“Yeah, very funny.” Eric didn’t duck. “And anyway this is a tee, not a fairway.” He pointed at the board with a big 16 on it. “Unless someone drove really horribly…”
Rachel was hunched over in her parka and giggling nonetheless.
“Mind you,” Eric mused, “I’ve seen drives sliced so badly that they ricocheted off the board and went…” He raised gloved hands in the air. “Anywhere.”
From one of his pockets came the theme tune to the Twilight Zone.
Rachel stopped laughing. “Oh, God, that ringtone. You’ll have to change it.”
“What to? Love Story?”
“Well, aren’t you going to answer it?” she asked.
“Hey, I’m out for a walk with my girl. Nothing interrupts that!”
“You’d answer if it might be me calling though?”
“Of course, babe.”
The music stopped and Rachel trudged up the rise. “Come on. Let’s get back to the car and some warmth, and you can have your Danish pastries.” She followed the path into a clump of conifers, which swallowed her, and Eric hurried after.
“Ooh, how creepy!” she squealed.
“What?” Eric could make out her shape between the trees but not what she was peering at.
He looked over her shoulder at a corrugated iron construction big enough for a huddle of a foursome of golfers. “Not exactly palatial, I grant you.”
“Yeuch! I bet it’s full of spiders.” Rachel pulled her hood up round the russet ringlets that Eric loved so much. She moved off.
He was about to follow when the bright yellow of a golf ball in a back corner of the hut caught his eye. I’ll give her “fore”, he thought and ducked into the cold, gloomy interior to retrieve the ball.
Except it wasn’t there.
And a draft of warm air blew across his face. And the interior somehow glowed.
He turned to the entrance, where the dark green conifers now crowded round the hut. Their branches rattled against the iron as another warm gust billowed inside. Overhead, light blasted down through jagged holes in the roof. Eric couldn’t believe any of his senses. Had he bent down or straightened up too quickly? He shook his head.
That didn’t help.
Heart thumping, mouth dry, he forced his way in to the least dense section of the trees. Dry branches cracked and broke away in an explosion of dust that irritated his throat and eyes. He coughed and blinked but continued pushing until the foliage thinned on what looked like the path.
“Rachel?” he shouted.
Only the wind thrashing the conifers replied.
A tangle of briars blocked the way she had gone, forcing Eric to retrace his route back to the 16th tee. A route hemmed in and crossed by rampant greenery. He stumbled out of the thicket and down the slope, much further on than he’d anticipated.
Everywhere bushes, brambles and saplings. He was sweating, not just from the exertion: in the open, the breeze was hot and the humidity… it was difficult to breathe. He stripped off his gloves and unzipped his cagoule.
She wouldn’t hear him on the other side of the clump in this wind anyway. Eric’s mind still refused to believe that Rachel wouldn’t even be there. All he needed to do was cross the tee to go round. If he could find the tee. He was becoming disorientated with only the lie of the land to guide him.
He forced his way up and into bushes and crashed his boot through what felt like barbed wire. “Ow!”
Splinters scraped and dug into his skin as he retracted his foot.
Looking up at him from under the other boot was a board with a faded numeral. Six. He shifted his weight. One. One and six. Sixteen.
Eric slumped into a hunch. A tightening in his chest constricted his breathing. Tears pricked his eyes.
“What’s going on?” he moaned. “Rachel… where are you? Oh my God.”