© Clare London
Saturday morning, I awoke to a trumpet call from Hades itself, or that’s how it sounded: a wailing scream, a shriek of hate and despair, ripping through the dawn.
Heart pounding with shock, I scrabbled out of my (borrowed) sleeping bag, cursing whoever had twisted the zip up between my arse cheeks while I slept. The traffic had been so bad the previous evening, we’d arrived really late at the campsite, and there’d been no time for anything except putting up the tents and crashing out. This morning, I barely remembered where I was, let alone why I wasn’t waking to decent rock music on my digital radio alarm. I blundered into the side of the (also borrowed) tent, breathing harshly, wondering if oxygen were available for those with an allergy to polyester. My elbow thumped the tent pole at the doorway and the whole structure shuddered around me.
When I lurched outside, the fresh air hit me like chemical warfare, my bare toes curling up with the shock of grass underneath them so early in the morning. There was a sudden flurry of black feathers as birds launched themselves from the nearby trees. I stared at the world through dilated pupils, panting, expecting to see the Four Horsemen charging in on some satanic version of a tractor.
Instead, only Max was there, crouched outside his own tent, his back to me. He was dressed in just his shorts and he looked completely at home, stirring away at something in a pan, its surface bubbling and the sharp tang of its sauce catching in the back of my throat. I peered over at the pan, suspiciously. Was he going to eat that? From what I could see, it looked like it’d been vomited up by the Beast of Exmoor.
As I groaned and grasped the tent pole for extra support, his head whipped around. “What is it?” He looked concerned. “The crows wake you up?”
I never got time to reply with something witty and face-saving because we were both distracted by a strange creaking sound. Max stood up, abruptly, still clutching the spoon, globules of sauce dripping from its end. His eyes widened. The only other warning I got was the flapping sound of a loosened flysheet, and then the heavy rustle of canvas crumpling down on itself.
I stood there, staring resolutely and helplessly forward, listening to the dull twang of the poles springing free behind me, bouncing against each other, scraping down the seams of the tent. Then the muffled clang of them hitting the ground.
I thought I’d knocked each peg securely into the field the night before, but … maybe I hadn’t.
There was a final thump and everything went quiet again. I didn’t dare turn around. I coughed from grass seed in my throat. A stray acorn rolled past my foot. Max’s gaze shifted down from over my shoulder to a point barely six inches from the ground.
“Shit,” he said, thoughtfully. “Looks like the guy-ropes weren’t tightened properly.”