The Retreat

The Retreat by Mark Edwards

Author’s Note

This novel is set in North Wales. The town of Beddmawr is fictional but if you want to find where it would exist on a map, it’s very close to Llangollen in Denbighshire.


It was muddy and windy by the river. At times like this Lily wished they had a dog she could throw sticks for, though Big Cat and Little Cat probably wouldn’t approve. She wanted a cute little dog, a pug or something like that. She walked off ahead of Mum and Dad, fantasising about the pug they were going to buy her. She’d call it Sweetie. It would wear a pink collar and win prizes at Crufts and Lily would be on TV, proud and smiling beside her famous pet.

Deep in thought, Lily was hardly aware that her parents were lagging behind. She heard a cry and looked back up the path, along the riverbank. Dad was staring at the water, mouth open like a fish. Mum had her hands on her hips.

They were arguing again.

Mum jabbed a finger towards Dad, whose face had gone pink. Lily realised he wasn’t looking into the water but at the edge of the bank, where something metallic lay.

All her hopes of this year being better than the last evaporated. Furious, finding it hard to swallow or even breathe, Lily stomped into the trees where the river curved, so she couldn’t see her parents and they couldn’t see her. She was sick of the sight of them, and she wished she could disappear, turn into a bird and fly away.

For a moment, she pictured herself diving into the river and drowning herself. Mum couldn’t even swim, and Dad was a useless swimmer too. They wouldn’t be able to save her and they’d be so sorry, so sorry.

She stood there, clenching and unclenching her fists until she realised she was hurting Big Cat. She hugged him and kissed his head, then marched on, along the path to where the trees ended.

She made a decision. As soon as she’d done it she hurried into the bushes that separated the riverbank from the road.

She jumped, as if someone had crept up behind her and shouted ‘Boo!’

‘What are you doing?’ she whispered.

A few moments later, she tried to scream. She’d made a terrible mistake and wished she could rewind time, just a minute or two. She even pictured time running in reverse, sending her back up the path and safely into the arms of Mum and Dad. But it was too late.

‘Lily?’ She heard Mum calling her name. ‘Lily, where are you?’

But she couldn’t reply. There was a gag in her mouth and strong arms holding her still. Mum’s cries faded into the distance as those strong arms carried her away.


Chapter 1

I crossed the border into Wales shortly after five o’clock, the sun low and muted in a sky the colour of slate. It was raining, but that didn’t matter. Because as I hit the crest of a hill, the valley below came into view. And it was glorious.

I slowed the car so I could take it in. The flat peaks of the Berwyn mountains framed a green world: patchwork fields dotted with sheep; pretty farmhouses that overlooked rolling fields; trees, some standing proudly alone, others crowded together. And flowing through it all, the River Dee.

This was home.

Why had I waited so long to come back?

When night fell it would all look very different. Then I would probably miss the never-dimming lights of London. But now I wound down the window and let the chill air cleanse me. I was sure that here, finally, I would be able to write again. Rediscover my voice, my inspiration. If I could do that, I was certain all my other worries would dissolve like snowflakes falling into water.

So it was with a great deal of optimism that I steered my car, a white Qashqai, down the hill into the valley. The satnav took me past the small town of Beddmawr – my home town, though it hardly seemed familiar – and into the countryside, down narrow, mud-streaked lanes that skirted the edge of a thick wood. I took a wrong turn, almost ending up in a meadow where sheep grazed, and was forced to back up. This last stretch was beyond the satnav’s capabilities. I switched it off and got out of the car, taking advantage of a lull in the rain. The writers’ retreat had to be close. In the end, I clambered onto the roof of the car – which I’d bought with my first royalty payment, and which I really ought to treat better – and there it was, standing on a low hill beyond the meadow.

It was a stone house, painted white, with a steep tiled roof. It was bigger and more imposing than I’d expected. The kind of place that looked like it would always be cold inside, no matter how many fires you lit. Behind the house, a steep bank half-protected it from the elements. To either side, woodland stretched as far as I could see.

Something flapped in the branches above my head, startling me and almost making me lose my balance. But I stole another look at the house before I climbed down, and smiled. It was the perfect place to write a scary book.

Back in the car, I headed up a long driveway lined by bare-limbed trees. There was a large barn to the left of the house and, I noticed, a cottage that hid at the rear of the main building like a shy child peeking out from behind its mother’s skirt.

The house was even more impressive up close. It was solid. A place that had stood here for, I guessed, two hundred years. The only signs of modernity were a TV aerial on the roof and a child’s plastic swing in the garden. Smoke rose from a tall chimney. I wanted to take a good look around but I was tired and hungry, and besides, there would be plenty of time to explore later.

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