The soft vegetable stink of leaves reached him before his eyes opened. He was in a wood, the back of his head resting uncomfortably against the exposed root system of a fallen tree. Movement brought the unpleasant sensation of pins and needles in his head. That didn’t seem possible, but here he was.
Scrambling awkwardly to his feet, he tripped on one of the roots and sprawled again at the base of the tree. His hands were grazed and muddy, his clothes filthy. Had he been drinking the night before, this may just have explained his situation, but he was perfectly sober. Sober as a particularly ascetic judge. Someone must have done this to him, knocked him out and left him in this forest.
Not much of a forest, now he took a moment to look around. A scraggy accumulation of mismatched trees, bark chip paths and very possibly a busy road not too far away, judging by the muted rumble coming through the early-morning mist. A drift of litter by the base of a nearby tree humanised the place. A dog-walking spot, a local lover’s lane, a place people take their kids and then leave because of all the dog shit and used condoms. He knew the sort of area.
Standing now, he leaned against the tree and breathed heavily. Grabbed a handful of curled root and pushed himself upright. His sleeve was caught, and he pulled it hard enough to tear it. He was getting an unnerving sensation that the tree was grabbing at him whenever he tried to move away from it. To dispel this feeling he took a long, determined stride away from it.
Success! He was clearly imagining it. A bad night will do that to a person. He smiled at his own stupidity and, hesitating only for a second, headed towards the sound of the road. It seemed further way than when he was lying by the tree, but he put that down to the thick mist distorting distance and muffling sound. A couple of times he almost bumped into trees that loomed from the dense fog.
The third time, a hand shot out and grabbed at his wrist; rough skin found no purchase and he slipped from the grasp easily, running blindly deeper into the mist. He was certain that was a tree, there must have been someone hiding behind it. Shapes crowded the grey nothing in front of him. His blood thumped in his ears, and he could no longer hear the road.
Pausing to breathe, he concentrated. There. The low roar of the road was near now. He could run out, flag down one of the cars. The person who grabbed him would be as lost as he was, surely? He walked more carefully, anticipating any potential obstacles and avoiding them. In such a way, cautiously, gratefully, he reached the source of the noise and it was only then he realised that the sound was not a road.