One Late October Night
The unidentified sound when it began was quite gentle and muted, just a slow rhythmic thud, thud, thud.
We'd been travelling home in the early hours after a party, Jack and I. Home was a house near Snape that we shared with two others who worked with us at the power station a few miles away on the Suffolk coast. We were making our way along a narrow winding lane through Tunstall Forest. Jack was driving. We'd both had far too much to drink but Jack could hold it well and he'd insisted. Besides it was his car and he was a big bloke, not the sort you tried to order around when he'd been drinking. Not if you valued your teeth. Of course the chances of getting stopped on this route were remote and I was too sozzled to care anyway. The road was totally deserted. We hadn't seen a soul since waving farewell to the rest of the party goers in Orford, giving them a parting blast on the horn and driving off into the night as the laughter and drunken banter dissipated behind us. Within minutes we were swallowed up by the darkness of a late October night. The kind of absolute darkness never encountered in eighty percent of the country due to light pollution. Out here though, threading our way through the forest, confined by what seemed to be a narrow tunnel of swirling, weaving, tortured shapes barely recognisable as trees, out here beneath a stormy oppressive sky there was no illumination. Not even the faintest glimmer of star or moon penetrated the inky blackness and thick swirling mist from which the pathetic beam of our headlights reflected. Visibility was dire.
And then the rain came, accompanied by a brisk wind which grew stronger by the second and swept away the threads of fog. Heavy, powerful rain drops hurtled like bullets, slanting from above and pounding the roof of the car violently so that conversation quickly became impossible. Jack gripped the steering wheel tightly as we plunged into the squall, leaning forward to peer through the windscreen, concentrating hard. Our lights barely penetrated the torrential downpour and even with the fan blasting away on it's maximum setting, the inside of the screen began to steam up. At Jack's request I rummaged around to find a cloth in the glove compartment and made an attempt to wipe away the condensation in front of his face.
Suddenly something white burst from the trees to our right and dashed into the headlight beam just a few yards in front of us. There was no time to identify what it was or take any evasive action. Jack stamped on the brakes and, caught unawares I was flung forward, cracking my temple against the windscreen. In that same instant we hit whatever it was. We hit it hard and it was flung into the air, passing over the windscreen in a blur and disappearing into the blackness of our wake. The car slid alarmingly and Jack wrestled with the wheel until he regained control. We came to a halt, skewed diagonally across the middle of the road with engine still running and steam rising from the bonnet in front of us, vanishing instantly into the storm. Only one headlight now survived to shine weakly onto the road ahead.
There was a brief moment of silence while we settled back down. I released the breath I'd subconsciously held and relaxed my muscles which had tensed in anticipation of a much more serious impact. I rubbed my head vigorously with my hand, no real damage done.
"What the fuck was that!" said Jack. He was craning his neck to look out of the rear window but it was too dark to make out anything.
"Buggered if I know but you'd better go and look." I replied.
He glanced at me for a moment, obviously hoping that I'd volunteer to investigate as the rain hammered even more intensely on the car roof, but I just shrugged my shoulders and raised my eyebrows. After all, he was the driver.
Muttering under his breath, Jack reluctantly opened his door. The interior light came on as he was assaulted by a barrage of rain, wind and spinning dead leaves. The harsh white beam flooded the interior and illuminated the resigned look on his face as he glanced back at me before pulling the collar of his brown Barbour jacket up right over his head. Jack was not happy about it but got out of the car quickly and jogged back along the road. I caught a glimpse of him in my wing mirror, picked out in red as he passed by the tail lights but then he was swallowed by the filthy, howling night. I leaned across, reached out and pulled the driver's door shut. The car interior abruptly returned to total darkness and what little amount of night vision I'd had previously deserted me. I waited for a good five minutes but Jack didn't return. I wound my window down, stuck my head out into the rain and looked back. I could see no sign of him so called his name at the top of my voice but there was no reply. Within seconds my head was drenched so I wound the window back up and waited some more. The car rocked in the wind as I sat there alone.
It was then that the noise began. A slow rhythmic thumping only just discernible above the cacophony of incessant pounding rain. Thud, thud, thud. I couldn't make out where it was coming from, it seemed to be all around me. I wound my window down again and shouted.
"Come on Jack, stop pissing about. What was it, a badger?"
There was no reply but the mysterious noise had ceased from the moment I'd opened the window. The storm however, if anything had worsened. The rain now intermixed with hail was pouring into the car so again I rolled my window back up and waited. The noise resumed. Thud, thud, thud. Seconds ticked by which turned to minutes. The annoying rhythm remained constant. There was still no sign of Jack and my impatience got the better of me.
"Right you bastard." I said out loud. "You want me to get wet too? OK, I'll get wet."
With that I opened my door and struggled out of the car. It was unbelievable out there and I instinctively ducked low in a futile attempt to avoid the relentless deluge still increasing in intensity and which had now drowned out the thudding noise completely. I pulled my coat collar up over my head as Jack had done and moved to the back of the car, peering into the teeth of the wind but I could see nothing at all so I shouted his name loudly.
"Jack! What's going on!"
My words were whipped from my mouth by the maelstrom and still there came no reply. Frustrated I made my way a further ten yards or so down the road, continuing to shout but I could see nothing, blinded by stinging hail and deafened by the screaming gale. The rain was hitting the road surface with such force that it was bouncing back up to my knees so that I felt as if I were walking in a torrent of water. It was then that I tripped and almost lost my balance as my foot snagged on something in the road. Bending low to see what it was I recognised a brown Barbour jacket and saw that it was Jack lying there.
"What the hell? Come on, get up" I said loudly as I grabbed his lapels with both hands and heaved him towards me. Despite Jack being such a big man, for some reason I seemed able to raise his body from the ground easily but as I lifted it to a sitting position with a shock I realised why it appeared to be so light. Jack's head had gone.
"Argh!" I exclaimed, horrified and involuntarily jumped backwards, leaving the headless corpse to topple back to the ground. I stood in shock, slack jawed, looking at my blood soaked hands, unable to comprehend. Faintly I heard the resumption of that damned noise. It was coming from behind me, from the car. Thud, thud, thud. I turned and could just make out the red glow of tail lights, but there was something else. More of a sensation than actual sight but I could discern movement. Something or someone was on the roof of the vehicle. I took a few paces towards it, sensing the rain easing slightly as I approached. In the brief respite a scene straight from hell was revealed.
A naked man was squatting on top of the car, I could just make out his face as it turned towards me. Wild eyed, laughing hysterically, rivulets of blood tainted rainwater streaming from straggly long hair and running down his pasty white body. It was a face from the most macabre of nightmares. In his right hand the apparition held a long bladed kitchen knife which he held up proudly as if presenting it to me, like it was his most prized possession. His left hand grasped a fistful of Jack's hair and as he grinned maniacally, staring at me through bulging malevolent eyes born of complete insanity the creature continued to rhythmically pound Jack's decapitated head on the roof of the car. Thud, thud, thud. With each blow there was a splatter of crimson which splashed his legs and torso, only to be washed away instantly by the relentless rain. Thud, thud, thud. Then all the lights went out.
A voice spoke to me, close to my ear. It was a familiar voice.
"Come on, wake up you lightweight. I need a hand with that deer. I had enough trouble getting it in the boot on my own."
My shoulder was being shaken roughly. Slowly I regained my senses. There were street lights blazing from across the road. My vision improved and it dawned on me that we were home, safe and sound although I had a blinding head ache. Thud, thud, thud.
"Eh? Jack? What's going on?" I mumbled. "What's all that blood in your hair?"
Sure enough, there was a lot of blood dripping from the ends of Jack's long hair and running down the side of his face onto his coat.
"Oh, that must have been when I carried it back to the car." said Jack, wiping his face with the back of his hand, smearing the blood so that it looked even worse. "Near took it's bloody head off we did. Come on, I want to hang it in the shed. It'll be good eating by next week."