Part 1: 200M
Chapter 6: Paramotor Club
By TWG Fraser
Copyright 2016 TWG Fraser
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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“So you think you saw it around here somewhere but it ran off north?
“What time was this? Six, five, six?”
“Right, North, probably went on for a couple of hours before resting up. That’s beyond Hognaston, more like Knockerdown or beyond.”
It was the same voice we had heard earlier and they were almost underneath us. It was a loud voice, sort of rude and demanding. The replies were so quiet we couldn’t really make them out. It sounded like the group who had been tracking us before. We must have been seen. We hadn’t really thought of that. Maybe the group of soldiers in the tents guarding the chain had been a bit more watchful than we had thought.
Still, that was hardly the problem now. If anyone looked up they might notice our hammock tube above them in the branches.
Our hammock may have started out a bright yellow but now it was all shades of mud, moss and muck, almost perfect camouflage. We kept still and once again found ourselves hoping for the best.
After a few minutes they spread out and headed back north. We loosened the ties of our hammock and sneaked a peek out. While the other soldiers (and there seemed more this time, though as we didn’t really seem them last time we couldn’t be sure) had helmets, there was a soldier in the middle with a soft peaked cap. This soldier was waving and pointing, giving commands to the rest. Soon they were over the skyline and were gone.
We slid out the bottom of the hammock, untied its ropes and climbed down through the branches to the ground.
If we went east, back across the sea, we would be almost back where we started when we broke into Topland. Going north following our trackers would be asking for trouble. We thought it would be best to try and shake them for good and head west for a bit and then try north.
We set off inland, heading uphill again and keeping an eye to the north to make sure we didn’t come into view of the soldiers.
We skirted round and above a small village called Kniveton, some of the houses were underwater but most looked lived in. The fields around were filled with crops, mainly vegetables and potatoes. We had always thought that there would be animals everywhere, sheep, cows, pigs, but we hadn’t seen many at all.
After Kniveton the hills rose again and so did we, our pockets filled with carrots and tatties, and down the other side. Again we saw that we were on another spit of land. Across the water we could see a big town at the water’s edge. we realised that this was probably the gate we were supposed to have reached in the first place. This town was all different.
Ships were coming and going from this port. The gates themselves were a proper stone dock for the ships to moor at. There was a town, five or six times the size of Kniveton around the gate. A big road rose out of the town up the hill with big and small lorries driving up and down it.
That was not all. There were huge windmills with slow turning fans all the way to the horizon. They looked far taller than any tree or house we had ever seen. They must have been producing enough electricity for, well we couldn’t really imagine what for or how much. The ones we knew had fans the length of our forearm and kept a small bulb lit if you were lucky. These looked like they could power the world and yet we had nothing.
This had to be Tissington gate. Our original target: the main trading gate for the south of Toplands. The plan had been to set off our bombs, cause a distraction and sneak in during the mayhem. We could see that as a plan it had a bit more of a chance here than at the gate we had blown up two days before.
If only we hadn’t drifted, or been driven, so far east. But we couldn’t think about that now.
Now we had to pick a spot to swim across, get down to the sea unnoticed, get across and work out what to do on the far side. Luckily the Threewall crossed over from our spit of land to Tissington south of us. Again a chain marked the line across the sea. But it did mean that there were probably soldiers set to watch somewhere to my south.
We studied the port and the traffic for sometime.
There was a choice to be made: cross over close to the port and try and scramble on to one of the huge lorries as they moved slowly up the hill and get a lift north far and fast or, swim over further north and continue heading north on foot. Both had their obvious dangers and a high probability of failure or detection at least.
But getting a lift would be quicker and more fun.
As the sun started to set we made our way down to the sea and, with our hammock rolled up as a float, we swam across.
On the Tissington side we headed up a little dark valley with a stream at the bottom. When we got to the top of that we found ourselves close to the big road coming out of Tissington. It still wasn’t quite dark enough so we watched the lorries coming and going. This gate certainly did not close at night and vehicles came and went every few minutes.
Using ditches, hedges and walls we edged closer to the road to get a better look at the lorries.
Some of the lorries were enormous, fifteen or twenty meters long, with a cab at the front and a huge trailor behind. They rolled on many wheels and were very loud, spewing a thick black smoke into the night. Others were smaller vans that seemed to not notice the steepness of the hill but flew by at quite some speed. We could see the faces inside, some concentrating on the road, others talking or looking at things in their hands. One lorry had the words Fenny Bentley on the side.
As the night got darker we started to see how we could perhaps jump on one of these.
We waited for one of the really big lorries, with a trailor that had a lose cover, not a metal box, and, most importantly it had to pass at a time whe there was no other traffic on the road.
Finally we saw one slowly climb up the hill. Nothing was coming down the hill or there was nothing behind it.
Before it got too close we darted across the road and lay as low as possible in the ditch on the far side. It seemed the drivers all sat on the road side of the trucks so with luck they wouldn’t see me make my run.
As the truck passed we got up and began running along side the truck. We managed to get a grip on a strap but there was no where to put our feet, we jumped with both hands on the strap and tried to reach the next strap with our feet. Our feet scrabbled up the side but there was nothing for them to hook round and we were almost upside down when the lorry hit a hole in the road, we lost our grip and bounced onto the road, two huge wheels rolled past our face and we rolled off the road back into the ditch.
We lay coughing and gasping for breath, staring up at the night sky but just seeing again and again the black tyres so close we felt the breeze of them on our face as they passed.
We gathered out thoughts and our breath and studied the next few lorries as they passed. We could see, when one truck followed another close enough for the rear to be lit up that the bigger trailors had handles at the back, and big metal bars lower down behind the wheels. This would seem a much better route onto the back of one of these.
After another hour or so waiting, a lorry began coming up the hill nice and slowly. There was nothing following behind it. It rolled past and we were up and running again, catching up quickly and, grabbing the handle, we got a foot up onto the bar and we were away.
We climbed up the metalwork at the back and found that the canvas cover was tied down. We slipped and fell onto the canvas and rolled around for a bit trying to find a gap lose enough for us to squeeze through down the side. Eventually we cut one of the ties and scrambled in.
It seemed to be soil inside, or mud, depending on how wet it was. The ships were bringing in mud? That was a revelation too far. I smelt it again.
“Mud?” We said outloud.
“Its topsoil.” Said a voice from the dark. We reached for our knife and retreated as far into the corner as we could.
“Have you just pulled out a knife?” Asked the voice. “I’m not going to fight, I don’t want to fight, I’m not interested in fighting. But a knife is interesting.”
“Why is a knife interesting?” We asked. “And why don’t you want to fight.”
“Umm,” said the voice. “I have a nice loaf of bread and I have a nice lump of beef but I can’t really get one into the other without a knife.”
“I could bite them separately but that rather goes against the whole sandwich thing.” The voice went on.
We thought for a bit and asked: “What’s topsoil?”
“Ah, OK, lets start there shall we?” Said the voice. “Right, well, topsoil, is as the name suggests, the soil that sits on top of the ground and is very good for growing stuff.”
“But Toplanders have lots of ground with lots of soil. They need more? Are they building into the sea? Are they very overcrowded?” This was a puzzle because we hadn’t really seen that many folk on my travels round Topland so far. Which did rather go against the belief we had that Toplanders couldn’t have us because they were already so full of people.
“Well I am not a farmer,“ said the voice. “But I believe the problem is that a lot of the soil we have here is pretty well shit, not great for growing stuff, heather and bog and marsh. Did you say Top land or Scotland?”
“We said Topland. What’s Scotland?”
“You’re a wetter aren’t you?” Said the voice. “Are you dangerous? I mean are you going to come over here with your knife and kill me because if that’s the case I think I’ll just get out, if that’s OK with you.”
“We’re not dangerous. We do not want to kill you. Are you dangerous?” We asked in reply.
“Why do you say we all the time? Is there more than one here? I though I only saw one person getting in?” The voice paused. “Oh, are you a mad wetter? Maybe I shouldn’t ask that.”
“No. Look, its fine, there’s just one of us. We’re sorry saying we is a problem for you. We use we because to use I is sort of selfish, rude.”
“So I’m being rude now, when I say I?”
“Sort of, but we know you Toplanders say it. But then we know Toplanders are selfish and dont help. They don’t have kindness.” We realised that might be the wrong to say. “Not necessarily everyone mind, just lots, maybe, of Toplanders, perhaps?”
“Oh, we’re a bunch of bastards alright. No doubt about that. And the higher up you go the worse they are, selfish, mean, tight bastards, only after one thing.”
“Which is?” We asked.
“Money. Land, land, money, its sort of all the same. But money and land.”
We were not sure about money. But land we could understand, at least a bit. After all it was precious, probably the most precious thing there was. But if there was land we all helped farm it. Yes, we had allotments which we cared for and fed ourselves from and traded with, but no one had more than they could handle, or needed. We just tried to be fair. Some folk got upset about stuff every now and then but we would sort it out as best we could.
“Tell you what.” Said the voice. “My name’s Jane. Why don’t I, sorry, we, um I’ll light a candle here and you come over with your knife, in a non-stabbing kind of way and we’ll make a sandwich. We’ll share.”
“That sounds good.” We said. “But what’s a sandwich?”
“Really?” Asked Jane.
“And what’s beef and what’s bread?”
“Jesus fuck.” Said Jane. ”Get your arse over here and I’ll show you.”
We crawled over the mound of earth towards the Jane. We could see flashes of sparks from her flint and then a glow of light. Jane was sitting with her back to the corner just as we had done at the opposite end. We slid down to where Jane sat and heard the fearful intake of breath.
“We aren’t going to hurt you.“ We said holding up our hands. Jane stared at us for a long time, it was odd, but then these were Toplanders and we’re wetters so we’re new to each other we suppose.
“You’ve, you’re,” she started. “You have very big eyes.”
“Oh,” we said, understanding. “Yes we do, a lot of us do, well some of us have these big eyes. They are big. Are they? Guess so, don’t obviously see them often.”
“You know what a mirror is?” Asked Jane.
“Yes, we know what a mirror is.” We were a bit afronted really. “Don’t have one on us, sorry. But yes we’ve seen my eyes and they are a bit bigger. Quite a bit bigger, a little bit bigger. Not too big. Its not like weirdly big.”
“No, sorry, I don’t mean anything nasty. It was just a surprise. It must be useful to have big eyes, I wish my eyes were bigger, a bit.” Said Jane.
“We, look, we are, you know, a bit different, we suppose.” We said, “but its nature isn’t it. We spend a lot of time, in the mist and rain and in the water, swimming, pretty deep now and dark, its only normal that our eyes get bigger. That’s what some people we know said, anyway, Bill and Ben.”
“Do you all have bigger eyes then,” asked Jane. “I mean the young ones, the new kids?”
“Maybe half we suppose, maybe, yeah, something like that. Not really counted.” We tried to explain, “We don’t notice this stuff much. We mean we know a lot of folk with webbed feet, some have got fairly webbed fingers. It’ll be gills next.”
“There aren’t, are there, folk with gills, are there?” asked Jane.
“No! That’d be freaky, well no not really, dead useful actually, could do with gills.” Jane looked horrified. “It would, hidden, under the armpits or something. You know, bup, bup.”
We think the fishy noises were probably a bit too much. Jane was very still, staring at us, then, thankfully laughed.
“Yep, that would be too freaky.” Jane agreed. “So if I could have your knife?”
We pulled out all three, not sure what size Jane wanted. Jane looked at them in my hands.
“Do you need all three of these?” Jane picked my third, and smallest knife. We put the spike back in our hair and the bayonet back in our belt.
“Suppose so. That one you’ve got is our small knife, keep it in our shoe, for picking at stuff, this big one,” We pointed to our bayonet, “is for everything really, swimming, eating, getting at stuff, fighting.”
Jane raised an eyebrow.
“There’s a lot of fighting then in the Wetlands?” Jane asked.
“No. Yeah, we mean, well a bit. The Mugs are a pain in the arse but we can scare them off, or fight them off.”
We saw Jane’s look.
“Mugs? They’re folk who don’t want to help, just sort of take stuff, stealing, for themselves.”
“But they’re not in charge?” Asked Jane, “Because that pretty well describes who’s in charge here.”
That seemed an odd thing to say. We weren’t too sure what to say after that.
“Sorry, go on,” said Jane.
“Oh well, Mugs and Eels, big Eels. They’re a problem.”
“Eels.” said Jane
“They’ve been getting really big. We’re told its the food, bodies and things that are lost in the water. They’ve been feeding and getting bigger. They’re pretty dangerous. They come out of the water and grab you.”
“Jesus Fuck. Just when I was starting to get jealous.” Said Jane drawing in knees as if something bad was going to come out of the soil and bite. “But, you know, good to hear, learn new stuff about the world and all. So, here comes a sandwich.”
Jane pulled out a brown thing, a bit like a giant slug, but dead and hard, stuck the knife in and quickly sawed off the end.
“Get your chops round this. Its bread.” Jane handed us the rounded end. It was very light and sort of delicate. We bit into it. It was crazily odd. It was crunchy and yet super soft and fluffy and clean tasting or clean feeling. It didn’t have much taste, but a sort of lightness and cleanness. We picked some crumbs off our lap.
“You liked that then?” Asked Jane. We hadn’t noticed that Jane now had a roll of black meat, that smelled really good, really strong. Jane cut a bit off and stuck it between two slices of bread and passed it over.
“Let me introduce you to a sandwich.” We looked at it.
“Oh, we get it now. We do know what a sandwich is, but we call it that when we share hammocks.” We said. Jane looked at me with a big smile.
“You,” Jane paused, “sandwich,” and paused again, “in your hammock?”
We looked at Jane and didn’t know what to say. So we bit the sandwich. Sweet mother of baby seals that was good. We looked up. Jane was still watching and head twitching a bit. We still said nothing, but may have blushed. But then we thought we had better say something.
“This is nice,” we said, waving what was left of the sandwich. “ We may have been in a sandwich but not, you know, sandwiched.”
Which we thought covered it nicely.
“Oh, OK.” Said Jane. “Yeah, same here.”
We nodded, good to get that out the way.
“So, this is beef.. from a cow?” We said, “And you have lots of them?”
“And, this is topsoil, used to improve land for crops?” more nods.
“And the topsoil is being carried by a lorry motor engine.” Jane raised eyebrows at that.
“Yes a lorry. A big motor engine for carrying things.” Jane nodded with a smile.
“And they come in either red or yellow?” We asked. Jane almost spat food out at that and ended up coughing into one hand.
“You’re serious?” Jane asked. We thought it safer to laugh that one off, but we kind of had been, we mean these things are said for a reason, aren’t they? But fair enough.
We each had a second sandwich and ate in silence. We had some water which we shared and made ourselves a bit more comfortable. We offered to share our hammock, but Jane wasn’t keen.
“Its not that, the sandwichy thing.” Jane said, “I have a blanket, I’ll be fine thanks.”
We reckoned it was an offer too far. It would be warmer to share, but, well, OK. So we got comfortable and warmer, but not close together, we didn’t want to push that, so we sort of lay opposite Jane, on the slope.
“Where are we going?” We asked.
“Oh, right well I reckon Buxton first, its the big town on the Pennines, some people call it Upper Macclesfield, well the Mac Lads do but its really Buxton.” Said Jane. “The Pennines are the hills from here to Scotland, Topland as you say, Buxton is the biggest town on the Pennines, Macclesfield and loads of other big cities are underwater, and Macclesfield was closest to Buxton.”
We nodded, not following it much. But old folk around Treetops said similar stuff.
“This road is the A515, it goes to Buxton. If this soil was for Scotland it would have been sailed up to, well, almost anywhere, Blair Atholl if its for Aviemore.” Jane rolled her eyes. “Aviewmore is the capitol, the main city of all of Scotland, its the main city for North Scotland, Biggar is for South Scotland and Buxton for the Pennines. They don’t teach you much geography do they? Can you read?”
“Yes we can freak’n read. A, B, C, F, G, Z.” We replied grumpily. “Course we can freak’n read.”
“But no,” we continued. “We don’t know our Geography.“ We almost spat the word out, “because Toplanders don’t tell us anything, nothing, don’t speak to us, don’t help us, nothing. And we’re just drowning and dying and you’ve got all this space and food and freak’n electricity for freaks sake. And we’ve got nothing.”
“OK OK, sorry, I didn’t know, we don’t know, we’re not told much about you at all apart from.” Jane paused as if not wanting to go on.
“What, go on, what?”
“Well, we’re told you’re different.”
“Well of course we’re different we stink to freak’n high heaven for a start, and we’ve never seen bread before and.” We stopped and took a breath. Jane was looking worried. “Sorry, sorry. The bread was amazing, thank you.”
“Its OK, I understand.” We gave her a look. “I, I don’t understand, but its not great here either. No OK I know, it is great, or it must seem great, but its not really. Its actually really fucking fucked up. I mean it.”
“How?” We asked. Jane looked at me.
“I’ll try and explain,” she started. “But first we ought to plan ahead a bit. I mean, when we get to Buxton what will you do? What are you doing? Actually, that’s a very good point. What are you doing and why and where do you want to go to, well, do whatever it is you want to do?”
We took our pin out of our hair and gave it a good shake. We were stalling. But then so was Jane with her ‘its all terrible here’ line. Where were we going? And what were we going to tell Jane?
“We are looking for friends.” We began.
“Friends?” said Jane
“People who might be friends, and friends, other wetters in Topland?”
“There are other wetters in Topland?” Asked Jane.
“Aren’t there?” We were not really sure what we were saying now.
“Look, some people think the water has stopped rising, but we are not sure. Its really high and there’s very little dry land left. We’re dying and we need help. So, we’ve been sent.”
“You’ve been sent?” Asked Jane, sounding a bit disbelieving.
“Yes? We’ve been sent.”
“And these others?” Interrupted Jane. We didn’t want to answer that.
“We’ve been sent to see if there is any way Topland would help us.”
“So, you want to speak to the Grand Duke of York?”
“Do we?” We asked.
“No!” Jane laughed. “No! He’d have you killed on sight.”
“Because you’re a fr… you scare.. they don’t want to know. They have this thing,“ Jane continued, “that they like, about purity, keeping things clean.”
“And we’re not clean?”
“Not in their eyes.” Jane said.
“Sounds a bit like the Priests.” We replied. Jane laughed.
“Oh, you know them then?” We nodded
“Oh yeah. Do they do that Last Supper thing here?”
“No, but they talk about it. It’s real then? Fuck they’re crazy fuckers. But,” Jane continued. “But, there is Linux, Lady Linux and that lot. They’re… kinder. They might be interested. If we could get you to them you may stand a chance.”
“Lady Linux?” We asked. “Not related to the Lord the Priests go on about.”
“Oh fuck no.” Laughed Jane. “No, they’re sort of in charge of a lot of stuff, technical stuff that keeps Scotland going.”
“And we?” We asked.
“We what?” Asked Jane.
“Well, you said ‘If we could get you’, what do you mean we.”
“Um,” Jane took a breath. “I, um, don’t want to be around here. I was supposed to be on a boat going to the Monasteries and I’m not on it, and I don’t want to be and maybe the Priests are looking for me. Probably are actually and they’ve probably got the cops – the police.“ Jane explained, not that it did, “Soldiers?” We nodded understanding.
“So,” we asked.
“So, if you don’t mind, and incidentally I don’t think you should because you have not got a fucking chance without me, I think we should go together up to Aviemore and see if we can see Lady Linux or someone to sort of sort me out and you at the same time. In fact, I think that’s almost a plan.”
“Well if you think its a plan, let’s go with that.” We said. “How long have we got before we have to wake up? We could do with a kip.”
“Yes.” Said Jane. ”Good point. I reckon we have two or three hours before we get to Buxton. And then the driver’ll park up for the night. They’re not going to unload now. And we’ll sneak off before morning, sunrise. OK?”
“OK.” We curled up and went to sleep with the noise of the lorry around us.“Come back my love.”
It was going to be a slow morning but we were not sure why we were hearing a rock n’ roll medley in our head by the Darts, a band we were never going to admit to liking but did actually. But when were they played? We remember hearing Phyllis.
Bill and Ben were crashing round the Smithy getting ready for the breakfasters. Frankly was snoring, still on the bicycle, which showed impressive balancing skills while still asleep. We watched the morning start, our back to the wall, body still cozy in the hammock.
Soon we were thinking about the paramotor and the sheet of tiny nano filaments. Could you see them or were they so small they were invisible? Just how small was nano? It sounded smaller than tiny.
We leant over on our elbows and gave Leicester a shove.
“Wake up, Leicester.” Was about all we could manage. Leicester grunted but the eyes opened.
“What?” Leicester asked. “What time is it anyway?”
We reckoned it was about eight.
“Oh freak off.” Said Leicester and went back to sleep. We considered giving Leicester another shove but couldn’t see the point. We were not in any particular hurry to be anywhere. We got up and walked slowly to the bar.
“Hi Ben.” We said. Ben looked up.
“Morning Felixstowe. Looking good. Fancy a nettle tea?” We nodded and Ben poured out a large cup of hot and slightly green water. We sipped it slowly.
“Remember what we talked about last night?” Asked Ben.
“About the nano filaments and current mulitiply-y stuff, yes.”
“Anything else?” Asked Ben looking at us.
“Um, no?” We weren’t sure what Ben was on about, always the more complicated of the two we found. “Was there? Can’t remember.”
“No.” said Ben smiling. “I was just, you know what its like, not sure.”
“Yeah. Good night.” We agreed. “Thanks for the tea.”
Ben went off to wipe down tables. We took big sniffs of the nettle tea steam. It was all very soothing.
Leicester appeared beside us and took a sip of our tea.
“So, whats the plan?” Leicester asked.
“Guess we head back and take a dive down and see what we can find?”
“Do you reckon the Mugs are away now?” Leicester asked.
“Probably. Got no reason to hang around. Should be OK.” We replied. “Do we need anything else for the dive?”
“No, the roofs off, reckon it should be OK just from the boat.”
“OK.” We said and looking round for Ben, saw him and called out: “Hey Ben any chance of some food, added to the paramotor tab?”
Ben nodded. “Bubble n Squeek?”
Leicester looked round, “That would definitely hit the spot.”
Some time and somewhat greasier later. We left the Smithy and headed back down the hill to our boat. It was still there.
“Not even the Mugs wanted it.” Some wit called out from an allotment. It was a joke that had obviously been doing the rounds as there were repeats of the line and laughter coming from various sheds and the folk around us. It was all good natured, though we could feel sometimes that the Ridgeway townspeople could sometimes look down on us clan folk for living out on the water still. At least we had land, there were some who just floated about on giant rafts.
“You know, we should call this boat Prince.” said Leicester.
“OK. Why?” We asked. Leicester shoved us off and jumped in. We spun the boat round and settled down to row.
“Its purple.” Explained Leicester, though it didn’t explain much.
“OK.” Leicester was like that.
We rowed back the way we had come, through low clouds of mist and rain. A few minutes after leaving the shore of the Ridgeway there was no landmarks to see, we could kind of see where the sun was we suppose. It was funny how we just knew which way to go. We heard a few other boats but nothing particularly threatening or Mug-like, and passed a boat on a fishing trip from Treetops but they had no news so we didn’t feel any rush to get home. Instead we drifted South a bit until we were over old Park Farm and the Lambourn Paramotor Club shed.
“Are we going down together or take it in turns?” We asked.
“We reckon,” began Leicester, “that we’ll go down alone and find the shed. You stay here and keep Prince on the spot. Then when we’ve found it we’ll take a line down and tie it to something, the door handle. Then we’ll both go down and have a hunt for this sheet stuff.”
“Fine by me.” We moved to the stern with one oar and skulled gently to keep the boat in position. “Good luck.”
We sat still for about ten minutes while we calmed our heart rate, then Leicester took a deep breath and dived in.
No one had taught us diving but it was a skill nearly every one, OK not Bill and Ben, but most, a lot of Wetters had. Being in water or on it was the norm. We didn’t feel the cold so much, it was the summer as well which probably helped, but we were so used to it that it wasn’t really a problem. And we could hold our breaths. We could really hold our breaths.
The trick was to slow down your heart before you dive, take a deep breath and very very very slowly let it out again during the dive. We can do about eight to ten minutes under water, Leicester says he can do fifteen but we would say it was about twelve. There are some who claim they have heard of folk who can do twenty or more. We could see how that would be possible.
We’ve also got these big eyes haven’t we. Scary big eyes because we’re freaks. Actually we don’t feel freakish at all. A lot of the clan have big eyes, as do a fair few on the Ridgeway. Maybe that’s more among the folk who have come off the sea recently, we don’t know.
The big eyes are useful. Its pretty murky and muddy down there, not a lot of light. Not a lot of light up here either which makes it even worse down there. And there are bad things, not just eels to worry about. We got caught on a bit of old farm machinery once. A thing like a big wheel but with hundreds of bent metal wire spikes sticking out. We got some clothing caught in it and whichever way we pulled it just turned. Eventually we had to take our trousers off and swim back up. Oh how they laughed. That was a week of bad trouser jokes.
But there’s old trees, old machines, a lot of barbed wire, some of it sort of floating around attached to fence posts which is really scary if you get caught in that.
People always ask about the eels. They are bad and getting worse, but like the floating junk you just have to get on with it, passed it, ken? This is where we live, its our livelihood.
Leicester’s head popped up and swung an arm over the side of the boat and climbed aboard. We reckoned that was about 6 minutes. We let Leicester catch breath first, quietly staring up at the sky and clouds.
“All right?” We asked after a bit. Leicester nodded and gave the thumbs up. We waited a bit longer.
“Yup.” Said Leicester after a few more minutes, getting up to the seat and taking an oar. “Lets go over this way ten meters or so, then we’ll take a line down and tie up.”
When we were lined up right and after another pause Leicester took boat’s line and dived in. We fed the line down. After a couple of minutes the rope went tight and seconds later Leicester reappeared.
“There’s lots of crazy shit in there. We’re not going to know which one’s the right one, if any.” Leicester said.
“Guess we’ll have to bring it all up then. Let Bill and Ben sort it out.” Leicester nodded.
“Lets go.” We said and we dived in together.
We followed the rope down. We were used to the way our eyes worked in the dark and soon the world opened up around us.
The big grey H shaped farmhouse was over to our right with the unmattached collection of roofs to the north of it together making a large square of farm buildings. We swum down the side of this over a smaller pair of houses to a little triangular field filled with old machinery and huts. There was a line of trees to our left and another line ahead. All the wood was chopped down long ago and probably made up the majority of the huts, boats and rafts for miles around. But tucked into a corner of this field was corrugated tin hut maybe ten meters by five meters. The roof lay beside the hut where Leicester had pulled it off and dropped it.
We swam over the hut and looked down. It did not look promising. We were surprised Leicester had gone in there alone. To be honest, it looked like a death trap. There were hundreds of trailing lines of white rope swaying gently in the water. To be caught up in that nest would be deadly. But Leicester had got in and out so that was what we were going to do.
Leicester signalled: one at a time, Leicester going in first. We watched as Leicester swam down and grabbed a couple of lines and pulled back. As Leicester swam backwards the lines grouped together as if alive and reaching out for a meal. Slowly a dark bundle followed out through the lines and then it was free. Leicester signalled for us to try.
We swam forward grabbed the first line we could and started pulling back. Again all the lines started curving towards us. With a jolt a lump came free and we could see a tightly packed roll of material coming out of the hut. When ours was out we headed back up to the surface together.
We were getting very close to our limit, my diaphram was throbbing painfully despite our regular letting go of air. Going up had been slow and we were very grateful to break the surface close to the boat. We heaved the roll onto the bloat and then floated for a minute catching our breath. Then we climbed onboard. Leicester was already there unrolling the material.
“Not sure how we’ll know which one is Whispering Grass. Terrible name though.” The material was a tough nylon type material almost unaffected by what must have been decades underwater. It had quite a lot of muck on it, slime and algae, but otherwise seemed pretty well undamaged.
We nodded, not really wanting to speak yet. Leicester had always been a better diver.
Leicester unrolled our one. It was the same. A bright blue sheet with what looked like the start of words in red with a white outline. An L and an A, probably Lambourn or something daft like Lazerlight. We had noticed how folk of old loved dramatic text on boring stuff. Buffing a turd they would say.
“Next time.” Leicester looked up. we continued, “Next time, could we go first, we don’t have the gills for this.”
“Yeah, sorry.” Leicester replied. “Should have let you go first that time hey, sorry.”
“We’re just going to have bring them all up aren’t we?”
“Reckon so,” said Leicester, “Just to get them out of the way if anything. They probably put the special stuff away somewhere. Locked it up.”
“So we’re going to have to clear the room you mean.” Leicester nodded. “Freak.”
This was going to be a long day. Or longer than that.
We went down three more times before stopping for a bite to eat and kept on going down all afternoon. By five we had cleared the hut of the lose lines and half filled our boat with paramotor wings.
It was early evening before Leicester suggested stopping again.
“What, for the night?” We had been getting quite into it all. Plus the sheets would make great sails, good waterproof hammocks and roofs for huts, we were literally sitting on a bit of a goldmine.
“Come on, one more dive.” Leicester looked at the sun.
“Suppose we’ve got an hour or so yet. But we’re just going to look around. See what’s what, try a few drawers.”
We nodded, eager to get on.
“OK Fishface. Lets go.” Leicester only called us that when in a really good mood. We dived in and followed the rope down.
Soon we were at the hut. It looked different now, tidy but barren. A few helmets rocked on the ground in the gentle currents. One wall had a floor to ceiling cupboard, one wall had a work top with cupboards underneath while the other two were bare. We swam in and held on to the cupboard door handles to stay in place. Then we began opening them.
When you spend a lot of time underwater you learn to feel the currents swirl and eddy around you. So we felt the eel’s movement in the water before its shadow passed over us and made us momentarily colder. It was a big one. We watched its body snaking over us, then its tail, and it was gone.
Leicester reached over and held my arm. No movement, that was the message. Maybe the eel was gone but maybe it had come round and was about to curl over any one of the walls behind us and strike. We would have held our breath excepting we already were.
Leicester fingers began counting down from 5 and then swum slowly up to the top of one wall a peered over. Leicester gave the thumbs up: all good. We moved to the other wall and looked over that. There was no sign of an eel. We moved to the other ends of the hut. Leicester checked over the wall then we looked over ours. Again nothing.
Leicester looked at us and pointed to the cupboards: time to check them. Leicester moved towards it and the eel came over the wall behind Leicester. We shouted a warning in a bubble of air but it was too late. The eel caught an arm and pulled Leicester over its huge thick body, a good third of a meter in diameter, spiralling round in a black coil of muscle.
We swam over as fast as we could and stuck our bayonet in its body. It reacted immediately, uncoiling from Leicester and spinning round me. But it kept its teeth locked on Leicester’s arm. We could see that Leicester was trying to get a knife out of its sheath but with a clumsier left hand. We pulled out our steel hair pin and stuck that in the eel. The water was starting to turn dark with blood. We pulled our bayonet out and dragging ourselves up the body stuck it back in above my pin. We were trying to work our way up towards the head. The higher we got the harder it was for the eel to warp its body around us. Leicester got a knife out at last and managed to shove it into the eel’s eye. Finally it let go and with a fluidness we felt in our body it swam over the hut wall and into the open water, with me still clinging to our knifes. We pulled our bayonet out and in the rush of water our pin just slid out of the body and the eel was gone in a cloud of blood.
We hung in the water for a bit, then we felt Leicester pull on our arm. We turned and with an arm under Leicester’s armpit we swam up together as fast as we could, but clumsily.
We got straight into the boat and wrapped up Leicester as warm as possible and took a look at the bite on the arm. There were teeth marks either side of the elbow, biting deep into the muscle. We cleaned them out as best we could and bandaged the arm.
It was starting to get dark now. We had to get back to Treetops and get Leicester wounds looked at properly. Then we realised that the anchor rope was still attached to the hut. We were going to have to go down and untie it. We could just cut it but we shouldn’t waste good rope.
“No.” said Leicester. “Just cut it we’ll come back another day.”
“If we cut it someone might find it and follow it down to the hut, then they’ll find the sheet.” We argued.
“We’ll come back tomorrow.” Leicester replied.
“You’re not swimming again for weeks.” We said, “You arms a mess.”
“Look.” We continued. Leicester tried to interrupt, “We’ll go down, check out the last cupboards, untie the line and be back in minutes.”
“No, just wait a…” Leicester began but we dived in. We hadn’t even waited to slow our heart rate. After so many dives it was already much slower than normal, though the fight with the eel had been a rush, in every sense.
We swam down. It was much darker but we kept touching the rope with every stroke. We reached the hut. We checked the cupboard under the worktops first. They held books, papers and folders that were now just a pale cloud of mush.
The first tall cupboard at the end of the hut held more kit: helmets, ropes and boxes of carabiners which, though normally something we would take, were not what we were looking for. The last cupboard was empty apart for the remains of a cardboard box that drifted apart as we looked. Inside was a tight roll, another paramotor wing. It felt completely different from the smooth nylon material of the earlier wings. This felt smooth but in a liquid almost untouchable way, as if it would slip though your fingers. It was like trying to hold an eel we realised.
This had to be the one.
We attached it to our belt and untied the mooring rope. It was now dark as we swum up. The mooring rope had drifted away from us as we went up but we were not too bothered. We knew which direction to head in even though we couldn’t make out the boat above us.
It was slow going after such a long day swimming. We got to the surface further from the boat then we had thought but lay still for a moment as we caught our breath.
It was then that we heard voices: Mugs.
Two of their boats were alongside ours. We could hear Leicester arguing with them which in itself was risky, Mugs only had one way to solve an argument normally: fatally. But what was worse was that we could see that one of the boats was Trumps’ the leader of the of the Mugs. Don’t know what Trumps’ real name was but whatever Trumps did it was always as the biggest arsehole on the planet. We could hear the insane shouting and ranting across the water.
“Wow. Whoa. That is some great stuff. Worth thousands. So nice, thank you very much. That’s really nice. Thank you. Its great to be at here. Its great to be in a wonderful sea of giving like this. And its an honour to have you here. This is beyond anybody’s expectations. There’s been no crowds like this. And, I can tell, some of our divers, they went in. They didn’t know the air didn’t work. They sweated like dogs. Hard work. Cold Work. Thankfully you, this, here, now, for me.”
We swam closer. Luckily the two Mug crews were watching their leader, laughing and cheering at every point and not particularly keeping an eye out. Or more to the point, if a boat had turned up they would have spotted it, but they were not expecting one slow swimmer with a heavy bag attached to their belt. We swam up to the stern of our boat where the fewest number of eyes could have spotted me. Leicester was still in our boat, Trumps standing in front, raving and spitting and waving arms.
“I take this, you give me this, we’ll be friends, best friends, these are my friends. Good Friends> I love them. They love me. We love each other. They were abandoned, uncared for. Why? Why not? They’re the best, the truest and we told the truth and no one listened and now its here so this is mine.”
We were rocking our boat, gently but more with each pull. Leicester had seen us and was moving in time with the rocking, increasing it.
“Are you listening? I’ll not have you disrespecting to us.” Said Trumps.
“We really respect your nuts.” said Leicester and in one movement kicked Trumps between the legs and dived overboard. At the same time we let go of the stern in mid swing and pulled the wrong way. The boat, already top heavy with all the paramotor wings stacked up on it, threw Trumps off balance and into the water on the other side of the boat.
We ducked down into the water just as the shouting started. The dead weight of the paramotor wing pulling me down faster. Leicester, swimming slower with the bandaged arm, had a head start, met us as we sank.
Looking up we could see the flourescent splashes of other swimmers diving into the water above us. They might not see us beneath them in the dark, but we would not be able to stay down here for long.
But an idea started to form in our mind, not a vision as such but a possibility that to some part of us made sense.
We signalled for Leicester to put an arm round our back for a piggyback ride.
We cut the loops holding the paramotor wing and it started to billow out above us. We twisted the twin left and right wing ropes around our wrists and suddenly the wing flattened out and we gliding underwater.
First we just went down at an angle then, as we started to get the idea of the ropes we pulled back on the two rear ropes. The wings began to cut down at a less steep angle. We pulled more and we were flying level. Then we tried angling up and all the while it felt like we were going faster and faster. Initially it was merely the speed of our dropping in the water but now it was the speed of fast swimming.
It never really got faster than that. We suspect the drag of our two bodies was holding it back a lot.
We wondered if Trumps’ Mugs had seen our wings unfold and silently slide away from them.
We flew for about 5 minutes guessing the direction we wanted to head as it was now too dark to see any of the underwater landmarks. But we had to come up to the surface for air.
Five meters below the surface we stalled the wings and before they had time to pull us down we folded them and swam to the surface.
The first thing we heard was Leicester laughing.
“What the freak was that! You’re a freak’n genius! How did you know?”
We tried to shrug but in the dark water it would have been hard to see.
“Dunno.” We said. “We’ve no idea where that came from. It just seemed like something that would happen.”
“Was it Ben?” Leicester asked. We looked puzzled.
“What? Why?” We asked.
“Well, he was talking to you for hours last night.”
“When?” We asked. “We went to sleep.”
“After you were in your hammock, you and him chatted forever.”
“Really?” We had no memory of this. Must have been worse off than we thought.
“Whatever,” we said. “We’ve got to get home and the only way is this wing. We’ve got a couple of miles yet.”
“OK.” said Leicester. “We’re up for it.”
Leicester paddled round and climbed on our back. We took our breathes and sank again. We let the wing unfold and were off. This time we had got a sight of the moon in the dark and had an idea of which way to head.
For the next hour or so we were up and down, flying north for Treetops.
Eventually we felt the land rise beneath us and saw lights ahead. We had reached land.
It turned out we missed Treetops by a fair bit but had got to the Ridgeway a mile or so east of the White Horse.
We rolled up the wing and stumbled out of the water. We went towards the nearest fire and asked for help.
Soon Leicester was having his wound cleaned, stitched and bandaged, while we sipped hot soup by a fire.
We told our story of Trumps and the Mugs but kept quiet about the wing and quite how far out to sea we had been. Even then our story of swimming so far at night gained us some notoriety. But eventually they left us alone.
Later, we rolled up together in the paramotor wing and went to sleep.
Set a few decades into the future, when sea levels have risen 200 metres and most of England is underwater. What is left of the UK is divided: Topland/Scotland and the North is ruled by Prince Andrew, Wales has been taken over by Scientologists, while monks control the North Yorkshire Moors. Still, there are those who survive on the few hilltops above seawater. Pressure is building on these to find safety, to be allowed into Topland, after all, they were UK citizens, once. Felix is sent north to try and find a way in. This is Chapter 6 of 28. Aaah its Trump!. Readers so far: Ch1 - 20, Ch2 - 15, Ch3 - 10, Ch4 - 5, Ch5 - 3. Will we hit 0? For me it picks up at around Ch3/4...