear. A farmer’s wife or daughter, Catherine thought – no one else would be stupid enough to come up here at night.
Catherine thanked her, though anger at her own stupidity disguised any sincerity in her voice and the woman watched in silence as Catherine hobbled back to her car on one shoe. “Fuck!” Catherine swore. “The car keys are in my coat.” She said half in explanation, half pleading, but the woman didn’t answer.
“Can you take me to the village?” Catherine implored. “I’m staying at the Cross Keys.”
“Am not going to the village.” The woman replied. “I can take you to our farm and bring yer back here tomorrow t’ look for your keys.”
Catherine was close to tears. The shock of her close shave, rattling through her like a winter chill. It was a thousand to one that anyone should have been passing to pull her from the great maw of death, but then again it was the woman on the bike that had startled her and caused her to stumble in the first place.
“It’s up t’ you.” The girl said, throwing a leg over the saddle and at once the engine roared into life. Catherine quickly kicked off her remaining shoe and ran to the bike, jumping up and landing side saddle on the rack usually reserved for a sheep dog.
The journey was unbearably uncomfortable, though mercifully short. The quad seemed to find every bump and pothole on the ill kept track and Catherine’s whole body ached when she finally alighted in the courtyard of what appeared to be a deserted homestead.
“Everyone’s out lambin,” the girl said. “I only came back to stock up on supplies. My dad and brothers have been livin up on the mountain for the past three week, but the ewes have nearly all birthed. Least them that’s goin to.” She wiped her hand on the back of her trousers and offered it to Catherine. “I’m Jenny.” She said smiling broadly.
Catherine took it reluctantly, wondering what the girl had been handling and when she’d last washed. “Catherine.” She said, her weak smile threating to crack the façade that she painted on each morning.
“I’ll be taking up food and fresh blankets in the morning so I can take yer back to find your keys once it gets light.”
To Catherine’s surprise, the farmhouse door was unbolted, but she remembered how her own front door was rarely locked when she had lived in the dale and how mistrust was a lesson she learned quickly once she’d departed. Inside it was dark and cold, but Jenny quickly found the light switch and a dull glow filled the large traditional kitchen.
“This way.” Jenny led Catherine into an adjoining room. Without turning on a light she hurried to the mantelpiece and struck a match from the box that permanently waited there. The sudden flare died into a steady flame and Jenny set it to the pile of paper and kindling that waited in the hearth. At once the paper spluttered and spat, and slowly took flame. Within moments the kindling was crackling like pork roasting in a hot oven and Jenny dropped a few pieces of coal onto the growing flames.
“Here.” She took hold of the arm of the sofa and waited for Catherine to take the other. Together they inched the settee into the ring of warmth projected from the adolescent fire. At once Jenny disappeared and Catherine listened to the thud of boots on the stairs. Seconds later they were echoed by soft padding as a barefoot Jenny returned to her guest wearing a long cotton dress. “Here,” she said offering a similar, but paler garment to Catherine. “You’ll sharp warm through.”
After a moment’s thought Catherine threw off her blouse and trousers and pulled on the dress, fastening the countless tiny buttons that studded its front. Jenny, busied herself draping the damp, discarded clothing over a chair which she pulled closer to the fire, pretending not to look before pouring out two generous brandies from the cabinet by the door.
“What you doin up here anyway.” Jenny asked flopping onto the sofa and waiting for Catherine to join her before handing over a tumbler.
“I used to live here” she said after considering and discarding the idea of telling Jenny about the land fill proposal. “I forgot how quickly darkness falls in the country.”
Jenny nodded. “That it does lass.” She said taking a sip from her glass.
Catherine watched the liquor sparkle on Jenny’s lips and the fire dancing in her eyes. “Thank you.” She said at last, laying a hand on top of Jenny’s. Jenny didn’t attempt to pull away, but Catherine was surprised that she was so unearthly cold.
Jenny squirmed, her hip rubbing against Catherine’s and Catherine assumed that the girl had been out working in the bleak and unforgiving Weardale hills. The idea made Catherine shiver and she held out her hands to the flames. At once Jenny took hold of Catherine’s wrist, to closer see the dirt and grit caked to her hands. She jumped up without a word and Catherine watched her hurry from the room. She returned with a bowl of water which she placed by the fire and knelt on the floor at Catherine’s feet. She took Catherine’s hand and washed away the dirt with a soft sponge as gently she would brush dust from a butterfly’s wing.
The water was icy cold and smelled faintly of disinfectant and Catherine lay back with her eyes closed as jenny shifted her position and lifted Catherine’s foot, washing away the memory of her plight. Catherine’s stomach was churning; she’d come so close to death and now lay enjoying Jenny’s compassionate touch.
“No harm done” jenny told her, taking her seat on the sofa and pulling her skirt above her knees so that the fire could warm her shins and beyond. Catherine followed suit.
Catherine closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. There was a sweet scent of petrol in the air, no doubt remnants of a hard day’s labour. She turned to Jenny and without thinking reached out to brush the girl’s wild, untamed hair away from her face. She was undoubtedly beautiful, Catherine thought, but naturally so in contrast to her own false mask.
She leaned over and kissed Jenny on the cheek. “Thank you.” she said with all of her heart and Jenny smiled and turned towards her.
“You’re welcome.” She replied, pressing herself against Catherine and kissing her rouge painted mouth. She paused, waiting for Catherine’s approval, which duly came, lips moving against lips, arms enfolding her in unbreakable desire. They kissed and held each other, neither willing to break the spell that engulfed them as surely as the glow of the fire.
Jenny’s hand found Catherine’s breast, kneading gently through the course fabric and Catherine moaned softly into her mouth, her hand reaching for Jenny’s thigh. The farmer’s skin was soft and smooth and cool despite exposure to the naked flames. Jenny’s knees parted in response and Catherine accepted her invitation to explore further.
With agonising deliberation Jenny unbuttoned the front of Catherine’s dress, and once uncovered, Catherine offered her breasts for Jenny’s attention. At once, soft lips entombed her nipple, a wild and excited tongue snaking back and forth. Catherine sighed and writhed beneath the girl, her whole body tingling at her offering of such forbidden fruit. She wriggled her arms free and guided Jenny’s mouth to her own, shuffling in the sofa as Jenny freed her from the thick cotton garment. Naked, but for her almost transparent panties, her skin glowed in the firelight. Catherine protested weakly as Jenny pulled away, standing before her and beginning to undress. Catherine bit her lip but made no move to assist as each button popped. For a moment Jenny stood with the dress open to the waist, teasing Catherine for just a little longer than was kind. She pushed the straps from her shoulders and let the gown fall to the floor, just as the teenage Cathy used to practice in front of the mirror. Catherine moaned, feeling a frisson of excitement run through her. With a smile, Jenny sank to her knees and eased down Catherine’s silken panties, throwing them onto the chair with her other clothes. Gently she parted Catherine’s knees so that she could shuffle forward between her thighs. She laid her head on Catherine’s belly, inhaling the expensive perfume, her darting tongue carefully tasting the older woman’s flesh. Lower and lower she sank, Catherine moaning softly as each tender kiss drew Jenny closer to her goal. Catherine spread her legs feeling Jenny’s breath on her thigh and desperation was clear in her cry. To her delight Jenny dipped forward to brush her lips over Catherine’s engorged clitoris. Fire burned within and Catherine’s thighs rose to lock Jenny’s head in place. Jenny didn’t protest, gently lapping and kissing, sucking and teasing as Catherine sang overtures of ecstasy and danced in her erotic beauty. She came quickly in an explosive burst like a pyrotechnic marvel on New Year’s Day, sparks and flames flashing outwards and her ears filled with her own cries of wonder and delight. But she wanted more, needed more; she wanted Jenny. She joined Jenny on the floor and wrestled the younger, fitter woman onto her back, inhaling the natural freshness that exuded from Jenny’s glistening arousal. She forced Jenny’s ankles wide and took a sip from her most sacred chalice. Sweet nectar coated Catherine’s lips and her sex pulsated as if Jenny's tongue was penetrating her as she drank. She moaned and cried, the cool limestone floor chilling her and, oh how she imbibed on Jenny's delight.
She could feel Jenny tensing, could hear her pitiful sobs and Catherine’s heart swelled with pride. Hands reached into her hair and pressed Catherine’s erect tongue deep inside and Jenny screamed, unabashed as she came, bucking and twitching, shouting her joy to the world.
For a long moment Catherine lay, entangled in Jenny’s legs, the comforting fire gently boiling the perspiration on her back. She could stay here forever, would lie here forever but after a brief eternity, Jenny sat up and pulled herself clear. She took Catherine’s hand and without a word led her upstairs where they slipped into a cool bed and lay still while their love warmed the sheets.
Catherine awoke in the arms of her lover, the chill morning air teasing and caressing her flesh. She lay unmoving in fear of waking Jenny, though in truth Jenny had stirred an hour before dawn, but was content to lie in Catherine’s arms. In a fit of wild abandon, Jenny kicked back the covers and the chill that engulfed them was quickly dispelled by the sun that streamed through the naked window.
They kissed and touched, limbs tangling, fingers interlocking as they enjoyed their final embrace as one may absorb the final beautiful throes of the day. Catherine lay in her naked glory and watched Jenny dress in her work clothes, feeling a stab of regret as the girl methodically covered herself. At last Catherine pulled herself from the bed and embraced the chill air, walking brazenly down stairs with Jenny and stepped into her frosty suit.
They didn’t eat, as neither woman seemed hungry for food. And without a word they stepped out into the courtyard. The out buildings were bleak and even the farmhouse from which they’d emerged appeared cold and unforgiving. The quad bike started first time and Catherine climbed aboard, wrapping her arms around Jenny and resting her head on the girls shoulder.
Jenny drove far slower than she had on the previous night and Catherine liked to think that it was to prolong their time together. As the track twisted and turned, Catherine closed her eyes and let the morning flood into her body, refreshingly cool and invigorating.
It was only when Jenny slowed and turned off the engine that Catherine realised they were not alone. The road ahead was blocked by a police car and beyond it a uniformed officer was holding back a group of 4 or 5 people armed with notepads and cameras. Catherine listened intently as the policeman told reporters that there’d been an accident during the night, that a woman had fallen from the cliff. "We found her bag and ID," he said, "and her car is parked at the side of the road."
“No! I’m here.” Catherine called, jumping from the bike and rushing forward.
“Paramedics are bringing her body up now,” the policeman continued, “and we’ll release her name once the family had been informed.
“What?” Catherine ducked under the tape and rushed past the small assembly to the ambulance where two men were loading a stretcher into the back. One of the paramedics stumbled and the blanket covering the body slipped away. Catherine cried out in grief at the sight of her own broken body and deathly white face.
A Police woman brushed by without seeing her and helped load Catherine’s body into the ambulance, while an echo of the dead woman stood watching. Jenny came up alongside her and slipped an arm around Catherine’s waist. Catherine’s head snapped around. “You can see me?” She said. “Touch me?”
Jenny smiled sadly and Catherine followed her eyes to a small plaque embedded in the earth, the plaque she had tripped on the night before, clear now in the bright morning sun.
Catherine read the inion out loud. “In memory of Jennifer Spooner, 1975 – 2001.”
“They put the fence up after the accident.” Jenny whispered. “But dad always said I rode too fast.”