I met this family by the side of the road, late at night, at the bottom of a lane, which they said led up to their house which was on fire. But when I looked up above the tall pine trees, there was no smoke drifting across the full moon above the canopy. Dressed in their night clothes, the mother and her two children pleaded with me to help save Dougie, their pet dog, who was trapped inside. How could I say no? ‘We’ll wait here,’ said the mother, ‘for the fire engine.’
The lane went on for a long time. I could hardly see in front of me, and all I could hear was the odd crack and rustle of the wood on both sides. Strangely, no smell of fire touched my nostrils. It was only when I got to a clearing that the house appeared, and was raging flames and radiating heat, which immediately scorched my skin.
A man was kneeling in front of the house and I assumed it was the husband. I put my hand on his shoulder. He turned and looked up at me, tears and anger in his face. ‘My family are dead,’ he said, ‘I was too late, even though I ran through the woods.’
That explains it! ‘Don’t worry,’ I said, ‘I have just spoken to your family by the side of the road.’ At first, he didn’t believe me, then he sprang up from where he knelt and started running back down the lane.
I was rooted to the spot for a few seconds, before running after him, hoping his grief and trauma would be short lived. But when I arrived, there was only my car and the confused husband. It was not a cruel trick on my part and I suggested they may have gone back through the woods. He was anxious, frantic to be reunited with his wife and children, so shot-off into the woods to find them. Were it not for my own anxiety about his well-being, I might have stayed to flag down the emergency services, but there was something of a desperation in his voice which worried me.
I tried my best to follow, shouting for him to slow down, but he was elusive. Foliage constantly blocked my way; a sense of direction was impossible with no path. Eventually, I was left with a quiet eeriness, back to the same sounds and dullness which had followed me when I had first walked up the lane.
Just when I felt I was thoroughly lost and bemused, I noticed lights from my car and another poking through the trees. As I stepped out of the dark a friendly face greeted me. I reassured them I was not in distress, but there was a family and husband whose house was on fire, and they had gone missing.
‘That family,’ he said, ‘up the lane… the mother and two kids you say? They died six months ago. The husband was too late to save them… off shagging his mistress instead. He hung himself in those woods only a few weeks back... sick with guilt they say...’ As I shuddered all over, I heard barking in the back of his car. ‘That’s their dog,’ he said. ‘Someone had to look after it…’