Miranda tells me firmly that we must find me a place with other people that’s safe and comfortable and where they’ll take good care of me. Then I’ll be able to maybe find a new guide and move on. She gets up, looking considerably closer today, purposefully striding about, in the rain too, gathering up our stuff, talking to herself. Meanwhile I’m sitting on a stump half asleep, sipping my coffee. It’s all a little too busy for me. It’s barely light yet and we had a visitation in the night – silent thankfully. They just hung around watching me swearing at them. I got the impression I’d hurt their feelings more than anything. Well, if they will hang around looking spooky all night what do they expect? Miranda said I shouldn’t take the piss. Things are bad enough for them already but I think (I didn’t say this out loud) if they want to get lost they should just go and get on with it, not keep bothering us non-lost types. They’re really beginning to get on my wick, keeping me up all night...
We pass on through more of the same forested, mountains-and-valleys landscape as before. Miranda says it reminds her of the place she grew up, with lots of heather and bracken and little streams. It’s not that I don’t like it. I’m really just beginning to want to get somewhere. I told this to her and she gave me an odd little smile.
Meetings with the lost spirits are getting further and further apart. Miranda tells me they tend to gather in some areas more than others and she seems decidedly livelier here, away from them (‘although there’s always a few loners about’ she says). The countryside’s still pretty wild out here and we have the place to ourselves. Once again my thoughts turn to the proximity of her scantily clad little form. All in all, maybe I prefer it that she’s too small (or far away) to actually have sex with. I like the way we get on and chat and flirt and look after each other and I think maybe sex would spoil it, or anyway, I’d probably mess it up somehow – make a twat of myself. It’s better this way.
Our final encounter with the lost spirits happens on a night of heavy rain – another night of total darkness and we’re camped in a bog. Miranda is convinced this is the right path but is very frank with me – there will be lost spirits again, and they might not be so easily dissuaded. I don’t ask how she knows.
For a few nights now she’s been running off at night like before and I am once again unhappy about it but not so easily fobbed off with her reticence on the subject. I pester her and tell her I’m not going to ‘leave it’. So she gives in and tells me she’s been protecting me, going out and keeping them away. I ask if that was how she got hurt that time before. She goes very quiet.
‘With some of them you have to be prepared to give them something in return’ she says vaguely, not looking at me. ‘There has to be some sort of offering. That’s the way it is.’
I look at her. I don’t know what she means. I don’t think I want to know.
Then suddenly she looks up at me and says brightly ‘We’ll soon be there. It’ll soon be over.’
She turns to go and I catch her arm and hold her back. She looks at my hand, at first wearily, then irritably. I let her go.
‘It’s ok’ she says, and is gone into the darkness.
I never did find out what it was they got up to out there. The thought made me feel sick, especially in the light of what we saw later. I didn’t sleep. I sat and waited for her to come back and we slept together in the morning.
So we come to a place where the valley becomes extremely narrow and steep sided, with ranks of stunted oaks growing out of the sheer sides. The valley floor is narrow and sodden and thick with rushes and reeds. It sees the sun only briefly but floods regularly and we struggle to find a patch of dry ground to pitch the tent on, hoping not to get washed away if there’s a flash flood. Evening comes. We watch the mists come down and wait for frightening things to start happening. There’s nothing more, she tells me, that she can do to hold them off. We sit and wait to see what happens.
‘Will they hurt us?’ I ask quietly, the rain dripping off my hood into my lap. She’s hidden there, in my cape, peering out. She looks so tiny – barely visible.
‘Not necessarily’ she says, like there might be something worse they could do.
‘What then?’ I say. ‘Will they capture us?’
‘Something like that’ she says.
She says nothing. We wait.
‘I could try swearing at them again’ I suggest.
‘Probably worth a try’ she says without much enthusiasm, ‘if it makes you feel better.’
‘If I hadn’t lead you astray you’d have been somewhere safe a long time ago’ she says quietly.
‘But you tried. You took me to that hill town place.’
She shakes her head. ‘I was being selfish. I needed somewhere to rest, recover. I wasn’t thinking about you.’
I look down at her. She looks so sad, yet strangely defiant.
‘I really don’t mind you know’ I say, and I want to tell her it was worth it because I love her. It seems a stupid thing to say, while we sit there, peering into the darkness, watching for spirits.
‘I just didn’t want to lose you’ she says ‘and I wasn’t ready to go, maybe. I thought I was.’
‘Do you have to go? Can’t you change your mind?’
She begins to reply but instead says shush and holds her finger up. I stand and listen. There’s a low roaring sound coming from away up the valley. As it gets louder I can feel it in the ground. It’s different from last time, more like a sobbing or a pulsing, like a machine or a heart beating deep in the soil. We stand there together, listening to it growing in volume. It sounds like a flood. It occurs to me it might be a flood. I look about for an escape route but Miranda is not moving. She knows that it’s pointless to run. The sound gradually expands to fill the landscape, coming from all sides, surrounding us and then we see them, figures of all shapes and sizes emerging from the shadows, changing all the time, growing and shrinking, materialising and melting into the darkness all around us. There are so many of them. It is overwhelming. They cluster around us and press their faces into ours – repulsive, terrifying, seductive. A tiny spikey one with a slug for a tongue insists that I am no better than she is, deep down. A bloated giant bawls at me over and over again to listen to him. A wraith wrings her hands and grizzles that there was nothing she could have done. There is so much bitterness and recrimination. It bludgeons, seeps and injects itself into my innards like gas gangrene – the things they’ve been through, what they’ve suffered, and what suffering they’ve inflicted on others. For that is the difference here. The spirits that have collected here have done terrible things. They are not merely victims. These really are the monsters. I look about me, try to tell them what I think of them but the wind takes my words away. A groaning throbbing lament drowns out everything that I might have wanted to say. This heaving mass of the unforgivable before us is past all understanding.
It seems like hours we stand there as they heave and jostle around us. The noise and the stink are terrible. It is the sound of all the agony and the degradation and the abuse they’ve endured and caused and I can feel it entering me, probing, trying to find something in me to latch onto. They want to know if perhaps I could have done those things too, or if I’d have them done to me perhaps? Or would I like to watch? because that can be arranged. It’s intolerable and meaningless. All their stories are long lost. What they did has no explanation any more. They try to explain their actions away nonetheless.
I curl up and keep my eyes shut – try to keep it all out.
Everybody has it in them they say. Every man has his price. What would I be prepared to do, hmm? If I was desperate enough? Hmm?
Who is to judge them? Who can blame them? After all, it had to be done. Everybody else was doing it. It was legitimate trade. They were just doing their jobs. They did what they did for the purity of the race, to the glory of God, for King and country, for vengeance, for the family’s honour, for the greater good.
And didn’t they deserve it after all, those scum, because they stood in the way of progress, because they were different, because they were weak, because they didn’t matter, because they happened to be there and they were alone and nobody to protect them.
It was the final solution. They were asking for it. They probably enjoyed it.
Wogs, Queers, Bitches, Pakkies, Kikes, Commies...
And on and on and on...
Gradually their jeers and harangues begin to wash over me, to have less and less effect. There’s no connection. It’s just noise.
I look down at Miranda, her hopeless eyes fixed on them and I sit down with her.
We sit and observe them, these horrors, impassively and I pull her toward me. She looks at me and doesn’t understand but realises that she is safe with me. We sit and look at them and they begin to seem small and ridiculous. The wind and the noise die down and just a frustrated grumbling and whining follows. I can sense them milling about, knowing there’s nothing they can do and yet unwilling to give up. Finally, as morning comes the last of them discretely disappear and Miranda and I pack up and move on as quickly as we can. She looks up at me with a new kind of expression, almost like she admires me or something. ‘We need to get you home’ she says.
The path takes us up to the top of the valley by late afternoon and there before us lies a broad rolling landscape of meadows and woodlands and lakes. It looks like heaven.
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