The wind almost lifted him off his feet. The swirling gust that rose before him seemed so bent on slowing his progress, he might almost believe it had been called up deliberately to thwart him. Was its sole purpose to prevent him from reaching his destination? Professor John Fuller quickly shook that absurd idea from his mind. He was too logical to entertain such fanciful notions. It was inconceivable that a person could hold sway over the elements. But then, so many things lived beyond the limits of his imagination. Fuller was a small man, in every way, as narrow of mind as he was slight in stature.
When he’d glanced up from reviewing the corrections on the first draft of his latest article on an obscure branch of physics which would undoubtedly be appreciated by a scant half dozen of his most learned contemporaries, he’d spotted the solemn candlelight procession from the window of his study. Where they were heading was obvious. Every man, woman and child for miles around was wending their way in haunting silence towards the easternmost reaches of the village. They were making for the unassuming gray granite house that clung to the last rocky outpost before the earth plunged sharply into an unforgiving sea.
Although he’d instantly known their destination, their precise purpose in making this late-night pilgrimage eluded them. He’d looked at the calendar but could find no significance to the date. It made him wonder, and not for the first time, what it would be like to not be so much on the fringes. Now and then, a bitter pang of loneliness threatened to override the skepticism that held Fuller apart from his more superstitious neighbors. His lack of belief in otherworldly powers prevented him from truly taking part in community life. Whatever they were up to tonight. Nobody would have given a second thought to the idea of including him.
Following his arrival in the isolated village of Kilbreck some six months ago, he had managed to make himself universally unpopular. It had happened pretty much overnight. Even for a man as brusque as him, that was quite an achievement. Usually, people got to know him a little before deciding they disliked him. It was his own fault, he supposed, for trying to demonstrate with what he’d believed to be unassailable logic, that Catherine MacLeod had no mystical abilities.
No doubt if he took the trouble to analyze it properly, the laws of probability would explain the older woman’s apparent talent for predicting future occurrences. But the belief in her intangible power was deeply ingrained in the population. He supposed he might have been more tactful than to openly ridicule their incessant searching for signs amid the mundane. Surely they could see there was a time when a gathering of crows was simply coincidental and not a portent of doom?
In some ways, Fuller understood their desire to find something to cling to in order to make sense of the chaotic world around them. That was why he’d dedicated his life to the study of science, after all. He made it his mission to explain that which seemed, at first, to defy explanation. He supposed it was only to be expected that people in a relatively insular community would latch onto a figurehead like the charismatic Miss MacLeod, the latest in a long line of persuasive charlatans, to take up residence in the fabled Weather House. They truly believed she could untangle the troublingly contradictory omens they saw in their everyday lives. He understood why he felt the need for answers, but couldn’t condone the way they sought them. The whole damned village was a throwback to a time before reason. He’d tried to help them see that and had ended up paying the price for his interference. Somehow, he hadn’t thought it would hurt to be ostracized by a community with whom he shared so little. But it did.
As Fuller turned up the collar of his coat against the biting wind, he saw the stragglers from the procession disappearing around the corner at the end of Main Street. Suddenly, he felt terribly alone. More so than ever before, the weight of it pressed down on him until it became almost unbearable.
When he first moved to the village, he’d found an ally in the Reverend Iain Beckett, the young minister also having recently arrived on unfamiliar territory. They’d taken some comfort in each other as newcomers to a tightknit community. Beckett had been sent to the village on a fool’s errand to inject some orthodox religious thinking into the locals. No doubt his superiors had imagined that the young man’s vigor and enthusiasm for the doctrines of the church would rub off.
Oh, the good reverend had made a decent stab at civilizing the heathens in the beginning, but his carefully crafted sermons had fallen on ears deafened by years of disinterest. Beckett, with his easy charm, had escaped the outright hostility the less personable Fuller had been subjected to. The endearingly boyish minister had been condescendingly indulged, politely ignored and then, inexplicably, thoroughly converted to their way of thinking.
The minister had become utterly convinced there were indeed cryptic messages being transmitted via the unassuming cottage with the rather intriguing epithet of “The Weather House”. Of course, he’d told himself that the signs must be coming from the Almighty. Why these messages would be bestowed upon the ungodly Catherine MacLeod was a question for which Beckett had no answer. He placated himself with platitudes about ‘mysterious ways’ and had merrily thrown in his lot with the villagers.
So Fuller had found himself without a single friend to his name. His lack of family ties, his geographical distance from his colleagues, his inability to hold his tongue in the face of preposterous assertions about the realities of the supernatural meant he was quite alone.
Why he’d decided to grab his coat and follow the villagers tonight, Fuller had no idea. It was almost as though he’d gone on autopilot. Before he’d even realized what he was doing, he was closing his front gate behind him as he stepped out into the road.
His pace slowed as he approached the corner. He had a bad feeling about this. Sinister notions of human sacrifice came to mind. A sudden, fearful thought struck him that he might have been lured to this place for some evil purpose. Was he about to be flung from the cliffs into the hungry seas below as appeasement to the forces of nature? An involuntary laugh shook his shoulders. For a man not known for imaginative excesses, he was certainly weaving an improbable tale in his mind.
When he rounded the corner, he came to an abrupt stop. The wind that had impeded his progress was suddenly gone, and the air was still. Up ahead, a large crowd milled about the field in front of The Weather House. An enormous bonfire lit the skies and lively music played. The convivial atmosphere was completely at odds with the solemnity of the procession that had brought people here. Fuller felt his shoulders slump as he relaxed, releasing the breath he’d held deep in his lungs. Whatever he thought he would find, it wasn’t this.
Off in the distance, he could make out the diminutive form of the woman herself, standing alone by the door of the house. Catherine MacLeod, with her flowing white hair and shrinking frame, cut a less imposing figure than might be expected, given the influence she held over the community. As he moved through the crowds, she looked toward him and smiled warmly. Then she raised her hands. At once, the music stopped, and all eyes turned to her.
Fuller looked around as everyone else nodded, once again knowing something he didn’t.
“I am old,” Catherine continued, “and the time has come for me to move on to the next world. But do not fear. My successor is already among us. He will be the one to guide you. He is a man of integrity, possessed of an analytical mind and questioning nature. Alone in the world, he will dedicate his life to serving you, as I have done.”
A heavy weight settled on Fuller as Catherine looked directly at him and smiled. Somehow, before she spoke, he knew she would utter his name.
“The new occupier of The Weather House will be John Fuller.”
The gasp from the crowd echoed his own incredulity. He stood, rooted to the spot for a minute, uncomfortable at the center of attention. Then the music started up again, a lively tune played on a fiddle, and people gradually turned away. He made his way across the field toward Catherine.
“What was that about?” he demanded. “I don’t want any part of this.”
“Ah, but you will.” Catherine smiled enigmatically and Fuller suspected that subtle grin might be the root of her power over people. She suggested mystery when there was no need for any. A simple explanation would have sufficed. “Come into the house.”
As she turned and walked inside, Fuller had to admit a certain curiosity about the place. What was it that made people so convinced it was the center of some mystical force? He followed Catherine inside and immediately, he sensed a change in the atmosphere. Everything seemed clearer, sharper, the sounds louder and the colors brighter.
“Why are you here?” Catherine asked, as she paused by a closed door.
“I saw the procession and was curious.”
“No, I mean, why are you here, in Kilbreck, a place you have no ties to?”
Fuller frowned deeply. In truth, he couldn’t remember deciding to come here. Yes, he remembered packing up his things and arranging for the removal company to bring them here. He could picture himself walking into the Dean of Faculty’s office and telling her he intended to resign. But he couldn’t recall deciding to move here.
“You were drawn here.” Catherine moved closer and laid a hand on his arm. “You couldn’t help yourself.”
Fuller’s eyes widened. It was true. Something had compelled him to come here.
“It’s a very special place,” Catherine continued. “It calls out to people.”
“It is beautiful here,” he conceded.
“More than beautiful, John. It’s magical.”
Magical, hah! “It certainly has its charms.”
“It’s more than that, and I think you know it. This is where you’re meant to be. You were destined to come here.”
He was about to argue when she turned the handle of the door next to her and pushed it open. The room Catherine revealed was full of scientific instruments, computers, meteorological equipment.
“What is this?” Fuller asked when he finally picked his jaw up off the floor.
“But I thought you were involved in witchcraft or something like that.”
Catherine smiled. “Science, witchcraft, who’s to say? All I know is that with some scientific equipment and a little intuition, I’ve been able to guide the people of the village for sixty years.”
“And you want to hand this all over to me?”
“Yes, I do. I know you’re skeptical, but so was I when I came here. You’ll tune into the place.”
Fuller wasn’t sure she was right, but nonetheless a surge of excitement rushed through him. For the first time in ages, he felt positive about the future.
“Okay,” he said decisively as he stooped to examine an old barometer on the wall beside him. “I’ll give it a go.”
“I knew you would. The house is yours now, John. Take care of it.”
“I will.” He turned to Catherine, but she was already gone. The Weather House and all that came with it was now his.