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I can understand why you may view my picaresque misdeeds as graver than simple adolescent high jinx. I can understand if you may think I deserved some heavyhanded justice meted out before time, in the form of leather or knuckle. I could even understand if you felt I needed a long spell in correctional institutions to ‘straighten me out’. But no living soul could possibly deserve what I now face up to; what unseen malevolence stalks me in this impenetrable mist. My name is Jordan, and this is how I came to be here. By and large I was a creature of habit. Every morning I would follow the same routine: shower; toast; Rage Against the Machine; MTV2; slam! Out of the door at quarter past eight to the minute, off to the school-bus stop, past the school bus stop, over the river and through the trees to congregate with my best bud Mikey, who lived in the next village over. The trail to his house was rarely trodden so there was little risk of sightings being reported. We were so adept at wriggling out of absence questions they used to say our creative minds should be put to better use. I remember the journeys better than the destinations: sparse tarmac painted with tractor tread mire; arachnid tree limbs performing a Mexican wave; a springtime tickertape parade. The air was rank from crop spraying so you only breathed through your mouth, which made it all the more of an effort mastering inclines. You were lucky if it didn’t follow you all the way home. Mikey’s house was a thirty minute trek in good weather, but it took fifteen for the wilier among us. Fennymore’s farm is a 5 hectare plot of land surrounded by ‘No Trespassing’ notices which cuts the journey in half. Needless to say I hopped the fence and trekked across those fields every day, rain or shine. If the weather was particularly grim I’d tie Asda carriers around my feet and toss them into the hedge on my way out, weighing three times what they had on the way in. Crisps; chocolate; ‘smokey smokey’; the farm was my litterbin and my bypass. It was three weeks by my reckoning before I saw hide or hair of Fennymore. It was a regulation hedge approach: hooded head down, skull caverns drumming out Napalm Death, when suddenly there’s hostile movement at 9 o’clock. A hulk of a man, with hair sprouting everywhere but his head, his brow as furrowed as one of his ploughed fields, was charging at me, pitchfork poised. He was almost on top of me by the time I reacted, but a swift duck and roll saw my escape. As I leapt the sty at the end I extricated an earplug to hear him yelling at me to stop ruining his hedgerows and if he caught me in his fields again there’d be trouble – the usual. Like any revolutionary worth his salt, I didn’t allow this little conflict of ideology to deter me from my path. A couple of days abstinence from my route de siècle was enough to chase away those creeping tendrils of guilt, and my next, admittedly hurried, traversal was conspicuous by its tranquillity. Perhaps I should have counted my blessings and learned a valuable lesson, but I am a libertine and subscribe to that Marxist quote about private land ownership being the source of all conflict; man needs to roam wide
and free to fulfil his potential. He should not settle until he is weary from travel and his heart has found a home. So the shortcut remained open to me whenever I saw fit. Fireworks were being prepared, nicked and set off in shops by the time I next came into contact with Fennymore, and this time I was forewarned. As I hopped the first fence and passed the feeding barn he had his back to me, diligently loading some kind of sacks onto a trailer. It was a catch-22, as I knew if I moved faster my rucksack would bounce and rattle and draw attention to me, yet if I maintained my current velocity it would take me a good five minutes to cross the field, by which time he may have seen me anyway. Like a true adventurer I threw caution to the wind, held my beanie on tight and ran for it; the rucksack buffeting my back like a jagged pillow. He must have reached my blind spot when he finally caught sight of me, and let me tell you for an old man he certainly eats up the ground. Despite my 50-odd yard headstart, I leapt the final gate only to be met with resistance from Fennymore grasping the strap of my backpack. I lost my cool for a second or two. ‘Hey, don’t touch me you pervert!’ Surprisingly, this did not placate him, but I felt like a rat with its tail trodden on, and restriction of freedom infuriated me. I turned to eyeball him, but he stared me out good. The look in his eyes spoke a thousand pleas and threats, but he seemed to be waiting for something. I stopped struggling, and he penetrated me with those hollow saddlebag-laden ping pong balls, saying just one word: `‘Go!’, before releasing me. I flew forward comically like an elastic band that’s just been fired, and fell face down in the nettles wreathed along the ditch under the hedgerow. There comes a time in every man’s life when he has to endure great suffering in silence, in order to hold on to a vestige of pride. So without looking back, I shut my eyes, gritted my teeth and moved away; my skin on fire. When I was out of range I scratched the first coat of my face off. ‘You what? He grabbed your sack?’ Mikey’s a smart-arse. I got him in a headlock until he surrendered. ‘Alright alright. What’you do to piss the old man off?’ ‘Been cutting through his fields, en’ I’ I said, taking a long toke. ‘Uh oh’ he replied ominously. ‘What? What’s with the “uh oh”? It’s your answer to every bloody thing that happens!’ ‘Nah dude, I’m serious. Pass the pot and I’ll tell you what I’ve heard.’ Like a Native American tribal chief, I had to pass him the peace pipe before he’d tell me a story. Sleeps In Effluence took his medicine and told his tale.
‘Well, it’s like this right…’ he hunched over, pulling his hood over much of his face. To embellish this idiocy, he then jumped up to draw the curtains and retrieve a torch from his bedside cabinet, only to find the batteries dead. ‘Ah shoot. Anyway, so these kids right, lived just down the road from me. Twins, not identical. Greg and….Tommy I think their names were. They came from well-to-do family who lived in one of the old farm buildings that got converted. You know, mock-rustic we’re so vintage and yet so contemporary…’ He held his hands out in front of himself as he spoke, as if he were casting a spell. ‘Used to be five or six active farms around here, now there’s just Fennymore. Anyway, where was I? These two Ritalin twins, they love nothing more than disobeying mummy and daddy. They got up to all kinds of mischief, all very precocious. Til’s one day they get restless of harassing the neighbours and take a trip to the edge of town. They hop Fennymore’s gates and run amuck in his orchard, I mean real little shitbags. They trample all his fruit, kick his trees down, and just to top it off they run up to his farmhouse and fling apples through his windows. By the time he gets outside they’ve already streaked away.’ He paused to take a toke, which added to the suspense. ‘So the whole town hears about Fennymore getting his farm trashed by these two scallies, but he’s saying nada. Not even to the kid’s parents. Weeks go by and nuffin’, these two think they’ve gotten away scot-free. One day they’re so cocky they fancy going back again…’ He took a long toke and reclined on a beanbag like he’d just finished some arduous quest. ‘…and!?’ He grinned a weed-addled grin; eyes glazed and lidded, teeth all on display. ‘That’s it man. That’s the story. Brats were never seen again. Nobody knows why or how. Parents, they had a poster campaign, police combed over every acre of the town and the farm. Nuffin’.’ ‘What…’ ‘Some….some people, they say they fell in the river. Others that they were abducted. Aliens, paedos who knows? But, some people. Some people say Fennymore had bred an animal on his farm, some fearsome beast. A genetic nightmare, started out as a bull but pumped with so many new genes and steroids that it’s testosterone was too much to contain, so all it wanted to do was fight and kill. He kept it tethered and chained all day, only fed it on dead
chickens, before working his way up to foxes. You can guess the rest my friend…’ He laid back flat out, his mission complete. ‘What the….you mean somebody actually created a cock and bull story that elaborate to explain two runaway kids?’ ‘That’s not just any cock and bull sonny jim!’ We both laughed raucously, before it descended into a pillow fight, and finally just throwing objects at each other until one of us drew blood. I knelt triumphantly over my victim. ‘Nice story dude. Real nice.’ ‘It’s really got me thinking…day trip to the farm it is!’ snorted Mikey. ‘What you chattin’?’ ‘Yeah damn straight. Let’s investigate!’ Wild horses couldn’t stop the little stoner. It had been raining pretty heavy so the field was boggy as a tar-pit when we got there: every footstep felt like a skeletal hand was trying to wrench us down into the bowels of the earth. Mikey charged on recklessly but caution compelled me this time. The air was uneasily still. The field we infiltrated was flanked on either side by equal-sized empty fields, both ploughed and sticky, with the typical shallow hedgerows partitioning them. But beyond these fields lay the guts of the farm: two titanic storage barns containing machinery, two more containing most likely animals or feed. Just a field over from these lay the orchard and the Fennymore farm house. This is where we were heading. Whether gutsy or foolhardy, this mission was laden with risk. Farmers do not respond well to trespassers, as many a kid with a thick ear or traveller with a shotgun scar will testify. You can’t really cogitate over these things, as logic will always dictate you turn back. It’s fight or flee, and runners never get the girl or the big money. All of this thinking saw me caught off-guard; flush in the face with a mud clod. I gave chase as Mikey ran cackling over into the adjacent field. It was like running in diver’s boots, and I had to slow to a crawl when I felt a twinge in my hamstrings. The fatigue from running through the boggy furrows meant the thirst for revenge dissipated rapidly. I caught up with Mikey no longer baying for his blood but yearning for oxygen. Bent double and wheezing, Mikey put his arm around me and directed my head up at what lay before us: the four huge storage barns. We were now in the belly of the beast. Mikey charged into the first barn like he hadn’t got a brain in his head; tact was always an alien concept to him. I followed close behind, adopting a kung-fu posture in case anything kicked off. The first barn had no doors; hundreds of bales of hay and little else. The barn opposite looked a lot more interesting; enormous doors
bolted with wood so thick it looks like they just shaved the bark off the trunk, reinforced at the edges with the kind of sheet metal that would once have constituted a knight’s suit of armour. The corrugated roof is a good thirty feet high, and Mikey looked at me as if we were going to break into this indomitable edifice. I looked away and hoped his sense of mischief would not propel us beyond this point. All I could think about was Fennymore laying in wait behind these doors; shotgun at the ready. He wouldn’t have thought twice about taking down two nosy kids. I pictured him burying our corpses under one of his furrows; spraying slurry on top. Or chopping us up with his thresher and feeding the bits and pieces to the pigs. Pigs’ll eat anything you stick in front of them if they’re hungry enough. Mikey was feeling his way around the doors, searching for a weakness. Finally, he shoulder-charged it, prompting an inhuman bellow and thunder of hooves from whatever lay beyond. Mikey uncharacteristically jumped out of his skin, landing arse-first and skidding for a few inches on the mud that the incessant drizzle had imbued with the consistency of clay. He picked himself up and laughed it off, as I did at the deep brown smears running from the small of his back to the backs of his thighs. He pressed his ear to the barn doors. ‘What the frickin’ Hell was that!?’ I hissed, mindful of disturbing the beast again. ‘Shhhh!’ Mikey listened intently for a minute or so, before spotting the wood at the bottom edge of the doors had rot set in. He plunged down and began wrenching at the weakest planks. ‘Mikey, leave it! I don’t wanna find out what’s behind those doors! Let’s hightail it.’ He ignored me elegantly. The wood began to creak and split. He worked a gap large enough to fit his head and peered through the opening. ‘Hey man, it’s cool. The thing’s tied down at the back. I can see the chains.’ ‘He’s got a bloody minotaur back there!’ ‘Don’t talk daft. It’s surrounded by a little wooden cubicle, I can only see the chains in the gap underneath.’ He slid back out and stood up, pulling a mock-petrified face. ‘Do you wanna take a closer look?’ he offered. ‘Hell no!’ ‘Okay. To the farmhouse!’ he yelled; pointing like a military strategist and galloping away.
We crouched behind the border hedgerow as if it were a trench. Mikey inexplicably retrieved a tiny pair of stealth binoculars from his pocket with a flourish; surveying the farmhouse and its potential incumbents. Know your enemy. ‘Dude it’s empty!’ he exclaimed gleefully. ‘What? How can you be sure? You can’t see into every room!’ ‘Yes but there’s no movement on this side, plus look…’ He pointed over at the crumbling brick garage a few feet right of the farmhouse; littered with numerous items of machinery, engines and a towable trailer. ‘What am I looking at?’ ‘The Fennymores have an Estate. It’s not in the garage, I can’t see it in front of the house, so they’re obviously away. Prob’ly orf boying sum furr-ih-lyzer!’, in his finest Cornish farmer accent. ‘You know what this means?’ I looked at him blankly. ‘It’s time to mount Operation:Pig Sty!’ And with that, he was away, vaulting the hedge and scampering towards the farmhouse; me in hot pursuit. We both stopped at the back door, which held the kind of rusty key that you imagine was forged by a grizzled blacksmith in a time when men were men and keys were keys. ‘These yokels are far too trusting’ quips Mikey, before unlocking and tentatively sliding the door open. There were no sounds of life. I grasped his shoulder. ‘Mate, we can’t do this, this is too far.’ Mikey turned and gripped both my shoulders; compressing me and moving his face so close to me I could smell his malodorous breath. ‘Jord, this guy accosted you. If you hadn’t scarpered he might have gone further. All you’d done is walked across a field. Remember? Private land ownership is the source of all conflict and misery.’ ‘Yeah. I remember.’ He made a good point. I always said Mikey should be a politician. Half of what comes out of his mouth is baseless polemic backed up with highly dubious statistics and spurious ‘facts’, yet he is so articulate and compelling he could piss on your shoes and charge you for shining them.
So we broke and entered and broke some more. Mikey danced through the house, hurling doilies and little porcelain animals at my head. I chased him upstairs and we turned the bedroom upside down: extricating every drawer and box of its contents with mindless alacrity. ‘Check this out!’ yelled Mikey, before putting his boot through the television screen and performing an air guitar. I’m a brother with a furious mind. The rampage was intoxicating. Every new destruction was a message; an expression, and our fervour swelled. Taking the power back. We emptied the medicine cabinet, raided the fridge, threw paint over the furniture and scrawled obscene threats on the walls. This cretin was going to regret laying his filthy hands on me. After an age, we stood motionless, staring as if in expectation of the other’s actions. Each vandalism was somehow burdened by the previous one; escalation was the only way to satiate our fury. Mikey always knew how to take things beyond limits, and I ceded the floor to his piéce du resistance. He rummaged through the kitchen drawers and retrieved a large clear sandwich bag before dashing upstairs. ‘I wouldn’t come up for a minute mate.’ I hurled some suite cushions around as a token gesture. ‘Okay, you can check out my masterpiece!’; came an excited voice from the landing. Before I reached the Fennymores’ boudoir I could smell what he had done. ‘Jesus Mikey, what the Hell?’ He just grinned proudly. ‘Now their whole house will smell like a barnyard!’ As we got outside I began to feel pangs of remorse, like we had gone too far. We had caused hundreds of pounds worth of damage and set his canary free. This was total humiliation. ‘Now let’s check out that barn!’ Mikey ventured. It was impotent to argue. He was already over the hedge by the time I’d taken a breath. He had kicked and snapped enough wood away for us to wriggle through. As far as I was concerned the ‘mission’ was complete. I just wanted to make a clean getaway, but quenching Mikey’s thirst for adventure was like throwing sandbags at a tsunami. Duty obliged me to follow, and follow I did. The inside of the barn was massive. Running above our head all around the barn was a hay loft; the kind of place you can imagine a demented serial killer hiding in, moments before he lunges at you with a rusty chainsaw. Hay bales and farming paraphernalia leaned against the walls, while the huge floor space in front of us
resembled a filled in blast-pit. Then, of course, from the back-wall, the creature was enclosed within this thick, cylindrical wooden cubicle, flanked on either side by strange mechanical tubing and vats that somewhat resembled hospital drips running through steel aqua-ducts and machines we could not decipher. Whatever it was within the cubicle had fallen quiet. Mikey looked at me. Even he appeared reticent about approaching. ‘What do you think?’ he whispered. ‘I think it’s time to get the Hell out of here.’ ‘Nah man, the fun’s just starting.’ Mikey had taken my advice as a reverse-psychological dare, something he is most proficient at. He tiptoed toward the cubicle, as I hissed at him to come back. Part of me was desperate to get away, while another was eager to see this new drama unfold, so I stayed rooted, dropping to the ground for a view of what lay beneath. Although distant, I could see the chains bolted to the ground, and what looked like hooves. Mikey had reached the cubicle, and gingerly inspected the perimeter for access, stopping purposefully at its left hand edge. I moved my line of sight and could see that he had found a heavily bolted gate. He looked at me with silent consternation, as if my warnings were needed to give him the motivation to do the complete opposite. Before I could respond, the sound of a car engine approaching shocked us both out of our curious awe. ‘Quick! Mikey! Let’s get out of here!’ I urged. Mikey edged to the back wall, straining to peer through the gaps in the wooden beams. He turned to report back. ‘Jesus, he’s coming straight here! He’s carrying something, looks like a rifle.’ Mikey hastily span and made to run, when a deafening snort and bellow from the cubicle sent him flying. I forgot my apprehension and raced over to help, provoking a thunderous drumming of hooves, and the baneful sound of chains tautening. Grasping his arm, there was sudden resistance. ‘What’s up? We haven’t got time, come on!’ Mikey grimaced, and it was then that I could see he had fallen on the gleaming spike of a pitchfork; piercing him at the fleshiest part of his thigh. Without asking, I wrenched the metal tip out of him, to a howl of pain. That infernal pounding was so loud I could feel tremors under our feet and my pulse in my ears. Surely Fennymore could hear it and was now running to check it out. We had no time, so I threw one of Mikey’s arms across my shoulder and pumped my legs hard, dragging my stricken comrade with me. The route to the doors was like running through a quagmire. All of my leg muscles were on fire, and I contemplated just hiding amid the hay, but it was too late now. He would have known we were in there, and I could not bear to be in such close proximity to whatever was making that nerve-grinding cacophony, so I fled with Mikey in tow.
As we got outside I could hear Fennymore’s footsteps, and flung myself and Mikey around the side of the barn, narrowly avoiding being made. As we caught our breath, we deliberated. ‘Mikey, can you run?’ ‘I don’t know bud, my leg is bad. I’ll try’, he whined. So we bolted across the field, not daring to look back. Mikey was limping heavily, and I feared he would be caught. I offered a piggyback and we continued. ‘Is he there Mikey?’ ‘Can’t see him mate. Keep going.’ All I was focussed on was reaching that sty on the far edge of the open field leading into the woods and the back roads. When we were on the road he would stop chasing, as he had not seen our atrocities yet, and we would be clear to ring an ambulance. Finally, as my legs were about to give way, we had reached the sty and were clear; my throat burning for respite. After gasping in a lungful of air, I glanced back. Fennymore was nowhere to be seen. We had escaped by the skin of our teeth. The ambulance arrived in about half an hour. I had fashioned a handkerchief into a makeshift tourniquet and waved him off. We agreed not to disclose the true events, but to say that Mikey was digging the garden at the time of the accident. And with that I went home and crashed pretty much instantly. I woke up in the aftermath of a panic attack, heart firing like a machine gun and coated in perspiration. My mind had been tormented by visions of a carnivorous black bull, ten feet tall and five feet wide, horns encrusted with gore and spitting flames; muscles like cannonballs and veins straining like steel cables. I woke with smouldering red eyes burned into me, and everything came flooding back. I had slept until daybreak. The vista from my window was not promising: the whole town was engulfed in fog. I needed to speak to Mikey and frisked myself for my mobile, only to come up with nothing. Under the bed, windowsill, in the bathroom: nowhere. I had slept in my clothes and it was not on my person. A terrible truth dawned on me: it must be back at the farm. I turned the house upside down, willing my instincts to be wrong, but it was no good: I had to return to the farm. If Fennymore had found the phone I would be in for some serious repercussions. I could hardly see a foot in front of my face on the journey. The freezing fog wrapped itself around me and would not let go. My jaw ached from chattering teeth. The trees emerged like ghosts before their form was defined at close range. Guttural screeches of unseen starlings and crows pierced the miasma. I reached the ‘No Trespassing’ sign with no signs of life, and consoled myself with the fact that at least this suffocating blanket of low cloud made it as difficult for Fennymore to spot me as
it made it for me to see where I was going. The birds were silent now as I vaulted the fence and plodded cautiously across the paludal terrain. Your friendship is a fog that disappears when the wind redirects. I could see the great barns looming up out of the mists as I entered the final field, shaking like a bloody leaf. I had to stick my hand into the snake-pit to retrieve the treasure. Indiana Jones would think twice about this quest. As I reached the barn we had broken into, my eyes bulged. The doors were wide open. Why would Fennymore leave them like this? Instinctively I found myself spinning around 360 degrees, like a gunman checking his angles. The fog was too thick to see anything less than 10 yards away clearly. Shapes were everywhere, but I convinced myself that these were hallucinations; my paranoia manifested in strange shadows and movements. Back to the wall, I edged carefully along the outside of the barn. It was as if the atmosphere had been sucked out. Continuing in my ‘gunman’ persona, I shot my head around into the barn momentarily and back out, lest this be some kind of twisted ambuscade. No figures were visible: at least the fog hadn’t pervaded inside. I crept inside with the greatest of stealth. It was considerably warmer inside the building; a small mercy. I scoured the ground around the entrance, but no small handheld electronic devices caught my eye. I worked my way back to the point where Mikey had fallen. A great sigh of relief accompanied my discovery, and I slipped the phone back into my pocket hurriedly. No fuss, no problem. Now I just needed to get out of this hole for good, away from the crazy farmer and his twisted freak of nature… It struck me like a lightning bolt. I had twisted in a nod of reference to the beast and there stood the cubicle, now bereft; the thick wooden wall smashed and split as if a truck had driven through it; the chains cleanly snapped like they had been made of elastic. The floor around the cubicle was besmirched with crimson smears and the unnerving scent of blood was in the air. Worst of all, Mikey’s left trainer lay limp and trampled just inside the enclosure. He was not missing a shoe when I left him in the ambulance. My mind swarmed like a hornet’s nest of horrific notions; terror churned in my marrow. All I could think to do is run faster than I ever had before. I no longer cared about the consequences of my previous actions; I just wanted Mikey to be okay and Fennymore to be locked away in a loony bin. I had cleared about half the field when the most grotesque snort stopped me dead, followed by a bellow straight from the deepest chasms of Hell. So here I stand, somewhere between salvation and unimaginable death. I dare not move, nor can I remain. It’s funny how life spins so many threads, until one day they all unwind and you are left with just one thin strand between you and the grave. Just feed the war cannibal animal…
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