Our Friends Electric
by Fiona Cooke
As his friends joked and jostled, lost position and gained it, he kept sight of the girl in white. People jumped up and down directly in his line of vision and they were pushed forward slightly. Midge spilled half of his beer and Jason lost his Viking hat but Matt kept his eye on the girl, she was in the midst of the crowd, ideally placed, halfway down the hill from the stage. Her long red hair shining in the setting sun, like burnished copper. He wished she would turn so he could catch a glimpse of her face.
There was a roar from the crowd and a surge forward as the band came on. His friends leapt into the air, pulling at each others arms. He let himself go with the moment, jumping up and calling himself, chanting the name of the band that was on everyone’s lips – “Vi-kings, Vi-kings, Vi-kings” and the stage lit up with a blast of multicoloured laser lighting. The tall lead singer, his hair wild, his body painted and tattooed strode onto the stage and roared out to the crowd in his heavy Swedish accent and the crowd screamed back.
Matt scanned the surging mass of festival goers for the girl, caught a glimpse of her, she was caught in a wave of a band of enthusiastic youths whose manic dancing pushed her forward and upwards. He saw her raise an arm into the air and then she went down.
He pushed forward instinctively, left his friends, carving a line through groups of ecstatic revellers, ignoring the irritated shouts and complaints until he reached the spot halfway down the hollow. She lay sprawled across the grass, a couple of girls drinking from cans stood staring at her.
“What’s wrong with you?” He shouted at them over the roar of the band.
“She fainted.” One of the girls offered.
“Well, help me get her up.” Matt got down on his hands and knees and gently took hold of her arm. He shivered at the touch, her skin was cold. Worried, her felt for her pulse and was relieved to feel a steady beat. With the slight help from one of the girls standing beside him, he managed to get her standing.
She opened her eyes slowly and raised a hand to her hair.
“What… where am I?” She stared at him, her blue eyes searching, eyes a shade of icy blue he had never seen before, eyes that reached into his very soul. She was beautiful, as he had known she would be. He’d expected freckles because of the hair or a light tan but her skin was pale, very pale with dark circles under her eyes. The lips seemed cyanosed, tinged a blue that wasn’t due to cosmetics. The model face had a pinched look.
“Who are you?” She reached to touch his face and he drew closer until their foreheads were touching, he felt an uncontrollable urge to kiss those blue lips, to bring back the colour with the aid of his own. But instead he held her cold hand and rubbed it in his warm ones.
“You fainted, or you were knocked down.” He shot an angry glance to the bunch of teenagers pogo-ing to the rousing chorus of the band’s infamous track “Plunder”.
“How are you feeling? Do you want to sit down? I think you should sit down.” She nodded and let him lead her away from the concentrated throng near the pit at the foot of the stage. She stumbled in her high laced boots and when he slipped his arm around her narrow shoulders, she leant into him like a frightened bird. He found a carved wooden bench near one of the fire pits, luckily empty and helped the girl to sit down. She shivered in her thin dress.
“Do you have a jacket, a cardigan?” He asked.
“There’s a wrap in my bag.” She reached for the small brown satchel she had trailed from the gig and he pulled out a fine cobwebby knit and pulled it about her shoulders. The emerald knit awoke the copper notes in her glorious hair. He pushed a lock out of her eyes.
“Thank you,” she sighed and leant her head against him. “I’m so tired, you don’t mind if I rest here for a while, do you?”
He shook his head. He didn’t mind at all, it was very peaceful sitting like this, intimate and yet not. He could still hear the band and catch a glimpse of them strutting about on one of the large screens in the distance. Strangely he wasn’t missing the gig, even though they were the highlight of the festival for him and his friends. He felt oddly exhilarated sitting beside the strange sleepy girl, playing the part of her protector. It was as if he was where he was meant to be for the first time in his life, he couldn’t explain it but he had known as soon as he saw her, that one glimpse of the girl in the white dress. The image was ingrained in his head, nothing else mattered after that, not his friends, the band, nothing. He thought of that snapshot, the pale redhead in the white lace dress who was so completely different from everyone around her that it set her apart. She was on her own, that much was true, no one had raced forward to rescue her save him. It really was as if she had been only visible for his eyes - created just for him. He sneaked a glance at her; her eyes were closed and heavily kohled, her mascared lashes rested on her pale cheeks. Her lips, so perfectly carved looked almost doll like; the blue had faded to a light rose. She looked peaceful and before he could help himself he placed a light kiss on her brow, a whisper that hardly touched her skin but she felt it – opening her eyes and lifting her head.
“What’s your name, kind saviour?” Again he caught a faint French accent. She smiled up at him. He blinked, “Matthew Starling.”
“Like the bird.”
“Just like the bird,” he grinned. “But you can call me Matt”.
“Matt,” she repeated .“Matt” as if she was trying it out.
“I like your name.” She rested her head back against his shoulder.
“Well, that’s good,” he said. “Now, tell me yours.”
“Elspeth Marchand,” she murmured sleepily. “But you may call me Ellie.”
Ellie, he liked it, it was sweet and old fashioned, a little like her, he thought. A little like the dress she wore, white lace that fell past the knee and fastened down the back in little buttons, high necked and puff sleeved, it looked Victorian as did her black lace-up boots. Not clothes to be found in the local Primark, festival gear to be sure but definitely vintage and by the looks of it, expensive vintage, maybe even designer. Not that he would know.
The Electric Picnic attracted all sorts. People travelled from all over the world. It was thought of as a mini Glastonbury, without the mud (well, most of the time) A boutique festival; it had something for everyone - the main music stages, theatre, comedy, gourmet food and many more diverting activities. Matt lived not far away and had grown up with the festival. It was an annual event for him and his friends. He wondered how far this girl had travelled and with whom. She had hardly come alone but perhaps she had. She did seem very tired, he thought he would just let her rest for a while. Later when she woke he would see to it that she had something to eat. She looked like she could do with some sustenance. But for now he was happy to let her be, sleeping on his shoulder. He liked her there. It felt right.
His reveries were interrupted by a slap on the shoulder. A long shadow leant across him – Midge aka Paul, his best friend stood beside him.
“So, this is where you pissed off to?” He eyed the red head with her head on Matt’s shoulder. “Cosy. Who is she and why have you drugged her?”
Irritated, Matt motioned for him to be quiet but it was too late. Ellie sat up, she glared at Midge.
“Hey, I was only joking about the drugs,” he mumbled.
“Shut up, you pratt” Matt hissed at him, silently wishing he would disappear.
“I don’t do drugs,” the girl looked Midge in the eye. “Do you?”
“Em, not really, well no, of course not!” Midge answered and looked at Matt raising his eyebrows.
“Midge, this is Ellie, Ellie, this is my friend Midge and also the scourge of my life.”
Midge laughed and Ellie smiled as she put out a hand.
“Nice to meet you,” she said and Matt watched his friend stare at her face in appreciation of her beauty and felt a surge of jealousy pulse through him.
Midge shook the hand offered. “And you too, Ellie, very nice, do you have any friends?”
She laughed and leaned forward. “Not for you,” she chanted in her sing song voice.
“Charming.” he quickly dropped her hand and turned to his friend “Well, now that we are all acquainted, the lads are going over to the Body and Soul stage – you coming? Bring your new friend.”
“Sure” Matt looked across at the girl, unsure, “maybe.”
“Ok.” Midge moved away. “Look, we’ll be there for a bit, I’ll text you later if we miss each other.”He slapped Matt on the back and headed off.
Matt cleared his throat, he felt as if the dream had passed. Midge’s interruption had forced him back to reality. The sounds of the festival had penetrated the little bubble that was just the two of him, people sat in front of him, chatting, eating and laughing, everywhere there was movement and noise. He was sitting beside a complete stranger at a bench at the Electric Picnic. His stomach rumbled ominously and he turned to his companion.
“Hey, do you want something to eat?”
She laughed and pointed to his chest, “I could eat, but you are in danger I think”
He blushed and stood up. He held out his hand. “Well, come on, I know just the place”.
There was a tiny moment when he feared she wouldn’t take it but she stood gracefully, grabbed her satchel and took his hand in hers. He breathed a sigh of relief and then smiled to himself when she didn’t give it back. With a light heart he led the way to the row of food vendors.
Sitting at a table beneath a spreading horse chestnut tree they shared pizza and beer. Fairy lights twinkled amongst the branches and on a raised stage across the clearing a string quartet of masked violinists filled the air with haunting melody.
With a little food, Ellie seemed transformed, she laughed at his jokes and he was transfixed by her long slender neck, how it seemed too fragile to hold up such a mass of long hair. He kept her hand and felt the warmth flow between them. After the food they wandered through the woods to Trenchtown drawn by the ska beat and sat on upturned tree trunks and laughed at the fake palm trees. They drank cocktails decorated with flowers and umbrellas and he kissed her. Her lips were sweet, her kiss soft and deep and he wanted it to never end. She touched his face with her fingers, tracing the line from his chin to the soft spot at the base of his throat. She leant down and kissed the spot, her tongue lapped softly and sent chills down deep in him. He desperately wanted to carry her back to his tent, to undue the tiny buttons at he back of her dress and kiss her pale back, trace lines in her skin with his fingers. Suddenly she stiffened and sat up, she looked past him and her eyes widened in alarm. He started, took her hand, he turned his head but all he could see were people dancing, moving to the bar and back.
Ellie stood up, she dropped his hand.
“I’m sorry, I have to go,” she grabbed her bag from the sawdust covered forest floor.
“What? Why? Why do you have to go?” He held onto her arm.
“I’m sorry, I just have to.” She pulled away from him.
“I’m sorry Matt, I can’t do this…” She turned away from him and began to quickly push away through the crowd.
“Ellie, ELLIE!” Matt shouted after her but she never turned.
He followed in her path, following the brilliant copper of her hair, the green shawl. The crowd of people leaving the Main Arena seemed to swell, her pace had quickened. He couldn’t reach her, he couldn’t keep up. And she disappeared.
He stopped and turned scanning all around him. She was gone, it was as if she had never existed, he had no number for her, no place to find her. Wretched, he felt tears spring into his eyes and angrily turned away from the crowds, pushing in the opposite direction. His phone vibrated in his pocket and for one stupid moment he thought it was her but it was a message from Midge telling him to come to the Main Stage. He thrust the phone back into his pocket and headed for the nearest beer tent, he needed a drink. As he sipped from the plastic cup and scanned the crowds it came to him that he must see her again, after all she was there for the weekend, it was Saturday night, only half way through the festival and she had no where else to go. He would see her again, if it killed him.
But he didn’t find her at the Main Stage. He spent the next hour searching much to the chagrin of his friends who told him he was behaving in a ridiculous manner.
“You knew her, what? Half an hour?” - From Midge
“No, longer, more like two hours.”
“Two whole hours, wow!”
“Yeh, I know but…”
“And you know us how long?” Midge gesticulated spilling beer everywhere.
“Ok, for bloody ever!” Matt groaned.
“And where are we?” Midge persisted.
“The fucking Picnic, Ok?” He messed up Matt’s hair. “The Picnic,” he whispered in his ear. “Now stop all this fucking moaning and grab another beer.” He handed him a can from his rucksack.
Matt grinned and did as he was told and after a while and a fair amount of alcohol later he began to enjoy himself and forgot about the girl in the white dress for a while.
The rest of the night was a blur of music and lunatic dancing. Matt’s head spun as he lurched back through the woods with the hordes of festival goers heading back to their campsites to sleep, entertain and carry on the revelry. He stopped to take an illegal leak in the cover of a copse of trees. His friends carried on without him.
The sounds of the heavy base from a late gig, thumped through the trees and he leant against the trunk of a tree in front of him to fix himself. His head was spinning and he closed his eyes momentarily. There was a light touch at his arm.
He spun around and nearly lost his footing in the light covering of moss and twigs on the forest floor. She stood before him – her eyes luminous in her white face, her hair spread across her shoulders like a cape, shining in the moonlight. The lace dress hung on her slight frame, reminded him briefly of a shroud.
“You came back,” he mumbled drunkenly.
She reached up and placed a kiss on his dry lips. A kiss that was both sweet and cold.
“Do you want to come to a party?” She whispered in her soft French accent.
He nodded and she led him out of the forest.
When questioned by the police Paul Reade was more than able to describe the girl – he could recall her with vivid clarity, her stunning beauty that was more than the obvious 90’s heroin chic look – all large eyes and skinny limbs. Her foreign accent and the odd clothes. She could have been a model, with her bone structure and the natural copper hair. She seemed dream-like and he could understand why his friend was so taken with her. But not his type.
He told them all he could remember from his last encounter with his friend. Early Sunday morning, he stumbled across Matt and the girl – they were asleep, his arms wrapped protectively around her in one of the large bucket swings that were large enough to hold three or four people. When he tried to rouse him, Matt opened his eyes and blinked at Paul and Paul remembered thinking - “And I thought I had a rough night” – Matt’s mid length hair was dishevelled, there were leaves in it and mud stuck to his sweater and coat. The girl looked immaculate and dirt free and lay curled against him. Matt seemed drugged and struggled to hold a conversation with his friend, his eyes were bloodshot and there appeared to be bruising around his neck. Paul tried to get him out of the swing, he wished he had brought Jason, or some of the others to help because Matt was a dead weight. But then his friend turned aggressive, pulling the girl to him and telling him in no uncertain terms to leave them alone.
Offended, Paul turned away, he decided to leave him to his bad mood, believing him to be hung-over and that he would no doubt sober up and he would meet him later in the day. He was visibly upset telling the police the last thing Matt said to him that day. Matt called him and Paul turned.
He watched Matt sit up, gingerly as if he was sore, and he took pains not to waken the girl.
“Paul,” he called softly, and this seemed wrong because Matt only ever called him Midge.
“Thanks,” he said and smiled but there was no warmth in it. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to shout at you. I’m just so tired. Mind yourself and be good.”
Paul still feeling wounded waved a hand and walked away to get the caffeine hit that had forced him out of the tent. There was a large queue at the kiosk and when he returned to the swing with a coffee for his friend, having felt a little guilty for not accepting his apology, the swing was empty and the couple were gone.
Later that evening, he caught a glimpse of the girl again. She looked different, had a different dress on, a navy old fashioned pinafore thing and her red hair was wound about her head in a complicated plaited bun. She was not with Matt but another man. Paul struggled to get to her through the crowd surging towards the stage. He yanked her around and shouted in her face “Where’s Matt, Ellie? Where is he?” She started as she recognised him.
Then he was roughly pushed away from the girl by her companion, whose strength belied his gaunt appearance. A tall man who was dressed from head to foot in black, from his slim trouser to his full length coat. Long, dark hair was tied back in a ponytail.
“Do not touch her,” he hissed and menace emanated from his every move.
The red head hung at his side. “I’m sorry but I don’t know where your friend is,” she answered. “I haven’t seen him since this morning, he just got up and left.” She moved towards her companion who slipped an arm around her frame possessively.
She looked different from the last time he had seen her. Not so shy, more animated as if she had recently recovered from a long illness. And with a heavy heart he turned away from the couple, after all what could he do? Matt was probably back at the tent recovering after his escapades; his fruitless one-night stand. He moved back to his friends and puzzled over his friend’s behaviour. No one was overly worried until the next morning when they realised that he had not been back to the tent since the Saturday.
Months later, a walker in the woods, discovered Matt’s jacket with his phone in the pocket, shoved into a hollow tree. In his pocket was a roughly scribbled note. It was addressed to his mother and she identified the writing as her sons.
“Forgive me Mum, I have to go. Please don’t be sad or worry about me. Don’t search for me, I won’t be found”
Your loving son, Matthew.
The police called off the search. As the years passed, his mother would receive similar correspondence postmarked from different countries – France, Belgium, Hungary and even America. There was never a return address but she kept each letter close and took scant comfort in the fact that he was alive and thinking of her. When she died the letters stopped coming but a bunch of white roses appeared at her graveside. Pale and beautiful, with no card.
About the Author:
S. K. Gregory is an author, editor and blogger. She currently resides in Northern Ireland.
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”