Animals

We are on the trail of a teenage cult believed to be harbouring an illegal animal of the spirit realm.  Though they are based in and around the hills back home, we end up in some sun-drenched European town, drinking coffee at a dizzyingly continental roadside café.  We are here to meet someone we believe may be able to tell us something more about the mysteries we are investigating, an expert and an old friend.  “How are you keeping?” I ask.  “Not bad, good.  You?”  “We’re not too bad.”  She wears her hair tied up in a scarf, looks much older, more mystical than last time we met.  Whilst we talk she constantly draws spirit maps on the back of a paper plate, scrawled marker pen cartography.  “Actually,” I say, “things aren’t too good.  We’re not proud of this work, we were in a cult when we were young as well.  There was no one to stop us back then.  Somehow this doesn’t feel right.”  She pauses her map-drawing, sips her coffee, picks up the pen again.  “So, what do you want me to tell you?  Where it comes from?  How did they summon it?  All that?”  I sigh, tap at the table top with my fingertips.  “Actually, could you refuse to tell us anything.”  I stop tapping, trace invisible circles instead.  “Tell us that you don’t know, tell us that you can’t help.  These kids aren’t doing any harm.”  We head home no further along in our investigation.  Back in the office we track the teenagers’ movements on the internet and learn that they plan to meet that night.  It’s too easy.  There was a time when investigations used to involve stealthy sleuthing on the streets, tracking footprints, sneaking around after dark.  Now it all happens online.  That night, at the appointed time, we put on our coats and tool up with torches and guns and magnifying glasses, just for old time’s sake.  Their meeting place is in the drizzled-down hills currently obscured behind a curtain of fog, perfect weather for teenage cults and animal spirits.  “We’ll just go and see what they’re up to,” we decide.  Nothing more.  We set off for the hilltops, dragging our stocky adult bodies up the incline, through the fog and the rain.  The beams of light from our torches sweep the hillside, the rocks and the heather, the bleak expanse of mystery.  And eventually – through the fog and the fuzz and the falling day – we come across a group of teenagers in a circle.  In the middle of the circle is a pile of cheap electric torches, set up like a cubist campfire.  The kids are laughing and singing and dancing a little.  One of them sits and chants, almost to himself, until one of the others jabs them with their elbow and then he turns and joins the laughing.  Two of them are kissing.  There is no suggestion of serious intent, no ceremonial business.  Nothing more than glumless, unabandoned fun-making.  We watch them for a while, hand in hand, our torches trained on our feet.  The air is dense with water like tiny fragments of time falling around us.  “Remember.”  We watch them for a while and then head back down the hill, leaving teenage cults to do what teenage cults do.

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