"Damn, it's dark," cursed Neil Aspinall as he maneuvered his van around a tight turn on the deserted road.
"So what?" replied John. "There's nothing to see for miles on either side of the road but moors."
"It was rather pretty driving out here," Ringo called up from the back seat of the van. "All those hills and wildflowers."
"And sheep," added John.
"But now it's all just black," Neil groused. "I wish the moon would come out soon. It's supposed to be full tonight."
Paul cast a quick glance out the window in the back of the van. "We might not even see the moon when it rises," he countered. "The sky was pretty cloudy when we left Harrogate."
"The clouds seem to be lifting," John replied. "I see a few stars."
George leaned forward from the back seat seat and looked over Neil's shoulder at the front windshield. "Is this the same road we took this afternoon?"
"No, I'm taking a short cut," Neil answered. "It should save us some traffic in Leeds."
"Bloody hell," John cursed. "What was Brian thinking when he set this schedule for us? London on Tuesday, Manchester on Wednesday, Nottingham on Thursday, Harrogate this evening, back to London tomorrow, then Birmingham on Sunday, and London again on Monday. I need a fuckin' day off!"
"This van needs a fuckin' day off," Neil replied. "It's due for a tune up. And I really should change out the back tires, after all the miles I've been putting on them."
"But our first album is coming out in two weeks!" Paul exclaimed. "We need to build some excitement for it! This is why we've been working our arses off for the past five years! Just imagine, our very own long-playing record on the market in less than a fortnight!"
"Right," John agreed. He sighed theatrically and looked out the passenger side window. "Hey, I think I just saw a bird."
"At this time of night?" Ringo challenged. "I thought all the birds would be tucked in their nests by now."
"Not a bird with wings, a bird with tits!" John replied.
"Oh," Ringo said. "That kind of bird."
"I should think all the birds with tits would be tucked in their beds by now too," George said. "It's awfully late for a girl to be walking out on the moors."
John shrugged and fiddled with the dial on the van's radio. "The reception is crap out here. All I can get is BBC 3."
"Lovely," Ringo said sarcastically. "Maybe when this symphony is over, we can hear Bertrand Russell discuss his latest book on philosophy."
"Roll over Beethoven, and tell Tchaikovsky the news," George replied. He leaned his head against the wall of the van and closed his eyes.
A distant howling pierced the night air. George immediately opened his eyes and sat up straight.
"Bugger! What the hell was that?" he asked.
"Just a dog," Neil laughed. "Go back to sleep."
"It sounded more like a wolf," George protested.
"There haven't been any wolves in England for hundreds of years," Paul said. "I learned that in history class at school."
"I don't remember a damned thing I learned in school," John replied.
"That's 'cause you went to Quarrybank and not the Liverpool Institute," Paul said. "The teachers who taught you weren't cool."
"I went to Liverpool Institute," George reminded Paul. "And every last teacher I had was a git."
"Go back to sleep," Neil called over his shoulder. "We're still hours from London."
Ringo leaned closer to Paul and whispered. "That howling sounded like the cry of the Gytrash to me."
Paul scowled at his drummer. "What the bloody hell is a Gytrash?"
"It's a giant black dog that haunts the moors," Ringo answered. "When I was in Children's Hospital, there was a Sister in my ward who used to tell us bedtime stories. Mostly she told us fairy tales, but sometimes she'd share a ghost story she had learned when she was growing up in Yorkshire. She taught us all about the Gytrash and Grindylows and the Lambdon Worm."
John made an eerie moaning sound, then shouted, "Fuck! The Lambdon Worm is crawling up my leg!"
George sighed, repositioned his head against the van's interior wall, and dozed back off.
Neil continued driving along the dark, empty road for a quarter mile. Then the van passed over a gully, jostling its inhabitants and awakening George once more.
"Christ! What was that?" George exclaimed. "It felt like you ran into a boulder!"
"Don't get your knickers in a twist," Neil admonished him. "I just drove over a hole in the road."
"The hole was rather small," John called over his shoulder.
"Yeah, but…" George began to protest.
A loud popping sound interrupted his reply.
"Bugger!" Neil cursed. He tightened his grip on the steering wheel as the back of the van started wobbling. "I think we've got a puncture."
"Bullocks," John swore.
Neil eased the van onto the side of the road and killed the engine. "I'll go check the damage. One of you lot will need to hold the torch for me. Any volunteers?" he asked as he opened his door.
The Beatles exchanged reluctant glances in the dim light cast by the van's overhead bulb. After several seconds of silence, John opened his door. "I'll help you, Neil. Since I'm the leader of this band."
"Well, um, I wouldn't necessarily, um, say that you..." Paul stammered.
John pulled a face at him, then grabbed a flashlight out of the glove compartment. Neil and John stepped out of the van. Moments later, Neil leaned into the open driver's door and reported the bad news.
"The tire's shot. Let's start unloading the instruments from the back so I can pull out the spare."
"Bloody hell," George sighed. "Where's Mal when we need him?"
"In a crap hotel in Harrogate, sleeping off his hangover," Neil replied. "Don't you remember?"
George, Paul and Ringo begrudgingly climbed out of their bench seat and stepped into the cold night air.
"I'll grab my Hoffner," Paul said. "You get your drum kit and the amps, Ritchie."
"It's a good thing it's too dark for you to see the look in my eyes," Ringo replied.
John held the flashlight under his chin, contorted his face into a hideous expression, and exclaimed in a broad Yorkshire dialect, "Gytrash Roadside Assistance, at your service!"
Paul laughed and started pulling instrument cases and microphone stands out of the back of the van. John rested the flashlight on the ground and helped Paul remove their heaviest Vox amplifier, while Ringo saw to the drums. Neil and George pulled back the stained square of rug covering the spare tire and jack, and set to work lifting the van and removing the flat tire. Ringo picked up the flashlight and aimed it at the wheel.
John and Paul stepped away from the van and lit cigarettes. John inhaled deeply and savored the warmth of the tobacco smoke as it passed through his throat and into his lungs. Then he felt an ice-cold sting on his shoulder and blanched. "What the fuck?" he cursed. He turned around to see what had brushed against him.
"Hello," said a small woman dressed in a floor-length muslin gown. A loosely woven shawl was tied around her shoulders. An old-fashioned hat rested on top of her head, partially covering her thick mane of elaborately curled hair.
"Oh, um, sorry about my language there, love," John replied with an awkward laugh. He swallowed back the brief wave of fear that had engulfed him at her touch, and gazed at her in the dim light of the slowly rising full moon. Her clothing and hairstyle were peculiar to say the least. But her unheralded appearance on the deserted road was even more unsettling.
"What brings you here on this dark, cold night, miss?" John asked.
"I'm looking for my boyfriend," she replied. "Have you seen him? He's a large man, with a swarthy face and a thick head of black, unkempt hair. He usually wears a long woolen coat with a wide collar. Though now that spring is almost here, it's so warm that he may have left his cloak behind."
John stared at the strange woman in dumbstruck awe.
Paul turned his head to blow out his breath of cigarette smoke, then looked back at her and smiled gamely. "No, love. Sorry. We haven't seen anyone on this road but you."
Neil stood up from his crouching position and approached her. "It's awfully late for a young lady like you to be out, miss. After George and I fix this tire, I can give you a lift to the nearest town if you'd like."
"Ooh, what gentlemen you are," she laughed. "I dare say, my fella will be quite green when he discovers you've offered me a ride in your…in your…I'm sorry, what do you call this kind of carriage?"
"It's a van," Ringo said. He aimed his flashlight at the woman. The beam of light appeared to pass right through her. Ringo frowned, shone the light on John's chest to make sure it was working properly, then turned it back on the stranger.
George reached out his hand and pushed Ringo's arm down. "Don't point that thing at her. It's not polite," he chided.
"Yeah, I know, but…" Ringo began.
The loud baying of a dog filled the air, interrupting Ringo's response. Each of the men flinched.
"Oh, don't be afraid of Trixie!" the woman laughed. "She always barks this time of night. She's just hunting for bats."
"Right," John said. He forced a nervous smile. "So you expect your boyfriend to be here soon?"
"Yes," the woman said. Her face took on a dreamy, almost incandescent expression as the rising moon shone down upon her luminescent skin. "Well, he's not exactly my boyfriend," she confessed.
She lifted her hand to her hair and twirled one of her curls around her index finger. "I'm married, you see, though not very happily. I only married for spite, mind you, so I suppose I have no one to blame for my sorrow but myself. That's what Nelly always tells me, anyway. Then Heathcliff went and married my husband's sister, just to show me that two could play that game. So I suppose that makes him my brother-in-law. Though we were raised together – Heathcliff and me – by the same parents."
"Your boyfriend is your brother?" Paul asked, frowning at the stranger.
"Of course not!" the woman replied. "Heathcliff was a little orphan boy – a gypsy! – whom my father found wandering through the streets of Liverpool when he went into town once on business. Papa brought him home to live with Hindley and me. Hindley is my brother. And he is most certainly not my boyfriend!"
Ringo nodded at the woman. "We're from Liverpool too. All five of us." He pointed the flashlight briefly at her chest and once more saw the ray of light pass through her. He switched the beam over to Paul and shone it at his face. Paul covered his eyes and cursed loudly.
"Sshh," John said, nudging Paul in the ribs. "Mind your language in front of the lady."
Paul frowned at John.
"Ooh, look, I think I see Heathcliff now!" the woman exclaimed. She pointed towards the moors.
The Beatles and Neil watched in wonder as a bright speck of light approached them from across a large field, growing larger as it came nearer. Soon they discovered that the light was streaming out of an old-fashioned lantern being held aloft by a huge man.
The stranger's features grew clearer as he approached the van, though the bright light from the lantern cast dark shadows across half his face. In the stark, almost theatrical lighting, he looked like the caricature of a hook-nosed villain from a Christmas pantomime. As the woman had suggested, he was wearing a long frock coat with a wide collar, though his cloak was unbuttoned and billowing behind him as he crossed the moor in long, quick strides. Beneath his coat he wore a white, ruffled poet's shirt tucked into a pair of tight-fitting breeches. A pair of knee-high, laced, leather boots completed his eccentric attire.
"Cathy!" the man exclaimed when he reached the assembly. "Have these men accosted you?"
"Yes!" she replied. "They've all been quite rude to me. They need a good scolding!"
"Why, I…!" Heathcliff shouted. He dropped his lantern on the ground and threw his arms around her protectively. "Who should I kill first?"
Cathy threw back her head in laughter, then stood up on her tiptoes and kissed Heathcliff's cheek. "I'm having you on, my most precious love. These men have caused me no harm. Though their barouche seems to have suffered some sort of calamity. Perhaps you could help them. They're from Liverpool, they claim. Just like you, my sweet."
"I hate Liverpool," Heathcliff replied, eyeing the five men suspiciously. "I never once met with a single ounce of kindness in that entire cursed city."
Neil summoned his courage and offered his hand to Heathcliff in greeting. Then, remembering that his fingers were dirty from changing the tire, he withdrew his hand and wiped it against his trousers.
Heathcliff glowered at him. "So this is the type of back-handed Scouse greeting you offer me, you cur?"
Neil straightened his shoulders. "Now wait just a minute there. I was simply wiping the grease off my hand so I wouldn't get yours dirty. My offer of greeting was sincere." He held out his hand once more and locked eyes with his guest.
"The deuce it was!" Heathcliff shouted. He slipped his hands into the pockets of his oversized coat and glowered at Neil. But after a moment of angry posturing, he approached the van's wheel and inspected the flat tire.
"What ails this strange vehicle of yours?" he asked in a menacing voice.
"We ran over a gulley too fast and punctured our tire," Ringo answered. He aimed his flashlight at the wheel to reveal the damage. "We were just trying to fix it when your lady friend approached us."
"How does your carriage move without horses to propel it?" Heathcliff asked.
George furrowed his brow. "Why, with petrol, of course. The van has an internal combustion engine."
Heathcliff nodded thoughtfully, then walked back to the spot where he had left his lantern and carried it to the side of the van. "I hereby offer you worthless Scousers my assistance. I shall hold my lamp aloft to shed some light upon you while you repair your horseless conveyance. It is far brighter than the paltry torch that big-nosed dwarf it holding."
Ringo glared at Heathcliff. "Who are you calling 'Big-Nose', you beak-faced…" He lifted his flashlight and shone it directly at Heathcliff's head. Once again, the beam passed right through the flashlight's target. Ringo flinched and pointed his light back down at the ground.
"So what brings you boys to the moors on this warm March night?" Cathy asked John and Paul as George and Neil set back to work changing the tire and Ringo stared timidly as his shoes.
John made a pointed effort to stop his teeth from chattering. "We just gave a concert at the Royal Hall in Harrogate, and are on our way back to London so we can start up a new tour with the American singers Chris Montez and Tommy Roe."
"Ooh, so you're musicians!" she exclaimed, clapping her hands together in glee.
"Of course they're musicians, you dolt!" Heathcliff called out from his spot beside the wheel. "Look at all those instruments they've pulled out of the back of their carriage. Honestly, Catherine, sometimes you can be so thick!"
Paul frowned at Heathcliff, then turned towards Cathy. "Why do you let him talk to you like that? I thought you said he was your boyfriend."
"Oh, he talks to everyone like that," Cathy said dismissively. "Heathcliff is ill-mannered and uncouth in every way. He always has been. That's why I love him so. He's more myself than I am. Whatever souls are made of, his and mine are the same."
"Stop being so soft, you silly cow, and tell those pillocks to play us a song," Heathcliff shouted at her. "My arm grows weary holding this lantern aloft while these oafs work so slowly at their task. I require entertainment!"
"And you shall have it, my own!" Cathy laughed. She smiled at John and Paul. "Well, you heard the man. Entertain us!"
John sneered at Heathcliff. "We work for money."
Heathcliff sneered back. "How much are you paying me to illuminate your broken wheel while your feckless driver attempts his repair?"
Paul snickered, threw his cigarette butt to the ground and pulled his acoustic guitar out of its case. "We generally prefer to play rock and roll, but since there's no electrical outlet for our amps, I'll sing you a ballad I wrote for our very first album, which is due out later this month," he said by way of an intro. He nodded at John, then started singing P.S. I Love You.
John threw an irritated look at Heathcliff. Then he sucked one last drag on his cigarette, exhaled, grabbed his acoustic guitar, and started to accompany Paul.
Cathy listened with rapt attention, then squealed in delight as they brought their song to a close.
Heathcliff grunted. "Utter drivel. Catherine and my simple-minded wife Isabella might enjoy a puerile tune like that, but I prefer music written for adults."
John scowled at Heathcliff. "Right then. Here's one I wrote for our new record that's probably more your speed." He strummed a slow F-chord, then cried out, "The world is treating me ba-a-a-a-ad! Misery!"
Paul joined in and sang the rest of the song with John. When they finished, Cathy again clapped while Heathcliff scowled.
"You two Scousers are doing little to convince me that you have any talent," Heathcliff stated dryly as George and Neil positioned the spare tire on the wheel and started tightening the lug nuts.
Ringo cast an anxious look at John and Paul, covered the side of his mouth with his free hand, and whispered, "My torch shines right through the both of them!"
John stepped closer to Ringo. "What was that? I couldn't hear you."
"Sing us another song!" Heathcliff demanded. "A good one, this time."
John rolled his eyes and stepped back. "Tell me this first. Why are you two wearing those old-fashioned clothes? And why did you call our van a horseless carriage?"
Heathcliff redirected his lantern so that it shone upon the front of the van. "Your carriage has no horses. I speak the truth."
Cathy lowered her hands and lifted both sides of her skirt a few inches, revealing the lace trim of her petticoat. She skipped a few steps, as if dancing a reel. "I do so love a fancy dress ball. Don't you?"
Paul laughed once more, then leaned towards John so they could discuss their next song selection. John nodded, then pulled a harmonica out of his guitar case while Paul introduced the tune. "This next number was written by the American song-writing team of Goffin and King. Perhaps it'll pass muster with you, Mr. Cliff."
Paul started strumming his guitar while John wailed in with his harmonica. Then George joined in and started singing the lead vocal from his spot beside the wheel:
"Chains! My baby's got me locked up in chains!
And they ain't the kind…that you can see.
Oh-oh, these chains of luh-uh-ove
Got a hold on me! Yeah!"
George kept singing as he rolled the flat tire to the back of the van and covered it with the scrap of carpet. Cathy stepped closer to Heathcliff, wrapped her arm around his waist, and swayed along to the tune. A hint of a smile crossed Heathcliff's lips as John and Paul strummed the last chords of the song.
"Not too horrid," Heathcliff admitted. "That melody was catchy. And the lyrics somehow spoke to me."
Cathy playfully elbowed Heathcliff in his ribs. "Don't you blokes mind my fella, now. He means no harm." Then she stood on tiptoe once more and kissed Heathcliff's cheek. "It wouldn't kill you to be nice every once in a while, you know, dearest."
"He threatened to kill us earlier," Ringo reminded her. He pointed his flashlight at Heathcliff's boots. As he expected, the beam shone right though them. He raised his eyes and flinched. Heathcliff's swarthy face had been replaced by the moldering head of a corpse, strewn with worms and maggots.
Ringo reeled back in horror and dropped his flashlight. He bent down to pick it up and ventured a brief glimpse at the lantern bearer with one eye. Heathcliff's face was once again youthful and vibrant.
Cathy coughed briefly, calling Ringo's attention away from her boyfriend. "His murderous threat was as much my fault as his," she apologized. "I shouldn't have lied to him about you lot ravishing me."
Heathcliff looked down at Cathy adoringly. "You know that I'm a wicked guy, and I was born with a jealous mind."
Cathy laughed and kissed him full on the mouth, then readjusted her shawl, tucked her hand into Heathcliff's elbow, and smiled seductively at the Beatles and Neil.
"Thank you for the concert," she said. "It's not every day I get to hear songs such as those."
"As the gloom light turns to moonlight, I'll be on my way," Heathcliff announced. He looked down at Cathy once more and frowned. "We'd best steer clear of the Baskerville property tonight, my beloved. Trixie is in heat again. She's making all sorts of horrid noises."
"Oh, that explains the howling we heard earlier," she replied. She glanced at Paul and smiled. "Love is in the air."
Paul nodded awkwardly, then looked away so he could slip his guitar back in its case.
Cathy and Heathcliff started to leave, but then Heathcliff turned around and looked directly at Neil. "You are the driver of this conveyance?" he asked pointedly.
"Turn left at the next fork in the road to leave the moors, then make your first right. That road will take you to London," Heathcliff commanded him. "Follow my instructions to the letter. You do not want to go near the Rochester estate tonight. Edward's missus is on the loose again, and her disposition is, well… combustible. She'll make short work of your petrol-fueled carriage if you let her get anywhere near it."
Inspired by Emily Brontë's novel Wuthering Heights (1847)