REAL Ale

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
When Craig Shepherd and his friend arrive in the small Yorkshire town of Mytholmroyd they can't wait to discover the local pubs and try the ale. As luck would have it Dobby's ale is brewed right in town. But sometimes luck isn't always good.

Submitted: February 17, 2017

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Submitted: February 17, 2017

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Craig Shepherd gave his sleeping friend a nudge as the train rocked into the station. Mike Neame opened his eyes and stared around.

‘Come on, mate. We’re here.’ said Craig.

Mike stretched and got to his feet. They grabbed their suitcases from the rack and shuffled down the carriage. They stepped out onto the platform. The October wind tugged at their coats as they headed for the exit. Craig and Mike would be spending a few days in the small Yorkshire town of Mytholmroyd. The lads called these breaks walking holidays but it was as much about the beer as the hiking. They found autumn to be the perfect time of year for these trips. This time of year was perfect for walking in the Northern countryside. It was cold but not freezing. You soon got warmed up as you traipsed along admiring the views. And of course there were the stops in the many country pubs they found along the way. After a few hours walk they would stop off for a well earned pint of ale and a bit of lunch by an open fire.

The town of Mytholmroyd was new to the two of them. The nearby town of Hebden Bridge was getting too full of pillocks doing what was known as the Ale Trail. These young idiots would catch the train to Halifax and then work their way back along the train route stopping for a pint at each station. They would get more and more plastered as they went. Craig and Mike had decided to leave the larger town to the drunken people and had opted to visit a new place. The whole idea of this ale trail got on Craig’s nerves. Those kids call it the Ale Trail, he would rant, but most of them don’t even drink ale. Doing the Ale Trail drinking lager or alco-pops just seemed pointless. They should make it compulsory, he would argue. No ale, no trail.

Mytholmroyd was a quaint little Yorkshire town with narrow streets backing onto glorious countryside lined with footpaths. As they made their way to the Bed & Breakfast they spotted several pubs, all boasting that they served cask ales and good food. They also passed Indian and Chinese restaurants. Mike gave Craig a nod of approval. All the boxes were ticked there.

The B&B turned out to be a three storey house down a tiny side street. The landlady was in her sixties and had a lilting Scottish twang. She reminded Craig of Victor Meldrew’s wife in One Foot in the Grave. She welcomed the two of them like they were her visiting family. She showed them upto their rooms. Craig and Mike quickly unpacked before dashing back down the stairs to check out the town properly.

The town of Mytholmroyd was perfect. The cobbled streets lined with brown stone buildings had a wonderful Yorkshire charm. It was as though they had stepped back in time to some picturesque golden era. It reminded Craig of a nostalgic bread TV advertisement. The place seemed a world away from the litter-strewn kebab shop lined streets they’d left.  They strolled around the town getting their bearings. They discovered the house that Poet Laureate Ted Hughes had been born in, and then with evening drawing in they decided that a pint was now well overdue.

The pub was packed and had that cosy welcoming feel that only country pubs have. Craig rubbed his hands together as the heat from the open fire reached them. They headed for the bar. The barman, an overweight man around forty gave them a grin.

‘Alright lads. Not seen you in here before. You here on holiday?’

‘Yeah, up here doing walking and drinking.’ said Craig.

‘Mostly drinking.’ added Mike.

‘Good stuff. Where are you from?’

‘Salford.’

‘That’s in Manchester, isn’t it?’

‘It’s a separate city.’ said Mike.

‘Don’t set him off.’ laughed Craig. ‘He’d have you believe that Salfordians are a downtrodden minority. Nevermind all that, what beers have you got?’

‘Have you tried Dobby’s?’

‘Never even heard of it.’

‘You’ll love it. They reckon it’s the best beer in Yorkshire.’

‘Two pints, please.’

They found an empty table by the fireplace. With a simultaneous sigh they flopped into the high-backed leather chairs. Grinning they clinked glasses and tried the beer.

‘Wow.’ said Mike.

‘It’s like no ale I’ve ever tasted.’

‘It’s like trying ale for the first time.’

‘Yeah.’

As soon as they had finished their drinks they rushed to get another round. The barman nodded in agreement as they raved over the local beer. He introduced himself as Lloyd and refilled their glasses.

Craig had a feeling that this trip was going to be the best yet. Just after eleven o’clock Craig and Mike downed the last of their beer and pulled their coats on.

‘Dobby’s is magic stuff.’ said Craig.

‘Where’s it brewed?’ asked Mike.

‘Dobby’s brewery is on the edge of town.’

‘Get in! We’ll go tomorrow.’

‘It’s not open to the public.’ said Lloyd.

‘We can go and try.’

‘He won’t let you in. Old Barnaby Dobby is a strange character. He’s a bit of a recluse.’

‘We can still go and have a look.’

‘It’d be nice to see the brewery even if the old sod won’t let us in.’

They bid Lloyd good night and left to stagger back to the B&B.

 

Craig woke with a bit of a headache. He rubbed his forehead. He knew the bad head was due to the amount of the wonderful ale he’d downed the night before. After showering, shaving and dressing he felt a bit more like his old self.

He went into the corridor and knocked on Mike’s door. He heard rushed thudding footsteps and the door was whipped open. Mike was in his underwear and looked pale. He had traces of vomit on his chin.

‘Morning mate.’ beamed Craig.

Mike turned and charged to the bathroom. Craig followed him in. He turned away as his friend retched and threw up. He appeared a few minutes later.

‘Are you right, then?’

‘Craig, I can’t.’

‘You’ll be fine. Get a full English breakfast down you and we’ll go and find the brewery.’

At the mention of both the cooked food and the brewery Mike dashed back to the bathroom. In between bouts of vomiting his friend called out that Craig should go on his own.

‘Are you sure, mate?’

‘I will see you later.’ Mike managed.

Craig called him a lightweight and left him to it.

 

Forty five minutes later having munched on a cracking full English breakfast washed down with mugs of strong tea Craig wrapped his thick scarf around his neck and set off. He headed to the edge of town. He followed the path out into the countryside.

The bleak white skies gave the dull rolling country a wonderfully poetic feel. He could have stood there all day marvelling at the view. After a few minutes he rubbed his hands together in anticipation of finding the brewery. The red brick building loomed in the Yorkshire landscape like a weird medieval castle. The brewery had tall chimneys and was surrounded by low flat fields. The scene reminded him of a Pink Floyd album cover. He walked quickly along the footpath eager to see what the establishment had to offer.

The cracked faded sign over the large wooden doors read ‘B.Dobby, Producers of fine cask ales.’

Craig stood for a moment taking in the scene. He took a deep lungful of air as he stared at the building. There was just something special about a brewery. As a beer drinking he loved visiting the sites where the ale was actually brewed. His sister had visited some French vineyards last year and had not stopped going on about it since. This was more like it as far as he was concerned.

He approached the doors recalling what the barman had said. The old man was supposed to be some kind of strange recluse. Here goes nothing, he said to himself.

He rapped on the rusting knocker. He waited. And waited. The wind tugged at his hair and clothing. Come on, mate, he muttered. Nothing. Still nothing. He listened but could hear nothing but the wind. He stamped his feet to keep the cold out. He looked around. There were no signs of life. The brewery stood like an impregnatable fortress. There was nothing else around.

He tried again, knocking harder this time. He waited again. And again no answer.

He shrugged. At least he could say he’d been to the place that made such amazing ale. Nevermind. He turned and headed back to the path to town. He had taken a few steps when he heard a voice from behind.

‘Good day to you, sir.’

He spun back round to face the brewery once more.

A man was standing at the now open doorway of the brewery. He was dressed all in black. His clothes, the top hat, the jacket, waistcoat and tails, all black. He reminded him of an undertaker in and old film.

He looked old, Craig couldn’t decide how old exactly, just old. He ha d a grey whiskery moustache and round reading glasses on the end of his thin nose. The old man in the old-fashioned clothing was the last person Craig was expecting. But he also seemed to suit the surroundings somehow.

‘Good morning, sir. I am Barnaby Dobby.’

He shook Craig’s hand.

‘My name is-’

‘We know who you are, Mr Shepherd.’

‘How could you possibly-’

‘We really must push on.’

Dobby pulled a silver pocket watch from his waistcoat pocket. He clicked the watch open and noted the time. He snapped the watch shut and tucked it back into his pocket.

‘Come, come.’

He ushered Craig towards the open doors. Unsure of exactly what was going on, with more questions than he could possibly put into words, and wishing he had stayed at the B&B with Mike, he followed the curious brewer through the double doors.

The wooden doors swung shit behind them. Craig stared around at the vast hallway. The sand coloured marble floor gleamed. Tall pillars reached up to the high arched ceiling. It was like the entrance to a museum more than a brewery. Craig had been expecting something more like a factory, more industrial, than the grand entrance hall. He heard voices echoing from somewhere. Booming voices called out instructions and others replied from deep within the brewery. The building vibrated with the work being undertaken.

There was an unusual aroma in the air. It smelled like something strange was being cooked. Dobby sauntered along slightly ahead of him. Craig followed his thin frame as he danced along. The elderly man hummed a tune to himself as he went. He checked his pocket watch once more. They emerged on a railway platform. It was an old fashioned station platform. The area had the same art-deco feel as the entrance.

‘Is this part of the tour?’ asked Craig.

‘Tour? I don’t know what you mean.’

Craig’s reply was taken away as a steam train chugged into the station. He stared at the red engine hissing and smoking in front of them. The train was pulling shiny wooden carriages.

‘Right on time.’ said Dobby.

He opened the carriage door and climbed on board. Unsure what was happening Craig hopped on and closed the door behind them. The engine huffed and puffed and moved slowly out of the station. The carriage seemed to be the height of antiquated luxury. He sat opposite Dobby on the plush red leather seat. Lamps glowed on the wall.

Outside the carriage was pitch black. The train rocked slightly as it went. Dobby closed his eyes. Craig couldn’t tell if he was deep in thought or asleep. The train moved faster, the rocking motion becoming violent. And faster still. The train shook as they went faster. He gasped as the darkness outside was replaced by bright colours.

The light outside was as bright as daylight. The colours, red, blue, yellow, purple, changed every few minutes. The carriage shook even more. Craig gripped the arm rest tight. He looked at Barnaby Dobby. He still had his eyes closed as he swayed with the motion of the train. The colours started to swirl and blur and churn. Everything was bathed with the colours. It felt like he was riding on a strange psychedelic roller coaster.

Something occurred to him. They had been rocking along for goodness knew how long yet the outside of the brewery hadn’t seemed large enough to warrant a bizarre steam train running through it. Nor did it seem large enough for them to be travelling this far and still be within its grounds.

The train veered from side. Then Craig was pushed back in his seat. The train climbed upwards. They climbed and climbed. Faster and faster. Higher and higher. It rocked and tilted side to side. The swirling lava lamp colours outside changed, danced and flashed.

Barnaby Dobby opened his eyes. He grinned. The carriage swung violently. Then it tilted upside down. Top became bottom. Craig fell down and landed on his back on the ceiling of the carriage. He sat up on his elbows.

Dobby stood beside him. The eccentric old man had somehow managed to land on his feet as the train went upside down.

‘We’re upside down?’ asked Craig.

‘Yes.’

‘On the ceiling?’

‘On, as you say, the ceiling.’

The train rocked and rattled on. The colours changed and merged.

‘Don’t worry,’ the brewer said. ‘it doesn’t last-’

Again the world moved from under Craig as the ceiling became the ceiling once more and the train swung back round the right way up. Craig landed on the padded seat. He bounced off the cushion and hit the floor.

‘..long.’ finished Dobby.

Craig groaned and pulled himself onto the seat. Dobby sat in his seat. This was mental. Here was Craig being flung this way and that yet Dobby’s top hat hadn’t even moved.

‘I don’t think I can take much more of this.’ Craig muttered.

He had been expecting some large vats and a free pint at the brewery not some tippy steam train ride led by a Victorian undertaker.

Dobby waved his pipe-cleaner thin arms in the air. The train slowed to a shuddering stop.

‘We are here.’ he chirped.

‘But where is that?’ asked Craig.

He stared out at the swirling patterns. Dobby yanked the window blind down. A second later he swept it back. Craig looked on in confusion. The lava lamp colours had been replaced by an altogether more industrial scene. Before he could take it in fully Dobby was heading for the door.

Craig joined Dobby on the platform. They hurried along and turned a corner.

They were now standing in what looked like a massive warehouse or factory. In the vast building were giant vats and all kinds of industrial machinery. The area had the same antiquated feel as the rest of the place. The machinery hummed and clanked and clunked. Workers dashed all around as they went about their duties. The men were dressed in old-fashioned clothing, waistcoats, neck scarves and flat caps. They reminded Crag of black and white photographs of coal miners or canal workers from a hundred years ago. Craig stopped and looked again. The men, hundreds of them, moving like worker-ants, grafted hard. There was something strange about the scene, something not right. Then it struck him. The workers were actually black and white. The surroundings had colour, dull red brickwork, the silver and grey of the pipes and vats. But in stark contrast the workmen were completely drained of all colour. Craig was tempted to ask about the weird workers but he knew he wouldn’t get an answer he would understand. Besides, after the strange train ride, nothing seemed to make a lot of sense.

‘This place certainly is impressive.’

‘Thank you very much.’

‘How long has it been going?’

‘I started brewing ale back in 1759.’

‘You mean Dobby’s started back then.’

‘I mean precisely what I say.’

Dobby lead the way in between the thrumming equipment, the giant vats and the bustling workforce. They squeezed between the vats.

They emerged in a different part of the brewery. This part of the building was not crammed full of hulking noisy machinery. The large space had a high ornate ceiling like a cathedral. The church-like feel was continued with the large wooden doors that lined the walls. In the far corner of the room was an old fashioned lift that had antiquated metal gates instead of automatic doors.

The floor of the vast hall had narrow lanes of liquid. Dark murky water bubbled and flowed. Craig peered at the surface.

‘Is that-’

‘Ale. It certainly is. They are canals of beer.’

‘But why? Does it help improve the flavour?’

‘Don’t be ridiculous.’

‘Why do you have canals of beer?’

‘Why on earth not?’ he grinned. ‘Wouldn’t you have a beer canal if you were running a brewery?’

‘Yes,’ Craig laughed. ‘I suppose I would.’

They stood and watched as barges crawled slowly along the waterways. The black and white flat cap men guided the barges up and down. The barges had stock loaded and unloaded at different points.

Dobby watched the barges chugging along the ale canals. He took a deep breath. He turned to Craig.

‘I created all this. I knew there was a wonder, a beauty, magic in brewing ale. I had all these ideas about how to run a brewery. They said it could not be done. People said I was crazy.’

Dobby paused, a far away look in his eyes.

‘Does this look like the work of a mad man?’ he continued.

Craig looked at the beer canals and the workers that looked like they’d stepped out of old photographs. He said nothing.

‘Do you know what the word beer actually means?’

‘No.’ said Craig.

‘It means the water of life.’

‘I thought that was whiskey.’

‘I created all this! What have you ever done?’ Dobby snapped.

He pulled the top hat off his head. He reached inside and pulled out a bottle of beer. Placing the hat back on his head he held the bottle out with pride.

‘Dobby’s ale is the stuff dreams are made of.’

Dobby turned and walked along the narrow pathways that ran beside the many canals. Craig followed behind. He really wanted to leave but he had no way of finding his way back to the front doors.

‘I think it’s time I was leaving.’

Dobby checked the time on his pocket watch.

‘No, it isn’t time.’

‘But-’

Dobby handed Craig the watch.

‘Take it. Consider it a gift.’

‘Really? Are you sure?’

‘Of course. Consider it a souvenir of your visit.’ He smiled.

‘Thanks a lot.’

Craig tucked the watch into his pocket.

‘What will you do to tell the time?’

Dobby removed his top hat once again. He reached inside and produced an identical watch. They reached the end of the room. Dobby headed for the lift. He dragged the metal gates open. They both stepped inside. The lift carriage creaked as they entered.

‘And now the fun really begins.’

He yanked the handle hard. The lift dropped suddenly. It plummeted as though out of control. Craig swore out loud as they dropped. He felt like he was going to be sick. Had the lift malfunctioned? Had something snapped? Were they going to die?

Dobby had a slight smile on his face. Craig swallowed back the vomit in his mouth. This had to be wrong, didn’t it? Nobody would design a lift to fall like this.

He was about to ask if they were in trouble when Dobby yanked the lever back again. The lift stopped quickly as Dobby applied the brakes. Craig stumbled against the wall. He almost lost his footing.

Dobby adjusted his hat and pushed the lift gates back. They emerged in a narrow corridor. Large wooden doors lined one side; the other was made up of windows. Craig was really confused by the view out of the window. They had travelled down to the depths of the building as the lift fell  but the view was of sprawling Yorkshire countryside. They appeared to be at least half a dozen floors up.

Dobby bounced along the corridor and stopped at one of the doors. He pushed open the door and disappeared inside. Craig, unsure quite what to do, went through the door.

The large room was packed with people. Some sat at the tables dotted around the room, others danced on the open dance floor. Jazz music filled the air. Craig spotted the band on stage. The musicians swayed at they played their brass instruments. Everyone was dressed in old styles. The women were dressed in ball gowns, the men in sharp suits and trilby hats. Craig was reminded of a film he’d seen set during prohibition. There was one difference. The only beverage being consumed was ale. The men down pints of the dark beer while the women drank from bottles or half-pint glasses.

The dancefloor was crowded with couples. They performed complicated routines in time with the pulsing music. The dresses and jackets swished as they twisted and turned.

Craig found Dobby chatting to a man in the middle of the room. He shouted to be heard over the music.

‘What is this room? Who are these people?’

‘This is where the ale is tested.’

‘Not what I was expecting.’

‘You have to do things with a certain panache, don’t you?’

They crossed the room and exited through another door. They emerged on another long corridor. Windows along one wall showed they were still high up over Yorkshire. Craig wasn’t sure how long he’d been in this crazy place. It felt like hours.

‘Thanks for showing me around but I really have to leave now.’

‘Nonsense. There is so much more to see.’

‘I’m afraid I don’t have time. I really must be making a move.’

Dobby ignored this and pushed open another door. He waved for Craig to take a look. Craig reluctantly peered around the thick wooden door. He gasped.

The room was full of grassy hills. The hills looked man-made and like the set of a 90s children’s television show. The hills were full of rabbits. Craig sighed. Just when things couldn’t get any stranger.

‘What’s the deal with the rabbits?’

‘They are vital.’

‘What on earth for?’

‘For the hops, of course.’

Further down the corridor Craig stared out the window at the countryside outside.

‘I really need to get going. Can you show me the nearest exit?’

‘There is so much left for you to see, young man.’

‘I need to leave. I have to meet my mate in town.’

‘You cannot leave, dear boy.’

‘I am leaving now. Which way is it?’

‘You can never leave.’

‘What?’

‘You will be here forever.’

‘No. I’m going now.’

Dobby grinned a sinister sneer.

‘Forever.’ He repeated.

He laughed an awful cackle that made Craig’s blood run cold. He turned and ran down the corridor. He rushed on faster and faster. He dug the balls of his feet into the floor and pushed himself on. He had to get out. He charged on towards the window. He threw himself at the glass with his arms over his face.

 

‘Craig? You okay?’

Craig opened his eyes. Daylight hurt his eyes. The world swam into focus. His friend Mike was standing over him. Craig sat up. He was on the cobbles outside the brewery.

‘You okay, Craig?’

‘I think so.’

Mike helped him to his feet. He watched his friend with concern.

‘It was the beer.’ Mike said.

‘I saw him. He wouldn’t let me leave.’

‘Who?’

‘Barnaby Dobby.’

‘The beer made you see things.’

‘What?’

‘Dobby’s beer is hallucinogenic. The locals don’t touch it. It really messes with you. They love selling it to unsuspecting locals.’

‘I went round the brewery. It was mental.’

‘Mate, it never happened. You were seeing things. As soon as I found out I came to find you.’

‘How come you were not affected?’

‘I was sick. It didn’t get into my system.’

Craig rubbed his face and tried to take it all in. His friend pointed. Their cases were on the pavement.

‘I’ve packed our stuff. There is a train in twenty minutes.’

They walked towards the station. They did not speak as they trudged back through town. The old fashioned quaintness that had seemed so inviting now had a sinister tinge. They walked faster as they passed the pub. Craig simply swore and shook his head.

They hurried onto the platform. They boarded the train and tossed their cases into the overhead rack. They made their way to the buffet cart. This was a small kiosk in the middle carriage of the train. The kiosk sold a selection of hot and cold drinks, sandwiches and snacks.

‘Fancy a beer?’ Mike asked.

‘Anything but ale.’

‘Lager it is.’

The train pulled out of the station. The man behind the counter handed them two cold cans of beer. Craig reached into his pocket for his wallet. He pulled out a silver pocket watch. He looked around in confusion. He looked to the platform passing by as the train departed. He could have sworn he saw a man dressed in black wearing a top hat.


© Copyright 2017 CTPlatt. All rights reserved.

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