I knew the narrow stretch of road quiet well - and it was no surprise when Bobbi mentioned it
but I was not prepared for the state she was in. She was scared. I won't say she looked like she'd seen a ghost because in the light of what she was about to tell me
it might have been all too true.
Many were the times I had driven along the same lonely stretch of road and still felt a shiver of apprehension at the thought - a tremor of uncertainty when the dark silhouettes of the broad road-side oaks seemed to lean inward their branches like tentacles
as if to engulf me and my car
a clue might be in the road's name - Gallows Lane.
Perhaps it was my knowledge of how it came by the name - or of the local folk law that was behind it
But until I told her the story, Bobbi had heard nothing about the legend - so I dutifully listened to what she told me
had happened earlier in the evening
' suddenly the note of the engine abruptly faded and gradually died
it was like running out of petrol - but I knew I had nearly a full tank' she said, ' and without knowing why, I shivered uncontrollably - feeling goose pimples on my arms and legs - and a choking sensation in my throat that threatened to stop me breathing I did not know what to do or what was happening it was frightening
so I restarted the engine - and it ran erratically for just a few moments
then it cut out again the strange feeling intensified, I was breathless and felt a weight pushing down on me - and I had this overwhelming urge to look to one side, but I could not - I was petrified at what I might see.'
her concern and her sincerity showed in her drawn face - and in her dilated eyes,
'so I re-started the car once more
and the same thing happened
with my heartbeat seeming even louder than the engine
risking sounding like a clich from a horror film I was paralysed with fear - my limbs, particularly my hands heavy, like they were made of lead, making their movement almost impossible
twice more - and with tremendous difficulty, I repeated trying to start - until the engine eventually seemed to run properly and I continued my journey back to West Tuddenham. When I was about a mile further away I began to feel better and now I wonder whether I had dreamt the whole thing.'
I could not leave her wondering she did not know about the local legend - neither that the same manifestation had happened to several others
so I told her all I knew of the local story
'No - I don't think it was a dream. I'll tell you the story, as it's known in these parts and you can make your own mind up - fact or fiction. That road, the one between Lyng and Reepham has always been narrow and lonely, particularly long ago, in 1602 - much more than it is now. Today - the internal combustion engine means that a dead body couldn't lay un-noticed by the roadside for a day or more.
It was perhaps only natural that Lylas Atkins, a local farmer, should remain in Reepham a while after Tuesday cattle market had closed - to celebrate the successful sale of his sixty-one sheep, earlier in the day.
Much earlier, probably shortly after the weak grey infusion of dawn had infiltrated the Wensum valley, when Atkins's shepherd Dingle Drew, had opened the holding pound in Lyng - and assembled the small flock for their walk to Reepham - driving them with loud curses for their stubbornness.
Old Lylas, had set out later on in the morning - after a good breakfast - confident that his horse-drawn two-wheeled trap would catch up before passing the little village of Whitwell - at least before it got to Reepham itself
and he would be there to watch his animals auctioned - to satisfy himself of fairness no 'ringing' or other malpractice.
Lylas, selfishly after the sale failed to offer Dingle Drew, his shepherd, a ride back to his home in Lyng
instead he treated himself in the nearest ale house, perhaps a little too generously - considering it would be quite dark before he returned to his home carrying his eighteen golden guineas received for his sheep.
Whether resentment of Lylas's meanness contributed to Dingle's plotting
perhaps it was just his natural greed - but the old shepherd told Tobias Yeoman in Reepham - and they ambushed the old man two miles south, where the narrow lane was particularly dark and lonely.
How exactly Lylas died - beaten by the clubs of the two thieves will never be known - but a day and a half later his battered and bloody boy was found a few feet away from the Whitwell road
and suspicion inevitably fell on Dingle Drew - who of course knew of his master's financial good fortune earlier in the day - and the probable route he would take back to Lyng.
A very rough questioning by the bailiffs - extracted the name of Dingle's accomplice and both were arrested and sentenced to death at the next session of the Reepham Assizes
but the North Norfolk Magistrate - mindful of the need to deter others - ruled that rather than a straight-forward hanging it had to be a cruel death. The two men were put into a wrought iron cage made by the local blacksmith
but instead of locking the entrance it would be sealed with iron bars
permanently shut by the technique called 'fire welding'.
The horrible slow death, the magistrate thought - should prove a sufficient deterrent to others
Eventually the corpses would dry and rot in the gibbet cage - hanging from a suitable oak tree - stinking, as maggots and other creature rendered them down - ate them - maggots and fragments of flesh eventually falling to the ground, providing food for all manner of birds and other vermin
their death took several days - and what you have experienced has persisted ever since.
is the local legend'
Bobbi kissed me full on he lips and gave me the sort of hug of I might get from a daughter, not my outrageous girlfriend.
'Once' I said, 'I sort of tried the 'gibbet' thing on a boy at school. I was only eleven - at my first year in a boy's only grammar school. There was a boy I did not like much, Brian Ferguson. Returning from the playing field in our shorts and football shirts - I persuaded some other to join with me
we grabbed Ferguson and crammed his legs into a large wire mesh rubbish bin - inverted a similar one on top - and then laced the two together, using some thin rope with him inside.
just like a cage or indeed a gibbet...
We then tied the remainder of the rope to the inverted bottom of the top cage. Then we strung the homemade gibbet from a tree and left the poor sod dangling there - screaming for mercy, until he was rescued by the geography teacher.'
'What a horrible, horrible little child you must have been' observed Bobbi, 'a right little bastard, it probably explains things about the way you are now
but - I'm trying to be positive - it has given me an idea for a shot for my collection of limited edition photographs.'
'Going into bondage or sado masochism stuff now?' I commented sarcastically.
'Always have, Darling - always have. It pays the bills'
Peter Hunter - 2012
Read more about it in Peter Hunter's thrillers Time Of The Spider and the forthcoming call me Trakka Kindle and computers