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Hit and Run
by George Aitch




I have kept bar at the Attercop for nigh on twenty years and have seen nothing coming close to the look in Mark Empson’s eyes that November night many years ago. For myself and my patrons it had been an ordinary Friday afternoon. A handful of men leant on the bar discussing the UEFA cup as they waited for the weekend to start. Smoke from their ashtrays drifted up and hung under the bright tube lighting. Two of our older regulars sat in their usual corner nursing pints of bitter. A tired black Labrador snoozed at their foot. Soft murmurs and the crack of snooker cues drifted over the pub.

As the sun set a couple more drifted in to the light and warmth replacing those who’d taken their hats and coats from the stand and gone out into the dark with their breaths frosting on the cold night air. At the bar I pulled pints and made small talk with the new arrivals before they settled themselves in. Most of them were hikers who’d trekked from Heavygate. They’d sink a few beers and catch the train home again.

Mark Empson stumbled in at around half past ten and staggered his way to the bar. I’d just come up from the cellar where I’d been mopping up the mess from a changed barrel. I knew Mark, he was a logistics manager from Cob End. Normally a sensible and calm bloke, the man in front of me was transformed. Two flushed and sweaty hands gripped the bar for support. The men either side of him cleared some room but did not say much, as is the Maltshire way.

“Are you alright Mark?” I asked. He bowed his head and considered the question. I noticed that he was panting heavily. At first he nodded, then he shook his head. When he looked up at me I saw that there were tears in his eyes and something else too, some glimmer of desperation and horror. Like a trapped animal or a rabbit in the headlines. Something reaching out and reacting terribly. I will never forget that look. Whatever emotion was seizing hold of him, I felt it keenly too. We all did and we were shaken.

“Get this man something to sit on.” Someone pulled up a spare stool and Mark sagged into it. I took two whiskey glasses off the shelf and poured out two doubles. Eagerly he seized his in a tremulous hand and took a gulp.

“Now what’s the matter?” I said. He shook his head again. “Now you’re not going to come in here looking like that telling me nothing’s wrong. You look half dead.” At this he shivered and swallowed.

“I was driving back from Hobsfield,” He said. “and I hit something in the Barrens.”

“Well that’s OK Mark,” I patted him on the shoulder “plenty of us have hit pheasants and deer driving through the Barrens.”

“It wasn’t a deer.” He drained his glass. “It wasn’t an animal.” The realisation of what he was saying caught me sideways. Had Mark knocked down some walker out in the Barrens? It was an area popular for tourists looking for rugged untouched England. My business relied on it.

“Mark, did you- Was it a-?”

“It weren’t a person neither.” Mark cut across me before I could accuse him. “It was something else.”

“But if it wasn’t a person or an animal then what-?” This time he interrupted me with a glance that made me shudder. I still hadn’t touched my drink. Mark’s hand shot out and drained it in one.

It was then that the strange smell hit me. Something like a cross between jet fuel and burnt hair. A glance over Mark’s shoulder revealed the source; his odd filth tracked into the bar. Whatever he’d stepped in was corroding my floor slowly. Each footprint was a shade of brown that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in nature. Either the muck itself or whatever it was doing to my floorboards whipped up such a stink that I hope I shall never have to smell again.

“Tell me what happened Mark.” I insisted, my voice more firm than comforting.

“It was dark,” he began “and I was driving home from work on the A175. I’d come over the hill by Northcross and passed Trap Lane. It weren’t raining and my headlights were full beam. I hadn’t seen anyone coming the other way on that stretch of the road for a bit.” He paused and wiping his nose with the back of his sleeve.

“Then something veered out into the road. It was white and the shape of it, you should have seen it Alan. I can’t describe it. It took me but such a surprise. I tried to swerve out of the way but then- Alan it made such an awful noise. I thought that it would split my ears.”

“After I was sure that I hit it, I pulled over on the verge and stepped out into the woods. By the brake lights I could see that I’d cut it in two. There was this mess all over the place, mixed up in the leaves like. You couldn’t imagine.” I think that I could.

“This thing was fleshy and flabby with no limbs to speak of. It quivered and gurgled as it died. But its face Alan, you should have seen its face. It had the face of a man! The mouth whispered things to me. Terrible things, I could never repeat them to you. I only hope that I forget them. I only hope that there aren’t more of them out there.”

That was all he would say of the matter. After a third drink Mark broke down in tears and had to be helped home by one of his brother’s friends. I poured a drink to myself and thought about what the broken man had said. I wondered if there was any truth in it. The trail from the door to the bar is evidence weighing in his favour. To this day I haven’t been able to scrub those footsteps away no matter what I use.

I rarely saw Mark after that. Within the year he’d uprooted his family and taken them somewhere south. That was the last any of us heard from him. The marks on the floor he become entwined into local legend, few of those who were there that night have bothered to correct the many shaggy dog stories about them. As for the strange tale itself; a pub has stood on this ground since the civil war and I would put money down that nothing as bizarre has ever occurred here, nor do I reckon that it will again.




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