Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah…nah, nah, nah
Almost without thinking Judith’s hand slipped over to the radio and turned down the crooning coming through it. As much as she hated to feel old, and thoughts such as ‘music these days’ made her feel extremely old, she just did not understand the appeal of that bloody rapper. Yes, the one he did for the movie with Makai Pfeifer was rather catchy but the bizarre hold he now held over the teenagers in her hometown was frankly too much. Not one of them was cleaning out their wardrobes more often, either.
She was twenty-seven.
Still, she found herself unable to turn off the sound completely. It would leave only their soft breathing and the low rumble of the engine to hold back an uncomfortably noticeable absence. Against the silent gloom around them, she would take any sound she could get. Then again, there were limits. Perhaps she could do without him?
She traced her finger down the thin spider-web of lines on the map and sighed. They were…somewhere. Even in the dim light of the in-car bulb, which seemed to have been breathed to life by asthmatic kittens sometime in the mid-eighties, she could not discern what on her map was what. They had long since stopped attempting to decipher the seventy-billion steps on the Yahoo Maps printout, which now laid in crumpled piles on the backseat of their rental.
“Well, do I turn here or not?” her companion asked from the driver’s seat. His usually commanding voice now tinged with frustration and probably, like she, a bit of fear. She had never seen her boss with any fear.
She squinted further but to no avail and was forced into a hesitant shrug.
“If we do, depending on whether I’m looking at the right one,” she explained, “it will either take us to the A57 and then to home, or it will take us deeper into this big green blob on the map.” The wilderness, she thought to herself but was clever enough to only think to herself. Her companion’s mood could change on a whim and she didn’t feel very much like walking home on these country roads.
Now there was a singer.
He leaned over, his huge stature swathing her in shadow for a moment. Evidently, he couldn’t see much on the map either and with one swift hand chucked it into the backseat. Though she had suggested he invest in one of those GPS Navigation systems, he’d baulked at the thousand-pound price tag. Now, he would undoubtedly be regretting that himself.
“So we’re going to navigate by the stars, are we?” she asked him, dryly as she could manage and unable to help herself. He glared and silently steered the car around the left-hand turn. All in all, this was turning out to be a shitty end to the weekend. And it had been such a lovely weekend. Mainly because the man sitting next to her was not her husband.
They had checked into the little boutique B&B together under the alias Mr and Mrs Lionel Hardcastle. There they had worn their complimentary robes, snuggled together in the Jacuzzi bath and did all manner of things her husband hadn’t attempted to do in many years. There was champagne, room service, chocolates on the pillows, and all manner of other treats. She had felt pampered, revered and more like a woman than she’d felt in such a long time.
It wasn’t that she didn’t love Gary, she did. He was a year older than her and spent his time on the road as a trucker. She was used to the long periods alone, using it to catch up on her reading or throwing herself into her work as a secretary to ‘Mr Hardcastle’. But when he would return from his long-haul journeys, he seemed only interested in sleep. He would eat, drink, listen to her long tales about what their collective friends were up to – and lately show so little interest in husbandly duties that she worried it would fall out of use. That a condemned poster would be printed on the inside of her knickers.
Then, of course, there was the sneaking suspicion at what he might be finding at some seedy little truck stop in Dusseldorf. He was the sweetest, most loyal man she had ever met. But paranoia has a way of turning all situations sour – and she was soured.
Yes, she knew she was turning into a cliché – a lawyer’s secretary falling for the boss. In some ways, she was probably a stereotype, the story as old as time itself. ‘Lionel’ had begun to pay her some attention. Noticing the pattern of her dress, the change of a hairstyle, the soft scent of a new perfume. She would find herself responding well to these comments, offering to stay behind to continue to type up dictation, finding any excuse to slip into his office and get a little more ‘attention’.
One night, during a particularly difficult case, they had worked until well past midnight. Gary was away somewhere in the Netherlands delivering God knew what, so she didn’t need to be home. She found him, in the end, drinking a small whiskey – of which he’d offered her a glass. She had not been much of a whiskey drinker but maybe her decisions were clouded just a little by other considerations. She’d accepted, they’d drank.
She couldn’t remember now the moment but when it came the kiss was soft – filled with longing. He’d lost his wife young, their small boy now only ten and raised by childminders. She wondered how long it had been, she wondered if she was the first since – it would explain the deep, longing nature of his touch. She felt drawn and had surrendered to the acute awakening happening inside her.
That was it. There were no other occurrences that night. He’d seemed quite embarrassed, apologised profusely and ended their late-night session abruptly. So much so she was worried about coming into work the next day. She needn’t have been – a few furtive and suggestive glances the next day and they found themselves falling into something which had been sweet. Everything she’d needed.
It had culminated in their weekend away together – while Gary was somewhere this time in Eastern Europe. They had checked out of the B&B as late as the day would allow, the night descending over them quickly on the non-motorway route ‘Lionel’ had elected to take them on.
Now they found themselves driving through single-lane country roads, some barely tarmacked, hedges on either side rising so high as to allow no sign of the farmer’s fields beyond. As winter was coming, a phrase which had not yet been overused, the twisted and gnarled ancient trees that grew sometimes above the rim of the hedges were bare – their skeleton-like drapes occasionally reaching down for the car before they’d break out again into only moonlight.
It was black. So damn pitch black in a country way she’d never experienced. She’d grown up and lived in a small town, nestled in the valleys of Lancashire, for her whole life – but never left the confines of the streetlights and headed into the darkness they were experiencing that night. The twin pools of light cast by the car’s headlights seemed to cut through the blackness, their edges very clearly demarcating the difference between light and dark, as though a lesson.
The shadows seemed to slip and slide through the twisted vines of the hedges, as though unseen spooks slipped back as they rounded each corner. Horror movie clichés swam through her mind’s murky depths, threatening to send her into a panic. She shut them down by reminding herself that this was Britain, it was 2002 and Jack the Ripper was not about to bound forth in their beams, his knife dripping with blood.
A slow chill crept up her arms, neatly folded. The radio began to moan, the voice of that nice young boy from the talent show who had replaced the angry young blonde man, it began to drawl like an ancient Texan. There was a burst of static that made her jump, her eyes locking with her companion’s who seemed for the first time as genuinely scared as she. It cut out. Everything cut out. They were plunged into darkness so sudden she thought herself knocked unconscious.
Her eyes adjusted to the darkness, her breath sounds bringing her back to life – even as she realised she could still hear his. She saw his outline beside her as thin starlight slowly seemed to donate enough light to see by.
“What’s happening?” she asked him, terror creeping full-force into her voice.
“Just the bloody engine cut out,” he responded, obviously trying to keep his voice steady, trying too hard to sound nonchalant. “I’ll have a look.”
She sensed him reaching for the door handle and instinctively gripped onto his sleeve.
“Don’t go out there,” she whispered, suddenly feeling that every campfire story she’d ever heard was completely true. There was a monster in your closet, there were demons in the dark and there was most definitely something under your bed. The hook was waiting for you outside the campfire, Jason with his bloody machete ready to take your life for sleeping with your high school boyfriend in your tent. Don’t say Bloody Mary three times and definitely don’t ask for the Candyman.
“Don’t be silly,” he snapped at her, though was he not saying it also to himself? Did his arm not shake the same as hers?
She heard the click of the door-handle, he must have stuck one foot out by the time she saw him. Actually saw him. They were both bathed in the brightest white light. She reflexively squinted, doing nothing to hold back the brilliance with which they were adorned. Her heart beat erratically in her chest. For now she remembered other stories, ones particularly prone to the area they were in. Couples in cars, on far off country roads. Lights in the sky.
Oh God, was everything true?
The light seemed to be more than just light. It seemed present, sentient somehow. She felt as much as her eyes were brightened, her mind was dulled. Thoughts began to grow slow, as though in a dream.
Do not be afraid…
A voice without sound echoing through the molasses of her mind. It could tell her not to be afraid but fear she still felt, dulled by the hypnotic effect of the dazzling light.
Was it coming from the figure? The one stood in the light? A woman, raven black hair flowing across beautiful bare shoulders of pale, ethereal skin. Shockingly, enviously beautiful, moving through the winter night with bare feet and a whisper of a white silken dress. Did she speak? Or did she think?
Do not be afraid…
But she was. Deep in the core of her being, despite the beauty with which she was presented, Judith was very, very afraid.