SMITTEN BY THE DARK

It was decided. Everyone else had prior engagements or were tied up. The only one who could deliver the package of important documents to the shop in Deal would have to be pretty little Isabella.

Isabella Bruce had felt huge relief a few months back when she was appointed receptionist with Jacques, Dean & Co and from the moment she had arrived she absolutely loved her job. She was no longer seen as simply a pen-pusher, which made her feel valued for once, and she enjoyed the daily interaction with interesting people. Her perpetual happiness was infectious.

“Hello, Mrs Clark. How are you today?” she asked one day as the regular cleaner was just signing in.

“Oh hello, my love. I’m fine, how are you?

“I’m just chipper, as always!”

“I bet you don’t know what happened to me this morning Issie?” asked Mrs Clark, folding her arms.

Issie chuckled. “Go on.”

“Well, I was sitting having my cup of tea this morning and a group of goldfinches flew down to my birdfeeder.”

“Oh really?” Issie didn’t really know where Mrs C, who now seemed rather vexed, was going with this.

“Well. You know dear, they weren’t our goldfinches at all. They were next door’s!”

“Get away with you, Mrs Clark!” Issie laughed as the cleaner went up the stairs with a backwards wave.

Issie grabbed her bag and looked at her watch. Time to be going home – they’d be wanting to lock up any time now.

“Issie? Are you still here?” Her boss was still in his office.

“Yes Mr Cunningham. I’ll be right there.”

“Look. I have to get these to the shop in Deal a.s.a.p. before it closes. You’re the only one who can do it.

Issie’s spirits fell. She had been hoping to catch the next bus.

“Take the car and then drive yourself home. Bring it back in the morning, but watch the paintwork!” he teased.

That was all right then. She really didn’t mind having the chance to drive Mr C’s Lexus! She took the keys from his outstretched hand. She flung on her coat and shot out of the door with the special parcel.

The shop was easy to find from Mr Cunningham’s directions. Straight along the sea front almost to the pier, turn left, straight on, then right and the first shop on the left with the ‘For Sale’ sign out front. She’d got there in fifteen minutes, despite all the heavy traffic building up on the opposite side of the road going back into Dover. She felt sorry for the poor drivers of those cars and hoped nobody needed the loo – they would probably be there for hours. Under normal circumstances that’s the way she’d be going back home to Whitfield. Not tonight though. She knew a short-cut from Deal to Whitfield. She’d outwit the traffic jams. She felt good, empowered even, as she sat in the plush seat and watched the movements of the blue and red luminous ground-control-Houston dashboard.

She back-tracked a little way towards Walmer and turned right into the countryside: her mental compass told her Whitfield lay in that direction. She pulled up by the side of the road for a moment to switch on the radio. This was luxury indeed.

“Oh darn it!” she said out loud. “I forgot to charge my phone!” She had meant to do it while she was working. Oh well. She’d be home before long anyway – hopefully before the heavens opened.

A few tiny specks of rain fell on the windscreen as she flicked the wipers into slow-mode. The road led her under a railway bridge and past a large well-heeled property with a five-barred gate and out into the lovely countryside. To her left a few red-bricked houses lined the road and gradually petered out until she was surrounded by just fields and hedges. Ah! Beautiful Kent.

Dusk began to fall as she arrived at Great Mongeham and turned left by the old inn. By now the rain was falling fast and hard and the wipers were having a job to keep up. Like manic rainbows, the two arcs swept swiftly past her eyes, swishing away the watery blur to the beat of Thriller. She tapped the steering wheel to the beat, looking forward to getting home in about ten minutes’ time.

Red lights shone ahead. Retreating wolf-eyes turned in fear towards their hunter and, as Isabella continued her pursuit, the rhythmic dance of the wipers echoed in her brain. Soon she would reach another landmark village. She drew breath in deep concentration of the road ahead, which was harder to see in the ever-darkening sky, and focussed on the car in front who was leader of the chase. She wished she were home in front of the fire.

Before long she passed the sign informing her she had arrived in Little Mongeham and pondered the origins of the name. Not far now, she thought. She would just carry on until it took her to the familiar by-pass road and from there she knew which exit to take. The road widened and buildings lined the route on either side. Once through the village she’d be on the home-run.

The leading car swept round a bend and Isabella stuck fast on his tail. By now the rain was lashing and she could feel the car buffeting as she splashed through deep puddles in the hollows of the lane. Was it her imagination or was this road getting narrower? A junction was approaching. There would be a signpost so she cut her speed. There wasn’t. Which way she should she go? The driver in front had gone straight on. He must know where he was going. Isabella decided to do the same, wondering why on earth they didn’t use proper signposting on these roads.

Her hand went out to feel in her bag. She had everything she needed. Her medication was there. She consciously began to control her breathing, in, out, in, out. Oh no. Her phone was dead. What if she were lost? Why hadn’t she remembered to charge it at work?

Fighting to keep down the panic that threatened to take her over, she re-focussed her eyes on the road ahead. Oh God! What had happened to the car in front? He was there a minute ago. She realised just how much she had relied on her lupine friend. Pressing harder on the accelerator, she caught sight of him again round the bend. And breathe!

But, on rounding the curve herself, there was another junction. No signpost, no car. Her breath came short and fast. Prickles flew up and down her spine. Her scalp tingled and she felt hot.

All of a sudden two white ocular lights loomed up behind, shining brightly out of the pitch, to witness her predicament. All the same, Isabella felt relief sweeping over her. She’d flag him down. Yes, of course. Human kindness would help her. She pulled into the next mud-covered passing place, opened her window and flapped her arm up and down in frantic waves. The car behind slowed. Thank God! Then, levelling with her, it revved and sped off into the distance in cruel taunt. A gallant knight-of-the-road indeed.

Isabella wanted to blare her horn in anger at the white-van-man who had left her high and dry and sped off in his wake.

She tried to calm herself. Oh God! She must be in a state if she had done such a foolhardy thing as to wave down a strange vehicle on a country lane in the dark! What was she thinking? She took stock. This was silly. How stupid could she be? She swept her fingers through her hair. This road had to go somewhere… eventually.

At the next junction there was actually a signpost. Eastry. That was a name she recognised at least. If she took that road she’d be certain to arrive at the big road.

Up ahead she spotted another car wending its way purposefully down the lane. She put her foot down and caught up as well as she could, taking into consideration the reduced visibility and abundance of water all around. When it turned left, she turned left and continued to follow until, moments later, the driver cut speed, indicated right and pulled up in front of a gate.

Panic- stricken, Isabella drew up alongside. Irresponsible or not, she would just have to do something, and soon, or she could be going round and round all night.

“Excuse me.”

The black window lowered slowly. Ominous. Her spine prickled.

“Would you be able to tell me where the big road is from here?”

Isabella almost cried with relief to see the driver was an elderly man with a shock of white hair, whose blue eyes twinkled as he smiled. A friendly face at last.

“Carry on down here, turn left at the bottom, left again, then straight over at the crossroads. You’ll be there in no time at all.” He grinned broadly, pleased to be of assistance.

Thank you SO much! I was getting really worried.”

Understatement, she thought, as she set the car in motion again.

Oh no! The car! What would Mr Cunningham say? It must be filthy. Her job? Her reputation?

The roads were much longer than she had imagined them to be from her rescuer’s description and Isabella found herself beginning to wonder whether she had already missed a turning. Reaching the final junction the lack of signposting was ever present and Isabella was left in a quandary as to which road to take. Her steering wheel twitched left, but as the car began to move off she remembered. No. The man said straight over. Fingers crossed. Here goes nothing…

Isabella had never felt so comforted to see the welcoming lights of the dual carriageway emerging from the gloom. They embraced her with their cheering brilliance, in stark contrast to the twists and turns of those tiny god-forsaken bottle-necking lanes, with their ubiquitous invisible or non-existent signposting.

Even If she lost her job tomorrow, it couldn’t possibly worse than the nightmare she had just survived. But somehow, she knew it would all come right in the end… eventually.

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