We bodged across the muddy plain, caked in sludge like farmyard turds, though that seemed too lofty a position for someone like me to aspire to. My job had been made clear to me – lead the way for the woman, create foot-sized divots in the ocean of watery scum, so that she would never have to face the ignominy of fishing her own legs out of a particularly boggy sinkhole. It wasn’t just any woman either. It was the most important woman of all. Marie-Claire.
We were traversing this field because Marie-Claire had been invited to a wedding ceremony, taking place somewhere over the unreachable horizon. She had brought me along because she was concerned for my welfare, after spotting me splayed halfway down the stairs out of Old Street Station, shouting to anyone who would listen that I’d forgotten what the colour green looked like, while eating a page of the Evening Standard for sustenance. It was the Wellness section. I was watching my weight at the time.
We’d gotten this far by train carriage, but like a total prick, it had dropped us off several miles from the wedding itself, so we had to make our legs go the rest of the way. It was a bad decision to have forgotten to pack footwear. There had been no room for shoes in my bag anyway, because of my being in it on the train journey. Marie-Claire had told me she was a little short on cash, and so could not afford to purchase a train ticket for me, not even a child-sized one. Instead, I became a stowaway. At least it gave me a great opportunity to catch up on being unconscious, due to experiencing breathing-related difficulties within the bag.
“This is good.” I thought to myself, as I gasped for air in the darkness. My hectic schedule had afforded me so little time to pass out recently.
At the wedding grounds, there was no church, synagogue, or Zoroastrian Fire Temple at which a union of persons could be legitimised. Instead, there were lots of tents with glowing fairy lights and power generators sticking out of them. From an indeterminate somewhere, New Age wailing wafted through the air.
A woman emerged from one of the tents, holding a mobile phone in one hand and hair straighteners in the other. She wore a wreath of flowers in her hair and was smiling like she was in a film.
Marie-Claire was stabbed with panic at the sight of the other woman. “Quick,” she said, slapping my forehead with a dandelion, “grab a wet wipe from my rucksack and get the dirt off my legs. I can’t let Athena Clung see me like this!”
I did as was commanded.
“Athena,” Marie-Claire said, as I proselytised myself before her, “is an influencer, and the bride to be.”
Working out which of these afflictions was worse and therefore what to commiserate this Athena over proved difficult. In the end, there was no time to decide, because just as the last scab of dirt flicked away from Marie-Claire’s knee, Athena and a vigorously happy man with a camera were upon us. She was leading him by the hand, looking back into the lens almost as much as she was looking where she was walking, to make sure that the world hadn’t forgotten her in the time her head was turned away from it.
When I stared up at the two of them from my squat in the mud below Marie-Claire, a horrifying vision of one thousand lost souls, all ensconced in a glowing silver prison, streamed into my eye sockets and rushed towards my mind. It made me do a yelp, and cling to Marie-Claire’s leg.
“You need to take better care of your dog, M-C.” Athena said, her hands on her hips, her head turning towards the lens twice before she had finished the sentence. “Looks like you’ve frightened the life out of the poor thing. Have you been beating him?”
Marie-Claire’s mouth hung open, searching for words that had deserted her. The enthusiastic man sputtered out a high-pitched cackle of approval.
“We don’t condone animal cruelty here on The Craft Goddess.” the back of Athena’s head said to us. “I would never harm a poor, defenseless animal like this one.”
The Goddess crouched down to meet me eye to eye, and patted me on my broken head.
“You are free now, my child.” The Goddess said. “Run, and live among your own kind.”
On all fours, I pelted myself in the direction of trees, away from Marie-Claire, as fast as I could. The Goddess had told me to do it, and no-one had told me not to do it, so it seemed like the best course of action out of all of the courses of action available to me, at that particular moment.
There were harsh brambles and branches, which etched little bits of red into my skin. My hands and feet were packed with solid mud, cold and rigid, until I stopped being able to feel anything I touched. The light of the world faded until it was as dark as my suitcase was, and my only senses were now the taste of blood rushing over my tongue, and the churn of my belly, craving a prey to engorge. The night was a rush of lust, a frenzied chase through the eternal forest, a wild and majestic hunt for my true nature.
What I’m trying to say is, I really can’t be held responsible for what happened. The good thing was that the incident proved Marie-Claire really was important to me, and that doing her bidding by defending her was my true calling in life, so make sure you remember that before you judge. For me, that’s the moral of the story. The epiphany. This epiphany came when the summer sun emerged again, high in the sky, revealing the secrets of the darkness for all to see. Revealing all the silly mistakes in the fallout of the wedding reception. Mistakes such as taking one of the bridesmaids to bed to look at an old photo album together, or glugging down too much of the frivolity juice and making a tit of yourself, or, in my case, tearing half of the bride’s neck out with my teeth.
There was no hiding it, not beneath the light of that wicked sun. The body was a dead giveaway, if you’ll pardon my pun. I didn’t mean to do a rhyme there, sorry. I just get naturally poetic when there’s a murder, and after my night of animalistic rabblerousing, I’ve decided to not hold back my true nature, and instead let my true personality shine through. That’s what Marie-Claire’s book told me to do when I read it on the train back to London. I still had to travel in the bag to dodge the fare, but Marie-Claire, benevolent as she is, had given me a wind-up torch and an air hole to breathe through, as a special treat for making the wedding just a little more bearable for her.
I like to please people. It makes them like you more. For a bit, anyway, until they figure out how useless you really are. It’s still better than nothing. That’s what I’d like to say. But sometimes, nothing is better than something, because then you don’t get your hopes up, only to have them crushed later on. My grandmother told me that. Not a lot of people turned up to her funeral.
Oli Court writes the Scrunched Disconsolately newsletter and blog, featuring short stories and reflections on art, comedy, and misery. He lives in South London.