I continue my brief account of my long association with environmental writing…
In 2014 I contributed a chapter to Storytelling for a Greener World (Hawthorn), a significant contribution to the growing ‘field’ of environmental education and the use of storytelling as a tool for raising awareness about environmental issues, increasing eco-literacy, encouraging positive action, and enhancing our perception and appreciation of the natural world.
Here’s the blurb:
The what, why and how of storytelling and storywork to promote environmental mindfulness and sustainable behaviour in adults and children. Written by 21 cutting-edge professionals in story-based learning and pro-environmental change. Shows how to apply this practice, indoors and outdoors, in organisations, NGOs, schools, colleges and communities. A treasury of over 40 stories, many creative activities and detailed descriptions of inspiring practice for both new and seasoned practitioners. Clearly explains how this practice works, why it is effective and how to adapt the ideas to the reader’s situation.
From 2013-2018 I focused on my research degree at the University of Leicester. My main project in this time was my novel, The Knowing – a Fantasy, which imagines a descendant of the Reverend Robert Kirk receiving a copy of his lost journal detailing his captivity in Elfhame – but I also wrote two other novels: my eco-science fiction novel Black Box (discussed in Writing the Earth part 2) and Thunder Road, a transapocalyptic mash-up of Viking and Biker culture, which was my most explicitly CliFi novel to date (serialised on this blog, starting with Meltdown).
Shortly after completing my doctorate I started to develop a project around the concept of the ‘ecoGothic’. I was asked to contribute a creative keynote to a symposium on Gothic Nature at the University of Roehampton. Here I met the publisher of the Tales of the Weird Library which the British Library is creating. I pitched him a recalibration of my intended book, and it was commissioned. Heavy Weather: tempestuous tales for stranger climes was due out in early November, but Covid-19 has delayed everything, so it’s out on 18th February, 2021.
Here’s the blurb:
Since Odysseus’ curious crew first unleashed the bag of winds gifted him by Aeolus, the God of Winds, literature has been awash with tales of bad or strange weather. From the flood myths of Babylon, the Mahabharata and the Bible, to twentieth-century psychological storms, this foray into troubled waters, heat waves, severe winters, hurricanes and hailstones, offers the perfect read on a rainy day — or night. Featuring a selection of some of the finest writers in the English language — Algernon Blackwood, Herman Melville, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allan Poe and more — this collection of weird tales will delight and disturb.
As well as editing this, this year I contributed a short story for a RSPB anthology – We Are A Many-Bodied Singing Thing – part of a project called ‘Back from the Brink’, raising awareness about Britain’s endangered species. My CliFi short is called ‘The Rememberers’.
Here’s the final blurb – I promise!
A new sci-fi and speculative anthology inspired by endangered species and the people saving them.
Writing has always helped us to imagine possibilities for ourselves and the world around us. We wanted to imagine a future for England’s most endangered plants and animals – to explore how human and more-than-human beings relate to each other, and ways that we can live together better.
To do this, we asked writers to take inspiration from two Back From The Brink conservation projects: the Willow Tit Project, who are protecting this little bird and its post-industrial habitats, and Ancients of the Future, who are working to protect 28 threatened species which live in ancient trees.
The resulting anthology is tender, fierce, wondering, sad, and ultimately hopeful. We hear the voices of the animals and plants, see a thousand years into the future through the growth of moss, and experience several metamorphoses.
And most recently I’ve been working on a collection of poetry and artwork – the result of my deep mapping of my local universe here on the Wiltshire Downs during lockdown. I have already given a couple of talks about this – in Bardfest, and Storytown Corsham. It is due out on 20th December (advance orders being taken).
No doubt my environmental writing projects will continue. Watch this space!
In the meantime, check out the fantasic pilot episodes of Black Box from Alternative Stories and Fake Realities – part of their excellent CliFi season:
Climate Fiction, popularly abbreviated as ‘cli-fi’ is literature that deals with climate change and global warming. Traditionally such works would have been categorised as Speculative Fiction, but in a world of increasingly frequent extreme weather events, where many institutions, authorities, and governments have declared a Climate Emergency, cli-fi appears to chart the state of the modern, not near future, world.
My connection to creative writing that explores environmental issues started with my very first poetry, penned in the first year of the 90s – so I have a 30 year connection to the subject, long before Cli-Fi became a trendy tag. Much of my early poetry was inspired by the landscape and an ecological sensibility (and still is). This was performed at open mics and appeared in my home-made chapbooks throughout that decade. By the end of the 90s I had become the Bard of Bath, and had started to get my work into print.
In the early Noughties after working towards an MA in the Teaching and Practice of Creative Writing at Cardiff University, I started to teach creative writing in earnest. I applied for a small grant, which enabled me to run a series of workshops on ‘Writing and the Environment’ at Envolve, Bath’s environment centre, during the spring and early summer of 2003. This resulted in Writing the Land: an anthology of natural words, which I put together with my students. It raised funds for the local Friends of the Earth group, and I got a piece in the Bath Chronicle, with me appearing next to Terry Coulson, the much-loved and missed chair (he died a year later). To publish the anthology I created Awen Publications, a small press, which I ran for ten years. It specialised in writing with an ‘ecobardic’ sensibility, an ethos outlined first by the storytelling group I was in (Fire Springs) and then adopted by the press. An Ecobardic Manifesto: a vision for the arts in a time of environmental crisis came out in 2004, and as a co-author, can be included as my second substantial environmentally-themed publication.
And for my third in this survey of my personal Cli-Fi list I would now turn to Lost Islands: inventing Avalon, destroying Eden (Heart of Albion Press, 2008). Imaginary, otherwordly and lost islands frequently feature in literature. This study considered these mythic isles in the context of climate change and Earth itself as a threatened ‘island’. I think of this as my ‘Climate Change’ book, as in it I looked hard at the (then still) emerging facts about humankind’s decimating impact on the Earth’s biodiversity, and regulatory systems. Concerns about this stem back decades, indeed centuries (Victorian polymath John Ruskin first noted the impact of pollution on air quality and cloud formation). I certainly became concerned about it from the late 80s, when the Ozone layer and the effect of CFCs upon it first appeared in the media, alongside campaigns to Save the Whale and the Amazon rainforest. That famous footage of the hole in the Ozone layer above the Arctic chilled me to the core, and prompted me to join many eco-protest marches. When awareness grew of the potential for sea levels to be effected by global warming I started to think about islands and the many legends of lost ones. I started to research it in earnest and visited as many as I could – writing a draft of the book on Bardsey Island, off the Llyn Peninsula. With the publication of Lost Island, I felt I had truly nailed my colours to the mast. I was green, through and through!
I continue my potted history of personal Cli-Fi in the next blog…
My prize-winning science fiction/cli-fi novel, Black Box, has been adapted into an exciting audio drama by podcast wizards, Alternative Stories and Fake Realities. The pilot episodes (1-3) are being launched 27 November, 4 December, and 11 December, 2020. FFI: https://www.buzzsprout.com/411730
If you like what you read why not buy me a coffee?
The Manx Archaeological Trust have just announced a “potentially major discovery” at the latest excavation currently underway at Barradoole, site of the famous Viking ‘ship burial’. Dr Mark Webster, director of the dig, said: ‘One of my student volunteers called me over on the last day, saying “Hey Mark, I think I’ve found something…” She certainly had – with great care I took over. After lots of painstaking effort, a magnificent decorated horn was revealed. We’re currently cleaning it, but it looks at least 10th Century and is remarkably intact. We’re very excited about this, but don’t want to make any grand claims until further analysis has been undertaken.’ Experts from The British Museum are due to be joining the team shortly, their arrival delayed by the cancelled flights and extremely busy ferries. If the horn proves to be genuine, it could be a real boost for the island. The Governor’s Office emphasised that any such finds remain the property of the Manx government and must remain upon the island. Staff at the museums in Douglas and Peel are obviously keen to see the discovery and to help with conservation. General public are advised to stay away from the excavation. A temporary exhibition will be opened once the dig is complete and the area declared safe.
Chapter 10: The Horn
Life in the camp continued as usual for the next couple of days – the endless boozing, macho games and male-bonding, punch-ups and punishments, street wheelies and beach donuts, the tinkering and polishing of bikes – albeit with a rota to keep watch for the inevitable ‘pay back’, courtesy of the Devil’s Hogs.
At the daily ‘Camp Thing’ – a rowdy club meeting meant to attend to the business of the day – it was argued vehemently by Tear and his followers that ‘attack was the best form of defence’.
‘Strike down the bastards while they’re sleeping off the grog!’ he growled, smashing his fist down and sending flagons flying. ‘A pre-dawn raid. Go in, guns blazing. Take out the high command. Cut off the fat fucking hog’s head!’
Fists banged on the tables.
‘Maybe we shouldn’t be so rash, ‘scuse the pun!’ beamed Balder, leaping up onto a bench.
The mood was surly, but everyone loved Balder, so it seemed to Eddy. He was the golden one, always adding a positive comment, a joke, a kind gesture. He was like a ray of light in a cave.
‘If we slaughter the Hogs, then what message does that send to the other gangs? To their allies? Before we know it, we’d be fighting off enemies on all fronts. It’ll be total war.’
There were grunts of approval at this.
Tear stood up again, bristling. ‘Maybe we need a good war, to purge the weak from the world!’
Some roared in agreement.
‘You can fight all you like, I prefer a cold beer and a hot woman in my arms!’ smiled Balder, and the tension eased with the laughter.
The Hammer suddenly stood unsteadily to her feet – ‘Me too!’ She hiccupped and collapsed back on the bench. The tent exploded in merriment.
Tear and Balder eyed each other uneasily, but both sat back down.
Then Rig got up to say his piece. ‘Whether we attack or not, that’s up to the president, but I agree with Sarge that we do need to be ready. We badly need some discipline around here. We don’t want the Hogs to catch us with our pants down.’ Crude laughter and heckles from the floor, but Rig let it subside. ‘Make sure your bike is road-fit, and make sure you are too. I suggest no more partying until we’ve dealt with this threat. I know, I know. It pains me too! I like a beer as much as the next man, and I could drink half of you under the table—’ He was interrupted by friendly jeers from the floor. ‘But, come on guys. Let’s get real here for a moment. The Hogs could come round that corner at any minute, guns blazing. So let’s make sure we give them the welcome they deserve. Bikes tuned. Weapons loaded. And heads clear.’
Fists pounded the tables at this, then turned to One Eye, who had sat silently, watching it all, with a slightly amused expression on his face. He got up, stretching his back with a groan. ‘Heed your road captain, you miscreants. Rig once again talks sense. No more partying until this fight is done. Get your shit together. Inspection at noon. Meeting over. Now, where’s that coffee?’ The president looked bleary-eyed this morning, rubbing his grizzled face. He caught Eddy’s gaze momentarily but it was hard to read his expression.
He walked from the tent with relief into the fresh air. Were these really the old gods of the Norse? It was hard not to see them for just a bunch of ageing bikers who had turned a midlife crisis into a lifestyle, sadly clinging onto former glories and all that ‘born to be wild’ bullshit? Didn’t they notice, it wasn’t the Sixties anymore, nor the Seventies or Eighties for that matter. It was a new century, one that already was soaked in blood. The only myths and legends anymore were to be found on social media, where gods were raised and destroyed every day.
Eddy wandered to the groyne at the far end of the beach, away from the worst of the noise. The tide had turned and the sea was lively this morning. A restless energy was in the air. He sat down and pulled out his cell. He hadn’t checked his messages since he’d got to Man.
There were about twenty from his sister.
He groaned, and scanned through them: concern quickly turning into vexation, then anger, rage, and fury. By the end it was a full on hurricane of spleen. Eddy held it at arm’s length, wincing as he read them.
Time to face the music! He pressed speed-dial and waited for his sis to pick up.
Finally, the call was answered. Eddy realised with a pang of guilt that it was very early over there.
‘Big sis! How’s it going?’
The line was crackly at first – a blizzard of white noise breaking up the voice on the other end. ‘Eddy? Eddy, is that you? You muvvafukka—’
‘Good Morning to you, beloved sister! Nice to hear your dulcet tones! Sorry for waking you!’
‘Shut up, scumbag, before I throw this cell across the room! Where the Hell have you been? What happened to that flight? We waited at the fucking airport! For three fucking hours!’
‘Ah, I’m sorry about that. Really am. I decided to go to the Isle of Man.’
‘The Isle of Man? Is that code for a biker bar somewhere? You sound like you’ve been on a bender for days.’
‘Well…’ He realised he had. You need to sober up, Eddy! ‘You see, I met this girl…’
‘Met a girl? You was with a girl! On holiday together! Remember! She’s back home now and wondering what happened to you? She was seriously pissed with you, but even she was starting to worry. Mom and Dad have been beside themselves. I’ve tried to reassure them that Eddy, y’know, he’s just on one of his “vision quests”, the usual shit. Never again!’
‘I’m so sorry, sis, I really am. But she’s really special, this one. I’ve found … the one!’
‘I don’t care if you’ve found Poca-fucking-hontas. What you’ve done is inexcusable. All it would’ve taken was a message or two – just to let us know you hadn’t been killed by a falling plane or something!’
Eddy laughed. ‘A falling plane. That’s a new one. Who do you think I am, Donnie Darko?’
‘You jerk! Haven’t you been watching the news?’
‘Err, no. Been a little bit pre-occupied.’
‘The volcanic eruption threw up so much material into the jet-stream it closed…’
‘I know, sis, that’s why I had to ride across fucking EuroDisney…’
‘But a Russian jumbo ignored the warnings, and its engines got clogged up. It crashed, losing all of its passengers and crews. Hundreds. All over the news…’
‘And now there have been reports of earthquakes along the mid-Atlantic ridge and warnings of tsunamis all along the Atlantic seaboard, and you’re on a fucking island! Nothing to worry about, Eddy! Sure! Why not top up your tan? Hang out on the beach all day.’
Eddy looked about him at the camp. ‘Ummm. Thanks for the heads-up sis, I’ll … head for high ground. Listen, I’ve got to go. But it’s been good talking. I miss your well-intentioned nagging. And you’re cooking. Say love to Mom, Pops and Gramps for me. Love to you, big sis! Bye!’
He ended the call, and looked nervously out at the water – restless with white caps this morning. Perhaps he should tell the others? Surely, there would be a local warning, if anything like that was on the horizon? He vowed to check the local news and weather.
First, another cup of joe.
Over a steaming mug, Eddy flicked through the Manx news website, eyes glazing over at the dreary items about traffic regulations, changes in bylaws, planning applications, and closures of public services. There was a mildly interesting debate on its forum about the hordes of bikers currently on the island: ‘The Gathering: gain or pain?’ Some argued that it was an important boost to the tourist economy, which had slumped in recent years due to the foul weather and cheap flights to the Med; others, that it drove tourists away, and the policing and clear-up costs cancelled out any benefits. Eddy was all too familiar with being labelled a ‘menace to society’. Sure, some bikers at the extreme end of the spectrum – the nutters with a death wish, the neo-Nazi biker gangs and crime syndicates – were; but the majority were, well, middle-aged wannabe rebels. North of forty Sunday anarchists. The ninety-nine percenters. Eddy realised, with a wry smile, that he was now officially one of the one-percenters, being a patched-up member of an outlaw bike club. He didn’t feel any different inside. There were some things he wouldn’t do – knowingly kill a man, for instance; but some laws were just for the sheep to follow. Crowd control for the supine populace. He was, by nature, a wolf.
He couldn’t see anything ‘tsunami warnings’ – just increasingly foul weather on the way – and he was about to browse another site, something more exciting, when a minor news item caught his eye: ‘Viking horn found in recent excavation’. He tapped on it, and read the article with increasing interest.
Eddy’s heart beat like an overwound drummer monkey. Maybe it was just too much caffeine, but he felt strangely excited by this. He had to tell the committee! He got up and walked over to the main marquee. Despite the semblance of activity in the camp, as the rank and file made ready for the midday inspection, most of the ‘old gods’ were dozing, still sleeping off last night’s binge. The pervading smell was one of hops, body odour and farts. Behold, the Aesir! Eddy smiled. So much for being battle-ready…
As he went to enter, the massive slab of Honer appeared from the wings and placed a firm hand on his chest. ‘Do not disturb, wetpatch.’
‘I’ve got some news I think they’ll like to hear.’
The tailgunner gave him a sceptical look from beneath his furious eyebrows. ‘Tell me, I’ll decide.’
Eddy took a step back. ‘I’ll … wait.’
‘Let him in.’
It was Fenja, emerging from the back of the tent. She wore a t-shirt and jeans as though they had been painted on her.
‘It’d better be good.’ Honer breathed, letting him pass.
Eddy stepped into the marquee. Catching Fenja’s warm gaze, like a steaming geyser by a glacier, he nodded thanks.
‘What is it?’ she asked, softly.
‘There’s been a discovery that I think this lot would like to know about…’ He showed her the article and her aurora borealis eyes widened in the gloom of the tent.
‘Hey, ass-ears, wake up!’
Groans, slight stirrings, further snoring.
‘I said WAKE UP!’ Fenja bellowed with a voice that could wake the dead. An icy cloud blasted from her mouth, shocking the groggy sleepers out of their post-session slumber.
Eddy stepped back, freaked out as much by Fenja as the imminent wrath of the committee.
‘Nidhug’s knackers, woman! Can’t a fellow catch forty winks around here!’ groaned One Eye.
‘There is something important that you really need to see…’
Fenja chucked him the phone, which Tear snatched out of the air with lightning reflexes.
‘Hey, that’s my phone, by the way!’ Eddy grumbled, but they all ignored him.
The sergeant-at-arms checked out the site with his cold, dark eyes, nodding. ‘She’s right.’
Eddy rode near the front of the column of bikes as they roared south to Barradoole. As the ‘discoverer’ he was afforded a certain status within the pack, although as Tear was keen to point out that it was only ‘temporary’. The majority of the club had been ordered to stay behind, to guard the camp, with Frey in charge, backed up by The Hammer. The rest of the committee were with One Eye, as he led them towards the site.
The sky was dark – it was always dark these days since the eruption – and it was distinctly chilly, certainly feeling less like early July and more like early autumn. No doubt One Eye would think it was to do with Jormungandr shedding its scaly skin or some such, smiled Eddy.
It felt good to be moving, to be doing something, instead of just drinking beer or sharpening knives. And all the target practice was making his ears ring. Too many guns are unhealthy for a man’s constitution. What kind of club had he got himself involved with? Grand theft auto, homicide, possession of illegal weapons, and dizzying delusions of grandeur too boot! The really wrong crowd, his sis would say.
They passed the sign for Barradoole, and turned onto a narrow country lane which finally came to a terminus in a slightly wider gravelled area that no doubt normally served as an adequate car-park for the odd visitor, but today, already over-run with a couple of landrovers, a minibus and a van, couldn’t cope with the influx of fifty bikers. For a while it was chaos, as the bikers parked wherever they could, gridlocking the lane. The road captain ensured the Elders had a clear passage, and bellowed at the tailgunner down the line: ‘Guard the exit; keep it clear!’
To increasing profanity as leather-clad bikers (none of them on the slim or agile side, Fenja and Eddy being the exception) squeezed through a kissing gate, they followed the brown heritage sign bearing the legend ‘Burial Site’. Eddy had read about the remarkable Viking ship burial and couldn’t believe he was actually visiting it. Like many, he initially thought a whole longship had been buried there, in the small village on the south of the island, but eventually realised it was a symbolic ship, demarcated by stones, in which the burials had taken place.
Silence descended amongst the ranks after a snarl from Rig, as they made along the footpath winding its way over the hillside.
‘An Iron Age hillfort,’ observed Niggard, the club treasurer who also was a bit of a prehistory anorak, as it turned out. ‘The Viking burial is on top of a Christian site and nearby Anglo-Saxons cysts. It is possibly a deliberate repurposing of the site, and yet the earlier graves weren’t destroyed. Were they hedging their bets, or just wanted to use the dramatic location?’
As the view towards the sea in the southwest appeared over the brow of the hill, Eddy had to agree with that – it was a dramatic backdrop, looking towards the setting sun, or, in this case, a vast sky of dark cloud, like anvils ready to fall. Up ahead they say a marquee, a couple of gazebos with tables, and a portaloo. Behind a taped off area, a group of scruffy students went about the dig, sporting hi-viz tabards over their fleeces and hoodies, supervised by a man in a Barbour with an Indiana Jones hat, a thick beard and glasses, holding a mug while scrutinising a tablet. When he saw the approaching bikers, he dropped his mug, drenching his leg in tea. ‘Ouch! Fuck it!’ He unsuccessfully tried to sponge it dry with a couple of paper towels and gave up. Taking a deep breath, he came towards them, waving his hands. ‘Sorry! No public! We’re not allowing visitors yet. Come back in a couple of days.’
One Eye gave him a broad smile. ‘No problem then. We’re not the public!’ He nodded to his warriors, who broke through the tape and circle the pit.
‘Hey, you can’t do that!’ spluttered the man, identified by his badge as Mark Webster, Manx Archaeological Trust, by his site ID. ‘Maggie, call the police!’
Tear placed a mailed hand upon his shoulder. ‘I wouldn’t do that, if you know what is good for you and your students.’
‘We just want a look, that’s all. You could say we’re enthusiasts,’ beamed One Eye.
Webster went pale, and licked his suddenly very dry lips. ‘Maybe hang on two ticks, Mags.’
The young assistant frowned, thumb hovering over the mobile phone.
‘That’s the spirit!’ grinned One-Eye, showing his fearsome dental work. ‘Now, talk us through it!’ He placed a hand like a baseball mitt on Webster shoulder.
‘Umm, well.’ The archaeologist took his glasses off, which had become steamed up, and gave them an ineffectual polish, hands shaking. ‘Let’s see. We dug a test trench…’
‘Just cut to the chase,’ One Eye winked.
‘This is quite unusual… Mm. We discovered the artefact two days ago … Knew it was a mistake, sending that press release. The site in and around the ship grave has been thoroughly excavated, but I won a grant to do a geophys of the whole hillfort. I wasn’t expecting to find anything earth-shattering, but you live in hope.’
His students watched on, nervously. Some were clearly uncomfortable at the lascivious gazes of the bikers.
‘Well, as luck would have it… The nearby quarry – that gopping eyesore over there…’ He pointed to the massive ‘bite’ taken out of the hillside. ‘Destabilised the edge of the fort. After recent heavy rains there was a landslip and a new burial was unearthed – an older burial beneath the current one, predating the Viking, Christian, and Saxon. Even the hill fort itself!’
Webster walked One Eye and his party to the marquee. Eddy tagged along and was apparently tolerated, although Tear gave him a look like he was something he’d picked up on his Grinders.
‘And that’s when we found this…’ Webster eyes gleamed as he showed them the finds table. ‘Well, technically, Zoe over there found it.’
A speccy, gangly girl gave a shy wave.
‘Though I was the one who excavated it, so joint credit. She’ll certainly be a co-author … or one of the authors … in the article for Archaeology Today…’
Tear bared his studded teeth and hissed.
Webster coughed, and, shaking, pulled back the plastic cover from the polystyrene holding case.
One-Eye’s one good eye widened, and Eddy strained to have a look as the club-members crowded in.
‘It has been precisely dated yet. The stratigraphy is somewhat scrambled from the landslip. The dates it suggests are … crazy. Palaeolithic…’ Webster could see their eyes coveting the jewel-encrusted metalwork. ‘Yet the style suggests late Viking, ninth or tenth century.’ He scratched his head. ‘It just doesn’t make sense.’
‘May I…’ One Eye went to reach for it.
‘Hold your nelly, it can’t be…’ A dozen knives were at Webster’s throat. He tried to gulp.
‘Don’t worry, I’m wearing gloves.’ One Eye picked it up, as the students gasped. He turned it gently over in his leathered hands, gazing at it in fascination with his one good eye. ‘Strange. It … stirs something in me. A dream I once had; a life I once knew…’
The onlookers were all mesmerised by the intricate pattern of the horn, the size of an auroch’s – though One Eye handled it like it was as light as balsa wood.
Lost in his own thoughts, the president wandered to the doorway. ‘Memories … waking up inside me, like a volcano…’ He held up the horn to the dark rumbling sky. ‘Am I a man who dreams he is a god, or a god who dreams he is a man…?’ One Eye he brooded. ‘Road Captain…’
‘Didn’t you used to play an instrument … a saxophone or something?’
Rig’s eyes flared. ‘Yes, I did.’
‘Then give us a tune!’ One Eye tossed the horn, to the gasps and cries of the archaeologists. Rig caught it elegantly. ‘I may need some air for this.’ He walked outside with it, and everyone followed.
‘No, no, no!’ cried Webster.
Tear placed a spiked hand on the archaeologist’s chest.
With his back to the group, framed by the dark sky and the iron seas to the west, Rig put the mighty horn to his lips and blew.
President Koil declares national emergency & martial law
In response to the escalating ‘climate chaos’ – hurricanes, storm surges, mass flooding –President Koil this morning has taken what he calls ‘desperate measures for desperate times’. He has declared a state of national emergency. The Home Guard has been mobilised to defend key resources and martial law has been imposed to prevent rioting. In the last couple of days cities across the US has seen panic-buying in the food stores, and violence flaring at gas stations as drivers queue to fill up their tanks. Schools have been closed and the public have been advised to not to travel in the extreme weather unless absolutely necessary. Many airports remain closed, and there is gridlock along coastal interstates as citizens attempt to abandon the threatened areas. An escalating series of tsunamis have already devastated many major cities along the Atlantic seaboard and Pacific west. The number of fatalities is unknown. President Koil was recorded in a message from a secret location for ‘America to remain strong. Your government will protect you and is doing everything in its power to keep the Land of the Free safe. Stay in your homes, keep your loved ones close, and await further instructions.’
Chapter 8: The Thing
The next morning Eddy walked across the camp, oblivious to the foul weather that lashed the beach. Glowing inside, he was trying to get used to the double-whammy of being Fenja’s lover and a patch. He wore his colours (still damp from the night before) with pride. He had certainly earned them. He was greeted by nods, the odd slap on the back. He was one of them now.
Eddy entered the mess tent, drawn by the smell of bacon and coffee.
‘Had a good night?’ queried one of the older members, waggling his eyebrows, while his mates guffawed.
If Eddy could have turned redder he would have done. Instead, he said defiantly: ‘Out of this world.’
‘Beats me how a wetback like you could get laid by the hottest bitch on the camp’, sneered another while picking his teeth. His bald head mirrored the cannonball of his gut.
‘Club rules are club rules,’ added the grey beard. ‘Our women can sleep with who they like – their call. But to sleep with another’s regular broad is a patchable offence. So tread carefully, Red.’
Eddy nodded and walked to the serving area. Thanks for the advice, fellas! he groaned inside. No point creating enemies on his first morning. Perhaps they meant well. But Fenja was clearly her own woman. She didn’t belong to anyone.
He bumped into his fellow newbie in the queue. ‘Hey.’
‘What a night!’
Cruz contemplated this for a minute. ‘Si.’
He wasn’t going to get much more out of her, so he patiently waited for his turn.
With his tray laden with good things, he scanned the mess tent for somewhere to sit.
‘Hey, Red!’ Two younger members waved him over. He gratefully joined them.
The one with the blond Mohican offered a fist, ‘Dash.’
‘Blitzen,’ said the other, who sported a dark beard and a straggly mop. He sounded German, the other Scandinavian.
‘Your set the other day was cool, man!’ enthused Dash. ‘You’re shit-hot on the axe.’
‘Jah, jah. Sehr gut. Hope we hear you again soon.’
‘Cheers, guys.’ Eddy tucked into his bacon ‘butty’ with relish. ‘Oh, boy! Need this.’
‘They feed you good here,’ said Dash, rubbing his belly. ‘Tuck in, because it’s gonna be a big day.’
‘Why, what’s happening?’ asked Eddy.
‘The Thing,’ said Blitzen, as though he should know what that meant. He looked none the wiser, so the German elaborated: ‘Interclub council at Tynwald, where they decree the laws here in English and Manx every July 5th, Tynwald Day. It’s the oldest parliament in Europe, based upon the Nordic All-Thing, or Thingvallr. We take it over – and the authorities … tolerate it. It brings in massive tourist revenue, after all. It’s the main reason why we’re all here.’
‘Speak for yourself,’ quipped Dash. ‘I’m here for the road races, the girls, and the beer!’
‘Jah, jah, that too,’ smiled Blitzen. ‘But we are heading out 11am. Full colours. Attendance compulsory. And, anyway, you don’t want to miss this. You haven’t ridden until you’ve ridden out with the club.’
Eddy guzzled down his coffee. ‘Refill?’ They shook their heads. He was going to need coffee, lots of it!
The sound of the collective engines was incredible as they roared out of the camp and onto the road inland. Eddy was towards the back of the pack, but he didn’t mind. He was grinning from ear-to-ear. Here he was, riding with the Wild Hunt! The triple-triangle patches filled his field of vision – there must be a thousand of them. The town’s people stood along the roadside, watching them go. Drivers patiently waited – nobody wanted to mess with the Hunt.
‘Fuckin’ cool, hey!?’ shouted Dash, riding next to Blitzen.
‘Hell, yeah!’ he fist-bumped his new pal, feeling part of the gang.
The vibration of the engines rippled through his body – it was a sound that hit you right in the chest, the sound of thunder.
The pack accelerated out of town, heading east. The Hog’s bike was unfamiliar beneath him at first – a customised Buell Ulysses, by his reckoning. Decorated with skulls and swastikas, it was uncomfortable to ride, but fellow members nodded approvingly. It was spoils of war, simple as that. Anything that stuck it to the Hogs was alright in their books. Nevertheless, Eddy was relieved to hiding in the midst of the pack.
No point tempting fate.
As they rode along the winding country road beneath the overcast sky, his thoughts wandered to Fenja – who would be no doubt riding near the front of the pack on her restored ride. He couldn’t help but smile, thinking of their night together.
Oh boy! It was hard not to get a hard on – the vibrations not helping. No wonder some women loved to ride a fat bike! That woman was truly a goddess! He was the luckiest man on Earth!
He eagerly awaited the next instalment. He hoped to see her tonight, but he didn’t want to push things. Play it cool, Eddy. Play it cool!
They headed down the A1 and were there in no time, though it took a while to filter onto the site and park up in their designated area, with so many of them.
It looked like MCs had come from all over the island that day. Eddy had never seen so many in one place before. He scanned the gangs nervously for the Devils Hogs. Surely his presence was just throwing diesel on the fire?
But attendance was compulsory. He had no choice. He was one of the Wild Hunt now. He hoped there would be safety in numbers.
Eddy followed Dash and Blitzen to the hill. It was hard to get close but they did their best, pushing through the crowds as diplomatically as possible. They carefully stayed with their own club, all too aware of the stares they were getting from the others. Some gave them respect, ‘friendlies’, as Dash described them (Eddy saw the Banshees, but couldn’t spot Bog amongst the multitudes); others were blatantly hostile – notably the Devils Hogs – but this was The Thing, and an uneasy truce pervaded.
The Council sat upon the Hill – its tiers demarcating the hierarchy of rank. Eddy noticed that One Eye was in the top tier, alongside the leader of the Devils Hogs; the Hells Angels; and their arch-enemy, the Bandidos; plus the Russian president of the Night Wolves. The tension was obvious in their body language. Away from the Hill these are people who would instinctively tear each other apart.
One Eye looked clearly bored by the various speeches from the different leaders – making boasts, bold statements, or complaints. Alliances and truces were declared upon the Hill each year, explained Blitzen, feuds and grudges established or settled – often by races, knife-fights, or all out shoot-outs. Every year there was ‘blood on the streets’. Every year the authorities tried to crack down on it, force it to be cancelled, but such a vast number of bikers was hard to police. They were a law unto themselves and while the Gathering last, biker law prevailed.
And on Tynwald Hill was where biker law was declared.
One Eye listened with weary patience, and when it was his turn he slowly got to his feet, cracked a shoulder and yawned, before stepping up to the mike.
He cast his one good eye over the thousands below him, who anticipated his speech.
‘Our Prez always tells it like it is. His speech is often the highlight of the day,’ said Dash, clearly excited.
One Eye leaned towards the mike and let out a giant raspberry, which echoed across the crowds.
He waited for the impact to settle. Bikers jostled nervously – some shouted out heckles. ‘Old fart! Disgrace! Gerrim off! The old man has dementia – put him back in the care home where he came from!’
One Eye laughed coldly. ‘That’s what I think of all the petty edicts and posturing. None of it matters. None of it. You know why? Let me tell you. Look up at the fucking sky!’ He pointed up at the dark lid of clouds. ‘Airspace closed over Europe. Traffic chaos. That’s just the start. The bitter air is just the start of it. Your Knoz-rings aren’t going to protect you from what’s coming. The Icelandic eruption seems to have triggered a chain reaction along the mid-Atlantic ridge. More volcanoes are erupting each day. And none of you realise the significance of that. But I do.’ One Eye knuckled his raven-inked temple, shook his head clear. ‘I’ve … seen it.’ His eye suddenly flashed fire. ‘Surt the Fire God is waking up!’
The crowd jeered him. ‘He’s fucking lost it!’ ‘The old man has gone mental!’ ‘Somebody take him to a care home!’
The leader of the Wild Hunt seemed to grow in stature – his voice a growl of thunder that got everybody’s attention. ‘Beneath the Earth Fenris the Wolf tears at his chains, causing earthquakes, tsunamis. The Midgard Serpent writhes, whipping the seas into a maelstrom. And the Frost Giants are rising again… We’re in for a long, hard winter, my friends, mark my words. Winter is not fucking coming. Winter is here! The world is like a headless chicken, still running around, not realising it has lost its head and is bleeding to death.’
An uneasy silence had descended over the crowd. To Eddy’s eyes the sky looked like it had got notably darker. And was that a flash of lightning, right on cue?
Then, an underpowered clapping from one of the tiers. A small man with a swastika tattooed across his face, and a Knoz-ringtm stood up. ‘One Eye talks out of his anus!’
‘That’s the leader of the Hogs, Adolf Mosley!’ said Dash. ‘Grade-A asshole.’
‘He thinks it’s the end of the world!’ continued Mosley.
The Hogs roared with laughter, scowled at by the Wild Hunt.
‘Yes, it is the end of the fucking world, fuckheads!’ rumbled One Eye. ‘And we have a choice – so simple even you morons can understand, so listen up.’ He waited for silence.
‘Join forces and survive, or fight each other and die.’
The impact of his words sent murmurs of discontent, scorn, and scepticism through the crowd. ‘Yes, you heard me right. We have to put aside our differences. Bury the hatchet, and not in one another’s skulls. Dark times are here. What we do now will matter, and make the difference between seeing the dawn again or not. You may not like the idea, but look at your fellow bikers. Flesh and blood, like you.’
‘Except the Devils Hogs!’ called out a member, to laughter, until he was punished by the Enforcer, who knocked him out with a single punch.
‘A petrol-head, like you. Likes his or her freedom, like you. We may be the only bastards able to act when it hits the fan. Most people, trapped in their little boxes, won’t stand a chance.’
‘What can we do?’ called out someone with an Irish accent from the Banshees.
‘Work together. We’ve got the manpower, the mobility, and the means. It’s up to you. I’m done.’ One Eye stepped back from the mike and sat back down, looking exhausted.
Uproar ensued, as everyone argued about what he had said.
‘Come on Red, got a feeling this is going to turn nasty. Let’s split,’ called Dash. ‘Looks like the Road Captain is calling us back, anyway.’
Eddy was swept along by the departing Wild Hunt, heckled by the other biker gangs, who called them ‘pussies’ and ‘tree-huggers!’ His mind reeled, reflecting on One Eye’s speech. To him, what the president had described, sounded all the world like climate change. Was he just speaking metaphorically? Yes, the weather was fucked. If so, what could a bunch of bikers do about it?
He found his bike but as he went to pull out of the compound, his way was blocked by a bunch of Devils Hogs members, wielding chains.
‘Where do you think you’re going, scumbag?’ snarled the one in front. From his filed teeth, Eddy recognised it was Sharkman.
‘You’re on one of our rides… Tut, tut. Wonder how you got hold of that…?’
In a blur of motion, one of them whipped a grappling hook into his front wheel, as two others yanked him from his bike, chaining his arms, and the fourth held the bike secure.
In an instant he was bikeless and helpless. Sharkman wrapped his chain around his fist, and snarling in satisfaction, went to land him one.
Eddy flinched, but before the blow could land, Dash, Blitzen, and a whole bunch of other Wild Hunters piled in.
‘Attack one member, you attack us all!’ shouted his friends.
For a while they looked like they were going to wiped the floor with the attackers, but as the altercation was noticed by the departing crowds, more Hogs poured in, many pulling knives. It was turning bloody.
For a moment Eddy was forgotten, and was able to shake off his chains. Fists free, he joined in the fray.
Soon, they were all but surrounded by the Hogs, who rapidly outnumbered them. First Dash went down, then Blitzen. It was going to turn into a massacre…
‘Aargghhh!’ Eddy looked up to see Hogs being scattered left, right and centre as though a bull was charging through them. Suddenly the Hammer appeared, towering over the attackers. She clenched her fists and pounded into them, breaking teeth, breaking skulls. By her side appeared Tyr and Rig. Both loved a good scrap, and set to it.
Eddy was able to seize back his bike – with a few well-aimed kicks and punches he was back on it, and revving it, nosing it forward through the melee.
Slowly the tide was turned, and the Wild Hunters fought their way to the exit. Finally, there was a clear run to the road.
‘Go!’ commanded the Hammer, covered in the blood of her opponents.
Eddy needed no further prompting. He gunned the engine and skidded out of the compound, followed by his fellow members, who poured forth like a breached dam.
Eddy turned to see The Hammer and Tear fighting on, while Rig mounted his bike, and raced to the front. ‘Let’s get the hell out of here before World War Three starts!’
The Road Captain led the Wild Hunt back westwards, to the coast. A posse of Hogs tried to follow, but the gunshots he heard confirmed what his fellow bikers said, ‘The tailgunner’s sorting it. Keep going! And don’t stop ‘til we’re back at the castle!’
ZEITGART NewsDrip: no bullshit news direct to your device
Munden’s Masterplan for Europe
Former Head of Communications, Reeve Munden, has been travelling Europe to connect with what he called ‘key players’ in the coming info-wars. Free from his previous duties as the President’s right-hand man (thanks to ‘professional differences of opinion’, although he still had ‘huge, huge respect for President Koil’) Munden has been seeking support for his latest initiative, The New Reich – his masterplan to co-ordinate Far Right groups across Europe. Munden said, ‘There are a lot of disaffected citizens out, folk who feel they are not being represented by mainstream politics, by the self-interested politicians, the corrupt cronies of Brussels – too busy with their snouts in the trough to see what is happening to the man in the street. My message to them all: Take Back Control.’ He is meeting with many marginalised groups, and speaking at numerous rallies across the continent. Munden believes a grassroots movement could topple the geriatric institutions of Europe. ‘It’s time for radical change. It’s time for new blood. It’s time for The New Reich.’
Chapter 7: The Patch
Eddy stood in the shower for a long time, letting the scalding water blast away the stink and muck of the drainage ditch, mixed with the sweat of the escape. He could feel the tension ease finally in his shoulders. His upper body ached from the extreme effort of the riding. That was a full-on race. Remotely he wondered how he had done compared to the thousands who had raced the Mountain Road as part of the TT circuit. But it has been no mere Tourist Trophy. People had died. They had lost Gunther. For what? A glorified lump of metal, chrome and rubber? And a ten-dollar patch.
He hoped it would be worth it.
He killed the shower, and rubbed himself down, relieved to feel clean again – on the outside at least.
Eddy wiped the mirror free of steam and gave himself a hard look. What was he willing to do to win her?
The answer hissed in his head like a snake: anything.
When Candy had dumped him in Italy he had felt like tumbleweed. Drifting across Europe – no purpose, no hope.
But Fenja had given him a reason to live, to strive, to become something, someone.
And now he was no longer a ‘nobody’.
This evening he was to receive his patch and become a member of the Wild Hunt – one of the most formidable biker gang in the world. He was going to ride with legends. From this night onwards he would be able to hold his head up high and finally receive some respect from a world, which until now, had shown him a blatant disregard at best, an utter contempt far too often.
Eddy Redcrow of Gimli, Manitoba – time to step up and receive your colours.
It was dusk by the time Eddy emerged onto the beach in his spare jeans and t-shirt. Torches had been lit and flickered restlessly in the fresh breeze sweeping in from the sea. The sky was a glorious dragon. In the week since the eruption, the sunsets had been increasingly spectacular. Most evenings the stubborn lid of sooty cloud would enflame as the dying sun caught it alight before sinking over the horizon.
It made for a dramatic backdrop, silhouetting Peel Castle. It could have been another age, an encampment of marauding Vikings perhaps. Going by the appearance and demeanour of some of the members it didn’t take much of a leap. Most outlaw biker gangs had something of the warrior clan about them – but these guys … Eddy shook his head and smiled. They did it in a full-bloodied way, put it that way.
Normally, he wouldn’t be seen dead around such a dangerous outfit – or rather, he would be seen dead. And the looks he got from some of the patches made him feel that was still an option. Most one percent biker gangs – the outlaw kind – tended to stick to their ‘own kind’. White, black, red, yellow, men, women … The lines were clear and you didn’t cross them. The Wild Hunt seemed a little less monochrome than most – but not by much. Eddy didn’t see any other First Nations around that was for sure.
He saw Cruz ahead, waiting in the circle for the Patching ceremony to begin. They both stood out like sore thumbs – but they had distinguished themselves, won glory for the club, and earned their colours. Their difference, it seemed, would be tolerated.
‘Hi,’ he smiled at Cruz, who gave him a curt nod. Not much camaraderie from that one – but they had survived the initiation together, and he couldn’t help but feel a fellow warmth towards her. He noticed her tense posture, and thin lips. She was clearly tense – eyes darting around the circle like a cornered animal. Assessing the situation – fight or flight. But she was a canny one – her plan had won the day.
Eddy stepped up next to her and waited – looking towards the main marquee with its semi-circle of bikes, the retrieved ride parked up on one end, its gold pipes and diamond-studded detail glittering in the torchlight.
The mud and the blood must have been cleaned from it, brooded Eddy.
The gathered crowd – all wearing full colours – quietened down when One Eye and his inner circle appeared from the back of the marquee and took their seats. In the firelight and torchlight they looked all the world like Viking nobility, though the small patches on the front of their cuts reassured Eddy these were like any other MC committee. His eyes flicked to each, their roles emblazoned on their cuts: One Eye, president; Frey, the vice-president; The Hammer, enforcer; Rig, road captain; Tear, sergeant-at-arms, and others he did not know the names of filling the roles of secretary, treasurer, chaplain, tailgunner. They were all here, gazes inscrutable as they looked upon Eddy and Cruz.
One Eye stared at them with what might have been an amused gleam in his eye. ‘So, these are our two prospects…’
‘A Redskin and a crazy Dago,’ The Hammer scoffed, guzzling down her brew and belching loudly. ‘Hel’s knickers! I’m all for fresh blood – but catsup and BBQ sauce, come on!’ She tossed the empty bottle towards them and it smashed on the stones of the firepit, scattering them with glass.
The onlookers roared with raucous laughter.
One Eye smiled and shrugged, ‘This “Redskin and crazy Dago”, as you so eloquently put it, dear daughterson, have won honour for the club. They brought back a million-dollar bike and passed their initiation. They have earned their colours.’
‘They also stole one of the Hogs rides, right from under their noses,’ spoke up Rig, looking upon them both with pride.
The patches liked this, cheering.
Tear, body bristling in armour, banged his spiked-ringed fist on the table. ‘And they took tribute in blood too – Hogs’ blood, offered to the god of the road!’
Then the biker who sported the ‘chaplain’ tag, a prematurely bald man with a handsome, kind face added: ‘And they lost their bikes and one of their number in doing so.’
‘He failed; they succeeded. Only the victor matters,’ snarled the shaven-headed Sergeant-at-Arms.
‘They have risked all and won glory for the Wild Hunt,’ spoke the silver-haired Vice-president, his voice filled with a quiet authority that made everyone listen. He radiated power and dignity and the club clearly respected him. ‘They are worthy.’
The words were echoed through the camp. ‘They are worthy!’
Eddy’s chest filled with pride.
The Hammer stood up, swaying a little unsteadily – ‘But a half-breed and a … woman! Are we that desperate?’
‘Clearly we are!’ mocked one of the front riders Eddy had seen flanking One Eye.
‘Though I’m not sure you count as one of the fairer sex!’ quipped the other.
A tense silence froze the camp as the Hammer clenched her considerable fists.
Before the mocker could feel her wrath a deafening roar grabbed everyone’s attention. Heads turned as the retrieved bike skidded to a stop in front of the Elders, spraying sand. A tall, slender figure dressed in tight leathers got off – spiky blonde hair catching the torch-light. Eddy’s heart leapt to see it was Fenja. She stood defiantly before the Enforcer, facing the crowd. ‘The Hammer is just as much a woman as I am!’ She placed a hand upon the Enforcer’s breastplate, holding her back from the brothers. ‘What we were before … does not matter. Our true life began when we joined the Wild Hunt. We are … what we want to be. No more. No less. Any member has a problem with that – come and see me.’ She held The Hammer’s gaze, who snorted in contempt at the mocker, but backed off, sitting down heavily.
The patches gazed upon the peacemaker with admiration.
‘Club rules clearly allow women in; and was not our founder one?’ She gestured to the empty chair where a portrait of a beautiful, strong woman was displayed. ‘Venus Wyldfire – honoured be her name.’
‘Honoured be her name.’
‘And as for the “half-breed” as you call him … well, insult him and you insult half the Club. Who here doesn’t have mongrel blood? We’re the best of all worlds.’
Eddy’s eyes widened… Who were these people?
The Hammer backed away, giving the brothers an angry growl before sitting back down, snatching the meadhorn from her neighbour.
‘This man has warrior’s blood on both sides of his line. Let our seer confirm it…’
One Eye nodded and a biker stepped forward who looked like the twin of the ‘chaplain’. He wore dark glasses, which he took off, revealing blind eyes. His hand brushed over Eddy’s face. He tried not to flinch.
‘A man of two tribes… I see horses … Riders of the Plains … And a dragon-prowed longship. Explorers to a strange land. A leaf, a red leaf, a stone carved with runes…’
Eddy’s heart beat wildly. His father Magnus claimed they were descended from Leif Ericsson himself – the Icelandic explorer who visited ‘Vinland’ many centuries before Columbus. And the stone carved with runes … his band, surely? He felt seen, exposed.
The blind seer pulled away his hand. ‘This man has strong warrior blood in his veins – the Red and the White.’
Fenja seemed satisfied at this. ‘The best of both worlds. He is worthy.’ She gave him the briefest of smiles and sat down.
One Eye stood up, exuding power and authority. ‘Then let us vote.’ He gestured to the copper bowl and two bags – one black, one white – carried forward by two patches to the table of the Elders. ‘If you are in favour of these prospects becoming fully-patched members of the Wild Hunt, then cast in a white ball; if not, select the black.’
One by one the Elders selected from the bags and cast their vote into the bowl. The balls clicked as they fell against one another and Eddy realised they were stolen balls from a pool table.
All so far were white.
Only The Hammer delayed, carrying on drinking from the meadhorn. The other committee members glared at her, and, finally emptying the horn, she crushed it with her hand, cast it aside, and selected a ball in her massive fist.
Dropped into place, a white ball.
One Eye gestured to the bowl, which was raised aloft so all could see. ‘It is unanimous. Give them their patches.’
The secretary – one of the brothers – stood up and produced two cut-off denim jackets emblazoned with the club colours. He walked before them and presented them to Eddy and Cruz.
One Eye towered before them. ‘Take the vow: repeat after me…’
Eddy and Cruz repeated the ritual phrases, their different accents mingling with the boom of the waves. Everyone watching; everyone listening – stern faces silently bearing witness as though carved out of wood. The universe reduced to their small circle of light. Until it was done.
‘…Live for the Road, Die by the Code.’ The words faded as the blood roared in Eddy’s ears. He had done it, he had won his colours! He couldn’t stop looking at Fenja, her proud gaze filling him with fire.
‘…You are now fully-patched members of the Wild Hunt! Welcome!’ One Eye gave them both a bear hug, nearly crushing the air out of his lungs.
The cheers split the night open. Music kicked in and the partying began. Members slapped them on the back, shook their hands, thrust beers at them, dowsed them in mead and rolled them in the sand, then chucked them both in the sea.
As the partying carried on up the beach, Eddy floated in the swell of the water, gazing across to the red band of light in the far west – a line of blood separating the blackness.
‘Congratulations on getting your colours.’
The breathy voice made him turn.
Fenja swam before him. She opened her arms and embraced him.
‘And thanks for returning my ride.’
She gave him a hot kiss.
‘One good ride deserves another…’ she smiled, leading him back to the shore.
The patching party was in full swing as they emerged from the water – Eddy was glad Cruz was the centre of everyone’s attention for now. She was the golden girl who had ridden back the stolen bike to safety. Devising the successful plan, she deserved the glory. And besides, Eddy had other things on his mind.
He couldn’t take his eyes from Fenja as she emerged dripping from the water, her statuesque physique lingered over by the lambent glow of the torches and firelight. She wore only her leather biker bikini top and micro-shorts, which revealed more than they hid.
Eddy’s new ‘cut’ was sodden, along with the rest of him – but he didn’t mind. She took his hand and led him to her own private tent behind the main marquee. There, finally in privacy, she stripped off before him, revealing her glorious body in the half light. And then she undressed him and pressed her hot body to his.
As the wild music skirled like the flames around them, they were consumed by the pyre of their desire, toppling onto a bed of fleeces, fur soft against their skin.
Their kisses were like flames, building in intensity, until they bit and tore at one another. Eddy reached for the watch-pocket of his jeans, but she put her hand gently on his and let him enter her naked. He gasped as she let him slip deep inside her, the scabbard to his sword. Fenja rode him with a fierce hunger, straddling him like a Valkyrie charging into battle. Eddy watched her rising and falling before him, mesmerised by her power and beauty. She was truly a goddess. All he could do was offer himself before her.
Before he exploded into her, she pulled away and he groaned in bitter pleasure and sweet pain. ‘Not yet!’ she commanded, and pulled him on top of her, opening herself to him completely.
She summoned the manhood from within him – challenged him to channel his true power, in her service. She demanded his all, and his body was slick with the sweat of the effort, but her trust, her faith in him gave him courage, gave him energy.
He was her warrior, her champion, and he would do anything for her, anything.
They swapped positions several times, each time Fenja bringing him to the brink, before sublimating his desire into the next cycle – accelerating, braking, shifting gear with fluid skill – truly she rode him like a professional racer. Finally, as the music and cheering surged outside, she pushed him to the finishing line, making him draw upon hitherto unknown reservoirs of strength. As tremors started to shudder through her body, she dug her nails into his back, into his buttocks, urging him on and on, until finally, with a cry that mingled both their voices, he released into her and was obliterated in bliss.
For an endless moment he lay there, welded to her, their life-forces mingling, their bodies and hearts and minds, one.
Shaking, he collapsed onto the bed next to her and they both lay there, dripping sweat, chests rising.
‘That was … out of this world,’ Eddy breathed out.
They locked eyes, and Fenja slid her hand into his, holding it tight.
‘Beyond the nine worlds,’ she said, a cat-like smile on her face. ‘Welcome to the Wild Hunt, Eddy Redcrow. You have earned your colours today.’
THIS VOLCANO THING IS RUINING MY GOLF COURSES IN LEPRECORN-LAND. SOMEBODY NEEDS TO FIX IT PDQ!
I WOULDN’T PUT IT PAST THOSE SMURF-FUCKERS TO HAVE TRIGGERED IT ON PURPOSE. NOBODY CLOSES DOWN OUR AIRSPACE! NOBODY!
I ONCE STAYED IN REKVIK. BAD MISTAKE!!! THEY SERVE YOU ROTTEN SHARK MEAT, FOR FUX-SAKE!!! DARK AGE RETARDS!!! STILL, I MET THIS STUNNER THERE, A 5 (DON’T TELL THE 1ST LADY) ;0) BOY COULD SHE RAISE THE GEEZER. DFGERG.
Chapter 4: Legs of Man
As the ramp slammed into place, the bikers queuing up warmed up their engines. The main bay of the ferry was almost entirely taken over by the riders, and, as Eddy noted, they weren’t the shiny weekend biker types. And there was a notable lack of the ubiquitous Adventure guys on their copycat GPS’, or the sports bike brigade in their garish leather jumpsuits. These were the grungier kind of biker – the notorious outlaw ‘one per cent’ – all on growling beasts of black and chrome: hogs or Victories or some Triumph Rockets. Many were marque-less, customised beyond recognition. And the riders wore their patches proudly on denim cut-offs over leathers. The Wild Hunt and the Devils Hogs seemed to be the most common. They queued up on opposite sides of the deck, an uneasy truce between them. The tension on the ferry had been palpable. A few fights had broken out on the bar. Chairs and tables had been smashed up. A bar ransacked before they’d been able to pull down the shutters. At least one person had been thrown overboard. Some seemed to be delighting in the ‘good times’. Eddy kept a low profile, watching warily from a corner.
And now here he was, on his Ducati, sticking out like a sore thumb. He filed into line, taking his place in the pack – right at the back. He didn’t want to get in the way of these guys, the inevitable burn up as soon as the all clear siren blasted.
He was here with one purpose alone – to find Fenja. He just needed to keep his head down. Not get into a fight. He was all too aware though, having been to biker rumbles in the States, how easy it was to find your self on the wrong end of a fist, especially if you were prowling the bars, scanning the biker women. Just looking in the wrong direction was enough to get yourself glassed or worse. Bikers were often cavemen like in their manners, but even more so when it came to their women – fiercely territorial, ready to violence, to defend their mate against a rival, yet all too keen to parade their trophy in front of everyone, happy for them to prance around in leather bikini tops and micro-shorts, take part in wet t-shirt contests, and egg them on into bitch-fights. No wonder so many of their pillion squeezes end up joining all-female biker gangs.
The siren sounded and there was a mighty roar from the collective engines. And the torrent of bikers broke onto the quayside of the island like a black wave.
Eddy was one of the last to exit, following the pack at a safe distance.
So, here he was. The legendary Isle of Man, home of the TT – biker Mecca for millions. Yet it was no Tourist Trophy that had brought all these petrol heads to the island this time. It was ‘the Gathering’. Word had gone out and bikers had come from all over Europe. It was already being talked about as the biggest biker rumble in history.
As Eddy rode out along the promenade, he could believe it.
The seafront of Man’s capital had clearly seen better days. It had an old-fashioned air about it. The horse-drawn trams (made nervous by the bikes), retro amusement arcades, white painted phone boxes, and faded glory of it all hinted at a heyday long passed. The waves of visitors had receded to foreign shores, drawn away by cheap flights and fairer weather. It clearly tried to make the most of its vintage ambience, but felt more like a jilted bride stuck in her threadbare wedding dress, clutching a bouquet of wilted flowers.
Yet in the sharp light of the new day it took on a different aspect, taken over by the hordes of bikers. In front of the crumbling guest houses row upon row of gleaming bikes lined up. Gangs of one-percenters cruised up and down the main drag, pulling wheelies, or buzzing pedestrians. Seagulls squawked angrily, but for once their racket was drowned out by the rumble of engines. The air reeked of petrol, hot pipes, rubber, and pungent leather. It was like riding into the encampment of a medieval army, freshly landed and preparing itself for the invasion of the interior. Ellen Vannin was about to be ravished.
Is this the way the world ends, Eddy ruminated. Not with a bang, but with a rumble?
He’d never seen so many bikers together. Sure, he’d seen plenty of photographs and footage of Chapter rallies, but little of that kind of thing happened north of the border. Gimli, Manitoba was not known for its bikers. Eddy was a bit of a black swan there, but even more so here. He was never more aware of his redskin amid so many white males. Under his helmet he was still anonymous. One of ‘them’, of the two-wheeled genus, Homo Automatous, if not a specific sub-species identifiable by patch.
Nervously, he cruised past the rows of ‘Devils Hogs’ – riders sporting swastikas and iron crosses on their jackets and open face-helmets. Many sporting similar on their shaven heads. Wearing the standard chopper shades, faces bristling with metal, he felt their dark gaze as he passed by on his incongruous Ducati. Without a club he was vulnerable. Fresh meat. Eddy had never been a joiner, but he could see the merits of being patched up in a place like this. If a member is attacked, then the attacker has to deal with the rest of the club. This ‘NATO’-like rule (‘all on one and one on all’, as the Angels put it) prevented all out war breaking out, most of the time – although that didn’t prevented the long-running blood-feud of some gangs, most notoriously the Hells Angels and the Outlaws.
Here it felt like the tension was ready to spill over at any minute. The air was thick with it, just like the dark clouds gathering over Snaefell. For now, the silver blades of sunlight kept ripping through the high thin gauze of cloud over the coast. There was a crackle of energy in the atmosphere, fuelled by petrol and testosterone and it was exhilarating.
Beyond the Devils Hogs, who had claimed the first main stretch of promenade, Eddy was relieved to see other, less obviously xenophobic, bikers. There was a formidable looking female biker gang, sporting ‘Valkyrie’ patches. Eddy’s heart leapt in hope, but as he scanned them he realised his mistake. Some of them looked even more dangerous than the Hogs, and Eddy felt the sobering sensation of feeling vulnerable as a man, as their glares warded him off. They had staked their pitch, claimed their bars and hotels, and abandon all hope, any man who dared to enter. If Fenja was with that lot, he didn’t stand a chance.
Eddy’s stomach growled and he could murder a coffee, feeling sluggish after the early crossing. He scanned the front for a spot to pull in by a decent looking café, but nowhere looked particularly safe. He would just have to take his chances.
Spotting an obviously popular ‘greasy spoon’ type diner, he backed his Ducati in between the ranks. Boldness was the key. Look like you’re meant to be there. He killed the engine and dismounted, trying to maintain a confident swagger – hard, when he was a feeling a bit spaced out from long hours on the road, lack of sleep, and sustenance.
He locked his helmet to his handlebars, and donned his shades, and went to queue up. The smell of coffee was good; the waft of cooking even better; and he started to consider the menu items.
‘Hey, ass-wipe, out of the way!’
Eddy turned to see one of the Nazi bikers growling at him, clenching his fist. His face was mask of metal and ink – his eyes burning with hostility, filed teeth bared.
‘Hey, no problem man. I didn’t realise you were in the queue.’
The shark pressed his face towards Eddy. ‘I am now, and you’re in my way!’
The crowd immediately around them started to circle, sensing a fight. A bunch of the Devils Hogs circled behind Eddy, cutting off any retreat. It was a no-win situation and he wasn’t feeling suicidal. He had other priorities than getting to Valhalla today. He lifted up his arms. ‘Sure, go ahead. My mistake.’
‘Being born was your mistake!’ hissed the shark, before head-butting him.
Eddy’s nose exploded and there was a blur of fists and boots as he was laid into before he was able to react and defend himself.
Suddenly, the reality of what was happening to him kicked in, painfully, and adrenalin started to surge through his veins. He fended off a blow, and managed to regain an upright posture, squaring off to the attacker.
‘Ahh, look, he’s trying to play. Out of your depth here, kiddo! Striking a Devil’s Hog. You’ve just signed your death warrant.’ The shark man raised a spike ringed fist, ready to land another blow. His comrades closed in around Eddy, ready to do this same.
Suddenly a tall, red-headed figure burst into the circle in a drunken manner, falling on his face. He picked himself up and dusted himself down. ‘There you are, you big red eejit!’ He grabbed Eddy by the bloody collar, holding back shark-man with his other hand. ‘Jeezus, sorry to break up the party here, fellas. This prospect shite is one of ours.’
The Devil Hog members scanned the patch on the Irishman’s back.
‘That’s roight, Banshees. No messing with the Fenians. We’re practically on home turf here and there’s an awful lot of us here. And we’ve been on the Jamesons all night. A little dust-up would set us up grand for a fry up.’
The shark man spat on the floor at Eddy’s feet. ‘I won’t forget you, Redskin…’ He jabbed two fingers towards his own pinprick eyes, then at Eddy, before nodding to his mates, and slipping back into the crowd.
The Irishman gave Eddy a wink. ‘I think you owe me a fry-up.’
Eddy spat a gobbet of blood. ‘I think you’re right. Thanks.’ He held out a hand. ‘Eddy Redcrow.’
Eddy raised an eyebrow.
‘Nah, only shiteing ya. Mikey Heffernan at your service. Most folks call me Bog. Don’t ask why. I like a scrap as much as the next mad Irish bastard – and there are plenty of them here. But I like fair odds. Now, is that bacon I can smell?’
‘Now, let’s get this straight,’ said Bog, as he licked his fingers. The remains of the breakfast lay scattered around him. The man had a mighty appetite, that was for sure. ‘You met this Nordic bird escaping the Euro-clusterfuck. You gave her a lift; she gave you the horn. You had a flight home, but decided to come here and try to find her. A single biker-lass on an island of about a million and counting…’
Eddy took another slurp of coffee, wincing at the pain in his mouth. That shark-bastard had loosened one of his teeth.
‘Here, this’ll help.’ Bog produced a hipflask and poured some of its contents in his mug, before taking a long sip himself. ‘Ahh, top of the morning to you! Here’s to the wild lasses that laugh as they break our hearts…’ And he burst tunelessly into song:
‘There’s nought but care on every hand, in every hour that passes oh,
What signifies the life of man, and tw’ere nae for the lassies oh.
Green grow the rushes oh, green grow the rushes oh-oh
The sweetest hours that ere I spent, I spent among the lasses-oh.’
Eddy laughed, winced, and sighed. ‘When you put it like that, it sounds daft, I know. But …’
‘You’ve never met anyone like her in your life, she’s the rosiest of roses…?’ Bog’s eyes twinkled. ‘Ah, only joshing ye, Red. I know the feeling all too well. It was the rose of Galway that did it for me… Mother Mary, she had thorns!’
Eddy was lost in his own fond memory. ‘There was something about her… She had a … magic about her. Made the pumps flow…’
‘Well, I never heard it put like that before!’ Bog chuckled. ‘But seriously, what does she look like. I’ll definitely keep my peepers peeled. Nothing better than eyeing up the lasses. Could watch them all day…’
‘Tall, blonde, slim, kick-ass. You wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her.’
‘Sounds like you need her as your bodyguard, fella. You need to watch your red arse around here. There are some folks who are none to friendly to anyone looking ‘different’.’
Eddy rolled his eyes, ‘I’ve noticed.’ He took another swig.
‘Bloody ironic, though, isn’t it, when half of bloody Europe is here. It’s like fekkin’ Eurovision out there.’
They both watched the motley array of bikers cruising up and down, the diverse reg plates, and flag patches.
‘Seriously though, get yourself patched up before you get yourself killed.’
‘I’ve never been much of a joiner.’
Bog seized his wrist. ‘Now’s the time to fekkin’ start. The chips are down, my friend. I’ve got an awful feeling that this muvva volcano shit is just the start. Who your tribe is, who’s got your back, is going to be difference between life and death. Mark my words.’ Bog raised his flask and emptied its contents, smacking his lips.
Eddy brooded on this. He’d never felt part of a tribe, even his own back home. Being a breed made it hard to fit in anywhere, to truly belong. He was always the outsider. Not quite fully First Nation, not quite fully Icelandic. He knew he had Nordic ancestry, yet half of Gimli boasted ‘Viking blood’. Was it such a bad thing?
Bog stood up, somewhat unsteadily. ‘Hey, listen up. I like yous, fella. Don’t get yourself killed, but get your red arse to Peel. That’s where the Nordic bikers are heading, I’ve heard. Plus the Ruskies, the Poles. All those loonies.’
‘Far southwest of the island. Big castle overlooking the beach. Can’t fecking miss it. They’ll all be camped out there, making offerings to Odin, all that shit. If you’re gal is anywhere, it’ll be there. Sounds like her crew.’
‘Go easy. See you around, I hope.’
The Irishman staggered off, and though he bumped into a couple of customers, he was tall enough for them to think twice at taking on an Irishman loosened by alcohol.
Completing the King Arthur Way – made it to Glastonbury Tor, July 2020
In 2017 I conceived of a long-distance trail connecting Tintagel in Cornwall (conception place of King Arthur Pendragon, according to legend) with Glastonbury in Somerset (site of Arthur and Guinevere’s ‘graves’, and the Isle of Avalon to some). I intended it as a pilgrimage route, enabling walkers to experience the Arthurian legend in an embodied way, while at the same time reflecting upon, and possibly awakening, their own inner sovereignty – whether king, queen, or other noble archetype. In a world which suffers from many bad leaders, I saw it as a way of empowering positive leadership qualities in oneself. However esoteric or optimistic those goals may seem, I have actualised elements of that in the creation and completion of the King Arthur Way: in its initial vision, research, planning, and instigation. By physically walking the route – with a full forty pound pack, semi-wild-camping along the way – I have led by example. Literally, walked my talk. I know now it can be done. We’re not talking the north-west passage here, of course, but it good to check whether a route is not only viable, but enjoyable – with clearly-marked and passable footpaths, stimulatingly varied terrain, interesting landmarks, fascinating folklore and local history, and practical infrastructure (shops, pubs, campsites, transport links). As with any worthwhile project there was fine-tuning needed. In my first reconnaissance of the Cornish section of the route in late summer 2017, I discovered that trying to include too much was too ambitious. Then I walked from the north to the south coast of Cornwall, covering 60 miles. I found it a slog, with a lot of road-walking and miserable weather. So, I recalibrated the route, generally heading upcountry, in a north-easterly direction – this I found to be ‘easier’ (still an effort, with a full pack, especially on a hot day). I made good progress until a day of relentless rain and hard-walking (roads, urban areas, and the suitably-named Granite Way) gave me a badly-blistered foot. Fortunately, a friend lived nearby and so I appealed to her hospitality and allowed myself a rest day. I hobbled about, and realised trying to complete the rest of the route would be unrealistic. I was faced with a choice: I could abort, and complete it another time; soldier on; or compromise with a shorter version of the route – taking a train between Crediton and Taunton where I had been unable to book a campsite (many had closed for good, or were only taking caravans and motorhomes). I opted for the latter. The prospect of 3 more days wild camping without hot shower, or even a pub to hole up in did not appeal in my weakened state – so skipping those sections was a good idea. Also I booked a lovely airbnb for one night, which was a wonderful halfway ‘treat’. This was, after all, meant to be my holiday – not a SAS training ordeal. Having already walked 60 miles of (an early version of) the route in 2017, plus another 60 ‘extension’ (from my home, near Marlborough to Glastonbury) in June this year, I more than covered the ‘missing’ 40 miles and then some: by the end of the walk I completed 110 miles of the route – with the 2 other sections (60+60), 230 miles, a folkloric wildlife corridor connecting Tintagel to my home in Wiltshire.
There were, as on any long-distance walks, days of real challenge and days of reward. I am still recovering and processing my experience, but some of the highlights include:
Waking up on the coast overlooking Tintagel.
Stumbling upon the ancient rock-cut mazes in Rocky Valley.
St Nectan’s Glen.
Wild-swimming in the Tamar, Dart, and Shilley Pool.
Walking to Glastonbury across the Somerset Levels.
I intend to write up the route with accompanying notes, which I may make available as a paperback or pdf download (or both), but for now I have charted the route, so that others may also walk the King Arthur Way if they wish.
‘The Passionate Man’s Pilgrimage,’ Sir Walter Raleigh
I have just returned from a week-long pilgrimage to Glastonbury for the summer solstice – wild-camping along the way and staying with friends. Walking in glorious sunlight (at least for the first couple of days) and holding vigil for the sunrise on the Tor I had plenty of time to think about why I was undertaking such a walk and why the solstice means so much to so many (over 3 million watched the summer solstice sunset and sunrise from Stonehenge online). We live in dark times, and having spent 3 months in lockdown I was desperately in need of a change of scene, and to feel like it was actually summer. I had also finished my teaching for the (very intensive) academic year, and needed a break to mark its end — a hiatus to avoid the relentless monotony that recent weeks have become. However peaceful and pleasant (and productive) the enforced home-stay has been in many ways (especially where I am fortunate to live) the lack of variation in rhythm, in texture, was beginning to feel stultifying. To celebrate the longest day of the year, the joy that summer (usually) brings, and the minor miracle of being (and staying) alive seems like all good reasons to make the effort to witness what of course happens every single day. I have been waking up at dawn lately, and every single time I do and get to eavesdrop upon the dawn chorus and witness the rising of the sun I feel blessed.
Pilgrimage is an act of intentionality, and stopping in a porch in Oakhill to shelter from the heavy rain I was asked by the vicar there, Rev. Richard Priestley, who was just locking up, what I was undertaking mine for. I found it hard to articulate at the time, being soaked and exhausted, but it was, I realised, a journey to the light — a physical prayer to help bring ‘light’ (goodness, peace, kindness, truth) back into the endarkened world. This is not to deny the shadow — we’ve had plenty of opportunity to consider that lately — but to kindle the light that seems so fragile at the moment. On all sides we see how hard-won liberties, and humane values are being torn away or challenged by a disturbing neo-fascist discourse. Those craving power are determined to demonise the marginalised and drive a wedge between communities. It feels like the 1930s all over again. I must admit to being sick to death of social media and the news – I needed a break from it.
The End! Walking the Coast-to-Coast in ‘reverse’ from Robin Hood’s Bay to St Bee’s, Cumbria, Midsummer 2019
Every year around this time I go for a long walk and have a ‘digital detox’. I have walked many of the long-distance national trails in Britain. Last year I walked the 192 mile Coast-to-Coast (or ‘Wainwright Way’) in the north of England, and ended up on an accidental pilgrimage.* That experience made me realise I no longer wanted to do just secular geographical walks — however satisfying they can be — but to have a spiritualised experience. Having a focus, like St Bee’s on the Cumbrian coast (the monastery there celebrates its 900th anniversary this year), with its Midsummer associations (the 9th Century Irish St Bega landed there on Midsummer Eve) transformed my walk into something meaningful. And it was there I decided that this year I wanted to walk a route I had devised in 2017 connecting Tintagel to Glastonbury, a legendary trail in the ‘footsteps’ of King Arthur from the place of his conception to his grave. It felt more powerful to do synchronise this with the summer solstice – as I found that build-up of energy over two weeks really powerful and motivational. It gave one a tangible ‘deadline’ — as though one was racing the sun. Over the winter I planned the route and prepared my pack meticulously. Of course, life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans, as John Lennon wisely sang. Lockdown happened, and even with some easing, all the campsites and pubs remain closed. I was prepared to wild-camp but having nowhere to get a hot shower, charge a phone, or fill up my water bottle (or treat myself to a hot meal and a pint now and then) would make the whole thing more like a SAS training challenge — far too hard-core. It was meant to be my holiday as well, and it is hard to feel very spiritual when you are soaked, chilled, hungry, and exhausted: all you can think about is getting dry, warm, fed, and rested. Also, I didn’t want to risk a 4-5 hour train journey at present. And so I decided to postpone that until it was more viable, and opt for a compromise – a ‘shorter’ walk (1 week, rather than 2) from my doorstep near Marlborough to Glastonbury. It felt like a practical solution that also allowed me to honour the solstice, and scratch my pilgrimage itch.
Arrival! Wearyall Hill, Glastonbury, Summer Solstice 2020
I have put together this podcast to capture the spirit of my pilgrimage, and to evoke this beautiful time of year. I hope you enjoy it.