Sophie walks towards me and puts down the plastic can of gasoline, the grass yellowing around it like a sickly halo. Her tight blond curls dance to Francis, her pet lizard roaming freely across her scalp, peeking down the nape of her neck and onto her shoulder. Francis and me have this ‘thing’, and even as I look at the little fucker I can see a glint in its bulbous eyes. The relationship is thus; I go to Sophie’s to listen to the birds, and as soon as I am relaxed it finds a way into my clothing and I get scared. That’s when Sophie whacks me with the lead pipe she keeps under her mattress until I calm down… because nothing must hurt the lizard.
We’re sat on a great shoulder of land and the sky is colourful and melancholy above us, like a sad raver walking grimly home on the comedown. Everything is muted except us glowing silver as the Sun and Moon meet in this late summer evening. To our left a pine forest rises up like a dark green Gothic cathedral, the branches all arching towards a single black point of entry. We can smell everything; resin, rotten needles, damp soil. Our feet are bare and the grass is cold damp against our soles. As evening retreats into the night and light fades, we become more attuned to our ears and noses. Behind us a thousand lamps twinkle pointlessly, but before us a great expanse – the empty bowl of a prehistoric sea – wallows and gulps, and we stand where the tide once licked the shore.
Sophie quietly mutters to me, “la nuit sera dure”
I smile, sitting down next to her legs and stroking her ankle. She hands me the shovel smiling back, and I begin to dig.
I am fully at one with my surroundings now. I sit next to a coffin shaped hole and a pile of earth with my head lowered and craned between my knees, looking to my feet where the thistles and daisies dance a merry jig. I wince as the thorns sometimes catch me as they waltz and spin against my flesh but the itchiness travels along my nerves and past my hips. My arms prickle against the early night breeze and I’m holding down a semi. Above us the gods are already sleeping soundly and we, just a pair of bruised pawn store lockets, take charge in their absence. I don’t often feel pain these days, so as I try to trim my toenails with a cut-throat razor I stop when my foot feels warmer than it should and disappears dark red into the sunset ahead.
Sophie reclines next to me. She’s picked this spot. Underneath the turf and the soil, deeper into the chalk, are the bones of thousands hung from the local gallows and tossed into a soulless pit. We lay on the hard and fragile remains of thieves, murders, fathers and daughters; adulterers, traitors, brothers and sisters. I can hear them shivering and chattering in the cold earth, complaining at their indignity, their grey wrists still bound with old rope. All of them had two things in common; they died by the noose and they took one last look at the same view we stare at now.
She cranes her head as though cracking a knot in her spine and puckers her lips to a firefly meandering above, one leg balanced on the other knee. My fingers stretch out before me making me feel dizzy, so I distract myself by asking questions. I ask her why teeth are square. I ask her… why do planes fly? I ask her… anything. What is inside hope, really? What happens to you in the houses you aren’t currently in? When does tomorrow happen?
To all of these she just laughs and shakes her head.
In the dead of night, it is so quiet I can hear my bones receding.
‘You’ve been asleep for an hour now’ she says. ‘You kept talking.’
“Oh Jesus.” I feel disorientated, waking up into a darkness that curtains or lights cannot open.
‘You kept running in your sleep… your legs were going swish swish swish…’
She made the motion with her fingers.
‘Swish swish swish… and then you kept clawing at the grass and saying you wanted to go home. Wanted to go home. Always. You always dream about wanting to go home. Where is home anyway?’
I turned my head to look at her. Five seconds later, my eyes also made the same journey. She glowed back, expectantly. Then she told me a story.
‘I remember walking home from school one day. There was an old house on the corner that all the kids were scared of, rumours that the person inside snatched kids and ate their hearts. All our parents warned us away from it as well, probably thinking we were going to get kidnapped and fucked or sold into slavery. But I had a paper round, so I’d walk up to the front door and I knew. Just a poor old man who’d lost his mind, so a man in other words. Terrified of the outside. Loud noises, bright lights, blue skies. Never left, never opened the curtains, let the tree in his front garden grow so it blocked out all the sunlight. If you knocked on the door to deliver his newspaper, he threw candies out of the letterbox to make you go away. Eventually all the kids realised this and tormented him. When the candies stopped for two weeks, we called the police from a payphone and watched as they broke down the door and hundreds of flies were released like a black cloud on a spring morning…’
I sat up, trying to focus on her eyes. The little gecko webbed down her arm, scurried across the grass between us, and curled up near my fingers.
‘…anyway, a few weeks later there was an old woman at the gate. I gave her his old paper and she told me to come into the garden. She asked me who I was and how I knew her brother. When I told her how I’d delivered his paper, and how he didn’t scare me, she put her hand on my forehead. I remember it felt so cold. She asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said I didn’t know. I said I wanted to live in a treehouse and drink hot chocolate for the rest of my life. She smiled so brightly at this, her eyes just disappeared into a mass of folded crinkles, and she told me to pursue that dream. She told me; we are all just stardust, the tiniest flimsy shards of planets and moons, and that our belonging is everywhere. That the only way we can ever be free is to release ourselves into nature, into the water and the Universe and allow the cycle to go on…
…which is why I ask again… where is home for you?’
I look back at her.
‘See? You don’t know. But I do. That’s why I want to make sure you go home.’
She nods towards the hole I have dug and gestures for me to climb inside. I do so. The cool earth against my skin and the freshness awakens me from the drowsy slumber I have been feeling since we came up here. I feel worms writhing against my wrists and neck. Francis, the little gecko, wanders in after me and sits waiting on my stomach.
As I lay in this pathetic ditch, half-heartedly scraped out whilst in the midst of a hallucinogenic coma, I see everything in sharp focus above me. From Betelgeuse to Europa, from Eris to Deimos. Planets, stars and moons all born from the same Grandmother of Gaia. I raise my hands again and my fingertips stretch out but then disintegrate like the seeds of a dandelion drifting into the air to meet the Universe above. Underneath, the summer earth claws at my skin, hooking and grabbing me around my ribs back into the ether, sinking me down to become one with plant, grass and seeds again.
My eyes are rolling back into my head, my tongue paralysed and lolling out from the corner of my mouth. Francis wiggles up to my chest and, at the feel of his skin on my finger, I gently stroke his head between his eyes.
We look up to see Sophie standing over us holding the can of gasoline. She begins to pour, starting at my ankles and finishing at my chest. Francis scampers away and the air is suddenly thick and poisonous. I cough and hack, trying to sit up but she presses her foot on my forehead and lowers me gently back into the ground with a sshhhh, her finger against her pursed lips.
‘I am going to make you stardust again’ she smiles.
Her silver figure is illuminated gold by the crackle of a lit match.
Photograph: Jimmi Campkin
Jimmi Campkin is a writer, photographer and creator of SANCTUARY; available to buy via his website. He describes himself as a 16bit child and INFP with clinical nostalgia with red wine for blood.