This is the second instalment of my short story. The first part can be found here
While Jim made his way back to the road and the houses, Martin and Marian Slope consulted their map and entered the wood via the little used Normanton Gate. Few people crossed the wood these days; the majority, like Saz and Jim entered from one of the three gates on the main road, circled the wood and left the way they had come. Martin and Marian were committed walkers and undertaking the Stephen Pilgrim memorial trail, after reading about it in the Ramblers Gazette. Their route took them straight through the middle of the wood; at first glance it looked easy: a mile on the wide open track that led from the gate, before they turned left and walked another mile and a bit to the road on the far side. Their plan was to leave by the exact same gate as Jim had left and follow the same path to the High Street for a late lunch in one of the three well regarded eateries.
Their simple plan, however, took no account of a crease in their map. This meant they were unaware of another junction, where the main track bore left but the path they needed forked a slight right. The hot wet summer had meant both a significant increase in the vegetation and fewer visitors using the track so the fork was only visible to those familiar with the route or perhaps someone with better vision than Marian and Martin.
As it happened, when they reached the junction something made Marian pause and stare at the bushes behind which the path they needed led away. For a moment she thought she saw a gap and was about to check but just then a white admiral, a butterfly she hadn’t seen in over 20 years, flew past and her attention was drawn elsewhere. By the time the rare butterfly had disappeared high into the tree canopy Martin and Marian were well on their way in the wrong direction and heading for the clearing where Jim and Saz had been earlier.
As they entered the opening Martin stopped. He was confused. Nothing like the clearing showed on the map. He muttered to himself while Marian looked about, hoping to see another white admiral.
‘Damn,’ he said. He began fiddling with his compass and sighing loudly. ‘We missed a turn. We need to go more to the east.’ He smoothed the map. ‘That way.’ He indicated the faint path taken by Jim earlier in the afternoon.
‘Have you seen this tree? It’s really weird.’ Marian stared at the unnaturally symmetrical fir.
Martin had walked to the centre and ignored his wife. ‘I wonder why they dug here?’ He picked up a stick and pushed at the ash. As he did so something sprung up, making him jump. ‘Goodness. How did this survive? In front of him a smaller version of the fir attracting Marian’s attention had appeared as if realised by his prodding. ‘What an odd thing?’
‘Martin…’ The panic in Marian’s voice made Martin spin round. He was vaguely conscious of a bright light as the top of the fir began to spin and his mobile began to vibrate. Martin had recently suffered from a bad ear infection and his balance had been affected. Later he would conclude that it was that which made him fall and lose consciousness. He was sure he couldn’t have been out for more than a moment but when he blinked himself awake he was flat on the floor, his phone was missing and Marian nowhere to be seen.
Martin shook his head. Something needed sorting out but what, he thought? And why had Marian left him on the grass? Muttering to himself about his wife’s stupid fascination with butterflies he set off to follow the faint path he had identified moments before. If he hadn’t lost his phone he could have called Marian and told her to wait for him.