Spooky short stories with a twist in the tail.
Mum had been right. I really should have stayed with her one more night and driven back tomorrow, but I'd promised Jon that I'd be back in time to take the kids to school in the morning. I didn't like night driving; was always on edge; imagining things in my peripheral vision, and even hearing strange and unsettling noises from the car, as I drove. Strange... I always felt tired when I drove at night, even when I had no reason to feel tired. Tonight, though, I had a perfect reason.
Mum and I had had an early start today, after a night spent talking into the early hours. Talking about Dad, of course. Surprisingly, I did most of the talking. Me, the one who had known him for the shorter time. Mum seemed to like listening to my childhood memories of him, and even about the battles we'd had in my teenage years. Then, after only a few hours sleep, we'd had the funeral to deal with. And then the wake. I'd insisted on helping Mum to clear everything away, and then I'd insisted on leaving, despite her protestations and misgivings.
I'd been worn out when I left, and, after two hours of driving, I was shattered, emotionally and physically. I drew into the car park at the services, and draped my arms over the steering wheel, resting my head on them, briefly, before taking the key out of the ignition.
I wasn't hungry, and Lord knows I wasn't thirsty, due to drinking cup after cup of tea this afternoon. Maybe it would be better just to get into the back of the car for a nap. On the other hand, a coffee might wake me up a bit. Caffeine or sleep? Which would be more effective? I looked around the car park. It would probably be safe, but I knew that I would not be able to relax enough to doze off here, alone. I got out, pressing the button on my key and listening for the click of the central locking before I set off toward the restaurant.
I grabbed a tray and went straight to the end of the counter, bypassing the cakes and buns and all-day breakfasts. The smell of fried bacon was comforting without being the slightest bit tempting. I put one of the thick white cups under the nozzle of the coffee machine and pressed the button, watching as the mug filled up. As the stream of coffee and water finished, it angled towards the back and overshot the mug. I thought maybe they were all designed to do that. I grabbed a plastic pot of cream substitute, and after a hesitation, a couple of sachets of demerara sugar, paid for the coffee, and walked to a table by the window.
I sat for a while, not drinking, just looking around the restaurant. There was a businessman type sitting a few tables away, reading a paper, and a young man, perhaps a student, on the other side of the restaurant. He was reading, too; a paperback, perhaps a horror novel, judging by the cover. I wished I had something to read. I had a book in my overnight case, in the car, and the little shop opposite the restaurant was still open, if I wanted to buy a book, or a paper. I really didn't feel like making the effort. I was so tired.
Another person walked up to the counter, and picked up a can of drink and a plastic cup. As she paid at the checkout she looked around the place for somewhere to sit. Her eyes settled on me and she started to walk over to where I sat.
Oh no. Please don't sit here. I don't want to chat. I don't have the energy or the enthusiasm. Just go somewhere else. She smiled and sat opposite me. Didn't even ask if I minded.
''Hiya.'' she said, smiling sweetly, and flicking her long, red, curly hair back off her face. ''Where are you off to?''
I told her, but didn't elaborate. Perhaps if I kept to short reponses she'd get the hint and leave me alone. I really wished I had something to read, so that I could hide behind it. It would be easier to ignore her then, without seeming too rude. She was unfazed by my reticence, though. She just carried on, talking about herself. Her name was Ginnie, and she'd been for an interview, she said. It had been a gruelling ordeal - a tough panel. but they'd offered her the job on the spot, and then even invited her to go for a meal and a few drinks with them straight afterwards. Then she started on about her boyfriend and how he thought the world of her, and how she loved the red sports car he'd bought her.
She seemed rather full of herself, but as she spoke, I began to warm to her. She was so energetic, and scatterbrained, and funny, that I felt my mood altering and my spirits lifting, and in spite of myself, I soon found myself talking about Jon, and the kids, and, of course, my father's funeral today. I left the table feeling much brighter, and ready to face the rest of the drive home. I said goodbye to Ginnie, and wished her luck with the job, then started to walk away.
''Hey!'', she called, when I was halfway to the restaurant exit. I turned round. ''Your dad's really happy that you married Jon, you know.'', she said.
I stopped, and looked at her. Then I decided I must have misheard so I gave her a little wave, and went back to my car.
Two minutes after I rejoined the motorway I groaned. There was an accident ahead. I saw flashing blue lights to the right of the carriageway in front of me,and the traffic was creeping along at a snail's pace. Only one lane seemed to be closed, though, and after a few minutes, we started moving steadily, rather than just stopping and starting.
I turned my head to the right as we passed two police cars and an ambulance. My stomach clenched at the sight of the overturned red sports car. Two paramedics were working on a motionless figure lying a few feet from the car. It was a girl.
A girl with long, red, curly hair.