‘Oh, hi.’ I replied, distraught that I was looking a complete mess. I’d imagined bumping into Faye in the summer when I was tanned and had been able to join a gym again. Nonchalantly saying ‘Alright’ or giving her half a wave whilst laughing, surrounded by expensive bottles of red and a sea of Armani. ‘I thought that was you, I could tell by the way…oh my god. What have you done to your face?’ she asked alarmed. ‘I, haven’t done anything to my face.’ I replied irritably. ‘I was attacked.’ ‘Oh my god.’ She repeated, gasping, ‘When? By who?’ ‘Funnily enough right over there.’ I pointed across the road to the car park, ‘By some Avril Lavigne looking fuckers, that’s who.’ ‘What? Are you being serious?’ ‘No. I’m making the whole thing up. It’s all a brilliant gag I’m playing on you, right down to the scar.’ She looked at me, studying my whole face not just the scar, frowning. I immediately felt bad for being a dick but didn’t apologise. ‘Well, are you alright at least?’ She asked wounded. ‘Fine.’ I replied. It hurt seeing her. Hurt seeing how good she looked. Hurt seeing how concerned she was. Hurt knowing I couldn’t hug her, kiss her sweet lips. ‘Well, alright.’ ‘What you doing up here?’ I asked with a little hope. ‘Just with a friend.’ She replied, looking at the ground, sheepishly. ‘Your friend who works at the estate agents?’ I asked, immediately regretting bringing up that place, knowing it would remind her of why we broke up. ‘Erm, no. Someone else.’ I looked over her shoulder and saw standing on a patch of grass with a beam of sunlight backlighting his magnificent physique, adding a wonderful depth and mood, a six-foot plus Henry Cavill looking piece of shit. His dark brown wavy hair rippled perfectly in the spring breeze. His red Canadian Goose jacket barely fit over his pumped biceps. A domineering bulge protruding from his nether regions looked like it carried some serious weight. I stood watching him, tonguing my throbbing tooth. ‘Canada Goose get their fur from trapping coyotes in heartless leg-hold traps.’ I snapped. She stared coldly, debating whether to answer, then fired back, ‘Desperate divorcées trap pathetic Cumbrian boys with their worn-out pussies.’ I tried frowning down onto my widened eyes, taken aback at the speed and ferocity of her comeback. ‘Anyway, I gotta go.’ She continued, calming herself, taking a deep breath, ‘We’re walking up Red Screes.’ I thought about making some shitty comment. Then thought about making a pleasant comment. Neither of which particularly appealed to me, so instead nodded looking at my boots. I turned walking away. ‘Jack.’ She called out. I turned, facing her direction but couldn’t make eye contact. ‘Yeah?’ I asked. She paused, before finally replying, ‘Take care of yourself, ok?’ I managed half a smile, all for show, replying, ‘You too lovely.’ She covered her mouth, her eyes filling up and turned quickly, running over to the Man of Steel. His giant arms opened like an eagle’s wing, shielding her from any outside pain. That used to be my job. Although in all honesty, it was her that used to shield me. Henry Cavill scowled toward my direction, looking like he was about to whip out his huge metallic boomerang cock, throw it at my head and catch it on the return. It was time to leave.
Fortunately, I had a distraction allowing me to forget about Faye and her date. Unfortunately, that distraction was the potential murder I might have committed. I followed the signpost pointing me in the direction of Sattereven. Reminding myself to remember every step of the way. The rocky footpath felt like I was climbing up a skier’s slalom descent. Sharp, quick turns got the blood pumping in no time. Relieved I didn’t wear gloves or a hat, I could already feel sweat forming and sticking to the back of my midnight blue jeans and soaking through my Marquee Moon t-shirt into my thinly lined black fleece. The path quickly toughened, at times breaking into a scramble. Long strides and holding onto rough surfaced rocks were made much more difficult with a vertical wind storming up the face of the edge like a puck hammering towards the bell in a high striker. The footpath soon nestled itself between rough denticulate crags and an age-old dry-stone wall. I felt like I was taking a hidden passageway to the Devil’s lair in pursuance of striking a deal; guaranteed escaping punishment in exchange for my soul. Not quite as cool as exchanging it for a formidable mastery of the blues – but just as desperate.
Once the initial fifteen-minute climb had been completed, the landscape smoothed considerably. I followed the path along St. Raven’s Edge until I got to Pike How and John Bell’s Banner. The ground was jagged. Miles and miles of spearheads poking from out of the ground. One big trip hazard. A health and safety inspector’s worst nightmare. I reluctantly kept looking over to Red Screes, looking out for Faye and her date, hoping he was now more “Christopher Reeve post-horse kick” than Henry Cavill. I don’t know what I expected to see, I just knew I wanted to torture myself by catching a glimpse of Faye living a happily ever after life without me. Unfortunately, they were nowhere to be seen. ‘Probably shagging up against a boulder, with her coming like a train.’ I muttered, before laughing perversely to myself at the ridiculousness of it all.
Lone patches of snow dotted the fellside. I made a few snowballs, throwing them at nothing in particular, but taking great delight in it all the same. Walking along Stony Cove Pike, the sun blasted through the clouds, obliterating them in one fell swoop. I squinted my way up to Thresthwaite Crag as the sun beamed down unmercifully on my already pounding head. Birds sang jovially whilst working tirelessly, swooping, collecting, building. The higher I climbed, the more they sang. The harder the sun beat down, the more they sang. I became bothered by the constant tweeting whilst desperately trying to remember every fragment, every minute detail of the journey, unsure if it was even about being able to relay it all back if needed, or to just fill my mind with something that didn’t involve murder and once again, Faye. The grass had been scorched by the exposure of sunlight, unable to hide, leaving it a pale green tea…tweet…colour. Tweet. Pockets of marsh had…tweet…dried, leaving black…tweet, tweet…craters. A cross placed into a huge pile…tweet, tweet, tweet…stood proudly over yonder…tweet, tweet, tweet, TWEET, TWEET, TWEEEETTWEEEEETWEEEETW… ‘SHUT THE FUCK UP!!! JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP WITH THAT STUPID, FUCKING INCESSANT FUCKING TWEETING.’ I screamed toward the sky, arms out wide, back arched backwards. I stopped, straightened. Too terrified to look around in case there were other hikers I hadn’t noticed. Tweet.
At the top of Thornthwaite Crag, I finally turned around to see if anyone was behind me. Apart from a couple of fell runners a mile or so away, I was safe. Over toward Red Screes, despite not being much more than a stone’s throw from where I was, the weather had turned. Thick, swirling clouds had descended on the mountain. I fantasised about running back over to Sattereven, jumping and scrambling down, maybe cutting my arm (but not noticing), running up Red Screes into the thick fog with no thought for my own life, performing some free climbing stunt in order to reach Faye and her date, because deep down I am a really great guy, and saving their lives. Faye would cry, clinging to me. Her date would sob his pathetic little heart out. I’d have to slap him across his face, telling him to snap out of it. I’d lead them both to safety. Faye would end it with him, get back with me, and the man on top of Helvellyn would survive, admit he was in the wrong, get fined for littering and warned by the government not to do it again and I’d be given a job protecting the Lake District from littering scumbags and paid, erm forty, no, fifty grand a year. I looked over once more; the cloud had lifted.
On High Street, stone-walls segregated the area. Dishevelled sheep with debris caught in clumps of wool walked carefree from one slice of land, over a wall, to another. I wondered when this land had become segregated. How it was decided and if there had been any stubborn arguments about the amount of land one farmer should own compared to another or, if it had been divided evenly, peacefully. Growing up in the area, I assumed it would more than likely be the former. Cairns dotted the landscape. I checked the map, studying contours and landmarks, presuming I was where I thought. It’s a strange summit. Flat. Bare. A lingering sensation of expectancy hovers in the air, keeping you waiting, refusing to reveal its grand finale. ‘The Romans chose a cob old route coming this way.’ I murmured, wiping my soaked back with my Buff. Trying to visualise Roman soldiers trudging their way up, down and across this formidable landscape, covered head to toe in armour, was nigh on impossible. Risking ambush in the forests and marshes below would have been much kinder on the knees. Did they have qualms over killing their first human life? I thought. Torturing themselves over it? They probably saw it as an honour or at the very least, a necessity. Kill or be killed. Black and white. Easy. I patted down my pockets looking for my cherry scented moisturising lip balm. Failing to locate it, I remembered noticing the yellow tube on the front passenger seat back in the car. ‘Damn it.’
I began walking back on the same route. There were few hikers, but many cross-country runners. One old lad must have been in his eighties; nothing but loose skin and bone. Curiosity got the better of me walking back over Thresthwaite Crag. I clambered over the wall, making my way toward the pile of rocks with a True Cross planted on top. On the side of the mound was a plaque commiserating the lives of a father and his son. Not a bad place to lay down and rest. For a brief moment peace fell upon me. My mind slowed. The headache lifted. My jaw released its tension. In the distance Windermere glowed a dark neon blue. Cloud imprints peeled down surrounding mountains. The calm was short lived as I began wondering if there’d one day be some sort of memorial for the guy I’d had an altercation with. ‘Altercation? Pushed more like. Killed more like.’ I screamed internally. Next to the memorial, a two-litre bottle of water had been dropped. I picked it up, emptied its contents, crunched the air from it, screwed the lid back on, accidentally touched the tip of the neck, presumed I must now have AIDS, held my AIDS infected fingers out at arm’s length, stuffed the crushed bottle into a mesh pouch on the outside of my rucksack using my free arm, wiped my AIDS infected fingers on the grass, assuring myself grass cures AIDS and continued on my way, struggling to convince my revamped irrationality that the bottle more than likely wasn’t purposefully dumped.
The way back seemed longer. I tired quickly. I must have been burning so much energy from worrying and loathing; taking days off my life every waking hour. All I wanted was to rip out my throbbing tooth and know for sure the condition of the man on the ledge. ‘Surely someone must know something by now.’ I thought, ‘He must have been found or rescued.’ I desperately wanted to get back to the car and check the local news.
Finally, I was back at St. Raven’s Crag. Cyclists, hikers and tourists pulling over in their cars to take in the views, stood in small groups, scattered. The scene looked pretend. Like a model. I lined every person up individually between my thumb and index finger and squeezed them to death like insects. I watched, preyed. Appeased they were unaware of my presence. I sat on the lip of an overhanging slab of rock observing the world below, not missing a trick. I played back the hike from start to finish, remembering every detail. Knowing if my memory was ever called upon, I’d be ready. It all began to feel like a game. A test. I was all set for the challenge. A wicked smile widened across my face as the hairs on the back of my neck stood to attention.
Back at the car, it dawned on me it was safe to drive through Windermere and Bowness. To be seen on CCTV. This was all part of my plan. I’d purposefully come here. This is why you need to keep calm and focused mate.’ I told myself assertively, adding the ‘mate’ as a comforting gesture. I tried not to look for Faye’s car in the car park. But couldn’t help myself. The more I couldn’t see it, the more I looked, becoming less and less inconspicuous with each glance. ‘He must have brought her.’ I thought. I examined the remaining vehicles, deliberating which one belonged to him, concluding on an electric turquoise BMW 4 series sport coupe. I scowled at it, whilst changing footwear perched on the edge of the boot of the car, until I noticed two heads looking back at me once the reflection of the sky darkened. I prayed it wasn’t them but couldn’t tell for sure.
The ten-minute drive down to the roundabout at Cooks House was a blur. I could have mowed down a number of pedestrians and been none the wiser. The suns zenith had begun to wane, despite it only being mid-afternoon. I began craving a baguette filled with Philadelphia with a grab bag of Wotsits, so drove into Windermere and around the one-way system until I found a parking spot. Despite difficulty parking, the streets were empty, apart from the queue for Greggs and the post office. Walking past Café Italia, I craved a pint of Peroni on tap served by one of the waiters or waitresses wearing the tightest of jeans, leaving nothing to the imagination. ‘You wanna sit out and enjoy a refreshing pint once the world begins spinning again, you gotta play this whole thing right.’ I told myself. I lifted my Buff, that was still damp from wiping my back, above my nose and entered the shop. One baguette left. It had broken part way down, not completely, but enough to make me reconsider my options. After five minutes of toing and froing, picking up a pack of three mini baguettes only to put them down again to pick up a different set, I finally decided on the regular sized baguette. At the counter I asked the woman if I could get a discount. ‘No.’ She replied bluntly. ‘Why not?’ ‘There’s nowt up with it. Flavour hasn’t leaked from it cos it’s bent over.’ ‘Fine.’ I grumbled. Oh shit, I need Philadelphia.’ ‘Aisle three and be quick about it, there’s a queue.’ I strolled to aisle three, smug it was pissing her off. They only had original. No lightest. Not even plain old light. Summer was around the corner and those love handles weren’t shifting themselves. ‘Fuck it. Worst comes to the worst and I’ll be in prison soon anyway, enjoy yourself while you can.’ With that in mind I grabbed twelve Peroni and a bottle of Spanish merlot too. ‘Eighteen sixty-five when you’re ready please.’ Said the woman, a bemused look on her face. I pulled my wallet from my back pocket, looking down to my side, catching the headline on the front page of the Evening Gazette. “Hiker found dead on fells.” I stopped cold, studying each thick lettering of the headline. ‘Excuse me.’ Removing my hand from my back pocket I picked up the paper and began reading the article, although no words sank in. My hands trembled uncontrollably. I felt hot, faint, sick. I covered my mouth to hide the gagging reflex. ‘Excuse me. You wanting the paper too?’ Called out the woman, visibly frustrated, ‘There are people waiting.’ I nodded, placing the paper down on the checkout. My sweaty fingertips were black from smudged ink. I had difficulty swallowing. I placed my debit card over the contactless, shaking my head vacantly when asked if I wanted a receipt, bagged my items and staggered out, bumping into an elderly man at the sliding door. ‘You daft pillock. I’m an old man.’ He shouted. Ignoring him, I took a left, bottles clinking in the doubled-up bags as they bounced off the side of my leg. I crossed the road, narrowly avoiding being hit by a car blaring its horn and entered the park that surrounded the library, falling onto the nearest bench. I dropped the bag of shopping, held the paper, reading the first line over and over, until gradually it began sinking in, word by word. “The body of a hiker was found after falling from the summit of Helvellyn sometime yesterday afternoon. The victim, Daniel Thomlinson aged 29, from Lancaster was pronounced dead at the scene by the mountain rescue.” ‘Falling.’ I whispered, ‘Not pushed. Does this mean…’ I turned to page three for the full report, scanning the article to see if it mentioned foul play. “Fun loving…enthusiastic…passionate conservationist, ‘Was he fuck.’ I called out, adamantly. “Popular…going to be greatly misse…” blah blah blah. ‘No murder.’ I whispered. ‘No murder.’ I said louder, ‘No fucking murder.’ I laughed, scrunching the paper and holding it to my chest, relief surging from me like a swollen river running out into the ocean. ‘Daniel Thomlinson from Lancaster. Shouldn’t have even been here. Lancaster’s in a different county. We’re still in lockdown, you prick.’ I said catching my breath, using any excuse for justification, no matter how slim. However, the jubilation soon curdled with the acidity of realising that I was now officially a murderer. I was now a different person, a different beast. I already felt different. Drawn irretrievably into an ominous trajectory, viewing the world in a peculiar light. People may still look at me the same, but I certainly wouldn’t look at myself the same. Unless of course I turned myself in. I lifted my head, staring at the treetops hypnotically rustling in the breeze and stayed in that position for a long while. I loved the wind. Loved the dramatization it conveyed. Always moving things along, preventing life from growing stagnant. I couldn’t turn myself in. I’d sooner die than not feel the wind carrying me along. Besides, thanks to me, Mother Earth was now down an antagonist. I popped open a beer using the side of the bench as a bottle opener. It went down easy. I sat awhile. Sank four more, then made my move home.