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2020:Hindsight 3

Catalyst B: There’s a Songbird Who Sings


Now where was I? Oh Yes! "The guitarist turned out to be quite good, so we decided not to eat him."

He was the second catalyst of these scribblings, so I guess I’d better explain a little about how all that came to pass. Strictly speaking of course, in a purely temporal sense, he was the first catalyst, but as this is not a sequential account you’ll just have to put up with these occasional oddities. He created the desire, finding my treasure created the opportunity.

He sauntered up the track-way leading to our compound one day, about ten months ago as I write, whistling down the warm summer breeze, cool as a cucumber and twice as tasty. Now he was our first outsider for nearly five years, so not surprisingly he came as a bit of a shock. Some of the younger children, who have never seen any other people than the ones who live here in Warfield, didn’t believe that anyone else existed or ever had existed. I think they think that the tales we tell of cities and motorways and hot baths, are the same kind of fairy tale as the ones I read to them from Heinlein and Harrison.

I was up in the Church at the time, reading my children a short story from Larry Niven’s Neutron Star collection, which has become a favourite of mine. I heard a kerfuffle going on in the main yard and sent one of the older kids out to find out what was going on. He came back in a few seconds later, round-eyed and round-mouthed and said "We’ve got a…a…a…………visitor!?" He struggled with the word. Not because it was an unusual word; I read to them everyday and get them to read to me, but because it was an alien concept, and a unique experience. I struggled to the doorway, the kids streaming past either side of me, and I got to the threshold just in time to see a skinny form with a strange shaped pack on his back, being hustled under armed guard, through the jostling throng, into the Farmhouse for his interview with the Farmer. He disappeared inside, but the crowd of eleven people, including all my children, decided to hang around and see what would happen. About two minutes later the Farmer stuck his head out and told everyone to get back to work, told the children to get back to school, told the Awake-guard to come into the Farmhouse and told the Asleep-guard to get back on guard and stay awake. He shot me a meaningful glance, the meaning of which completely escaped me, pulled his head back in and closed the door. Later on that evening, I managed to grab the Hand who’d been the Awake-guard, and got him to tell me about the Guitarist’s arrival. Sifting between the boasts and distortions and outright lies, this is what took place.

The two Hands who were notionally standing guard at the gate to the compound were, as usual, on top of the wrinkle-arsed old ice-Cream van which we trundle back and forward across the top of the lane, à la Mad Max. As usual, one was asleep. The other was trying to hit birds with stones hurled from a make-shift sling made from the wiring harness of a V-reg Porsche which makes up part of our boundary wall. We used to have catapults until we ran out of elastic, and we also have bows, but the arrows are very expensive these days because straight ones take so long to make. Nobody fires them other than when they are out hunting game. If they fire one and miss they have to go find it, or make a new one….all very time consuming. So he was using a sling and hurling stones, with which we are well supplied, at flying potential breakfasts. I think we’ve hit three in the last year, but it’s good practice.

You may ask why, if we had seen not one stranger for five years, we keep a guard at all, and why two men, when one would surely suffice for such a fruitless and boring task. The answer to the second is easy: one man will always fall asleep on the job. With two men the idea is that one will stay awake, and wake the other one up when his eyes start to close. In practice one sleeps and one stays awake and they take turns about. Sloppy, but it works. Believe me we tried one guard. Useless! An Army could walk in before he had wiped the sleep from his eyes. And in fact, one day one did.

In the early days, when we were still setting up and there were still things like diesel and ammunition and food, we posted only one guard as we were all busy trying to make things work and tie a viable community together. We needed all available man-power so we only posted one guard. Hah! Some joke! Sixty-six of our people died that evening, shot or sliced or burned. We eventually drove the raiders off, and killed a slew of them, mostly because there were more of us and we were better equipped and less hungry than they were. But, with no warning, they butchered ten people before the alarm was even raised, and many more before our Hands and FAFFFs were able to organise and drive them off. After the fight was done, and another fifty-odd were dead, we found the guard curled up under a blanket, head on a make shift pillow, throat cut before he could wake up. Saved us a job I suppose, but that also answers the first question about the guards.

I’ll tell you more about that battle sometime, but we still post a guard because even after five years of silence, we don’t know what’s out there and we can’t trust to luck. And we can’t trust one Hand, so two it is. There were nearly two hundred here before that raid. Now there are twenty-one adults, seven new kids, and a cripple. We’ve learned. And we’ve forgotten.

Of course they also have two rifles up there, and five each of our remaining cartridges. They are however warned never to fire them unless it is really, REALLY, necessary. We have 63 rounds left, according to the new Inventory Clerk – not enough for a decent skirmish. In any case, after more than twenty years I am not sure how many of them are still likely to work.

So, the awake-guard was up on the roof of the ice-cream van, rifle at his feet, with a selection of pebbles in his hand, optimistically aiming at the magpies; half a field away and watching his efforts critically. He probably hadn’t even got a stone into the right tree yet, so I doubt they were too perturbed. Suddenly his concentration was disturbed by a piercing whistle and a yell from the lane below.

"Oi! You nearly hit me with that one!"

Stunned into his wits, he dropped to the roof of the van, grabbed his rifle, covered the stranger who by this time was less than ten feet away, and said "Halt! Or I’ll shoot." The tall, skinny, bright-haired man already had his hands in the air, in classic western pose. Rather incongruously however he then said "I come in peace. Take me to your leader." This threw the guard completely. "How many of you are there?" he asked. The Guitarist gave a kind of elevated shrug and replied "I am alone, and unarmed." The Awake-guard turned to his fellow, who by this time had woken up and cottoned onto the fact that something unusual was happening, and said "Cover him. I’m going to take a look around."

Now we often sit around in the evening and get a video out. Inevitably some of the favourites are the classics in the collection. Films like Beverly Hills Cop II and Men In Black and True Grit and The Full Monty. We sit in a semi-circle and Remember Remember the plot and the dialogue. We dissect favourite scenes, we argue about what we believe were the intentions of the actors, writers, and producers and, sometimes, we discuss the merits or otherwise of Best Boys, Chief Grips and Animatronic Wranglers.

Before the Guitarist came along I thought this was just a form of entertainment to while away the long and painful hours. Based on the series of clichés in the conversation related above, I began to worry that perhaps it is more than pure escapism. It’s almost like we believe we are living in some kind of post-holocaustic screenplay which will eventually end, the credits will roll and we’ll all go down the Indian for a Biryani-and-chips and a pint of lager. I have no other explanation for the extended cliché surrounding the stranger’s arrival. But I swear that was the way it was reported to me.

I asked the Awake-guard what went on after the Farmer told him to come into the Farmhouse, but all I got was that he had told the Farmer the story, inaccurately I suspect, and then been told to get out. "And stay alert!" the Farmer shouted after him. The guard didn’t mention this, but I heard the yell while I was sitting in the Church, so it must have been one of the Farmers special ‘Watch-out-or-I’ll-make-mincemeat-out-of-you-sonny.’ sort of roars.

Fortunately, about an hour after his arrival, after I had sent the kids down for their weekly wash in the river, the Farmer sent two of the Hands over to fetch me back to the Farmhouse. As usual, decisions had already been made, but I was invited along to hear the story and to put in my two-shillings worth, so the rest of the narrative is first-hand.

The tall, skinny, bright-haired man had bright hair because his originally blond mop was so greasy and matted that it looked almost metallic. It spread out at the back across his boney shoulders, resembling nothing more than a Samurai war-helmet from Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, the prequel of course to The Magnificent Seven, one of our perennial favourites. In later conversation I learned that he had not washed his hair almost since The End, and that in the condition it was in, it was better at keeping out the rain and the bugs. It had also apparently stopped growing, so after he’d hacked it into its current shape, that’s how it stayed. It didn’t even itch anymore, so I guess his scalp was dead too.

His pitch was a simple one; he was a guitarist and a singer, he was on a quest and should not be detained, but he would entertain us for one night, or possibly more, in exchange for a bed, some food, and some stores for his onward journey. Or we could chuck him out, or we could eat him. Our call. He actually initially appeared quite sane. Amazing!

The Farmer had already made the decision that he could sing for his supper that night. If we liked him he could stay, if not, well, we’d decide that later. I pointed out that not only could he sing for us, he could perhaps teach us some new songs, perhaps come up with some accompaniment for our videos, theme tunes perhaps. And perhaps he could tell us his story: where he had been, what he had seen, how he had come to us. This last of course was the most important to me, though I seemed to be the only one with any degree of curiosity left.

After the Farmer had satisfied himself that the Guitarist represented no threat, that he was truly alone and wherever he had come from didn’t know anything about us, he seemed content to leave the Guitarist to his fate. We weren’t short of food at the time as I mentioned earlier. The early season last year was good to us, with good crops coming up and good game in the Racecourse and the Park, so even if he had been only quite good we would probably have given him a bed and some scraps and kicked him out the next day. It turned out however that he was very good and in the end he stayed with us for nearly a week.

When I say he was very good, I must point out that everything is relative. His guitar was decrepit and came up with an unintentional accompaniment of shakes, rattles and rolls. The thing that amazed me was that he had a full complement of strings, shiny and new by their look, and a slack handful of replacements for them. I thought he must have found an un-raided music shop, but the truth was much more surreal than that. He had a huge repertoire of songs, mostly old favourites, some which seemed original, though he denied writing them. He could play for hours without rest, and was very glad to teach us his lyrics.

I unashamedly begged some paper from the Inventory Clerk to write down the words. The Clerk said no, but the Farmer said yes, so I got my three sheets. It was that exercise which, I think, made my fingers itchy to write again, though I didn’t know it until I found my treasures.

That first night we all gathered in the Farmhouse, windows open to the warmish night air so that the two guards could hear as well. The Guitarist sat in front of us, confidence oozing from every pore, At least I think that was what was oozing, I didn’t investigate too closely. He explained that he was here to sing to us and asked if there were any requests. There was a stunned silence, which was quickly followed by a second stunned silence as everyone suddenly realised they had forgotten the entire concept of entertainment from outside. Why, this was like having MTV again. Unfortunately, it appeared that no-one could actually remember the name of a song, so the Guitarist said, "Maybe I’ll play a few, and see if we get into the swing of things." He strummed the guitar experimentally a few times, braced his shoulders, gazed out at the unsettled audience, and started to play. His first few chords drifted through the room, heart-achingly remembered, heart-achingly forgotten. He played Elton John’s Candle in the Wind, but he sang the Princess Di version, and when he got to the line "Farewell England’s Rose" the entire room burst into tears. The evening became a requiem for all that had been lost. He finished the song and looked around at our red faces and swollen eyes. "Anyone?" he asked.

To my surprise The Farmer raised his hand and, when the Guitarist nodded in his direction he cleared his throat and asked for ‘Streets of London’. For the first time in twenty years Ralph lead us through those dismal streets and showed us the things that made us change our minds. Again we cried.

We cried for our memories of London, twenty miles away, twenty years away, twenty-million rotten corpses away. We remembered the busy streets, the busy shops, the busy offices. We remembered the Christmas lights, and Trooping the Colour, and Japanese tourists. We remembered Kensington and Soho and Nottinghill Gate and Highgate and Tooting. And we remembered the ravening hordes who came storming out of the city when the power failed and the food failed and all that makes a city live, died. We cried and remembered and remembered and cried, and even the happy songs were sad.

That first night was too much for us all. After a few more songs and a lot more tears he stopped and we sat in silence for a while until the smells of the food that had been prepared broke the spell and dragged us out to the feast. A couple of helping Hands dragged me out to the feast too. The guitarists plate was piled high, so that was the end of that debate, and after a while we started to talk again, about the good things we remembered. About remembered summers and forgotten friends, and trips to the sea and Bank-holiday traffic. About pubs and restaurants and cinemas and clubs, and planes and trains and automobiles. A major Remember Remember. A game without rules or aims or winners or losers; ill-defined but well-understood.

We sat and talked at random about the memories that had been stirred in us by the Guitarist’s music. He sat alone, a little apart, and spoke to no-one except to ask for more food. He was given all that he asked for, and more besides. When the sun went down and we went to our beds, I saw him being led away by one of the women to the shed behind the Cottage, which is used for such purposes as are not deemed seemly in the communal accommodation provided by the main buildings. He stayed with us for five nights, and if he ever slept alone, I was not aware of it. (Jealous? Me? Get out of here! Why, I had a shag only fifteen years ago, and a very good one it was too.) Certainly he was never seen until lunch-time and many of the women were moving with a skip and a hop and perhaps a slightly uncomfortable wiggle. "What an unlucky bastard", I thought to myself, "Having to perform all night and then perform all night. Still, it will be good for the gene pool."

The Vet and I have privately been worrying about our dwindling genetic resources for many years. All of my children are normal enough physically. Mentally is perhaps more debatable, but the norm against which they might be compared is pretty rough too. They can walk and talk, and read a bit, and catch rats, and shit in the right place at roughly the right time. Good enough for me.

After the Guitarist left us, the Vet and I waited with our eyes and ears open, fretting like expectant fathers. By November however, when we commemorate the Farmer’s birthday and the passing of the world, it was clear that there were to be no results from his sexploits. Either his seed fell on stony ground, or the seed itself was barren, or maybe the bastard had the world’s last selection of past-their-sell-by-date, glow-in-the-dark, ribbed-for-greater-sensation, chocolate flavoured condoms. I wouldn’t put it past him.

After the meal was cleared up, I was hoping and hopping for a word with the Guitarist, but I saw him and the woman heading round the back, so I cadged a lift from some Hands going in my direction, was dropped unceremoniously at the threshold of the Church, and crawled inside. I lay in my pit gazing at the moonlight through the high window, a mixture of contentment and frustration in my soul, and a mixture of corn bread and pork in my belly. Real pork, not long pork… it made a nice change.

I felt that the Guitarist had done something that evening which I had been trying to achieve for many years. He had made us all look beyond our closed existence. To look out. To think of something beyond ourselves. It was still only looking back, but at least it wasn’t looking in, as we had done through all the years since the first period of violent struggle for existence ended and the long, grinding struggle for survival began. I wanted desperately to talk with him, to find out how he had lived and how he had come and where he was going, and why. Fortunately I did get to spend ample time with him. We spent several afternoons together. Ostensibly I was writing down the lyrics to some of our favourite songs. In reality I spent most of my time questioning him about his life and his music and his journey. I eventually managed to piece together a scrambled outline of his story, I think. I will tell you his story but I will also tell you this first, he was weird.

Truly, truly weird.

Every evening he would sing for us, playing our brain-racked requests, bringing back memories twenty-years lost. Every night he would retire to the shagging-shack. He would reappear for lunch and then spend the afternoon with me, transcribing lyrics and lying about his life. Except that lying is not the right word, because I am sure that he believed every word that he said. Now I am no psychologist, nor am I American, so the concept of "denial" is just so much phlogiston to me. Everyone in the compound has had to come to terms with the past and the changes and the facts of our new ways of life and of death. Each has done it in their own way, mostly by focussing on the necessities of survival. For many years a few held out hope of rescue, believed in an incoming aid expedition; from America perhaps, or Jupiter. These beliefs have gradually died as the years grind past, and no-one now mentions the possibility of help from outside.

The Guitarist I think raised peoples hopes again, briefly. His arrival, his exotic appearance, his songs, and the stories he told of his journey, all made people think again of what might be out there. But, after even a short time in his company, it was clear to all just how far he lived off-the-beaten track. In the end, even the women decided that he was too far out there, and he left with our blessings, some food, and a greater sense of relief than regret.

The many hours I spent in his company were fascinating and mesmerising and horrific. As I said, I am no psychologist, but if I ever met someone who was in denial, the Guitarist was he. In some ways his was a much happier life than ours, because for him The End never happened, at least not on his planet. He recognised that the world had changed from his childhood, but his explanation for that was that he was on a pilgrimage through a strange and foreign land, seeking enlightenment, peace and a great and magical talisman, which he called The Grammy. When he had found all that he was seeking then he could return to his father, the ruler of a great kingdom who lived in a palace far to the north. His father had sent him out on this mission, to find and bring back The Grammy, and when that was accomplished his father, who was waiting for him in the form of a great and magnificent stone statue, would come back to life and the Empire would be restored. This was his firm conviction, and he never wavered from it, but by asking oblique questions about his music, and life in has father’s kingdom, and his journey, I pieced together an outline view of the reality of his life.

He was coming up on thirty-eight years old. He himself had no idea, but his last clear memory of life on Earth, was of his seventeenth birthday, which he remembered as being on the 31st of October 1999 because that was Hallow’een and he always had a fancy dress party. (Hallow’een, All Hallow’s Evening, now there was a lost memory which I tucked away for a Remember Remember sometime.) On that birthday he got a BMW, a new jet-ski (in October?) and he got himself laid. His father was a rock-star of the seventies and eighties who’s true identity I never sorted out but who had undoubtedly been famous and successful and owned a very large estate in Oxfordshire.

The estate included an enormous, apparently Victorian pile; a farm, a stud, a well-stocked lake and a separate trout farm, a private recording studio, and a not-insignificant percentage of the total drugs market in the UK at that time.

His memories of the time around The End were, to say the least, hazy. He seems to have lived on the estate since the time of the food riots, and the mass-slaughter which followed them. I couldn’t believe that such a place had come through this time entirely untouched, so I pressed him for tales of his father’s glorious battles. He came up with several accounts of forays into the local towns for food, and guns and champagne; but he also told some tales of battles fought on his father’s land. These tales seemed to be a mixture of the English Civil War and the Wild West, but I am certain that there were indeed bloody battles for the resources of the estate. It would be impossible to defend such a large area, as we had found out to our cost.

I am also certain that his father was a powerful man, with a powerful personality - his son, I think, lived in fear and awe of him - and he seems to have held the estate together more-or-less single-handedly, bossing and driving and controlling and cajoling and killing to defend his house and his less-gifted son. The Guitarist’s favourite memories were all about his father and the time they spent together, consuming the stash and jammin’ in the underground recording studio, with his fathers friends and lieutenants and staff. Even when their generators ran out, they just went "unplugged" and carried on. The son never turned a hand to honest toil. His father seems to have been protecting and supporting a less-powerful, less-able, entirely spoiled son. He tried I am sure, to ensure the continuance of the dynasty, but with his passing his power passed too, and more able leaders took over the riches of that estate.

They weren’t unkind. They could have killed the kid. (Thirty-seven years old, but still a kid.) They didn’t, but equally they had no use for him, so they packed him a bag of food and strings, gave him his old guitar and a case to carry it in, and told him to get lost and take has father’s memories with him. This last is largely conjecture. I don’t know how he eventually went "on the road", the term they apparently used for expulsion from their community, but that’s what happened. The Guitarist remembers a triumphal crowd waving him farewell, singing and cheering him on his way, with the stone-cold, stone-white, stone statue of his father looking out across the triumphal avenue of trees, leading down to the mysterious land where his father’s long sought Grammy might be found.

I am sure that these are his final memories of his father, an old man, psychologically and chemically burned out, stiff and white and quite, quite dead. This could only have been a matter of weeks before he came to us, for we were the first real people he had encountered on his trip. He told lurid tales of his encounters and adventures since leaving his father’s kingdom, but I could find no hint of reality in any of them. His store of food had gone, he had no clear idea of where he was, where he had been or where he was going.

He was heading roughly South, but when I showed him a map he could not point out where he had lived for so long, and seemed perplexed when I went over with him the area of southern England into which he was apparently headed. He kept on insisting that his path would be revealed to him on his quest to find Grammy and restore the Empire. I finally came to understand that the Empire was a theatre, and that The Grammy was a showbiz award that, presumably, his father had never received.

The Guitarist didn’t know any of this, but I pieced it together from his ramblings. I don’t think that either he or his father ever really emerged from the drug induced haze into which they retreated in the early years of the Ooze, and before. I felt nothing but sympathy for him. Well actually I felt sympathy and amazement and revulsion and despair and embarrassment and disillusionment and wonder and a degree of panic. Why panic? I thought for a while that he might want to stay and that the Farmer might want to keep him for his entertainment value, and I feared the impact of his illusions on our stable if backward community. I needn’t have worried. The Farmer was even more concerned than I about the potential influence of his fantasies, and eventually it became clear that everyone felt that we had seen enough of him. By the fifth night of his entertainment his star was waning. He still had a full house but their attention was wavering and their applause half-hearted. In the end though he amazed me once again. As the conclusion to his final set he stood up and addressed the still attentive audience.

"Thank You, Warfield!" he called, and paused for the applause which surged responsively out for him. "It’s been great playing here in a new venue and you’ve been a great audience!" Pause. Scattered silence. "Seriously though, I have really enjoyed playing for you at this series of gigs, and I would like to come back and entertain you again sometime. But the show must go on and I must go with it. So tomorrow I depart. I go to find Grammy and restore the Empire – and I must go alone. But let me leave you now with one of my own favourites. Thank you." He picked up his guitar and played a gentle and haunting and hauntingly unfamiliar tune. After a while he began to sing.

"There’s a Lady who’s sure,

All that glitters is gold

And she’s buying a Stairway to Heaven.

When she gets there, she knows

If the Stars are all closed,

With a word she can get what she came for.

It seemed to me that this song captured him and his life exactly and for the first time I felt for him.

A big-hearted, talented loony.

Totally, totally lost.

The whole audience sat, enraptured, as he sang and played, and played and sang, and delivered that complex guitar break with never a bum-note. In the end his music sank until it could hardly be heard, and he delivered the last line in a hushed and reverent whisper… "And He’s buying a Stairway to Heaven."

I think I am the only one who noticed that he changed the gender in the last line, and I knew he was thinking of his father, or the cold, white statue.

As the last harmonics of the last chord faded away, the audience let out a long, collective sigh and burst into loud applause and cheers and whistles. Once again he was triumphantly ushered from the room and led round the back, and, no doubt, grooved to the music all night long.

Next morning, at the crack of lunch, the Farmer, and the two guards and most of the women, gathered at the gate. They gave him a full bag of bread and good meat and some sweet, if wrinkly, apples. I knelt and watched his departure from the Church door. The Farmer turned and shooed the women away, telling them to get back to work. The Guitarist bowed a faint bow to them as they departed, looking back. The Farmer thanked him rather formally and stiffly, and told the Awake-guard to open the gate. The Guitarist shook his outstretched hand, bent and picked up his bundle of food and small gifts, and slung it over his shoulder. He stooped again and picked up his guitar. As he stood up he looked briefly across to me, nodded once more, and strode vacantly though the gate and back into his world of adventure. His memory and his legacy lingers on, in his songs and in this memoir. But that’s the last I ever saw of him, an unwitting catalyst to my crime of passion.

A few loose ends. I was fascinated by the Guitarist’s hair. Why had he never washed it, though he lived for a long time in a safe and relatively comfortable environment? In all our conversations I had to filter grains of truth from entire wheat-fields of nonsense but on this one, I think, he gave me a straight answer. "We ran out of shampoo."

He hadn’t washed his hair for almost twenty years because they had no more JoJoba and Tea-Tree WigWash, or whatever he used. I imagine it starting as the pique of a spoiled teenager, and ending in a minor battle of wills with his dominant parent. Perhaps the only taste of defiance and self-expression he was ever-allowed.

Also, why did his arrival move me to break one of the core rules of my community, to steal the paper and the pens and write this history? I mentioned that writing down his songs made my fingers itch, and that is true, but not the whole truth. The arrival of the Guitarist and his time amongst us reminded me very strongly of a book I have in the SF collection.

The Postman, by David Brin, tells of a wanderer in the US after some equivalent of The End. He earns a meagre living travelling from forlorn outpost to outpost plying his trade as an actor and storyteller. He finds a postal service uniform, pretends he’s a postman and accidentally starts a movement which might (or might not) restart civilisation. The book doesn’t deliver on its early promise and the ending is pretty dreadful, as is the film that was made from it, with Richard Gere or Kevin Costner or someone like that. Both the book and the film sank without trace. But I remember it. The book is in the Library and, after the Guitarist left, I reread it.

I felt a thrill of familiarity between some of the events in the book and our own recent experiences. I’d read it several times before of course, in search of potential survival tips rather than literary entertainment, and I had thought then that it would be good to know more about the communities the Postman visited. To be able to compare them with ourselves. When I read it again I felt vaguely that I would be good to write our own story. I didn’t expect to have that opportunity, but as soon as I opened the case and saw the paper, that desire crystallised. I would no more have given up that paper than the Guitarist would give up his guitar or the Postman his toothbrush.

Last thing though on the Guitarist. Winter wasn’t too bad this last year and we survived it; uncomfortably, but with no losses. A few months ago, in early March, we started sending out the usual foraging and exploration parties. Most of the groups went a bit further than usual, encouraged by a new found level of optimism we had felt since the Guitarist had come and gone. They went out beyond the Race-course, out even to the far reaches of the Park. One of the groups however came back with grim faces and grim news. They had found a fast-decaying corpse on the heath-land out towards the M3. They found it only because of the smell, and it looked like it had probably been there since early winter, half preserved by the frost and snow. He had been tall and skinny and his hair was like a helmet. His throat was cut. There was no guitar.

I was surprised. Not that he was dead, that had always seemed the most likely end to his brain-fogged dreams. I was surprised that we had ever found out about his death. He obviously didn’t get far before finding people less understanding or more desperate than us. He was half eaten, but by bugs and dogs, not by the people who killed him. They obviously killed not for food but for other reasons; for protection, for fun, for guitars. In any case they were a new and unexpected threat, and we quickly pulled our horns back in and we haven’t gone down that way again.

Fortunately no-one has come to us.

Copyright © Jock Howson 1999

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