In the kitchen of a cottage nestled among oak trees they waited – for neighbour, for colleague; for broken doors and strangers with zip-lock bags. Jay was long gone, whipping across fields, toward the blockhouse he’d carved with nails and fire. He crawled into peace and wished he could stay, wished he could curl up on the soft, wet earth and sleep. But if he did they would find him, find him without looking and he wasn’t ready for that medicine, for any medicine – just now his liberty was a sickness he refused to cure. He dug up his plane ticket, kicked things quiet and headed toward the airport.
He was sprinting past the scrap yard when his stomach twisted hard. He tore at his belt and squatted down, moaning as the heat poured out. When he brought up his hand, he brought up blood. So, this is how I bleed, he thought.
As he pulled up his jeans, he noticed a hole in the fence – an opportunity – he would steal something to trade before morning. He would buy insect springs and blood fish and forgiveness would follow.
He laid his coat across the chain mail and climbed through.
He stayed down, waiting. He heard nothing – saw nothing. He relaxed – too much: he moved from car to car like he was browsing the buffet cart. He didn’t see the camera fix him with its one red eye. A second later something opened its mouth and screamed.
Colin found Jay bunched in the bed of a Toyota Hilux, his pockets stuffed with stolen bulbs. He beat him till his breath flickered and dragged him to a caravan at the edge of the yard.
“You live here now,” he said and chained his wrist to a propane canister.
He returned early the next day.
“We are all good people,” said Colin.
“Why?” Asked Jay.
“Because pain hurts.”
Colin said he had an opening – in advertising. He drove Jay to the main drag of a town bristling with hedge funders and bond hawks. He pulled him from the car and handed him a sign.
‘Sale. Cut Price Holidays. 60ft this way.’
“Please understand,” said Colin, climbing back into his car, “if you move, I’ll kill you.”
Colin’s brutal imposition had left Jay bruised and exposed – his eyes were black, his feet were bare and his trousers better suited to a castaway. As an icy wind whistled lullabies, Jay – barely a blink from sleep – clung to the sign, stunned to still be on two feet. As the last of his strength seeped away, a remarkable thought came to him: might this propitious bearing have nothing to do with him at all.
The sign – elegantly crafted and painted in pearls thick as butter – was so beautiful it shamed Jay to stand at its side. Naturally, he would still comply with Colin’s wishes, but doubted he could fulfil them, unless of course Colin demanded he remain forever its contemptible and unseemly valet.
As crowds broke around him, Jay poked at his ears and rubbed his eyes: did it whisper to him, did it shiver when read? He wasn’t sure, but he saw how they followed it, beneath the archway, disappearing like passengers from a punctured fuselage. He peered up: more than wood and paint he thought:
This is hedgerow magic.
Months passed and Jay was dutiful. A nourishing routine developed and slowly he came to recognise himself again. His diligence was manifest: his ankles had stiffened into a dependable base and his indurated hands formed a bracket sturdy as steel. But left unheeded, diligence is a futile thing and Colin rarely left his office; so Jay – too terrified to knock – remained joyfully agitated, unable to demonstrate how rigorously he approached his work.Instead, he climbed his caravan and flattened himself. From here he watched the same scene each day: Colin at his desk, staring at his counting machine, whilst an oil drum boiled at his side, rolling with carrion he’d dragged from wheel arches and bull bars
For a bowl, thought Jay, just one bowl.
In contrast, Colin rarely considered Jay – sometimes at night, as a stranger worked him to sleep, he imagined him naked, curling through wreckage, his tongue thick with fox shit.
Despite the neon ‘open‘ hanging from its gate and despite it possessing everything required to operate effectively – a till, a service counter, a coffee machine – Jay had never witnessed a single customer ever enter the yard. Colin appeared untroubled by this and rather than exercise caution, continued to augment his stock unabated: each morning he headed out to search the carriageways surrounding the airport, returning at dusk – his truck heaving beneath the wrecks he’d found.
When the yard was quiet, Jay slipped his chains and searched them. He found many marvellous things – loose change and blister packs, half-eaten burgers and sandwiches garnished with cigarette butts. Once locked in his caravan, he stashed the money, gobbled up the food and in lieu of dessert, choked down the pills – the yellow ones held him tight, the purple ones throttled the past; the green ones made his eyes swell till they squeezed through his lids like pus.
Jay remembered the Nissan Micra: He’d cut a hole and crawled through. Inside was soft, red yolk and on the passenger seat, propped on a glossy weekly, he’d found an entire, intact brain. He’d carried it inside and setting two places, asked its name. When it didn’t answer, he’d considered eating it. In the morning, he’d buried it, marking the spot for safety with coriander seeds and piss.
Friday. Jay finished work and hurried home. Whilst away, the yard’s topography had altered so profoundly, he recognised nothing but the name above the gate. After a quick rummage through the new arrivals, he discovered toffees in the bloody door-card of a Hyundai Sonata. Lucky bugger, he thought and limped on, deeper into the twisted chaos. After many wrong turns, he stumbled on his caravan and walking to its door, found, nose down in his vegetable patch,- a tiny flying thing. Both passenger and pilot were dead and his tomatoes ruined. But he wasn’t sad: he stowed his sign and unfurled the hammock he’d made from exhaust pipes and boot netting, stringing it between the little bird’s blades. Dropping and stretching out, he opened the toffees and was about to pop one in his mouth when he heard the office door slam. He saw Colin striding toward him.
Colin towered, looking down.
“You alright Colin,”
Colin looked at Jay, then at the caravan.
“Needs some work,” he said.
“Plenty a wood around.”
Colin rolled a cigarette.
“I’ll be staying late tonight,” he said. “You’re to keep inside. Like last time.”
“Will do Colin.”
“Next week I’ll send a couple of lads down. Get this patched up.”
“That would be nice.”
Colin lit his cigarette and Jay sensed uncertainty in the way he fixed him above the lighter’s flame. Jay wanted to talk more, but before he could say a word, Colin was already heading back to his office.
Jay sat out a while, watching the sun sink behind the stacks, until the yard doors opened and he moved inside. He heard laughter and peeked out – four men, all huge like Colin, in low caps and boots wide as cable drums. They ran to Colin’s office and pounded its door, jumping with excitement as they waited. Must be a family get-together, Jay thought; how wonderful, he thought.
That night Jay listened to the cars moaning in the wind and shared their guilt. He grew increasingly despondent until he remembered the stockings he’d found in the foot well of a Toyota Prius. Moving in stop motion beneath the police bar nailed to the ceiling, he palmed three pills, rolled the unctuous hosiery over his face and drove himself into a hubcap. Afterwards, he collapsed burning onto corrugated iron and curling like fried noodles, spat himself to sleep.
Two hours later he woke screaming – a noise outside – a gust of suffering that had him on his feet before his eyes were open. He tore back the curtains and saw Colin smoking against the barn door. Again, that sound – an amalgam of tooth burr and tinnitus. Colin laughed, tossed his cigarette and disappeared inside.
Jay dressed and crept to the barn. Inside, he saw the four men leaning silently as Colin checked paperwork at a desk set before an archway. Through it, people appeared, scarlet with anger and fear. They marched toward Colin like rules still applied. The men rolled off walls and circled them. They nodded and prodded and when their inscrutable assessments were done, they battered them to the ground and kicked them into cages furnished with beach balls and inflatable palm trees.
Jay sprung over, his ribs rattling against the earth as he crawled away. Once at the caravan, he swallowed two amber pills – the ones he swore to never touch again and hauled a box from beneath the bed. He spread out its contents – eye clippers, three rubber chopsticks, a child’s cross bow and Goats ‘n Gravy: a volume of commercial incantations penned by Olaff Gunt, prelate of Devonshire’s second church of Mephistopheles. All rubbish he thought – just tat and totter. He had only one option: he retrieved his sign from beneath the caravan and headed back.
Bracing himself, he flung the barn door open. For a moment Colin did nothing: he sat with an abstracted expression – as if taunted by a tricksome sneeze or unable to remember a maiden name – then turning, he raised his arm and rustling up air, roared like disasters combined. The cages rocked and the four men ran. Jay closed his eyes – did it whisper to him, did it shiver when read, did it, did it? He juggled up the sign and grinding his feet like he was saving par, wrenched it down.
He heard it crack, watched it scatter amidst the scrap and shattered glass. Just wood and paint, he thought, fucking useless, he thought.
“Are you coming, there’s lots to do before we go?” Said one of the men, approaching with open arms.
“Of course,” said Jay, standing and feeling for another amber pill.
Smiling, the man took him gently by the hand and led him into the barn.
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