By the time he reached the village it was pitch dark. Easy to forget, living in the city, how thick and deep was the night-time darkness of the countryside. Johnathan had to lean forward, peering beyond the small well of light. The road narrowed around him, trees and bushes nothing but formless blots against black. Times like this you could understand a fear of the dark; just fear of the unknowable, the unnamed, of what things could lie where no light shone. Understand superstition, the evil in fairy tales, what lay behind but that lingering, primitive terror?
He wanted to stop. His bladder was sending him signals it couldn't take much more and also he was worried about getting lost. Time to stop and check the map. He found he had gone wrong. Had to get back in the car and turn around, more alert now for the turn. Still, he almost missed it. It wasn't a road, just a dusty track and he winced as his car bounced and rumbled over the ruts, convinced one of the tyres would blow. This was when you needed a four-wheel drive, not a battered, ten-year-old Vectra with ninety-thousand hard miles behind it.
There was the house. There was a light. He let out a breath. Jeezus, made it!
He got out of the car, turned to close the door. His foot scraped on the small, loose stones of the drive and it seemed to him there was an answering sound, following close as an echo out of the dark. Johnathan froze with his hand on the car door and looked round, holding his breath. Stupid! It's just a fox or something. This is the country, remember? But he knew it was a footfall he'd heard, and that it had come not from the house but from the shadow of the huge hedge that surrounded the property. He looked toward the house and just as he did so the solitary light winked out.