VERMIN

She stood with one arm covering her nose and mouth. “What is this?” she croaked.

Dangling from a line, stretched between two trees, was an assortment of birds and animals. A fox hung by one back knee. Blood dripped from its snout into blackened, clotted grass. A couple of greasy banners dangled by their legs. Crows. More were tied by their necks, including a rook that stared sightlessly straight at us, pointing its once treacherous, now lifeless beak. Feathers and unspeakable bits and pieces had been cast off. Black goo dripped. There were some rats and shapeless things that had been sagging there for some time, bones poking through scant flesh. And the stink. Camphor and cooked cabbage in amongst the rusty blood and shit. I could see  and hear flies bustling about the eyes and wounds.

“This be private property if you did but know.”

I spun and saw the shotgun. A man wearing a green hat with earflaps, who had round glasses, who carried the weapon across his elbow, both barrels pointed at the ground. He wore khaki trousers tucked into socks, one of which was black the other grey. One boot was fastened with white flex.

“Ey oop, Giddy,” I said. “Just passing.”

“Farmer dunt like folks wanderin’ on his property.” He carried a crow by its neck.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “We’re just on our way home.”

He took a step closer. “You shouldn’t be here.” Melissa whimpered.

I’m sure you can see what was going on here. Giddy was doing what he thought was his job – looking after Thompson’s farm. He was a feral sort of bloke, as you know. He was not a philosopher and we’d been told he had spells of violent madness. Some said he had visions, that he drank strange brews, that he was some kind of satanist. I’d seen a different side of him and didn’t believe half of what I heard. He wasn’t a mate and he was unpredictable but mostly he just wanted to keep out of people’s way and he wanted people to keep out of his way.

He took something from a pocket. Twine. I saw that there was a small, dark feather on his cheek and a little fingerprint of brownish red. He began to tie the twine round the bird’s neck. Behind me I heard more snuffling from Melissa.

“It’s all right,” whispered Percy. “We know him.”

“What are all these animals for?” asked Melissa.

“Warning,” said Giddy “Keep other vermin away.”

He dropped the dead creature to the ground and picked up the gun. I felt a hand on my back and turned to see Melissa hiding behind me. But Giddy climbed into the caravan and banged the door shut.

Then we heard a scraping sound coming from inside. Then snuffling, grunting noises and the sound of something being dragged.

To be honest, I had not been happy at Richie’s place. To begin with it was much smaller than he had led me to believe and, although his parents had gone away, I felt very uneasy about his two younger brothers being there. But this incident with the awful man was the final straw. I mean, he’d taken the gun and he was going to shoot himself. Or at least that’s what I thought. Richie hadn’t been very sympathetic so I was glad his friend was there. All those creatures dangling and rotting and smelling really made me feel sick, I mean physically sick. The thought of this strange wild man killing himself was just too much. All that noise.

“What’s he doing?”

I banged on the door and something clattered. Everything went quiet but the door stayed shut. I knocked once more and called his name again. The door flew open, barely missing my face. And there stood Giddy. He was naked except for his cap but he had a brush the length of his arm in one hand. There was a dark smirch across his thigh.

“What do you want?” he yelled. “I’m busy.”

I shifted my horrified gaze upwards, past the protruding lard white belly, the hairless chest. His lips quivered in his pink face and his breath snorted down his nose. His eyes rolled. I could smell thyme but couldn’t see past his bulk in the doorway.

“Fuck,” whispered Melissa. “That’s impressive.”

I found myself gazing straight at Giddy’s hefty member and had to snap my mouth shut, clamping my teeth together.

“Leave you to it, Giddy,” I said.

When we were on the main track, about a hundred yards from the woods, Percy said something.

“What?”

“I said, I didn’t expect to see that.”

Laughter burst down my nose like a sneeze.

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