Updates every Tuesday and Thursday.
“What the fuck – what the actual fuck.” I tried to stop my lungs spasming.
I heard Ewan sniffing, shuddering. He was crying and trying as hard as he could to keep it to himself. It was the only thing I could hear.
I looked around the tent. The flap had closed behind me and Paul as we’d dived in. The fire was still lit – we could see the diffused glow through the canvas. Somewhere opposite me in the yurt, the torch flickered in and out of usefulness.
In the gloom, I saw the shape of Steve. He dragged himself across the debris and picked up the torch up, slapping it against his palm until the light was constant. He shone it around us.
Paul and Ewan had found one another; Ewan had his face buried in Paul’s chest. Paul was staring vacantly at me, his pupils small and frightening in the torchlight. I doubted I looked much better.
“I’m going out,” Steve whispered. “Stay here.”
“There’s something out there!” I hissed.
“I can’t hear anything.”
“No no no – !” Paul grabbed his leg as he crept past. “Don’t you dare. If something happens-!”
Steve teased his hand away. “Nothing is going to happen. Stay here.”
Between his bloodless face, bulging eyes, and taut neck tendons, Paul was a ghoul. The arm he had around Ewan was pulled in so tightly it was a wonder I hadn’t heard the hobbit’s ribs crack. I could see Paul’s knuckles embedded in his shoulder, desperately keeping him in place.
Good, I thought. He can’t hold both of them.
“I’ll be back.”
Paul might’ve tried to reach for him again, but he wasn’t quick enough this time. Steve slipped out of the tent and dropped the flap behind him. Seconds later, we heard a cry of alarm. I leapt up and went to the opening. Then stopped.
The ground where Lucy had been lying – completely prone – was a churned up mess of mud, cloth, and blood. So much blood. The tarp she’d been lying on and the blankets had been ripped to shit. The tatters streaked off in one direction, into the darkness.
Steve let the torchlight lift slowly – very slowly – to follow the trail. The beam wobbled around like a spotlight having a fit.
I tensed, ready to run if I saw so much as a hedgehog. But there was nothing.
The small torch showed the shadowy outline of the distant track gate and nothing beyond. The line of blood and blankets took off at an angle towards the back of the outhouse. In the direction of the pump. In the same direction we’d seen the blood from earlier that day.
I felt faint.
Jo and Mike’s faces peered out from the second tent. They saw me and Steve first, then what remained of Lucy. Mike sank to the floor, dazed.
“What is it? What’s going on?” Ewan called out from behind me.
“It’s Lucy!” said Jo taking a shaky step forward. “She’s gone. There’s … there’s just blood. She’s gone!”
I felt bodies push me to one side. I stepped out, clutching at myself as Paul and Ewan crept out. They moved as one, still attached from the waist up like it would kill them to step apart. Ewan had a hand to his mouth, Paul froze.
Steve turned back to us like he’d never seen us before in his life. He shook his head like he could deny what was there, right in front of him. Stinking up the air. Now seeping into his very expensive looking socks, in fact.
“This is a joke. It’s a joke.” He mumbled, then he started laughing. It wasn’t what I’d call a sane laugh. It was strung out – too high pitched – and didn’t reach his eyes at all. It was borderline hysterical.
He slapped me on the back hard enough for it to hurt.
“Is this you? Are you the one who’s done this?”
“You and Paul were the only people out here. You must’ve done this. Thrown around some red paint, or something. Made some sort of deal with Gerry. This isn’t real. It’s very clever, I’ll give you that, but I’m through playing now. Game over.”
“Does this look like fucking paint to you?” I pushed my hand into the muddy-blood cocktail and shoved it in his face. He stumbled back dropping the torch and catching himself on the yurt. He gagged, his hand going to his mouth, before turning away and loudly vomiting.
“Stop it! This isn’t helping! Luce – oh Christ, Lucy…” Jo choked, burying her hands in her face with a sob.
With everyone falling to pieces around me, I didn’t know what to do. Should I get some water and clean the grass? Again? Should I grab Mike’s magic tin and start handing out spliffs? Did he have anything else in there? How about a fucking rave? Get everyone so pissed they didn’t remember the night?
I needed to do something but I was rooted to the spot. My heart was still thudding away, my body trembling.
I picked up the torch and flicked the light around the field. I did it so quickly that I could’ve blinked and missed it. I wasn’t brave enough to see anything.
There were still no eyes.
I did it again, slower this time.
Then again. And again, until the torch swept around us in a slow, calm circle.
One by one everyone started pulling themselves together. The emptiness of the space around us helped. We weren’t happy, we didn’t feel safe, but at least we were alone.
For a blissful moment, I could pretend like there had been nothing there.
Mike picked himself up, compulsively digging for his baccy tin. “We were in our tent. We heard the howling, then screaming.” He drew a deep breath, his hands shaking. “We wanted to come out and help, but we couldn’t. I’m… I’m so fucking sorry.”
“What happened?” Jo asked hoarsely, her face puffy and red. She’d never been what you might call a ‘pretty crier’. Like everything in her life, she threw herself into it.
“There were things out there,” said Paul robotically. Attention shifted to him. He took it like a weight and dropped to his knees. Ewan squatted next to him, unwilling to let go. “Eyes. The field was full of eyes just looking at us. Gerry… and Luce…” He retched.
“Me and Paul were talking,” I said. “Lucy spoke. She didn’t say much. She said something about the village and that it was crazy. She was super fucked up. She might’ve meant something else. I don’t know.” I looked around. “She said that Gerry hadn’t gone with her. That he’d stayed back at the camp while we were walking.”
“You can’t be serious,” said Ewan, his voice cracking. “When we got back from the walk – the blood… . Not Gerry.”
I didn’t have an answer for him. None of us did.
Jo moaned and slid onto Mike.
“When the howling got close, I used the torch,” I continued, trying to keep my voice level. “It was like the Animals of Farthing fucking Wood out there. Hundreds of eyes all looking back at us. We freaked out, and ran. We hid in the tent.”
I wasn’t sure I could keep talking. My tongue got heavy and just like that, the adrenaline left me. I was past tired. I was fucked up.
The whole thing was beyond nuts. Maybe Steve was right. Maybe this really was all some elaborate practical joke. I didn’t know him, Gerry, Ewan, or even Lucy after all. I couldn’t imagine my lot pulling something like this – they weren’t that cruel. No one just got that cruel.
It wouldn’t be difficult to pull together something like this. Dark forest in the middle of the night? Not hard to find. Isolated valley with a village? Throw a dart anywhere on a map of the Lake District. Blood? Go a butchers. For all I knew, everyone except me, Jo, Mike, and Paul were actors.
Christ, for all I knew, they were all in on it and this was some pisstake at my expense.
The more I thought about it – the more I tried to rationalise everything – the better I felt. The surer I was even as I got angry in the process.
Shit like this didn’t really happen.
“You forgot that thing.” Paul’s voice was quiet.
And just like that, any attempt to make sense of shit blew away.
Paul even mentioning that thing – the thing that had stepped out of the eyes and began loping towards us – made my heart stutter and my lungs seize up.
So this is what a panic attack is like, I remember thinking.
I stopped to catch my thoughts. I didn’t much want them to be caught. I wanted to focus on how this was all a great big joke and how – any minute now – someone was going to corpse and the whole mess would be laughed away. Maybe Gerry would skip over with a cake and Lucy – still covered in theatrical makeup – would follow along with a sheepish grin and a magnum of champagne.
Wouldn’t that be nice?
I wanted to think about anything else except that.
“I remember the eyes and the teeth. It scared the shit out of me. Just looking at it…” words failed as my diaphragm clenched again.
“It looked like a dog or something. Hunched. It was big like a horse. Bigger. Black. It had antlers.” said Paul.
He shook his head.
“It sounds like a sta-”
“No, Steve. It wasn’t.”
Steve hadn’t been there. He hadn’t seen it. The rest of them been snuggled up all cosy-like in the tents while me and Paul were on the front line. They didn’t have the image of those eyes burned into them.
They weren’t there when I grabbed Paul and left Lucy just lying there.
Then I broke down. Just like that, I couldn’t deal with it any more. I felt so fucking angry and impotent. I’d done what felt right at the time, but now we were talking it through, now I was trying to rationalise it, the realisation came that I’d basically killed someone. I’d been so mind-blowingly focused on saving my own arse, that I’d left her out completely defenseless.
Someone was next to me, their arm over my shoulders. They were crying too, in big ugly gulps. There was that smell of memories – good memories. Jo. I wrapped my arms around her, burying my face in her messy purple hair and wishing as hard as a person could wish that I was going to wake up.
I don’t know how long I stayed like that. It might’ve been five minutes, it might’ve been five hours.
At some point I stopped. I fell back and leaned against the yurt. It was the only thing keeping me upright. My head was full of fuck, my ribs were made of cement, and muscles I didn’t even know I had were giving up on me. Mike passed me a joint and I took long, hiccuping drags as I tried to get my head in order.
This was the truth as I knew it: Mike had heard a dog or something on Friday night. We’d left Gerry and Lucy alone. Lucy had gone out in the minibus. Gerry had, for all we knew, been dragged away by something leaving blood and his watch. When Lucy got back, she was fubar’ed. She’d said there was something crazy going on with the village. Then the eyes came. Then that thing came. Then Lucy was gone, leaving behind something that looked like crime scene.
“Wait. Wait a second.” Ewan jerked up like a man possessed. He disentangled himself from Paul and dived into a yurt. He came back seconds later with Lucy’s postcards quivering like moths in his hands.
My brain itched. It itched in the same way it had when we found the blood on Saturday morning. Like it had itched when I found Gerry’s watch.
He flipped between them, muttering.
“Ewan, what’s wrong?” asked Paul.
“Here!” Ewan exclaimed.
Anyone left standing gathered around.
“Blah, blah, blah, stuff about food and atmosphere – here! I read this when I went to bed. I couldn’t sleep, so I looked through them. I thought there might be something helpful.”
“What is it?” Jo pushed.
“The Barking Buck’s name originates from the legend of the Horghart, a beast said to resemble a wolf with the antlers of a roe stag. Legend has it that those living in the valley would leave out offerings to the creature to ensure good hunting and safety for travellers. Even to this day, walkers report hearing strange barking, whining, and howling in the forests! We like to think that our fine selection of local ales…” he dropped off as the blurb transitioned into an advertisement.
“Bullshit,” scoffed Steve. “It’s a marketing rubbish 101. Made up to sell beer and scam tourists.”
“That’s what we saw,” said Paul, but any sort of energy had drained from his voice. It was a weak objection. I didn’t know about him, but I felt like something had finished scratching at my brain and had straight up crawled in there.
“Rubbish,” said Steve.
Jo took the postcard.
“You didn’t read this before, did you?” asked Mike, reading over her shoulder. The question was directed at me and Paul. There was something hopeful in it.
“I didn’t know Lucy had them.”
“I looked at them then handed them to Ewan. What difference does that make?” I forced out.
“Because if you were both freaking out, you might’ve, I dunno,” Mike shrugged awkwardly. “I mean, it’s not uncommon for people to have shared hallucinations.”
“You think this is a hallucination?”
“No, Jesus, no of course not. Sorry – I’m not trying to say you didn’t see something. But, come on, Paul – no offense, but this is insane.”
Paul and I fixed each other with long, exhausted gazes. It was insane, alright. Fucking mental to put it lightly. That didn’t change a thing.
“So what’s all this meant to mean?” Steve exclaimed. “That some fairytale creature people used to stop their kids from wandering out at night, or that was made up a couple of years ago to sell some stupid bloody postcards, is real?” He snatched the torch from me and flashed it about the field to prove his point. In his indignation, he’d gotten brave.
“If Lucy had had an accident or something, then why didn’t she go to the village for help? I mean, why walk all the way to the campsite? We didn’t hear a crash.” said Mike. “Unless…”
“… they’re the ones that hurt her,” said Jo quietly. “She said there was something crazy.”
“Something about the village.” Mike finished.
Steve drew himself up straight. “Then I think we have our answer. I don’t think goblins or boogeymen slash tires.”
I didn’t have an answer.
He rolled up his sleeves and started pacing. “I don’t know about you, but I find the idea that we’re being hunted by a group of inbred, mentally unstable locals in fancy dress a lot more plausible than some monster. Let’s stick with that for now. They’re obviously very disturbed, very dangerous, and presumably not open to negotiation. We don’t have a working vehicle. So what do we have?”
He addressed the group. No one answered.
“Come on, let’s think about this!” He clapped his hands. I flinched. “What have we got that we can use? We can’t stay here and wait for them to come back!”
“We’ve got our walking gear. But -” Ewan started.
“Yes, good!” Steve bounced in delight. “We’ve got walking gear. What else?”
There was a longer pause.
“That’s it,” said Jo.
“We’ve got mobile phones, we’ve got knives, we’ve got maps,” Steve held up a finger for each resource. “I’ve got kit in the back of my car – there’s a jack and a wrench, for starters.” He gestured around us. “We’ve got any number of empty bottles. We can siphon petrol out of the tank and make molotovs.”
Mike shifted. “Fair play, but have you ever made a molotov before?”
“No, but how hard can it be? You put fuel in a bottle, stuff a rag in, light it and throw. Thugs have been doing it for bloody centuries.”
“Have you even been in a fight before?”
Steve stopped and glared at him. “No. But I’ve never just sat around waiting to get murdered before either.”
I still didn’t like Steve, but right then I could’ve proposed to the guy. He was wrong, more wrong than he could ever believe. Probably going to get himself set on fire, but fuck it. I could barely string together a sentence, much less a plan. I was fully prepared to subscribe to his brand of bollocks if it meant doing something and staying in one piece.
I wanted to believe that it was a bunch of fucked-up people running about in a costume. I wanted to let myself think that there was a reason behind what had happened. I wanted this whole weekend out of my head. If Steve could put his head down and brute force his way through it, I would cheerfully follow.
“None of us is going to sleep so we might as well do something,” said Ewan.
And that was that.
With thanks to the best people ever, my Patrons:
- A Mysterious Benefactor
Like what you read? Please consider becoming a Patron for quicker updates!