Brindley Hallam Dennis
I ended up speaking to the landlady of the local pub, whose boundary touched that of Gosling Place.
That’s not his name, she told me.
I couldn’t see why she was bothering to open the place, it was so quiet. She said, I don’t know why I bother to open up. It was a mid-week lunchtime and there was nobody else in, so she had plenty of time to tell me everything.
It used to be Gosling’s farm, she said. That’s where the name comes from. Stanford bought it when the old man died. He got it for a song, at an auction. Nobody else wanted to have anything to do with the place.
Gosling had pulled off some deal to sell all his beef to the Chinese, and when that went sour after Brexit, it didn’t go well for him. People started hanging stuff on his gate.
Stuff, I said?
Internal organs, she said. Hearts. Livers. Kidneys. Animal parts, obviously. It wasn’t the locals. It was people from outside. All the way from London, some of them. She gave an awkward laugh. We got quite a bit of trade off them, she said, and so did Reg Smedley down in the village. The butcher, you know? It turned into quite a circus.
She picked up an already dry glass and polished it with her tea towel.
Go on, I said.
Well, then someone, perhaps a journalist, she said. And she gave me a look. Someone, she said, put it about that some of the pieces of meat were actually human. After that things went downhill pretty fast, for old Gosling.
Stanford made his money with a book, about re-wilding. That’s why he bought the place. So he could put his theories into practice.
She put the glass down again and pulled a face.
That’s what you want to talk to him about?
If I can find him, I said. There was no phone number listed. No landline, no mobile. There was no e-mail address. Even his publisher has to write to him by hand and post it, I told her.
I’ve left messages at his gate, I said, but I don’t think he even sees them.
That sounds like Jimmy, she said.
That’s his name.
You know him?
We all know him, round here, she said.
For the first few years he’d almost fitted in. He wasn’t what you’d call normal, but he was within the range of what was considered the usual eccentricities. He was like an old hippie, the older ones said. He was like one of those New Age weirdos, the slightly younger ones said. The next generation down just thought of him as Green.
He’d gone off grid almost immediately and was trying to do without technology. Electronics are easy enough to get rid of, but mechanics have been around for a hell of a lot longer. Wood burning stoves are made of cast iron. Even hand-made wooden artefacts need metal tools to construct. He’d passed on solar panels and wind turbines because they were made in a factory.
He tried not to use anything that had been brought across an ocean. Then he progressed to limiting himself to things made within a day’s walk, there and back. Recently, it seemed, he’d started to think of his own fence-line as the outer perimeter. If he could use what was inside or make what wasn’t, that’s what he’d do.
Money, it was said, was still coming in from his book and went direct to a charity he’d set up, administered by his publisher.
He’d do a day’s work in the local forest, or on a farm, or even chop wood for the pub, and take pay in kind: pints and a cooked meal, farm produce, firewood. But the brushwood and small timber these days is piled to make habitat, and the farm is buried under regulations about what goes where and how it is processed. The pub’s wood burning stove is now seen as polluting and no longer Green.
The last time the landlady had seen him his shop bought clothes had worn to patched and threadbare rags. His appearance had unsettled the paying customers. These days he’s rarely seen, avoids even his own fence-line, except, they say, at night when he patrols looking for breaks and places where boughs or even whole trees might have fallen and pressed it down. Deer, he knows, can jump clear over, in or out.
I myself caught a glimpse of something pale passing between the close crowded trunks of self-seeded birch. My guess is that it was not to be alone that was his intention or desire, but who am I to say?
One day, the locals say, the authorities will need to go in and bring him out, if only for his own safety. Some claim, until another unconfirmed sighting casts doubt, that he is already dead, his flesh rotted away, his bones disassociated, the internal organs devoured.
The old farmhouse too, will go that way, but over a longer period of time, I guess, and run to ruin and green decay.