Birthday trip Part 1

Time is flying as we near the release of my next book ‘Weird and Peculiar Tales,’ a compilation of short stories with a fellow author. It reminded me of this story which is in two parts. Final part and more news next week. See you then. 😀 

road trip forest 16.3.18 -21205_1280.jpg

I was normal until the accident. That’s when everything changed. At twenty-four I had great friends, a job I enjoyed with good prospects, and thanks to an inheritance from a favourite great-aunt, a property in the country.

“And to my dear Godchild, Amelia, my property at Little Weremeed, in the hope she will be remembered from her childhood visits.”

It had struck me as an odd way to describe the bequest, although I had vague memories of playing in the woods, and swimming in the stream at the end of the garden. Perhaps she just wanted the neighbours to accept me, although the nearest other inhabitants were in the village, two miles away.

My hobby was writing, and although I loved the hustle and bustle of city life, I determined to spend a few weeks in the summer working on my manuscript. First though, I had a birthday coming up, and the gang had agreed to a weekend celebrating in the unusual venue. It should be perfect at this time of year, with the trees recovering from their winter sleep, the birds cossetting their new-borns, and the wild flowers in full bloom.

Although the cottage only had two bedrooms, the tent and camper van would provide space for the others, and if the weather turned bad, there were always the sofas. Six of the crowd I had known forever, so even in such a confined space I knew we would get on well. Dealing with hangovers after riotous holidays together, we were all well aware of each other’s foibles.

The odd man out was Joshua, who I had never met.

‘I’m so sorry Mel. He turned up on my doorstep, and my aunt would never forgive me if I left her precious boy home on his own. I haven’t seen him for years so it means I’ll have to pull out of the trip,’ Jordan explained.

‘No! It wouldn’t be the same without you Jordy. Just bring him along. One more won’t make a difference. The more the merrier. See you Friday. Don’t be late.’

With an extra day off work combined with the late Spring bank holiday, we would have four glorious days to celebrate my birthday. The plan was to take one car and the van, drive down on the Friday, have dinner in the village pub that night, have my party on Saturday, spend Sunday recovering and return home by the Monday evening so we were in a suitable state to go back to work on the Tuesday. It didn’t work out quite like that. We all met up as arranged, and even Jordan was only five minutes late.

‘Hi everyone. Hope we’ve not kept you waiting. This is my cousin Joshua.’

‘Actually, you’re early Jordy,’ Beth teased. ‘Knowing what you’re like we told you to get here fifteen minutes before the rest of us. Hi Josh, nice to meet you.’

‘My name is Joshua, not Josh,’ was the rather rude reply. With his thick rimmed glasses, geeky appearance and unsmiling face he didn’t actually look a bundle of laughs, but I was hoping he might have a riveting personality. It wasn’t a good start.

‘Hello Joshua. Pleased to meet you,’ I said, trying to break the uncomfortable silence. ‘Perhaps you would like to travel in Luke’s van with Jordan and Beccy? Max, the rest of us can come in your car if you can put up with three female back-seat drivers.’

I knew Beccy was sweet on Luke, so was hoping she would appreciate my match-making abilities, despite the glare she gave me at being lumbered with Josh; sorry, Joshua.

Having arranged for a pit-stop at a trucker’s café near the mid-way point, we were off. Max was a skilful and confident driver, so the two hours sped by as we joked and reminisced about the scrapes we had got into on previous trips. I wondered how the others were getting on, but soon found out when they pulled into the parking area ten minutes or so after we had settled around a table. The atmosphere between the four from the van, and our group in the car, was noticeable before they even sat down. We were full of beans, they looked as if they had come from a funeral.

‘What’s up?’ I asked Beccy as we headed for the ladies’ before moving on.

‘That man is seriously creepy,’ she replied. ‘There’s a difference between being shy or quiet, and downright offensive. Every word that comes out of his mouth makes me want to slap him.’

Wow, he must be bad. Beccy was the sweetest, most easy-going person I knew, always ready to stick up for the underdog and see the best in anyone.

‘Do you want to swap?’ I asked. ‘You go in the car, and I’ll take your place in the van.’

The alacrity with which she jumped at the suggestion left me seriously concerned, but I determined nothing was going to spoil my party weekend. Even so, after twenty minutes in Joshua’s presence I found it hard to keep a smile on my face. At first I tried some gentle teasing, but finally I could take no more of his condescending manner.

‘Joshua. May I remind you this is my birthday celebration. I appreciate you don’t know the rest of us, but we’ve tried to make you welcome. If you’re not happy just say the word and we’ll drop you off at the nearest train station. If you want to stay you’d do well to change your attitude. I’m not having you, or anyone else spoil my weekend. Is that clear?’

To my surprise he hung his head and said sheepishly, ‘Please accept my apologies Mel. I’m afraid I’ve become a bit of a recluse and out of the habit of conversing. I really want to stay, if you will allow me.’

‘Fine. Let’s forget what’s gone before and have some fun.’

I pretended not to notice the gob-smacked expressions on my friends’ faces. They always teased me about being “Little Miss Mouse” and not standing up for myself, but the atmosphere did lighten, and the remaining two hours of the drive passed pleasantly enough.

As we approached the outskirts of the village Luke took the lead so I could give him directions.

‘Are you sure you’re not lost Mel?’ Luke asked as I directed him up a lane, barely wide enough to take the van. ‘This doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.’

‘Do you dare to doubt the directions of Ms Google, Luke?’ I replied, just as my phone died. ‘That’s funny, I made sure it was charged before we left.’

‘That’s odd,’ Jordan added, giving his state of the art phone a shake, ‘mine’s not working either.’

‘Nope, nor mine,’ Luke said, giving it a quick glance before returning his eyes to the ever-narrowing trail. Unable to turn around we drove on in silence for a few minutes until the track came to a dead-end.

‘Told you so!’ I hollered with some relief as I noticed the high gate to the left, with a dilapidated signpost bearing the sign “Little Weremeed,” and the cottage beyond, almost hidden in the thick forest.

It was nearly dusk as I took out the bundle of old-fashioned keys, and after some trial and error the rusty gates swung slowly open to let us through to the darkness beyond. We were all pleased to reach the cottage, and there was a communal sigh of relief as I opened the door and we piled inside.

‘It’s very quaint, but a bit chilly,’ Beccy shivered as she pulled the old-fashioned drapes closed to shut out the night. ‘I don’t envy you boys sleeping out in the van.’

‘If it gets too cold I might sneak into your bed,’ Luke joked, putting a leer on his face and pretending to grab her.

‘In your dreams sunshine,’ I laughed. ‘I’m sharing with Beccy so I’m not listening to your snores all night.’

‘And we’re having the other bedroom,’ Beth said, grabbing Lucy’s hand and making a dive for the stairs. ‘First come, first served.’

With the boys racing after us to the first floor the boards creaked ominously under the combined weight of seven adults.

‘Why is it so much warmer up here?’ Beth asked no one in particular. ‘And it’s much cleaner than I expected. I thought we would end up having to scrub the place. I wonder if there’s any hot water?’

‘I noticed an Aga in the kitchen, which might do the hot water too. I’ll check it out if you girls make it worth my while,’ Luke said with a grin. ‘We’re OK. There’s a shower in the camper.’

‘Stop wittering man and get on with it or you won’t get fed,’ I scolded him. We had packed the barbecue, and as long as I could work out how to use the old-fashioned oven, cooking would be fun. Everyone had contributed and there was enough food and drink for fifty, never mind eight, so at least we wouldn’t starve. Two hours later we were all clean, suited and booted, and ready for our night out. Luke had done a grand job with the Aga, there was plenty of hot water, and even the main room downstairs felt warmer. Perhaps it was just lack of use that had made it so chilly, but then why were the upper rooms so much warmer?

I was glad of the company as we left the cottage, and started the short walk to the pub. Now it was properly dark and the trees crowded in on us as we took the path through the woods as a short-cut. The distant memory from my childhood didn’t seem such a good idea as I relied on instinct to follow the route. Just as I was prepared to admit my stupidity and retrace our steps a distant light shone through the blackness. It was the pub. Breathing a sigh of relief I led the gang across the muddy car-park and we entered through the back door, straight into the restaurant area.

‘Hello there,’ a waitress greeted us in a cheery voice. ‘I haven’t see you before but you must be local to know that way in. Table for seven is it? No, sorry, eight.’ Joshua had been lagging behind but joined us as we stood savouring the delicious smells emanating from the kitchen. ‘Do you want to go through to the bar while I get a couple of table pushed together? Shouldn’t take a minute. I’ll give you a call when we’re ready.’

Making our way through a narrow corridor, we emerged into a traditional, old-fashioned saloon, with a roaring wood fireplace at the far end and tankards on a shelf over the bar.

‘Hey, this is nice,’ Luke said as we settled ourselves into leather-clad benches around an ancient oak table.

‘I didn’t think these places existed any more,’ Jordan added, getting up to browse the plaques hanging on the red velvet walls. ‘It says here the Inn dates back to 1650 and was originally a coaching stop to change horses on the route to London. I wonder if they have a ghost?’

‘This ghost is thirsty after all that walking,’ Beccy told him. ‘As you’re up, how about getting some drinks in?’

‘Slave driver. Come and give us a hand then. I can’t manage them all on my own.’

Just as they returned with the drinks the waitress came up to our table and handed out ornate embossed menus. ‘Specials of the day are home-made beef and ale pie, and for you guys with a big appetite I can recommend the Wolverine soup. Have a browse and I’ll be back in five minutes to take your orders.’

The first page of the menu gave a description of the hostelry, and some of the legends surrounding the area.

‘It’s a bit of an odd name for a pub,’ Lucy said. ‘I keep expecting Barbra Streisand to start singing “The way we were.” Wouldn’t mind if Robert Redford popped in though.’

‘You daft ‘appeth,’ Max laughed. ‘It’s were as in werewolves. You know, big dogs with teeth that gobble up virgins wandering through the forest.’

‘Don’t,’ I shuddered. ‘We’ve got to walk back the way we came, and although I’m not a young innocent I don’t fancy turning into “Little Miss Riding Hood” either. Right, has everyone decided what they want to eat? ‘

It was a pleasant evening, the food was excellent, and we were all a little sozzled when we left just before midnight and made our way back through the woods. Through the stillness little noises disturbed the night so I made sure I stayed close to the others. Only Joshua lagged behind. He had been quiet all night, and after his initial outburst seemed to have reverted to what appeared to be his normal, melancholy state. Apart from a small shandy he had stuck to soft drinks all night and was the only one totally sober.

What was that? It sounded like a dog howling. A sudden scuffling noise made me turn, but Joshua was nowhere to be seen.

‘Where’s he gone now? I hope he’s not going to play silly-buggers,’ I said to the others, feeling responsible but annoyed at the same time.

‘Who?’ Max asked.

‘Josh. He was here just now but seems to have disappeared.’

‘Perhaps he’s gone for a you know what,’ Jordan said. ‘Joshua. Hurry up. We’re not waiting for you.’

Silence.

‘Leave him. It’s a straight path so he can find….’ Beth added, then trailed off as an ear-piercing scream reached our ears.

To be continued.

© Voinks March 2018

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