WITHIN MINUTES OF leaving the motorway, Richard and Anna Haywood, newlyweds enjoying their first year of marriage, found themselves lost amid the tall hedgerows which cloistered the roads. It had been many years since Richard had visited Geoff and Karen Juniper, and since his old friends – family, by any practical definition – were unable to attend the wedding, it seemed right to pay them a visit.
Anna teased Richard for his lack of orientation to which he responded with mock outrage. It was true, however. He could hardly recognise the area despite countless trips he made with his parents visiting Geoff and Karen at their home at Beacon Hill Farm. It was as though the area had rotated on some axis, and every corner he now turned drove them further from his memory of the place.
“Are you sure we got off at the right junction?” said Anna, waiting for another playful outburst from Richard.
But before he could respond Richard was forced to press sharply down on the brakes, causing them both to jolt violently against their seatbelts.
‘Sorry darling. Are you alright?’
‘Look,’ said Anna, pointing toward a girl staggering towards them.
The girl showed no sign of having noticed the car, her gaze fixed doggedly downward. Her feet landed on the tarmac as though surprised to find solid ground beneath. Richard wound down his window to speak to her, though by the time he leant his head out the window, she had already inched her way through the narrow space between the hedgerow and could be seen walking away through the rear-view mirror.
‘Do you think she’s okay?’ said Anna. ‘Maybe you should go out and ask if she needs a lift.’
Richard, uncomfortable with the idea of offering a girl a lift on a secluded road, dismissed the idea. ‘She’s fine,’ he said, moving the car forward again. ‘That’s what it’s like out here, you know. I used to go for long walks on my own all the time at that age. It’s the only way to cope with the boredom.’
Unimpressed and not entirely convinced by his response, Anna stared out of the window, silently brooding on the matter, watching the blur of hedgerow flowing past.
Richard squinted ahead, ignoring the sudden hardening of humour inside the car. His glasses climbing up the bridge of his nose, he focused instead on finding a sign or indication of some sort, something to remind him of where he was.
‘Ah, there it is,’ he said, at last. ‘There, that’s the beacon for the farm. We’re here.’
Anna, the words lost to her as she gazed out the window, connected the unheard utterance to the view ahead. From a peculiarly tangled and rounded corner of brambles, an old beacon brazier rose from the greenery beneath, its spiked crown above an iron basket, marking the turn for the farm.