Keys To The Highway by Dorothy Davies

EXTRACT FOR
Keys To The Highway

(Dorothy Davies)


Keys To The Highway

The Haunted Lane

 

Stuart Holland

 

“Haunted Lane? Don’t be daft, Mum. There’s no such thing.”

“Trust me, dear, there is. It exists by name on the edge of Clarewell Village. It’s a long, windy road that leads mainly to large, derelict houses. I think the name’s well suited to the surrounding properties.”

“You’re joking.”

“No, Steph, I’m not joking. For good reason. Your father went down that damned lane when you were fifteen. Six months later he died from cancer, as you know well.”

“Yes, never forget it. But that must be a coincidence.”

“Was it?  There’s a lot of rumours of bad things happening to people who drive down there at night.” Maxine was weary, weary of her daughter never seeing her side of things.

“Oh well, you only live once.”

“True. All I’m asking is, be careful when you drive over to Mark’s this evening. Be careful to avoid that village and that road, especially after dark.”

“All right, Mumsie, just for you, I’ll be careful.” Steph was now nineteen and had been driving for over a year, without a scratch on her little Ford Ka. She kissed her mother on the forehead and with a “see you later” she was gone. Literally.

 

It was eleven o’clock that evening when the doorbell rang. Maxine had been worried for over an hour. Her daughter always let her know when she was going to be out after ten, but there had been no SMS message or call. It was unusual. It was unsettling.

“Mrs Cavanagh?”  The two police officers, one female, did not need to say much. Maxine slumped in the hallway.

“Yes,” she said in a frightened voice.

“Can we come in for a minute, please?” The female officer was gentle, almost kind.

“Of course.”

The front door was shut and the three of them went in the lounge.

“You may want to sit down,” said the officer. Maxine took up the offer.

“What is it?” she said slowly, though she’d already figured it was not good news.

“You have a daughter, Stephanie Cavanagh?”

“Y… yes. What is it?”

“I’m afraid there’s been an accident.”

“Is Steph all right?” Maxine dreaded the inevitable reply.

“No, I’m afraid she’s seriously injured. We’re to take you to the hospital.”

“What happened?”

“A tree landed on her car as she was passing under it. It looks like she saw it just as it happened, there are skid marks leading to where the car came to a halt.”

“Was she alone?”

“No, I’m afraid not. The passenger was not so fortunate,” the officer said gently. “We have other officers going round to his parents to break the bad news. Now, if we can get moving… the paramedics said we had to be quick.”

“One final question while I put my shoes on,” Maxine had gone into the hallway, quickly put on her coat and shoes and grabbed her handbag. “Where was the accident?”

“Clarewell Village, little winding road called Haunted Lane. Quite extraordinary as there are hardly any trees near the road. This one just snapped off for no apparent reason, I’m sorry to say.” Finally the male officer who wore the stripes of a Sergeant joined in the conversation.

“Oh, there was a reason. I told Steph to avoid that lane earlier this evening but as with many a teenager, she chose to ignore me.”

“Why did you warn her about the lane?”

“Four years ago her father drove down there one dark evening and came home feeling, shall we say, strange. At the time he said it was as if he had been cut through by a ghost. I laughed at him but a few days later he went to see the doctor and was diagnosed with lung cancer, though he had never smoked. He died six months later. It was then someone mentioned that lane is said to be haunted. Tonight it’s almost as if someone or something confirmed that. What’s down there I have no idea and I don’t really want to know. But there are others in villages round here who say it’s haunted and bad things happen to people who go down there after dark.”

“Well, Mrs Cavanagh, you know a lot more about that lane than we do. Now if you’re ready…”

 

Three hours later, at thirteen minutes past three in the morning, Steph died. It would eventually be recorded as brain trauma, caused by misadventure.

 

Six months later, Maxine plucked up courage and went to the scene of the accident. It was a lovely, clear crisp autumnal day. She looked at what remained of the tree and felt a cold breeze blow across her face. It was as if the wind was speaking to her.

“You’re right to be afraid. Be very afraid. See the new sapling growing from the ground. In time it will cause another death.”

Maxine whirled round but no one was near her.

“Hear my words, they are just and true. You will see.”

“No, no there won’t…”

She leaned down and saw the little sapling sprouting from the ground close to where the bigger tree had once grown. Maxine pulled until the young, tender roots yielded to the ground and the sapling came up in her hand.

“No sapling, no more deaths,” she said softly to herself. It was then the wind groaned, as if in pain.

“I said, no sapling, no more deaths.” Maxine spoke more loudly, more defiantly.

She crushed the tiny plant in her hands, breaking its stem and bending it in half before throwing it into the road. She turned and walked away from the tragic scene, the place where her one and only daughter died, vowing never to go down that lane again.

Her wish was fulfilled. A car behind her sounded its horn. The sound got louder and louder until Maxine felt the dull thud as the car rammed into her back. She was tossed forward and up onto the bonnet, before being thrown onto the road, crashing her skull on the tarmac with alarming force.

Just as she landed she saw, out of the corner of her eye, a familiar, but impossible being.

“Steph?”

“Mummy!”

The sound of the car disappeared in the same instant as the life force left the broken woman. A short distance away, a sapling poked the first shoot of new growth through the earth.