(a local beer)
It wasn’t true. You couldn’t judge a book by its cover.
That was one thing Marion had learnt over the years. It probably applied to men too. They were never what they seemed. Take this last one, for instance. He’d seemed normal enough. He was reasonably good-looking, in a feminine sort of way. His ears stuck out a bit but what did that matter? Looks weren’t everything He was interested in science and politics. Well, at least he had a brain.
They had met in a country pub just off the A59. The pub served the usual kind of pub grub. Substantial. Nothing fancy. She’d suggested the place. A lot of country pubs were serving food these days. They had to get the punters in somehow. There was a live band playing. At least she could listen to the music if all else failed. The band was a trifle loud for her liking but it conversation was still possible, just.
They went through the usual formalities of getting to know each other. They both led active lives and compared notes on the number of social groupings they belonged to. He topped her nine with thirteen. He went ballroom dancing. Each to their own. Interests weren’t everything. He liked discussing politics and current affairs. That was a plus. Why did he have to go and spoil everything?
‘I’ve just been to see an astrologer,’ he announced, a propos of nothing.
‘Was he any good?’ Marion asked, instinctively. She’d learnt that things could turn nasty quickly if you cross-questioned people on their beliefs, especially when it came to religion or politics.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘as a matter of fact, he was.’
She had known people in the past who believed in weird stuff like that. Some of them were quite sensible people. He saw that she wasn’t impressed and changed the topic.
‘So, you are a writer,’ he said. ‘What do you write about?’
‘Whatever takes my fancy,’ she said. ‘Quirky stuff, usually. Human nature, mainly. ’
He talked about some long-dead Parisian writers he admired who had been into mysticism and the occult.
Marion couldn’t help raising her eyebrows this time.
‘There must be something in it,’ he said. ‘There were a heck of a lot of them.’
‘I only believe what I can see with my own eyes’ she said, ‘and only half of that, ’she added.
‘But the evidence is all there,’ he went on. ‘I could tell you something very interesting at the risk of totally losing my credibility,’ he said.
Why did she always seem to get the crazies? It was as if they made a bee-line for her. What was he going to say next? Something weird, no doubt. She’d better indulge him. She didn’t feel like arguing. It was supposed to be a night out. She was supposed to be enjoying herself.
‘Did you know that the earth is hollow and there are aliens living inside it?’
That really took the biscuit. She’d thought he was weird but not that weird. Normally she prided herself on being able to spot the mad ones. Now she was beginning to doubt her own judgement
‘Really,’ she said, not wanting to encourage him.
‘Yes, they only come out at night and only in special places along lay lines,’ he said.
She was in a time warp. She was back in the sixties, having one of those late-night conversations with people, high on drugs, discussing esoteric stuff in a state of heightened awareness.
‘And I can tell you,’ he said, leaning towards her in a confiding way, ‘that one of them came out recently very near here. Can you guess where?’
‘I’m afraid I can’t,’ she said, flatly.
‘Go on. Try,’ he urged.
‘Okay, then Pendle Hill?’ she ventured. If people believed that witches flew around up there on broomsticks why not aliens?
‘No,’ he said, seeming disappointed. ‘It was on Ilkley Moor.’
‘Well, I hope he had his hat on,’ she said.
‘What?’ he asked.
‘His hat. You know, the song ‘Tha’s ba-an te catch thee de-ath a cold, on Ilkley Mo-or ba-at ha-at?’ Marion sang.
He looked disgruntled. The band started playing at an even higher volume. It was impossible to hear anything. He made some excuse about having sensitive ears and left.
Well at least that got rid him.
Or so she thought.
She needed to be getting off herself. It was late and she’d heard there was a storm blowing up.
Driving along the A59 Marion mulled over the evening. The conversation had been interesting but then it had turned. He must have thought she was so gullible that she would believe any old rubbish. Then he couldn’t cope and vanished.
There was car approaching fast from behind. The headlights were shining right through the back window and almost blinding her. It looked like it wanted to overtake. She clicked the catch down on the mirror to avoid the glare. As the car sped past she noticed it was BMW. She remembered him boasting about having a BMW. He’d left before her, surely. Maniac!
And all that stuff about aliens. Couldn’t he credit her with more intelligence than that? Surely he could have come up with a better chat-up line? It showed a distinct lack of intelligence on his part. Of course she was going to make fun of him. Any sensible woman would.
Why did people have to drive so fast on the A59? She’d get off the road, take a short cut. She preferred driving on country lanes at night. You could see the cars coming by their headlights. At this time there wouldn’t be anyone on the road, anyway. It was gone midnight.
As she turned off the main road onto the single track road, she noticed some lights flashing up ahead. Something was blocking the road. A policewoman in a yellow hazard jacket was walking towards her. Marion wound the window down.
‘I’m sorry,’ the policewoman said, ‘but you can’t get through here tonight. I’m afraid there’s been an accident.’
She could see a car ahead. There was a branch lying right across it. The roof was all smashed in.
‘Was anyone hurt?’
‘That’s the strange thing,’ the police woman said. ‘Someone called 999 a short while ago but when we got here, there was no-one around. We can’t understand it. I’m afraid it’ll be another two hours before we can clear the road. We are waiting for the breakdown lorry to arrive. You’ll have to go home another way.
It meant going back on the A59. That was a drag but there was nothing else for it. She reversed up the road and turned round. As she was moving away she caught sight of the number plate of the smashed car in the rear-view mirror. It read 1MAN AL1EN and the car was a BMW.
Bio: Jenny Palmer
Jenny Palmer returned to her native Lancashire in 2008 after living and working abroad and in London for many years. She has recently published her childhood memoir called Nowhere Better Than Home about growing up in rural Lancashire in the 1950s and 60s and continues to write short stories, poems and local history.