Halloween is over, however, I thought I’d relay this story, a story my Dad told me. He retold the story many times over the years, each time a little different to the time before, as with any tale. He stopped telling me the story when I became a teenager. That is a long time ago, just thinking about it makes me feel old. Don’t think for a second, I believed it. Well, not until tonight anyway.
My Mum never knew why he kept retelling it; she couldn’t be in the room when he did. I always wondered why he did, it obviously made Mum so uncomfortable. I don’t think she considered it to be *true*, but she was there with him and even she doesn’t have another version of it to tell. I think Dad has to tell it, as to get it out in the open makes it sound all the less believable. And when people laugh at him, I think it puts him genuinely at ease. I think if he thought anyone actually believed him, even for a second, it would petrify him.
I’ll tell you his story just like my he told me.
It was before your mother and I married, but I knew then she was the one for me. After that trip we weren’t going anywhere without each other. There’s something about losing a close friend that can bring two people closer together.
We borrowed my Mum’s beetle to take the trip to Gloucester. I hadn’t driven a lot before, hadn’t needed to. I took with me, my brand new camera. I’d saved for months for that. I was so excited to see the photos developed, it would take at least three weeks to get them back from film company, but it would be worth the wait.
Back then, there were no supermarkets like today. We had a grocer, a butcher and a baker all in our village. The only reason I left our street was to work down the mine. Working down those dark pits, it plays tricks with your mind. Must’ve been the lack of sunlight or fresh air. It sent your uncle John crazy it did. He was never the same after the collapse. Thirty-six hours before he was found. Used to jump at the sound laughter the poor kid. But not your father; I was made of sterner stuff. Still am.
The roads were very quiet in the 50s, very little traffic. No motorways to speak of, also nothing in the way of service stations. You had to plan your journey so much more careful. You couldn’t get in your car and go. You had to think about it, plan ahead. I knew how to fix the car’s fan belt, clean the spark plugs and change the oil, but little else. We were lucky with our little beetle, even then, it was a reliable car. Your grandmother never used the car much at all, I don’t know why she had it. I got nervous when we left the city. I knew I was out of my safety zone when the houses disappeared over the other hill and the road stretched out into places unknown.
It had been your Mother’s idea to go camping. This was something unheard of to me. She got the idea from her Dad, the army stories he used to tell. He told her about how amazing it was to sleep under the stars in the wilderness. He killed and skinned his own deer once. He gave her a canvas tent for her fifteenth birthday. She used to camp in the back garden all summer long. When she asked if I wanted to go, what for me, was the end of the Earth, Gloucester, I didn’t know what to think. But her eyes, they always had a way to persuade me.
So, that’s how she convinced me, and our friend Sally and her boyfriend, I think it was Charlie, to come with us to the frontier of the West Country.
The hand written instructions were very accurate on the main roads leading into Gloucester, but they soon began to become troublesome.
Turn right at the old Oak tree, you’ll see a stone wall on the left.
What Oak tree? I didn’t know what an Oak tree was, a tree’s a tree to me. And there was stone walls bloody everywhere. I argued with your Mother for the first time that day. The sun was going down, we were in the middle of nowhere, this was before mobile phones. She wanted to turn round. Sally in the back began to cry. I don’t think Charlie was doing any better, but didn’t expect any less from a Baker’s son, they had dough between their ears.
There was farmland all round. The roads were nothing more than muddy tracks used by the horses and trackers. I saw the lights of a farmhouse, huge building set back from the road about two hundred feet away. I stopped the car there and got out and the smell of pig shit hit me, that smell hasn’t changed, there’s no mistaking it.
“Does this look like your Aunt’s house?” I asked your Mother through the car window.
“I have no idea, I’ve never been here,” she said to me, with that anger she gets, you know what I mean.
I went round the front of the car and opened the boot, taking out my camera and tent.
“Come on, get your stuff, light’s going to be gone soon,” I said to the others still in the car.
“Where you going,” your Mother shouted.
“Going to see if your Aunt lives here, and if not, ask if we can camp anyway. Don’t want to be driving around here at night with no idea where she lives.”
The farmhouse was huge. With the sun setting behind me, the brick building was lit up as if God had done it himself. I whipped out my camera, set the focus and aperture, checked my light levels, and took a photo, before reeling the film onto the next one. I miss those cameras, all mechanical, no batteries to go dead on you; always ready to take a picture.
When I put the camera down I saw a woman waiting at the front door. Now, when I say woman, it was in the loosest sense of the word. I ain’t seen a face like that on anyone before or since. To say she was ugly would be a compliment. But you never no what’s up with those country-folk.
“Mrs Wilson? Is that you, I’m with your niece Harriet,” I shouted at the woman who stood there in the doorway, her apron stained red with meat blood.
You know what she did? She just slammed the door. I ran up to the door and knocked, but no answer. The curtains twitched, so I ran over and asked if they could please help us, that we were lost and that we needed to camp out. But the house went dark. They didn’t want to speak to out-of-towners; I’m sure they never got visitors. I shouted if they didn’t mind us pitching the tent in the edge of their field, we’d be good, and gone in early morning. The house was silent, like no-one had ever lived there.
As I walked away, I heard what I thought was someone locking up the house, so I shook my head and was about to tell everyone to get back in the car, when I heard the door open.
“Get out of here, if you know what’s good for you,” she demanded in a gruff West Country accent.
I turned to see her face up close, if I didn’t know any better I’d say she was a pig. Her eyes were dark pits of black, her nose all deformed and snout-like.
This is when my Dad would snort like a pig, getting into character.
I ran back to the car. I took the things that Sally held in her arms and threw them in the back.
“We’ve got to go now,” I told them, but they were confused.
“What’s going on,” your Mother asked.
“I’ve no time to explain,” I said, “Just get back in the car.”
I sped down those small winding roads like they were a race track. Slow down, they said, but they hadn’t seen what I had.
I slammed on the brakes when we hit a dead-end.
“What’s wrong?” Charlie asked, looking more scared than me.
“That wasn’t your Aunt, Hattie.”
“Who was it then?” she asked me.
“I have no idea, but I ain’t going back there,” I told her, “Not for the life of me.”
“What are we going to do now then,” she said as Sally began to cry again.
The sun was almost gone now.
“Why don’t we just camp over there,” Charlie asked, pointing to the field out the window.
“I want to stay in the car,” Sally said.
Charlie dragged her out of car, put his bags on the stone wall before vaulting over and pulling Sally up.
Your Mother got out of the car and said, “Aren’t you coming too?”
I told her I was going to stay in the car, and the look she gave me. Never been able to live it down.
*He’d laugh now and give me a knowing wink.*
“Scared of a little old woman? That doesn’t sound like the big, bad Harold that I know.”
If she didn’t say that we may never have known what happened to Sally and Charlie. We’d have gone looking for them in the morning and just assumed they ran off. But with those words, I decided to get out of the car. I took out my miner’s light that I was able to get *hold* of last summer and walked towards the field that Charlie entered.
*His story of his miner’s lamp was also a story he told a lot. How he single handedly rescued twenty miners from a gas leak. When he realised he went home with the light, he wasn’t going to tell the foreman, he owed him one.*
Just a few feet along was the farm entrance, so your Mother and I opened the gate and went in through there. It looked like the field was a pasture, very short grass, but no cows or other animals to be seen. Large mounds of mud littered the ground. In the disappearing light I wasn’t sure if they were cow pats, mole-hills or ant-hills. A sweet smell like molasses hung in the air, it was almost nice, but really sickly at the same time.
Charlie was swearing at Sally, telling her she was doing it all wrong. In hindsight I wish I said something, as Sally was doing everything right, it was Charlie who was buggering it all up.
Your Mother had the tent up within ten minutes and was already hunting around for some firewood.
I asked Charlie if he needed any help, but he scowled at me. It was Sally’s forlorn face that made me push the issue. In the background I could hear your Mother snap small twigs and branches. She smiled as I took over more and more of the work, until Charlie was just watching. We made a good team, and I think that annoyed him more.
When I returned to your Mother, she had already set up a perfect pyramid structure for the fire. I went to hand her a box of matches, but she waved them away and took out a small tinder box. She pulled some of the material from within and placed it in front of her. She scratched the flint and sparks flew, within moments the material began to smoulder. She blew on it before placing it under the other wood. Putting some very small branches on top and continuing to blow, the fire soon took hold. It was one of the most fascinating things I had ever seen. And it was that moment, I knew she was something special.
Charlie walked over in a huff. He asked to borrow my light, that he couldn’t find any firewood and it was getting dark. I took a match out and lit it for him. He stomped off, the light swinging from side to side. I was worried he was going to break it.
Sally asked if she could join us, and we all sat round, watching the fire. I picked up my camera. It was dark now and all I could see through the view finder was the bright light of the fire and the silhouettes of the women talking to each other. I took the photo anyway.
“How long do you think Charlie’s been?” Sally asked.
It must have been at least twenty minutes, the flames were beginning to die down, and we needed more wood of our own. I stood up and looked around. He was nowhere to be seen. I shouted for him, but this just made Sally nervous.
“Can you go look for him?” Your Mother asked.
“How am I supposed to do that, it’s pitch black and he’s got my light,” I said.
She handed me a stick, its end burning, but the flames hardly doing anything to light my way.
“That’s not going to help, I’m not a caveman.”
That’s when I heard Charlie. I didn’t know where he was, he was just shouting for help.
“They’re everywhere! Help!” he shouted in the distance.
“Charlie, where are you?” I shouted back to him.
I turned to see Sally on hands and knees scamper over to her tent and zipping up the door in a panic, that the zip caught halfway up and she started to scream.
“Hattie, get in the car,” I said, throwing your mother the keys. Thank God they landed next to the fire and not in it.
“Charlie,” I shouted again.
I heard his heavy breathing and saw the light swing from one side to the other. A low rumbling began to fill the air, like a thousand horses galloping towards us.
“Quickly Charlie!” I said trying to motivate him to run quicker. I started running myself, back to the farm gate.
I shouted one last time. But I could no longer see his light, and I could no longer hear him breath.
I clamped my ears. It wasn’t his shriek that made my blood run cold, it was the sound of crunching bones and the snarfling sounds of hungry animals, the sound of a person being eaten alive.
“Sally, get out, we have to go,” I said to her tent.
But it was too late. The canvas stretched and pulsed as the intruder inside wrestled with her. She didn’t scream. I hoped that was a good thing. I still do. The sound Charlie made still haunts me today.
I got back to the car, your Mother sat in the passenger seat, more confused than scared.
“What’s going on? Where are the others?” she asked.
“They’re gone, and they aren’t coming back.”
The car struggled to start.
“Harold, we can’t leave without them,” she demanded.
“You don’t understand, they’re gone!”
The car turned over and revved with delight.
Looking over my shoulder, I floored it, the engine whining with the struggle.
You won’t believe what I saw next. It was that old woman, from the farmhouse. She was standing in the middle of the road, with that same blood stained apron on. Her face was lit up by the light from the car. That’s when I realised, she wasn’t angry at me before, she was scared for me. She waved me to go left. I cranked the gear into first and pulled the car into the turning. Through my rearview mirror I saw her continue to usher me off. And I swear I ain’t making this up, behind her stood a dozen men, with features of pigs standing behind her, snarling and waiting for her to give the go ahead.
This is where I’d laugh.
“What really happened Dad?”
What I said, cross my heart and hope to die!
“What happened to Sally and Charlie really?”
What I said son, they got eaten by the pigmen!
He’d then run over to me, oinking and pretending to be one of them. I’d laugh again and see my Dad smile.
I still smile when I think of the story he used to tell. But when I ask him about it now, I’m thirty-eight, he says it was just a silly story. Something fun he made up. Nothing real in there except for the fact that him and my mother are together and nothing more.
It was a great story, even though it changed every time he told me. I just wished he could have told me one more time. But alas, somethings are not meant to be.
So, that brings me to today, I stand in the living room of my grandmother’s house. It smells fausty as it has been closed up for the best part of eight months. Her funeral was a somber affair. But I am very impressed with the amount of people that had turned up for the wake.
But he looks like he’s seen a ghost when he looks at me. I’ve been out the garage. Gran’s little beetle was still there. I found something in the boot that I think he thought was lost to time. I wouldn’t have found it myself if I didn’t recognise the little Kodak symbol that glinted in the light of the garage. Jammed behind the seat, barely visible from outside.
Dad looks at the camera in my hand and his face goes white.
“Please, put that back if you know what’s good for you,” he asked, maybe demanded of me.
I nod and leave the house, having not seen him this serious in years. But I don’t put it back. I put it in the car, and re-join the wake. That’s all I can think about for the time I have left there. I speak to my grandmother’s relatives and smile. I acknowledge the wonderful woman I had spent so much time with over my life and go home, alone.
It’s been sitting on my desk for the last couple of hours. I don’t know what to do. Inside the leather case, the camera is encrusted with flakes of mud. I see the film has not been finished, I notice that fifteen shots have been taken. My Dad only told me he took two.