[This is the most recent short story I've been working on. As you'll see, there's still a couple of bits that need expanding or ironing out. Enjoy.]
This is how it all happened. The place was about 30 miles out of town. Which wasn’t really so far, with the new main road most of the way. But the point was once you got there it was like being right out in the middle of the country, in the open air, with nobody watching you, nobody getting in your way. Now that a few of them had driving licenses anyway. Just the two cars was enough, plenty of space left for equipment and booze. Cruising along the road and you could hear everything clinking and sliding about in the back.
People had different reasons for coming along, that was important to remember, but they were mostly keeping them to themselves for now. Crushes long held, drugs stashed away, rivalries boiling up and waiting to be settled, it was all there. But when they pulled up at the end of the road by the loch, just for a minute all they were thinking about was the sunshine and the air and the breeze, summer was here and you could tell it just had to be the start of something good. The rules were supposed to be that you camped up past the far end, about a mile or two’s walk on. But there was a beach around the corner, with some good flat ground at the top, so what was the point in going further, who was going to stop them out here? A big ‘No Camping’ sign right enough but that just meant that they had a bit of shelter if the wind got up. That was Chris’s take on it anyway, and people usually listened to what he said. Chris prided himself on being the faster driver. There were three of them that had got there a little ahead of the rest, in the Rover. They stood looking around the curve of the loch to their chosen site. “Really quiet out here”, said Kev. “Yeah, well spotted like”, sniggered Chris back and they all laughed awkwardly. “You’re right enough though, once you get off the main road you really notice it. Not another soul about, twisting and turning about, must only be a few miles but you feel like you’re heading into the back of beyond”. There was another pause. The sun beating down seemed to fix the scene in place, stop anything from moving. “Well, looks like someone’s beaten us to it”, Sarah piped up, pointing over to the old car sitting away in the corner of the car park. “Reckon there’s plenty of space for both of us”. Chris grinned smugly. “Jeez check the state of that banger eh?”.
What was going on between them all, how did they fit together? Well, it was simple really. Kev was into Sarah but Sarah was with Chris. Chris was into Jane but Jane was with Tom. Nobody had asked Tom what he wanted. But you know the score, it was an old story. [This para can probably go].
Right now Sarah and Chris were putting up their tent. Or rather, Sarah was putting it up and Chris was supervising. He could pull off a good supervisor pose, Chris. Always one arched against his side; a keen frown of concentration across his brow. Sarah stooped to hammer in the third of the pegs. “Mind you get it deep enough yeh”, Chris called over, “last thing we want is it blowing over in the night”. He peered hard at the numbered instruction diagram. “Now once you’ve finished with the pegs, the next thing we need is to hook up these red togs onto those blue straps. They should keep the front holding up nice and sturdy”. With the corner of one eye he caught sight of Tom and Kev coming back over from the cars bringing more booze. “Here let me give you a hand”, he said, bending down beside here. He started hammering in another peg. As the lads drew closer, he called over to them. ”Can’t trust women to put a tent up eh? If you want something done properly you’ve got to do it yourself”. Sarah looked on but didn’t say anything.
This was early afternoon. It was about the first time that Kev saw the man. Just wandering into his vision, a tall figure getting out of a white car, nothing weird in itself; but it made him jump, silhouetted against the falling sunlight like that. The man took a couple of bags from his boot and then moved away in the other direction, up into the hillside. “Jesus, look like you’ve just seen a ghost”, Chris sneered at him. “Piss off” Kev muttered back, but in a way it was true, the figure was an intrusion from somewhere else, somewhere inexplicable. You couldn’t register it as a person, not at that speed or distance, just a rapidly shifting mass of stuff.
Jane and Tom were up by the top of the loch; Kev could see them away on the horizon, Tom had his hands up waving above his head. Every now and then, if he strained a bit, he could catch snippets of their conversation.
“Well I’m just saying, maybe it would have been better to wait a while”.
“Oh thanks, you’ve changed your tune. I seem to recall you were quite keen on the idea at the time.”
“But it’s just, I feel like... what are we really getting out of it right now?”
“Thanks for that, thanks a fucking lot – you want to stick the knife in a bit further?”
“Oh don’t be like that, please”.
But then the breeze changed, and Kev couldn’t hear any more. He stood there for a minute, watching their overexcited gestures like a distant puppet show, then moved on back towards the campsite.
“Anyone up for some fishing?”
“Nah you’re alright Chris, maybe later”.
“Telling you Kev, what it’s all about”.
“I might go and take a wee dip actually, now it’s brightened up”.
[More description in amongst this]
Chris looked over at Tom and Jane coming back over, Jane’s top tight against her chest in the summer breeze, her hair strewn across her face. “You go on ahead love, I’ll be down in a while”.
Kev bounded over to her as she started to wander down towards the shore. “Hey, I’ll join you.”
Jane gave him a dubious look over, just for a second. “Yeah alright then, let’s go”.
Kev and Sarah came running up from the shore. They were yelling. “Here, I didn’t mean to, I swear, it was an accident.”
“Piss off Kev, you knew exactly what you were doing.”
Sarah was in a swimsuit. Quite a small one. Chris came striding over to them. Kev was awkwardly trying to throw a towel around his trunks and chest.
“Hey now what’s going on, is everything all right babe?”
Sarah went as if to speak, then stopped. Her face flushed red. Then she started again.
“Nah it’s fine Chris, it’s nothing”.
Chris glowered over at Kev, who was staring down as if he’d found a complex pattern in the grass.
“Did you touch her, mate”.
“Look I said it’s nothing Chris, leave it”.
Another pause. Chris looked back over to the campsite where Tom and Jane were experimenting with some sausages. “Well screw it, I don’t even know what’s going on with you anyway. I’m getting a beer, and seeing what’s going on with the food”.
They’d made an awkward circle around the fire, chewing away on burnt sausages. Cans and bottles were out. Chris was shouting, still.
“I’m telling you, it’s always the same. You just don’t give a toss about what I’m into these days. You’ve changed, you’re all sticking to yourself now.”
“Oh give it a rest Chris, you’re pissed.”
“And you, sitting there smoking that crap. Who the hell do you think you are?”
Kev scowled up at him. “I swear it’s always sniping with you, isn’t it? Can’t give anyone else their own space”.
“Their own space! Listen to you, ya div”.
“Look just calm down a bit eh Chris”.
“Screw the lot of you then, I’m going fishing.” He looked over at Sarah hopefully.
“Yeah go then, go fishing. I’m hanging out here a while longer”.
Chris gave a last sour look back, grabbed a couple of cans and stomped off.
There were four of them around the campfire now. There were drink cans strewn round about. And the girls were starting to act differently from how the guys had expected. “Well”, Sarah piped up, “are you going to pass that over here or just smoke it all yourself.” Tom gave her a surprised look but did as she asked.
“Is that it then? It doesn’t do much eh?, I was expecting something a little more mind-blowing”
“Well, it’s not instant you dummy, you have to give a while to take effect. And probably keep smoking”.
Everything around was calm, growing calmer. It must have been gone midnight already, but with the sky a perpetual half-light, never quite seeming to darken, it was impossible to keep close track of the time. Things drifted.
“Oh hang on that’s alright yeah, that’s more like it I think. Here Jane, you should take it a while”.
Jane shrugged. “Ok then, anything once.” At that moment, Jane and Tom linked eyes for the briefest of moments.
Kev leaned up for a second from his hunched position. The rest of them had almost forgotten he was there.
“Telling you, there’s some bad things in the world. Like when they kill people by paying them to stare at goats. Or maybe it’s the goats they kill. Someone told me though”.
Jane looked over at him. “Kev, what the hell are you talking about?”.
“You’re losing the plot man”, Tom chuckled nervously.
“Nah, you lot just aren’t paying enough attention to the world around you, is what it is. And you’ll end up regretting it. Eyes peeled at all times, ‘cause you know for sure they’ll be watching you back.”
Sarah tried to hide her face, creasing into a sad chuckle.
Jane stood up. “C’mon Kev, we’d best be getting you off to bed”.
Kev shook away her helpfully extended arm. “Jeezo, ‘s alright, I can take care of myself, know when I’m not wanted”. He began to wander off, vaguely in the direction of the tents.
“Hey don’t worry about it Kev”, Sarah called back at him, “you get some rest, we’re just going to stay up a while longer, do some more.. talking”.
“He’s well out of it. Been smoking too long”. Tom was muttering into the campfire, at no-one in particular. After a while Jane replied, in the same tentative tone.
“Sometimes it’s maybe just better to let things go, no when it’s best to stop”.
Another flicker of glances exchanged.
Then it was Sarah’s turn again, talking slowly but surely.
“You know what, I’m fed up of all this paranoid thinking. Kev, Chris, they’re all the same. Right now I’m more interested in thinking positive. You’ve got to believe that you matter, that what you’re doing in this world is worthwhile. It’s weird, it’s like the way we’re brought up, that’s almost something you’re taught is bad, but truth is you need a little pride in yourself. You don’t get anywhere if you think you’re just human waste.”
There was a silence all round. Then Jane give a little laugh.
“Yeah, I like that. Dunno what it means really, but it sounds good”.
And this time they all laughed.
Moon blue, water green. Hills falling purple into sunset. Breeze lapping smoke lapping faces against deep flame of the campfire. Tents fluttering. Just a little.
Over back, out of sight amongst hills, a man stalked. Stooped, serious, dragging behind him an unknown weight. Through the trees, ever onward, ever closer.
Backs sprawled against turf, arms stretching, touching, lingering. A peel of laughter ringing across the grass. A pause, then another. Eyes meeting, flickering apart then cautiously drawing back.
And still the man came closer.
Confused touchings, awkward recoils and whispered apologies. But only for some, and only at first. Pale blink of stars, shading into the halflight. Murmurs, barely words now, but still communicating deeply. Slowly one of the three slips away, leans back into the comforting whirpool of sleep.
So then in the late twilight all was still except for the steady shaking of Sarah’s tent. Which should have been what was right in Kev’s focus as he came out of the trees, but he was a man on a mission and oblivious to everything around him. As he trotted down into the campsite the shaking grew louder and faster, as if rushing towards a secret goal. And then nothing, absolute stillness, all tension wholly absent from the scene. But not for long.
“A man with an axe has got Chris! He’s killed him!”.
It was Jane who was the first to stir, lurching up from her sprawled position beside the embers of the fire. “Huhwhat.. Kev , ‘sappenin.. ‘slate”
Kev lauched into his speech again, chanting the words as if in a trance. As he carried on, Sarah began to stumble slowly over from her tent. She had a towel draped over bra and panties. Her hair had reached a new degree of dishevelled.
Tom crept out from the back of Sarah’s tent. He was in boxers with a t-shirt half on. As he came up behind the group by the fire he hoped nobody had clocked where he’d come from. He coughed.
“Jeez, Tom, where’d you spring from?”
“Eh, nature called. I was just about to come see if I could you back to the tent, you were out cold. What’s going on?”
“It’s Chris. Kev’s saying he saw him attacked.”
They both looked Kev hard in the face.
“It was all in front of me, frozen like a photo. I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t stop it.”
“Now steady on Kev, what are you saying? You saw Chris get attacked, or you just thought that you did?”
But they got no reply.
All frantic bursts of movement now, raking, calling, flashing torches. Back and forth across the campsite.
“Someone check down by the shore. He said about fishing, didn’t he?”
“Crap, Sarah says he’s not in his tent”.
They clambered down the slope towards the shore.
“I still reckon he was just sleep-walking. I mean look at him, he’s out of his mind still."
“Shh, he’ll hear.”
Torches came streaming, wobbling back up from the shoreline. “Still no sign of him. Shit, what the hell’s going on here?”
And then in straight into the middle of the panicked silence, an almighty snore. Followed by a weird, panicked laugh from Sarah.
“Hey that’s him! I’d know that sound anywhere!”
“He’s alright then. But where the hell is it coming from?”. Tom looked around, trying to follow the sound. It was coming from a tent, all right, but not Sarah and Chris’ own.
They pulled up the zip on Tom and Jane’s tent, and hesitantly peered inside. There was Chris, lying half-asleep on top of a sleeping bag, an open beer can wobbling in his hand. He greeted them with a bleary smile. “Jane darlin, I knew you’d make it. Come in and make yourself comfy. Oh hang on, you’ve brought company.”
There was a prolonged silence. No-one knew where to look. It was Jane herself who piped up.
“What the hell are you playing at Chris? We were worried sick looking for you and now this crap”. Chris looked a little confused.
“Look don’t mess about, we both know you want it”. His face creased into a leer. “Better off with me than that wimp Tom, I can get rid of him easy if that’s what you want”.
“Oh fuck off Chris”.
They backed out of the tent again. Sarah turned round to them.
“I’m not sleeping with this waste of space tonight. Can I come in with youse two?”.
There was the briefest of pauses. It was Tom who replied.
“Aye alright. Kev you should get some sleep too, you need to get yourself sorted out pal.”
And so they awkwardly dispersed again. This time the excitement for the night seemed be all over.
Blue sky in the morning but nobody smiling. Everyone was wanting just to get home with the least amount of hassle and talking possible. But Sarah had this certain something going on, this secret look in her eye you could see if you caught it right. Tom had it too, that little twinkle and sideways glance at her when he thought nobody was looking. Kev was speaking to nobody, not even looking at them if he could help it. The old Vauxhall was gone when then got back to the car park. But by this stage nobody really registered it. As they pulled off onto the road, the landscape still sat there, impassive, as if nothing had ever changed.