copyright Ngaire Ruth
Dave? You awake?
Dave? You awake?
“Yes you are. Come on, it’s time to Salute the Sun.”
“Kiss my arse,” mumbles Dave, turning to nestle back under the covers.
Jez gives up on his spiritual leader and leaves.
Dave waits. Listens. He hears Jez make a start on the morning ritual. He sneaks out of his warm little hole to peek out of the teepee. And there it is, the beautiful bent arse of Miss Hooley, the secretary on her enlightenment trip.
He creeps across the rugged floor, quietly stoking the fire so as not to be heard and adding a ready kettle of water on to the three-clover tripod, and climbs back into his cosy haven of sleeping bag, pillows, cushions and quilts and they-were-dead-anyway animals skins; where he can comfortably observe Miss Hooley’s well proportioned behind and perfectly toned body through the crack of the outside world he has left in the teepee canvas. It takes five minutes for the kettle to boil.
Dave had charmed his way into hiring out this piece of classic English landscape from a local farmer for a foolishly cheap price and a proviso of no generators, no electronic music, and leaving the land exactly as he found it. If the farmer could keep his temporary paying visitors a secret he would still be able to claim subsidy for the un-used land.
He hired the teepee’s out for a song, although not literally, but because he convinced the teepee company that his nice middle class customers would want to buy their own after the experience. He usually found hippy businessmen were the most ambitious.
The place actually looked inviting, fire pit, wooden mushrooms and logs to sit on, canvas benders for sweat lodges and an enormous hot tub under the stars. The teepees were lavishly decorated in sheepskins and rugs, cushions and beanbags, each had its own wood burner inside, which was the most expensive outlay in the end and why Dave’s own teepee didn’t have one. That pissed him off.
In the meantime, customers came via the Internet, through the key words he listed for his site like: holistic retreat, inner self, spiritual, community and health. The landscape’s mythical history and calling himself a Shamen added the authenticity.
The clients were exactly the type Dave expected: a middle-aged pair, the jolly and open Winnie and shy and suspicious Eva; 32 year old keen Trevor; Terry, skinny, one of those greasy 40+ year old guys in denim with a taste for teenage rock, long, limp thin hair and a big heart, still trying to make sense of why people were so dismissive of him, and Miss Sally Hooley, 26, broken heart, looking for an edge on the world. Bless her ass, thought Dave, and Jez, the guy who made the Wiccan and wire sculptures, was also a gift. He stayed to run a woodwork class and seemed both very gullible and entirely capable. He hadn’t even paid him for the sculptures yet.
Only one didn’t fit in: Megan, strong legs, firm stare, lots of lines on the palm of her hands, probably hundreds of years of age, old witch.
Jez was back.
“Hey,” said Dave. “Just in time to make the tea an'all.”
Jez said nothing.
“You did a great job there,” Dave continues, pouring the tea himself and passing one to Jez. “Next time, don’t say 'I am covering for Dave', say 'I am running the sessions today. Welcome'. If you say you are the leader, people will be led.”
Jez raises his eyebrows.
“They respect you,” Dave says, slurping on his tea. “You’re a natural.”
Jez blushes, shrugs his shoulders: “It’s quite fun actually. They’re nice people.”
“Right,” says Dave, uninterested.
“Can you delegate breakfast chores while I meditate on what our actions for today should be?” (This meant smoke a roll up, have a shit.)
“Sure,” says Jez.
In truth Jez liked being with the customers more than he liked being in Dave’s company anyway. He had never met women like Meg, Winnie and Eva before. You didn’t make it to that age on his old estate, and if you did you stayed indoors. Dave, on the other hand, gave him the creeps. Jez had come out of his raving years, permanently bug eyed and with a knack for seeing colours around people, which he’d kept quiet, until meeting Eva and Winnie, who were fascinated about everything, and telling Meg, who said they were energy auras. Funny thing, Dave didn’t have one. He was like a ghost or a vampire whose reflection you would never see in a mirror.
When Dave finally ventures out of the teepee the campfire is burning and water is collected. Everyone is stretched and serene, washed and fed. The sun is out.
“Good morning,” says Dave with enthusiasm, opening out his arms, “Please sit in a circle with me,” he gestures.
They sit in order, as always. Dave shakes them out of their natural order, as always. Eva and Winnie are separated, Dave puts Trevor to his left and Miss Hooley to his right.
“How do you feel today Sally?” he asks, once all have sat comfortably and quietly for a minute.
“Fantastic. Looking forward to my day. I don’t care what’s happening on Facebook or Instagram or if my boss has emailed.”
“I woke up and remembered I was here in this beautiful, place,” says Trevor “That was a good feeling.”
“Yeah, it’s cool” agrees Terry.
“And you Eva?” asks Dave.
“Oh wonderful. I love it here. Don’t you Winnie?”
“It would be even lovelier in a 5 Star hotel,” she replies, half jokingly.
He doesn’t ask Meg or Jez. He puts his hands in the prayer position and embarks into a monologue of nonsense which sounds very profound, along the lines of being open to what you need, not open to what you want. It had been something that a girlfriend had written in a birthday card for him once, and it had stuck though sadly not the girlfriend who had always been too good for him, rungs above him on the emotional ladder.
Next, everyone got into pairs and had to share their story. The idea was each would tell the other’s rendition on return to the circle. Bashful glances were exchanged to check they were getting it right. It was entertaining hearing Terry relate Jez’s early experiences on E, as a young football hooligan or Miss prim and proper Hooley talking about Meg’s many liaisons in amongst the hedgerows on rambling tours to distant Sacred Sights. Jez feels the need to interject:
“I wasn't saying if you like football you’re a violent fucker,” he chimes. “I’m just saying we lived for a fight, and got into fights with other people who lived for a fight. E changed all that.”
“I’ve never tried it,” chirps up Winnie.
“I don’t want to,” says Eva.
“You girls would be safe with me,” insists Jez.
“I imagine I get pretty high when I do the church flowers, all that pollen and bright colours,” perks up Winnie.
“Oh Winnie, bless you,” laughs Meg, “There is more truth to what you say than these folk realise.” Then she winked.
“I was organic long before it was trendy," says Winnie, as if a confirmation of her spiritual connection to flora and fauna.
“The most spiritual experiences come from simple connections,” blabs Dave.
Dave decides that Winnie and Meg will lead a walk through the woods on a mission to collect seeds and cuttings of wild flowers and forage for a dinner to remember. Jez was to collect fresh meat from the farmer, which the farmer was happy to share at a marked up price.
“So you will teach us what to forage for?” asks Sally of Dave.
“No,” says Dave, shaking his head, a sigh like she’s an idiot. “I want you people to follow your instincts, listen to the forest spirits and then bring the bunches back here to sort through and discuss with me. And take these for the nettles,” he says, throwing some Liddell gardening gloves at Sally. “Pick a lot because it is delicious cooked like spinach.”
“Right,” says Sally, unsure.
“I am going to forage for magic mushrooms,” said Dave, standing up and stretching. “It is Shamens work but I will share with you all,” he beams.
Meg frowns, says nothing.
Jez grins. “I’ll look after you girls,” he says to Eva and Winnie, locking into Winnie’s arm.
“And I want you to bring back a stone each,” says Dave. “Don’t think about it too much, just when it seems right.”
They nod reverentially. Dave thinks: I’m fucking good at this, continues.
“The session with the stones will be for a ritual later in which we forgive ourselves.”
He thinks to himself: a bit too far?
He thinks to himself: a bit too far?
And so it is that Dave manages to send them all off for the afternoon for the third day in a row, so he can be left alone with his needle. He crawls back to his cave and injects heroin into the backs of his knees and crashes out for the day. Before wafting off, he thinks: this is a cushy lifestyle for a junkie.
By dusk there is a happy, hungry camp, an aromatic pile of yarrow, mint, meadow sweet, vervain, lemon balm, feverfew, wild thyme, wood sorrel, dandelion leaves, nasturtium. Sally is attending to a pan of nettles, simmering in garlic and butter. The girls, as Jez calls Eva and Winnie, are making a salad, using the wild herbs according to Meg’s explanations and instructions. Terry’s listening absorbed: everything Meg says is so bloody useful. A pork shoulder is sizzling on a Jez-made spit, and Trev is following instructions, mashing up pine nuts and sesame seeds. They clam up a bit when Dave arrives, which annoys Jez.
The night ends all by itself with no one announcing anything but everything about the closing camp ticking into place, each other to their own role and yet a team, doing what the other doesn’t, thanking those that did. Dave waited for everyone else to do everything.
In the night Dave is woken by the click of a lighter. It’s Jackee.
Jackee is a boy, a big fuck off London boy with a pretty face and a mean glint in his eye.
Dave sits up slowly. Resting on one bent arm he says: Jackee don’t kill me.
“Because I’ve got your money or I’m getting it. I’m raking it in mate, honestly.”
“So you’re off the gear?”
“Yeah, course,” he says showing his untouched arms.
“You burnt the fucking house down with me in it you bastard. You fucking ripped me off you punk.”
“No. I knew you’d be alright. You’re the pretty one aren’t you Jackee? You always surf it.”
“How the fuck do I surf loosing ten grand of someone else’s money Dave?” says Jackee. “Fuck you,” he spits, kicking hot ash in Dave’s face.
“Jesus mate, easy!”
“They think I did it, you idiot bastard,” he growls, waving a knife in Dave’s face and lunging at him. Then he falls heavily on top of him. Thud. Rearing behind is Meg’s ruddy-cheeked face, the digging shovel in her hand.
“I’m not surprised,” she says.
“Fuck, did you kill him?” says Dave.
They both heave him over and feel for a pulse. None. Blood pours out from the back of his head.
“I guess I did,” says Meg, unalarmed. “He was going to kill you. Fancy making people angry enough to kill you.”
“The guys a mad man,” blabbers Dave. “Reckons I stole his money, did you hear that? I’ve never seen him before in my life! Where did he come from?!”
“I heard everything,” says Meg, throwing down the shovel. “More to the point I know everything.”
“Was my name the give away," says Dave, trying to make light of a ridiculously dire situation. "Look, no one needs to know,” he stammers, hands shaking.
“I knew you were bluffing,” says Meg. “You don’t get magic mushrooms, or any mushrooms for that matter, in the summer.”
“I…” he starts. Meg holds up her hand to stop him.
“But I’ve got to say, you’ve probably done more for these people than a professional fruitcake. Those poor things have had to do everything for themselves. That’s proper witching that is.”
“You what?” says Dave.
“Need a fix do you?”
“I,” stutters Dave, ashamed.
“Well if I help you, you can forget all that,” says Meg. “If you can’t give up out here in this crazy, enchanted green you might as well ask me to hit you over the head with the shovel now.”
“I can’t get methadone, I’m officially dead.”
“We’ll trip you out on henbane, just the right amount.”
“I’ll ween you off it in three months.”
“What? Impossible,” he says.
“Yes probably,” she says, “But that’s my only offer, now let’s get this awful man buried in the compost pit. And you’re going to be the one to jump in amongst all the shit and a dig a deep hole for him.”
“Shit,” he says again.
“Yes, dear, you are literally going to be in big shit, which is better than being in a big shit.”
Dave was dumbfounded, not because he had just recently escaped death or seen his old friend murdered right in front of him, he was the fucker Meg thought, but that this old woman had killed someone without blinking; had dealt with his addiction and deceit without a wince and was now dragging a dead body out of the teepee and telling him to shift his lazy arse and grab that shovel.
The next morning Meg is waiting by the campfire, bread in the earth oven ready to go, homemade jam made from the fresh wild strawberries that she collected on the long walk she took after burying the boys. There was no way she was going to collaborate with a mean, screwed up person like Dave.
“Oh dearie me no,” she says aloud to herself, adding some more wood to the fire.
In fact, once Dave had dug the grave and placed the pretty one in it he put the shovel down and his hands on his hips and exclaimed to Meg: “You’re an amazing woman.”
“Wild witches never get the blues dear,” she said, and picked up the shovel and whacked him hard over the head with it, tipping him gently with a pointed finger conveniently into the fresh grave.
Jez appears and everyone is so pleased to see him. Jez feels good about the day. Meg takes him to one side and explains that Dave left in the night and instructed her to tell Jez to take over, permanently, with his blessings.
“He’s too lazy to go anywhere,” says Jez, unsure.
“Yes. He needed a new adventure. That’s what he said. He knew he could trust you.”
Then she reminded him that Dave did not believe in possessions or profit. His mission had been accomplished.
“All this stuff,” says Jez.
“It’s yours dear. Sell it, keep it but use it to continue on doing your art, and finish this week. We’ll be a team.”
“Definitely Terry,” says Meg. “It’s essential.”
Before summer turns to autumn, Meg takes a ramble to the old site out of curiosity. It looks the same as every other field except that there is a beautiful wild herb garden, where the compost pit used to be, and red poppies everywhere.
“That’s funny,” thinks Meg to herself, a small embarrassed, giggle escaping, “Poppies don’t normally like a well-fertilised soil.”