Don't get caught outside.
|The local bus services are totally reliable, Roger sighed internally. He could guarantee that as the number 11 pulled into Newmarket, the number 10, for home, was pulling out. One late, the other early. That meant an hour's wait in a cold, dark bus 'station'. Two shelters and a closed mall, a bus station, do not make. His only choice was going to be the 10A, the last bus, going all around the villages, following a route designed by the wanderings of a random pencil. Nevertheless, it should deliver him home, with time to spare.
The 10A added insult to injury. It was late. At least the heating was working. He settled in, his knees jammed into the seat in front. Why were bus and airplane seats designed by sadistic dwarves? An old biddy sat next to him, sucking mints until she nodded off. He was finding it hard enough to keep his own eyes open, it had been a long day. He roused briefly when she pressed the bell and got off. Longmeadow. Another twenty minutes, at least. Accidentally, he dozed off again.
With a start, he woke up. In the night, outside, he saw a thatched cottage. He had missed his stop and they were leaving Bottisham. He pressed the bell in more hope than expectation. The 'stopping' sign by the driver's head illuminated. A short pause and the bus jerked to a halt. Only half awake, Roger stumbled out. The door closed. The bus drew away. Trying to orientate himself, he looked up and down the road.
He had no idea where he was. The bus route had changed. Again.
Over to the west, the embers of sunset cast orange highlights under dark clouds. Wait! It was the up-glow of city lights. But not over there, surely? He spun on his heel. There was a narrow, overgrown path forcing its way through the grass verge, a black streak in dark grey. He stumbled as a bramble tangled his foot, then remembered that his phone had a torch function. The pure white light told his that the rest of the path was clear. He turned it off. It was too bright. Too white.
The thatched cottage was on the other side of the road. It was single story with small windows set in whitewashed walls. A narrow, low door with rambling rose arching over it had a twisted iron fox's head knocker. Should be ask the way? It was not that late. He glanced at the sky. Time was passing. He needed to be home, curled up in front of the telly, the curtains closed. The cottage's curtains were pulled across. From behind the right hand one, an orange glow grew. There was someone in. He turned away.
Roger's watch told him that he should be home, the deadline was as fixed as the stars in the sky. Where on earth was he? Had he really missed his stop? Or had he alighted too early? His heart was beginning to race. Surely it was not too far? He could dog trot home in time. Left or right? Follow the bus or backtrack? He closed his eyes, trying to think.
Backtrack. There was a faint, resinous perfume on the breeze. It had to be the pine plantation at the back of Garulfas Farm. He could take a short cut along the fire break and hop over the fence into Shock's Lane. On long legs, he loped along the side of the road, keeping his ears pricked for traffic. There was none.
Glancing at the horizon, he speeded up. As he ran, he shucked his jacket, tying the sleeves around his waist. Under it, his tee shirt was drenched over his heaving chest. Each indrawn breath brought new odours, sweet, sharp, cloying, foul. His eyes were adapting to the darkness, he could discern shapes, bushes, an old harrow, tractor tyres. Hens in a coop squawked an alarm. A horse snorted fear. From behind, a dog howled.
Fear pumped his legs into overdrive. Perspiration soaked his hair, ran rivulets down his back and drenched his waistband. Pulling his jacket from his middle, he bundled it into a ball and chucked it in the ditch. He could collect it in the daylight. His tee shirt followed. It stank of sweat. There! The footpath to Garulfas Farm. He veered into it. And had to stop. His feet were killing him.
Shoes, socks, trousers were shoved under the hedge. That dog howled again. It was louder. Closer. On the horizon, a faint silver bar announced moonrise. Adrenaline made his heart bang against his ribs. It super powered his limbs as he sprinted towards the dark shadows of pine trees. The fire break was a wide, open road, the first moonbeams picking it out in sharp silhouettes.
The trees had been planted in dead straight rows with mathematical precision. Under them a thick, soft carpet muffled his footfalls, the low branches scraped his limbs, slowing him. Darkness held him in a sweet, resinous, mother's embrace. With a low moan, he hobbled. Cramps stabbed agony in his legs. Falling to his knees, they tightened a band around his chest. Purple pain ran down his arms. He could not breathe. His head throbbed.
Out in the firebreak, with black fur tinged silver by moonlight, a massive dog pointed its muzzle to the moon and howled. It was a paen of praise, a song of worship, a summons. It wove between the trunks and burrowed into the ears of a listener.
Fully changed, the great, black dog, the Shuck, the Galleytrot, the Gerulphus, slinked into the rays of the full moon. He howled his reply. After long years alone, a mate had found him.