Perhaps it was the remoteness of Cumbria that had so far preserved it from the catastrophe. Or more likely the disease they carried had yet to break out. But with so many tourists in Keswick at least it was surely only a matter of time.
Charlie had almost balked at having to pay for what she had been expecting to loot but what with money shortly to be useless anyway it really made no difference. Anyway she consoled herself that with the market present in what was doubtless its unaware last gasp she had been able to buy up the sort of local produce even she could not envision soon finding. On the passenger seat of the Audi there was rather more cheese, sausage and whisky mustard than she was likely to need but it balanced the foil wrapped hiking rations that crammed the well of the rear seats. Food had been her first purchase. Behind Charlie was stuffed everything else. Not least the spade.
Closer to the village she pulled over. Over a gate and sheep freshly shorn of fleece and a year’s worth of crusted shit ignored her. Having yet to change Charlie sunk to her ankles in the mud and left her kitten heels behind as spade in hand she crossed inside and in the cover of the hedge dug a hole. Having never done such a thing it was considerably harder than she had thought. But still Charlie persevered until hands raw she was able at last to return to the Audi and in six hard journeys transfer twelve half full bin bags from boot to pit. That done she filled in the hole after lastly stripping off the silly and thoroughly ruined skirt suit, tights and underwear. Satisfied with her morning’s work she drove back to the cottage naked. Only when all her new things crowded the living room did Charlie wash in bottled water.
There came a knock on the door a little later and that she ignored. She ignored it too as she tugged happily at labels, dressing and stomping her feet in good new boots. Nowhere had Charlie been able to acquire a big, fuck-off hunting knife even in the odd and stuffy shop crammed with airguns and canoes. But an axe had been easy and so since the caller was persistent then with one hand on the door and a hatchet in the other Charlie answered. It was the hiker. He fidgeted. He made to push by her so she pushed back and flourished her little axe in what she thought to be more than fair warning.
“Let me in. Please.”
Charlie could think of no good reason why she should and said as much adding in case he had not noticed, “I have an axe.”
“Good, that’s good. They’ll come for you later.”
“The dying? Is it my blood they’re after? My brains?”
“I don’t know about that. Look please, at least let me explain.”
An older woman in a waxed Barbour went by on a bicycle. She waved but did not stop and continued along the road till she came to the Punch. There and watched by the hiker she leant the bike against a land rover. The road was crowded on both sides. The pub was doing good business. A middle-aged couple on foot passed the cottage gate and they too raised a friendly hand. Their dog pissed on the front nearside wheel of the Audi. Charlie scratched her bum with the hatchet where her new trousers itched, “Give me a better reason to let you in?”
“I saw you digging.”
She thought on that for a moment before stepping aside. She did not offer the hiker tea and nor did she put down her axe. He made space on the sofa and began to roll himself a cigarette, “It’s there to be found if you know where to look. A lot of it is online now. You can check.”
“On a website?”
“Well yes,” he admitted. He lit his cigarette and explained about himself but Charlie not caring did not bother to listen. Instead she went to the window from where she could just make out The Punch. She wanted a drink and had forgotten to lay anything in. The hiker was still talking, “Tell me, do you know what an Evocation is?”
Not really, “Why?”
“It is part of what they do, have done for centuries. There was a witness to it some years back. But there’re traces far longer ago than that.”
Charlie interrupted him not caring that he looked offended that she had, “Is this magic stuff?”
“My Dad says it’s a load of bollocks. I think you should leave now.”
But the hiker did not want to go. He did not even move from the sofa, indeed he sat back further. He pinched off the last of his cigarette, “Maybe I should go and dig up who you buried?”
“If you like, it won’t matter. Everyone’s dead soon anyway.”
“Can I have your mobile number?”
“Will you go away if you do?”
He nodded and dabbed it in to his own. Before he left he asked, “How do I know this is for your phone?”
“I never lie,” and Charlie kicked the door shut in his face before returning to her piled acquisitions. Happier times and happier again soon to come she picked out scissors, comb and make-up. Charlie swore at the mirror where though he had left the thought of the hiker had followed her into the bathroom. He was quite spoiling her jolly catastrophe and she felt sure that Stephen would find him to be frightful. Hugh would likely not do more than gently tease the man but would probably know how to cook him if Bruce (or at a pinch Ray) could be prevailed upon to hunt him down like a wild pig. Charlie supposed that as the huntress that would really fall to her but she was doing her make-up and so for now she would try again to put him from her mind. Still though he persisted and so quite against her choice Charlie for the hour that followed increasingly returned to wondering what was happening to wossisname, thingy, the hiker? She ate onion marmalade on whole wheat crackers, roughing it.