It had been a long, tail-chasing day as they all seemed to be those days. He left the building where he earned a minimal wage as a desk jockey for the Department of Inclement Weather and walked towards the side street where his car was parked. When he got there, he slumped behind the wheel in a robotic motion, took a deep breath and started to drive through the neon stare of fast food outlets, petrol stations and streetlights to join the country road home.
The traffic was light as the hour was late and he settled into the comfort of seating, air-conditioning, music and the gentle rise and fall of the way. The occasional flick of the wiper blades punctuated the uneventfulness and hinted at more persistent rain. The lights of settlements gradually grew less frequent as did fellow travelers He occupied himself in thought patterns concerning his employment, and, more urgently, a last-ditch attempt to win back the mother of his children.
He had to slow down as he neared a dirty estate car. He saw the scarlet of his brake lights bleed briefly over the hedges behind and he knew that he would not be able to overtake this vehicle for several miles. After a few minutes, his attention was drawn to what looked like a photograph taped to the inside of its rear windscreen. He had difficulty in identifying it so inched a little closer then allowed his car to fall behind. He did this several times until he was fairly satisfied that the image was of a local woman who had been reported missing recently. He tried to recall the details that gossip and newspaper reports had half-taught him about the case. The photograph reminded him of an icon as rain, now falling heavily in a formidable side wind, also hampered positive identification and aided mystique. He seemed to remember having read that the woman’s body had been found in a wood that lay a few miles from his present route but he thought he may have been thinking of someone else, somewhere else.
A few minutes later, both cars were diverted by roadworks onto a narrow, twisting road which led through this wood. Travel became slower and the trees, whipped up by gusts, reached out their branches to touch the cars, scratching, scraping. He sensed that they could be the un-nourished arms of witches trying to seduce him, to drag him into the undergrowth and leave him covered with moss, leaves stuffed in his mouth about which a horse-bit would be ritually arranged. He laughed and shuffled in his seat, screwing up his eyes to see rain like arrows falling down on his tired, wild imagination.
A cigarette butt was tossed from the other car and hit the wet tarmac in a brief, tiny show of embers. He felt his hopes were like this last breath of a drug discarded in a lonely place with only him as witness.
Suddenly, it became much darker with the sound of a storm replacing that of his vehicle. He shivered and put his foot down but the car coasted to a halt at a crossroads. He attempted to start the engine without success. The trees, bent into contorted gestures by the wind, appeared to have moved nearer in a bridal train of leaves. In the gloom, he tried his mobile phone but there was no signal just the image of the woman in the photograph in the long-gone other car. He could see her smile knowingly at him until the battery expired in a brief, blue, steel blink that was replaced by an absence of light.
Paul Steffan Jones