There’s a track that becomes too rigorous for vehicles after quarter of a mile, up past old Jimmy Fleming’s, the retired stone mason, who still, occasionally repairs the odd wall after a storm’s caused a bit of bother. Jim Fleming, a master of balancing a fag on his bottom lip, no matter how prevailing a wind. No matter how many scoops he’s had. If you keep to that track on foot, you’ll come out onto Cartmel Fell. Chances are at some point you’ll wander across the horses trekking from Bigland Hall or deer cautiously edging closer to the valley after a winter of keeping their distance. The paths up there veer off for miles. Some are public footpaths, others worn, trodden from livestock. The land is desolate, haunting, perfect. Even on a stifling, dead afternoon, the wind will roam, whistling.
I’d moved out of my parents on the Friday. Put a holiday in for it, forgetting I only work half days on a Friday and kicking myself when realising. I’d moved into a static near Finsthwaite for the summer. Cheap rent, no neighbours (none that were going to bother me anyway) and nestled in a field with forests and tarns close by. I even traded the Audi for a pickup. There was electricity courtesy of a small generator, and a log burner that connected to a stove. Behind the caravan standing bent and strange was an apple tree. I enjoyed the idea of making fresh apple juice in the morning, but it turned out it only grew cooking apples.
I’d been spending more and more spare time watching videos and reading articles on animal cruelty; deprived battery hens unable to stand due to their bones turning to mush as a result of serious malnutrition. Their beaks burnt off, preventing them from savaging one another after going mad. Dairy cows forcibly impregnated every year, forcing them and their calves to go through a cycle of cruelty, that inevitably ends with their slaughter. Farmed fish suffering painful inhumane deaths such as asphyxiation, crushing and being gutted alive. I’d decided to go vegetarian. I’d actually decided to go vegan but thought one step at a time seemed best. An alcoholic can’t stop cold and neither can a meat eater. My mum made bacon, eggs and black pudding as a leaving brunch. I told her ‘No thanks, I’ve gone veggie.’ ‘Well I’ve made it now.’ She exclaimed. I decided to start vegetarianism the following day.
I drove to the caravan with my one and only load of belongings, trying to pry a piece of gristle that was stuck between two teeth. Finally, I got a hold, pulled and snapped it in half making it impossible to grab the remaining piece. ‘Did I pack floss?’ I asked myself, uncertain of the answer. I moved out due to the dishonest pressure, I guess, of living under my parents’ roof with blood on my hands. I’d grown colder and distant as a person. I couldn’t fake normal conversation. Even a smile was a reach. My mum knew, as all mothers intuitively do when something’s not right with their child. It wasn’t fair on her or my father to have to put up with this stranger, this imposter. Staring into my new, rectangular, mint green, corrugated home that came with a pungent, tangy stench my senses had never experienced before, accompanied by a lack of pampered novelties, I felt punished but cleansed. Free from any nagging remorse – well, not quite. I had decided I wanted to help the planet. Help nature, the environment. The plan was to save as much money as possible over the summer, volunteering with conservation activities in the Lake District and an odd beach clean, before deciding to look into going abroad to help any causes over the winter. This plan left me focused, clear and eased my throbbing tooth. I could inhale and release without worry for the first time in, I couldn’t remember.
I dusted the shelves and cupboards. Unpacked my growing selection of books, that I felt incredibly protective over, and would only give up if I was terminally ill. And even then, only hours from death. And even then, not “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. I neatly placed all pots, pans, plates, dishes, glasses, mugs, chopping boards, utensils, in the cupboards and drawers, until one item wouldn’t fit, ruining the order of things, leading me to dump all pots, pans, plates, dishes, glasses, mugs, chopping boards, utensils in no particular order or system, leaving cupboard doors ajar and drawers permanently wedged shut from the inside.
I sat outside, under the apple tree with a bottle of Estrella. I asked the murdered fella if he wanted one, but he just stood, watching as per usual. ‘You ever gonna get that cleaned up?’ I continued, referring to the constantly bleeding gouge on his head, ‘There’s a towel and a first aid kit in the rucksack, help yourself, you scruffy fuck. And don’t just fucking stand there being all morbid and shit, we’re celebrating.’ Again, he just stood, silently watching. A recently muck-spread neighbouring field contaminated the fresh air. Usually the stench wanes once you’ve embraced it for a few minutes, but not on this occasion. That farmer must have mixed dog shit, cat shit, baby shit and wild shites shit into his manure. But credit where credit’s due; that field sure did glow afterwards. I finished the beer, trying to gargle away the smell of shit that had caught the back of my throat. The day was unusually warm. The light overbearing. A couple weeks earlier hail and snow had charged uninvitedly over the landscape, pulling down hard on the temperatures. But everybody felt hopeful the warmer weather would now be residing for the next four or five months. I wandered inside, lay down on my new unmade bed feeling restless. I contemplated going to the pub but couldn’t face twats wearing gilets. Instead, I decided to walk over to Cartmel Fell, taking twelve beers with me for the journey and a not so vegetarian scotch egg. But considering I wasn’t turning veggie for another ten hours my conscience was clear.
I cut through nearby woods, avoiding roads until it became impossible. The murdered man followed, always twenty metres or so behind. The rising and swelling sun bore down, adding red colouring to my face that would brown overnight, masking the darkened rings around my eyes. It felt good walking in shorts and t-shirts again after a razor-sharp winter. I’d stop whenever a break in the trees allowed a beam of light to shine through, taking off my sunglasses and facing the heat, eyes closed. Buds were slowly growing on the tips of branches, ready to blossom into an awesome flurry of deep greens. The stench of manure made way for wild garlic growing in abundance – it had been a testing day for the senses.
After roughly six miles, I walked past Jimmy Fleming’s. His dark overgrown garden cloaked and gripped its way round his miniature stone village and bridge that reached over the pond. Not only enshrouding it from sight, but memory. Back in the day, children from the area would gather in droves, amazed at the handmade fairy tale in front of their very eyes. But that, like many things, was over now.
Piles of empty glass beer bottles appeared strategically placed in thicket to the side of the track, like some sort of ritual. On the tops, a 4X4 that had been abandoned coming up fifteen years ago, was rusting, rotting away next to a stream. Neglected red and blue plastic pipe, irrelevantly curled out of the ground, bowing in the wind.
Half a mile further the churned footpath, caused by tractors and quad bikes tending to Highland cattle, split four ways. I followed the tracks left, leading to barren land covered in dead auburn bracken, wilted brambles and thorn bushes that were quick to lash out, cutting the back of my neck and hands after approaching too closely. In the distance, Hoad Monument stood prominently, looking down onto the market town of Ulverston and the mudflats of Morecambe Bay. The path soon narrowed significantly, making it hard to distinguish it from all the other trails created by wildlife or livestock. So I randomly chose, confident I couldn’t lose my way.
Eventually I stumbled across an old farmhouse. From afar it looked deserted, but on closer inspection I wasn’t so sure. It was dark, chilling, like a Goya painting – despite the intense heat of the afternoon. The windows of the barns were smashed. Gates drooped on hinges. It was quiet and lacked the distinct smell of farmland. In fact, the only smell came from scorched soil that kicked up into dust from excessive sunlight. There were no vehicles on the premises and perched intimidatingly along the ridge of the main building, a murder of crows surveyed, unruffled. I walked around the perimeter, onto a single gravel road leading away, looking over my shoulder once or twice, due to an unsettled feeling. Before long I came across a section of woodland that had been segregated. Each slice of so many acres up for sale. I decided to walk through after noticing a picnic table nestled under some trees, hidden about fifty metres up an inclining overgrown path. I ate the scotch egg too quickly, giving myself indigestion. Sinking a few beers helped but tired me out. I lay down on the table-top, supported my head with linked palms, closed my eyes and fell asleep.
I woke with a start, gasping for air and reaching for my throat. I tried spitting but was too dry. The murdered man stood in the shade with flies crawling over his face, over his eyes – he didn’t flinch or blink once. I grabbed another beer. Lukewarm. ‘How long have I been out for?’ I called out to my victim. Nothing. I looked at the positioning of the sun, as if that would’ve given me a fucking clue. It could have been midnight for all I knew. I drank the beer in one, throwing some of it back up. Rubbed my face to waken the senses, packed away the beer bottles and carried on. Quarter of a mile along the path that had now cleared, a fox and her cub came trotting down toward me. The cub looked up with a playful eye like that of a mischievous pup. Its mother, wary of danger, quickly nudged it into some thick growth and they were gone. In the distance, revving motorbikes grew louder, quieter and louder once more. A little further up, the path that had begun running parallel with a rickety old wall, came to a sty. On the other side, the landscape resembled the location of a Coen brothers’ western. The coral coloured hillside was filled with sheep and their lambs. Every one of them numbered in bold black spray paint. Every one of them staying close. Even the cockier lambs would run back to their mothers after the slightest of slips or tumbles. I could smell BBQ but couldn’t see it. I walked back on myself to the last section of woodland. A wooden barrier with a red and black plastic “private” sign nailed to it had been sawn at one end and dragged to one side, allowing access. I followed the track fifty metres until I came across a banged up Land Rover with a trailer attached. Lying on the floor was a disposable BBQ smouldering away. Two charred burgers and a sausage smoked on the metallic mesh. The black, singed grass underneath was spreading slowly. Next to the Land Rover lay a chainsaw that must have been used to cut through the barrier, a canister of petrol and a litre of chainsaw oil. Next to that, a two-litre bottle of water, three quarters full and two seeded buns inside a plastic packet labelled “Six seeded buns”. I checked inside the trailer: a shovel, a few short scaffolding poles and a one steel toe-cap boot without laces. ‘Hello.’ I called out, looking around. No answer. ‘Hello. Is anyone here?’ No answer. I unscrewed the cap off the bottle and put out the BBQ. Smoke hissed up into my eyes, burning them. I dropped the bottle and moved to the side coughing. The motorbikes were close once more. I wiped my watering eyes and ran back down toward the sty. Over the wall I watched two dirt bikes charge through the herd of sheep. Panic pursued as the mothers fled leaving their matching numbers to bleat. Some attempted to follow but were trampled. Others stood, motionless – petrified. The riders circled, turning back on themselves charging through the herd once more. They repeated this act a few more times before finally riding up the hillside. I watched on, bewildered. Anger bursting through my pores. One of my teeth throbbed agonisingly. I tried massaging it through my cheek; not that it helped. The dirt bikes rode through an eroded section of wall a little further up to the right from where I was. I ran back down to the entrance of woodland. The smoke had cleared. I could hear the revving of engines coming towards me. I hid behind some trees as they came roaring past and down towards where I had stopped for a rest. The engines slowly faded away. At the moment they neared oblivion, they slowly grew in stature once again. I ran back to the sty and looked down the hillside to my left. The dirt bikes reappeared out of the tree line and began the ascent once again. Charging, once again, to the herd of sheep who had desperately attempted escape. ‘You fuckers.’ I muttered and ran as fast as I could back to the Land Rover. I picked up the shovel from the back of the trailer and began swinging at the air. Not content with the power, I grabbed one of the scaffolding poles. It was three-foot in length. I began swinging. That was more like it. I hid at the front of the Land Rover, crouching down by the fender. My heart began racing. My palms began sweating making the grip on the scaffolding pole slip. I breathed deeply, hoping it would slow my heartrate. Instead I threw up down the side of my arm and tried to wipe it off in the long grass as best I could. My mind began spinning, my head pounding. I could hear the engines coming closer. I closed my eyes. All I could smell was vomit and charred meat. The sound of bleating lambs, that I couldn’t tell were real or in my mind, grew louder than the revving engines. I opened my eyes and saw a blur riding past the trailer. I stepped out swinging. I hit the rider out front. The bike kept moving. He seemed to hover in the air for a lifetime, before falling. The vibrations of the impact rung down the scaffolding pole to my hands. I dropped it, shouting out in pain, shaking my hands before tucking them under my armpits. The other rider slammed on his breaks, skidding, slipping. He crashed to the floor. For a second it was still. The three of us didn’t move. The second bike had careered into the first rider. His neck bent unnaturally. The rest of the body lay awkwardly. There was a muffled moan. It came from the second rider. I grabbed the scaffolding pole. Lifted it high and smashed it down onto the visor of the helmet. I couldn’t see if I had done any damage to the head, so hit it again harder. Then again, harder still. Then harder, harder, HARDER. By the time I stopped, the helmet had lost its shape. I bent down and pulled on it, trying to reveal the head, but it wouldn’t budge. I yanked and jerked erratically. The body dangled like a puppet tangled up in its own string. I dropped the head; the rider slumped in a heap. I walked over to the first body, kicking the torso. There wasn’t a reaction. I kicked it again. Nothing. Then again and again and again, until I tired myself out and let out a cry. ‘What the fuck is the matter with you?’ I screamed at them. Silence. ‘Answer me. Fucking answer me. What the fuck is the fucking matter with you? Who the fuck raised you? You fucking horrible, disgusting cunts.’ I picked up the scaffolding pole once more and beat the bodies. Bones cracked, snapped. Body parts became flimsy and fell away from one another. When I had nothing left, I swung the pole into the side of the Land Rover and slid down the side of it, leaning against the rear wheel. I looked at my hands. Blood from somewhere had splattered onto them. My fingers had swollen from the impact of the initial swing and stung. Sweat poured from me as I struggled to catch my breath. No HIIT workout on Instagram had been as tough as this. I looked to see if anyone was around. Only my victim from Helvellyn, and I was pretty sure he would keep his mouth shut. ‘Not feel like lending a helping hand?’ I asked him. No reply. ‘No, course not. You’re one of them. Scum of the earth. I hope these two are dead. The world will be free of three pieces of shit. And I’m the one to be congratulated. I scowled at him. He stared back, expressionless. I thought about the herd of sheep. The lambs. They were safe now. An entire herd. Thanks to me. I was turning vegetarian the very next day too. It had been a good day. A good day for conservation. A good day for nature, the planet. I became calm, composed. My head ceased pounding, my tooth ceased throbbing. I stared into my hands and began laughing. It all began to make sense. I laughed at the realisation of why I was on the planet. It had taken me my entire life. Right up until this very point to finally realise – I was here to protect. To act as a guardian angel for Mother Nature. I looked up at my victim from Helvellyn, but he wasn’t there. I stood up, calling out, but he was gone.
I sat on the banks of the River Leven at table twelve, outside the Swan Hotel at Newby Bridge, thirsty and in need of a cold pint of Italian lager, surrounded by desperate voices. I was distracted picking dried blood off the tips of my fingers and rolling it into little black balls, flicking them into the ashtray, when the waiter came over with my beverage. ‘One pint of Peroni?’ He asked. ‘Please.’ I said looking up at him, smiling. ‘£5.10 please.’ ‘Of course it is.’ I replied, waving my card over the machine. ‘Receipt?’ ‘Nah.’ ‘Enjoy.’ ‘Will do.’ Leaning back in my chair, the second and final golden hour of the day shining down on my face, I sipped at the drink, savouring every bubble. Once finished, I pondered ordering another, but couldn’t handle the noise any longer. I walked toward the exit nestled between the two bridges. A gust of wind blew a pile of napkins off a table into the river. The customers at the table, looked at each other and shrugged. On the A590 an ambulance and a police car hurried past with lights flashing and sirens blaring. I walked, unnoticed into the forest, making my way to my new home, wondering where my first victim had gone.