£46.70 is what it came to. Half a tank, maybe more and whatever it cost to fill the canister. Plus, the price of the canister too. My right hand stunk of petrol and I’d spilt some down the side of the pickup when releasing the pump, despite shaking off for a reasonable amount of time. I’d looked around for some tissue to wipe it but couldn’t find any. If I’d still had the Audi, I’d have been in panic mode worried about the paint work, but with this banged up off-roader I wasn’t too bothered. There was a nip in the air, and I hadn’t brought anything warmer. I hadn’t been planning to stay out this long. And I certainly hadn’t been planning to set fire to two campervans that were now parked at the side of Derwent Water.
I could see the campfire that had been lit near the beach. Smoke glided into what was left of the pale blue sky. Mobs of midges huddled mid-air all around. I pondered the possibility of hoovering them up with a cordless vacuum cleaner, or if they’d disassemble the second you turned it on. How satisfying it would be to suck up all those swarms of midges that ruin many a perfect evening. My mind continued to distract me from the job at hand with these fallacies. Driving from Ullswater to Derwent, following the campers had been thrilling, but I’d grown weary driving from the petrol station back to the lake and now felt sluggish. Attempting to revive myself was proving as difficult as continuing an all-day session after a huge lunch followed by dessert. I contemplated going home and letting the culprits off with a warning – a warning they had no idea about. Weighing up the pros and cons, I finally decided burning their campervans to the ground would prevent them from travelling around the country again for the foreseeable, thus preventing them from using the national parks as dumping grounds. And if they were seriously injured or killed in the incident, well, then the world would be rid of four more scumbags. Easy. I had no idea how the hell I was going to pull this off. I hadn’t thought any of it through. All I envisioned was the endgame; two campervans burning to the ground. I was parked on the road, out of sight from the targets. The road was dead, there hadn’t been a single car drive past since I arrived back. I tried to find motivation on Spotify to get the blood pumping but struggled finding a murder playlist. I thought of Patrick Bateman dancing to Huey Lewis and the News, axe in hand, ready to chop up Jared Leto. But that band reminded me too much of Back to the Future and for the next several minutes all I could think about was hating manure. Snapping back into the moment, becoming irritated at myself for not focusing and allowing my anger to subside I began wishing I was still an avid coke user. That would have got me pumped. A quick key of beak and I’d have been charging toward that campfire like a Nazi on speed. But those days were long gone. In fact, the mere thought of cocaine nowadays fills me with more anxiety than if I actually snorted it. (I’m not sure if that is technically true. I’d have to put that theory to the test someday). I’d gone off track once more.
Two minutes and forty-three seconds into Al Pacino’s Any Given Sunday speech, I leapt from the pickup, grabbed the petrol canister and crept towards the campervans, keeping to the shadows. Thousands of throbbing stars and a huge par can of a moon exposed the ground below. The campfire overpowered the distinct true air that you can’t quite describe on a cold, clear night but recognise it all the same. I could see the faces of the women in the orange light – the creases on their laughing faces made all the more prominent by the close flames. The men had their backs to me. Whatever they were talking about was muffled, apart from the odd word that pinged across the lake and came rebounding back. ‘Steaming.’ Followed by laughter. ‘Cock.’ Followed by giggles. ‘His pants.’ Followed by, ‘Oh Darrel, that’s enough now.’
My heart thumped harder with every nearing step. The two campervans were sat a few metres back from the campfire. I had contemplated attacking all four but was severely outnumbered and had nothing I could use as a weapon. I unscrewed the cap slowly. The smell that followed a slight hissing was pungent. I could never understand how people could love the smell of petrol. I tried to slowly pour some onto the side of one of the campers, but instead poured onto the floor and part of my arm. ‘Shit.’ I whispered to myself. I rubbed my arm against the camper hoping some would rub off, then took a couple steps back and threw petrol onto the side. This worked much better. Happy with the sufficient drenching of the first, I moved onto the second, repeating the motion. ‘Can you hear something?’ Called out one of the women, turning toward the campervans. I froze, then slowly moved toward the second van, pressing myself up against the side and again soaking my arm. ‘FUCK.’ I mouthed. ‘Hear what?’ Asked one of the men. ‘I thought I could hear the sound of someone pissing or something.’ The group stopped talking and listened out. I moved off the side of the campervan, smelling my arm. After a few seconds of silence and content once more, the group carried on chatting. I poured the remaining petrol over the bonnet as quietly as I could and scurried back to the shadows. I checked my right front pocket for the lighter. Then the left. Then the two back pockets. I checked the right front pocket once more – God knows how I missed it. I shook the lighter and flicked it. It sparked but didn’t produce a flame. I attempted the motion a couple more times. Same outcome. ‘I should’ve got the guy to test it at the petrol station. Shit.’ I thought. Knowing I could only take my anger out on the lighter or risk being heard, I shook with all my might and rapidly flicked the little black switch back and forth like a pro. The lighter ignited. I moved the flame over the side of the first camper, scouring for a doused petrol patch. ‘What’s going on here?’ Called out a voice from the road behind. I turned so quickly it was all reaction. ‘Police. You can’t camp here. Wait, what are you doi…’ The flame found the petrol on the campervan and just as quickly found it on my arm. My sleeve went up like a shot. ‘Ah fuck.’ I cried out. I could hear commotion from all around, but what was being said and by who, I couldn’t tell. I ran to the lake, thrusting my arm into the water causing steam to rise like a hot spring. I thought I would feel relief like in the cartoons, but no such luck. The pain was unbearable. The type of pain that leaves you nauseous and dizzy. It stung like hell. I lifted it from the water. All I could see were black and red blotches. There wasn’t much left of my jacket sleeve. I daren’t touch it out of fear of realising just how bad it was. I got to my feet and turned. It was carnage. The campervans were burning magnificently. Silhouettes manically darted around unsure of what to do. I sprinted for my life back to the pickup. ‘Oi! Stop, police.’ Shouted a chasing voice. I got to the truck, jumped in and started the engine, the pain in my arm was an afterthought now panic was in complete control. I saw the uniform run to the door. I pulled on the handle, releasing the catch and kicked it open with everything I had. The copper fell backwards. I started the engine and sped off straight ahead. I drove for about half a mile until I realised, I was driving in the wrong direction. The only way back was to turn around. I soon came to the turn off to Ashness Bridge. A narrow inclining road with a turning area just out of sight from the road. I drove straight up, skidding into a three-point turn, shut off the engine and waited. I was sure my heartbeat could be heard for miles around. My arm was throbbing, burning, stinging. I kept side glancing at it, pretending it wasn’t as bad as it felt. I couldn’t control my breathing. Its tempo, erratic. Finally, in the distance I saw flashing blue lights coming my way. I ducked down as if that would somehow hide the whole vehicle. The police car sped past towards Borrowdale. I waited a minute before firing up the engine and speeding off in the opposite direction.
I drove through Keswick as if I’d rented the town as a private racetrack – luckily there was no on else on the road, not that I noticed anyway. The orange streetlights above flickered through the windscreen, highlighting my arm. It didn’t look too clever. I got back onto the main road trying to decide whether driving through the Lakes or taking the motorway would be my best bet. The motorway would have more cars and thus easier to hide in plain sight but, if I was noticed it would be incredibly easy for the police to catch me. If I took the winding country roads through the Lakes, I wouldn’t be hidden in plain sight, but it would be dark, and I’d see flashing blue lights coming in the distance and I’d be able to pull in easily enough. With a hundred yards to go I still couldn’t decide. I wanted to ease off the accelerator to clarify my thoughts but ended up doing the opposite. I decided on the motorway until I was half-way past the turning for the Lakes route and suddenly changed my mind. I pulled a hard left on the wheel. I couldn’t tell for sure if the pickup was on two wheels at one point, but it certainly felt that way. I hit the back end of the truck on the “tight bend road sign”, that apart from shaking me up, didn’t disrupt the ability of the vehicle.
I racked my brains for the best route home. A huge part of me wanted to go all out, gung-ho on the quickest road. A smaller part of me wanted to creep through the elongated way. Before I knew it, I was driving through St. John’s in the Vale. There hadn’t been a single car I’d passed. I couldn’t believe it. My arm felt ok as long as I didn’t focus on it. The second my mind ceased spinning, the pain surged. I needed medical assistance immediately but was wary of turning up at A&E in case they’d been given a heads-up by the police. I checked the time. Tesco was still open. The nearest was Bowness. I couldn’t remember if there was a pharmaceutical aisle in Tesco Express. Certainly nothing suitable for burns. ‘What the fuck do I even put on a burn?’ I called out through gritted teeth as the wound screamed. Sweat began pouring from my forehead. I bit down hard on my other arm holding the wheel in an attempt to divert the pain. It didn’t work. ‘Some sort of cream. But what cream? Would E45 do?’ I’d also need some clingfilm to wrap it in, keep the infection at bay. Christ I’m in trouble. Maybe I’d be best driving to Lancaster or Blackpool hospital. Or even Preston. Preston wouldn’t suspect a thing. Or would they? Manchester then? Jesus Christ, why don’t you just drive to fucking Devon to get it seen too. Actually, moving away wouldn’t be a bad idea. Quickly go back to the caravan, grab the essentials and just drive. Or would that seem too suspicious? Is anyone even looking for me? Did the police get a good look at me or my number plate?’ Headlights appeared over the horizon like a beacon. I approached a deserted pub, pulled into the car park, dimmed my lights and waited. The car drove past. I watched, waited, and set off once more.
The lights at Ambleside Waterhead remained on red for so long I began thinking there was a fault. I stared deeply, wide-eyed into the light. The pickup vibrated. I placed my burnt hand loosely over the juddering gearstick. If the lights didn’t change soon, I was going to drive regardless. ‘Stay cool.’ I whispered. ‘Play it by the book.’ I looked down at my burnt arm and softly blew cold air onto it. Small mercies. The red light exaggerated the severity of the wound, bringing with it a wave of panic as I struggled to find solutions for a way out. ‘I FUCKING KNEW I SHOULD HAVE GONE HOME!’ I screamed smacking the steering wheel with the palms of my hand. Green. Calm once more. I was on my way.
I couldn’t fucking believe it when I approached Tesco and saw parked in the layby outside, a 4X4 BMW police car. Without thinking I drove straight ahead towards Newby Bridge. Only when I had driven past Ferry Nab did it dawn on me that if I’d turned right to Windermere, I could have tried the Co-op. ‘Fuck, now what?’ I cried out. ‘Kendal to a larger supermarket?’ The thought of driving all that way exhausted me. I was growing wearier and the pain wasn’t helping. I just wanted to get home. My driving slowed along the A592 and my temperature rose. I fantasised about driving to Furness General and being seen to by a doctor. I didn’t even care about the repercussions anymore.
At the Newby Bridge roundabout, I pulled on the handbrake and weighed up my options. A car driving up behind me rushed my decision making as I released the handbrake and turned left, driving to the petrol station.
I slid out of the pickup wincing as I caught my wound on the retracting seatbelt. I grabbed the blazer I’d worn at the funeral and gingerly put it on, trying to place my burnt arm through it as if it was a wire loop game. I walked bent over toward the forecourt. The fresh cold night relieved my feverish forehead. There was only one car on the forecourt, with some slouch in a tracksuit wearing a bumbag diagonally around his chest, pumping diesel into it. He looked over at me. I looked down, not wanting to draw attention to myself. The overbearing white light inside made my eyes water. I wasn’t in a good state. I walked around the shop sweating uncontrollably. My eyes were growing heavier and I was forced to lean against one of the fridges rolling my forehead across the chilled glass door as the room began to spin. ‘You ok mate?’ Called out a voice from behind the counter. I tried to answer but couldn’t. I needed a moment. ‘I think he’s pissed.’ Whispered another voice. I swallowed a mouthful of vomit and came to my senses. ‘No, I’m alright. Than…Thanks.’ I pushed myself off the fridge with my forehead, ‘You got any creams for wounds and bandages?’ I shouted, unable to pronounce the sentence coherently. ‘He’s definitely pissed.’ Came the whisper. ‘No mate. Just plasters and condoms.’ The voice from behind the counter called out. ‘What about painkillers?’ ‘Yeah, we got paracetamol and ibuprofen.’ ‘Sweet as a nut you slaaaaaag.’ I shouted slightly delirious.’ ‘What?’ ‘Nothing. Nothing at all.’ I stumbled to the back of the shop, scouring the shelves for a substitute for the ointment. At the ‘world foods’ section I picked up a bottle of sour cream and studied the contents on the back. I placed it in the pocket of my blazer and walked to the open refrigerators to flick through their yoghurt selection. I knocked off the shelving the Muller Corners, chocolate mousses and the Petits Filous until I came to the natural Greek yoghurt. ‘Perfect.’ I said, replacing the yoghurt with the sour cream and walked to the counter. On the floor next to me was a pile of local newspapers with the two murdered young men on the front, staring up at me. I could tell by the way the guy behind the counter was looking at me I didn’t look great. I tried to straighten myself and look as presentable as possible as if trying to convince a bouncer I was cool to enter a club despite chewing my face off on half an ‘E’. I placed the natural Greek yoghurt on the counter. ‘Anything else?’ He asked, wary of my demeanour. ‘Yeah, couple packs of ibuprofen and a bottle of that Sailor Jerry.’ He turned and reached up. ‘No, not that one, the larger one. Original.’ He looked over at a young woman stacking shelves to our right. She stared back intently. Then slowly put down the bottle of red she was holding and slowly walked away from the scene. They’d hatched a plan. I wasn’t sure what, but they weren’t concealing it well. ‘Anything else?’ He asked, turning back to me. ‘Nope, just these four items.’ I looked behind as he rung it all through the till and noticed a swinging door leading to another area of the building flapping rapidly. Anxiety began building up inside of me as another band of sweat broke out across my forehead. ‘You ok mate?’ He asked. ‘Fine. Just hurry up.’ ‘You sure you need the rum?’ ‘How much is it?’ ‘£26.98.’ I passed him my card. ‘Just hover it over the machine.’ The machine beeped. ‘Sorry mate, it’s declined.’ ‘Fuck sake.’ ‘It’ll just take a moment to reload.’ I looked behind me once more. The woman hadn’t reappeared but the tracksuit from the forecourt was now lurking next to the hotdog stand. ‘Ok, ready.’ Said the guy. The machine beeped once more. ‘Declined again mate.’ ‘Jesus Christ. I’ll just stick the card in.’ ‘It’ll just take a minute to reload.’ I became faint once more and grabbed hold of the counter to steady myself. ‘I don’t think you’re in position to drive pal.’ ‘I’m not your pal, and I’m not driving. I’m travelling with someone else.’ ‘Think you need an ambulance. You don’t look too good.’ I could feel the tracksuit standing behind me, queuing. ‘Is it ready yet?’ I asked, tapping the machine. ‘Yeah.’ I placed my card in and typed the wrong pin. ‘Shit.’ I wiped my brow with my wounded arm, forgetting, and winced. I typed in the pin again. Accepted. ‘Want a receipt?’ ‘No.’ The girl reappeared and made her way to the counter. I looked over at her watching her give the guy a very unsubtle nod, which he returned. ‘Mate, I’m gonna level with you. We’ve called 999, They’re on their way.’ ‘I suddenly became focused, alert. In control. ‘Now I’m gonna level with you’, I replied, ‘I am in no mood. If anyone in this shop attempts to stop me leaving I will smash this bottle across this counter and use the jagged edges to slit all three of your throats. Do I make myself clear?’ The room was silent, but I could feel the tracksuit fancying his chances as a hero. I quickly turned on him, ‘And I’ll start with you, you chavtastic fuck.’ He stepped back. ‘Is the door open?’ I shouted. ‘What?’ Asked the guy behind the counter. ‘The door, the front fucking door. You’ve not locked it from behind the counter or something have you?’ ‘No.’ ‘Good.’ ‘Now all three of you back up against the wall on the far side.’ They obliged. I walked backwards slowly to the door, not taking my eyes off the three. ‘You’ll be caught in ten minutes; you know that don’t you?’ Called out the woman. ‘For what? Paying for some items and leaving?’ Silence. ‘Or are you talking about the man I pushed off Helvellyn, sending him to his death? Or the two pieces of shit whose skulls I smashed to pieces?’ I announced pointing to the headline of the local papers. Or are you talking about the campervans I burnt to the ground, a little over an hour ago?’ No one answered. ‘Cat got your tongues?’ Silence. I walked out, calmly. Once out of sight, I sprinted to the pickup. Reversed, braked, skidded and drove out onto the main road, into the black of night.
Back at the caravan, I grabbed a large rucksacks and stuffed all essential items including my passport into them. Next, I threw four or five ibuprofen down me, following it up with two large gulps of rum. Panicked, I smeared natural Greek yogurt all over my arm, grabbed the clingfilm and tightly rolled it around the wound. I threw the rucksacks into the back of the pickup and darted back inside, grabbing a pen and a piece of paper and wrote “Mum, Dad, somewhere along the way the lines became blurr…” I could hear sirens in the distance. I looked out the window but couldn’t see any commotion – yet. I ran to the pickup and drove down the gravelly track onto the lane at the bottom. To the left I could see the night sky light up with neon blue flashes. I drove off in the opposite direction, killing my lights and saw in the rear view, three police cars drive up toward the caravan. I kept going.