The pretty little house sat halfway up the hill on Cemetery Road, in the Rhondda Valley, steps away from the thousands that lay sleeping forever under rhyming tablets and yesterdays flowers.
“Things are looking grave,” I said to the Welsh boy who lived there as he carried in the luggage for my friend and I. Of course, he laughed, he had to.
I was shown to my single room and dainty, white iron bed. Borrowing the energy from a little girl who wasn’t there but had left her prettiness behind. Looking out of the window I noticed that the funeral director and tombstone maker had set up business on the same street and were talking over mugs of tea as they made pennies from the perished. The window in my temporary slumber hole was open and I could hear them chatting. They were probably talking about a neighbour who had died before his time, like the best people do. Oh isn’t life a bastard of a game. You just never know what will sideswipe you when you’re least expecting it. And didn’t he have so much left to give the world. He was kind and loving and snatched away in his prime…. But when the Welsh spoke, even of the gravest things, it sounded like they were singing. I raised my eyes above the pair to the hills that were mobbed with evergreen trees as I remembered loved ones that had passed and began to feel that uneasy pain start to spread in my solar plexus. The combination of natures bloom and long gone, beautiful people made for such melancholy thoughts but it also inspired me to stop being scared of things.
I could hear the sound of laughter and music from the lounge below which was the perfect distraction. I don’t like to play with my dark emotions; its an uncomfortable pastime. Drinks were being prepared along with snacks: The ubiquitous Pringles: perfectly shaped to fit on your tongue. Cheese and wafer-thin biscuits with essence of fig and celery. I’ve never been a fan of celery because it tastes way too green for its complexion. Pink wine sloshed into glasses, promising an escape to hazy places.
People wandered in and out of the kitchen collecting things to take to the garden where the chiminea was being fired up as the dying summer day made way for the autumnal night. The music was taken outside along with a soft lamp and a collection of chairs and a garden campfire situation was fabricated. Time passed and cheap talk was exchanged; the music transporting us back in time to places where once, life had seemed timeless. Whilst being part of the easy reverie I remained very connected to my own self and slipped easily from the moment into my own space. My arms were chilled from the cool air but my knees were burning hot from the fire. The wine was heightening my sensibility and clogging my already full mind with musings and romantic notions. I imagined being sat there with a lover, fingers entwined, being together completely yet comfortable enough to be quiet. I swear I could daydream my life away. I watched the darkness cover the hills in the distance and noticed a small building.
“What’s that?” I asked. Eyes followed my gaze.
“Oh, that’s the Billy Wynt,” Welsh boy replied.
“The what, you say? Come again?”
“The Billy Wynt…it’s a medieval lookout tower.”
“Tell me about it…” I liked its name and wanted to know more about it and why it was there. I wanted to hear about it from the mouths of the locals without having to look it up on Google. I wanted to be told a story.
“I don’t really know much about it,” he sang, “ Just that it’s called the Billy Wynt.”
The imaginative soul inside me couldn’t accept that and began to dream up a folklore.
A creature howled in the darkness: a combination of bird of prey and wolf noise.
“Is that an owl?” my friend asked out loud. “God, I’m such a city girl.”
“Nah, mate. That’s the cry of the Billy Wynt,” I replied mischievously.
Sniggers escaped from mouths.
“Seriously, I’m not even kidding. That is the cry of the Billy Wynt,“ I continued soberly. “Don’t think for one minute that Welsh boy here doesn’t know what I’m talking about. They just don’t like to mention his name; not once night has fallen.”
“You’re bloody nuts, you are.” The group mocked but I knew they wanted more. I picked up a nearby axe and held it up menacingly against the black, backdrop of the sky and the glow of the fire. “Why do you think this is here?…
“I’ll tell you the legend as best as I can recall it,” I continued, “The Billy Wynt is a creature named after a young man, Billy Wynters, who once lived on top of that hill with his family. See that house with the boarded up windows across to the far right of the Billy Wynt lookout? Well, that’s where Billy and his family once lived; until that frightful day…..”
“Why? What happened?”
“Nobody really knows. They say he was to wed his sweetheart the next day. There was a family feast being prepared, waiting for when he got home. They heard him make the last cry from the lookout tower, before night fell, to say all was well. Billy was made the town crier because he had such a haunting, melodic voice that could be heard resonating around the valleys. The next day Billy and his whole family had disappeared. Not a trace. Except for his fiancee. She was found wild-eyed and babbling, walking around in circles near the lookout. The townsfolk tried to get her to talk, to tell them what had happened but she never spoke properly again. Went completely mad, she did. Some say it was because she was secretly in love with the blacksmith’s son who went up the lookout track the next day and never came back. It was a full moon on the night it all happened and they say that the moon stayed full for a whole week after. It’s been said that anyone who dares to climb the hill on the nights that the Billy Wynt cries out, is never seen again. They say he feeds on the music inside you; sucks it right out of your soul so he can sing his torment forever.”
“The group huddled closer. “So what does he look like…Billy?” they asked.
“Oh, there’s been many descriptions of those that think they’ve seen him in the shadows up there, or those that say they’ve woken from a nightmare in their beds to see him standing beside them. Some say he has the head of an evil mountain goat with great gnarled horns and amber eyes but with the body of a giant man. They say he can pick you up by the throat with one hand and choke every last sound out of you in a heartbeat. Others swear they’ve seen his eyes glow as red as this fire from atop the hill when he’s made his first sacrifice of the night. But nobody really knows, ‘cept for those that have perished by his hand and are not here to tell. All that’s left of them are the sounds of their swallowed screams when The Billy Wynt cries out.”
“So he looks like the devil, then?”
“Like a satyr, but you know what the Welsh are like for making names up,” I replied.
“So..do you want to go and see the Billy Wynt’s house?,” Welsh boy asked with a smirk.
The animal noise cried out from beyond again. The timing of it made everyone burst out laughing.
“Don’t take the piss,” I said solemnly. “He can hear everything you’re saying in the wind….”
In the middle of the night, around 4 am I woke up feeling anxious. Maybe it was because I was in a new bed and a strange house. I was desperately thirsty and wanted to go downstairs to get some water but felt afraid; almost like there was something watching me. I berated myself and crept outside the bedroom door. It was so dark and I didn’t want to put lights on in case I woke other people up so I used the light of my phone to guide me. The top two stairs made such a loud creak I nearly jumped out of my skin. When I reached the kitchen, I could see the dying embers of the fire in the back garden through the window…and a shadow…something was moving. I stopped breathing and stared, trying to focus into the darkness but willing there not to be anything there. Willing it not to be the Billy Wynt and hating myself for being frightened of my own bloody fiction!
I didn’t sleep after that.
The next morning, after a hearty breakfast, three of us decided to take a hike up the Billy Wynt track. We drove up high to the old village of Llantrisant, which was very pretty and ominously quiet. From there we had to try and find the track to the top of the hill. A man passed by us and I stopped him to ask for directions.
“Oh..You’re going up to the Billy Wynt? “ He seemed astonished and looked at me quizzically. I remained silent, dealing with my questioning mind instead.
“Well, if you take a right up here,” he pointed at the curved, uphill road, “you’ll see the abandoned school building at the end. The track can be found at the back of there. You can’t miss it.” He continued to look at me suspiciously. I thanked him and we left.
“Weird or what?” I said to my companions. They nodded and murmured in agreement.
Sure enough, we came upon the abandoned school building, protected by Harris fencing and “DO NOT ENTER” signs.
“I wonder why the kids don’t go to school here anymore?” my friend asked.
“The Billy Wynt..” we all said in unison.
At the start of the trac,k there were three, small terraced cottages. All of which had various talismans and amulets in the window. The door to the middle cottage was open and a beige cat came out as we walked by. His eyes were a dark yellow and seeping with brown grunge. He looked sinister and unfriendly and like he’d just walked out of pet cemetery.
“I’m really not feeling the love,” I commented.
“I know, right, its a bit dodgy, innit! ” Welsh boy sang.
“I dunno what’s occurring,” my friend replied in her best Vanessa accent from Gavin and Stacey.
The track got steeper and steeper as we climbed until it almost became vertical. Hanging on to breath was becoming difficult never mind talking. Anyone would have thought we were having our voices sucked out from within us…
We got to the top and there stood the Billy Wynt, lookout. A small, circular, decrepit building with steps inside.
“It’s full of horse shit!” my friend exclaimed. I peered inside and it was absolutely loaded with manure. ‘That’s not horse shit, my friend, that is the excrement of Billy Wynt sacrifices!” I laughed, but I didn’t feel happy inside. I climbed over the horse muck and to the top of the steps and looked over the dotted towns in the valley. Usually, I would have my breath taken away at such a magnificent view but this time I felt oddly indifferent. Soulless.
“Shall we go?” Said Welsh boy, flatly.
“Yeah, let’s,” I replied quickly.
Straight from the Billy Wynt we made our way to Caldey Island. A place inhabited by an Abbey full of monks. I was finding it difficult to shake the detachment I was feeling and I hoped that landing somewhere holy would nourish me back to normal.
As we walked the beautiful, landscaped gardens, I saw a monk, fully dressed in his scapular and cowl. He looked like he’d been on the Earth forever and a day; his face full of creases and well-worn stories. At first, I was afraid of him but then I wanted the comfort of a holy man to make me feel renewed. I found my cheeky self within and approached the monk, “Excuse me, would you have your picture taken with me? It would be the first ever monk selfie!” I declared, excitedly.
“Of course. It would be my pleasure.” He replied kindly and ever so properly, “ My name is Brother Tiley.”
I got as close as I could to him and asked him to look at my phone as he clearly didn’t have a clue about selfies. I loved him for that. I took the picture and thanked him.
“What is your name?” He asked.
“Oh..it’s Juliette,” I said sweetly, giving my full Christian name to the Brother.
“Juliette…That’s very beautiful,” he replied. He said my name in such a musical way like I’d never heard anyone say it before. I smiled and walked away with my companions, feeling a whole lot better.
“Oh…Juliette…” I heard Brother Tiley call after me. I turned around to look at him.
“Be careful what you whisper in the wind…..”
And here’s a bit of Welsh Wales…..