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Move aside!

Trav­el­ling from Aus­tralia in 1980, my girl­friend Dianne and I bought a camper­van to tour Bri­tain. Set­ting off to ex­plore the south­west, we headed to­wards Portsmouth on the A3. In the late af­ter­noon we turned onto mi­nor roads to search for a camp­ing spot, even­tu­ally dis­cov­er­ing an area of dense wood­land. A clear­ing al­lowed me to re­verse the van into what ap­peared to be a dis­used track that led into the for­est. Tucked be­tween thick bushes and sur­rounded by mas­sive trees, we were hid­den from any pass­ing traf­fic. Once the tasks of roofrais­ing and ta­ble-set­ting were com­pleted I ex­plored the vicin­ity while Dianne pre­pared a meal.

Hav­ing walked across to the far side of the clear­ing, I stopped and looked back to­ward the van, sud­denly feel­ing un­easy. A sharp rustling from be­hind star­tled me. I jerked around to­ward the for­est only to see a man walk­ing his dog, per­haps 30 me­tres away. For me to be so on edge was bizarre and com­pletely out of char­ac­ter. The man dis­ap­peared into the fo­liage with­out ap­par­ently see­ing me. I be­gan to en­ter the woods but again felt com­pelled to look back to the van. I slowly turned on the spot, scan­ning, try­ing to peer through the trees, for I had a dis­tinct sen­sa­tion that some­one or some­thing was watch­ing me. I sim­ply couldn’t walk any fur­ther nor did I want to. I re­turned to the van and thought it best not to men­tion my ex­pe­ri­ence. While we ate din­ner we heard the echo of laugh­ing chil­dren as they walked along the ad­ja­cent road, but due to the thick bushes we saw no one.

The sun set as we washed the dishes, and the only light in the for­est was the soft glow from the van. We sat silently read­ing with the cur­tains drawn. Dianne put down her book and started fid­dling with the cur­tains be­hind her head, then reached for safety pins to join them to­gether. I thought it strange as she had never both­ered with this be­fore, but I said noth­ing. She then lay down to read rather than re­main seated up­right. It was now get­ting on for 11pm and the wind be­gan to in­crease sub­stan­tially, rak­ing the bushes against the win­dows. High above us the tree­tops whis­tled in the wind.

We were then shaken by a dis­tant muf­fled thud, fol­lowed by an­other slightly closer, then an­other, each one louder than the last. We sat mo­tion­less, hardly dar­ing to breathe. They were un­mis­tak­able foot­steps on the path, head­ing to­ward the rear of the van. I heard the crunch of ground fo­liage, branches be­ing snapped and pushed aside. De­lib­er­ate pow­er­ful foot­steps. My eyes were now glued to the rear doors when it sud­denly dawned on me that we were block­ing the path’s en­trance into the clear­ing. The scratch­ing on the win­dows be­came more vi­o­lent with each clos­ing foot­step. The noise now al­most deaf­en­ing, I felt a pal­pa­ble pres­ence build­ing all around us when the next mas­sive crunch was a solid half-step at the rear of the van. The noise and the scratch­ing wind all evap­o­rated with the fi­nal step, leav­ing us star­ing at each other, not dar­ing to break the still­ness with any word or move­ment.

What­ever was stand­ing silently out­side was also in­side the van and I felt it meant us harm. As I grabbed a torch and went for the rear door Dianne blurted “Don’t go out there.” I hes­i­tated with one hand on the han­dle then flung open the doors and jumped out flash­ing the torch in ev­ery di­rec­tion, but there was noth­ing. I lev­elled the light along the track, strain­ing to spot any move­ment, then tried to look through the bushes on ei­ther side, but it was im­pos­si­ble to see any­thing. I looked up to the stars, just mak­ing out the mov­ing sil­hou­ettes of the top branches, then knelt down to shine the torch un­der the van, and fi­nally turned the light one full cir­cle.

That last omi­nous half-step had stopped right where I was stand­ing. There was noth­ing to be seen but I could feel it. I stepped back in­side the van, locked the doors and sat down. It was with us. I looked over to Dianne still hud­dled far away from the door. “Let’s get out of here,” she said. I clam­bered into the driver’s seat and pulled the cur­tains from the front win­dows, half ex­pect­ing some ghoul­ish face to con­front me. The en­gine mer­ci­fully sparked into life with the first turn of the key. I turned on the head­lights, jammed it into gear and skid­ded into the clear­ing and then onto the mi­nor road. As I ac­cel­er­ated I could still feel it in­side the van, but it was be­ing sucked out as though it was hang­ing on, try­ing to drag us back. Chang­ing gears to speed up I watched in the mir­ror the dark­ness swal­low­ing the road and with ev­ery se­cond the ‘mag­netic pull’ less­ened un­til I felt the van fi­nally re­leased from its grip.

Af­ter about 10 min­utes we came to a small vil­lage. With the hour close to mid­night the streets were de­serted, but there was a large empty car park where I pulled in and stopped un­der the glare of a light. I turned off the en­gine and clam­bered back into the sit­ting area to put the ket­tle on for a cup of strong cof­fee. Dianne had not moved; still hud­dled in the long seat by the ta­ble she seemed to be in a state of mild shock.

I now felt safe un­der the light with the cur­tains open to an un­in­ter­rupted view to­ward the main street about 50m to our left. Sip­ping hot cof­fee and puff­ing a much-needed cig­a­rette I was the first to speak, ask­ing Dianne what she thought it was. It was only then that I told her of my anx­i­ety when I walked to the edge of the clear­ing un­able to move away from the sight of the van. She ad­mit­ted she had also felt peculiar but much later, af­ter we had eaten. When asked about her fid­dling with the cur­tains she said that she felt that there was some­one out­side peer­ing at her, hence the safety pins to close the gap.

Over the next hour we went over the events to­gether. Be­fore I de­scribed my ex­pe­ri­ence I asked her to de­tail ev­ery­thing that she had heard and felt. She re­counted the scratch­ing on the side win­dows, the first dis­tant foot­steps from down the path, then the strength­en­ing wind with each closer thud un­til they stopped by the van. She then said, with no prompt­ing from me, that she had felt the thing in­side the van. Her ex­pla­na­tion was that al­though the phys­i­cal body was stand­ing silently in the dark­ness, its suf­fo­cat­ing pres­ence had over­flowed in­side. When asked about our es­cape she con­firmed that al­though she didn’t sense the van be­ing re­strained as I had, she felt that it had not com­pletely left us un­til quite a dis­tance from the wood­land.

The next morn­ing we drove on to Portsmouth. Fool­ishly I didn’t re­trace our move­ments the fol­low­ing day to record the lo­ca­tion of the wood­land, nor did I take note of the name of that safe lit­tle vil­lage. When I re­turned to Eng­land in 1988 I hired a car and drove along many of the mi­nor roads be­tween Guild­ford and Portsmouth look­ing in vain for that wood­land and the vil­lage. I have my own the­ory about that night: we were block­ing the path­way used for a reg­u­lar jour­ney by some en­ergy, let’s call it a ghost, and be­cause we were an ob­struc­tion it needed to move us be­fore con­tin­u­ing.

David Col­well Ade­laide, Aus­tralia

Abridged from his E Book, The In­vin­ci­ble Twenty Seventh and other True Sto­ries.

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