Jeff had heard about my zine. That’s how he got in touch.
“Something you won’t believe,” his email had said.
Jeff lived in his van; an old 4x4 Land Rover Safari in a dirty yellow colour.
“I had a fair chunk of money saved from my time in the city,” he told me. “When things turned bad a few years ago I lost a lot. Things were bleak for a while.”
I don’t push him on this. I don’t need to. Jeff wants to tell me the whole story. “I’m not looking to make money. I don’t want anything.”
He took all the savings he had left, bought his Land Rover and headed to Lincolnshire. “I like its understatement. The quiet beauty.”
He explained all of this to me as we sat in the window seat of the Pop Inn Café; the kind of café that belongs in the marketplace of a town in the heart of a county with epically understated emptiness. He kept looking from me and glancing out to his van, parked across from Cooplands bakery.
“When I was young, every summer, my mother sent me to stay with an aunt. She lived in the middle of the Wolds. My Aunt Emma used to say she lived east of nowhere. There was so much space. When I left London I realised I wanted to be back here.” He stopped himself and shook his head. “No, it wasn’t what I wanted. More, what I needed.”
“And now?” I asked holding a milky tea partway to my lips.
“Now the Landy is my home. I have enough money to get by. I do odd jobs here and there. It’s enough. I’m happy.”
Happy people, I tell him, aren’t the ones who contact me with a story. Jeff won’t tell me exactly where it happened but he’s giving me an opportunity, he tells me.
“Next time, you come with me.” When he says this there’s something in his eyes that could be fear but it could be fervour too. I wonder if this is how it was when he was on the trading floor. I’m not sure I even believe his backstory but something about him seems genuine. He isn’t mentally disturbed. “You be there to verify it, to get the story first hand. That’s something to put in your god damn zine.”
So I pressed the audio recorder on my phone and asked Jeff to run his story past me once more. The full English I had ordered for him still had not arrived. He looked around suspiciously but the only other patron, an old lady sat in the corner, was more interested in her Daily Mirror.
“I don’t stay in one spot,” he began. “Particularly at night. There are several places I like to park up to sleep. Car parks are never safe. Too many doggers or boy racers.”
“So where do you go?”
“Back roads. Out of the way places. There are plenty of them and my truck can go down all those country lanes alright.”
“So it was in such a spot that you saw this…”
“I don’t know what it was,” he said cutting me off. “Part beast, part demon.”
“Something we don’t understand. It came from the end of a small copse of trees. Almost running, but not quite, along the edge of the field. That’s where I was parked; on a dirt track that edged the field. At first I thought it was a deer but then I realised it was stood upright, on two legs. It was humanoid but had a huge pair of antlers, like a stag. Its skin I couldn’t tell, other than it was dark, perhaps of fur and it glinted a little in the moonlight.”
“So what did you do?”
“I tried to take a picture with my phone but the flash went off automatically. That’s what disturbed it. It came toward me. Before I was even aware it was pushing at the van with its antlers. Immediately I smelt rotten woodland and mud and blood all mixed up. I could hear it growling and sniffing the air and then I saw its face. It pressed its muzzle against the rear door.”
“What did it look like?” I could see Jeff beginning to shake. His hands gripped at the sides of the table, trying to resist.
“Like a dog. A dog with jagged teeth like broken glass.” Jeff shook his head. “But it was the eyes. They were human eyes, like a human who had lost his soul.” He was staring at the darkness of his memory. “Its antlers broke the glass,” he went on. “And then it was gone. I heard it jump on the roof and it leapt the hedgerow and disappeared across the next field.”
I looked out to his Land Rover parked across the way. Its back door was missing the window and had a black sack taped across the empty space.
“I’m going back there. Tonight,” he told me in a whisper. “There’s still a three quarter moon and the sky will be clear. Come with me. If it returns you will see it for yourself.”
He showed me the picture he says he took. It was grainy and blurred but I could see something, something that might have been the beast he had described.
I didn’t go. I’m not sure why; maybe I was a little frightened by his story or maybe I couldn’t quite bring myself to believe him. I told him to get me some more evidence, a picture that was clear. Then I’d go with him. I convinced myself of that and I promised Jeff. Contact me in forty eight hours and we’ll talk again. He agreed, we shook hands and I left him to his breakfast. I found I couldn’t really focus on anything for the rest of the day.
I never heard from him again. I emailed him several times. It was a week later when I happened to be glancing through the local paper. There was a short article just before the horoscopes and remembrances; an unnamed man, 47, found dead in a yellow Land Rover on a remote farm road. Suspected heart attack. Police said the vehicle showed signs of having been in a recent collision. They were appealing for witnesses.
I’m passing this story on to you, through the zine. Keep your eyes open if you are out in the country. If you see the beast I want to hear from you.