“I don’t think anyone else is going to come along this evening, May. It’s a really nice night, they’re all out in the park or eating their dinners outside or something.”
“Well it’s not like there’s a talk on or nothing, there isn’t an official start time this evening. The cuddly lion is on the table, if someone else turns up they’ll see it.”
“Must be my round by now, I’ll just nip to the bar before we all get chatting.”
“Aye, of course you will, there’s only half a dozen of us here and three times that said they’d come – skinflint! Getting the cheap round in, is that it?”
There’s some laughter at that. He sits back down when everyone ribs him that there’s almost full drinks still in front of most folk, but then says “Fuck it then, I’ll get my own pint, wait for you lot to catch up then I’ll get the round in, fair enough?” The others smile and reassure him they’re only messing, but it’s still awfy nice of him to get the next one in “I’ll have a single malt!” pipes up the resident wit, to much dutiful laughter.
The chat is general. There’s no talk, so they discuss last month’s on reading runes. They talk over the candle magic workshops held in the shop down the road. There’s plans for Conference. Baby talk, family news, general discussion. Just because it’s a collection of pagans and witches doesn’t mean there’s not family dramas and health worries, the price of gas to talk over and moans about running a car these days. Someone has brought a new set of tarot cards and is struggling between wanting to show off the pretty things and the desire to keep the pack to themselves, clean and untouched by all and sundry. It gets put away in the bag before it is properly brought out. There’s a selection of necklaces and trinkets someone’s brought to sell maybe, which get lots of admiration and a few orders. Someone loves the bird ones but “they’re all owls there – got any crows? Magpies? Could you get me a magpie one?” and the seller promises they’ll have a look.
There’s not a huge crowd, it’s the core group. A couple of stragglers arrive, late of course because “Pagan time, eh?!” and they debate moving outside into the late sunshine. They decide not to because of midges and the sun being just the right height now to strike into the eyes. Wisecracks are made about solar gods and their demands for attention.
The evening progresses. There’s the beer festival types, a pair of hearty, round-bellied men who have been processing round fields since they were lads running about in the altogether. They are practical and bluff and always drinking pints of some alarming looking dark lager or pale wheat beer, whatever is new on and out of the ordinary. They’ll compare notes on the beer and swap recommendations for varieties that some folk think they must have just made up, so daft are the names. The heckled one from earlier eventually manages to get a round in, since the new folk all went and got themselves and everyone else drinks when they arrived. Fag breaks are taken, various people sloping off outside to stand in the summer air and smoke while staring thoughtfully at nothing much.
Most of the women regulars are there, diverse in everything except for their sense of humour. They laugh wickedly at bawdy jokes, but they deny that they cackle, ever. They swap photos and recipes and crafts. One or two are in floaty velvety skirts, one or two in jeans, one or two in summer dresses. they are of all ages from grandparents to still needing ID for the bar staff to serve them. Anyone looking on would have wondered what this group of people had in common. The cuddly lion gives nothing away and the magazines on the table can only really be seen from close up.
A group of four or five younger lads come into the pub, happy and nearly full of cheap beer deals from the local pubs. One or two of the moot look askance at them, wondering if there’ll be trouble or rowdiness. They can be rowdy themselves of course but it’s still an inconvenience to have someone else be rowdier on a quiet evening.
One of the lads casually scans the room while his friends shout and laugh and mock-punch at the bar. He is clutching a pint of fizzy lager. The lion catches his eye, he squints at it and laughs in that wobbling drunk way. He sees the magazines, comes over for a read.
“Aw here, you’re some othey pagans int ye?” he says to one of the younger women from the floaty skirt group. She nods, unsure which way this will go. Some of the slightly older, more bold, women smile broadly at the newcomer, sensing a chance to spread the good news that they weren’t about to start making blood sacrifices or dance about in the altogether.
“Used to know some pagans. One. Used to know one pagan woman. Load of shite, isn’t it? Just an excuse to get dressed up weird and prance about in a field getting your feet wet at dawn instead of having to get up and go into a church of a morning.”
The beer festival types adjusted their glasses and refolded their arms, gazing out at the pub in quite a focussed way while apparently not paying any attention to the young man with the lager.
“I mean it’s pish, isn’t it?” the young man persisted. The young woman giggled nervously and the smiles from the others faded a little, looking more like gritted teeth.
“Are you a witch, then?” asked the man, looking at the youngest woman there. She coughed nervously.
“Well... I’m a beginner really, wouldn’t presume but yes, I suppose... I could be described as... some would say I’m a lone practitioner... ”
The young man swayed a bit and raised an eyebrow at her. He burped and her hesitant self-definition tailed off.
“Shite.” he said emphatically. “Pile. Of. Shite.”
“Now there’s no need for that pal, we’re only having a drink and a chat same as you” one of the less-young women said. The youngest man at the moot, sitting in the woman’s shadow, nodded although he looked less confident than he was trying to.
“And are you some sort of priestess then? A witch too maybes?” the man with the lager addressed the woman who had spoken.
“Now I don’t mind sitting talking to anyone about paganism but you’re out with your mates, maybe this evening isn’t the best time... ”
“Aye it is. I’ll tell you why, too, because I’ll not see yous again, I’ll not drink in here the same time as you lot.” he replied.
He didn’t sound all that belligerent but one of the beer drinkers replied “Now that’s a bit rich, son, we can have a drink where we want, same as you. No call to be discriminating or anything.” There were nods and murmurs from those gathered.
“It’s nothing to do with that, that’s not it at all. I’ll tell you what it is, yous are a cult is what you are. Stole my girlfriend so yous did.”
One of his friends at the bar overheard the slightly raised voice and turned. He groaned when he realised what was happening. Grabbing his own pint, he wandered over trying to look nonchalant.
“Hi folks, what’s happening here? Having a good night? Never mind wee John here, he’s no meaning any harm, he’s had a pint is all. We’re no for causing any trouble.” He smiled at everyone, nodding slightly at them all in turn.
John wobbled slightly as he turned to look at his pal. “No I’m not causing any trouble Paul, not a bit. I’m just telling this lot of cultists about Jennifer, that’s all.”
“Aw John c’mon, they don’t want to hear that” Paul protested, attempting to steer John away by one elbow. John shook him off and turned back to the moot though.
“Yous like stories too, don’t you? Jennifer was forever telling me stories and how that folklore and stuff is dead important like. Never listened to the half of it, to be honest with you. But you like stories, don’t you? Here I’ll tell you a cracker of a tale then.”
John thumped his pint onto a spare bit of table, slightly sloshing the lager out of it. He found himself a chair and clattered it onto the floor, sitting down on it without too much trouble.
The folk at the moot sighed and gritted their teeth some more. It was a pub, after all, and John might be obnoxious but he was right that he wasn’t causing actual trouble. Paul sighed, muttered something that might have been an apology and headed back to the bar, although he kept looking over at his friend to make sure all was OK.
“Right, see, I used to go out with this lassie Jennifer, ken? Nice lassie, good looking and that, beautiful long red hair, pale, never bothered with the fake tan although she didn’t mind showing off a bit of skin. Great pair of pins on her, too. Nae kids or nothing. Couple of years younger than me, she’d a good job and everything, receptionist in some fancy place in town.”
“We’d been going out for a few years, her pals set me up with her – her mate used to go out with one of my mates, you know how it goes yeah? Anyway they set us up and we got on alright. Went to the pictures and that, we’d go to the pub but we wouldn’t get totally wellied or nothing cos that’s useless if you’ve got a bird you want to go home with, you know? You’re useless with drink in you. Used to go for walks in the country too, like a pair of old gimmers. Jennifer loved walking in the country, said she was closer to the goddess out there or shite like that. My flat was next to a park, dead handy for nipping out for a walk but you’d to watch on the weekend nights because the neds would be out having a drink there, ken. There’d be broken glass about a lot, Jennifer was one of they kind-hearted souls that would go out and clear it up in case some wee cat cuts its paw, or some wean fell over and burst its hand.”
“We talked about getting our own flat and that, somewhere a bit quieter, we were saving up for the deposit. I worked in a building site, nothing fancy, I was a joiner, but it paid alright and it was a laugh, all the lads. Jennifer used to hint it’d be good to get a place together, for when we were wanting weans ourselves. I would ignore that bit, wasn’t ready for all that pish, I liked going out for a pint or two with the lads, liked having Jennifer just to myself. Anyway we spent most of the time at my bit, since the park was there and that. She’d only a wee basement place right in the middle of town.”
“Jennifer was always into that New Age shite, she had candles all over the fucking place, joss sticks and all sorts. Used to stink to high heaven, the lads would give me some amount of stick about sitting around getting stoned all the time, just because I’d come away from Jennifer’s place smelling like joss sticks if I was over there. ‘Aye yer tryin tae hide it wi they joss sticks, but we know whit yer daein in yer spare time pal!’ they’d go. It was a laugh, ken?”
“Anyway the site I was on got stopped. Still don’t know what happened, think the developer went bust. We were all gutted, we’d been counting on that bit of work to get Christmas and that, it would have done us all well. Big office building in the town, you’ll see it if you go past in the seven bus – big building site with bits of plastic still over it and half the bricks lifted by toerags.”
“Jennifer says it was OK because we had a wee bit saved and I’d get a new job nae bother, but I didn’t want to get into the savings. Jennifer said it was alright, she’d ask those tarot cards of hers what would happen and do a wee spell to attract success. I said alright, although I thought it was a lot of pish, but you’ve got to keep them happy you know? No point causing upset.”
“So she’s doing all this divination shit in her spare time, I’m tramping all over town looking for work. Anything, you know? I’m no proud, I’ll work in a shop or with the clenny or anything you know? Not that you get a job with them, mind. But there’s nothing doing, cos this site had shut down just as all that trouble started with the economy. Place is full of unemployed builders and that, we’re all running into each other at job centres and recruitment places and offices. Nothing doing. The only thing going was some wee smiley recruiter guy wanting us all to emigrate for jobs building in Canada, Australia, the Middle East – somewhere fucking miles away from here. When we get back to my bit there’s Jennifer mucking around with her spells and all that pish, telling me she’s helping out that way. She even stays in a couple of nights she tells me are the ‘most auspicious for the working’.”
“Whatever it was she was doing it wasn’t working like she said it would. Every time I get to a supermarket that said it’d a job it had just been filled. Tried one of they call centres, full of alarms going off and folk cheering one another on if they sold something, I couldnae stick it after some snotty little shite of a supervisor shouted at me in the middle of the office. Just because I wouldn’t scare some poor old woman into buying some pish burglar alarm she didn’t need. I had to leave instead of punching him, but that was me with no money.”
“So Jennifer gets in from work and I’ve been in for a few hours. Got a carry out on the way home, as you do, because I’d a couple of quid left in my pocket that Jennifer had tapped me for my lunch, course I never got it because of walking out, and it’d been a shit day. This would be last summer, so it was a nice night like this, I’m sitting on the back green drinking my carry out and smoking, minding my own business. The upstairs neighbour had come and taken her washing in, think she didnae want it smelling of smoke but she was dead nice about it, ken? Never a bother off her, nice wee wummin. So nae harm there.”
“So Jennifer sees me out the kitchen window, she comes down to see what’s happening. I’m in a mood, right, cos I never thumped that guy at my work and I wasn’t going to get paid for the work I had done since I’d left with no notice, and I’m thinking I should have taken up that smiley fella on the job in Canada when I had a chance. That last job was shit, imagine telling wee old wummin they’ve to be feart in their own homes of burglars and rapists and all that, just sos you can sell them some piece of pish alarm.”
“But anyway, Jennifer comes down and gets stuck in to me. Where had I been, why hadn’t I checked my phone, did I not realise she’d been after trying to phone me all day to meet her in town? I wasn’t in the mood for any of this, and I said so.”
“’Oh you’ve been drinking have you’ she says to me, seeing the cans and that. Something about her tone, she sounded really preachy like. It annoyed me, anyway. So I told her that aye, I have been drinking, what’s it to her?”
“She gives me this look like she can’t believe me, then bursts out crying and storms off up the close.”
“So, the girlfriend does that kind of shit you’re thinking, arse, better follow her and make nice, right? I chased after her, but I’d just picked up a beer can and I still had it in my hand when I went up the stairs.”
“I gets in the house and she’s lying on the bed crying. I’m thinking this is a bit much for me just standing her up in town when I never even realised I was supposed to meet her, and me having lost my job and that and not having any money.”
“I’m standing in the bedroom doorway, still annoyed but feeling bad too because she’s really upset. So I ask her what’s the matter.”
“Takes her a couple of minutes to calm down, but she sits up and wipes her eyes and sniffs and that, looks at me.”
“’Donna phoned me, she told me you’d walked out on that job, I thought she was winding me up.’ she says to me. I’m cursing Donna in my head now, totally forgot she worked in that office didn’t I? ‘How could you, and then here you are getting steaming like you’ve not a care in the world!’”
“’Aw here now wait a minute, I’d a really shite day and I wanted a beer, Jennifer! You’re no going to tell me now I can’t have a can or two at the end of a day are you? Not exactly a teetotaller yourself are you?’ I says back to her.”
“’I’ve not had a great day myself’ she said, crying a bit again. ‘And I’ll be teetotal for the next few months now, no thanks to you!’”
“Now, I wasn’t wellied or anything but it took a minute til I realised what it was she was saying. I didn’t know what to do, to tell you the truth – we’d never talked about having a baby or anything and it was the worst timing in the world, you know?”
“’You’ve never fell pregnant have you?’ is what I said – I know, I ken by your faces, I know it was a shitty thing to say. But c’mon, she’d just threw this at me all of a sudden, she was upset, I was having a bad day already... I’m no proud of saying that, I’ll tell you that much.”
“The look on her face though. Looked like I’d said I’d stabbed her favourite pet or something.”
“’Aye, I’m pregnant! Wasn’t sure how you’d react but I’d hoped it’d be better than this!’ she shouted.”
“’No, Jennifer, love, that’s not what I meant. I just meant... how? How’s this happened? You were always so careful with that sort of thing!’”
“She was wiping her eyes again, she was a total mess. ‘I know. It must have been that spell I was doing.’ I’m looking at her now like she’s fucking mad. ‘I’ve been doing this spell to encourage growth in our fortunes... I thought it would mean like job fortunes and that, but we’ve been fortunate with a growing family instead. Aw John, what are we going to do? I was going to tell you this evening, maybe get a bite to eat, I thought we’d be OK because you had a new job and we’ve a wee bit savings, we could all stay here together and it’d be fine, I never wanted to tell you like this but when you didn’t phone me back and then Donna told me what happened at your work... what will we do?’”
“I should have gone and cuddled her, told her it’d be alright. I should have been supportive, should have said I’d go back and get my job back the next day – I’d have begged them, even that snotty wee shite of a supervisor. I mean, Jennifer was something special, she was beautiful and smart and funny and she would have been such a good mum to our wean.”
“But she was sitting on that bed, scrubbing her eyes with one of the huge pile of paper hankies round her. Her face was all blotchy and her work make-up was running all over the place and she was talking, seriously, about a magic spell going wrong. I just... I couldn’t face it, I couldn’t hack it at all. I lost the plot a bit. I’m not proud of myself.”
“I’m still holding this beer can that I never opened yet. I’m trying to get my head round what she’s telling me, and I panic – having a baby together means I’m always going to be tied to this maddie with her spells and her sweeping the pavements and that, and I just couldn’t see it. I don’t know what got into me, I still don’t know now.”
“Before I realise, I’m shouting at her instead of going and giving her a wee cuddle, I’m screaming instead of being happy that someone like her would even think of being with a jobless loser like me.”
“’Stupid bitch!’ I’m shouting ‘How could you be so fucking careless? Did you plan this? Is this what all y our joss stick shite is? Trying to trap me here with a baby I don’t want in a flat I don’t like with some mad witch?’”
“She doesn’t even cry though, she just goes sheet white and sits and looks at me like I’d hit her. Then she gets up and starts gathering the clothes and that she’d left at mine. I tried to stop her, I’m saying ‘Jennifer, I’m sorry, you know I don’t mean that’ and ‘Jennifer, please, I’ve had a drink too many, of course I want you to stay, you and the baby and me, we’ll be a family’ but she’s pushing past me and throwing stuff in this bag and trying not to cry again and...”
John stops and stares into his pint glass. The folk at the moot hold their breath. The youngest woman has her hand to her mouth, dismayed.
“I’ve been over this bit most, you know? I still can’t. I don’t know what happened. I was only trying to get her to stay, to talk, but... I must have pushed her by accident, or she’s tried to get past me and I’ve stopped her... ”
“But she’s fallen over, see, she’s... she’s tripped over the bed or the chair or something, but she’s got her hand up to her eye and I’m horrified because the beer can has hit her on the side of the head. I’m looking at Jennifer picking herself up and I’m looking at my hand holding the can, I’m shocked, I didn’t take a swing for her I swear I didn’t... but when I drop the can and hold my hands out to her she backs away and flinches. She edges round me and runs out the door, and I hear the flat door slam.”
“I think she’s gone back to hers or to her pal’s or something but I sit on the bed and see her shoes on the floor, then I see her coat’s on the chair. It’s a nice night but all her stuff’s in her coat and where’s she going to go round this place with no shoes? So I’ve grabbed them and run out after her.”
“I’m looking up and down the street for her when I get outside. I never thought to shout on her, I couldn’t tell you why but maybe I was thinking I’d scared her enough so I didn’t want to be shouting in the street after her. I get lucky, I see just the top of her head as she’s making her way into the woods down the path there.”
“So I run after her into the wood, and I swear she ran faster than was natural. I should have been able to catch up dead quick, it wasn’t that big a path and she wasn’t that far in front. The wood looked different, too. It’s one of they wee scrubby bits of wood, few trees and a rope swing kind of idea. But I was running for ages and couldn’t hear the traffic any more. There were no folk out walking dogs, nothing but birds singing and me running with Jennifer always just ahead of me.”
“I charge round this corner and almost fall into a burn. Now, I’d been in and out that woodland loads of times walking with Jennifer and I never once saw a burn there. She’s stopped, or tripped, she’s kneeling at the burn, crying like her heart was breaking. I stop a wee bit away from her. I can’t just run up to her after what’s happened. So I stop and try and talk to her but she never even looks my way.”
“’Jennifer’ I’m saying ‘Sweetheart, please, please just look at me at least. Darling, I’m so sorry’. But she doesn’t move.”
“’She’ll not listen to the likes of you again, John’ this voice says from the edge of the trees. I’ve never had such a fright in my life. I looked over and here’s this mad old woman walking out the trees. But she’s no old really, what’s happened is her hair is covered in spider’s webs. She’s got bits of moss on there and lichens and that, her dress is filthy. Long brown and green dress, there’s more bits of moss on that too. I can see spiders walking about, centipedes – it was minging. Looked like she’d been buried in the wood and just got up.”
“’Who the hell are you?’ I asked her, she just smiled at me. Her teeth were all rotten too. I’ve never seen anything like it. Could have sworn there were things wriggling in her smile, her face – maybe it was just that I was so rattled by her coming out of nowhere like that. She walked over to us and she looked like some sad old woman, bit stooped, bit grubby but no as bad as I’d thought.”
“’You’ve caused harm to this girl’ she says to me, she’s leaning over and moving Jennifer’s hair out her face. Jennifer’s still lying there greeting, as if she can’t see us at all. This woman, she reaches out and touches Jennifer’s face. There’s a big red mark there where I... where the beer can must have hit her. The woman just reaches over and touches her face on the bit that was hurt, like she was brushing her fingers over Jennifer’s face or something. Then she stood up straight and did the same thing to her own face.”
“I’m standing there not knowing what to say. Jennifer’s no talking to us and there’s this weird old woman in her old coat and long skirt, really tall cos she’s standing up straight like, like some picture you’d see from way back you know? Really old fashioned looking but standing staring at me like I’m the freak that’s out of place. I’ve never believed in ghosts, never, but this woman – it was weird. She was weird. Freaked me right out. She had this long grey hair and it’s put back in one of they things, a bun, that’s the style. I’d only seen them in old films on the telly before. She’s standing there bold as brass as if she’s got every right in the world to be there and to talk to me and Jennifer. She didnae look so old and cobwebby, I mean... the longer she stood there, the more I thought she looked like one of they women out of the old world war two black and white films, you know?”
“’Who the fuck are you?’ I says to her, she just keeps looking. ‘Are you going to say anything or are you stupid or something?’ I says.”
“’You’ve caused harm to this girl’ is all she said.”
“‘She’s hardly a fucking girl, is she? Grown woman, creating a scene out of nothing and what’s it to you anyway?’ is what I says back, cos I mean who did she think she was?”
“’This girl is a child of mine and under my protection’ she said to me. And I’m looking at her and I swear to God – her face has got a mark on it now, same as Jennifer had. And I look at Jennifer and she’s not crying anymore, she’s just staring away into the burn, and there’s not a mark on her. She looks dead peaceful. If I didn’t know better I’d say that strange woman had taken the mark and hurt off her. And the woman, I don’t know how I thought she looked like one of they old fashioned women because she looked like one of you here” John waved his arm in the direction of the moot women “she’d a big floaty skirt and loads of necklaces and that, long long wavy hair.”
“’What are you talking about? I’ve never clapped eyes on you in my life!’ I tells the woman, she smiles at me. She stands there and smiles.”
“’I am Mother’ she says and waves her hand in the air ‘and I will not allow harm to come to this creature in my care’”
“I hears this scream, right next to me. Made the hairs stand on end on my neck.”
“When I look down, Jennifer’s no there anymore. There’s no a sign of her. I’m looking about, trying to figure out what’s going on, and I see this big red fox just disappearing behind the woman. ‘What have you done with her?’ I’m shouting at her, but she’s still standing there with this huge fucking smile on her face. Totally eerie it was. The fox looked out at me too, then turned and walked off into the wood.”
“’You won’t see Jennifer again, I will keep her and her children with me now’ the woman says as I’m watching the fox. So I looks round to ask what she’s on about and the woman’s gone. This wee lassie is there, she laughs at me and runs off. I looks round again where the fox was and it’s gone. Gone. I’m standing there in a muddy path surrounded by smashed Buckie bottles and there’s no one there at all. No Jennifer, no woman, no fox, no burn.”
John’s audience all look at one another or take a hissing breath. He swigs a huge mouthful from his pint, and another. He sets the glass, now mostly empty, down on the nearest table and sways slightly as he looks at all the people looking back at him.
“That’s how I says you’re a cult. I never saw Jennifer again from that day to this, and I never knew what happened to my wean. She never got in touch with me to tell me. No one did. I caught hell off her parents and that... well. I don’t want to go over that. But I’ve got no time for you bunch of fucking weirdoes and I’m not going to drink in a pub that you meet in. Just so’s you know.”
John turns, a bit unsteady, and walks off out the door. Paul at the bar swears and heads out the door after him.
The moot are silent. They look at beer mats, pints, the ceiling. They don’t yet talk over the story they heard.
They might have stayed for a few more drinks but they’re all busy or tired so they start drifting off. The beer festival men drain their glasses and murmur a goodbye as they head for the door. One of the women gathers the leaflets and the lion. In ones and twos they head off. The youngest man is left on his own, finishing his pint. He takes it outside to have a smoke and a think.
Paul walks back towards the pub, looking none too pleased. “Is he alright?” the young man asks him.
“What?” Paul says, obviously startled.
“Your friend, John, is he alright? He, well, he headed off really quickly and he’d had a few, I just wondered, I thought I’d ask... ”
Paul sighs and takes out his own packet of fags. “Aye he’ll be fine in the morning like. He’ll sleep it off, he’ll have one of his pills, he’ll be fine.”
“Pills?” the young man asks.
“You heard him, didn’t you? Do you think you can go around telling the police your missing girlfriend turned into a fox and ran off with a forest goddess without getting put on some serious pills?” said Paul.
“Oh. Er. Oh. Did that... that happened, did it?” the young man asks, his eyes wide “I thought maybe... look, no offence to your friend and that, but I thought he made it up... ”
Paul laughed, but he didn’t sound too amused. “I thought you were one of those pagans that John’s always slagging off. Isn’t that sort of thing right up your street? Christ, you know you’re far gone when the group you claim did you wrong says you’re exaggerating your claims.”
“Yeah, but, I mean I worship nature and the divine feminine in all things, but you’re saying this guy met a goddess in the wood next to his flat?”
“I’m saying no such thing, and he’s not supposed to if he wants to stay out the hospital. But aye, John says that sort of thing, mostly when he’s had a few these days. His girlfriend disappeared right enough, her mum called the police the same night because Jennifer had been on the phone to her all excited about some news she wanted to tell John first, then she never called her mother back. Of course the police wouldn’t do anything for a couple of days, they called her phone, the house phone, John, couldn’t get anyone. She hadn’t been at work, they’d been phoning her too.”
“The police went round to her flat and no one was there. They found John dead drunk in his living room, he’d been drinking for two solid days. Raving about this fox and this mad woman and some wee lassie next to a burn that’s not there. It’s barely a few trees next to his bit, there’s no way he could have been lost the way he said he was. All Jennifer’s stuff was there, even her shoes and that, but no sign of her and she’s never turned up again. The police have looked, they questioned John for hours, days, but they couldn’t find anything except that there’d been a wee scuffle in his flat and he admitted that he caught her one with a beer can. Her bank account hasn’t been touched but... well, she’s never turned up, one way or another.”
The young man suddenly shivers. Paul stubs out his cigarette.
“Anyway, best if you leave it be, pal. John won’t come back here now, you heard him – he can’t stand anything like you lot now. It’s not like he gets aggro mind you, I mean I’ve seen him cross the road to get by someone who looked even a wee bit like a hippy. John never used to have a problem with anyone, but now... I’ve known him most of his life. He’s changed.” Paul looks into the distance, shrugs. “Sorry if it upset your evening, like, but he wanted to tell someone. He does that sometimes.”
Paul claps the younger man on the shoulder. “You take care then, pal. See you after.” He turns and goes back into the pub. The young man hears the other men at the bar cheer drunkenly as Paul returns. He shivers again, stubs out his own cigarette and finishes his pint. He heads off for the bus.