This tale is just a tiny bit naughty, but I couldn’t resist after I saw this story on the BBC News, and then read today’s prompt. I hope you all enjoy poor Dale’s journey *grin*

Dale didn’t get lost very often; his internal compass was pretty accurate which is why the post office gave him the more obscure addresses to deliver to. He was a familiar sight, cycling through the warren of villages flung across the valleys like breadcrumbs for him to follow. The children ran after his furiously pedalling form, chanting:
“Dale, Dale, drinks too much ale, falls off his bike in a prickly hay bale.”
For country children who rarely saw the inside of a school, Dale was reasonably impressed; at least it rhymed. He would give a virtuoso imitation of wobbling down the road, in imminent danger of falling into a ditch, before hurtling off to his next delivery with a cheerful thumb of his nose and accompanying laughter, all in good part.

Today was beginning to frustrate Dale, and that was a rare thing, for his smile was ever present and his patience as long as a piece of string. He paused at the edge of one village, pondering the address on the stubby, almost triangular package, scratching under his itchy hat brim with absent-minded vigour.
‘1 The Marshes. Long Valley Down’
In his fifteen years of cycling the valleys he’d never seen or heard of the address and it had him stumped. In a flash of inspiration, Dale jumped on his bike, turned around and headed to the Bull and Rag, scanning the room as he burst through the heavy wooden doors, startling the elderly patrons into spilling more beer than they had yet quaffed – for it was only eleven in the morning, but the older gentleman had little to do but sit in the snug and mourn the passing of better days.
“Old Gord, ya here?” Dale bellowed and all heads turned to the inglenook where a sparrow-frail man looked up and nodded. His wings may long have lost most of their feathers to Father Time, but his eyes were as bright and beady as ever. Dale rushed over and proffered the package, “Know where this is?”

There was a long, ruminatory pause, a couple of suspiciously chucklesome coughs, then Old Gord called for pen and paper. He spent several minutes curled over the scrap, like a child blockingthe cheating gaze of his fellow pupil, the pen scratching until the back of Dale’s eyelids itched in unison, but finally shoved the paper across the table, collecting a couple of beer stains and a stray pork scratching on the way.
“If’n I says it, y’ll no remember.” Was all Old Gord had to say, but Dale respected his elders enough to take the paper with a sharp salute for an old soldier before haring off into the increasingly warm day. Behind him, as the doors closed with ponderous solemnity, there came some more dodgy coughs and then a gale of laughter, but only when they were sure young Dale would have reached a suitable remove.

Dale propped the map against the parcel, steadied across his handlebars, studied it, frowned and dismounted. He’d travelled a couple of miles and knew he was pretty much dead centre between two of the smaller valley villages. The map led off into some trees on the right and Dale discerned a path running into the distance. It looked like it crossed some boggy ground, climbed a steep hill and then dropped into the unknown. Dale was proud of his bike and respectful of the fact it was company property. He didn’t think it was truly built for cross-country work. Tying it to a tree with the cord from his mail pack he set off along the path.

A couple of hours later, the sun burning onto his face, sweat causing his pristine white shirt to cling to unmentionable places, and with boots so thick with mud he worried they would never shine again, Dale stumbled down the almost sheer side of a second valley and staggered to a stop in disbelief. A swift-flowing river rippled and shimmered across his route, too broad to jump, too deep to wade and without a sniff of a bridge in either direction.
“At least I will be cool and cleaner.” Dale spoke aloud, holding the awkward parcel over his head and striding into the water. He sincerely hoped there was no-one within earshot to hear his girlish scream when he realised quite how cold the water was, pushing his way across with initial confidence, then growing anxiety as the current suddenly became capricious, snatching at his body, putting him off his stroke. It was bad enough having to swim with only one available arm, but the river was proving as awkward as the parcel. When a particularly strong tug swept him completely astray, Dale sent up a silent prayer to Mercury and flung the parcel to the far shore. He closed his eyes rather than see where or how it landed, and struck out after it with all the strength he could muster.

Clambering out, dripping and with a rather fetching piece of pale green pond weed tucked around his left ear, Dale scanned the shore and spotted the parcel. It had fetched up on a fortuitously placed mound of deep moss, seeming none the worse for its short bout of air mail. Shaking himself in a passable imitation of a wet dog, Dale strode over to retrieve the parcel and came the closest he’d ever been to using a bad word. A small black ‘thing’ shot out of the undergrowth, snatched up the parcel in a slobbery jaw and pelted off along the packed earth road which led away from the river.

The thing appeared to have four legs and a tail but it looked like no dog or cat Dale had ever met on his travels. It had a pronounced white stripe running from head to tail-tip, and a very bushy tail which it carried aloft. Alas, Dale was no scholar else he might have recognised the thing for what it was and avoided the shower of foul smelling spray when he caught up to the fleeing thief and drop-tackled it. The disgruntled animal, having avenged its honour with style, gave the parcel a final shake, dropped it in a muddy puddle and stalked off whence it had appeared.

Dale tried not to sniff as he picked up the crumpled and stained package, shook himself off, straightened his back and headed down the road, but he came to know, in the long hour it took to reach his destination, that a hot day and eau de skunk are not a kind combination. Rounding a bend in the road, Dale could have cried with relief on spotting a signpost jammed aslant next to a white picket fence and a double gate – 1 The Marshes. He let himself onto the neat gravel path, somewhat awed by the sprawling single storey ranch which slowly drew nearer, for the drive was almost as long as the walk from the river.

Reaching the front porch, Dale looked down at himself, up at the beautifully clean porch, the gleaming brass knocker, and nearly turned tail, but no, the mail had to be delivered, no matter what. As he placed a foot on the first step, steeling himself for what was not likely to be a pleasant encounter the shining white door swung open and a young lady, both buxom and somewhat underdressed, in Dale’s inexperienced opinion, smiled broadly.
“Why you must be Dale. Come on in, hunny, we’ve been waiting for you.”

Without so much as a wrinkle of her nose, the young woman led a stunned young man inside, kicking the door closed with a stiletto boot heel. A flock of equally clothing impoverished ladies clucked around Dale. Before he knew it he was up to his neck in warm water and some suspiciously flowery suds being bathed in places no woman had seen since he’d been a babe in arms. His protestations were laughed off and the ladies genuinely seemed to have been waiting for him. Robed and lying upon a perfumed bed, a pretty red-head fed him strawberries whilst a busty brunette dripped some bubbly wine into his moth from a glass shoe, Dale finally managed a full sentence.
“I was supposed to bring a parcel. Where is it?”
The young lady who’d opened the door to his weary and ragged figure grinned, propping herself on one elbow at his side.
“Oh this? I believe your boss sent this as an extra to your birthday surprise, Dale. Now, shall we see what we can do with it?”
Dale eyed the strange little green thing, which looked a little like a stubby Christmas tree…

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