I drove with the sun roof wide open, to embrace the wide open skies of Norfolk that first truly sunny day of spring. We listened to Buddy Holly the whole journey when we weren’t interrupting him to mention our plans. Of course Berry came too; she sat on the backseat, her pointy nose poking between the front seats as if she were navigating the way. In reality, though, she was as clever as my boyfriend was with maps.
It’s true what they say about country miles, they really are longer. Despite the flatness of the Norfolk Broads, the winding skinny roads demand more concentration. Especially if there’s only room for one lane of traffic. Between Martham and Ormesby we were stuck behind a tractor for three miles. Only a daring motorcyclist overtook our slow-worm of vehicles with the tractor at the head. I suppose it gave us time to marvel at the sights of this slower paced world: the spanning fields of bright yellow rape, the golden yellow of the dandelions in the verges, and under the dappled shade of trees the horses. Also, not forgetting – the freshly ploughed chocolate brown earth that will always remind me of my mum’s birthday cakes because the icing was always of chocolate… So was crawling along in heavy traffic such a bad thing?
So caught up are we in the running that it unsettles us to slow down.
“Why do we have to make the trip today, on a Bank Holiday weekend?” My boyfriend moaned.
“You ask me that every year. It’s Anne’s birthday. The 1st of May is always Anne’s birthday. Bank Holiday is always at the beginning of May.”
He grunted. Berry slobbered his nearest ear. Despite the now sticky ear, the gesture seemed to calm him. Berry, our young German Shepherd, always knew what to do.
“OK, OK.” He grinned at me. “There’s something I need to tell you…”
“I need to pee.”
“And I thought you had finally learnt how to be romantic.”
“Take that road down there!” He urged me, pointing at a lane between two fields, where a dark smudge of trees stood in the distance. At the snail’s pace we were going we’d pass the turn-off in a couple of minutes.
“Really? You want to take a leak in the trees?” I had my heart set on driving further till we actually reached our destination: Anne’s cottage in Stokesby. We would be there within the next half an hour. If the tractor were to turn off into one of these nearby fields.
It was a good five minutes until we were able to take the turn-off. It was with relief when we were able to accelerate – to feel the breeze whip our hair – leaving the slow-worm behind. Doyle was clutching his privates. Berry slobbered his ear again.
“OK, OK, don’t make me wet myself dog!”
We found ourselves alone on the lengthy lane: with a field of churned chocolate earth either side and a copse of old trees to our left and ahead. Our destination – the privacy of the trees – seemed to take longer than we had at first anticipated. How could we have been deceived into thinking that they lay just five minutes away?, we later wondered.
Before we came to a halt by the road side, we passed a small church that was in part ruin. Some of the roof was missing and birds had left their nests in the rafters. It was unusual in the fact that it had been mostly built of large stones and the roof of wood and thatch. It didn’t have typical stained glass windows depicting saints and the baby Jesus, just two small square holes that served for windows – like deep-set eyes either side of the heavy wooden door of a nose. It was a dark place, with nothing green and alive climbing its walls. And the rusty metal cross above the door had been turned the wrong way up.
As we passed the church I shuddered.
“What? You want the toilet too?” Doyle asked.
“No, it’s not that… Didn’t you get a strange feeling as we passed that church?”
“You saw a church?”
Berry whimpered. I looked at her in the rearview mirror: her tall ears had flattened against her head, she looked afraid.
“Doyle..” I began to say.
“Sarah stop here!” My boyfriend interrupted. He was waving his hand at a space for parking the car, at the edge of the copse we’d finally come to.
I didn’t continue voicing my thoughts; I knew the call of Mother Nature was desperate. He had leapt out of the car before I had even put it in ‘park’. I watched him disappear behind a thick tree trunk twenty feet away. Normally Berry was the first out of the car. When I turned in my seat to look at her she was curled up in a tight ball, visibly shaking.
“Oh Berry; Berry what’s wrong?” I tried to soothe her. She eyed me but there was no flicker of tail.
The unease that had taken hold of me earlier, had turned to dread.
I knew we had to leave at once.
“Doyle!” I called out from the open car window.
“Doyle!” I called out, louder still. “Doyle!, Doyle!, Doyle!”
The inside of the car – now out of the glare of the sun – had turned very cold. And yet it felt claustrophobic. A mustiness lingered in the air.
In silence I waited several minutes, I’m not sure how long. But when I couldn’t take it waiting any longer, I braced myself for leaving the car – and Berry – to find Doyle.
Doyle was nowhere near the tree I had seen him disappear behind. Could I have been mistakened? Had it been another tree, another direction? I searched for perhaps an hour or more.
In the end, under a darkening sky, I returned to the car with a wretched feeling. Berry licked my hands with relief. Together we drove back down the lane. At a snail’s pace, my eyes darting in and out of the trees for any sign of him.
I wasn’t able to dam the tears. It wasn’t twilight now, it was night. How was I going to explain his disappearance?
I passed the church without mere glance at it – then I hit something in the road.
Today my husband Doyle says: “I’m glad you weren’t going any faster you might have killed me.”
Norfolk Ghost Stories
Words: 1,089 – I always aim for just under a 1,000 words, but today’s short story is a little over – and I still wanted to write more! 😉
Writing inspiration: My car drive this May Bank Holiday – and Norfolk ghost stories!
What’s a Chi Tale?: A short story or verse (under a 1,000 words) with doggy references.
Copyright Faith McCord 2016
Story and artwork belongs to Faith McCord who is the author and artist holding the copyright. This is not a public domain work. Worldwide rights.