It was late when Matthew left the office to drive home.
He’d spent more time than he’d meant to tidying up all the loose ends so that he could enjoy his four-day Christmas break.
Although it was not actually raining the wind had strengthened and the temperature had dropped to near freezing.
‘I hope they’ve gritted the roads,’ he thought to himself as he drove along the motorway.
At Junction Six he turned off to take the densely-wooded narrow country lane that led to his small village and home.
He hadn’t gone very far when the rain began to fall, slowly at first then descending in torrents.
Matthew could hardly see the road in front of him even with the windscreen wipers and headlights on full.
‘This is silly,’ he said to himself as he stopped in the next passing place.
‘I’ll just wait here ’til it eases. Jenny knows I’ll be late so a few more minutes won’t make much difference, but at least I should be relatively safe here.’
The noise of the wind and rain was so deafening he could no longer hear the music playing on the car radio.
The trees were swaying, branches creaking, when all of a sudden there was a loud cracking sound.
Matthew jumped and started shaking – not with the cold as the heater was belching out hot air, but with fear.
‘Im glad I’m not out in this,’ he said shakily.
Just then there was a knocking on the passenger door and a white face appeared at the window, startling him further.
He reached across and opened the door.
‘Get in quickly out of the rain,’ he said to the stranger. ‘Hopefully we’ll be safe inside the car, providing one of those trees doesn’t snap and fall on it.’
A bedraggled young man in his mid-20s, wearing black leather riding gear, flopped into the seat beside him. He was plainly shaken, his teeth were chattering with the cold, his skin was deathly pale and he had a nasty bump on his forehead.
‘Look, I’ve got a blanket here. Put it around your shoulders – it’ll help you warm up.’
For the next half-hour until the rain eased they exchanged details.
Matthew had managed to ascertain where the motor cyclist was heading. The cottage was only a mile from Matthew’s house. The man had been on his way to visit his girlfriend when he’d skidded and hit a tree.
‘She’ll be worried by now as I said that I’d be there for supper at six o’clock and it’s almost nine now. Can you drop me off outside the door?’ he asked tentatively. ‘I can pick up my bike tomorrow.’
‘Certainly,’ said Matthew. ‘It’s on my way home.’
The young man’s teeth had stopped chattering, though he was still deathly white.
Hunched up in the blanket, he seemed to have dozed off when Matthew drove off slowly along the lane, taking care in case there were any broken branches lying across the road.
A few minutes later he reached the girlfriend’s cottage.
‘Will you be all right? That’s a nasty bump you’ve got on your head, you ought to get it seen to,’ he said, turning to face his passenger.
His jaw dropped. There was no-one there, just a wet patch on the seat.
‘That’s funny, I didn’t hear the car door open.’
He got out of the car and knocked the door of the cottage. A middle-aged lady opened it.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘What is it?’
Matthew explained that he had picked up a badly-shaken young man and was bringing him to see his girlfriend Lucy Hall. But the man just disappeared when he stopped outside.
Was this the right house?
She invited him in and explained that Lucy Hall was her daughter and that she was no longer living there.
Her boyfriend had jilted her five years ago and she moved away shortly afterwards.
And yes, the young man was Jed Bailey.
Matthew was hard put to explain what had happened, even to himself.
After breakfast the next morning after a restless night, he decided to retrace his journey of the previous evening.
When he got to the lay-by where he had picked up the stranger, he parked the car.
Getting out, the first thing he noticed was the tartan blanket that he had wrapped around the young man hanging from the branch of a tree.
Shivering with apprehension, Matthew decided to look more closely at the surrounding woodland.
Using his torch, he slowly made his way into the wood looking for any signs of skid marks or of a crash.
He found what looked like the rusty remains of a bike.
Straight away Matthew got in touch with the police.
They confirmed that a motorcyclist had gone missing five years previously and that it was just possible that he had found the remains of his motor cycle.
They would have to investigate further and would send a team out shortly.
It was not long before the remains of the young man and his bike were found, just as it had been explained to him.
The young man had skidded and hit the tree, killing himself instantly.
To the last, Jed had been determined to let his girlfriend know that he had not abandoned her.
Lucy was now able to mourn Jed in the knowledge that she hadn’t been forsaken after all.
After having a go last year, Patricia Manley found it was second time lucky after being highly commended for her entry in this year’s ghost story competition.
The 75-year-old from Bedhampton wrote the tale at a storytelling group at the University of the Third Age.
She said: ‘We inspire each other. Denise Bennett is a published poet and she gives us inspiration and really pushes to improve our writing skills.
‘It is only the second time I have written a story longer than 300 words and it will be satisfying to see it in print.’