The old mill

Here’s an excerpt from my 1950’s story – I’m about a third of the way through. Mike is looking for a young woman called Rosie who mysteriously disappeared from the pub where she was out for an evening with her best friend. Someone found a hat belonging to her in an old windmill and Mike has gone to investigate:

He hadn’t been to the windmill since he was a child and it was in a parlous state; he seemed to remember derelict skeletal sails, there was no sign of them now. He leant his bike against a tumble of wall and stood and looked at the sorry sight. The miller’s house had collapsed almost completely into a tumble of stones, apart from a single part of a wall with a window. It was looking inland in a desolate way, as if waiting for someone to come and not only glaze it but build the house back up round it.
The tower of the windmill still stood, although the roof had gone and the top was beginning to tumble too. Maybe it hadn’t been well-built, maybe the winds here were too strong and the turning of the sails and machinery was too much for the structure…
Mike took out his notebook and jotted some questions, when was it built, does anyone remember the names of the millers, who was the last miller, why did it fall…
Mike walked round it, stepping over tumbled masonry, much of it moss-clad. At the back there were broken stone steps leading up to a gaping doorway and feeling almost like a lad on an adventure he carefully mounted the stair. There was an old wooden door which to his surprise opened at his touch.
Inside there was a wooden floor but no trace of any mechanism to power the long gone sails. There was part of the roof still in existence but much of it was gone. Looking round Mike noticed cigarette ends, screwed up paper bags and other detritus… was this where the hat had been found? If so how did it get here? It must have been found elsewhere by someone, Rosie having lost it, and they must have brought it or worn it to come here. It was over a mile from the pub, a quarter of an hour walk… but at night? What shoes had Rosie been wearing? He hadn’t seen. So, to walk along the road, possible, but then along the bumpy, stony track to get here, in the dark?
Rosie had never been here… someone else had worn the hat. Worn the hat and left a smudge of lipstick and two blond hairs? A woman had worn the hat, a different woman?
This was ridiculous. Mike walked all around the floor, well-lit by the holes in the walls which had been windows, wondering how this floor had survived when everything else was a virtual ruin. There was sand and grit and rubbish and dust but it wasn’t the filth of ages…
There was something not right and he couldn’t put his finger on it. If he had just come here exploring he wouldn’t have even thought anything of it, but because there was a mystery, he seemed extra sensitive to things which didn’t seem right.
He suddenly shouted ‘Rosie!’ at the top of his voice, but there was no response, not even an echo, his voice contained by the broken walls. Fuck!! He didn’t often swear, and when he did it was usually inside his head but now he bellowed his anxiety and frustration and disappointment. He had hoped, against all reason that there might be some trace of Rosie here which would give some hope that she’d merely run away, run away with a gypsy…
The gypsy rover came over the hill, and down to the valley so shady…
The song from childhood came back… Damn, damn that he was no further forward, damn that he would disappoint Jenny, damn that he would fail… and he stamped his foot and stomped round the floor again, his mind churning…
She had somehow fallen in the river… maybe the gate between the lav and the pub had been open, it was muddy, she may have slipped, she may have tumbled into the river, her hat falling maybe onto the flagstones by the WC and someone had picked it, a woman maybe, who had come to the windmill with a chap for an interlude…
Rosie was dead… drowned…
He stamped like Rumpelstiltskin and stood, gloomily defeated as the echo of his stamp seemed to reverberate around him.

© Lois Elsden 2018

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