It was late and the night was sharp and still. The car headlights kindled frost fires in the black hedgerows as we turned off the Maiden Newton road, wiggled around the radio station and plunged down the side of Toller Down heading for Powerstock.
We bumped over the Kingcombe dogleg, car wheels spinning loose flints into the frozen verge. The road dipped into the valley and climbed steeply uphill over clods of frozen mud and cow spatter to the clump of Scots pines at the Mount Pleasant crossroads.
Midnight at the crossroads with winter stars wheeling overhead, Orion’s hair streaming by and a high moon, remote and bright, casting her oblique shine on the hard road. Below us the dark, deep woods of Powerstock Common: ancient forest of oak and ash.
You’re supposed to meet the Devil if you hang about crossroads at midnight. What I saw next certainly had cloven hooves and a tail.
The car eased off the brink towards Wytherstone — and there, on the road, right in front of us, loomed a series of shapes completely strange and deeply familiar.
“What the bloody hell’s that!” said Johnny, jamming on the brakes.
Figures from a painting, flickering in the headlights, huge and humpbacked with charcoal bristles.
“Wild boar,” I breathed. There were five, six, seven of them crossing the road in a line, first a big boar, then a sow and then a row of striped piglets trotting behind, nose to tail. They ignored us completely and crashed off into the brambles.
We cut the lights and scrambled hastily out, but they were gone. There was nothing but the silent moonlight.
Back in the car we drove slowly, hoping for another glimpse. At the turning to Sort, a tawny owl floated up from an overhanging oak branch and melted away into the trees. On the ridge immediately above Powerstock, three sheep bounded away from the fence, woolly rumps bouncing, and a short run downhill and we were back home in the folded village, flicking on electric lights and switching off the dark outside, glad to be home.