Richard Mackenzie finished off the remains of his pork chop with a satisfied "aah" and pushed the plate away from him, catching the waiter's eye and asking for his bill.
When he had paid, Richard stood up and left the restaurant, retrieving his Trilby hat and his coat from the hanger near the entrance hidden behind a vast floral display of burgundia and freesia. He left the little building and crossed to where he had parked his car, by Aylesford's small village square. It was a cold, crisp night. The sort of night when your breath crystallised in the air in front of you and when all sensible people were wrapped up in a nice warm blanket, huddled up in front of a fire with a glass of scotch. Richard, though, had had a horrid day. It had begun badly enough with instructions to drive up to Peterborough to see a client. Not that he had anything much against Peterborough, but it was Friday night and he was hoping to get a bit of partying done and maybe pull a bit of skirt. The drive up the A1 had been horrendous. The Highways Authority was digging up huge swathes of Bedfordshire making the already wide road even wider. The traffic had ground to a halt at Biggleswade and then crawled all the way up to Normans Cross, by which time Richard was spitting spiders.
However, his problems really started after the end of a long and monotonous meeting. It was already late, the sun had sunk long ago and the bright, if nippy, November day had turned into a bitingly cold night. Richard had dumped his case and presentation materials on the back seat of his BMW and flopped into the driver's seat. He gunned the engine and pulled away, then heard an unpleasant scraping noise and the car began to slip around. He hit the breaks and got out. His front left tyre was not only flat, but looked positively ragged. He turned around and saw the remains of a broken bottle, all crushed up, where his car had been parked. Richard swore loudly, took off his jacket and set about putting on the spare tyre.
Consequently it was very late indeed by the time he got back to Kent, and he decided to stop off at his favourite restaurant in Aylesford on his way from the M20 towards his home in Rochester.
He felt much more relaxed now, full of pork and slightly more wine than was strictly legal. He opened the back of his car and hung up his jacket on the coathanger which hung from the duchess strap above the rear passenger window.
Then he got in, strapped himself into the seat belt and gunned the engine. Sluggishly the engine dragged itself into life, having got thoroughly cold since he'd arrived earlier. Richard pulled away and turned up onto the road back towards Chatham. Richard regretted the 'one for the road' when he turned onto the Old Chatham Road, opposite "The Lower Bell". He always did underestimate the turn and the wheels positively squealed as he took the corner. Thankfully he had enough control to keep the car going and had recovered by the time the road had straightened out.
As often happens, when one has almost lost control of a car, Richard put his foot down hard when he reached the straight part of the hill. Just as he passed the footpath down to Kits Coty there was suddenly a young woman, dressed in white, striding in front of him. As the car bore down on her, she turned and almost seemed to look straight into Richard's eyes. Then she crashed into the bonnet of the car and rolled up the windscreen before vanishing off to one side leaving a smear of blood across the windscreen and a large crack in the glass. Richard slammed his foot on the brake and the car skidded to a halt.
He fumbled in the glove compartment for his Viking-brand flashlight and struggled to release the catch on the seat belt. Then he was out in the cold air running back behind the car which was quietly pinging as it cooled. Richard turned the flashlight on and swept it across the dark road. There she was, laying in a heap by the edge of the road. She seemed to be dressed only in a white linen nightshirt, which was pulled up around her waist. She was laying face down, one arm outstretched onto the grass verge, one leg twisted at an awkward angle, her long blond hair aspray.
He ran over to her, putting his left foot into an expanding pool of sticky blood. She was beautiful, her long legs and naked backside were so white, like porcelain, in the torchlight. But dark red was slowly spreading down from her upper body. Gingerly, he turned her over. Her front was absolutely soaked in blood, her nightshirt clinging to her body, and torn across her belly. Her face was only spattered with blood. Her blue eyes were staring and her mouth was open, tongue lolling out over her teeth. She was without a doubt dead. Nevertheless, Richard didn't want to accept this. He raced back to the car to get a blanket, if nothing else, to cover the girl's nakedness before he called an ambulance.
He got his tartan travel blanket out of the boot of the car, and headed back to the girl's body. When he got back there he dropped the blanket in astonishment. She wasn't there. Surely she couldn't have survived. There was so much blood, she must have been dead. He shone the flashlight around. There was no sign of her. Then he shone it back to where he thought she had laid. There was no blood.
This was all getting too weird for Richard. He knelt down where he knew she had lain. There was no indentation in the grass verge, no sign of blood, or anything else.
Stunned, her retrieved the blanket from where he dropped it and walked dazedly back to his car. He got in and turned it around and drove very very slowly back down to "The Lower Bell". He parked up and went inside the pub, which thankfully was still open. He must have looked wild as the few people in the pub all turned to look at him.
He staggered up to the bar and related his story to the barmaid.
That was just Julie, the barmaid told him, she had died in a car crash with two friends in November 1965 at that spot. It had been the day before her wedding.
Richard ordered a double Scotch and went to sit in the corner and think about what had happened.
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