Serena was driving too fast for the narrow, winding route across the moor. She was tired and could think only of being tucked up against the cold, autumn night in a warm bed with a cup of hot chocolate. Maurice was already asleep, snoring in the reclining passenger seat beside her. ‘Just like a husband when she needed him,’ she thought.
The road ahead snaked down through a series of bends into a coppice of trees now shedding fiery coloured leaves across the damp tarmac. She had commented on the wonderful shades of orange and gold to her husband that morning as they drove toward Skipton where his sister was about to get married. Such thoughts were now far from her mind as she fought against the drowsiness of too much champagne.
She lifted her foot from the accelerator to reduce the car’s momentum for the sharpest of the curves. With so few people on this stretch of road, she had no concerns of meeting an oncoming vehicle. Approaching headlights would be visible from several miles back, and there had been nothing.
But large animals do not carry lights.
As the road straightened, the beams from her car illuminated the biggest, blackest dog she had ever seen. It stood, with feet planted in defiance of traffic in the centre of the road staring at her. The headlights reflected from huge orbs in the front of the beast’s skull with a reddish glow.
With no thought of a damp slippery road surface, Serena hit the brakes very hard. The car skidded, spinning dizzily across the road, like an ice skater, until a solid impact brought the vehicle to a stop.
Serena opened her eyes. She was looking at the star studded sky through a canopy of branches. Tendrils of mist drifted faintly among the remaining leaves . She sat up, feeling dizzy. The wrecked car had its crumpled rear end against the trunk of a large oak tree. The driver’s door was open, but whether she was thrown from the vehicle, or whether she climbed out before collapsing on the grass verge, she had no idea.
In the pallid glow of the interior light, she could make out the figure of her husband still inside. Gingerly, she stood. Thankfully, she felt little pain indicating no broken bones. Climbing onto the seat next to Maurice, she could see he was still breathing, but his head was twisted at an unnatural angle. If she tried to move him, she could make his injuries worse. She needed help and, in particular, an ambulance, but with no cell-phone, her options were limited. Turning the car’s ignition key brought no response from the engine. To get assistance, she would have to walk.
With little knowledge of the area, a hazy memory of a cross roads a half mile further, signposted to a village whose name she could not remember, came to mind. She had no coat suitable for the near freezing night air, but at least the weather was dry. About to set off, she remembered the dog, the cause of the accident. She did not believe she had hit it, and there was no sign of the black form laying in the road, but what if it was waiting to attack her? It had been a massive beast and she had nothing with which she could defend herself.
Several minutes passed before the urgency of her husband’s condition exceeded her fear. She set off, almost at a run. Dark shadows danced among the trees as she passed adding to the terror she felt. An oppressive silence, which at any moment might be shattered by a bark, a growl or a mournful howling spurred her on. Even her feet made no sound on the carpet of damp leaves. At least her shoes for driving were not the stiletto-heeled pair she wore at the wedding.
The upward slope of the road onto the moor was steeper than it appeared in the car. Breathless, she stood at the junction. Lights glowed in the valley, to which she headed. One of the first lights was a small, village pub. On realisation of its welcome gleam she approached at a run. Serena burst through the door to the bar, where a startled group of elderly men turned from their drinks to stare.
“Please!” She gasped, panting for breath. “You must… help me! There’s been an… accident!”
“Now, now lass, You’d better sit down and tell us what’s happened.” Two of the men caught her by the arms and helped her into a chair. “Jim!” the one who had spoken called, “Bring the lady a brandy,”
A glass appeared and was held against her lips. Serena drank, feeling the soothing warmth in her throat. “Now,” the same man continued, tell us what’s happened.”
“Please! You must phone for an ambulance. My husband’s seriously hurt…”
“We will, but they’ll want details.”
She shut her eyes for a moment in exasperation. “I was driving on the Skipton road, through the trees about a mile south of here when a huge black dog leaped in front of the car. I swerved to miss it and the car skidded off the road.
“Large black dog you say?”
Several of the drinking men gave gasps of indrawn breath, while others muttered ‘barguist.’
“You know the dog?”
“The barguist or black shuck. Some folks say he’s the harbinger of death. Others, that he belongs to the angel of death hi’self. What’s for sure, if you look into his eyes, you, or someone dear to you, will be dead by the end of the day.
“Does that mean my husband…” Her voice tailed off.
Before she could say more a loud banging sounded on the outside door. The barman put the glass he was washing on the bar. “Can’t yer see? We’re Closed!” He walked to the door and drew back the bolts.
“I need a telephone. We were in a dreadful accident.”
Serena recognised the voice. “Maurice?” She leapt from the chair.
Maurice entered the bar still talking. “It’s my wife. She must have been thrown from the car.”
“Maurice! I’m here.”
Maurice turned, looking round the empty room, then straight through her at the telephone on the wall. “Found her lying on the grass. I think her neck’s broken. My Serena’s dead!”