Short Story: The End Of The Road

This is just a rough draft, but thought it would be fun to share.

The End Of the Road

 Who would have thought it? The office mouse marrying the boss’s son, let alone dating him. His father, Samuel Pryor, was head of Pryor Holdings. Since the latter had suffered a heart attack recently, it was left to oldest son Mathew to run the London office.

photo Fresh out of secretarial college, Cathy Townsend had been lucky to acquire the admin job at Pryor Holdings. At first, Cathy believed that Mathew had asked her out solely for a bet. She had invariably seen the other girls in the office, laughing and joking with him. After all, at 26 he was a good looking man with his dark wavy hair, and such profound brown eyes. Cathy had often caught herself glancing away shyly, colour rushing to her face whenever he spoke to her.

Not only did the first date turn into a second, it developed into a relationship, then came the engagement. Now here she was, Mrs Catherine Pryor. They had recently returned from a three week romantic honeymoon in Italy. She had never realised how true happiness could be. Now she had found it in the arms of this man. She knew that the girls at the office all expected such a whirlwind romance to fail, and that a man like Matt would soon tire of her.  After all he could have had his pick of any girl.

Throughout the holiday he’d been both a constant and attentive husband. On their return he couldn’t wait to show her the new house in Kent. The place was out in the countryside, and all bought and paid for by Sam and Mathew. The young couple wouldn’t have to concern themselves with trifling mortgages. They could concentrate on making Sam, and his wife Andrea, grandparents. Sam was over 65, and wondered if he would ever have any grandchildren.  Cathy only wished that her mother could have been at her wedding, to witness her marriage to a man who was both attractive and wealthy. A man who never tired of telling her how much he loved her.

Matt and his brother David had spent the past few days fixing things up at the house, so that it should be perfect for the new Mrs Pryor. It was refreshing to escape into the countryside after the bustle of London. Cathy observed the hedgerows speed by beneath the wheels of her husband’s sporty red Porsche. He would often press a hand to her knee, smile and enquire solicituously if she were happy. That he would do anything to please her. He loved her so much. She had never entertained such peace with the world. She believed she never would again since her mother’s death. Her thoughts returned to the latter often, particularily since her marriage.

When the phone shrilled sharply on the dash, Cathy couldn’t help but jump, startled out of her reverie, annoyed that the instrument dared to disturb the peace. Snatching up the mobile, Matt demanded, “Stevie, what’s wrong, mate? You know I’m taking my wife to view the house today. I didn’t want to be disturbed. It had better be important.” The smile he directed her was apologetic.

Cathy had often wondered why he didn’t use the hands-free. But Sam had the idiotic notion that you never knew who might be listening in to the conversation if it were on loudspeaker.

“What?” Matt exploded, jerking himself up bolt upright in the driving seat. ” I thought that deal was in the bag. Come on, Stevie. Look, I’ll be back soon, but not today. You can handle it surely…”

As he talked he was prompted to swerve, narrowly missing an oncoming car. Her heart crashing, Cathy was compelled to grab the steering wheel with the warning for him to be careful.

“Don’t be a nag, darling.”

There was a distinct reprimand in his voice, one that caused her to lapse back into her seat in a subdued fashion. One of the reasons her Dad cited for leaving her mother was because he reckoned that her nagging had driven him into the arms of another woman.

So she said nothing, except to allow Matt to continue talking to his colleague over the phone. He was still talking when the huge stag came crashing out of the undergrowth. Cathy failed to avoid screaming in alarm when the creature stood before them, appearing as surprised as the Porsche’s occupants. Its antlers proud and erect, the animal seemed to emulate a kind of regal bearing as if they were the intruders, in the Porsche’s headlamps. It was already growing dusk.

The stag continued startled, but refused to move from its position in the middle of the road. The phone dropping from his grasp, his “Oh shit, fuck, what the Hell?” indicated that he had precious little control of the car, so that he couldn’t avoid hitting the creature, grazing its side, before the stag limped off into the bushes.

The Porsche, out of control, veered off into the side of the road, crashing into the undergrowth. Cathy was scared, and screaming, her hands covering her face as she felt the car bump ground, judder and threaten to overturn. Her husband managed to maintain the vehicle upright. All Cathy could feel was the excruciating pain as it throbbed through her head when it made contact with the framework of the door.

Momentarily, everything went black, except for the sensation of blood that seemed to fill her head, travelling down the side of her face. There was a kind of buzzing inside her skull, and she had lost consciousness for awhile. She was woken by Matt crying and yelling at her to hang in there. “Cathy! Cathy! Do you hear me?”

She came to then to find her husband bending over her, his face bruised, his hair falling into his eyes. “Oh Cathy, thank God you’re okay. You are okay aren’t you?”  He cradled her in his arms. “They should have put a warning sign up. I didn’t expect a damned stag to come charging out of the bushes.” She wanted to say, “but you shouldn’t have been talking on the phone.” She refrained in case he accused her of bring a nag again.

“The Porsche is a write-off of course,” he complained, scratching his head woefully as he regarded the damage to his pride and joy. “The old man is going to throw a fit.  But as long as you are okay, sweetheart, that’s all that matters. Look, you still got your phone, I’ll call an ambulance, get you checked out. Your head’s bleeding.” He touched a palm to the wound.

“It’s okay, really.” The last thing she wanted to do was to spend the night in hospital. She  had been looking forward to being alone with her husband in their new home. When she touched a hand to her head it came away sticky with blood, although the blood was already beginning to congeal. “If you’ll just help me out, I’ll be fine. It’s just a scratch that’s all.”

“But we should…” he started to protest. “And I’ll have to get someone to shift the car tomorrow.”

Matt managed to help Cathy from the car, explaining that the house wasn’t too far away. He continued to remain anxious however, about calling an ambulance. That he was worried about her.

“I told you I’m fine. ” She hugged him close. “Besides I want to see the house.”

“Okay,” He heaved a sigh of resignation, “but first thing tomorrow, Miss, I ‘m getting you checked out.”

“I’m not Miss anymore, remember. I’m Mrs Pryor now.” She imagined that she sounded a little slurred as if she had been drinking, while Matt cast her an uneasy glance.

“If you’re sure, Mrs Pryor.” He kissed her lips.

“Quite sure,” she told him, allowing him to take her into his arms.

Her initial reaction at sight of their new home wasn’t, much to Cathy’s chagrin, what she had really expected. The place was lovely, there was no denying that, with its white-facaded, old-style paned windows and fresh red brick. Even a small white picket fence encircled the Autumnal garden. She could  easily imagine how beautiful and filled with nighttime scents in the Summer. Obviously the crash had taken its toll. While Matt was rubbing his knee, that was already beginning to bleed through his jeans, Cathy attempted to muster an enthusiasm she was far from feeling, as he went onto explain the finishing touches he and David had accomplished. After ushering her into the house, he set to clean up her face, inspect her injuries.

“So how are you feeling?” he asked with the utmost concern as he taped a small bandage to her right temple. “Just in case. Although the bleeding seems to have stopped. Remember when I fell over on my stag night? Hit my head and had to have all those stitches. You threw a fit.”

“Of course I do,” she told him quietly.

He asked her if she might have a headache, that he’d fetch her some paracetemol.

“No, I don’t have a headache. In fact I feel fine,” she assured him.

“Well you look very pale, sweetheart. Perhaps I should get you to hospital after all. It’s not just the cut on your head, you might have internal injuries or something.”

“I told you I was fine,” she retorted a fraction impatiently, although she had no idea why.

Attentive as always, Matt  helped her into bed. After she’d undressed, Cathy entered the bathroom. She imagined that she heard the phone downstairs, but wasn’t sure whether Matt had bothered to answer it.

He had caught her shivering on occasions. It was the shock coming out, he’d said, for which he had prescribed a hot, sweet tea. Whenever he referred to her getting checked out at the hospital, Cathy thwarted him at every turn. She had the strangest feeling that if she spent even a night away from the man she loved, she might never see him again. A ridiculous notion of course, but one she failed to shake.

Inspecting her face in the bathroom mirror she was aware, with something akin to shock, how pale she was. Her eyes appeared to be practically sunk into the depths of her face. How the darkness enshrouding them had rendered her stark white features a skull-like appearance. Cathy discovered herself emitting a startled gasp. She was obviously still in shock. She couldn’t help but shiver at the recollection of the big bold stag standing there in the middle of the road. The way it had stared at them with such open defiance.

At first she was barely aware of the shadow that ostensibly flitted across her peripheral vision. In fact she thought she had imagined it, until the scream rose in her throat when she saw the woman. She was reflected in the mirror behind her. Cathy observed how the woman’s eyes were encircled by the deepest, darkest shadows so that they practically disappeared into the white skull’s face. The woman’s lips, a barely discernible line, formed into a kind of grotesque smile.

Cathy realised that she must have screamed, because Matt quickly burst into the bathroom, to find out what was wrong. Cathy asked him if he thought the house might be haunted. She explained about the woman she had seen in the mirror, although she had obviously vanished the minute Matt appeared.

“Haunted?” He attempted to suppress a rising tide of laughter. “You mean as in ghosts?” Cathy described the woman she had seen. “Of course not, sweetheart. Besides, ghosts aren’t real. They don’t exist. Anyway, Dave and me stayed here for a few nights while we got the place ready, and we didn’t see anything. I can assure you that the place isn’t haunted. It’s just the shock coming out that’s all. We’ve both been shaken up pretty badly. But things could have been worse.”

“Do people suffering shock hallucinate?”

“Maybe they do. You need to get some sleep.”

“You mind if we don’t?”

Kissing the top of her head, he held her close. “Guess I’m still too shaken up myself to even consider having sex. Besides I need to do something about my knee. it’s getting pretty painful. I’ll get that checked out too.”

“Did I hear the phone ring awhile back?”

“No, sweetheart, I didn’t hear anything.”

“Hearing things as well as seeing things.” She made a face. “I really must be in shock.”

During the night she had begun to feel so inordinately cold, that Matt reckoned she was making him feel cold in bed too, so he fetched more blankets and hot water bottles for her. He declared that first thing in the morning they were going to the nearest hospital. Cathy felt far too tired to argue.

Getting up in the night, and going to the bathroom, Cathy felt a scream rise up in her throat once more when she saw the woman again. Except now, she realised who the woman was. Although Cathy froze rooted to the spot, the woman’s thin lips broke into the semblance of a smile. Huge tears slithered down Cathy’s cheeks. This time she refrained from mentioning her to her husband.

The following morning, without further protest, Cathy allowed her husband to take her to the nearest hospital. Matt supported her with his arm around her. A nurse explained that he would have to wait. “But my wife is ill. She’s in shock. You see we had an accident.”

“I’m sorry, you’ll still have to wait,” the nurse retorted. “Mr…?”

“Pryor. Mathew Pryor of Pryor Holdings.” Although it was plainly obvious that the mention of Pryor Holdings made little impression on the stern-faced nurse.

“Matt!” At the mention of his name, Matthew Pryor turned simultaneously, to see the woman who had spoken. Andrea Pryor hurled herself into his arms, hugged her son as if he were a small boy again. His father was there too. His brother David, looking white and scared.

Matt realised that Cathy was no longer beside him. Where had she gone? He glanced around the room in bewilderment. “Wh… where’s Cathy? What are you doing here? Mum? Dad?”

His brother David had tears in his eyes, which he made a vain attempt to sweep away with a shaking hand. Sam approached his oldest son and shook his head, before wrapping an arm about his shoulder.

“What is it, Dad? Why are you all looking so upset? Me and Cathy had an accident. She’s getting checked out. We’re both fine. Just a little shock that’s all.”

“We tried to get in touch with you,” Andrea said. “Where were you?”

“I was at the house with Cathy.”

“You couldn’t have been, son. This accident…”

“Yes. A stag ran out in front of us. The Porsche is a write-off I’m afraid.”

“That doesn’t matter now, son,” Sam told him, brushing aside a falling tear. “I’m so sorry about Cathy.”

“What do you mean you’re sorry? I don’t understand.”

“Cathy was found dead in the wreckage of your car. You had crashed into a tree. Seems Cathy suffered a head wound that caused bleeding on the brain. We tried calling you. But there was no answer. No one could find you. Perhaps you went to get help” his  father suggested.

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