Alfie skipped up the garden path and through the gate. It was going to be a great day. He could feel it. It was a bright, sunny spring morning and school was out. Not that school was ever in for him. Dad said he could teach him more at home than those ‘pretenders’ could at school, and thought it more important that Alfie learn to work the fields.
Alfie didn’t mind. Dad was too busy working to spend much time teaching him about books and stuff. Usually, it was only about an hour or so three or four evenings a wek. That wasn’t too bad. And it meant he didn’t have to make the two-hour journey into town and back every day. Besides, Alfie had his own chores to take care of. Checking the fences around the property, collecting the eggs from the chickens, feeding the cows and goats. It meant he was outdoors most of the day instead of being cooped up in a classroom. Which was fine by him, as long as it didn’t rain.
There was no chance of rain today. It was going to be a special day. Alfie had a plan. He was going to visit Jessica, his new best friend. He was lucky to have a friend like Jessica, he knew that. He didn’t have many friends. There weren’t many people his own age living out here in the mountains. In fact, there weren’t many people of any age living out here in the mountains. Mum had left when he was a baby, so Dad was the only other person he saw most days. But even if he knew a million people, he was sure none of them would have a friend as cool or beautiful as her, and with her own car, too! That was why even though he hadn’t known her very long, Jessica was already so very important to him.
Alfie couldn’t help hoping that one day when the car was fixed, they could go somewhere together in it. Maybe drive to the beach, it couldnt be far away, or even just down the dirt track that ran in front of the farmhouse. How cool would that be? With an extra spring in his step, Alfie rounded a bend in the path that wound around the farm along the foot of Big Loaf, the highest mountain in the range. It was the domed shape of a gigantic loaf of bread, which is where it got it’s name.
He and Jessica always met in the same place. The very place they had first met. Alfie wasn’t foolish enough to think that they could ever be more than friends. They couldn’t ever be romantic or anything. Why would a girl like her be interested in Alfie? He was only twelve. But still, he could use his imagination. And he did, almost every night. In his mind’s eye, Jessica’s skin was silky smooth, her breath hot and musky, and she moaned softly as he touched her. At the mere thought of his nocturnal fantasies, Alfie felt his winkle stiffen and his face flush. He struggled to get his mind back on the task at hand.
Almost there. Despite tiredness creeping in making his arms and legs heavy, Alfie found his strides lengthening as he neared his destination. Just ahead was a turn in the path, and beyond that would be Jessica, sitting quietly in her car.
Assuming she was there.
Suddenly, Alfie was struck with a sinking feeling in his stomach, and a terrible certainty that this time, she wouldn’t be. She had never let him down before. They had been meeting like this most days for ages. Two months, one week and three days, to be exact. She was always in the same place, patiently waiting. Never complaining if he was a little late.
But Alfie knew, deep down, that one day he would come to their special meeting place and she wouldn’t be here. He was old enough to know that all good things come to an end. Eventually. All he could do was pray it wouldn’t be today.
Heart in mouth, he rounded the final turn in the path, craning his neck to see further in front.
Jessica’s car was there, where it always was.
The elation and rush of relief Alfie felt was almost uncontainable. He actually felt his knees give out a little, and he did a graceless little wobble as he hurried toward the car. He could see Jessica through the windscreen, sitting still, long auburn hair cascading over her slender shoulders. How could he ever doubt her? He knew right then that he would always be able to depend on Jessica. Even if one day he came to the special meeting place and she wasn’t here, he wouldn’t feel betrayed. He would know it wasn’t her fault. Only circumstances beyond her control would keep her away. And whatever happened, nobody could ever take the memories away. The countless beautiful moments they had spent together.
Alfie’s mind was cast back to the moment they first met. The day his life changed forever. He had been out walking aimlessly through the fields, miles from home, when he stumbled across the car. Jessica was inside. Of course, Alfie had been nervous. His shyness had always held him back. He supposed it was a result of not having much contact with people. You put up walls as a defence mechanism. Approaching the car that day was one of the hardest things he had ever done, and working out how to break the ice with the girl inside even harder. But it wasn’t long before everything Alfie had ever wanted to say came tumbling out of his mouth in a torrent. Jessica was such a good listener.
He felt a touch of that same apprehension now. But this time it was mixed with excitement and longing. The combination was delicious. His strides quickened until Alfie was almost running. Finally, his hands closed around the cold metal of the door handle and he wrenched it open.
“Jessica!” he exclaimed, unable to contain himself. He climbed into the passenger seat beside her and, without thinking, leaned forward and planted a kiss on her cheek. The moment his lips touched Jessica’s skin, his body shuddered as if an electric current passed through it. To his delight she didn’t object, and Alfie thought maybe he would do it again before the day was out. Next time, he would try to kiss her on the mouth.
She was still wearing her seatbelt. The soft swell of her breasts beneath her red sweater caught his eye, and fleetingly Alfie thought about reaching out and touching them. But he didn’t want to move things along too quickly and risk upsetting her. He got the impression Jessica was a good girl. No problem. The best things in life come to those who wait. He had already waited all his life to meet her. What was another few weeks, or months?
And then Alfie was talking. Once he started he couldn’t stop, the words spewing out of his mouth one after another. Childhood memories, likes and dislikes, his hopes and dreams, plans for the future. It was partly nerves, he guessed. But equally, he wanted to share everything with Jessica, every tiny detail about his life. He only hoped that one day she would trust him enough to tell him all her secrets.
As he talked, Alfie’s gaze was repeatedly drawn past Jessica’s lush hair and beautifully formed oval face, and out of the driver’s side window. The Big Loaf towered above them, so steep it appeared almost vertical. Near the top, a solitary car traversed the treacherous mountain road. Despite the overgrown masses of unkempt vegetation, if he looked closely Alfie could still make out the route Jessica’s car had taken when it left that road and tumbled down the mountainside.
There were no crash barriers, and the road often took out-of-towners by surprise, especially if they tried to take a bend a little too quickly. That’s what must have happened to Jessica. Driving alone, probably at night, she lost control and went off the road. If she was a local girl she would have known the roads, and if she hadn’t made it home people would have looked for her or called the police. As it was, nobody had come. Maybe they didn’t know where to look. She had been sitting there for two months, one week and three days. Or maybe longer, until Alfie stumbled across her when he was out walking one afternoon.
At first, he thought she was still alive, though he couldn’t work out why such a pretty young girl would be sitting in a car with no road. There were no visible signs of trauma, apart from a bloodied forehead. But that didn’t mean anything. There may have been internal injuries. Maybe even a broken neck. Her phone was lying at her feet but it was smashed, just like the windows in the car, and a pretty key fob inscribed with JESSICA swung from the ignition. That was how he knew her name.
Jessica was probably dead by the time the car came to rest at the bottom of the mountain. At least, that’s what Alfie hoped. The alternative was that she sat trapped in the car for days, maybe injured, and slowly starved to death. After the initial discovery, Alfie paid regular visits, and watched as Jessica went from near-pristine condition through an awful fatty, bloated stage when her skin turned grey and blue and even split open in places. Now her flesh was beginning to putrefy, coming away in putrid, sticky lumps. Her eyeballs had disappeared, either sunken into her head or eaten away by insects and the smell inside the car was horrible. But Alfie wasn’t going to be put off by a little thing like that. True love is something spiritual, going far beyond sights and smells. He wished he could stay here with Jessica forever. But he would have to go home for dinner soon. She will still be here tomorrow. Probably.
BIO: New Tredegar-born C.M. Saunders began writing in 1997, his early fiction appearing in several small-press titles. Following the publication of his first book, Into the Dragon’s Lair – A Supernatural History of Wales (2003), he worked extensively in the freelance market, contributing to over 50 international publications including Fortean Times, Loaded, Record Collector, Forever Sports and Nuts. In addition, he has written several novellas and had over thirty short stories published in various magazines, ezines and anthologies. He taught English and creative writing in China for five years, before settling in London where he works as a writer and editor in the sport, fitness and men’s lifestyle sectors. His latest release is the novel Sker House on DeadPixel Publications, and he is represented by Media Bitch literary agency.