Ted Hall ... Dandy-head to his friends ...straightens up slowly, running his fingers down his sweat-dampened back, easing each vertebra into place as he comes upright.
'Eh now ... a tidy job, Ted my lad', he says to no one, surveying his potatoes rank on rank in the fresh-weeded patch. He runs his grubby hand through his shock of yellow hair - dandelion bright, even with the new layer of dirt unthinkingly applied with his work-filthy fingers.Ted runs his hand from his unruly hair down over his brow and across his face, the close humid evening threatening a summer storm.
'Good for the beans, a bit o' rain, so... I don't mind if you do', he remarks cheerfully to the growing rainclouds before picking up his jacket, bucket and hoe and turning towards home.
His cottage lies in a small dale, an hour or so walk from his neighbour - Auntie Peggy as she calls herself, auntie to everyone,related to no-one and as busy as a bee. Nosey old mare too, 'though she means well', as everyone says.
The smoke curls comfortingly from the chimney, his missus always ready with their evening meal, his pipe and baccy by the fire. 'Too hot for that ...' he grumbles to himself as he pushes open the door to the cottage. His missus gives him a quick smile through the kettle's steam as she makes his tea.
'Moment, love' Ted calls, ducking out of the door and over to the water pump. Cranking the lever hard, with a reminder to 'fix the bloody thing one day...', he sluices the sweat and dust from his hands and arms and rubs the welcoming cool water over his face. The threatning storm breaks as he returns to the house... fat raindrops pattering into the hot dust and, like an overture, a low faint rumble of thunder in the far distance.
'Glad to be out o -that -', he grins to his missus as he settles himself at the table, stretching out his tired legs, picking up his spoon. The pottage is hot and peppery, carrots and taters, a bit of mutton... good ballast for a man's belly.
The thump on the door comes so unexpected Ted almost chokes on a bit of turnip, quick enough that their dog only begins to bark after the hammering ceases. Ted looks up sharpish, and his misses looks around in wide-eyed surprise.
'Mercy me!' she calls out, getting to her feet, 'what a noise!'
Ted's missus moves towards the door as the dog's barking changes into a low, fearful growl. Ted jumps up and puts his hand on his wife's, pulling her back from the door, suddenly wary.
'Now then, missus ... you...' Ted thinks quickly, 'you go back to the kitchen and.. and... um... you go and get me some more baccy, eh?, there's a good lass'. He reaches over to the fire and picks up the poker, gripping it firmly and hopefully menacingly as he yanks open the door.
'Now then! whats this disturbing good folk with your hammerin' ! '
Ted's missus squeals, as any good woman would, to see the nightmarish figure in the doorway. A tall, gaunt man, back eyed, hollow cheeked and ... horror upon horror ... as brown as a burnt biscuit. A fabled man, an emaciated swerting, a southron, a tale-borne terror. The dreadful thing smiles, a rictus grin, the dog howls and runs under the table. Ted's unnerved hands drop the poker with a clear clang that only accentuates the sudden silence. The cottage and its folk are as still as a painting... waiting... the thunder breaks over the house with a crash.
'May I come in?'