The car skidded to a halt and Kate leaned forward, staring out at the pools of white light her headlights made on the snow. Twisting in her seat, she peered out of the back window, searching the road for the body of the man she’d hit. Her hand reached for the door handle, but she hesitated; it might be a trap. He could be waiting for her out there and she was alone, unarmed and helpless. On the other hand, he could be seriously injured and she couldn’t just drive away and leave him there. She unfastened the seat belt, opened the door and leaned out of the car.
“Hello? Are you all right?”
She looked up and down the lane as she walked all around the car, looking in the verges at the sides of the road and checking underneath the vehicle. Nothing! He simply wasn’t there. Maybe it had been an animal, a deer perhaps, but anyway she looked at it, the road was empty. Her breath fogged on the cold air and goose bumps formed on her skin beneath her jumper. She hugged herself, rubbing her chilled hands up and down her arms to generate a little heat, and got back in the car, shaking with shock as well as cold. She sat up tall and rigid, gripping the steering wheel so tightly her fingernails dug into her palms, leaving dark half-moons indented in the flesh.
What on earth had just happened? She knew she’d been travelling far too fast for the icy conditions of the narrow lane, bombing along on the crest of the adrenalin rush after leaving the church, but she’d only turned her head for a second, glancing away from the road to stop the box from falling off the seat and when she’d looked up he was there. And had he smiled? She shook her head, it was a stupid thought. He hadn’t even raised his arms for the impact.
Wait! There hadn’t been an impact. She hadn’t felt anything: no bump, no noise, nothing.
I can’t have hit him then, she decided.
So where the hell had he gone?
The headlights of another car lit up the trees as it drove past, jolting her out of her reverie. In the absence of a body and eager to get home, she started the engine and pulled onto the road behind it. Keeping a careful eye on her speed this time and a safe distance from the car in front, she followed it down the winding lane. As she started to relax again, her mind wandered. She longed for the soothing warmth of a long hot bath and was trying to decide between Lavender Bliss and Coconut Cream bubble bath when they came to a tight bend.
The other car swerved and began to skid across the road. She could see the driver turning the wheel left and right, but with no effect. Kate slowed and came to a stop before the place where he’d lost control then watched in horror as the car slammed through a fence, down an incline and into a farmer’s field, where it crunched to an abrupt halt against a tree.
She sat stunned for the second time that evening before jumping out to go to the man’s aid. He opened his door and moaned, almost falling from the seat. Kate’s feet slithered to a stop in the churned mud and snow. She helped the man from the car and asked him his name.
“Michael,” he said.
“It’s alright, Michael. I’m Kate.”
He’d hit his head and was dazed and disoriented, and leaned heavily on her as she helped him back to her car. She leaned him against the curved bonnet while she made room for him, moving the box to the back seat and hiding it beneath her bag. Then she phoned for an ambulance.
While they waited for help she draped her coat over the injured man, talking to him and rubbing his cold hands to stop him from falling into unconsciousness.
“What happened?” she said.
“I’m not sure.”
He hadn’t been travelling that fast, there must have been a patch of black ice, hidden beneath the lethal glitter of snow.
“Did you see anything strange before you skidded?”
He turned towards her, flinching with pain.
“No. Like what?”
“I don’t know. A figure? Someone in the road in front of you?”
“No, there was nothing.”
He put his hand to his head and moaned.
“Never mind,” Kate said, shrugging her shoulders. “It doesn’t matter. Help is on its way.”
She tucked her coat tighter around him and smiled reassuringly.
* * *
“Lucky thing you were here,” the paramedics had said. “He must have someone watching over him.”
As the blue lights of the emergency services faded away she pondered those words. If she hadn’t stopped for the mysterious disappearing man she would have been the one to skid on the ice and at the speed she’d been travelling she would have hit the tree much harder. Even if she hadn’t killed herself in the crash, any passing cars would have been unlikely to see her in the dip of the field and left there until morning, she would have frozen to death.
Had someone been watching over her?
She’d heard of stories like this, people warned of danger by mysterious strangers who appeared out of nowhere. The man in the road had been barely visible through the blur of half melted snowflakes on the windscreen; one minute he was there, tall, possibly fair haired – the next he was gone. She didn’t believe in that kind of nonsense. The mind was hard-wired to see faces in random patterns. All that had happened was that the snowflakes had formed the shape of a figure and her mind had connected the dots. It was a trick of the light, exceptional good luck even – but that was all.