“Why did you drag me in here?” she asked while adding red to her lips.
“A chance to be alone, why else?” Nathan fidgeted.
“Christ, Nath, there are loads of parties we could go to.”
“Yes, but everyone knows us. Here we can be together.”
“What’s in your bag?”
Shirley looked at him and tutted.
“This my dear is a tent, a heater, and a box of chocolates. What more do you need?”
The tuts got louder.
“I don’t suppose you have a five-star hotel in there, do you?”
There was a break in the clouds, the full moon shined on them. The gravestones surrounding them quivered in the new light. Nathan sighed, Shirley grunted.
She then shivered.
“What about your wife?”
“She’s okay. After her medicine, she’ll sleep through the night.”
“And what about my husband?”
“You said he was driving tonight?”
“Yes, but I never know what time he’ll be back.”
She knew exactly what time they expected him and his grumbling about French drivers. He had a lorry load of wine to deliver from Toulouse.
“You know he won’t be back until lunchtime at the earliest.”
“Depends, his French tart might kick him out early,” she grinned.
Nathan leaned across, shoulder to shoulder. Clasping her hand, he sucked on her little finger, winning him a half-hearted smile. She pulled away from his hand and snorted.
“What?” he whined.
“Let’s go back to your place?”
“You know we can’t, it won’t feel right.”
“Your wife won’t know.”
“Yes, but… What about your home?”
“Yeah, right! My husband will kill you. His thug mate next door is certain to see your car.”
“So, we can have fun here.”
“I suppose so.”
Nathan failed with the bra clasp, it stung her back.
“At least set up the tent first,” Shirley said, freeing her ample bosom.
Nathan opened his bag and emptied its contents on the ground. Hands-on hips, Shirley tried to read the gravestones, “Chuck me that torch, can you?”
“I need it.”
“Just give it here.” She studied her grandfather’s name, chiselled in ancient stone.
Nathan sat in a huff with his back to her.
A rustle of leaves and scuffed steps broke the silence.
“Finished reading when the stiffs died yet?”
Nathan turned to find the torch laying on the ground.
“Hilarious, you just joke around, don’t worry about me, I’ll finish setting up everything for your comfort.”
The childish tent took longer than expected. Twenty minutes later it was erect and waterproof, necessary as it had began drizzling.
“Enough of the games, you can come in now,” he called.
No answer, he peered through the flap.
He sat at the tent’s opening for a further ten minutes.
“She must have gone to the toilet?” he asked himself.
“I bet the silly cow is jammed in the loo. Or scared to come back in the dark, I’d better find her.”
After zipping up his jacket, he set off to the church’s gates. The public convenience was just outside.
He hammered on the locked door.
“Are you in there?”
Deciding he had better go to the ‘gent’s’, he found that too locked and secure.
“Bollocks. Where is she?”
He searched between each gravestone and every tomb, thinking she may have slipped and cracked her head.
“Bollocks,” again he cursed under his breath. “My phone is in the tent.”
The rain fell harder. He slipped and skidded back to the tent. Half expecting to find her inside he called, “Okay, good one, Shirley. Got me there.”
He pulled the flaps open and dived in… Empty.
“Where is my phone,” he pulled stuff aside. Grabbing the mobile, he dialled her number.
Nathan poked his head outside.
“Is that her childish ring tone? It must be, no one else has such a stupid sound. Where is it coming from?” He peered through the trees.
The rain was clattering down.
Nathan put his jacket above his head, braved the rain to sprint to the shelter of an enormous oak tree, and tried calling again.
“Where are you, Shirl?” he bellowed. “I can hear your phone, answer the damn thing.”
He looked around, squinting between raindrops as they cascaded from leaves out of sight.
Dashing back to the shelter of the tent, he sat considering what could have happened.
“One, she went home. Possible, but why can I hear her phone? Two, she is playing a trick on me? Maybe, but not in this rain. Three, she’s had an accident? But how? And where? And why didn’t I hear anything?” shaking his head, he thumped the ground.
Suddenly, he didn’t need his torch. A glow was illuminating the tent and the surrounding area. Rain fell harder. Nathan’s head popped out of the tent. The light brightened. So much he had to cover his eyes.
“What the hell?”
As the centre of the light dimmed, a shape appeared.
“Shirl, is that you?” his eyes strained.
The tent collapsed, it whipped guy ropes across his face.
He covered his eyes against the sting of nylon cord and the sting of the lashing rain. Pushing his dank fringe aside, he glared at the vision. Recognition dawned.
“Shouldn’t you be in bed with me? Instead of playing lovers with that tramp.”
“Darling…” he stammered. “You shouldn’t be out in this weather.”
His wife tipped her head back and roared, “Neither should you.”
A rope wound itself around his ankle, another around his wrist, then the remaining loose joints. It tugged away him from the tent material and hoisted him higher until he was breaking through tree branches, cuts causing him to scream. Lifted higher, acorns fell.
He was jagged to a halt and given time to look around. Before jagged higher.
Her red bloated face gave no reply. A cord wrapped tight across her throat, twigs sticking out of sightless eyes.
Nathan didn’t struggle for long. Slim branches impaled him.
Nathan’s neighbours thought it odd. Lights were on in the house. Their car was not in the drive.
“It’s unusual not to see him preparing his wife’s wheelchair for a trip to the park. Ring him. I hope his wife was not rushed to hospital again in the night?”
Squirrels and an owl heard the bleep of his mobile.
Shirley’s husband arrived home, not seeing his wife caught up on lost sleep.
“She’s probably shopping again!” he decided.
In the churchyard, the vicar whispered a curse at the kids who left their broken tent for him to tidy up.
Later that day, the police called him to Nathan’s home, to say a prayer for the poor woman who had died the night before – alone.
If you liked that short story, have a look at Colin’s full novels – amazon.com/author/colindevonshire