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This promotion was the last thing I was expecting, especially after the incident that happened just months before.
The roads began to narrow as I headed down towards the seaside village, which spread out before me in the shape of a giant horseshoe. Wiping away the mist from the windscreen with the back of my hand, I could see the sea in the distance, black and angry as it crashed against the cliffs. As I neared the town, the radio started to hiss and spit until I lost signal completely. I made the rest of the journey in silence.
I reached the town just before five, but the sky was so dark that it seemed much later. Driving my car through the cobbled streets, I peered up at the tired-looking buildings that lined each side of the street. There was a single row of shops that had shut for the day, and the streets were so deserted I wondered how they stayed in business at all.
My manager had booked me a room above "The Horse and Coach," a small Inn located in the centre of the village, but I was struggling to find it. Over and over again I drove up and down the cobbled streets with the wind and rain hammering my little car. Then, just ahead, I saw a lone figure shuffling along the pavement in front of me. I slowed the car, bringing it to a halt, the engine rattled. Winding the window down, I peered through the gap and called out to the hunched over figure, its long black coat and hood pulled over its head.
“Excuse me,” I called out, my breath forming tiny clouds in the cold air.
The hunched figure stopped dead in its tracks, back still facing me.
I tried again. “Hello?”
Slowly, the dark figure started to turn on the spot, the hem of his long black jacket trailing in a dirty puddle that oozed out of the cracked grey pavement. Two gleaming eyes stared at me from under the hood. I drew a sudden breath in surprise at the wizened-looking face that lurked beneath the shadows of the hood. It was difficult to take a guess at the man's age, his face was mapped with deep wrinkles and grooves. His skin was white and fleshy where the wrinkles hung loose like sacks of skin beneath his eyes. His thin bloodless lips were twisted in what looked like a painful grimace.
But even though his face looked tired and worn, his eyes were alive and sharp, shining an electric blue colour from beneath the darkness.
“I'm looking for a place called The Horse and Coach. Do you happen to know where it is?” I said, inching the window closed so that the smallest gap was left for me to talk through.
Still staring at me from under the hood, he slowly raised one gnarled finger to his cracked lifeless lips. “Shhh!” he almost seemed to hiss. Then, lowering his head, he turned and slowly walked away.
I decided not to hang around much longer, so I started my engine and set off up the cobbled street again, getting further up one of the narrow roads I suddenly noticed a small side road that I hadn't previously seen. I took a sharp left and turned. Tall gas street lamps lit the street, lifeless plants and flowers still littered the cracks in the cobbles as if no car had been on this road for quiet some time. It seemed so lonely.
There he was again, the same hooded stranger, lurking at the entrance to an alley way, staring at me, rain dripping off his coat. It sent a shiver down my spine so I sped up a little and carried on up the road. I got to the top of the street and couldn't go any further. I pulled over and looked back in my mirrors. He was gone. Who was he and what was he doing out in this weather?
The glow of a dim blue light caught my attention, attached to a white washed wall. It was then I knew I’d found the police station. Surely someone there could help me find my lodgings and see me to safety from the cold night.