This is Newdean

Newdean. Too plain to be called ‘ugly’. Astonishingly mediocre. Characterful in its lack of character. A nowhere place. Only a handful of farmhouses are more than a hundred years old, held by the same families for generations – these families still dislike the new town. Everywhere else, the houses are only decades old, though nothing looks particularly modern. They have neither the quiet confidence of the new, nor the venerability of the old; they lack even the proud modesty of the terraced houses of major cities. They, simply, are.

Newdean. At the centre of it, ringed by a poorly maintained, half-dead park, is an abandoned building. Donated by an eccentric philanthropist long ago, it is a failed community centre. A barbaric crime was committed there, and it is now shunned by all. The architecture is daring, a strangely warped art deco; it stands in contrast with the rest of Newdean, like a foreign body lodged in an organism.

Newdean. It lies between the sea and the Old Downs, on the South Coast. Between two cities, between the water and the hills. One major road runs alongside it, hugging the shoreline. It has tributaries that run through the town, that curl and split and intersect. One, long high street runs down onto the main road. Quiet shops, poorly stocked. A major chain grocers is there, but it has a forgotten air to it.

This is Newdean.

You stand on the edge of the town. It is late evening. The season is changing, slowly. The days are only just starting to lose to the night. The sunset is magnificent. The entire western sky burns. The sea has been ignited. The eastern sky is a pastel orange. The sea is roaring, and a powerful wind is rushing all around you. The wind is a razor against your skin. You have your back to the sea – it is the rushing-in of the night, not the passing of the day, that interests you.

The sky darkens. Beyond it, the stars are starting glimmer, meekly. Soon you will not be able to navigate the hills without a torch, but that doesn’t worry you. You’re waiting for something, and it won’t arrive until the sun has been hidden by the horizon, and the stars shine with brilliant confidence. Even after the sun has set, its light lingers on the western sky, but the eastern sky has turned more thoroughly. It is twilight. The uncanny hour.

You walk from your spot, utilising the last dying sunlight to move on top of a hill nearby. The western sky is now much darker, and the eastern sky is a deep navy. The streetlights are on in Newdean. The little town always looks better during the night, when it just shows itself as line after line of burning yellow torches, studded with the bright lights of windows. But this doesn’t have your attention. You are staring into the dark.

Slowly, individually, the lights appear. They must be on the hills of the Old Downs, but when one looks during the day for their sources, there’s nothing but grass and rock. They cannot be carried by people, as they move too fast, turn too suddenly, but do not seem to be vehicles – they are never accompanied by sound. Powerful, old folklore warns against investigating them, but your former life of quiet indecision now lies behind you, abandoned like old clothing.

Tonight, you search for the source of the lights.

Tonight, you risk everything.

You take a breath, and walk into the night.

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