‘The Tall Tales We Tell One Another’

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Roger Thomas is quite a conundrum. Whilst he dresses and speaks like a jovial college professor, he has actually worn many hats over the course of his 58 years on this Earth. Having left school at 16, he has variously been a Second Officer in the Merchant Navy, driven an ambulance, hosted his own radio show, and performed in a travelling circus, amongst other things. Not so long ago he was a long-distance lorry driver, ferrying goods back and forth across the Channel.

A mutual colleague put him in touch with me. Apparently Mr Thomas witnessed something most curious nearly five years ago and has recently been  looking for an ‘interested party’ to share this experience with.

And what am I if not an ‘interested party’?

Motorway

28th July 2017

Mr Thomas kindly invites me to his home in Kent, where we share a most sumptuous Sunday Roast served by his son-in-law. Over what I can only describe as the most tender joint of beef I have ever tasted, my host regales me with tales of everything from witnessing bio-luminescence off the coast of Koh Rong to the various inappropriate objects that people have deemed fit to insert into themselves in the pursuit of pleasure.

It is only once our meal is finished and a bottle of fine red wine opened does our conversation turn to the event in question.

The following is his account.

‘I’d been hauling goods back and forth from the continent for what, three years at that point. It wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever done, but it was far from the worst. I couldn’t complain about the pay, plus it let me stay brushed up on my French.

‘My shifts were normally overnight runs, and the roads were nearly always clear. The first time I drove my route I got horribly lost, ended up on some country backroads, entirely the wrong place for a Heavy Goods Vehicle, as I’m sure you agree.

‘But after a few weeks I got used to it, working out all the short cuts, finding all the best places to stop. It didn’t take long before I knew that route like the back of my hand.

‘I liked to listen to books on tape as I drive in those days. Novels, biographies, history, you name it, I would listen to it. They were just distracting enough. It’s good to keep the old grey matter active.’

He taps the side of his head and smiles.

‘Now, I’m sure you’ve heard all the stories about ‘phantom hitchhikers’? Truckers pick them up from the side of the road, there’s some small talk, and after an appropriate amount of time has passed the hitchhiker just vanishes into thin air!

‘There’s a couple of gentlemen I worked with who swore that they knew someone who’d had that experience. And it’s always ‘a friend of a friend’ or ‘my wife’s sister’s husband said’.

‘Ah, the tall tales we tell one another. Don’t you agree, Doctor?’

I certainly do.

‘That’s all I thought they were; ‘tall tales’.

‘Until it happened to me.

‘I was on my way back, with a load full of produce from over the Channel, and I’d just passed Pollhill on the A20, when I saw up ahead a figure walking down the hard shoulder. It was a woman in what looked like a cocktail dress, just strolling along with her shoes in her hand.

‘Now, the hard shoulder is no place for anyone to walking along in the small hours of the morning, let alone a woman. I slowed as I went past and pulled in a little way in front of her.

‘I had to offer her a lift. ‘Chivalry’, they used to call it.

‘I climbed out of the cab and asked if she needed a lift somewhere. She said yes and thanked me profusely, shaking me by the hand. Now, it was shockingly cold that night, the digits so low that you could see your own breath as it left your mouth. And I remember being taken aback by how warm her hands were, especially as she must have been walking for a while. There wasn’t a service station for miles, and I hadn’t passed any parked cars.

‘She pulled herself up into the passenger seat and we drove off.

‘She was a curious thing; all pale with long red hair and green eyes. I asked for her name and she kind of mumbled in reply. It was either ‘Fort’ of ‘Four’, something like that. I asked her if she’d been to a party, what we’ve being all dressed up, and she… she kind of looked down at herself and seemed surprised at what she was wearing. I offered her my jacket but she refused.

‘Maybe she was on drugs? I really hoped that wasn’t the case. I’d never picked up a hitchhiker before and I hoped to God that I wouldn’t come to regret this.

‘I asked where she was going and all she would say was ‘North. I need to be further North.’

‘I tried to talk to her a bit more but all she wanted to know was what time it was. When I pointed at the clock she just said ‘no, what date?’

‘So I told her it was the 3rd January

‘Her reply: ‘no, what year?’

‘I told her it was 2012.

‘She sighed, looked down at her feet and said ‘then I’ve missed. All the ducks are swimming in the water, and I’ve fallen short.’ 

‘She started to cry. I turned to her to see if she was okay and there was this intense… ‘flash’ just ahead. And then the engine just cut out. And I mean completely, the electricity went too. It was like something had sucked all the power completely out of everything. And let me tell you, trying to control a vehicle of that size with no power steering is like wrestling a bear – no, wrestling a dozen bears, in treacle to boot.

‘I eventually managed to get onto the hard shoulder and come to a stop.

‘But the woman, my passenger? Gone. Nowhere to be seen. All that was left was this weird smell, like ozone. 

‘And I absolutely guarantee you she could not have opened that door and jumped out of the cab without me knowing. No way on God’s green Earth.’

#

Mr Thomas goes on to detail how a police officer eventually found him on the side of the motorway, somewhat dazed and confused.  His lorry, which had refused to start for several hours, jumped back to life at the turn of the key as soon as he had explained his situation to the bemused constable.

Worried for his safety, the officer escorted Mr Thomas back to his depot.

But his tale does not end there.

‘The real kick in the teeth? When they opened up my trailer this putrid smell came out, enough to make the poor chap who’d turned the handle throw his breakfast up.

‘All the produce inside, all of it down to the last head of lettuce, was black and rotten with mould.’

Mr Thomas gave up long haulage that day. He is now a caretaker at a local primary school.

But if all this happened five years ago, I ask, why would he choose only to tell his story now?

 ‘Ah, Doctor, therein lies the rub.’

He leaves the room for a moment and returns with something small wrapped in cloth.

‘About a week ago, I had the strangest dream.

‘I was on a beach, somewhere warm and somewhere I didn’t recognise, laying on a sun lounger and drinking a cocktail. The sky above was dark, but it wasn’t night. Fort or Four or whatever her name was stretched out next to me sipping a mai tai, dressed in a black suit and tie, like what you’re wearing now.

 ‘She said she was sorry, and something about her calculations being wrong and the stars being all out of line when we first met.

‘She said she’d left something for me, a present by way of an apology. Then I woke up.

‘This was on my kitchen table when I went downstairs.’

He unwraps the object, revealing a silver disc etched with symbols and with a small dial towards the bottom.

‘It’s an astrolabe. From Persia, 16th Century. I had it valued. It’s worth a fortune.

‘I have no idea how it ended up in my kitchen.’ 

Astrolabe

While Mr Thomas is eloquent and possessed of the ability to spin a good yarn, he has enough interesting stories to tell to make me doubt his desire to invent one as fantastical as this. I took it upon myself to contact the haulage firm he worked for, and the stalwart receptionist manning the telephone confirmed that his truck did indeed arrive with a trailer full of spoilt produce that cold morning in 2012.

A faulty refrigerator motor was blamed, although this fault could not be replicated with the same trailer.

With Mr Thomas’ permission, I took the astrolabe to a colleague of mine who deals in antiquities. She confirmed that it was Persian in origin, circa the 16th Century. She also expressed great surprise at its apparently pristine condition.

#

I am merely speculating here, but is it possible that this mysterious hitchhiker was some kind of ‘temporal traveller’, an individual somehow jumping through time who became lost and ended up in the passenger seat of Mr Thomas lorry? And did this traveller return to compensate him for his trouble?

It is often asked: ‘If time travel is possible, where are all the visitors from the future?’

Perhaps they keep their identities secret, walking our streets and roads, doing their best not to reveal themselves as they hide behind folklore and legend.

Dr Thomas Gotobed 

– Well I certainly wasn’t expecting that! This is one of the weirder cases in the files, and they’re all pretty weird. I find it interesting that the good doctor jumped to that conclusion straight away. But then again, maybe it’s the only logical conclusion? And I’m still no closer to working out who these reports are meant for – C.R.

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