The terms of this New Year challenge were as follows: a theme of resolution, featuring two promises / pledges, one kept / one broken, 365 or 366 words.
It was not unusual for soaking wet fell walkers to come through the doors of The Ram, to dry by the fire with a restorative, but these three seemed to have had a particularly bad time of it.
Pale, shaking, mute – drowned rats.
Drowned rats. McGregs, the establishment’s most perceptive regular, could imagine these three as animals recently transmogrified into human form, just as he might once have been a wild boar.
Nobody knew anything much about McGregs, presumably short for McGregor, only that he lived alone in a small cottage a hundred yards from the pub where he drew comic strips by candlelight. They were published in magazines none of them read.
Every now and then, maybe a few times a year, someone would come in to The Ram and ask about a man named Paul Joseph Sunday, showing a laughably out-of-date photograph. Nobody, neither the regulars nor the bar staff, ever knew who or what they were talking about.
That night, the rain didn’t so much fall as form a permanent link between the heavens and the earth, so that it might have been possible for a harpist to pluck the strings and make music.
But no, that sound was the phone ringing.
It was not the first time D.I. Johnson had woken McGregs. Their relationship… was not a relationship, not quite. There were questions he had made her promise she would never ask him.
“Three people came into the pub this afternoon,” she said. “Did you see them?”
He’d seen them, of course, and he’d sketched them, just in case.
He asked if she wanted to come over but she said she didn’t.
They had men out on the moors with flashlights, curses and dogs. A body had been found. Could he send her a picture of the pictures he had drawn of those three drowned rats?
When he closed his eyes, he could see them walking through the rain, newly changed by whatever had happened, promising each other they would keep their secret secret. To never breathe a word.
McGregs knew that wasn’t how it worked. If you wanted promises kept, you had to go it alone.