Pilgrim Fort. A week of school camp. Tents on concrete bases. Washrooms hollowed from the Downland chalk. (Something of an ice age look. Graffiti reinforcing it.) Napoleonic origins. A wooded moat. Squirrels stealing chocolate overnight. Dark trips to toilets through the dripping trees. Scary. (Though moonlight’s shades and shadows, scare them more.) Steep paths of chalk - murderous when wet. Wild garlic smells. A child with German measles. Suppertime and Steve (first time away from home) serves oxtail soup, completely fills Grant’s mug with tail. Vengeance for a day of torment. Whispers that the moat is haunted. Outward unconcern by day evaporates at dusk. A spectral-looking leader does his rounds: white sheet, flashlight flickering beneath the folds. The whisperers are petrified; the rest unsure - until the act descends to slapstick when he trips. Next thing the far tent in the line is breached, its tapes undone. A man, a stranger to the boys, asks: Who would like to come with me? A mad stampede; all fears of darkness, ghosts and shadows gone. Breathless when they get to us. The man has disappeared. Though sympathetic, the police refuse to come. We think we know him sir… but miles away by now… quite harmless though… should he return… might I suggest... perhaps… a citizen’s arrest! Three times more we find the tapes undone, twice see or think we see a shredded shape that might or might not be a man still ghosting through the trees. We do the rounds together now. My lamp is borrowed from the janitor: a monstrous box with arcane text around the lens: Spectral Luminous Efficiency… I read. The rest is indecipherable - and the beam reveals no ghosts, not that night or the next.

A Living Thing

panoramic landscape

The chalk path like an old scar ran jagged through the hills. On either side the rivulets made suture marks where flesh, millennia ago, was torn aside. At least, that's how I saw it then. Now looking back, I see a living thing, a serpent writhing in the clutch of stunning views. That day, a dozen goddesses invited me to walk their breasts, to fill my eyes from skirts they'd spread below my feet a hundred feet, skirts they had laid with fruit and cereals of every hue: ochres, greens and oranges, deep wells of blue, impenetrable blacknesses and reds as fresh and vivid as new wounds, I saw. Silvers were there where sequined rivers ran between deep banks of pewter, apricot and tan. On days like that, one's more alone the nearer one approaches bliss. And so, my loneliness was like a moorland fire: slowly it had smouldered in the grass, caressed the air - and seemed no more than if a furtive lad had lit a fag behind the woodhouse door. A backpacker, she'd packed a punch to spread the flames across a continent. Our bodies, tinder dry, ignited in our bed. The landscape changed to mourn the deed. Dead trees became the norm. For days they lined our path like flightless arrows fallen from oppugnant skies. If they were Cupid's, they had missed their mark. But we strode on, took all the mountains in our stride, then strode on down to where a cowpat landscape lay with dunghills at its back - And there we whispered our goodbyes. Alone again, I came upon the lake by night, looked down upon it from The Devil's Tooth, saw charcoal waters imaging a mouth that feasted on the sky. Regulus, I saw, Denebola and Leo and the moon. Beyond them, wet with rain, a glass town shimmered from a distant shore. She called my name. How had she come to know it? Who was she? - And from where? M87 is a black hole, man, three billion times as heavy as our sun. The beetles rule the world: two hundred families, each one with thirty thousand species to its name! Did you know that? She kept it up until we walked into the glass town hand in hand. Our bodies were a strange irrelevance. We overcame their gravity. The lake - its lightness - gave new meaning to our lives. How natural then, that we should overstay its welcome. And as love gained in strength, the great lake shrank and took on the dimensions of a glove.
the lake
But still I pulled it on each morning and gave thanks. It had become for me what life had always been: a detail etched upon a detail, a patch of light, a soft complexion borrowed from a bank, a ripple or the movement of a fish. The lake no longer held the universe; Denebola and Leo and the moon were gone. Just one small detail (in her kidney) grew; just one much larger detail died... and all the skies that ever were came down into the lake, and the lake dried. D.K

The Journey

Like men of old of sail, becalmed, though not by lack of wind, we idle, ill at ease. I think of those who watched us sail from home; they would not think such change could come about. We were provisioned well; the boat was sound; the crew beyond reproach, but what we surely knew would see us through was this: a man whose faith had bred our own, and who had led a life of exploration on these seas and penned on careful charts each channel, shore and sound and every place where foolish man might run aground, this old man of the sea, in love (and maybe envy) of our youth and spirit, blessed us with his patronage. His maps and notes he had no further use for: they were ours. Long hours we sat into the night, we and the old man, and he told of journeys round the good land - hidden always, so he said, in such thick mists and buffeted by storms, that he had never set a foot upon its sand. Nor would he now. What hope remained, he would transfer to us. Our journey would not fail. In this perhaps we erred: we made one passing nod to science. We installed (to reinforce our faith in ancient learning - so we said) a radar set, and watched its one eye glare like Satan's at us on the bridge. We learnt to read (as best we could) its hieroglyphs, its shadows, points of light, which painted for us on its dark screen landscapes, barely seen in faint and unfamiliar images. Yet still we sailed, our expectations high, into a world of mists devoid of any shape we knew. Only in Satan's eye were patterns that made sense - but untrained eyes beholding sense (or seeming to) need help from what they know. We sought to verify the patterns, match impressions with the charts, but all the while in Satan's eye, it seemed the maps had lied: There was no way to reconcile the two. We tried, and trying, became prey to every shift of wind and tide. Irresolution had become the skipper of our crew. And so the great decision; how to tell the crew? The land, the object of the quest, eluded us. The good did not exist. The best, we'd found on board, in easy friendships. Who could now explain that what had made this so was less than true, and take the rich soil of the life they'd grown or telling them, part company from the best we'd known - and thereby be the cause of that old seaman's loss of pride? Faith for us now, if it can be, must be not in good causes, lives or better lands, but in those things that live and make their presence felt in mist and fog and storm, where lack of definition baffles indecisive man, where man encounters chaos, and in meeting it, finds form. D.K.