A routine drive with deadly consequences.
Despite having our opening hours stuck on the door, the large glowing sign in the carpark, and on our website, it still seems like we get a last minute customer every night.
‘Just to let you know, we’re closing in a few minutes,’ I said to the sole remaining customer. He briefly nodded and adjusted his blue baseball cap, dashing off to the milk with a basket in hand.
‘Alan, I’ve closed the other tills. Do you need me for anything else?’ asked Lynn, one of the cashiers.
‘It’s fine Lynn, you can go. Be careful out there!’ I replied.
‘Thanks a lot, you too. See you tomorrow!’ Lynn called as she rushed past.
It was pitch black outside with the stars and moon blanketed by clouds. Sheets of rain shattered as they hit the building, accompanied by the howling of the wind.I glanced at my watch and saw the minute hand strike five minutes past ten.
‘Time to find that customer,’ I thought, reaching for the intercom button. Just as I was about to press it, the blue-capped man briskly walked towards me.
‘Sorry mate, just lost track of time!’ he smiled apologetically.
Putting on my best façade of cheerfulness, I scanned each item: milk, bread, rubbish bags, and a ready-to-eat whole chicken.
I saw the customer off and almost ran to the lockers to get my bag, trying to make up for the lateness.
Luckily, I had parked underground, anticipating the unpleasant change in weather. I started the car, turned the heater on, and drove up to ground level. The windscreen wipers fought frantically to give me a chance to see.
I had two options going home. Through the town or the back road. The traffic lights around here were pre-timed which meant that you often had to wait for red lights, even though the chance of other traffic was non-existent. As you may have guessed, I hate wasting time, so always opted for the back road.
The car’s headlights stared at the road ahead, struggling to illuminate the dense forest either side. The towering pine trees danced animatedly in the wind, shedding pine needles and the odd pinecone.
I continued to drive and basked in the warmth from the heaters. The wind howled and for some reason made me feel a bit spooked. ‘There’s no animals out here,’ I reassured myself.
In the distance a faint silhouette protruded from the forest. As I got closer, the silhouette faded to reveal a thick trunk which had cut off the road. Not surprising given the weather.
Obviously I wouldn’t be able to complete my journey this way, so I pulled over to think over the options. First priority was to let the Council know so they could clear the blockage. Then I’ll have to go all the way back and through the town. What luck!
I was about to make a three-point turn when the headlights caught something and made it glint against the dark backdrop. Something was hidden in the dense foliage of the fallen pine tree.
I had to get out and find out what it was. Pacing forwards, I pulled some stray branches aside and squinted into the darkness. Rectangles and circles filled my vision, slowly piecing themselves together as a car. And I thought I had bad luck!
A car had been struck by the toppled tree and windows smashed by its branches. Edging closer to the driver’s side it seemed that miraculously the driver had been untouched. Had there been a passenger, he or she wouldn’t have been so fortunate, with a branch thrust straight into the passenger’s seat.
It didn’t seem like there was anyone else in the car. If there were they would have still been stuck inside.
‘Hello? Anyone there?’ I called out. As expected no one replied.
I was soaked wet from the rain and made the journey back to the car.
My mobile phone beeped at my futile attempts to dial 911. ‘What now?’ I thought.
I couldn’t be of more help without getting more help I decided. Mind made up, I slowly completed the three-point turn.
On the adjacent side of the road something floated across the ground. I turned the car to face it, illuminating a blue cap.
This was either an uncanny coincidence or I had come across the late shopper’s car. I hedged my bets on the latter.
I got out of the car once again, picked up the cap, and examined it. It was the one I’d just seen half an hour ago! But where could he have gone so quickly? Maybe to find some phone reception?
As I made my way back to the car a howl pierced the air. Thinking it was the wind, I shrugged and made a few steps forward.
This time it felt closer. Too close for comfort.
I glanced back and saw a bunch of yellow dots gleam from the forest. I froze and breathed in sharply. I was half way between the car and the forest. Close enough to the car to make a run for it, but too close to the creatures if they really wanted to get me.
A faint growl joined the rain, wind, and sound of thrashing branches. They must be wolves, but how?
They aren’t native here.
I decided it was either die or die trying. I was going to have to try and reach the car. I counted down in my head.
‘Three, two, one.’
I jerked up my right foot and made a leap.
Almost instantly I heard the frantic thudding of paws following my steps. I looked forward and ran, not daring to look back. Reaching forward I managed to touch the door handle and grasped it back.
A sharp jolt of pain shot up my leg, and I felt myself falling backwards. My head slammed on the ground and everything faded into black.