Where’s Lizzie? A new psychological thriller takes shape.

I had an idea, when I was supposed to be doing something else. It happens a lot, just take a look at my plethora of half-finished stories.

This one started off as a case of mistaken identity, but as I tried to jot down a few thoughts, it changed. You might almost say that it came alive. Now, it’s moving off in a totally different direction.

A Psychological Thriller.

He was only away for an hour, he left his wife and baby daughter in their broken-down car, parked in a layby.

When he returned, his car had moved. Now it was against a tree, a mile further down the road.

His wife had hit her head and lost her memory.

Worse than that, his one-year-old daughter was missing from the back seat.

See what you think of the latest version of Chapter One.

I could see the lights of the garage, this part of Devon at half-past five in the morning was dark and starlit, the lights were visible as a glow over the hedges as I walked along the edge of the road. Now, there was just one more corner to go. I trudged on in the cold, in the dark. Hopefully, there be someone there who could help me.

I’d left my wife and my daughter in our broken-down car, we’d managed to get it off the road and into a layby about a mile behind me. Lizzie was asleep, at three years old, nothing much really seemed to bother her. She’d woken to the jolt, as I had, but had almost immediately gone back to sleep. I could feel that something wasn’t right, the car pulled to the left even though the road was straight. Something had been damaged.

My wife was fairly sanguine about the whole thing, she bought the car safely to a halt and sat shaking her head. “What happened?” I asked her.

“Not sure, I thought that something ran out in front, it might have been a Fox,” she said. “I tried to swerve around it and hit a pothole.”

I got out and looked at the front wheel. It wasn’t lined up with the car, or the other one. I pushed at the tyre with my foot and it moved, I’m no expert but I knew that wasn’t supposed to happen.
“Start up again and see if the car is drivable,” I suggested. At low speed, the steering wheel wobbled in her hands and it was obvious that we wouldn’t get far but, we after about a quarter of a mile we found a layby. There was a café but at this time of day it wasn’t open. I tried my mobile, no signal.

“What are we going to do?” asked Gill, “wait here until the café opens?”

“We passed a garage, on the corner, the lights were on, I’ll walk back.”

She looked at me, “be careful, it’s still dark”

“I’ve got a light coat, I’ll keep in, close to the hedge. Will you be OK waiting here?”

“Sure,” she said, “I’ll lock the doors, Lizzie’s asleep, we’ll be fine.”

 So I had set off back to the garage. Now I was here. I pushed the door open, waking up the attendant sitting behind the desk.

“Good morning,” he said. “You’re early.” He looked up at his CCTV feed, “where’s your car, I never heard you pull up.”

“I’ve broken down about a mile down the road,” I said. “Hit a pothole and the steering’s gone. Can I call someone from here to come and tow me to a garage?”

“Sure,” he said. He picked up a phone and dialled. Spoke briefly for a couple of minutes. “George will be along,” he said. “Give him half an hour. Do you want to wait here or will you go back to your car?”

“Better if I wait here,” I said and he muttered a few more words. The call ended, “George will see you right,” he said, “he has a garage just down the road.”

“Thank you.”

“It’s not a problem, is there anyone in your car?”

“My wife and my daughter. She’s asleep. She’s only three.”

“Right,” he said, “well you’d better take them a drink when you go. The coffee machine’s over there. Have one on us.”

I pressed buttons and made a coffee, made him one too, and we sat and chatted. Outside it was quiet, there was no traffic.

“Do you get much business here overnight?” I asked. He shrugged. “It depends. In the summer, it’s really busy. Now, February? Not so much. The A303 is not the busiest of places, although after about six o’clock in the morning, it’ll perk up. But we make a few pounds, enough to keep us going. It’s a shame the restaurant next door shut down. I didn’t ask. Did you have to walk far?”

“Only about a mile,” I said. “We managed to move the car into a layby. There’s a small cafe there, but it was shut, obviously.”

“I know the place,” he said. “Used to be called Annie’s. It’s called something else now. Somehow it keeps running. The Council took away their toilets so they had to put their own in. It’ll be open at seven.”

There was a noise in the distance. Suddenly a car shot past, the lights blazing.

“Someone’s in a hurry,” he muttered. I was relieved that we had got the car off the road, at that speed, he’d never have missed it. Or me if I’d been walking.

With a grumbling growl, a breakdown van appeared outside, with a huge crane on the back. A man in a stained boiler suit, heavy boots and a woolly hat came in.

“Morning, Terry,” he said. He looked at me. “Good morning, Sir.”

“Hello,  George,” said Terry. “This is the gentleman. His cars stuck down by Annie’s old tea bar.”

“I know the place,” he said. “My garage is about half a mile past it. Just down in a dip, you probably wouldn’t have seen it from where you were. We’ll soon have you down there, we have a good workshop. With a bit of luck, we can have you on your way again today.”

I thanked him. “Don’t forget a coffee for your wife,” said Terry. I made her one and grabbed a juice drink for Lizzie. “How much do you want?” I asked him. “Don’t be silly,” he said. “We help each other out around here. It’s what we do. I hope you get it sorted.”

 I went outside with George, clutching the coffee cup, the carton of juice in my pocket. Close up, his truck, with its crane on the back, was bigger than I had realised. There was an array of lights bolted onto the top of the cab.

“Jump in,” he said and I pulled myself up into the seat.

We set off down the road, the view from higher up was quite different, I could see over the hedges across fields that were starting to come to life as the sky lightened. George asked me what had happened. I explained it all again.

“Probably a Fox,” he said. “There’s plenty of them about this time of year. And the potholes are a nightmare. Some of them you could plant trees in, we tell the Council, but nothing much ever seems to get done. Where were you going?”

“We’re going down for a family reunion,” I told him, “in Cornwall. I thought we’d come down this way. I hate driving on motorways. It’s so boring.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Motorway driving is so monotonous, it makes me tired, especially at night. It’s a lot nicer run this way, enough corners and roundabouts to keep you awake. Once you get passed Plymouth though, the roads are all lanes.”

I recognised the corners, there was hardly any distance to go now and we’d be back at the layby. He pulled in, beside the still-closed café.

The car was gone.

“Thought you said you left it here,” he said.

“I did. It was barely drivable. It can’t have gone far.” I didn’t know what else to say.

“We haven’t passed it,” he added. It wouldn’t be going that way anyway, I thought. It almost sounded like he didn’t believe me, which got me angry.

“My wife’s not stupid,” I snapped. “She knows to wait here.” Even as I said it, I wondered what had happened to make her leave. There would have had to have been a good reason. “Sorry,” I added, “I’m getting concerned.”

“That’s OK, I can understand. I think you need to report it to someone,” he suggested. “I’ll take you on down to Honiton.”

I was starting to panic as we set off again. Very quickly, we passed a big garage on the left. “That’s my place,” George said. A bit further and we started to descend. The road closed in, there were steep banks and trees on other side.

Then there was a blue car. Off the road. On the verge. Its front end was up against a tree.  

“Stop,” I shouted. “That’s my car.” George stopped the truck. He put the flashing hazard lights on and reversed back up until we were level with it. We both jumped out and raced towards it.

There was a black line on the tarmac, showing where it had swerved and left the road. And it had hit the tree hard. The bonnet was crumpled. Steam was coming out of it. The front windscreen was shattered. I couldn’t see inside with the tinted windows and gloom.

“It hasn’t been here long,” he said. He pulled open the driver’s door. The seat was empty. “Is that your wife?” he asked. I peered past him, Gill was slumped in the passenger seat. The airbags had deployed. Her face was bloodied.

“Yeah, but I don’t understand why she’s on the passenger side?” And what about Lizzie? I wrenched at the back door. “My daughter. She’s in the child seat in the back.” “Lizzie,” I shouted,” don’t worry, daddy’s here.” There was no answer.

No matter how hard I tried to pull the passenger door open, it wouldn’t move. In a panic, I went round the other side. After a struggle, I got it open. The back seat was empty. There was no child seat, no bags, no Lizzie. Where had she gone?

“We need to call the police, and an ambulance,” said George, reaching for his phone. I heard a groan and moved back around to the passenger door. I was relieved to see that my wife had regained consciousness.

She shook her head. “Keep still.” I told her. “We’re getting an ambulance. What’s happened? Where’s Lizzie?”

She looked at me, the blank look of someone who just woken up and didn’t know what was going on.

“Who are you?” she said. “And who’s Lizzie? What am I doing here?”

I think it has potential, I’d love to get your thoughts.

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