On Friday and Saturday nights the pizza delivery bikes in Shuckleigh are always busy. Even after midnight, there are still people who want greasy, cheesy toppings on a deep pan base. With or without pineapple.
Jamey was working late one Friday night. He rode a Honda scooter, with a cubic insulated bag on the back. Being a pizza delivery guy on minimum wage in the gig economy was not the height of his ambitions, but he saw it as a temporary thing, and better than being shut up in a hot kitchen for hours, slathering dough with tomato sauce and random dodgy bits and pieces.
That night an order came in around midnight. Another driver was ahead of Jamey for the next delivery, but he took a look at the address, shuddered, and decided to finish for the night, so the job went to Jamey.
Shuckleigh is a small market town in a very rural setting, and this order was for somewhere just a bit out of town. Jamey put the postcode into his phone and set off to find the place before the pizzas got cold.
He had to turn off onto a tiny unclassified road, about the width of one car with occasional passing places, which is not unusual around here. Jamey’s phone told him that he would pass a farmhouse and then go on half a mile to the very end of the road, where his destination lay. He could not miss it, because the road did actually end, with no further to go and no turn offs, so when, just after the farmhouse, he lost phone signal, he was not too bothered. Outside the town coverage is patchy, nothing strange about that.
There was a little light from a gibbous moon, but otherwise Jamey had to depend on his scooter’s headlight. For that reason, and the narrowness of the road, he had to go slowly. A hedgehog santered across the road in front of him, gave him a dirty look as he just missed it, and disappeared into the undergrowth. Then a badger crossed his path in a hurry, so he slowed even more. Even so, the road went on far longer than half a mile. He saw two miles tick over on the milometer, but still had not come to the end of the road.
It was so dark, and he was so alone, that he grew increasingly uneasy.
Instead of open farmland, he was now surrounded by tall trees, the thin moonlight just filtering down through the almost leafless branches.
He had to keep his eyes on the narrow strip of road, but a sudden movement between the trees registered in the corner of his eye, and he glanced that way.
There was something there, darting from tree to tree. Something large. Not a deer, because it was on two legs, but it did not move like a person, either. Jamey speeded up. He did not want to know what might be out there, but he could tell that it was following him, keeping pace with his speed. On that narrow dark road, he did not dare go faster. He told himself that it was just shadows seen from the corner of his eye, nothing more.
Jamey preferred rationalism, it being so much pleasanter to believe in a simple, normal explanation for all things, so he did what most people would not do. He stopped, and looked directly into the woods to assure himself of the thing’s non-existence.
As he stopped, the following thing also stopped. He looked into the trees, and in the moonlight all he could see were shadows, and because there was no wind, the shadows were all perfectly still.
Then one of them moved.
A shock of fear went through Jamey, but he still told himself that it was nothing. He turned the scooter so that its headlight shone into the trees. Everything within its beam was illuminated, except for one shadow, blacker than the night, in the shape of a huge man-like creature. There were no features, only a blank shadow shape that did not give way to the light. It stepped towards him, one, two strides.
Jamey’s reassuring rationalism fled into the night. Without thinking he accelerated away down the road as fast as he could, forgetting to care about wandering hedgehogs, or anything else. He did not dare look anywhere but at the road, even though he was convinced that the shadow was still following him.
Suddenly the road came to an end at a small red-brick house. Trembling, he took out the pizzas and rang the doorbell.
An ordinary-looking man opened the door and accepted the pizzas.
‘You took your time,’ he said.
‘The road was longer than I thought.’
‘Did you come through the woods?’
‘Go back the other way.’
But the man had shut the door.
Jamey looked out into the night along the only road, and shivered. Knowing that he could not stand on a stranger’s porch all night, he summoned up all of his disbelief in spooky things, started up his scooter and set off back to town.
Riding along, he looked for possible side roads, but finding none, dreaded the approach of the woods. It was only a few minutes before he saw the lights of the farmhouse, and a couple of minutes after that he came to the main road. He had travelled a little over half a mile and there were no woods.
His relief was mixed with puzzlement and even a little touch of disappointment. He looked back the way he had come, and he swears that he saw the shadow standing in the middle of the road, looking at him with invisible eyes.
He broke the speed limit on the way back to the comforting lights of the town.