The girl sat alone by the open fire. Large dark patches on her sweater told of High Street waterproofs that hadn’t been up to the job. Jim made his way across the crowded hotel bar to where the girl sat.
“Hello love,” he said. “It’s Sarah isn’t it? I’m Jim. I’m from the mountain rescue. Our lads are out helping to find your friend.”
Seeing the alarm on Sarah’s face, Jim quickly added. “It’s all right. The police asked us to start looking on the fells, before it got too dark.”
Jim scraped a stool across the stone floor and sat down opposite Sarah. Water puddled around him as rain dripped from his jacket.
“I just wanted to double check where you’ve been today. You were at Wasdale Head, right?”
Sarah nodded and Jim dug an Ordnance Survey map out of one of his pockets. He folded it to just show the area that Sarah and her friend would have been in and then laid the map on the table.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Sarah said. “I’m useless with these things. Julie’s the map reader.”
Sarah took a sip of the Cappuccino that she’d been nursing and grimaced when she found it had gone cold.
“Can I get you another one?” Jim offered.
When Sarah declined with a shake of her head and a small smile, Jim turned his attention back to the map.
“This is Wasdale Head,” he pointed to a cluster of shapes that represented a hotel, farms and a tiny church that made up the settlement. “When you set off to walk back to the hotel which route did you take?”
Sarah ran a hand through her still wet hair and tried to understand what all the lines and symbols stood for. She spun the map round and tried to imagine the direction she had walked in.
A log crackled and spat, sending up a shower of sparks and a plume of smoke. Most disappeared up the chimney but some smoke curled around the lintel above the fire. It rose up the front of the chimney breast, past the nail that had once held a long since removed photograph.
Sarah worked out what route she had taken.
“I went this way.” She drew her finger down the map and along what she had decided was the line of a road. “The lake was on the left, so it must have been this way.”
Jim’s smile broadened. “Ok. And how far had you gone before you lost touch with Julie?”
Sarah looked puzzled before working out Jim’s mistake.
“I was on my own from the start,” she said. “Julie had gone a different way.”
“Oh, right.” Jim hadn’t considered this. “Can you point out which way she went?”
Sarah just shrugged and looked apologetic, then seemed to think of something.
“Would this help?” She reached into the back pocket of her trousers and brought out a crumpled pamphlet. It was from the little church at Wasdale Head. Jim opened the page, though he already knew what was inside. He also knew what Sarah was going to tell him before she spoke. Sarah’s friend had taken the Corpse Road.
“There’s an old photograph in the church,” Sarah was saying. “It shows a pastor and his parishioners. The story goes,” Sarah tapped the pamphlet that Jim was holding, “that the pastor tried to lead everyone to safety during a storm. He got most people out then went back for any stragglers – but was never seen again.”
“And Julie wanted to follow the route that’s described in here?” Jim said, holding the pamphlet up.
Sarah nodded. “She said it was a quicker way back.”
“But you didn’t want to go that way?”
“It looked like a massive storm was building up and the clouds just rolled off the mountains. I was scared.” Sarah looked into the fireplace, embarrassed. “I couldn’t persuade Julie though. She made a joke of it and said we’d be okay because the ghost of the pastor walks the path, helping lost souls find their way. But then I suppose you’ve heard that story before.”
Jim paused before speaking. “There are loads of tales like that up here. I can’t say I’ve heard of that one though.”
Sarah took another sip of the coffee that she’d forgotten had gone cold.
Jim stood. “At least we know which way she went now. And she was wearing a dark blue baseball cap and a light blue parka with a fur lined hood. Is that right?”
“Yes, that’s right,” Sarah replied. “You will find her won’t you?” Her lip began to quiver.
“That’s what we do,” said Jim with a smile.
He quickly turned away without another word; but instead of heading for the exit, Jim made his way across the bar and into a corridor leading to the manager’s office. The manager was already there, waiting. He held out a padded envelope.
“Thought you’d be wanting this,” the manager said.
Jim nodded his thanks and took the envelope. He pulled out a framed photograph. The frame was soot stained from the years it had spent above the fireplace in the bar. The photograph was the original of the one in the church at Wasdale Head. That picture showed Pastor Samuel Roberts and his flock of twelve. The image in Jim’s hands showed the Pastor and his followers; but the last time Jim had looked at this picture there had been five extra people. Now, he counted a sixth. At the back of the crowd was a young woman wearing a dark baseball cap and a light coloured coat, its furry hood draped around her shoulders.
Julie had been right about Pastor Sam helping lost souls on their way. Unfortunately for her, the good Pastor helped souls that were lost to this life find their way to what lay beyond.
Jim slipped the photograph back into the envelope. He handed it back to the manager, then walked out into the growing darkness.