Note: Suitable for adults only.

Camelot – Excerpt

When she finds me, I’m half-sitting, half-slouched, butt propped against the bonnet of my chunky old Volvo estate, shoulders hunched, flicking away madly at my fifty pence lighter, roll-up hanging from my mouth, boots still unlaced. Dignified, right? But sometimes the need takes you, and it doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re doing, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

I need a fag, and that’s that.

And, let’s face it, it’s not like it’s going to kill me.

The bonnet is still hot under my arse, and that’s something to be grateful for, because today’s bitch cold. The Volvo’s heater broke weeks ago, and I haven’t a clue how to fix it. My bones hurt.

I finally coax a flame out of the lighter. I take a drag and feel the smoke burn its way down into my lungs. Now that’s what I call central heating. I’d say it’s better than sex, but to be honest, it’s been so long since the latter that I can’t remember.

When I open my eyes, a whole coach load of fucking Japanese tourists have drawn up and are piling out, right into my view. Fantastic.

It’s while I’m watching them that she sidles up to me. Must have come from the other end of the car, because the first I know of it, she’s taking the fag out of my fingers and lighting one of her own with the end. She returns mine with a half shrug–very Gallic–then settles beside me.

“It never is,” she says.

Which is a funny fucking opening gambit, if you ask me. If it’s supposed to be a come-on, it’s not exactly ‘do you come here often’. But, to be honest, she doesn’t exactly need the lines. She’s gorgeous. Hair as black as burnt wood and cascading to the small of her back, which in turn sends the eyes you know where, and once I’m there, well, I’m not looking away in a hurry.

“Isn’t what?” I say, eyes still firmly where they shouldn’t be.

“Camelot,” she says. “It’s never Camelot.” She waves the cigarette at the ruins that rise on the hill above us, leaving an elegant trace of smoke in the air.

She turns to look at me for the first time and I get the full effect of her eyes. They’re almost as dark as her hair, and they near-as-fuck knock me out of my unlaced boots. I’ve never seen eyes like them before. My heart’s hammering away like a teenager with a skin mag.

“That’s what you’re looking for, isn’t it?” she says. “Camelot?”

“No,” I say. “I’m looking for my brother.”

She nods, like it explains everything.

“What happened to him?”

“He disappeared.” Which is true as far as it goes. There are just a couple of details I leave out. Like, my brother was shot down over France in 1943. Like, I was twenty-two years old.

Like, I’ve been looking for him ever since.

Like, it’s 2010 now, and I haven’t aged a single day.

“Camelot,” she says. “It’s never Camelot.”

There are things you long for. Things you need with the strength of a black hole some bastard’s opened in your chest. Things you can’t leave be because you’d die if you did.

I finish my roll-up with one deep suck and grind out what’s left under my foot.

“I’m going to take a look.”

“Fine,” she says. “I’m coming.”

I don’t say no.

I’ve seen it in my dreams. The place Jack came down. I’ve seen weed-strewn ruins, high arches of stone, glittering glass hanging in shattered windows. I’ve seen fountains and a river that wells up from deep beneath the ruins to run over carved reliefs. I’ve seen statues and fluttering flags standing forlorn over crumbled walls. I’ve seen Jack lying there, his parachute crumpled behind him, his face twisted with pain, his leg bent back at an impossible angle. I’ve seen the cold sunlight overhead and heard the wind snatching at the stones. I’ll know it the moment I see it.

This isn’t it.

I didn’t think it would be. After all these years, I don’t expect to find that place, but I can’t stop looking. It’s got to be out there somewhere.

Jack fell from the sky. I can’t leave him.

The Japanese tourists are all over these ruins, taking shots, laughing, talking. Steam rises from their lips, wreathing their heads like they’re dragons at the fucking monsters’ ball.

This is not it. I can’t help but feel disappointed. You’d have thought after all this time, I’d have grown immune.

“I’ve got a room,” she says. “Back in the village. Nothing special, but…”

I shrug. Anything’s better than another night in the back of the Volvo, with ice on the inside of the windows and a crick in my neck that’ll take all day to loosen.

“Sounds good.”

That night, after the wine, after we’ve fucked, after I’ve stared into her eyes like into twin wells filled with ink, she shifts herself out from under me.

She gazes up at me from the darkness. “How old do you think I am?”

Trust me, there’s no right answer to that. “About thirty,” I say, trying to be honest.

She smiles. “Sweet boy.”

“You want to know how old I am?” I say, suddenly irritated. “I’m eighty fucking nine.”

Her smile widens. “You’re far older than that, Sam.”

As I slip into sleep, she whispers, “You’re not supposed to remember. None of us are.”

In the morning, she’s gone, leaving only the scent of olives behind her.

I never told her my name.

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