Trip At The Quad, extract from Yellow Brick Roads, as yet unpublished novel by Becky Cherriman

“I feel totally like a little girl,” Carrie goes as we step out into the acid night, “Like an Enid Blyton character.” Then, “Hey, we can be like the Famous Five going on an adventure.”

“Yeah, we can go and find some underground caves where there’s a gold smuggling operation going on or something.” Dan sounds worryingly zealous.

“Yeah Dan,” Sean says, “There’s bound to be loads of smugglers’ caves around here, you know, like Harrogate being right next to the sea and all.”

“Wait,” I put my hand on Sean’s shoulder and everyone stops. “We’d better go back cos Sean’s left his sense of humour at home.”

“Fuck you.” He grins.

“Anyway, when you’re tripping, you are in a different place,” James says.

“Yeah, a good place,” I go.

“You’re right. This isn’t Harrogate. This is good,” Carrie says, putting an extra jiggle into her walk.

We spring up the streets nearest the flat, laughing at street names, and reading amusing licence plates in silly voices. Walking into the town centre, we quieten. Sean speeds up. He’s been a bit snappy today and not just since he got the acid. Can’t be to do with Cafferty though cos he said he got the acid off him and if there were any real problems he would have come back with a black eye, not a bag of acid. Probably just doesn’t want to bump into him when he’s seeing Smurfs all over the place. I can understand that; being chased by an overgrown blue cartoon character saying, ‘Do you think I ‘m thick or sommat?’ would be too much for anyone.

Then I start thinking about the pigs, get that picture again of being locked up in a cell. I could just about handle it now, but if the trip got any more intense…. Maybe if it actually happened, I wouldn’t be so paranoid about it. LSD warps petty insecurities into giant monsters. Maybe the fears that only usually surface on drugs are an insight into the second terrible reality we actually inhabit, the terrible reality that continually keeps us from our spiritual progress by conditioning us into conforming to the way those in power dictate. We’re living in a state of sedation the rest of the time, not seeing life for what it actually is because our brains can’t handle facing up to what little control we really have over our lives.

“Look at them,” Carrie says loudly, gesturing to the pack of townies queuing for entry into the world’s worst nightclub. “Thank fuck we don’t have to be miserable bastards or drunken yobs.”

“Shhh,” I hiss and avert my gaze from a policeman who is glaring at us. Cells swimming in rats and piss. Sweaty, hairy police rapists. At least Carrie’s comfortable with the fact that we’re tripping in the middle of town at pub throwing out time and she’s right: we don’t have to be like them.

I suppose we must look a bit odd to the ‘normal’ people. Enormous pupils and facial expressions that don’t look quite right. There’s Sean with his dreads, James with his ripped black jeans; I touch my head – me with a flower in my hair. How did that get there anyway? Even Dan who usually looks quite presentable is wearing James’s ‘I heart marijuana’ baseball hat and a pair of shades. Carrie is in her smiley-face top. It seemed like a good idea when she asked me what she should wear but now I realise that, collectively, we look like an anti-drugs advert. How did the flower get there?

The closer we get to the end of the concrete, the more relieved I feel. The further away we are from the orange noise of the town’s lights and the nearer to the bewitching sanctuary of the wood, the more we become ourselves.

______________________________

Reaching our destination, I breathe an all-cleansing breath and step into the pine-laden darkness. Sean picks a staff-like stick off the prickly floor and moves in front of us.

“I need one of those.” Carrie’s eyes scan the floor in search of her own crook. Every now and again, she darts short distances from the group towards a possible candidate, then comes back, shaking her head and muttering to herself.

I quicken my pace to catch Sean, rest my hand on his grubby bandage. Come to think of it he should have had it dressed the other day. Last time we went, it had just about healed over – just flaky bits and new tight pink skin. With each step we take, he prints the ground with his staff. Put my mouth to his ear. “Are you going to let it decide which way we should go, Shaman Man?”

He grins at me. “Of course – leave it all to a higher force.” I get it. Sean is using his trip as a mirror of how he thinks real life is, as predetermined. Funny how you don’t think of time spent tripping as real life: most of the time you pretend you are in control, that you have choices. But whether it’s the government – like Sean and James believe – or fate, like my parents do, none of it is really up to you. Thinking about it, Sean’s doing it wrong. You should go with the higher force normally and use tripping as dream-time, an alternate reality where you really are alive and actually do have free will.

“I’ve found one!” Carrie waves a large stick. You can practically see the triumph oozing out of her pores. “So what does that mean, Sean? We have to have two shamans?” She pats him on the shoulder cos he looks threatened. “Don’t worry, you’re still my guru. I won’t take any of your power away. I’ll be your assistant shaman.”

We carry on, our feet crunching quietly on the brittle pine leaves. “Hey, did anyone ever read ‘The Enchanted Forest’ when they were little?” Carrie says. “That tree especially.”

I thought that too. “Yeah – the Faraway Tree.” I stare at it, amazed at how it is exactly the same as the tree on the cover of the book that I haven’t seen since I was seven. I say, “If someone you’re tripping with shares their hallucinations with you, then it’s pretty difficult not to see the same things isn’t it?”

“The incredible phenomenon of the tripper’s power of suggestion?” James says. “That’s why I love acid so much – it defies all logic.”

“Let’s climb it.”   Carrie throws down her staff and jumps at the huge oak. She hoists herself onto the first branch, her arms strong enough to lift her slight body. The bark is rugged yet mossy, brown and gnarled –like a man who has worked outside all his life. I look skywards – head whirling with the vortex of foliage and branches through which Carrie is climbing towards the top of the faraway tree – up, up and away from everything to her own magical world.

“It will make a good vantage-point for seeing more of the wood,” Sean says. I get a funny blurred visual of him, crouched in a loincloth on an upper branch, staring out over his domain – the medicine man searching for the right path for his tribe. He throws down his staff and begins to climb.

Me and James watch them until they disappear altogether. Can’t remember when I last saw Dan. Take a scan around. “Where is he?”

“Dan? Shit, I don’t know,” James goes. “When did you last see him?”

“I’m pretty sure he was with us up until we stopped at the Faraway Tree.”

“Yeah, I reckon you’re right. I suppose we’d better go find him.”

________________________

“There he is.” James points ahead of us.

Dan is standing still, twitching his head from side to side like a lost deer. He slowly turns and spots us, strides over. “Why did you all fuck off and leave me?”

We laugh. “We didn’t. It was you that wandered off.” Then I realise he looks really pissed off. “We were right to head for the quad then.”

“Oh, are we near the quad?”

I indicate the large square of grass immediately in front of us – the centre of the wood. We amble towards it, Dan his happy self again. If you get lost, you always end up here eventually. I pat my clothes for my baccy and eventually find it in the back pocket of my flares. I sit down on the green, feel the cold wetness slowly seep through the bit where my jeans are ripped to the back of my thigh. Should I move? No it’s quite nice this physical connection with earth. The air around my face is thick with life, teeming. The microbes that make it up dance like crazy, bouncing off one another like metallers in a mosh pit. Man, I’d forgotten how much I love this stuff.

Inhaling, exhaling, I watch Dan and James wander short distances into the wood, their silhouettes acquiring extra limbs every time they bend and stretch up again. Every so often, they come back and dump logs and sticks of various sizes in a pile a few feet away from me. After a bit, the pile is bigger and James starts to arrange the sticks into a pattern at the side of it. Then he gets some newspaper out of his jacket – good thinking to bring that – rolls the pages into balls and slots them, at regular intervals, into the pattern. He lights the balls with a clipper and slowly the sticks start to catch too.

He comes over, puts his hand out towards me. I take it and let him pull me up. He holds my hand all the way to the fire where we stop – so wonderfully warm. We crouch down to be closer to the heat.

“Do you think Dan’s alright?” he says.

“Why?”

“It’s something he said a minute ago. I don’t think he even realised he said it.”

I get a concerned feeling. “What did he say?”

“We were picking up firewood and I’m sure I heard him muttering… that he wasn’t gay.” He whispers the last bit.

“Hardly, I mean, look at the way he is about Carrie.”

James nods.

“It’s all because he’s let himself wonder what it would be like to have sex with a man. It’s hardly a big deal. Haven’t you, thought about it I mean?”

“Maybe once or twice.” James waves his hand dismissively. “Even if he had had a sexual experience with a man it wouldn’t mean he was gay. Fuck, if that was the case, half the people I went to school with would never reproduce. You don’t think he’s going to lose it or anything? Only I didn’t want to ask him if he was alright in case he got paranoid.”

Dan emerges from the bit of wood in front of us and throws some more logs on the fire. “What?” he goes.

“Nothing,” we both say, realising we stopped talking abruptly. He gives us a grin and disappears again into the black bit of the wood that I can’t quite see.

James is staring at me. “Look at you, Miss LSD eyes.”

“What? Do I look really bad?”

“No, you look really… pretty. Like a pixie.”

My cheeks go hotter. I know I must look like shit. I do feel amazing though, if a bit giddy. “Miss LSD eyes, that sounds like a song. You should write it.”   Shit, that sounded arrogant. “I mean for somebody else.” Am I making it worse? Of course for somebody else.

James lies back on the grass. “Fern, look,” he says softly, and straightaway I’m calm.

I push myself back next to him, feel the dew in my hair and on the back of my head. The sky is cloudless, a huge bruised crescent of sky punctured with hundreds of winking stars. “Feel how wet the grass is. It’s almost like the stars have been crying.”

James is quiet for a bit and then he says, “Maybe the sun was their lover once, before the beginning of time, and they know they’ll never see him again – stars and sun, forever separated by the impassable gates of dusk and dawn.”

“Shit James, where did that come from? That’s beautiful.” Turn slightly so I can see him better. “Beautiful but tragic.” We both cringe and laugh.

“Yeah, tragically cheesy.” His smile fades. He looks away.

“No, cheesily beautiful,” I say, partly to make him feel better and partly because I think, if such a concept is possible, it’s true.

“Come here and lie down, Dan,” I call then realise James has just said my name like he’s got something important to tell me. I look at him, waiting for him to say it but he’s watching Dan now. Dan plonks some more logs on the overgrown pile and swaggers round the fire towards us.

“Look at this,” James goes.

Dan wriggles in between us, lies down. “Wow. That is unbelievable.”   The three of us stay like that, our bodies touching but not moving, worshipping the beauty in the way it merits, silence, listening to the wood’s rustling, non-human reply for a timeless time.

Trip At The Quad, extract from Yellow Brick Roads, as yet unpublished novel by Becky Cherriman

Chewing the Cud by Steve Toase

Tethered to the sink in the shared kitchen the cow looked confused, though it was a close run thing who was at that moment more perplexed.

I tried to squeeze my way past, keeping away from her mouth. She looked at the dirty floor, unsure where her grass had gone.

Reaching over I turned on the kettle. The cow made no noise. She tried to push over the fitted cupboards to make more space. Failing, she sat down. Her full udder slumped to one side. I watched the cow and the cow watched me, neither knowing what to do.

The kettle rumbled to a light dimming finish and I poured the water over the cheap teabag. Opening the fridge there was no milk on my shelf, instead a note.

“Sorry. We used the last of your milk during the night. We hope this replaces it. Sorry again.”

I looked at the cow and the cow looked back. Shaking my head I spooned out the teabag and went back to my room with my cup of black tea.

Chewing the Cud by Steve Toase

Tenancy Agreement, extract from Yellow Brick Roads, as yet unpublished novel by Becky Cherriman

Haunt 2

It is 1995, a Saturday afternoon, and tonight Fern and her friends will head to Leeds to a club. The chapter opens with the group sprawled out in a self-contained flat in Harrogate.

There are never fewer than three people here, even when we’re asleep. Me and Sean might be the only ones on the tenancy agreement but James, being homeless, is here all the time. He said it’d be temporary but he’s been here for, let me think…it must be over a month now. I watch him, slouching on his elbows on the floor. He sees me looking. He’s got bad red eye – must be really caned. I don’t think he’s even started trying to find somewhere yet. I could mind but James is fairly innocuous – good word that: having little or no adverse or harmful effect – a Lou word. Besides, I like it, have always had people around me.

The only downer about it is that me and Sean can’t fully go for it when we’re having sex. When he first moved in, James dropped some sarky hints about moans and groans and strange rustling in the night. Funnily enough he’s gone fairly quiet on the subject since Sean told him we had to do it sometime and that if he didn’t like it, he could find a higher class of hotel. Truth is, Sean buzzes off having someone in the room. I’ll be trying to be as quiet as possible and he will suddenly thrust really deep inside me so I gasp. Bastard. Still, I suppose having an audience is better than there being no performance at all…

Anyway, what was I thinking about? Oh yeah, all the people coming round the flat. Cheltenham Mount is definitely the place to be in Harrogate. The problem is, it’s getting to the stage where me and Sean have very little control over who comes round. People who’ve been to a party here or who’ve been round with a mate once get to thinking they’re welcome every day and start bringing ‘just one or two’ friends around to score. Lately it’s got a bit much.

Can I have a bath?” James asks. The stereo’s halfway through Dougal’s Love Of My Life, which I hadn’t even noticed coming on. Must be all the smoke in the air.

Yah man, go for it,” Sean tells him. “You know where the towel is.” The other one is going mouldy in the laundry basket.

We really do need some more towels,” I say. Two months on already and no one has actually managed to find the nearest launderette yet. If it’s absolutely urgent, I’ll go to my sister’s to do the washing but I really don’t want to see her, let alone crawl round, asking favours.

Nah, it’ll be right. We’ll just go to your Lotus’s,” Sean says brightly.

It will not be alright. I ..do… not.. want to go… to my sister’s just… to do some washing.”

She won’t mind.”

Evidently stoned or he’d have picked up on the tone in my voice.

Come off it Sean, you know how fucking superior she is.” I affect the mock upper-class voice my sister has adopted since she moved to Harrogate, “‘Well, if you had a job, you’d be able to pay for your own washing machine. You’re a clever young lady, Fern. How about some office work?” And then she would produce the local paper, dump the job page on my lap – so fucking predictable.

So. Just ignore her.”

Easy for him to say but there’s no point in trying to explain. He just doesn’t understand why I don’t want to have to answer to Lotus. It’s alright for him: he can lie his way out of awkward questions, will maintain till he’s blue-faced that he’s been to three interviews that very day but that there just aren’t enough full-time jobs to go round. That last bit is true, even in a wealthy small town like this. Personally, I would consider a job in which I was permitted to use my brain but unfortunately I don’t have the qualifications – the brains but not the qualifications. And I absolutely refuse to work in a dead end job. I don’t want to be anaesthetised by the system and neither do any of my friends. Won’t catch us being neatly-packaged by society. Not like my sister, a twenty four year old newly-wed who’s just bought her three bedroom semi, is working as a personal assistant to her husband – one of the directors of a small retail outlet – and is planning two point four children in the near future. I shudder. Besides, as I’ve told her over and over again, it’s not as if we don’t want to work; it’s a matter of principle. I mean what’s the point when there isn’t even a minimum wage? Anyway, the last time I went to see her, she whinged about me only coming round when I wanted something. There’s no way in the world I’m giving her more ammunition by asking if I can do my washing.

Do you want to go into town now?” I ask Dan, seeing the necessity of escaping before I start shouting at Sean or someone turns up and it becomes a major mission to leave.

Alright.” Dan launches himself off the sinky chair and pulls me up. Unlike Sean, he seems to have noticed me getting annoyed.

_________________

Me and Dan leave the flat and turn left up Cheltenham Parade. Dan stops at the nice bakery to buy a Cornish. I wait outside and a snooty old woman in a lavender coat uses her elbow to nudge me out of the way. This is what I fucking hate about Harrogate.

We walk on the road to pass the townie kids outside McDonalds. I’m wearing my jeans and Dan looks like an older version of them so we don’t get any comments today. They’re always giving James and Sean stick but it’s cheeky rather than aggressive; James and Sean either laugh or ignore it, depending on their mood.

On the grass near the cenotaph there is some kind of scuffle. Dan grabs my jacket with his fingers and pulls me closer so we can see. Some bloke is running after the scrawny Big Issue seller with the ripped-up trainers, the one who usually stands outside Woolies. He catches him, spins him round by the collar and swings. Looks twice the size and, even though we’re about fifty feet away, I can see how much the poor dude is shaking.

Shit, it’s Cafferty.” My hand goes to my mouth.

That’s not Cafferty, that’s…”

I take my eyes off them to look at Dan. “It’s Cafferty,” I repeat. “Who did you think it was?”

Nobody.” He flushes.

Look back and Cafferty’s still beating the faeces out of his latest victim. The man’s magazines are strewn all over the road and he’s not even trying to fight back. Cafferty is holding his collar with one hand so the poor bastard can’t fall to the floor. With it being Saturday, there are fuck loads of people about but that’s not stopping him. Then a siren starts up.

Tenancy Agreement, extract from Yellow Brick Roads, as yet unpublished novel by Becky Cherriman

Scarecrow by Steve Toase

Scarecrow

Sitting in the only chair in the room the guitarist began to sing. She sang the carpet into furrows of clay and the light-bulb into a paled sun. She sang twelve jolly dons into the already crowded bedsit. Through the floor erupted stick tied men, the taint of mildewed coats filling the room. Around the window shabby crows cluttered up the curtain rail. On a Monday outside time she sang beauty between those four walls that lingered long after everyone left.

When the day passed to night I passed the night sleeping alone in a single bed, under a window too easily opened from the outside. Next morning I got up in my one pair of jeans, with my reduced money for the week, and I carried inside my chest one crow feather, a mildewed thread, and a clod of ploughed clay.

Scarecrow by Steve Toase

The Knight-giant In The Wall By Becky Cherriman

Nobody but the knight-giant knew why he had left his cave and transmogrified into the wall of a cliff. But the question was the subject of local rumour up until the last century, after which such debates were, somewhat predictably, removed to academic institutions.

The knight-giant was one of the few from the York district to have made it back from the wars but, on returning, he had found himself without shelter. Worse than that, Miriam’s first reaction to his knock at the door was to draw back and wring her dress through her fingers. He had witnessed enough abroad to know at once that she was no longer a maid, done enough to allow him to forgive her for that. But seeing himself through her wary eyes, not a brave man but a scarred man, ganglier even than he had been before he went away, he realised he had been foolish to hope that she would open her arms to him, seven long years on. There was no denying it; the cords of their betrothal were severed.

As he left Miriam’s place some young uns leapt up from the mud where they were playing and scattered. Quick enough to catch one of the smallest by the scruff, he lifted him up to eye level. ‘Does Mrs Adcock still abide by the tanners?’

The boy stopped struggling and began to cry.

A girl of about twelve edged towards him. Mary-Ann, Louise’s eldest? The boy’s sister, most likely. ‘Mrs Adcock’s passed on two years hence, Sir.’

The cold stone of grief filled his stomach.

She gulped. ‘Will you put him down? He thinks you’re a ghost.’

‘He might be right, at that.’ And the knight-giant put the boy down with a gentleness that hadn’t left him though he’d had little cause to use it for many a year.

A little way down the street, was the farriers. He paused by the door but either his old friend Peter was intent on the stubborn stone in the hoof he was examining or he was too afraid to offer him a hello.
Because he could think of nothing else to do and because war and the journey back had made him used to walking – not all knights had the privilege of a horse to ride – the knight-giant left the village. Pebbles pressing through the thinned leather of his shoes, he pushed his way into the forest. And for days and the nights that followed, he trudged without sleep in the circles of wolves, tormented by the ghosts every soldier carries with him.

By the time he came to the cave on the banks of the Nidd, he had walked off much of his grief for his mother and Miriam, much of his resentment at a country that only valued its soldiers on the battlefield, for villagers that could not bear to be reminded of the wounds he had gained for them.

He carved a bed of stone from a fallen rock and took up residence in the cave. It was a natural hollow, small, but it never grew very cold and the woods had berries and rabbits enough to keep him. Besides, apart from the rush of the Nidd, it was a quiet spot and after the clatter of war he was glad of that, so glad that he pledged to honour its tranquillity by keeping his silence until he had something to say.

It was in his daily baths in the nearby dropping well that his gashes began to heal, their infections soothed by the saline water. His fractured bones benefited too, mended with the calcium carbonate that filtered through the rock into the waters. Unlike in the village he hailed from, those he met at the well did not retreat from him for they understood well that those wounds could not be passed on to others. Yet he didn’t speak to them for he still had nothing to say.

Every day from his cave he watched handfuls of them trudge along the riverside – pilgrims in pain – watched them walk back, often a little lighter, until one day, after the shadow of noon had passed, a bright-eyed young boy stopped at the cave mouth. John had noticed him because he had passed both ways several times over the last few months and because of his limp that did not improve for all his visits to the well.

The boy swung his stiffened leg into the cave and asked a question. After eighteen months of silence, the knight-giant found it was a question that he could answer, and so he did. The boy went away with the limp he had come with but lighter nevertheless and he did not visit the dropping well again. After that the knight-giant had many visitors, all with questions that he found he could answer and they all went away lighter, unless gravity was what they needed, in which case that was what they found.

This way of things went on for more years than anyone knows until one day the knight-giant left the cave and took up post a little further along the cliff. It could be that from outside the cave he found it easier to hear the prayers uttered by the torrents of the Nidd or that he simply liked the feel of sandstone against his back or perhaps he knew that one day a man would carve a holy place into the cliff and would need someone to protect him and his icons. It is not known whether from his place as sentinel of the rock he continued advising the pilgrims that came by there or whether he had run out of words altogether. But what is known is that he had showered so frequently in the waters and breathed in so much of the calcium carbonate in the stone that his flesh eventually solidified to rock.

So if, on the course of your pilgrimage, you visit Knaresborough and happen to have a question, do pose it to that knight in the cliff, just at the entrance of where the chapel is now. Listen carefully for his answer before standing beneath the dropping well to let those waters wash over your skin. Only take care you don’t stay too long.

N.B. This story was inspired by the etching on display at The Mercer Gallery 7th Feb-21st June. ‘St Robert’s Church at Knaresborough near Harrogate Spa in Yorkshire’ by an unknown artist.

The Knight-giant In The Wall By Becky Cherriman

Call for submissions for Haunt anthology

Tunnel

We invite stories or poems from people who have experienced homelessness, or vulnerable housing in Harrogate.

Please send 250 words, or 25 lines of poetry including blank lines, and a 50 word bio about your experiences of homelessness or vulnerable housing. 

Closing date 20th April.

All appropriate submissions will be put on the website and some pieces will be selected for the anthology.

Submissions to haunt.harrogate@gmail.com

More Info

HAUNT /hɔːnt/

v.  To inhabit, visit, or appear to in the form of a ghost.

n.  A place much frequented.

v.  To haunt one’s thoughts or memory.

The history of this town haunts us.

These buildings in which we live are spectres of past opulence.

The healing of this town is not for us.

Harrogate is known for its past as a wealthy spa town, and still has a reputation as a genteel place of tea rooms and flower shows.

This is not the Harrogate of everyone. For some people this idealised history is a haunting presence in their lives. In the fabric of buildings where they live in one room, or the parks where they sleep.  Their experiences are muffled beneath the dominant voice of Harrogate.

Haunt explores how people who are homeless, or bedsit residents, live inside these ghosts of the town’s past. Haunt gives people a place to tell stories not normally heard within the accepted narrative of the town and bring them to a wider audience.

Call for submissions for Haunt anthology