The editor was deciding which story to run with on the front page. His young assistant Lisa usually had strong opinions on what would attract readers.
‘This young man has been missing for three days; lives at home, steady job, good character. He had an argument with his girlfriend, drove off and hasn’t been seen since.’
Lisa frowned ‘I still think we should stick with the murdered stallion.’
‘It was a hit and run accident,’ the editor smiled ‘you’ve been reading too many of Mr. Oak’s letters. There’s another one today, shall I include it, or do you think the readers are sick of him?’
‘Yes link it with your leading item. He has got a point.’
‘Banning cars from the New Forest, penalising families because of a few idiots? Mind you, it would stir things up a bit, no good stories this week. Sam’s been out to interview the verderer who found the dead horse. Hmm… main headline Cars To Be Banned From New Forest then much smaller Should cars be banned from the New Forest?’
‘Me and Gavin are going to the forest tomorrow; a nice picnic, then we’re going to his boss’s home for a dinner party. He’s got a posh house hidden in the middle of the forest; I hope we manage to find it.’
Lisa didn’t tell her boss that tomorrow she was going to give Gavin news.
The picnic was a success; the early spring sun was warm enough for them to sit on a blanket. Lisa was banking on Gavin being pleased, now he had his promotion; she was delighted with his response.
‘That’s wonderful, let’s get married.’ Gavin had been reluctant to ask before; the thought of wedding fairs, months of planning and dressing up had appalled him. Now they had the ideal excuse for a small, quiet wedding very soon. ‘Let’s get married in the forest, a sort of hippy wedding.’
She laughed ‘Why not, but don’t tell anyone this evening, we’ll have to tell our parents first.’
They enjoyed the evening and their shared secret; even looking benevolently on the boss’s ghastly children.
As they drove home, Gavin teased her. ‘You’ll get a crick in your neck, looking at the speedometer.’
‘We have to be careful in the dark; we might not see a pony till it’s too late. I wish you’d let me drive.’
‘I’ve only had a couple of pints, you should take it easy now you’re pregnant.’
‘We should have stuck to the A 35, it’s creepy out here.’
‘You’re safe with me; this is the real forest.’
‘Did you hear the news this morning? They’ve found that bloke’s car in the forest.’
‘The one who went missing; I told the editor it wasn’t much of a story, now it seems it is. There was no sign of him.’
‘Maybe he wanted to run away.’
‘Perhaps, the car was hidden in the trees, off a remote track. That’s the creepy thing, it might not have been found for years; some botanist was looking for rare plants.’ Lisa looked at the speedometer; the speed had crept up. ‘Gavin, I thought you were going to be more responsible now you’re going to be…’
Her sentence remained unfinished as they felt a bump and Gavin slammed the brakes on.
‘We’ve hit a pony’ cried Lisa.
‘It’s probably a fallen tree trunk, stay in the car while I look.’
Lisa jumped out of the car and they stood either side of the body, a pair of glazed eyes stared up at them.
‘Oh it’s a doe, she’s pregnant. You’ve killed her Gavin.’
‘It was an accident; animals should be asleep at night, not darting out into the road.’
‘We’re not on the road.’
Gavin followed her gaze; if they hadn’t run into the deer they would have crashed into a large old oak tree.
He was puzzled. ‘I’m a careful driver, I had a clear, straight road in front of me, it was narrow, but I had plenty of room.’ He went to fetch the torch from the car, then took Lisa’s shaking hand and led her round to the boot. He shone the torch the way they had just come, a tarmac road. ‘I’m sorry about the deer Lisa, but she saved us; this must be a dead end road.’
‘Let’s go now,’ she shivered we don’t know the verderer’s number, we can ring the police when we get home. We’ll go back the way we came and try and find the A 35.’
‘Or we could just ring nobody’ said Gavin hopefully.
They both jumped at a clumping noise; a large branch had landed on the roof.
‘Another lucky escape; that could have fallen on us while we were driving, hope it hasn’t damaged the paintwork.’
As Gavin tried in vain to pull at the heavy limb, Lisa spoke shakily.
‘It’s not fallen, it’s still attached to the tree. We must be on a slope, the car’s rolled into the tree.’
Gavin shone his torch and saw the driver’s door was jammed against the trunk.
‘I’ll get in your door and climb over. I’m going to put it in reverse.’ As he tried to start the engine he felt a heavy thump on the bonnet. ‘Quick, get in so we’re ready to go, hopefully that branch will slide off the bonnet. Lisa, this is no time for tree hugging…’
On Monday morning the editor had too much to put on his front page and Lisa wasn’t there to help. He had just spoken to her hysterical mother on the phone. Lisa was missing and her boyfriend had been found wandering in the New Forest by the search party looking for the missing man. Gavin had been in shock and incoherent, so the police arrested him. Everyone knew they had both been to the forest and everyone knew Gavin was the last person to see her.
‘The Old Forest’ is one of the stories in this collection – only $1.27 for 27 stories.