Unhallowed Ground, page 27
‘What the shit is going on here? What sort of crazy are we dealing with? Pushing his face against the window, pulling faces, hanging about in this sort of weather, Jesus, it’s unreal, it’s infantile, it’s incredulous, outrageous…’
‘There’s no point going on,’ says Georgie wearily, ‘it happened. But I’m so relieved you’re back safely I seem to have ceased to care about him.’
‘I thought you were dead,’ pants Oliver, still out of breath. ‘Shit. I thought he must have been in and got you both, and the dog, while I was gone.’
‘Just let me cling a little bit longer.’ Georgie has not let go of his arm since he lifted her firmly and moved her to a comparative place of safety, on the floor in front of the fire. ‘I’m not ready to let go yet.’
‘I don’t want you to let go.’
‘I want to hear what happened to you.’
‘Nothing compared with what happened to you,’ he strokes her arm, she’s still clinging. ‘I’m surprised you’re still coherent, surprised you haven’t cracked up completely. Obviously it’s more dangerous to be in here than outside. Next time…’
But Georgie shudders. ‘Believe me, there’s never going to be one of those.’
‘I found the cowshed, more by luck than judgement, and then I had to fight my way through nosy cows wandering around between cubicles. Christ, it was so bloody dark in there, and all the while I was trying to listen for Lot—impossible with the blizzard. I had to give up in the end and just press on, told myself the quicker the better…’
‘…and there was no sign of anyone with a light? No new footprints?’
‘Nothing like that. I turned on the torch in the parlour, and managed to clear one bottom shelf before I chickened out and turned and legged it…’ Oliver opens the string bag to reveal an odd assortment of rusty tins, slimy jars, several rolls of coloured tape, boxes of vials containing mostly colourless liquids, syringes, some disposable needles, cans and a spray of WD40, tractor grease. ‘Mostly rubbish. Sod it! I should have taken more time, but I told you before, I’m no hero. I don’t suppose for a minute you found your drug book…’
Her smile is still a nervous one. ‘Well, I did, actually.’
‘I’ll get it.’
‘No, don’t leave me. We’ll go upstairs together.’
Settling back on the floor Oliver holds up a jar full of grey granules. ‘God knows what use these are… looks like some cure for indigestion.’
‘Oh no,’ Georgie blanches. ‘Don’t tell me. This is too much. You’ve fetched old Buckpit’s ashes.’
The sudden silence, the incredulous look on Oliver’s face, reduces Georgie to a kind of sobbing, hysterical laughter. Between bursts she manages to hiccup an explanation for his grisly find, and soon he joins her, the tension is released for one whole manic, marvellous minute. ‘Perhaps we should sprinkle them on the stump…’
‘Oh no, old man Buckpit’s black soul might be introduced to Dave’s body, a kind of incubus—’
‘Or we could throw them into Lot’s eyes and blind him—’
‘Stop it. Stop it. Perhaps if we rub the jar the genie of old man Buckpit might rise up and offer us a wish—’
‘We could hold the ashes for ransom, demand a tractor in return…’ and Oliver wipes his eyes.
They cackle and crow with this disrespectful, macabre stuff until they realize how juvenile they sound, how responsible they still have to be and how vulnerable they are… but it is a moment of blessed release and both feel better after it.
And after a serious study of Oliver’s haul they come across two items which might well be of use—one is a spray which contains Tetracycline, and from what they can gather from the rusted instructions it is used for disinfecting wounds, and the other is a box of capsules labelled Lignocaine, used in the farming profession as a local anaesthetic administered by injection.
This find poses the next problem: dare they use the drugs on a human? And when?
‘We could use the spray now,’ says Oliver, ‘that can’t possibly do any harm and it must be stronger than anything you’ve got in your kitchen. But I think we’ll leave the local anaesthetic until it seems necessary…’
‘You mean until Dave wakes up screaming?’
‘Yes. I agree.’ Georgie is also reluctant to start sticking needles in Dave, especially anywhere near the vicinity of that ghastly wound.
Dave’s stump is a lurid purple.
‘That’s done, thank God. The colour alone would scare off infection. Now let’s try and relax until dawn.’
Relax? Some hope. But at last she has stopped shaking. They spread a rug on the floor, two large cushions for pillows and lie down next to each other until Lola spies them and, a jealous creature by nature, inserts herself rudely between them. All the curtains are firmly drawn. There is no chance of sleep, even if either one felt like it. Four eyes are better than two. Two weapons better than one. ‘Lola,’ groans Georgie, trying to shift the dog over, ‘why aren’t you a pit bull?’
‘She’s lovely,’ says Oliver, stroking her, ‘just the sort of dog I would choose. They say stroking dogs is good for the heart, reduces blood pressure, too, so we ought to stroke her for dear life because my heart, for one, is about to give out.’
She rests her head on his shoulder, and while he strokes her cheek and neck she keeps her eyes closed and her lips slightly smiling. ‘Are we going to get out of this alive, Oliver?’ Suddenly she turns deadly serious. ‘Tell me what you truly think.’
They both gaze ahead of them, staring at nothing. ‘If we do, you and I ought to spend some time together, sane time, calm time, get to unknow each other a bit.’
‘With our defences up, you mean?’
The laughter lines crinkle beside his brown eyes. ‘Certainly. I’m a much more acceptable person when I can hide the shit underneath. You should see me at parties. We can’t have a decent relationship based so disgustingly on truth.’
‘You are absolutely right,’ says Georgie, encouraged to hear that, all being well, this will not be the end between them. It’s a long time since she felt such pleasure. These close and tender feelings must have something to do with fear. Maybe if they had bungee jumped together it would have produced the same chemistry, the secret and perilous games of children. How ironic that these are the terrible circumstances in which, for the first time in almost a year, Georgie feels expectant and alive.
‘Perhaps we should share a bottle of wine together right now, just in case we don’t get another chance,’ says Oliver, picking up Georgie’s hand. ‘I don’t see why we should be done out of that by some sick bastard staggering around the hillsides with an axe.’
‘Hardly the most ideal situation.’ Georgie smiles as she brings in two glasses and a bottle of Nuit St Georges and stands it beside the fireplace. ‘This is my favourite. I was saving it for something special. But look at us both. Anyone would think… This is madness.’
‘This is the only right thing that has happened since I arrived,’ says Oliver, bringing his lips down onto hers.
And Lola gives a deafening fart.
OH, PLEASE LET IT be morning. Either let it be morning or let this closeness go on for ever. Take away all the tomorrows.
It’s hard to tell the difference for the light has only slightly changed with the black turning a pale shade of grey. The candles have less effect on the gloom, and yet whenever one of the flames goes out, Georgie replaces it with another. It is a little positive act, some small achievement, and Oliver, for much the same reasons, tours the cottage now and then, poker firmly in hand while he tests the windows and checks the doors. In the end it seems sensible to drag Stephen’s sideboard into the hall to make a firm barrier behind the front door.
‘Hell, but we can’t stay stuck in here for much longer. At some point we must get more wood or agree to freeze to death. And that poor dog of yours needs to go out.’
‘I’m not worried ab
But Oliver is right. Keeping themselves warm is essential, especially poor Dave, so at some point they must open the back door and venture out into no man’s land. They are OK for food. Even with the freezer kaput the frozen stuff will last for a few days. Somehow it will have to be cooked on the fire, but that’s no big deal, it will give Georgie a chance to test the little bread oven tucked inside the chimney.
The nearness of the stream means they need never worry about lack of water, and luckily the fire heats the water, so there is no shortage of that.
With the slightly brighter light it is all too horribly clear just what a mess they are both in, blood-smeared clothing gone crispy brown, nails rimmed with the stuff which has settled into the creases in their hands, and it’s in Oliver’s hair, so it must be in Georgie’s. Each assesses the other, both covered with far more blood than Dave, who is relatively clean after their gentle attempts at hygiene. Yes, Oliver and Georgie make a grizzly pair in the pale morning light.
‘What I’d give for a bath, to lie steaming in the blissful heat and soak some of this crap away,’ Georgie says.
‘Have one. You might as well. We ought to sort ourselves out, and there’s nothing else to be done at the moment.’
There’s no change in Dave’s condition. Still burning hot, every so often he writhes and contorts and starts to lick his dry, flaky lips. His golden hair has changed colour in the night, and now it is dark, drenched with sweat, his curls turned into tendrils. Occasionally he cries out, as if from some hideous nightmare, but although his eyelids flicker, thank God they stay closed. They have anaesthetic at the ready.
‘I can’t have a bath because I don’t possess one. There’s no space in the bathroom, as you must have noticed. It’s hard to turn round in there. No, I’ll have to have a shower.’ Georgie stares at Oliver. ‘So will you. You look disgusting.’
‘Let’s venture out first.’ Oliver’s expression is stoic. ‘Shit, let’s get it over with. We could fetch a couple of baskets of logs and fill some buckets from the stream.’
In any other circumstances these would be simple tasks, and the suggestion is casually made, with an air of resignation. But to actually carry out these chores feels like climbing a mountain. If Georgie had been alone she would have let the fire go out rather than take one step into such a sinister unknown. She would have stayed in bed with the doors firmly locked, for water she would use snow from the windowsill. They both know that simply the movement of opening the door will sap all the courage they have.
But, realistically, it has to be done. After last night’s fiasco Georgie refuses to stay behind. They decide to go together so that one can defend them both with the poker, should the need arise, and for extra protection Georgie thrusts her carving knife through the bottom of her pocket. With one constantly keeping watch they will see if anyone approaches the door and they’ll never be too far away to leave Dave unguarded. Yes, it is essential that Georgie and Oliver keep together.
Before the moment of truth arrives they peer out of the bedroom windows to see if anything moves out there apart from the storm itself. Pale and spiky icicles sprout from the overhang of thatch, suspended at the window like broken bars. Heavy snow, slanting, chasing in a roaring wind, blows across their line of vision and blurs it. Any footprints left by the devil have been well and truly covered. ‘Well, good luck to anyone waiting out there, the crazy bastard, he’ll have frozen to death by now,’ says Oliver, ‘and it wouldn’t matter how padded he was. Nobody could survive.’
‘He managed OK last night.’
Only half satisfied by their own reassurances, armed, and muffled to the teeth with sweaters and coats, they finally open the door. Lola creeps out behind with her half-tail between her legs. The woodshed is their goal. Georgie stands guard at the door while Oliver disappears in its darkened depths, she can hear him cursing and shouting as he feels his way forward. She hears him filling the basket. She watches as he staggers back to the kitchen door, dumps the first load on the step and staggers back for a second. Her eyes feel sore from staring so sightlessly. She can see no further than three or four yards, and she curses the screaming wind because it cuts out most other sound. Blind and deaf, and yet she is on guard for her life, hopping from one foot to the other, willing Oliver to hurry, hurry, hurry…
In a moment that seems like hours the second basket arrives inside, and Lola creeps in with it, happy to be out of the excruciating cold. They close the door firmly behind her, and then they are on their way to the stream, each with a bucket that has to be filled. Of Georgie’s poor hens there is no sign. The weather has either whipped them away or conducted their funerals for her. This is the most incredible journey, Oliver must have made light of last night’s endeavours. The snow is deep, and frozen to a dangerous crust on top. Down one hedge it has taken the shape of an immense tidal wave, foaming and towering above their heads, threatening to fall and wipe everything out. In places the snow is waist deep, so they have to pick their way with care, and it’s still impossible to see more than a few yards ahead. The apple trees are twisted monsters that loom in the half-light as they stumble blindly past them. Every so often, with a gasp of cold air, they swing round suddenly in case they are being approached from behind. But nothing. Nobody’s there. They try to keep an eye on the door, but the whole cottage is swallowed up into the mist of white. It’s a struggle to keep a sense of direction. Never has Georgie’s orchard felt so long, never has that stream seemed so distant.
With intense concentration—not a second can be wasted—they fill their buckets and tramp back, fighting to keep going, with no other thought than the desperate need to keep each other in sight. In the cottage they both collapse, chain the door and hurry to the sitting room to check on Dave, hearts in their mouths. No change. Their charge has not been disturbed. Nobody has been in the cottage while they’ve been gone. The floors are quite dry. Nevertheless, they search every room, upstairs and down, Oliver with his poker and Georgie with her carving knife, before they return to the kitchen, exhausted.
Georgie’s heart is still hammering. Where her face has been exposed to the wind the skin feels flayed. The stillness indoors is palpable. They stand there dripping in the kitchen, examining each other with watering eyes before falling together, clinging. Now they are almost laughing. Incredibly, laughing and crying. Either will do, either comes with such relief.
No-one could miss the irony in Georgie’s voice when she cries, ‘And you are seriously suggesting that one of us venture out there later to try to find help?’ The very idea is absurd.
‘Give us a chance to recover,’ gasps Oliver. ‘Let’s see how it goes. Let’s just wait and see.’
While the feeling returns to her body, after Oliver makes up the fire, Georgie cooks bacon and egg carefully, the frying pan balanced on an ashy log. They dare not leave Dave for too long, let him out of sight for a second and there’s a wild sense of panic, although they both know there’s little they can do. They drink too many cups of coffee. They keep lifting the phone to check. Gingerly, they raise the mutilated limb and attempt to clear up around it, laying strips of clean sheet down, and fresh towels. Oliver gives it another spray with the Tetracycline, in which he seems to have great faith. Dave’s teeth start grinding together. Should they cover the wound or not? What about a pad smeared with Germoline? But might that stick and get matted in the stump? They decide to leave it alone. They are terrified of doing the wrong thing, of causing more agony, or instant death from shock.
Georgie sees how gently Oliver wipes the boy’s face and attempts to drip more water into his mouth. His expression is all concern. There’s tenderness there, a complicated criss-cross of laughter lines, and a firm, honest mouth with a way of tweaking before smiling. She feels closer to this stranger than to anyone else in her life, no secrets. It is the bizarre situation, of course, the horror they are sharing. Only something so calamitous could draw two such strangers together so c
Why does this thought pain her so?
‘Why don’t you go and have your shower?’ Oliver looks up and catches her glance before she can turn away. There’s a kind of answer in his baleful smile. ‘And then I’ll have mine. If you’ve got some gear which might fit me I wouldn’t mind a change.’ He looks down ruefully at his blood-spattered self. ‘I won’t ever wear these again. I’d rather burn them.’
She has only Mark’s overalls, which he left behind after his last visit. ‘For the next time,’ he had told her. ‘I won’t be needing them anywhere else.’ And some of her own sweaters are man-size.
Georgie fetches clean clothes from upstairs and rests them on the loo seat while she plucks up the courage to undress in the cold. She stretches through the curtain to turn on the shower, and gives it a chance to run hot first. She bundles her clothes in a tight parcel, she won’t wear hers again either.
The water hisses. Steam cloys the air and slides down the white-tiled walls. With her eyes half closed Georgie steps into the shallow square base and reaches for the shampoo. Though not as relaxing as a bath, the water is gorgeous all the same. For a while she lets it splash over her, basking in the pleasure as the jetting water warms and stimulates. When her hair is soaking wet she leans forward and soaps it, scrubs it until pieces of foam fall at her feet and down the pinkness of her wet skin, and when she has finished she flings back her head to wash the soap from her face.
She feels the smile come.
She hears the laugh and knows her teeth to be clenched.
The severed foot makes her laugh again.
It is hung on one of the meat hooks, a piece of loose skin hooks it there.
Above the shower, high on the ceiling. It appears to be quite dry, not dripping. Not bleeding.
Still laughing inanely Georgie passes through the plastic curtain, picks up the waiting towel and half crawls, half crashes through the hazy kitchen and into the sitting room. Oliver is still there beside Dave, stroking his forehead gently. Georgie crouches on the floor at his feet, dripping wet, huddled in her towel, giggling, sobbing, shouting and crying all at the same time.
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