When the metal sheet directly overhead was torn up then hurled away, I wasn’t surprised. I was still shocked. Seeing the brute strength of the thing that had been stalking us all weekend was terrifying.
Paul and Ewan – already up and poised – fell back through the doorway together. Paul threw a hand in my direction. I reached for it as my feet completely failed to find purchase. My legs bicycled on sleeping bags and waterproofs, kicking up a cartoonish wave of clutter.
As one foot slid back on a sleeping bag and I almost went face first into the concrete, Paul’s hand closed around my wrist. It was a solid hold. It was the only thing that stopped me from breaking my nose, or dying there and then.
I didn’t see the blow that hit me. What I felt was a violent tug that ripped me back – away from Paul and Ewan – and the rush of air parting the hair on the back of my head.
Paul’s hold wasn’t enough to keep me in place or get me to safety, but it was enough to throw the creature’s grip off. The tug that pulled me back into the shower room almost succeeded in taking him with me. The power of it was enough to overwhelm any other sensations with whiplash force.
With both of them letting go at the same time, I slammed against the floor feeling something dislodge itself from my side and my right thigh. I didn’t feel the pain at first. Dizzy with movement and now the air knocked out of me, my first thought was putting the world the right way around and getting some oxygen in my system.
It was only when I sucked in air that the agony rushed me. It was a surge of molten heat that gushed up from my lower half and out of my mouth in a scream.
“Look out!” Ewan shouted.
No time to think.
I swivelled and rolled onto my back just in time to avoid a swipe from a massive bear-like hand. It swept down from a gap in the roof with machete claws where I’d been lying half a second before. The creature scooped up a couple of jackets and lifted them to its head before casting them aside.
It reached down again with an arm that was longer than it should have been. It was like the thing was growing – stretching and twisting, reality giving way around it. My brain – already overcome with complete terror fixated on this absurdity like it was the most important fucking thing in the world.
I scrambled manically, desperately, turning back after every pathetic drag to throw something up towards its head. I gave up on trying to stand – it would only put my head more solidly in its range.
Bottles smashed on the floor, bouncing back off its thick shaggy fur or failing to find a target completely; full cans, empty cans, half a bag of peanuts, keys, at least one dead phone – as I reached one hand over the next towards the exit, I threw whatever came closest. I was angry – I was in absolute fucking agony so white and so hot that it overrode any sane fear responses I could’ve had. It’s not like I could run – screaming out in pure, utter rage was the only way I could stop myself from falling into a gasping faint. I shouted out the pain. I swore, I screamed, I threw, and I lashed back even as I tried my fucking damndest to get out of there.
So this is what Mike had felt, I thought in a fractured moment as the thing took another swipe and I lashed back with the neck of a shattered bottle. I would’ve felt brave if I wasn’t sobbing, teetering on the edge of going completely batshit insane.
With one last, mad pull, I was finally close enough to the door that Ewan and Paul could haul me through.
The thing let out a roar that tore right through the thin veneer of endorphins and adrenaline keeping my injuries an abstract. I howled back as the pain caught up with me. It was as hot, as blinding, and as consuming as the anger that had been there before. On the plus side, it hurt less with every second. I could feel my grip on things getting a little weaker, a little more vague.
Time was starting to move slowly. Or maybe my brain was. Hard to say, really.
With the rage screamed out of me, I was a shell. Even the pain was going. The air became filled instead with the violent scrapes and clunks of the creature working on the next sheet.
I was on the verge of passing out, the world around me a kaleidoscope of movement and colour. Every muscle was reduced to jelly. Tension was gone. God I wanted to sleep.
“Your leg, your leg!” Paul was crying. His voice was the only thing that cut through the haze.
I blinked away the swarms of black that swam in and out of focus. I felt like I was looking up at the roof again, staring helplessly as dust rained down onto my open eyes. This time I was looking across at where I’d just been. I was briefly distracted by a red path that cut through the clutter of our nest. I didn’t remember seeing that before.
It dawned on me – little by little through the thick soup that now filled my head – that it was a path I’d made.
I was bleeding. Heavily.
Anything that hadn’t been thrown, anything that hadn’t been hooked up and into the sky was sopping with blood. My blood. The shower was slick with it, my clothes were sodden. I hadn’t lost my leg completely and my guts weren’t spilling out, but it was obvious enough that something important had been slashed or punctured or whatever.
Ewan was jabbering on too fast for me to grab hold of. Paul had armed himself with a broken pipe and was standing over the two of us looking as terrified as I felt.
With pain edging its way out of my consciousness, all I could really feel was pressure and movement as Ewan tugged this way and that on my leg, alternating between throwing himself on it in an attempt to stop the bleeding, and wrapping something around the wound.
“Stop it!” I pushed him away with a rubbery shove.
He shoved me back. I toppled onto my back without resistance. It was comfortable. Why did we need sleeping bags in the first place?
“We need to stop the bleeding. I think it’s your femoral artery. That’s the big one in the leg isn’t it? You’re bleeding, oh Jesus-”
Ewan continued babbling, more to himself than me. Every pull on my wounds brought a sobering shock of pain. It was damned near the only thing keeping me lucid and I loathed him for it.
Seems like hating Ewan for trying to do good had become a thing. What a colossal arsehole.
“You have to hide,” I said, trying to get myself upright. “Both of you.”
“There’s nowhere to hide!” said Paul. “We’re fucked.”
“Then geroff me.” I pushed Ewan again, this time with some force. He’d managed to tie something over my leg and waist – directly over the wounds – and it hurt like a bastard. I was still dizzy, still faint, but had enough sense left in me to grab ahold of the only lucid thought I had left.
It wasn’t a great thought. It was a fucking horrible thought, truth be told, but it was the only one I had.
I was dying. There was no questioning it.
Weird how you know when it’s going to happen.
Actually, no. Ignore that. By the time it’s happening, it’s obvious enough to anyone.
What would be weird is if I’d known it before my leg got slit open from knee to groin.
I’d gone from 0 to ‘oh dear’ in less than thirty seconds and, somehow, I wasn’t fine about it, but I felt like some sort of weight had been lifted off. It was a smooth ooze of resignation; a chill wave that whispered ‘well, this isn’t your problem any more’. It spoke to a long-rooted part of my psyche that was completely happy to let other people deal with something.
It was like Mike had passed me a joint and warned me with a cheeky grin that it was strong enough to make me shit myself. It was like Jo had her hands on my shoulders and was doing that amazing thing she did where it felt like she was reaching through and into my muscles, stroking away the stress with fingertip kisses. It was the end of a shift, I’d just clocked off; my manager was telling me someone was on the phone for me, and I was walking out the door. Not in my contract – sorry, mate. Good luck with it, though!
I’m sure I read somewhere at some point that at the point your body starts shutting down, some part of your brain floods your system with hormones that help everything relax. I’m sure it’s something to do with why people claim to see their lives flash before their eyes.
I’d spent the last day fucking about, panicking, living scared. Now the worst case scenario was actually here, I felt… well, not exactly great, but horrifically calm. Calm enough to not really feel like myself any more, more like like a version of myself I didn’t much like any more.
Because now – after everything I’d been through – I didn’t want to just let go. I didn’t want to leave the problem to someone else. Paul and Ewan didn’t deserve it. None of us did, but life isn’t fair. They were still going – they were still alive – and they deserved to stay that way.
I was dying – nothing I could do about that – but I could sure as shit make a mark. I could go out with a bang.
That was when the thought came to me.
With no small amount of effort, I clawed my way up Ewan, using a sink for balance when I was vertical. Overheard, the creature was still going to town on the next sheet. Any second now it would be on us again.
“Go,” I said.
Paul gaped at me. “Go? Go where?” He was talking on the edge of the blur that was sucking my vision into a tunnel. “This is it. We’re not leaving you.”
“Fine,” my voice said. “Then I’m leaving.”
Hands tried to hold me. I was too slippery, too taken over with a desperate, not-self-aware sort of strength. I wanted a smoke. I wanted a cigarette more badly than I’d ever wanted one in my entire life. I wanted that hit, that easy rush, just a little something to finally push me over.
In the slowing whirl of the world, the stunted corridor came into something like focus. Not everything. Just a few things. An open door, the pale faces of the couple hovering near me, and something else: A boxy shadow in a doorway. That’s the ticket.
“Stay here,” I managed. “Give me a minute.”
I took a few steps towards the exit before swerving into a cubicle doorframe. Paul and Ewan rushed to my side and held my shoulders, trying to keep me from falling over.
“What are you doing? You can’t move – you’re bleeding out.”
“So fuck it, right? Can’t do any more harm.” I grinned. I don’t think it was a very nice expression judging by the way Ewan slid one foot back, his grip loosening. That was fine.
“Stay here. Keep it busy.”
“What’re you doing – fuck’s sake – Ewan, don’t let go!”
“Let go, Paul,” I said. I tried to look cool.
I tried to look him square in the face, keep my jaw high and my gaze constant and steady. I choose to believe that’s how I looked, how Paul saw me, because the alternative is someone who – slurring with blood loss and drunk on biology – spent their last few minutes of conscious life acting like the pisshead they’d been for most of their adult life.
“Let go,” I said again, taking the time to roll the syllables around my mouth and let them fully form.
I remembered doing that in front of a course tutor once. If there’s any one way of immediately letting the people around you know you’re drunk, it’s trying very, very hard to not be drunk.
“I won’t. I can’t.”
Ewan’s hands fell to his side.
“You can’t drag me around forever. Let go.”
There was a thunderous clunk overhead punctuated by an eerie howl. The noises rang through the building. From the sounds of things, the creature had managed to break a tricksy bracket or something. Good for it. It would be peeling the building open like a tin of sardines in no time. I didn’t have long.
“Look after him, yeah?” I said to Ewan, not taking my eyes off Paul. “He’s a bit of a martyr, this one.”
Ewan reach up with his now free hands and gently eased his fiance back.
“Come on,” he said quietly – so very quietly. “I love you.”
Paul stared back at me with a powerful expression of helplessness and sorrow. I hated that I was the one who made him look like that. I figured I would hate it more if he had to look like that again. Or – worse – if he never had the chance to look like that again.
His grip weakened, finger by finger, then his arms dropped completely.
“You’re such a prat,” he said, his voice thick. “Why’d you have to get fucked up?”
I tried to think of something witty – some last, whip-smart quip to leave ‘em wanting more, but I could barely hold myself upright.
Instead I said “Thanks for inviting me.” and made to leave.
I heard Paul let out a heart breaking moan as I shuffled away. I wanted to turn back – you have no idea how badly I wanted to – but there was nothing to gain except dying in a slightly different place.
No, my mind was fixed. It was more set on this than anything I’d ever put myself to. I was going to see it through. I wasn’t going to coast. I wasn’t going to drift along and hope someone else would step in at the last second with some Deus ex Machina. This was it. It was my turn to do something for someone else.
The roof gave way behind me.
Ewan gave out a battle cry then there was a confused snarl from the creature as a metal thud rang out. Seconds later, Paul joined in. I could hear the swoosh-whack of him swinging his pipe, bringing it down again and again on whatever the creature was stupid enough to put in his range.
I didn’t have much time. Sooner or later it would get a lucky snag – just like it had on me – and that would be it. Either that or I’d simply pass out and bleed out in a shitty field.
At the outhouse doorway, I stopped only to fix my position and pick up the discarded jerry can, the one we’d sacrificed that morning in the interests of moving unencumbered. Leaning against the doorframe, I reached into my pocket and fingered my lonely lighter.
Shame. Think of how cool a cigarette would’ve been.
As another barrage of cries came from behind me, I moved in as straight-a line as I could manage to the yurts. It wasn’t quick, but at least being on the edge of unconsciousness made it easy to not care about my leg, or the fact my heart was starting to feel a little janky. Oh, and all the blisters on my aching feet from wearing inappropriate footwear on a six mile hike, then prancing around like an idiot in wet socks. Then hiking some more. Then running blindly for my life through a forest.
I fucking love camping. Have I mentioned that? There’s nothing like getting away from it all with a bunch of mates, measuring out the night with empties and cheering at the dawn.
I love the food – cheap, cheerful and mostly hot – the company, the open skies, and the fresh air. I like the lack of people I don’t care about. I don’t even mind pissing in bushes. I mean, when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. Taking a dump in the wild is not only more pleasant and probably more hygienic than using a public bathroom, but offers a much nicer view.
Tents can be a bit hit or miss, though. There are those stupid pop-up ones that have about as much weather resistance as a tissue and take a degree in physics to fold back up again. You’ve got your bog standard 2-man tents which are only good enough for one average sized person. If you fork out the cash, you can get something to start a base camp on Everest, but the Yorkshire moors are hardly the top of the world.
Bell tents are good, but not practical. Can you imagine trying to lug one of those bastards around on public transport?
No, it turns out that yurts are where it’s at. Nice, pre-set up yurts. Dry, tended to, and spacious. Warm too, and secure. They can withstand just about anything – those guy ropes are good and thick, and well anchored too so they can stay up all through the year, regardless of weather. The canvas frame is stiff, dry wood to help keep the distinctive shape. It’s so you and your mates or you and your family or you and whoever can parade around in comfort no matter how hard the sky’s beating down on you.
I was staking a heavy wager that they’d also go up a treat. Particularly with a generous amount of accelerant.
I looked back only once when I reached the yurts. In the gloom left behind I could just about see the creature hunched on the roof, ducking its head in and out, reaching in and snapping back like a cat after a mouse.
Picking up the pace, I fell over my own feet as I crossed the threshold into the interior. The floor came at me with a woozy rush I was too tired to counter. I took the hit then I dragged myself, aiming for the centre of the floor. If I made it, I didn’t know. The entrance looked so far away.
Nearly done. It was nearly all done.
I opened the jerry can. Without standing, I tippedit around me, liberally dousing the floor covering and anything that had been left behind. There was a generous amount of stuff left from our excesses. My head was now spinning with nausea at the stench. Another thing to ignore. It would only be for a little while. Just a little while longer.
Tipping out the last few drips, I fished out my lighter.
It wasn’t a great plan, but it was the only one I had.
“Come on, you cunt!” I screamed with the very last I had in me. I screamed louder than I had ever screamed in my life. I felt every muscle in my throat tear itself apart as the anger, the terror, the … I don’t even know what shredded its way up from the last of my reserves.
The creature froze. I watched through the open tent flap as it snapped its head up to look towards me, one large paw tipped in readiness. Then it looked back down into the now almost totally roofless outhouse.
“I’m in here, you cunt! Come get me”
I’m not sure if those last words made it out of me. I think they did. It felt like they did. Or maybe sheer will or hatred or desperation was strong enough that my intent made itself known. Maybe me sat there so prone, so fucking bold in a glorified wendy house, was an offense to it. I was calling it out. Yeah – me, I was. Me, the piece of useless shit slacker strutted right on into this forest and was calling the – god? Spirit? Demon? – whatever it was a coward.
What? You don’t want to fight me? Are you scared? You some sorta chicken? Come on at me, you no good, yellow bellied, sonuva-
With a snort, it bounded to the ground. It skidded almost comically on the wet, muddy grass, those ungainly, too-long legs tangling and sweeping around one another. It looked back to the outhouse again, taking a step or two back, before swinging its attention wholly to me.
I was the easier option. I was right there, fresh meat not going anywhere, about to be dead meat if left to my own devices. I was too weak to move, my heart barely keeping what blood was left in me still flowing. I’d cut a fine streak through the field, a big ol’ red carpet rolled out through grass, ash, and sheep shit. The tumble to the floor had dislodged Ewan’s attempts at a tourniquet and I was hemorrhaging out. I made a pretty fine jus, berry red and savoury with just a hint of piss and beer.
For a moment I panicked. What if the petrol wouldn’t light because there was too much blood? What if it lit, then went out because everything was too wet? What if it knew I was going to just die in the next minute so it didn’t have to bother with me?
Then it trotted towards me and that was the last time I had the luxury of doubt.
A few steps, then a few more – a little quicker that time – then a lope. It dived towards the yurt.
I braced myself for what was to come, only to have it veer off at the last second. I looked about, dazed and confused. I traced its movement as best as I could. The fumes, the blood loss, the pain were making reality a bit too thin to keep focus. It was everywhere at once, a solid ring of bone and Weird and threat drawn around me. It was circling the yurt, assessing me.
“Fucking eat me,” I slurred, leaning back on one hand.
It appeared at the doorway, eyeing the canvas, sniffing warily at the air. I could see the conflict in its eyes. It was a predator, not some hardy, stocky group animal used to fighting for dominance. It didn’t like being challenged. It didn’t like anything else putting it in a position of doubt. It especially didn’t like being called out by the weakest member of the herd. It was also smart, maybe too smart to fall for the equivalent of a ‘free birdseed’ sign in the middle of a desert road.
It stared at me, hanging back. I stared back, too far gone to be afraid. Too resigned and too damned near dead to so much as tense.
“Yeah, that’s right,” I croaked. “Come on in. Eat my arse. I’m not going anywhere.”
It tentatively stuck its snout in, then drew back. Then pushed forward once more.
I felt a tiny surge of glee as it tipped its head this way then that, pulling at the yurt entrance with those stupid antlers as they caught on the fabric.
“Not gonna let that stop you,” I said. I think I said. I wanted to say it, but my tongue wasn’t working too well.
With an indignant snort, it pushed forward. The canvas gave with a rip leaving tatters strewn like banners across the antlers and an indistinct hole behind it.
It moved on me, more freely now, pulling back its top lip to show a maw filled with long, thin teeth. Then it stopped – abruptly, its head snapping back like a car crash as some part of it snagged on the structure. I couldn’t tell you if it was a rope or the wooden frame, or even some tough part of the canvas – a seam, or something. It didn’t matter. Disoriented and furious by whatever had caught it out, it tried to turn. I heard something crack, just about saw a ripple of canvas, then something else gave. Then something else as it started thrashing, getting itself more tangled in the process.
The last thing I saw was the world – all I could see of the world – falling down onto me.
Given enough time, I’ve no doubt it would’ve just torn its way free. If it struggled enough, it could’ve pulled the yurt apart. I’d seen it rip apart metal; I’d seen it rip apart people.. If it stopped a moment to get its bearings, it could put those huge claws to good use and shred everything without making a scene and skip its way free in a heartbeat.
As it was, it was erratic. Dare I say, it was panicked. It wasn’t used to being heckled. It wasn’t used to being trapped, either. But it wouldn’t be for long. Not permanently. But right then, I had a snare around it and it wasn’t going anywhere.
So that’s when I flicked the lighter.
I wish I could give you a happy ending. Or even a definitive one.
I wish I could tell you that the creature died, or that it was injured enough by what I did to it that it slunk off back to its nest and spent the next however-long hibernating off its injuries. That by the time it woke up, its whole shitty forest had been levelled and replaced with a new housing development or a supermarket. That it starved to death without its loyal cult. That said cult were rounded up by the police, underwent the most surreal trial in UK law, then spent the rest of their fucking lives in prison.
I want to tell you that as the yurt exploded into a fireball, I was able to see Paul and Ewan run from the outhouse, make it all the way to the village, call help, and live happily ever after. I want to tell you they had a beautiful wedding and that they lived out their days in blissful matrimony. I want to tell you that just as I thought I was about to go into the light at the end of the tunnel, I was pulled free. That I recovered from my injuries and went on to live a long and joyful life.
I wish I could, but I can’t.
You might wonder how I’m telling you about all this. My advice is to not think too hard about it. Maybe we’ll get into that some other time. For now, let’s wrap all this up. We’ve all got other things to get on with.
The world as I last knew it was heat and light; it was choking smoke and cooking meat. The last thing I was aware of was a howl of pain and fury. It was an awful sound, the sound of something betrayed and hurt beyond anything it had ever known. It was a good sound. Satisfying.
Life isn’t fair is it? Neither’s death.
I think as I died, I might’ve smiled. If I could be sure of anything, it’s that in my final moments I did something right. Or, at the very least, something that would make a difference.
I love camping.
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