Mabel and Hamish had heard all the stories.
Everybody in the village knew the stories.
They were something children whispered in playgrounds or parents told the young at night to stop them being naughty.
They had both suffered sleepless nights as kids over the supposed fate of those who had ignored the warnings.
Some said the bold were turned to stone on the spot. Others that they became part of the forest and were never seen again.
But they were just children’s stories, myths and legends, old wives’ tale. Superstitious nonsense, Hamish had said. Something you told tourists to try and get their money.
Some of the men in the tavern still repeated the warnings, nursing their glasses of whiskey tenderly, like a young mother holding her first born.
There was one man with a white beard, the oldest in the village, who seldom spoke. Some days he might have too much to drink and whispered a story of his youth, about a friend who had disappeared.
But the younger men who stood on the corners laughed at him and threw stones. It was a harder world now.
Mabel and Hamish were part of the new world. Young and in love. They seemed to have everything in common.
It started as a dare. Some friends suggested it one night after a few too many drinks. Nobody had tried it in years.
Hamish was interested. He saw it as a way to prove himself. He was tired of people laughing at his unusual hat.
Mabel wasn’t so sure, the childhood stories were still locked somewhere in her mind.
But he was always able to talk her round. God, she would have followed him anywhere. She loved that hat.
On the night the dare was to be carried out their friends had tried to talk them out of it. Nobody would think any less of them if they backed out now.
But Hamish was determined. He pulled Mabel close and kissed her.
‘After tonight my love we’ll be legends. Nobody will ever laugh at my hat again.’
Not far away drinkers were huddled round a fire in the tavern, telling old stories.
In the corner sipping on whiskey with his head down was an old man with a white beard.
Suddenly a shiver ran through his thin body, like an unwelcome old memory coming back to the surface. For a moment he seemed in pain.
He pulled his coat tighter around his neck and seemed to shrink back into his own body.
He started to mumble. Barely audible at first, then slightly louder.
His body rocked back and forward as he repeated the words again and again.
Soon some of the other drinkers noticed his discomfort.
‘Hey, the old man’s talking’, one said.
‘Ignore him, he’s drunk,’ another replied.
But some in the tavern saw the chance for sport.
‘Come on old man,’ another called out. ‘Speak up.’
The old man looked up for the first time. There was nothing in his eyes, as if they had died years ago. His body continued to rock.
‘I tried to tell them,’ he began. ‘I tried to tell them. Never touch the wheelbarrows at Hillsborough Orange Hall.’