I stood motionless, staring at the body. For a second I thought I saw it move, or maybe it was just his jacket rippling in the wind. It was hard to tell. I lifted my eyes, keeping my head low, cautiously observing left to right. I couldn’t see a soul. Turning quickly, I looked behind. In the distance I saw three hikers on a separate peak, the Tongue, I think, but they couldn’t see. Could they? I hadn’t felt a thing since noticing the body. My mind began urging me to feel something, anything. Then it hit. The realisation. I still wasn’t sure if I’d done it or if he’d slipped. I couldn’t remember a thing. My body began shaking so hard I thought I was going to convulse. I backed away, the temperature soaring inside me. I unzipped my jacket, trying to free my airways, but they weren’t restricted. I ran back to the ledge, peering down. Fleeing overpowered my need to clamber down to tend to him or call for help. Vomit erupted from the pit of my stomach. As I spewed, I tried keeping my mouth closed and swallowing. Failing that I caught it as best I could. A sudden thought of ‘don’t leave DNA at the scene’ flashed to the forefront of my mind. I wiped the vomit in my cupped hand down my jumper and zipped my jacket back up. I smelt my hand instinctively. The stench made me wretch. It dawned on me that I had two options. Only two. Get help or run. ‘Ok,’ I thought. ‘What happens if I climb down, check on him and he’s alive? I’ll call for help. Then he tells the mountain rescue I pushed him, then they tell the police…but I don’t even know if I did…but I can’t say for certain I didn’t either. So, it’s fifty-fifty. If I did, I get arrested on an attempted murder charge or best-case scenario, manslaughter. If I didn’t…WHAT THE FUCK DOES IT MATTER IF I DIDN’T? GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE. I scanned the area once more. Desolate, apart from the three over yonder. Which I found odd; Friday afternoon and dead. I began hurriedly making my way back to the path. My legs unstable, my breathing out of sorts, my mind a scrambling mess of incoherency. I stopped short before the descent, looking back at the wind shelter. In particular the litter wedged into the wall. I spent an age deciding what to do, before running, grabbing it and stuffing it into my rucksack. ‘It’d be a shame not to take some positivity out of all this.’ I thought, oddly proud of myself. Then I thought of the body fully clothed. ‘Is pushing him and leaving him considered littering? What am I going to do, run down, rip his clothes off and run back up? What the hell am I even thinking about? FUCKING MOVE.’
I slipped, skidded and occasionally fell on the way back down. My concentration wasn’t focusing on safe footing, but how I could get away with this potential murder. I hadn’t felt panic and trepidation like this since having to tell my parents I was on report card at school. The feeling identical. The two scenarios worlds apart. The same feeling when I accidentally broke Tom Allan’s leg, the same when I was chased and hid down an alley after stealing alcohol, the same when I caught my first STI, the same when I caught my second STI, the same when I cheated on Faye, the same when she found out. Somehow, I began taking comfort in the thought it didn’t matter what would happen to me because this feeling rotting away inside would never get any worse than this. Whatever wrongs I committed, whatever variables were thrown at me, this feeling would always be my constant, a comfort blanket if you will. It wasn’t pleasant, but it was manageable. The next few minutes were spent remembering that fateful Saturday morning, all those years ago, when the postman delivered the omnipotent report card. My parents’ reaction. Their anger, worse, their disappointment. ‘Imagine their disappointment when they cart you off the jail.’ I murmured, ‘Christ, what I’d do to receive a report card for this mess.’
Half-way down, muttering all kinds of perplexed gibberish, I came across a couple walking up. ‘How is it up there?’ Asked the woman. Her face blurred, her clothes all one non-descript colour. ‘Erm…what?’ I asked, snapping out of my thoughts. ‘The summit. What’s it like today?’ ‘Fine.’ I said dismissively.’ ‘Oh.’ Came the reply. I skidded past them, holding a hand in front of my mouth, to mask the stink of vomit. After a few metres I stopped. Turned toward them and shouted, ‘I didn’t make it to the top.’ ‘What was that sorry?’ Asked the woman. ‘I didn’t make it to the top. I’ve hurt my knee. Instead I walked to Browncove and came back down. Sorry, my knee’s causing me all kinds of gyp. I didn’t mean to be rude.’ ‘That’s ok. Can you manage?’ Shouted her partner; blurred face. His clothes all one non-descript colour. ‘Yeah I’m ok thanks. I just couldn’t have made it to the top.’ I replied. ‘Ok, leave it now. You’ve made your point’ I thought. ‘Yeah I would’ve liked to have made it to the summit today but there’s no way my knee could have done it. Shame too, cos I’ve not been on top of Helvellyn for years.’ I shouted, unable to help myself. ‘Stop fucking talking. You may as well walk straight into the fucking cop shop at this rate.’ The couples’ faces both looked down at me, silent, pixelated. I could only imagine their expression. I pondered saying something else in an attempt to detract from the guilt-ridden drivel I’d just regurgitated, but instead turned with a limp that would’ve landed me a fail in any drama class and continued to the valley below.
Back at the car I sat on the edge of the boot, trying to untie my laces with shaking fingers. After three of four failed attempts I tried pushing them off from the heel. No joy. ‘FUCK ME!’ I yelled, swinging an arm out in frustration hoping to hit the headrest behind, but missing and going straight through the gap, smashing the little bump of bone on my wrist on one of the metallic headrest posts. ‘ARGH FUCKING HELL.’ I half yelled, half yelped, breaking down, or at least trying to. I tried so hard trying to force just one single tear to form and fall, but it wouldn’t come. I rubbed my eyes until they burnt, stood up and walked over to the edge of the car park, staring down at Thirlmere. Staring down at me and Faye, sat on the banks, not too long ago. Content, happy in one another’s company. I smiled briefly, living in that perfect memory, that now may as well be a thousand years ago. I closed my eyes. Breathed deep. Repeated, until my heartbeat slowed. I told myself that if I was going to do this, I would have to take it one step at a time. First, the laces. I sat back down. Breathed deep. Repeated. I untied one shoelace. Untied the second. Baby steps, but vital. Next, changing into my spare clothes. I took off my jumper, scratched and smelt the sick stain. I scrunched it into a ball, throwing it into a plastic bag, tying a double knot. I changed pants, catching a trouser leg on my foot and hopping around pulling with all my might. By the time it was free I’d hopped into a puddle, soaking one of my socks. Breathed deep. Barefooted, I slipped on my Nike Air Max, laces tied and wriggled the heel back and forth until they fit properly. Next was to get my story straight. But not before driving away. I sat in the driver’s seat, looking up at the mountainside, unsure of how the last couple of hours unfolded. I pushed the key into the ignition, turned. Nothing. I tried again. Nothing. I turned, turned, turned. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Eventually I realised I hadn’t pushed down on the clutch. I tried again. The engine roared into life. I sped off, wheel skidding on the loose gravel out of the layby, thinking about the paint work, and into a future of uncertainty.
I was driving too quickly, hitting corners too hard. Veering onto the other side. ‘Slow down.’ I shouted out. I hit the break. Heavy. The car swerved, skidded. I pushed my feet back under the seat so I couldn’t press down on any of the pedals. Once the speedometer read thirty, I cautiously brought my right foot from underneath the seat, pressing gently down on the accelerator. Before I knew it, I was driving past Grasmere desperately trying to stick to the speed limit and fighting everything in my body not to drive into a wall at ninety-five with my eyes squeezed shut. Images of the man lying in an unnatural heap after falling all those feet, flickered in my mind like strobe lighting. I tried shaking the thoughts, but in doing so only intensified the speed. ‘Oh God, oh Christ. What have I done? WHAT THE FUCK HAVE I DONE?’ I screamed, smacking the steering wheel with the palm of my hand and with that threw up all over the dash and lower windscreen. I tried wiping the windscreen with my sleeve but only smeared the vomit, worsening my visibility. ‘Fuck, fuck, fuck.’ I muttered through trembling lips. I tried taking deep breaths but could only manage short shallow gasps.
I got to Ambleside without crashing. God knows how. My aim was to get to a shop to buy a bottle of water so I could clean myself and the interior of my car. I stopped at the small roundabout just before the house on the bridge and watched a blue Skoda drive up The Struggle. I hesitated. The car behind blasted his horn. I didn’t pay attention. My mind was going through so many possibilities, down so many potential avenues. The horn behind blasted. Blasted. Blasted. BLASTED. At the last second, I took a left and followed the Skoda up The Struggle, to Kirkstone Pass. The road narrowed and weaved and dipped and climbed. I was tight to the Skoda. I could see the driver’s eyes in his rear-view. I watched his eyes instead of the road, hypnotised, as if they held all the answers, all the way to the top. Once there I drove into the car park. The same car park I’d received the beating. I looked at the spot where the paramedics treated me, peering down to see if any dried blood remained. It didn’t. The stench of vomit was unbearable. I got out the car and walked to the boot. Opened my rucksack and pulled out the map. I walked round to the front, opening the map out on the bonnet, searching for mountains nearby. ‘High Street.’ I whispered. ‘You went up High Street. Helvellyn was busy with tourists getting on your nerves. Especially one guy in an orange jacke…no you didn’t see anyone with an orange jacket. You can’t remember anything descriptive about any of the tourists at the foot of Helvellyn. All you noticed was the volume of people and decided to leave. You drove back this way because of a lack of light but were determined to go hiking so drove up The Struggle. You walked Red Screes a while back so decided to walk up Old Street instead.’ I studied the map. The path to High Street. It was a fair distance. I thought about walking it there and then but knew I wouldn’t have time in the fast fading light. ‘I could get lost up there? Call mountain rescue? That’d be the perfect alibi.’ I decided against it. I’d already taken one life today (possibly), I didn’t want to risk anymore, especially innocent ones. ‘Was the guy on top of Helvellyn not innocent? No, he was a fuc…I don’t have time for this now. I’ve got to think straight.’ I ran across the road to look for the footpath to start the ascent of High Street. I followed the line of the path. ‘Tomorrow,’ I thought, ‘I’ll come back tomorrow, early, and hike to the top, making a mental note of every blade of grass. I’ll take my camera, take photos.’ I ran back across the road. Grabbed my camera and changed the date in the settings to twenty-four hours earlier. What if I’m seen driving up here in the morning again? The story won’t match. I left a lens cap here and came back for it.’ I grabbed my 24-70mm 1:2.8 EF lens, removed the cap and gently placed out of sight, against a wall amongst a tuft of grass, protecting it as best I could. ‘Ok good. Now you’re thinking clearer.’ Every time I began to feel a little easier my memory jolted me back to reality, reminding me of the heinous scenes earlier. I caught sight of my reflection in one of the car windows. My eyes red. My skin sagged as if it was made of plastic that had melted after falling asleep next to a roaring fire. My hair wild, untamed. My beard with luminous patches of vomit drying in it. This time last year I was taking photos of models on a Burberry shoot and being paid handsomely for the privilege. ‘This’d make some fucked up movie.’ I thought, flattening my hair. ‘Fuck,’ I suddenly realised, ‘The couple walking up the mountain. What if they report me? Did they see me long enough to remember me? I shouldn’t have kept on blabbering shit. I should have just kept moving. Fuck.’ I stared hard into the side of my car, my mind charging. My head pounding. The tooth on my top left jaw, throbbing. I rubbed it with my tongue and began thinking about Tom Hanks removing his own tooth with an ice skate in “Castaway”. Torturous relief. ‘Concentrate. Keep Focused.’ I snapped aloud, instantly looking around making sure I was alone. I was. I looked back in the reflection. Ran my hand through my hair and beard. ‘When I get home later, I’ll shave my beard. On the way home tomorrow, I’ll stop at the barbers and get a haircut. Shave it all off. No, that’s too extreme, too obvious. I’ll get a crew cut, say it’s in preparation for summer. Keep my face smooth and hair short for the rest of the year. The one thing that couple will remember is my beard and long hair. Ok what else. Who knows where I was? Did I tell anyone at work? No. My parents? No. Friends? No…wait. Bobby. I got back in the driver’s seat and grabbed my phone and called Bobby. It rang twice, rang three times, ‘Hello?’ He answered. ‘H…he.’ I hung up. My voice deserted me. I coughed, clearing my throat, ‘Hey.’ I said aloud. Too high pitched. Coughed again. ‘Hey.’ Better but a little lower. ‘Hey,’ cough, ‘Hey’. Perfect. Bobby called back. ‘Hey,’ I answered, coughed, ‘Hey man. Sorry about that, bad signal.’ ‘Nae bother. What’s up?’ ‘Oh, I just thought I’d call you driving back from High Street, because I couldn’t talk much before, because I was about to walk up…don’t say it…Hight street…you fucking idiot.’ ‘Oh right, cool.’ How was it?’ ‘High Street?…seriously?’ ‘Yeah.’ Good thanks. Quiet. A lot quieter than where I went first…if he doesn’t ask where you were first don’t you dare mention it. ‘That’s good then. Always better when it’s quieter.’ Yeah…’ I prayed for him to remember where I’d been and ask why I’d gone elsewhere. He didn’t. ‘So, the session you want to go on soon, when you thinking?’ ‘Definitely in the next two weeks.’ ‘Awesome. Sign me up. Can’t wait.’ ‘You ok?’ He asked? ‘You sound, I dunno, odd.’ ‘Me? Yeah fine. Just knackered. High Street’s quite the trek.’ High Street huh? Funny name for a mountain.’ ‘I think it’s named after the old Roman road that came through here.’ ‘Great knowledge.’ ‘You know me.’ I laughed nervously. ‘You’ll have to take me one time.’ ‘Yeah man, then we can grab a pint in the Kirkstone Inn.’ ‘Oh. You’re up there. Nice. I thought you were somewhere else for some reason.’ ‘Finally.’ I thought,’ Something for his memory muscle to sink its teeth into.’ ‘Yeah I’m up here. Anyway pal, it’s getting dark, so I better get going. Take it easy.’ ‘You too geezer.’ He hung up. I leant back in the leather seats, noticing how much the bottom of my spine had been sweating. ‘Was that all bases covered?’ I thought. I tried calming myself, knowing there was nothing I could do now I’d gone this far. If I’d called for help straight away, maybe any punishment I had coming wouldn’t have been as extreme. But now? Forget it. My heartbeat echoed through my chest as I slowly began to comprehend the extent of all this. It dawned on me how quickly and responsively my thoughts cleared as I planned my escape. Out of everything that had happened that day, that seemed to cause me the greatest concern of all.
I skipped going to the shop for water. Risking being seen on CCTV didn’t appeal to me, as innocently as it would have looked. I just wanted to get home. Once there, after struggling back squinting through a vomit covered windscreen in the back end of dusk, I snuck up to my room. Threw my clothes into a heap and grabbed a shower. I sat instead of standing like always when weighed down, deep in thought. Except now I was deep in thought about nothing. I was hollow. A void. A gap between parallel universes. I felt like I was slipping into the body of a somebody else. Leaving my life, memories, loved ones behind. How could I get over today? The water had begun building up in the shower tray. I’d been meaning to pour drain cleaner down the plug for weeks, but it kept slipping my mind. I dried off. Looked in the mirror. A stranger stared back. Like a returning soldier after years away at war, only without the honour. I lay down on my bed, my hair damp. I got under the covers, pulling them up tight over my head. Curled up into a ball and fell fast asleep.