By Dick Richards
Urban legends. There are so many of these you can pick one at random. I like the one of the young lady driving home in her off-roader who sees a ‘body’ on a lonely road. Suspecting it was a robbery attempt she didn’t stop but drove up off the road onto the wide verge, pressed on past the ‘body’ and back onto the road. After half a mile she then stopped and called the police. They turned up in only minutes. Predictably the ‘body’ had disappeared. But, along the verge where his accomplices had been lying hidden in the grass were four freshly crushed bodies.
I’ve lost track of the tales of dogmeat sausages from North Korea and takeaways containing minced earthworms. Then there are terrifying tales of youngsters tricked into pronouncing the lines of ancient spells, all with the most dire consequences.
Then there are bodily swellings caused by spider bites that burst and discharge hundreds of tiny spiders. Or kidneys harvested while the victim was sleeping off a drunken episode.
All false yarns? Maybe.
But what about this one from my very own casebook?
It had been a beautiful day. Even in October and even in Wales that can happen. But as we set off to drive south at about five in the afternoon the clouds gathered and within the hour it was pouring.
My companion was Joan Ederland, at that time a well-known Manchester Guardian columnist, whose integrity was beyond reproach. I mention that only as the events to be related may strain credulity. Joan had been visiting friends up north and, when she learned I was going that way, was glad of a lift back down to her home near Carmarthen. We were approaching Lampeter and dusk was well on its way. As I did that particular drive fairly often I knew the road well and I slowed a little knowing that we were coming to a nasty bend with an adverse camber.
As we rounded the corner we clearly saw, just ahead, a young woman who had already spotted us and was making signals to flag us down. We stopped just five yards from her. She didn’t look particularly bothered but she was certainly very wet from the downpour. I didn’t have an umbrella but on the back seat was a rather elderly and battered old overcoat kept there for just such a spot of bad weather. I grabbed it as I got out.
‘Are you OK?’ I asked. She nodded.
‘How come you’re stuck in such a dreadful spot? What happened?’
‘Oh,.. it’s too long a story. I just want to get home and out of this.’
‘I believe it,’ I said, helping her put the coat across her shoulders. ‘Where’s home?’
It was only five miles from where we were, and I knew the area well. It couldn’t have taken us ten minutes to get there. We pulled up right outside the house. Joan and I looked round to offer some further help and we were both astonished to find she was gone, totally gone from the back of the car. We were thunderstruck. We had not at any time stopped the car in the past few minutes. Neither had we heard her open the door and slip away as we stopped. Yet that’s what she must have done. There was no other reasonable explanation.
She had left nothing behind her in the car. She was, quite simply, gone.
Joan said ’D’you think we ought to just knock the door and check she’s OK?’
We picked our way around the puddles, through the gate and up the garden path. Joan pressed the bell and we stood there perhaps half a minute until the door was opened by an elderly gent in a cardigan and carpet slippers. Joan told him what had happened and added ‘We thought we ought just to check she was OK now.’
The old chap looked totally unsurprised. ‘The girl,’ he asked, ’Was she tall, a bit skinny and wearing dark trousers?’
‘Yes,’ said Joan.
Then came the shock.
‘She was my daughter, Rhiannon,’ he said. ‘She was killed on that bad bend just before the main crossroads. Hit-and-run accident. That was nearly four years ago now. We know she’s been trying to get home ever since. She tells everyone that, all those who stop when they see her. She’s never got here yet,’ he added. ‘But we don’t give up hope.’
When we talked about it later Joan and I agreed that that was the oddest thing we’d ever heard. up until then. The old chap appeared quite untroubled by the odd happenings.
The sequel was even more strange.
The man could clearly see that we only half believed the story. ‘If you’ve a moment I’ll show you something.’
On the other side of the road stood Chapel Bethel, a small Baptist chapel of the kind that abound in west Wales. He beckoned us to go with him.
There were only a dozen graves in the chapel yard and, on the one he pointed out to us, was carved ‘Rhiannon Price 1930-1952.’ It was the most recent gravestone in the yard.
The most shattering thing about the whole scene however was that, draped over the headstone, was my battered old car coat.