The Girl in the Road
Ten Years Ago
Alison gripped the steering wheel tightly, her wedding band pinching her skin as it caught on the leather. A stream of headlights briefly illuminated the beaded droplets hitting the windscreen and the view beyond was momentarily distorted before a squeal of wiper blades cleared the glass.
Heavy clouds curtained the sky, casting the world into dismal tones of blue and grey. The traffic trundled along at a painfully slow rate and the glaring red of brake lights intermittently punctuated the gloom. Alison leant her cheek against the window to see how far she was from the turning.
She ignored the noise and squinted in an attempt to improve her vision.
She gritted her teeth in concentration and slowed to a halt as the car in front of her stopped dead.
“Oliver, that’s enough,” she said, resting a hand firmly on her son’s knee as his dirty wellington boot kicked out towards the glove compartment once more.
He grinned and she raised an eyebrow at him before releasing his leg.
Alison turned her attention back to the road, digging her nails into the soft material of the steering wheel. Sirens cut through the monotonous hum of idling engines and flashing red and blue lights caught her eye in the rear-view mirror.
A fire engine blared its horn as it passed on their left and Oliver sat bolt upright in his seat, watching it go by. An ambulance followed it closely and stopped a few hundred feet up ahead of them.
Alison edged forward as the traffic began to move once more. She spotted the turning and keenly pressed her foot down on the accelerator.
The car in front swerved onto the other side of the road, revealing a chaotic scene beyond it. An overturned vehicle lay in the middle of the tarmac surrounded by the emergency services. A police officer was guiding the traffic around the devastation.
“What happened to that car Mummy?” Oliver asked quietly.
“Someone’s had an accident,” Alison said softly, catching a glimpse of a man on a stretcher.
A sick feeling stirred inside her stomach as she indicated and quickly turned the car down a narrow lane.
Trees crowded over the road, casting the lane in darkness so she flicked on the headlights to banish the shadows. They drifted along the winding lane until the sound of sirens faded into the distance and they left the main road far behind.
The rain suddenly gave way to a heavy fog and Alison braked, causing the wheels to skid on the mess of dead leaves that littered the ground.
Her heart fluttered and she took a shaky breath to calm herself.
“You okay?” she asked, glancing at Oliver but he was distracted by something ahead of them.
“There’s someone out there,” he whispered, leaning forward in his seat and narrowing his eyes.
Alison snapped her head back to face the front. She watched as the fog lifted, revealing a solitary figure beneath the bowing trees that encaged the road. The woodland swayed and leaned from a blustery wind but the person remained perfectly still, watching, waiting.
“Who’d be out in this weather?” she mumbled as she manoeuvred the car away from the roadside to give them a wide berth.
The mist descended once more so that a swirling cloud of white swallowed the road and the figure disappeared behind it.
“I think he’s waiting for us,” Oliver said in a quiet voice.
Alison went to respond but was silenced by a flash of purple light. It radiated throughout the mist, momentarily illuminating the curling tendrils of the fog as they moved across the road.
She slowed the car to a halt with a low squeal of the brakes, thumbing her wedding ring instinctively. She swallowed in an attempt to dislodge the lump that had risen in her throat.
“Mum, what is it?” Oliver asked in a hushed voice, a look of fright registering in his eyes.
Alison worried at her bottom lip with her teeth and didn’t answer.
“Perhaps we should go back,” she whispered after a moment, not removing her eyes from the road.
Just as she pressed her foot to the clutch, the fog swirled and the figure emerged. The man strode toward them; he was tall, dark and shrouded by shadow. The headlights cast an eerie glow in the mist around him but his face remained obscured beneath a hood. He raised his hands towards the car and purple fire ignited within his palms, flaring at them threateningly.
A breath caught in Alison’s throat and she raised a trembling hand to her mouth, her fingers brushing her parted lips. He closed his right hand, extinguishing the flames that flickered in his palm, and beckoned for her to exit the car.
Alison tentatively reached for the door handle.
“Where are you going?” Oliver asked in alarm.
“Just lock the car when I get out,” Alison said, her voice shaking as she undid her seatbelt.
Every fibre in her body advised against it, but she was drawn toward the man with a desperate and hopeful longing that she couldn’t ignore.
She fumbled to tuck her long, blonde hair into the hood of her raincoat and exited the vehicle.
“Mummy don’t leave me!” Oliver cried, scrambling after her across the driver’s seat.
Alison shut the door firmly and pressed the button on her key before he could follow. A click sounded as the car locked and she fumbled the keys into her pocket.
The mist clung to her skin as she turned towards the road and a gust of wind flung her hood back so that her hair whipped around her face in a flutter of blonde strands. The rain drummed against the tarmac and the trees creaked and groaned as the wind bent them to their limits.
She blinked out into the darkness, her eyes falling on the figure. The man turned and walked away causing the mist to snake around his body as he cut a path through it.
“Wait,” she called urgently, hurrying forwards.
She glanced back, not wanting to stray far from Oliver but the man’s presence drew her onwards. He stopped at the side of the road and waited, his stance hauntingly familiar to her.
Her heart hammered as she approached him. “William?” she asked quietly, her bottom lip quivering.
She could sense his gaze on hers, though his features were still concealed beneath the shadow of his hood. The man turned abruptly and strode into the trees. He pressed his palms together to smother the last of the flames and was instantly swallowed by darkness.
“No,” Alison breathed then bolted after him.
She stumbled as her foot caught on something. She looked down and a gasp escaped her throat.
It was a child. She must have been around six years old, the same age as her son.
Alison dropped to her knees beside the girl and pushed a mop of blonde hair away from her pale face. Her eyes were heavy with dark circles and her lips were a worrying shade of blue. She wore only a thin, summer dress that was soaked through to the skin.
Alison pressed two fingers to the girl’s neck and found the steady beat of a pulse. She glanced back to the road, hoping to see the pinpricks of headlights heading towards them. She cursed when she saw none and rummaged in her pocket for her phone. It was dead, though she was certain that it had been fully charged.
“Dammit,” she hissed, staring at the girl as she decided what to do.
Alison gritted her teeth and lifted the child into her arms, sparing a last, hopeful glance back toward the trees as she turned to her car.
She hurried over, awkwardly retrieving the keys from her pocket and opening it with a click.
She wrenched the back door open and laid the girl across the seat. The child groaned and Alison relaxed marginally. She was still alive.
Oliver was craning over the passenger seat to look at her. “Is she okay?” he asked, his eyes wide in alarm.
“I think so, but we need to get her to a hospital,” Alison said, keeping her voice as calm and level as she could manage.
Alison shut the back door and returned to the driver’s seat. Oliver was still looking around at the girl.
“Get your seatbelt back on,” she instructed, pulling him around to face the front.
He strapped himself in and she accelerated down the road.
Alison sped into the hospital car park and stopped outside Accident and Emergency, throwing Oliver a quick smile.
“Here we are. Let’s go. Put your raincoat on,” she said.
Alison scooped the girl off of the back seat and rushed towards the entrance whilst Oliver splashed his way across puddles behind her. She sprinted through the hospital doors, nudging people aside as she went. She skidded to a halt at the front desk, her wet shoes squeaking on the floor.
The receptionist sprang to her feet and pressed a button on the console in front of her. “What happened?” she asked as a shrill buzzing sounded in the ward behind her.
“I found her in the road. I don’t know if she was hit by a car o-or,” she stuttered, thinking of the man who had led her to the child. “She’s unconscious!” Alison blurted, adjusting her hold on the girl.
The woman gave a sharp nod and turned expectantly at the sound of a squeaking wheel. A short man appeared, hurrying towards them with a hospital trolley.
“Lay her down here,” the man instructed.
Alison gently placed the girl on the mattress. She leant over her, brushing the wet mop of hair out of the girl’s face. She stepped aside as the man pushed the trolley back into the ward.
Alison gripped Oliver’s shoulder firmly and gave him a half smile. She felt tears spring to her eyes and wiped them away with the back of her damp sleeve.
“Are you alright, Mummy?” Oliver looked up at her.
“I’m fine, Olly.” She sniffed then lifted Oliver into her arms, kissing his cold, wet cheek.
“Where can we wait?” she asked the receptionist.
“Down the hall and to the left.” She gave them a sympathetic smile as Alison nodded and walked away.
Alison hadn’t had to wait long before police had shown up to question her. At first they seemed suspicious but, once she had taken a breathalyser test and answered their questions, their attitude had softened towards her. She had neglected to mention the figure in the road. In hindsight, she wasn’t sure whether it was right to protect a man on the assumption that he was her husband.
Another hour passed and they heard nothing.
She was unable to keep Oliver occupied any longer and his boredom was beginning to show.
His damp clothes were sticking to him which was only contributing further to his already aggravated state.
“Muuum, when are they going to let us see her?” he moaned.
“Not much longer, Olly,” she said with a sigh, running her fingers through his hair.
“We’ve been waiting for hours.”
“Don’t exaggerate. I’m sure we’ll hear something soon,” she said. “Why don’t you draw a nice picture for her?”
“Mmm, okay!” he said with renewed enthusiasm and returned to the table in front of him, reaching for a pencil.
Alison sat back in her chair and anxiously picked at the pink nail varnish on her fingernails.
The once-busy waiting room had diminished to a sparse few who were slowly called away until only one remained. She picked the last stubborn flake of varnish from the tip of her index finger and brushed the remnants from her knees absentmindedly.
“Would you like to see her now?” a voice spoke.
Alison looked up to see the receptionist smiling at her kindly.
“Yes,” she said, jumping to her feet.
Oliver grabbed his picture and hurried to keep up as the receptionist led them down a corridor.
When Alison opened the door, the girl was lying in bed. Her eyes flickered open as they entered the room and Alison’s gaze locked with the child’s bright green irises. Something instinctive stirred inside her and she sensed an attachment to the girl that she couldn’t explain.
“Hello, sweetie. I’m Alison, how are you feeling?” she asked.
She moved to the chair beside the bed and took the girl’s small hand in her own. She blinked at Alison but didn’t answer.
Oliver climbed up onto the bed, knelt next to the girl, and offered her the picture he had drawn. She sat up, reached for it and unfolded the page then a smile pulled at the corner of her mouth. Alison stifled a laugh as she caught sight of the drawing; it was a pink unicorn with a machine gun for a horn.
“I’m Oliver. What’s your name?” her son asked the girl.
“May,” she said quietly.
“Is that your name? May?” Oliver asked excitedly.
“May,” she repeated, looking up at Alison with a wide-eyed gaze.
She smiled and the little girl smiled shyly back at her.
“What else do you remember?” Alison asked gently.
May shook her head. “Nothing.”
“What about your parents?” Alison tried.
May shook her head, tears gathering in her eyes.
“That’s okay.” She squeezed her hand reassuringly.
“Where’s your family?” Oliver asked.
“I don’t know,” May whispered. “I can’t remember anything.”
If you like my writing maybe you would like to subscribe to my mailing list? You will be the first to receive updates on my series as well as cover reveals, blog tours, publishing dates, tips, tricks and much more! Click here to subscribe © Caroline Peckham and http://www.carolinepeckham.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Caroline Peckham and www.carolinepeckham.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.