The Way To Strangton: Part I

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I wrote this piece for the creative writing part of my A/S level. Its one of the only short stories I've ever finsished. It makes no sense. Enjoy.

“Thank God for Roman roads,” Ted thought as his tiny, white automobile sped down the country lane. The awesome view rushed past, and the road ahead of him seemed to flee under the car. He wasn’t the best of drivers, in fact, he came close to being one of the worst. His forte was going in a straight line. He excelled at it, it was what he loved most about driving; not having to worry about silly things like turns and corners. His manoeuvrability was, to not understate it, terrible. Altering his course by the slightest degree too far often resulted in him having to swerve, stop or both. How he passed his driving test was a mystery to him. It was a cold day then, just as it was now, but on that day time had no meaning. It was both immeasurable and unimportant; it seemed to slow at some points and speed up at others. He remembered being filled with the confidence of a driving school tutor. At several points he could hear his instructor’s ethereal voice whispering words of encouragement and saying prayers for him. The fact that his instructor sat in on the test, and was right behind him for the most part, probably explained this, including the prayers. Still, he was thankful for the straight roads the Romans had built. They were, most probably, the only things that they couldn’t take back.

It was a typically cold morning for the country. Ted drove past small green fields fenced off by large, dark hedges. The grass was tufted unevenly where the cows had grazed. Other fields rolled into hills, which blocked the sky with their size and proximity. Sheep always grazed on these looming hills and, even as a vet, Ted couldn’t for the life of him fathom why they didn’t graze on the flat fields like sensible animals did. He thought they probably had a hidden agenda and knew something the other animals didn’t. Some animals had a natural cunning which nobody else could see. Ted thought this way of sheep, and their grazing on hills didn’t make matters any better. He realised the cold was getting to him, and wrapped the hand made maroon scarf around him a third time. In a brave move, he let go of the wheel with his right hand and pulled his tweed jacket closer to him. He then slowly moved his hand back to the wheel. He breathed a sigh of relief through his slightly congested, red nose before returning his eyes to the road. Unfortunately, he did not see the rapidly approaching cow in his path until it was too late. He slammed on the brakes and swerved (his usual reaction), only to end up turning full circle to face the same way. He stopped two and a half inches from bovine disaster. Unfazed, the rather fat cow clopped to the other side of the road. As it walked away, it revealed the sign: ‘Welcome to Strangtonshire’.

The screeching in his ears had hardly stopped when the smoke rose from his bonnet. He got out of the car and shook his head before approaching the disaster zone. He took a wide birth to the front of the car and when he was satisfied that it proved no major threat to him approached it sideways. With a matching maroon-gloved hand he gingerly flipped the bonnet open, then backed away slightly before peering in. As an onlooker, one might say that he had the curiosity of a startled cat. But after several minutes of concentrated searching he came to the conclusion that he knew less about cars than he did about sheep who grazed on hills. He stood, stumped, with his hands at his waist. He looked around, but there didn’t seem to be anyone for miles.

“Trouble with the motor sir?” a voice called from behind. He turned to see a stocky, red-faced countryman behind him.

“Err, well, yes. You see I was never much use with these things, would you mind...”

“No, not at all sir, it’s in my job description, so it is,” with that, the countryman strode over to the malfunctioning engine, took one good look at it, reached in and pulled out what appeared to be something electrical. “There’s yer problem right there look,” he said, “yer spark plug came loose, ooh, and yer low on water.”

“And that would be...”

“Easy to fix sir, hold on a tick,” he looked about the motor briefly and replaced the part at fault, took out a small bottle and filled one of the many tanks that were scattered about the engine like bodily organs. “All done now sir,” he commented triumphantly.

“Excellent,” Ted said, clasping his hands in a vaguely masculine way and smiling inanely, “thanks a bunch. Is there any way I can....”

“Oh no sir, pleasure to be of service. The name’s Gerard. Not often you city-types visit us. On business are we?”

“Well, yes actually. I’m on my way to Strangton, I’m the new vet.”

“Oh well then,” Gerard said merrily, “I’ll expect my payment in a month. It’s Bessy, see. She’s expecting.” He pointed to a fat cow walking away from the road in the distance. Ted’s smile dropped.

“Well, I’ll certainly look forward to that,” he said, not sure whether to laugh or cry. “Oh, by the way, this is the right way to Strangton, isn’t it?”

“Right you are there,” said Gerard, heartily. “You go down that road another mile or so until you come to a fork in the road. I forget which way you go, but I do know that if you take the left for a mile or so you’ll come to an old house. The owner died nigh on ten years ago. Murder, so they say. But that’s all water under a duck’s back now. There should be a sign near there.” With that, he bid Ted a good day and headed down the field towards Bessy, who was now just a foggy lump in the distance. Ted returned to his car, booted one of the tyres and got back in.

The mile to the fork was quite a long scenic one, it seemed more like three. Ted thought that it was probably a ‘country’ mile. He had many different ideas about living in the country. The peace and quiet of long, restful weekends in fresh, green country; the hustle and bustle of country fairs and cattle markets; watching the sun rise in the morning and set in the evening. It would be perfect. He would buy a bicycle off of one of the local farmers, who was bound to have one, so he wouldn’t have to worry about engines, motorways or cows on roads. The only horse-power he would deal with would be at the local stable. He would have his own small practise with another vet and one of the local pensioners as a receptionist. It would be his heaven. Then he could settle down. But, for now, he was trying to find his way to the village. The fork was very narrow, and didn’t split properly for at least three (or one ‘country’) miles, so he had a large margin for error. He could see the old farmhouse in the distance, and he headed towards it in as straight a line as he could make. When he reached the house he got out of the car and searched around for a sign. He hadn’t searched for long when he heard a call.

“Hullo there, stranger,” said the wizened old voice. “Any chance you could help a friend in need?” Ted turned to see a hefty man with scruffy whitish hair standing on a small step-ladder by a shed. He was wearing a bobbly white cotton shirt and grey-brown trousers held up by red suspenders and was holding a hammer casually in his right hand. Ted thought he should be used to the familiar ways of folk in the country, and so he greeted the man, who was called Lawrence, though by the tone of his voice Ted thought he would prefer to be known as Mr. Francis.

“It’s my shed, I’m fixing the roof on it, and all I’ve got is this poxy step-ladder. Now, I may not be the shortest man in the world, but I’m buggered if I can reach those top tiles there.” Ted thought it only courteous and prudent to help the man, after all, he was in no rush. He took the hammer and nailed in the top layers of scrap-rubber tiling. Mr. Francis stood by the ladder-side, his hands in his pockets, watching and correcting Ted in his work. After he had finished, he turned to Mr. Francis for a final approval.

“Ahh, that’s a great job you’ve done there. For a first-timer, I mean. Of course I’ll have to check the workmanship meself, but you’ve done good. C’mon down now, leave the hammer there, tha s’right.” Ted was feeling all the better, if slightly worse for wear, having done his good deed for the day. He climbed down and received a hearty handshake from Mr. Francis which, half-way through, the old man realised should have been a bit less hearty. Ted turned to leave, but something puzzled him.

“Mr. Francis, if you don’t mind me asking. Someone told me that the owner of this house was dead, that he had died ten years ago.”

“Don’t be silly. I’m only sixty-two. I’ve lived here in this house all my life and no one has died in it for at least twenty years.” Ted thought this over and came to the conclusion that Gerard was probably counting in ‘country’ years.

He then returned to the car, saving the final wave for when he was inside. He cheerily drove away. Mr. Francis was already on the ladder when he left. Ted looked forward to when they would next meet. Mr. Francis probably had some chickens that would need seeing to every now and again, the odd pig maybe. A little way down the road he looked back in his rear-view mirror. Mr. Francis wasn’t on the ladder, and when he took a second glance, the ladder wasn’t there either. He turned to see him lying still on the ground. Without thinking, he hit the brakes, slammed his forehead on the dash, put the car in reverse and rammed the accelerator. He wasn’t looking back and, in his haste, he overshot the house by some way, stopped and quickly pulled back into the small, muddy drive way. He got out of the car and ran to where the old man lay. He was lying flat, his arms sprawled outwards, his head to one side. The ground was covered in blood and fragments of skull. Mr. Francis’ head was bloody too and had a large chunk missing, out of which blood poured like a small river. His left eye had been split open. It oozed the clear, liquid vitreous humour which, in life, had kept it spherical. The blow (which seemed to be of considerable force) must have landed straight in his eye socket, piercing the eye and tearing the optic nerve before shattering the skull, shards of which would have entered the brain. The impact forced some of the brain matter out of the back of the skull, which slopped out on the floor behind him. There Mr. Francis lay, a mess of blood and brains. Ted looked about him, but there was no-one around who could have beat Mr. Francis so brutally. He turned to see the hammer on the floor a few feet from the body, it too was covered in blood. Lawrence couldn’t have touched it, Ted had accidentally left it too high for him to reach. He must have been trying to get it when it fell on his head and - Ted checked for a pulse - killed him outright. By the look of pure shock on his face, Ted knew that his last moments were both frightening and probably excruciatingly painful. He ran through what must have happened in his head, but all he could see in his mind was a man beating the brains out of Mr. Francis. That man was him. His head felt light and dizzy; he felt sick to the stomach and he began to wretch painfully. A haze appeared in front of his eyes. He couldn’t contain himself and violently vomited on Mr. Francis’ badly damaged head. The sickly pale yellow, with bits of congealed mince and potato mixed with the brain matter pulp and ran down the remains of his head. He wiped his mouth clean, but tasted something funny. He looked at his hands. They were covered in blood.

Now, at this point Ted could have done many things. He could have got rid of the evidence and the body, it seemed that people thought he was dead anyway. He could have called an ambulance, he had no motive for killing the man. He could have even got help from the farmer down the road. At any rate these thoughts came to him too late. Panic was imminent, no, panic had already set in, escape was imminent. He scrambled to his feet and ran to his car. Now he was a wanted man, who would be charged with manslaughter if not murder and, at the very least, gross incompetence. He was on the run, fleeing from the scene, making a getaway. There weren’t any witnesses, except maybe a few sheep in the field across the road, but they wouldn’t understand, or would they? Experiments in veterinary science had revealed that it was possible, by electromagnetic analysis, to find precisely which part of the brain a simple animal, a sheep for example, was using. If by chance their field of research happened upon these fields, they would discover the witnesses to a horrible crime. The analysis would find the sheep using the part of the brain that governed ‘witnessing murders’, and then it would only be a matter of time; fingerprints, witness statements, the odd police psychologist. They would narrow the suspect to a white male, five-foot-eleven-inches tall, with eye-length maple brown hair, dark brown eyes, who drove a white Austin Metro, wearing an unflattering tweed jacket and matching maroon gloves and scarf. This would be terrible, and Ted didn’t even want to think of what a worst-case scenario would be like. All he wanted to think of now was getting out. He got in his car, his trustworthy, reliable, unspeaking car, and drove away.

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