‘I hate this place.’
Danny looked about himself. ‘You mean Burger King?’
‘No,’ Patrick said through a mouthful of burger. ‘Pease Pottage. Crawley. Place gives me the fuckin’ creeps.’
Danny looked out the floor to ceiling windows into the services car park . A few cars dotted the space. Dark rain that looked a lot like oil bounced off their bonnets. Sodium lights streaked the black tarmac. Across the way, a collection of truckers, much like Danny and Patrick, had decided to hunker down for the night. Danny counted nine hulking vehicles, curtains drawn against the miserable weather.
Danny liked Pease Pottage services. Liked all services in fact. To a trucker, they were often ports in a storm. True, Pease Pottage didn’t have a decent shower like Cobham, but it had food, toilets and a Costa. What else did he need for the one night?
‘Why does it give you the creeps?’ Danny asked. ‘Just a service station.’
Patrick looked up mid-bite. Burger and gherkin stuck between his lips. His eyes held Danny’s for a while before he started chewing again. Slower this time. His face scrunched in thought.
‘Forget it,’ Patrick grumbled.
‘No. I want to know. You’re one of the most confident guys I know. Seen you back that thing around corners in central London and not bat an eye.’ Danny jerked his head toward the parking lot where the truck awaited their return. ‘Why would the services freak you out?’
‘It’s not the services,’ Patrick said, his words gushing out before he could stop them. He looked embarrassed for a moment before dropping his unfinished burger back onto the tray and hastily wiping his mouth with a napkin.
‘Okay. Here it is. Behind us, outside the services just off the roundabout leading to the back route to Horsham…there’s a lane. Parsons Lane.’
Patrick stopped. Turned the napkin in his hands and used the unused side to mop his forehead.
‘Jesus, Pat you don’t have to-‘ Danny started but Patrick waved him off.
‘No. No I need to say it now you’ve brought it up. Look…this lane…there’s somethin’ spooky about it. Runs all the way down the back of Tilgate Park. Ends at the railway tracks. At least, the road does. You can keep walking over the bridge and into Balcombe. Bridge’s all covered in grass and moss now. Don’t know how old the bridge is. Or who uses it. Just connects one part of the forest to the other. But from the bridge, you look south and you can see the tunnel.’
Patrick’s eyes glazed over. He looked to some middle distance over Danny’s right shoulder. Danny felt a chill slip up his back. He glanced behind himself to make sure there was nothing there, the whole time feeling ridiculous for it.
‘I stayed here one night,’ Patrick went on, his voice low. ‘Pease Pottage. Put my head down after speaking to Debbie on the phone. Next thing I know I’m walkin’ down Parsons Lane. I don’t remember gettin’ out the truck. Don’t remember walkin’ across two lanes and across the embankments. Just woke up walkin’ past a cottage with all the lights out, black windows. No light except for aura from the motorway and whatever the moon could manage between clouds.’
‘I kept goin’. Couldn’t turn back. I wanted to. But I weren’t in control. I couldn’t do anythin’ but keep walkin’ down the lane.’
Patrick wiped his nose with the back of his hand. Swallowed.
‘I was actually livin’ a nightmare. Didn’t have sticky feet being chased by somethin’. I was walking into the dark. Heading for that place you always run away from in nightmares. Well, I kept walkin’. Got to the end of the lane. Turns from tarmac to dirt and rocks. And then I’m on the bridge. Standin’ in the middle. And then I turn and look out to the tracks. Toward the tunnel. Leads through to Balcombe Station. That stretch o’ rail connects London to Brighton. Checked it on a map not long after. But that tunnel. There was…somethin’ in that tunnel.’
Danny felt another sweep of cold. He shivered but tried to keep it tame. He didn’t want to break Patrick from his reverie. Didn’t want the man to lose focus and leave Danny wondering. And that was when it hit Danny. He was believing every word Patrick said. But he couldn’t help it. He had known the man for two years and he never said something he didn’t mean. He was practical. A doer, not one for fantasy.
It was this break from character, this waterfall of storyline that made Danny see instantaneously that his fellow trucker wasn’t lying. He didn’t have the imagination for it.
‘What did you do then? At that point? Did you come back-‘
‘No. I just stayed there. For a long time. No trains. Nothin’ movin’ but the trees. Brushin’ in the wind. They make a sound like hissing. Never noticed until that point,’ Patrick said, his last few words rising. Threatening to break in child like fear. But it wasn’t because of what he said, but of what he had yet to say.
‘After a long time, I walked off the bridge. Climbed over a fence. And walked onto the track.’