As the tale goes, anything could happen on a Friday night in Hickering, North Yorkshire. On such nights, all the doors were closed and the shutters drawn to ward off evil.
Old people tell about frightful events which happened many years ago in the old times, when the village was made unsafe by a black coach. Four sturdy black horses to pull it, it stormed through the village at an ungodly speed. The curtains were closed solidly so nobody could see who or what was inside.
Little children were told it was the Devil himself riding the coach, and when they heard the sound of the thudding hooves, they hid under the table in fright. But as it always goes, there was one brazen young girl who was not afraid of the devil or anyone else.
One Friday night, she went into the village and waited in the Black Swan tavern until she heard the sound of the approaching carriage. Then she stepped outside and signalled the coach to stop.
The front horse staggered but the vehicle came to a stop. The door was opened, a white hand reached outside, and the girl took it and disappeared inside.
That was the last time she was seen alive. Days later her broken body was found in a crevice. Had she fallen? Was she pushed? No-one knew, and nobody wanted to find out. From then on, no other person dared to stop the passing coach.
* * *
Times they are changing, and in 2008 Hickering did not resemble the seventeenth century village anymore. Modernization had brought many changes to the village which grew increasingly popular after a world-famous pop star came to live in a villa there. From then on, the village was raided by young people who wanted to catch a glimpse of the pop star, and also by the paparazzi who wanted to shoot that one picture which would make them rich and famous.
Cindy Phelps had agreed to meet some friends at the Black Swan that Friday night in February. They would all meet up there then go to the concert given by Everdale, Jim Doyle’s band. Once in a year the pop star did this concert for the local village and all those who wanted to attend. It was given in a big tent that was raised on his property.
Tom was already waiting and was quick to order her a pint. They had drunk three pints before Jasmine arrived and two more when Douglas entered. Well loaded, they left the pub and entered the cold night. It was freezing mildly and the pavement was slippery because of the rain the day before.
The group of friends were singing loudly as they walked up to Tom’s car. Cindy suddenly lost her balance and fell to the ground. She knew at once that it was bad. Her left foot hurt like hell and she thought she had either broken it or had a bad sprain.
Douglas tried to lift her but to no avail. He was too drunk himself to be of any help. Not even with Tom’s help did they manage to get Cindy to her feet.
“Jeez, Cindy! What are we going to do now?” Jasmine demanded. “I want to see that concert!”
“You guys just help me lean against that wall,” Cindy answered, the drink making her care less. “I’ll be fine. You go to the concert and once I get this foot fixed, I’ll join you, ok?”
Cindy has her foot treated and is waiting for a taxi. But instead, she is picked up by a limo - belonging to Jim Doyle himself! Jim offers her a room at his property... Now this tale has two different endings. Here's the first:
Two days later, Cindy’s foot was nearly healed and she agreed to come to the studio to listen to Jim’s new songs. She quite liked them. Somehow, they were different from the repertoire the group brought, and much more appealing. After he played the tape for her, he asked her if she wanted to join him into the garden. They walked to a spot where they had a clear view of the sea and the beach from the high cliff above.
“So, how did you like the songs?” he then asked.
“They’re special,” she announced, and Jim looked well-pleased.
“You think so?’
“Yes. There’s more feeling in them, more yearning.”
“Actually, you’re the first to hear these," he said. “Not even Nick has heard them. I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time.”
It was the first time she ever heard the manager’s name mentioned. Actually, that was quite strange, but she did not give it a further thought.
“Then why didn’t you?” she wanted to know instead.
“We’re a group. I’m the singer-songwriter, but I’m not the only one to decide on what’s being launched. And of course, Bob needs to have his say-so, and so will the record company.”
“And the others don’t like this style of music?”
He gave her a sheepish grin, which immediately took effect on her. Gone were her feelings of unease. She started to feel more and more for this young man, who would openly show his vulnerability.
“I’m glad you like it," he said. And then he kissed her.
It was a kiss that told her all she needed to know. It was passion, urgency, tenderness, beauty. Before she knew what pressed her, she whispered:
“I think I love you!”
Jim let out a sigh of frustration.
“Again! Why must you say that? Now I’m obliged to kill you!”
But not everybody likes such an ending, so here's an alternative one:
As soon as Cindy felt Jim’s hands, she pushed him back and stepped aside.
“Hey, what are you trying to do? This is not funny!”
“I must kill you,” Jim insisted. “Please don’t struggle; it’ll make it harder on you.”
Cindy gave him an incredulous stare.
“You’re out of your mind, mate! Why is heaven’s name should you have to kill me?”
“Heaven has nothing to do with it,” he replied. “I’m cursed. For ages, I’ve been living under this spell, and Nick himself is here to see that I do what’s expected of me.”
“You don’t actually believe that,” Cindy called out. “Man, we’re in the twenty-first century. There are no ghosts, no devils, and no curses.”
“There sure are,” Jim answered in dead-earnest. “And Nick is really the devil. This curse is my punishment for sending a girl to her death, ages back.”
“You condemned a girl to death?”
“Well, not actually. I had a raw with her, on one cold winter night. She made me so mad that I threw her out of the coach. She had to walk all the way back to her cottage, and lost her footing in the dark. Her body was found in the crevice next to the road.”
“But then you are not to blame,” Cindy argued. “It’s easy to loose your footing. See what happened to me. That’s not murder.”
“I was a bad person altogether,” he went on. “I played with women and never treated them rightly. I was hard on my farmers. Nobody liked me, then.”
“They do now,” she said.
“Ah yes, one learns in the course of ages. Nick and I realized that it would be more difficult to lure away girls if we didn’t put up an effort.”
All the while, he did not make an attempt to touch her once more. Cindy began to feel that she could talk her way out of this. And next to that she really felt for Jim. Even if he only believed what that nasty guy told him, it was a very bad case and being the sensitive guy that he was, he would suffer strongly.
“And what do you think about this so-called curse?” she asked him. “Do you wish you were a normal guy?”
“Of course I do!” Jim cried out. “But Nick is so powerful – he wouldn’t let me!”
“Ha!” Cindy laughed. “Then he doesn’t know me.”
Jim shook his head.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that I’m a young woman who’s down to earth and who doesn’t believe in gods or devils. Don’t you see? There is a way out of your problem. You just get rid of that Nick fellow.”
“I could not kill him,” he murmured. “That is not within my power.”
“Perhaps you can’t, but I don’t see a reason why I can’t.”