A short story about Karl and the day he took a trip. A trip that both endangered and enriched his life in equal measures.
“And another thing, when our veterans can’t get houses because immigrants are taking them all, it’s, well, it’s just disgusting!” Karl was sat in his favourite seat, in his favourite café. With his bike safely locked up outside, he was nearing the end of his morning sermon and beginning to wonder where his breakfast was.
“I don’t think it’s that simple Karl,” Martin said from behind the counter.
Martin’s café was famous and on the outskirts of Derbyshire, all cyclists from the roadie boys through to the more extreme MTB lads would stop there to fuel up before a big ride. The place was nothing special. It looked like every greasy spoon you’ve ever been to that wasn’t on the high street. White counter, perspex display case for the cakes and pastries and the always welcome, thoroughly warming smell of frying bacon greeting anyone who came through the door.
“It is that simple. I saw it yesterday. We have a problem where ex-military are homeless, they’re on the streets. When we have Eastern Europeans coming over, claiming benefits and getting a council house in five minutes flat. It’s not right.”
“Karl, I am sure it’s not like that. Those people from Eastern Europe are free to come here, the same as you could go there and ride their trails if you wanted.”
“Yeah, fat chance. Where’s my breakfast? And make sure that egg is broken and cooked, I don’t like a runny egg!”
“Karl, the lads in the military, are being let down, but it’s nothing to do with immigrants. It’s the forces. When someone has been serving for a while and fought in a theatre of war, well, think about it, they haven’t seen so much as a council tax bill. They’ve been told what to do every day for however long they’ve been there. Then they come out and get hit with everything. Sometimes they don’t have anyone to get out to either. What they need is a proper integration program. Well, some of ‘em will.”
“It’s coming. Do you want mushrooms? We’ve got some nice ones.”
“Go on I’ll have a spoonful.”
Martin popped his head around the kitchen door, and gave his cook a nudge, “Give Karl some mushrooms will you please? Oh, give him the nice ones.” He gave Martin the nod and got about the business of preparing Karl’s breakfast.
“You see Karl, you need to open your mind a bit. Some of the military personnel become institutionalised. And when they come out, life can be too much for them. They haven’t got the support, or they’re too proud to go and find it. They don’t know how to fill in all the forms and get all the things they need to get on in life. So, some of them fall by the wayside. Then there’s the mental health issue,”
“That’s rubbish! They are pushed back for immigrants. We’re too politically correct to ignore them bastards and look after our own; I blame Europe!” With that, Karl took a large slurp from a mug of tea.
“Mate, the immigrants just follow procedures. They’re just like you and me, they know what to do, and they toe the line. They fill in the forms, and they’re not afraid to find the help that they need.”
“I think it’s all political correctness and it stinks! We need to look after our own, especially thems that served!”
A bell dinged in the background. Martin went into the kitchen and came back with Karl’s breakfast. He placed it in front of him and took a seat at the table. It wasn’t yet Seven AM on Saturday morning, and Karl was the only customer. “Karl, do me a favour, try and open your mind. Go on the Internet and read what other people say about things, don’t just believe what you read in the papers. Or what those bellends at work spout! We’re lucky, we can find out anything we like. We can form our own opinions from our own research. It’s a big wide world out there, go and explore.”
“I bloody do! I’ll be exploring Derbyshire when I’ve finished this. I’ll be going up to Mam Tor, all off road! Big ride time. But I see what you’re saying, I’ll do that, I suppose. But I want you to do me a favour.”
“Get me some bloody brown sauce for this and top that tea up while you’re at it.”
Martin walked over to his counter; he leaned over and grabbed a bottle of brown sauce, passed it to Karl and took his mug for a refill. Karl bombed his breakfast with the thick, gloopy sauce and meticulously examined his egg. Then he began to put the food away, almost inhaling it. With nothing left but a piece of fried bread, he mopped up the swarthy cocktail of brown sauce, tomato pips, and bean juice. He smacked his lips, washed it down with tea and stood upright. As he fastened his helmet, he called out “Thank you, fellas! I’ll see you before closing time for tea and some of that most excellent apple pie!”
“You’ll never get to Mam Tor and back by half past four Karl.”
“Now then lad! The tank is full, and Karl is ready to roll! Approximate time of arrival back to cake station zebra for refuelling is three fifty-five in the PM. I’ll see you then.”
The cleats on the underside of Karl’s shoes clicked as he strode towards the door. Once outside, he unlocked his bike, took a quick look at his ranger map, and began to cycle north. In less than a hundred yards he left the A6 and took a bridleway up a steep incline and into some woods.
It was definitely the end of the road. Karl removed his helmet, gave his sweaty brow a wipe and scratched his sopping wet head. Then he scratched his nuts and pulled the map from his backpack. His bike was balanced precariously by its peddle against a small, gnarly, dead tree stump. Its fluorescent orange paint was poetically punctuated with flecks of mud and sheep shit.
‘Now then,’ he thought to himself. ‘This trail should be a bridleway, not a bleedin’ fire track.’ Karl flipped the map and folded it into a more manageable size. He studied it while pinching his nose with his thumb and forefinger. And looked around nothing but trees and slowly, the trees closed ranks and then closed in on Karl. Karl looked from side to side, the trees ganging up on him amused him slightly, ‘typical,’ he snorted to himself.
There was a snap, a twig, a brittle crack slicing open the woodland silence. Someone was coming. It was against all of Karl’s principals to ask for directions, but the clouds were also gathering, the treetops were beginning to dance, foul weather was afoot.
Karl scanned the trees again, an impressive but intimidating gang of dark barks and lush leaves, it was as if the forest was closing in on him. He’d had enough. He sucked his stomach in and prepared a greeting. He turned to face what was coming from out of the darkness.
Karl had to look twice. Three naked bodies approached him. They were tanned, fit and born solely of his dreams. His mouth agape and his eyes agog Karl dropped the map, and his concern for the massing trees evaporated. “Hello there,” the first female body said.
“Erm,” Karl replied, his mouth was now wider than a Wizard’s sleeve.
“You think it’s a dead end don’t you?”
“I beg your pardon?” Karl gabbled.
“You think it’s the end, you think it’s all over, don’t you?”
“It’s not, it is definitely not. Lose the lycra and get yourself into the woods,” the woman said giving Karl a dirty wink and blowing a kiss.
Karl’s eyes studied her impressive derrière. Karl could not have stopped staring if his life had depended on it. The three of them kept walking. The woman who had spoken looked over her shoulder and whispered, “Go on, they won’t wait for you.” Karl was paralysed. The naked three disappeared into the ranks of the syndicate of sycamores that now had Karl surrounded.
From out of the darkness a small man appeared, he was somersaulting and vaulting over the foliage, and he landed in front of Karl and danced a little dance. He was naked, and his phallus looked like plumb coloured, baby elephant’s trunk. The over-endowed imp continued to dance. His body popping and jerking, he did flips and hand stands and gyrated his hips. Then from nowhere, he produced a bottle of vodka. Sapphire vodka that looked like white cotton under ultraviolet light. “Drink up you fucking reptile,” the Imp cried while handing Karl the bottle. Surprisingly, Karl was not feeling confused or perturbed; he took the bottle and took a long pull on the harsh liquid. It was strong and evaporated the moment it hit his tongue. “What’s next?” He asked the tiny man.
“We’re out of here, there’s a party, somewhere across the universe. You’re not invited, but I’m going to take you anyway. Because I can be a git like that!”
The Imp pulled Karl into the dark abyss beyond the trees. Karl had no weight to him, and his legs served no purpose other than to just float around meaninglessly beneath his waist. The Imp soared and danced in the air, a hazy lilac turned to a royal blue, space beckoned. “I won’t be able to breathe,” Karl spluttered and laughed.
“You don’t breathe anyway, you twat, you’re an oxygen thief. It’s time you gave something back.” The Imp rolled backward and began to spin out of control into a great airless vacuum.
Karl front crawled through space and dust and magical stars that aligned and illuminated like a spectral fireworks display. He tried to keep up with the Imp but he couldn’t. His gut clenched and his shoulders crushed together. Every colour he had ever seen made itself available to him, his eyes felt like briquettes on a barbecue. They burnt out his skull and lay waste to every hair on his head. He began to fall.
The ground swallowed him. The crushing grind of tectonic plates spat him out into a drowning swell on a fiery sea. ‘Where the hell are the naked ladies?’ Karl asked himself while swirling into a watery, all-encompassing wash. Then stillness. Quiet. Peace.
Tired, but mentally exhilarated Karl sat on a beach, sand as white as ivory stretched out in every direction. The sea was a gorgeous azure and made him feel an angelic calm. He turned his head to look behind him, there was a banquet and a sign that read; ‘Free Food, Free Housing, Free Money, Free Life! All yours, just ask at reception.’
Karl walked over to the banquet table. Every delight was on offer, amongst fruits of the sea, crispy fresh salads, exotic pate’s and cold meats lay a tray. It was garnished with crispy fried bread and in the centre was an assortment of fried eggs, all of which had hard yolks. ‘Bliss,’ Karl almost ejaculated with excitement.
Unable to contain himself, he grabbed the fried bread and made haphazard, crunchy sandwiches stuffed to the brim with egg. Karl began to devour the greasy delicacies. His gut clenched again. This time it was external. He’d been winded. Karl spat egg and fried bread out all over the place. Karl gasped for air but could get none. He was as helpless as a grounded fish. Tortured and terrified he looked up, towering over him was a man. A man who was Godlike in stature, he looked down at Karl with bulging eyes, the colour of boiled blood. “What do you think you’re doing?” a voice bellowed with the force of a violent hurricane.
“The sign says,”
“That is not a sign. It’s a headline, it’s propaganda. You’re not from here, so why would you take our food? Set up a home on our beach and enjoy all of our stuff? What the hell is wrong with you?”
“I’m sorry mate; I got lost. I’ve lost my bike, and I was blasted into space. The earth chewed me up, and I got spat out here, I saw the sign, I mean the propaganda and just thought,”
“You just thought! You just thought? Listen, mate, we don’t like your kind here, you are not one of us. You are just a scrounger, who feels sorry for yourself and you’ve come here to our idyllic paradise thinking that you’ll get a smooth ride.” The giant began to shrink down to an average more human size. Now faced with a standard, but still quite fierce looking chap, Karl started to scratch around for further excuses. “I’m sorry, I just don’t know where I am. Or what I’m doing, I’ve only got what I’m wearing. I just needed somewhere to stay.”
“Well you can’t stay here, you can get lost,” the man screamed at Karl. With no warning tweedy, stringy, aubergine coloured grass began to sprout urgently upwards from beneath the sand. The grass engulfed the man and pulled him into the sand, like the sea claiming the shore at high tide.
Karl spun round grabbed another piece of fried bread from the banquet table and ran towards the sea. As he ran, he began stuffing the bread into his mouth. He couldn’t chew, he was losing his breath, and shards of crispy bread began to spike his throat. He started choking and gagging. The shoreline rushed up to smash him in the face. The pain was murderous, and his entire face throbbed with his own frenetic pulse.
He looked back, the grass had him by the ankles and was pulling him backward towards the beach. Each blade of grass grew a mouth, vicious, snapping mouths like a trillion piranha fish hungry for flesh. Karl wanted to scream, but his throat was blocked with semi-digested fried bread. He had to scream. He had to shout. His life was dependent on it. He couldn’t. He was going to eaten alive by foreign grass.
No one saw Karl for a day, maybe two days, perhaps three days. The thing is, Karl has a minuscule social circle. He sees certain people on certain days. It was a work colleague who called him in as a missing person when he was a no show on Monday morning. Karl would never allow himself to have Monday flu, Sunday night was a school night and any kind of revelry or frivolity was strictly verboten. So, a call was made to the central police station, and Karl was described and reported missing.
He was not missing for long. A family found him on the edge of Mam Tor. He was sat proud and smiling, as naked as a Jaybird. Scaring tourists and sheep alike with an intense grin that would suit the most mental serial killer. His enthusiastic masturbating had led to an arrest, and when the Peak District Constabulary received a call from central, they wasted no time in having Karl sent over there. From Central, he was sent back to the loving arms of his own family, if such a thing existed.