…I can’t really tell which, I scribbled a picture the other day, and whilst I scribbled my mind wandered. A wandering mind while I scribble is fairly normal (okay, it depends what I’m scribbling as to whether my mind wanders or focuses on nothing else but the pencil point ;-)). Anyway, I scribbled, mind wandered, and I thought of a short story to go with the picture. I should really edit the text, rewrite it, delete some or most, add other bits, but I don’t have time 😉 so, here’s the scribble and the text.
Tony gasped and wiped the sweat away from his eyes, he’d thought the hill had looked steep from the car park, but he’d no idea it would have been so difficult to climb. To the majority of people who trekked up Erland Hill it was nothing more than an invigorating walk, Tony felt as if he was ascending Everest without oxygen. He paused again, pulled a water bottle from his pack and took a long drink emptying the bottle.
“Had enough?” Billy asked as he jogged back down the hill. “Shall I ask them to send the mountain rescue for you?”
Not waiting for a reply Billy carried on his way, for the previous two weeks Billy had been stuck with Tony from dawn to dusk, leading him from location to location, carrying his gear, everything short of spoon feeding him. Reaching the Landrover Billy noticed Gloria was just unloading the last of the camera gear.
“Having fun?” Gloria asked with a chuckle, “only one more shoot and we’ll be done.”
“He’s half done now,” Billy replied nodding towards the tiny figure of Tony in the distance. “How did that clown become one of the Worlds foremost landscape photographers? He needed a rest walking from the breakfast table to his room this morning.”
“Hey, as long as he signs off our assignment sheets in the morning and we get a passing grade I don’t really care.” Gloria said heaving a huge tripod onto a large battered camera bag. “Anyway, you know he’s good, you’ve said yourself some of those Yosemite photographs were better than Adams’ work.”
“I wonder who carted his gear on that trip?” Billy replied grabbing the camera bag and tripod with a groan. “What the hell is in this bag?”
Gloria hefted a backpack into place and lifted her own camera bag. “No idea, he just told me to bring it along today.”
Tony was out of sight as they started back up the hill, it was still early in the afternoon and Billy felt no desire to rush back up there knowing there was still another couple of hours before they needed to set the camera gear up. As they reached a rocky outcrop halfway up the hill Billy slowed and stopped. “Fancy a cuppa?”
Gloria thought for a moment and nodded, although she’d gone through two years at university with Billy she’d never really connected with him. The last two weeks spent with him in the Landrover bouncing over half finished roads and carting around all the camera gear for Tony had brought them closer together, even so, she still felt Billy was someone she would never feel comfortable with.
Billy poured out two coffees from his flask and rummaged around in his back pack. “The only benefit I can see living out of hotels for the last two weeks on expenses is we get to empty the rooms of all these freebies.” He grinned and pulled out two small plastic packets each containing three broken biscuits.
“Any idea on the schedule for tomorrow morning?” Gloria asked as she poured the biscuit crumbs from the packet into her hand.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, before we set off Tony provided us an almost minute by minute schedule for this trip, tomorrow is just blank.”
Billy went to pull the itinerary from his pack when his phone started to ring. Gloria could hear Tonys voice, and although the words were muffled from his tone he sounded quite agitated.
“I think we better move on,” Billy said pushing the phone back into his pocket and tipping out the dregs from his cup. “Tony is getting worried we won’t be up there to set up in time.”
Gloria tossed him her empty cup, and hefted her bags into position. “What’s it like up there?” She asked as they set off.
“Impressive,” Billy replied, he noticed Gloria’s sceptical expression. “No, I’m serious, you think it’s hard carrying camera gear up there. Imagine how they must have felt moving those huge lumps of stone up there, Tony wasn’t exaggerating when he talked about the significance of the Men of Erland.”
“I thought after the first week you were bored of the whole project,” Gloria said. She was still excited by the project, photographing Neolithic sites around Western Europe, though she wasn’t quite into the project as much as Tony. For several weeks before their departure he’d been sending them regular emails detailing equipment they needed to gather, books they should read up from, clothing to bring.
“Any idea what Tony means by ‘this being the night’?” Billy asked.
“He showed me some charts the other day,” Gloria replied trying to recall the details. “Something to do with the alignment of the full Moon being right for the first time in years.”
They scrambled over a small scree and stepped onto the top of Erland Hill, Tony was sitting on the camera bags Billy had dropped off on his previous trip. Beyond Tony stood the Men of Erland, it was quite a compact stone circle but was unusual in that it had a entrance walkway lined with six huge menhirs.
“You took your time,” Tony said seeing them approach. “Billy, be careful with that bag.”
Showing an unusual burst of energy Tony jumped up and took the bag from Billy lifting the tripod off and slinging it over his shoulder. “I suggest we get everything set up now then when the light starts to fade we won’t fumbling about in the dark”.
Tony turned and looked at the menhirs lining the entrance to the circle, though he’d been researching the Men of Erland on and off for years he’d not expected to be so awed by their physical presence. Swinging the tripod from his shoulder he quickly unlocked the legs and kicked them into position, from the bag he drew out his old Gandolfi plate camera. Tony almost caressed the wooden camera body as he fixed it onto the tripod, with a smile he thought of the first photograph taken with the camera; Evelyn had posed for him outside the camera shop on Tottenham Court Road with the shop staff looking out of the window at them as if they were half mad.
“What lens do you want on the D3?” Billy asked pulling Tony back to reality.
“The 18 mil,” Tony replied, “if you’d checked the sheet it’s all on there.”
For a while all three were busy setting up camera gear, checking batteries or film, the Sun was an hour from setting when they finished and gathered round the bags.
“Time for a bite to eat perhaps?” Gloria asked.
Billy nodded but Tony shook his head, “you two go ahead, I’ve no appetite right now”.
“You okay?” Gloria asked, “you look a bit flushed.”
“I’m too old for hills like that,” Tony replied with a smile. “I’ve spent too long behind a desk writing about landscapes and too much time standing in lecture halls talking to myself these last few years.”
Billy spread his jacket on the ground and sat down to munch on his sandwiches the hotel had prepared for them. “So what made you start writing and lecturing?” He asked, but Tony didn’t answer he was staring at a crumpled photograph, a single tear rolled down his cheek into his beard. Billy looked at Gloria, unsure what was going on, the look she gave him was one of confusion and uncertainty.
“Why don’t we make sure everything is ready to go.” Gloria said to Billy, she started to rise when Tony cleared his throat and wiped his eyes.
“Ignore a foolish old bloke and finish your sandwiches,” Tony said with rare smile on his face. “Once the Moon starts to rise we’ll be busy for a good while and won’t have time to stop.”
“So what’s the myth to go with the Men of Erland again?” Billy asked pouring himself a coffee.
“There are more myths associated with these stones than all the others put together,” Tony replied. “Though many myths say that when the Moon rises in line with the chief stone the menhirs of the entrance walkway glow and the chief’s portal is opened for a brief while. Whatever the reality is, the full Moon rising behind the chief stone will make for some interesting photographs.”
For a while they sat in silence watching the Sun drop behind the distant hills and the stars started to appear across the sky. Without much discussion they each moved to their own pieces of kit and started photographing the Stones as the Moon slowly climbed up the sky, the air was still and the only sound that broke the silence was the click of shutters. As the Moon cleared the chief stone Billy looked over to Gloria and Tony to make sure he wasn’t imaging things, the menhirs that lined the entrance walkway really were starting to glow with a silvery light. Billy changed his position to capture a lower angle shot down the walkway, next to him he could hear Tony’s breathing was coming in a mixture of gasps and wheezes. He was just about to ask if he was okay when Tony slumped to the ground, Billy and Gloria rushed over both fearing the worst but Tony turned onto his side and and waved them away.
“Billy use the Gandolfi, we don’t want to miss this.” Tony said propping himself up on his camera bag.
It had been some time since Billy had used the old plate film camera, and it took some time for him to remember his way around it, eventually he got the shot and turned back towards Tony.
“Oh crap!” Billy said rushing back to Tony, he called over to Gloria who had moved further round the circle.
Tony was slumped face down over his camera bag, his hand stretched out in front of him resting on the old crumpled photograph. Gloria knelt down and felt Tony’s neck, she could not find a pulse and his skin felt cold and clammy.
“Get the lamp, and ring for help,” she said to Billy as she turned Tony over and tried to remember her first aid training.
For what felt like hours she tried to bring Tony back to life, then she heard the sound of the helicopter approaching and it’s floodlight illuminating the area, then Tony and the helicopter were gone leaving her sitting in silence next to Billy. Reaching across Billy she picked up the photograph Tony had been holding, it was a torn and crumpled black and white print of a woman leaning against the window of a camera shop with faces pressed up against the inside of the window.
“Come on, let’s pack up.” Billy said standing up.
The funeral had been and gone, Billy hadn’t intended to go, then at the last minute he’d joined Gloria at the church. The service had been something of a blur, but then the week from Tony being airlifted to hospital until the funeral had been all of a blur to Billy. Questions from the police, the other lecturers at University, others students, all asked the same questions – what had happened up on Erland Hill. For a few days after the funeral Billy stayed in bed, he’d known Tony wasn’t the fittest man on Earth, but he’d not expected him to drop dead during their trip. Days started to blur together, and Billy started to ignore his flatmates attempts to get him up or even eat the food they put in front of him. Then, one day his mobile started to ring, Billy looked at the screen ‘Gloria calling….’ he pressed the red button and slumped back into bed, he couldn’t face speaking to her just yet.
An hour later he jumped at the sound of someone banging on the door, his flatmates had gone out for the day, he remembered them mentioning something about a party down by the river. Crawling out of bed he undid the door lock and pulled open the door. Gloria barged in.
“Do you not answer your bloody phone any more?” She asked pushing past him, “you have to see this.”
Gloria went into the living room and opened her briefcase.
“Look, this isn’t the best time right now,” Billy said trying to move Gloria back towards the door.
“I developed the film from Tony’s camera this morning,” Gloria said pulling a series of prints out of the case. “What do you think of this one?”
Billy was still half asleep and somewhat confused, the print Gloria pushed in front of him was of the Men of Erland with the Moon just poking above the chief stone.
“Very nice,” Billy said brushing his hair out of his eyes.
“So what about this one.” Gloria said throwing another print in front of him.
Billy looked at the print, then paused, that wasn’t right he thought picking up the print, it looked very similar to the previous one, but there was something between the menhirs that lined the entrance way. Looking closer Billy felt the hairs start to rise on the back of his neck.
“You Photoshopped this one right?” He said looking towards Gloria, she shook her head slowly.
Gloria passed him the final print, which was an enlargement of the entrance way, Billy could clearly see Tony walking towards the Men of Erland with his arm around a woman.
“I guess there’s now another myth to go with the Men or Erland,” Gloria said to Billy. “Come on, you look like you need a drink.”