I’m in shock – properly I think. I’ve spent an hour just staring ahead of me on the sofa, unable to put feelings into words. I’ll try now. I’ll begin at the beginning, give it some order, help me piece it together in my own mind as I write:
The other evening I spent some very pleasant hours with a friend who was showing off his new motorbike. I made him dinner and we talked and exchanged stories as you do with good friends. He told me a fascinating story about the time a mate of his died while they were climbing as teenagers. After the story, he said how he still liked to take himself out his comfort zone by climbing, getting out into the bush alone, and I could relate in my own small way.
I told him about a brief period of time when I used to go to some haunted ancient woods with friends at night. How we’d make a fire and cook burgers and sausages, drink mead. Each time we went out there we’d push ourselves to be more daring, take risks, as youngsters do. Nothing dangerous, but fun, like spend the night out there alone. Or strip off and run through the overgrown pathways like banshees. We even tried fire-walking a few times. Usually we’d just sit round the fire, chat, smoke, enjoy the night-air; listen to the screams of foxes and hooting owls; get hypnotised by the night sky through the branches above our heads.
There were usually between four and ten of us on any given evening; mainly girls but some guys. We had our own clearing deep in the most ancient and undisturbed part of the woods, and we would go there in pairs so’s not to draw attention to ourselves. I loved the smell of the place: fresh dirt and wood – that heavy fragrance of wet leaves and soil. There were rape-seed crops in a nearby field which perfumed the whole area after a warm or wet day. I loved the weird moon-light sharding through trees. I loved how some nights it was pitch black and you couldn’t see your own hand stretched out in front of you – you’d giggle with your companion as you clung to each other’s clothes, nudging your feet pathetically along the path. Then, other nights, it felt like you were walking through a negative image of the day, grey and silver and eery, but perfectly clear.
Gradually, inevitably, the group became more and more pagan, then downright witchy, and at some point I bailed – it was all a bit much for me. Plus there was one guy who I really didn’t like. I didn’t like him at all. I even found it hard to talk to him, as he made my skin crawl for some reason. I felt he was evil. A dramatic word I know, but the right one in this instance. He didn’t like me either. He’d make nasty comments at my expense often and I’d catch him staring at me in a really unpleasant way. He told stories about his various girlfriends which were at best offensive, at worst truly disturbing. He seemed to be trying to wind me up, and it worked. He was vile, and devoted to witch-craft.
Eventually I argued about it with the man whose house we used as a base, as it was near to the woods. He insisted that I was imagining it, he wasn’t ‘evil’, and it was merely a personality clash. I wasn’t convinced.
Most of the others felt the same as me. One by one we went our separate ways after clashing with Creepy Guy. Some went on to become pagans and others, like me, went on to be … well … not pagans. Anyway, I haven’t thought about him for years; he simply hasn’t crossed my mind. Nor had the others and those nights spent camping out in the woods.
Until the other evening. After we’d finished eating and chatting, my friend put on his new leathers and rode his bike out of my driveway, and I thought, ‘whatever happened to some of those people? I must google a few names,’ as you do in this technological age where stalking is just a matter of switching on your computer.
Anyway, that’s just what I did a couple of hours ago.
After a few dead ends, I put in the name of the woods we used to visit, and chose ‘images’, just for fun, curiosity, idling away an evening before bed. On my computer screen, a sinister mug-shot image of Creepy Guy came up several times amongst numerous pictures of white-suited-forensic-type-police-thingies doing what they do in crime scenes, in our wood. Actually, in our clearing. His image is older. His hair going grey now, just a couple of years older than me. But it’s Creepy Guy alright.
Without going into too much detail I learnt that creepy guy killed a woman and buried her in a shallow grave there in our clearing. The body wasn’t discovered for years, because nobody ever went to that part of the woods, until a man walking his dog stumbled across human remains.
What a cliche. What a nightmare.
I remember the times I’d paired up with him to walk into the woods to meet the others, and how I’d listened to his twisted opinions and tried to ignore them. I thank God my instinct kicked in and told me to step away from that scene. At the time I put it down to the novelty wearing off, that I’d simply outgrown that teenage need to go a bit crazy out in nature, but now I see there was more to it than that. I felt unsafe with him around, and hated being alone with him. I’ve never called anyone ‘evil’ before nor since.
So, now I learn that I’d been alone at night, not once but many times, with a murderer in the exact spot where a decade or two later he would kill and dismember another human being. Bury her. Keep it a secret for years. Carry on as if nothing had happened.
I want to phone the others, have some sort of debrief, but I can’t find any names. Just that of the guy whose house we used. He was a witness at the trial. He’s since moved abroad.
When I finish this, I’ll make a cup of tea and take it to bed. Not sure I’ll sleep much tonight. My skin, and quite a few hairs at the back of my neck, just won’t settle.