Waste Stories was recently approached by Bruno Noriega, a fourth-year Film and Media student at the University of Stirling and friend of Phoebe and Marvin. He wanted to know a bit more about the project and to use it as a focus for a photojournalism assignment. Last Saturday, George and I went for a walk with Bruno. We spent half an hour or so collecting waste in front of the semi-circular stone seat on the lower Back Walk. We talked about people and habit – how wherever there’s a bench, there’s always cans and bottles, and often food wrappers and containers.
George did most of the work, poking about in the undergrowth off the path, and we soon had enough cans and plastic bottles to fill a plastic sack. (It’s looking like Dragon Soop is front-runner for this year’s Litter Lout’s Choice award, but there’s a new contender called Screaming Devil – more on this in a separate post.)
We talked about waste, resources and value. Up in Top of the Town, we came across a large net curtain lying in the street and some yellow artificial flowers on a verge.
We also took a detour to St Mary’s Church, where the Gorgeous Girlfriend teddy bear still sat, getting more bedraggled with each passing day.
Finally, we went into the Settle for a quick drink. We talked about stories – how they develop, why we want to tell them, and what they do to us. Bruno: this is a story from Saturday afternoon, so it is yours, as much as a story can belong to anyone.
Cam started giggling; he couldn’t help it. Col had acquired some artificial flowers. They were suspiciously like the ones Cam had seen up at the cemetery, next to someone’s Nan’s gravestone. Wherever they’d come from, Col was laying them carefully, almost revernetially, on the wooden bench in the corner of Mr De Montfort’s garden. Col stood back and inspected the plastic bouquet, then leaned forward to turn it around so that it lay almost (but not quite) diagonally across the seat. He put his finger to his lips and signalled to Cam: Cam looked up and down the garden and gave Col the thumbs up. Col dashed across the grass and through the gap in the hedge. The two boys ran towards Cam’s back door, only letting themselves laugh out loud when they were safely inside.
It had all started a few weeks ago, when Mr De Montfort moved in next door. From the very first time they had talked to him over the beech hedge, Col had been trying to convince Mr De Montfort that the house was haunted. Cam wasn’t sure where the idea had come from, but sometimes there was no stopping Col. He’d come out with a story about a wedding, years back: the groom mysteriously disappearing the night before, never to be seen again; the bridge going totally mental and refusing to take off her wedding dress, even when they carted her off to the loony bin; after her death, her ghost returning to haunt the groom’s old home, forever waiting for him to come back and marry her. It was amazing how it came out of Col’s mouth just like that – no hesitations, no gaps, like it was a story he’d heard told a hundred times.
Since then, Col and Cam had engaged in a sustained but relatively understated campaign. Every time they’d seen Mr De Montfort, they’d asked if he’d seen anything or heard any unexplained noises in the night. They’d added a few details to the story, like the ghostly apparition clutching yellow flowers from a bridal bouquet, and the strange reappearance of presents the couple had exchanged – a locket, a love spoon, a teddy bear. That afternoon, Col had come round to Cam’s with a bunch of yellow plastic flowers and the campaign had entered a new phase.
The next day, before going to school, Cam peered through the gap in the hedge. The flowers were gone.
A few days later, Col appeared at Cam’s door, grinning wildly and swinging his Nike sports bag. According to Col, his big sister Jacqui had been dumped by her boyfriend the night before. She’d spent the evening crying and raging, on the phone to her friends. At some point she’d chucked a teddy bear – a Valentine’s gift received just a couple of week’s before – out of her window, into the garden. It had lain there all night and all day, drenched in the icy winter rain, forlorn and bedraggled, until Col swiped it on his way to see Cam.
The boys waited for nightfall. This time it was Col’s turn to stand guard while Cam squeezed through the gap in the hedge. They’d punched the teddy a few times to make it look a bit more warn. One of its ears had come loose. As Cam dragged it through the hedge, it lost an eye. Cam sat it on the bench where the flowers had been. Perfect.
A week went by. The bear had vanished from the bench by morning, but Mr De Montfort acknowledged nothing. He refused to take the bait when Col asked him if there’d been any recent apparitions or manifestations. Perhaps it was time for less subtle tactics. The boys withdrew to Cam’s room for some serious strategising.
Tuesday night came. The moon was waning gibbous and the dominoes were playing away. Sensing something afoot, Cam’s Mum left strict instructions not to cause any mischief, as well as money for a fish supper. The boys watched from Cam’s window as the doms team piled into the taxi outside the pub. They waited for a few minutes after it had disappeared from view before creeping into Cam’s Mum’s room. Cam had to stand on a chair to reach the curtain rod; unpicking the finnicky hooks took all his patience, but eventually the net curtain lay on the floor. Col picked it up, draped it over his head and ran round the room making ghost noises. Cam almost fell off the chair laughing. They sped down the stairs two at a time, out of the back door and into the garden. Cam took up sentry duty as Col made his way through the hedge, into Mr De Montfort’s garden. The house was dark. Col wrapped the white gauze around himself again. The moon shone through ragged clouds as he started to drift across the lawn, moaning and wailing. A light breeze rattled the leaves of the hedge and Col’s bridal veil fluttered about him. Cam thought: How beautiful! Then Col let out another wordless wail, and Cam had to fight back laughter.
The house stayed dark, despite the commotion in the garden. Cam began to wonder whether Mr De Montfort was out. Perhaps he’d joined the doms team. Then suddenly the door into the garden was flung violently open. Mr De Montfort stood framed in the doorway. Col, unaware, continued to pirouette among the snowdrops. Cam tried to catch his attention without giving his own presence away. Then he saw Mr De Montfort’s face. There was something wrong: the eyes were closed and the skin ashen, masklike, as if he were sleep-walking. Cam’s heart beat faster. As he pushed through the hedge, towards Col, he saw Mr De Montfort’s eyes snap open, revealing deep, black pits with a fiery red glow in their depths. Slowly, Mr De Montfort raised his right arm until it was pointing directly at Col. His mouth opened in a strange, blood-curdling scream, as if hundreds of distant voices were all crying out in agony. Just as Cam reached Col, the sound formed itself into words:
MY BELOVED, YOU NEED WAIT NO MORE. I HAVE RETURNED!
Cam grabbed Col’s hand and ran.