Picture yourself driving across the Wicklow mountains late at night. At the point where you pass over the gentle rise beyond the Sally Gap, where burnt grass and nothing else stretches beyond the road in both directions. You know this because we’ve seen it in daylight, but right now it is moonless black. The point I’m talking about is the furthest from any house, any artificial light. I don’t know, twenty miles? It is a freezing night in October, an east wind is blowing hard. Yes, a night like tonight.
You have been rising for the last few miles and are beginning that long, slow curve to the right before your descent into the pine forests a few miles below when you pass an old woman walking on the side of the road. Shoulder hunched against the wind, head down, back turned towards your headlights. Her hair is grey-white, it falls loosely to her waist. She is wearing a white night-dress, nothing else. A white night-dress such as a old lady might wear who’s escaped from a nursing home. She does not react as you pass, simply continues to pace slowly along the roadway.
Your initial shock subsides and you pull the car over maybe thirty metres beyond her. Looking in the mirror, you can see her walking in your direction, head down, shoulders hunched. You begin to roll down the window to say something, to begin a gentle process of introduction, but as soon as the crack of freezing air appears you can hear the woman speaking quickly and quietly in a monotone behind you. She is not speaking to you, it’s clear, and her voice cracks and wheezes as she articulates an argument with herself or some unseen companion. Immediately some childhood fear awakens in your chest and you are aware of your isolation, your vulnerability and the utter strangeness of this spectre. You call “Hello?” and she does not react, does not look up, does not alter her slow progress towards your window.
Is it any wonder that you’d want to leave? Too many horror movies, too many dead relatives, whatever the reason, one could be forgiven on a night like this, in a place like this, for rolling up the window and driving away. No, no, I’m not asking you what you would really do in this situation, I’m trying to explain what I have done. What happened on my way home tonight. What I was thinking when I did it. It was not an evil impulse, it was just fear, I don’t know that I should be punished for my lack of courage.
I’m only explaining because she’s here, right now. I saw her in the back garden just as I pulled the curtains. A glimpse. Standing in the light thrown by my bedroom window with the same manner, shoulders hunched, head lowered. I only just got home! The window is still open a little, I think, but I can’t check now. How can I check? Don’t hang up, I need you to tell me what to do. I need to know what she is doing here. Okay, I am reaching behind the curtain to pull the window. I must to do that, at least. Please don’t hang up.