He would often sneak out late at night. Well, sneak is possibly the wrong word. There’s only so much sneaking required when your Mum and her latest beau are in the next room either rutting like wild, deranged animals or tearing verbal lumps off each other in a relationship-threatening argument. Or, far too frequently for his liking, both at the same time. And so the ear-splitting, nausea-inducing volume of either scenario would, essentially, render the need for ‘sneaking’ redundant. Be that as it may however, the point remains. Gordon would often sneak out of the house late at night. And walk to the same place. Always, predictably, unwaveringly to the same place. The place where the lorries sleep.
At first he stepped out for a wander. To embrace the silence, the crisp chill of the air, the distance between himself and the hellish sounds back home. Allow it to do the job that his headphones and a collection of pillows clamped to his ears couldn’t. He walked through the suburban nothingness of Duloch, lightly crunching through the coagulated frost on the pavements of his satellite town home. A home, an area, Gordon often thought, bereft of excitement, bereft of character. A well-polished boil on the arse of Dunfermline, serving no purpose other than to cater for the overspill from Edinburgh. Not even the addition of the gargantuan Amazon factory could furnish the area with personality he thought as he passed by the brooding corrugated husk of a workplace. If he was a kid, in the lead up to Christmas, or a thief looking for a big score then it might hold lustre, an allure for him. But being a socially-anxious man in his mid-twenties, it held nothing of the sort. And so he wandered on, the zip of his winter jacket sporadically brushing against his chin, rising and falling in unison with his stride. The stretch of road to his left completely deserted, the motorway fifty yards or so to his right, obscured by a myriad of bare trees and shivering hedges, much the same but for the odd fleeting sound of a late night car or, more likely, taxi careering down the tarmac. Alone he walked. Rudderless, aimless. Until he came to the place where the lorries sleep.
The work of a long distance lorry driver surely cannot be easy. There’s the relentlessly long hours, the soul-sapping tedium of the endlessly grey motorways, the struggle to climb even the most modest of gradients as streams of cars speed by you. And above all else, there’s the sleeping arrangements on a trip that spans one or several nights. Find the nearest industrial estate/deserted layby/back road (delete as appropriate), pull shut the curtain (if you’re lucky enough to have a curtain), bunk down in your sleeping compartment (if you’re lucky enough to have a sleeping compartment) and gently snooze away the hours in a freezing cold vehicle in an unfamiliar part of the country or continent until the sweet relief of morning arrives and another twenty hours worth of driving lies ahead.
So, with this in mind, it’s possibly easy to understand why Gordon felt slightly apprehensive, almost as if he was intruding, when he came upon the array of lorries, a good dozen or so, parked up by the side of the road. Each vehicle shrouded in darkness. And yet, something drew him in. Something he couldn’t explain. That he couldn’t put his finger on. A pull of some kind. There was an otherworldly quality to the scene. It wasn’t hard for Gordon, an avid fan of Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, Firefly and countless other sci-fi shows, to attach an otherworldly meaning or dimension to the most mundane of things in this life but, this, this was different. Resting, sleeping hulks of steel. Frozen in the darkness, meditating in the silence. A congregation, a gathering, an unspoken understanding. He looked at each registration plate one at a time, mentally noting down the country each hailed from. Poland, Holland, England, France, Germany. The list went on. He skipped from lorry to lorry, something approaching a giddiness taking over his huddled frame. A cocktail of excitement, curiosity and, simply, distraction from the alternative engulfing his mind. And suddenly the silence was broken. An audible, rasping cough spat out from one lorry. This seemed to break the dam of silence as a frittering of snores crept in the night air soon after. This quelled Gordon’s brief spell of delirium, replacing it with a bafflement as to why these sounds weren’t audible to him only seconds or minutes earlier. His pondering, and inaugural trip to the place where the lorries sleep, was abruptly broken only moments later as he turned and broke into something resembling a run, or as close as he could muster, back towards his house. A run brought on by the sound of furious panting and animation emanating from the lorry next to him. What a person does in the comfort of their own lorry is up to them, decided Gordon as he ran, but if I’m going to hear that kind of deviancy then I may aswell be back inside in the warmth with a pair of headphones acting as a lacklustre filter.
The next night he returned. As he did on the following night. And night after night following that. Through frost, through rain, through biting cold. Every night, alone. Just him. Only him. And the lorries. The curiosity found in the perusing of varied registration plates quickly subsiding to be replaced by a serenity. A sense that this place was his own. Or a portion of it was at least. A feeling he had been grappling his whole life to even so much as catch a glimpse of, let alone have a chance to capture. Why did he find it on a stretch of road filled with lorries? On, what was essentially, industrial estate ground? Why, when there were clearly people in each lorry, did he find a sense of solitude? He struggled to answer it. Similarly, he struggled to care why. Each night he would slip out of his Mum’s all-screaming, all-fighting, all-shagging den of iniquity and make his way to the place where the lorries sleep. He would walk into the comfortable, cushioned wall of silence. A warmth encasing his body, his thoughts, his anxieties. And then, after a while, that silence would be broken, as it was that first night. Broken by a solitary fart, a sneeze, a snore. And he would depart. Back home. Slipping in unnoticed. Back to reality. Back to the humdrum.
Until one night, that is. As he neared the place where the lorries sleep, head down, eyes gazing at the grass verge as standard, the familiar chokehold of silence wrapped its hands around the area. As he approached the first lorry however he suddenly stopped in his tracks, positive that he had heard a noise. A short burst of repetitive tapping. Only a couple of lorries away. And not, as far as he could tell, from inside one of the vehicles. No, this was outside. Was someone else there? Surely not. At this time of night? In this kind temperature? No, no, no. Gordon shook his head dismissively, edging forward. Only to stop once more. There it was again!
Everything within him, every fibre, told him to retreat, to exit, to flee as soon, and as swiftly as he could. And yet he didn’t. He couldn’t. Something drew him towards the tapping. Even when he heard a low grumbling sound, an angry mixture of unfinished expletives and short, sharp growls, even then he continued to advance. Anyone who knew Gordon would have been somewhat taken aback by this unusual display of courage, particularly Gordon himself. Yet in that moment all his fears, his anxieties, his doubts had deserted him. A newly-found placidity nudged him forward. As he closed in on the sound, now no more than a matter of yards away, his attention was briefly arrested by the skies above him. Usually a blanket of darkness as he trod his familiar path, that night the skies were alive. Colours invaded the heavens, folding into one another, darting across the paper-thin cloud covering. Reds, greens, purples; luminescent and wondrous in appearance. Almost as if the Aurora Borealis had embraced capitalism and opened up a smaller franchise above central Fife.
Again the tapping, again the grumbling. He slowed his pace, edging along the lorry before glancing tentatively behind the vehicle. Plans to catch a brief undetected glimpse of whatever, whomever, the noise was originating from again fell away, his body, his gaze rigidly refusing to recoil. In front of him stood an old man. Dishevelled, snarling, choked in a lifetime of sneering. He seemed to be
struggling with a pipe, failing miserably to light the thing. So much so that…tap, tap tap…he repeatedly banged it off the underside of the lorry in a very obviously futile effort to spark some life into it. Some more grumbling followed by another round of tap, tap, tap…only for the pipe to slip from his thrawn, wrinkled hands, hit the floor and roll slowly, yet purposefully, towards Gordon’s feet, colliding gently against one of his shoes. An angry, frustrated snarl erupted from the old man as his gaze lethargically followed the pipe’s travels. Eventually his gaze landed on the pipe itself. And the frail, hunched figure of Gordon standing above it. ‘Oh’ muttered the old man as he looked up at Gordon, ‘it’s you.’
And so that was the night it began. The night where, when Gordon walked to the place where the lorries sleep, he first came across the other world. Initially it had bewildered him, baffled him, sent him spinning back into the world of self doubt. The old man, who called himself Bodach, had talked to Gordon in short, crackled tones, dismissive of Gordon’s questions, thoughts, worries. He’d even called Gordon by his name, without prompting. Of course he knew who he was, what did Gordon take him for. Cheeky little bugger. And then Gordon started to be drawn into Bodach’s words, his gruffled yet somehow enticing tones. The old man pulled out a strange-looking, almost medieval silver coin and had begun explaining the incoherent rules of some game to Gordon before the latter was suddenly dragged forcefully from behind the lorry back onto the grass verge. A strange, small creature. One, thought Gordon, that resembled the cartoon hobgoblins adorning the label of bottles of ale named after the apparently mythical creature. The creature immediately began berating him. Bauchan, was its name. And, as it transpired, Bauchan was in fact a hobgoblin. Or ‘an ugly little bugger’ as Bodach angrily chose to refer to him. And for good reason as it turned out. The anger that is, not the insult. Bauchan had pulled Gordon away at a significantly crucial time. Something to do with Bodach trying to trick Gordon into an age-old game of ‘soul-selling’ in order to please his ‘Master’. Capital M. That was an important point apparently. That’s how Bauchan had put it, at least. ‘Watch that old bastard’ he had said. ‘Yes, he’s a pal, but he’s a sneaky old trickster git. Plus he usually foreshadows a person’s death so, eh, watch for that.’ Gordon’s sudden rupture of fear at the last revelation subsided when the goblin fellow remarked that even mythical death foreshadowing, soul-stealing bogeymen needed the odd night or two off from ‘work’. If you happened to see Bodach struggling pathetically to light his pipe then you could be assured that it was his night off. That was how he liked to enjoy himself. After all, clarified Bauchan, like most old folk he’s only ever truly happy when he’s moaning at or about someone, something or some inanimate object that can’t argue back.
Gordon got to know Bauchan fairly well that night, chatting for what seemed like hours but what, in reality, was only a matter of minutes. He’d told him how this particular area was what’s called ‘a Thin Place’. A place where this world, Gordon’s world, and other worlds converge. Where the line between them had blurred to the point where it was unclear where one world ended and the other began. To the naked human eye at least. It had always been there, yes. It just so happened that hardly anyone ever walked this way. Bauchan explained that he and his fellow ‘beings’, for lack of a better word, only really revealed themselves when they felt like they had gotten to know a person. In this day and age, at least. A few hundred years back they would pop up frequently just to put the heebie-jeebies up some of the more god-fearing citizens strewn throughout the land. So, given that generally the only visitors to the area are long distance truck drivers who tend to spend no more than one night at a time in the place, Bauchan and his companions hadn’t seen the point in taking the time to get to know them. A couple of wirry-cows, a hybrid goblin/ghost creature, had attempted to reveal themselves to one or two frequently returning lorry drivers once. However, given that the sleep-deprived drivers had tried to either urinate or them, or worse, have sex them (having confused them for livestock perhaps?…who knows) a retreat back through the thin place seemed like the wisest course of action.
But with Gordon it was different. He had returned. Again and again. Night after night. They felt like they knew him. They could sense his aura. His benevolent, yet cripplingly shy, persona. They’d decided that he was someone who wouldn’t go screaming to the public, or to some charlatan labelling themselves a paranormal investigator. And so that was why they had appeared. Bodach and Bauchan. And the myriad of others who had appeared in a variety of poses, stances and forms along the grass verge and beside, under, and on top of, the sleeping lorries dotting the road side. And, then, as every night previously, a cough from a nearby cab seemed to jolt the atmosphere back into the sterile bleakness of reality. The creatures returned to their own world. And slowly, dejectedly, Gordon returned to his.
When he returned the following night they were there once again. More of them than the night before. Far more, in fact. Bodach attempted to accost, befuddle and trick Gordon yet again before Bauchan, once more, stepped in to relieve him of the old man’s intrinsically malevolent nature. And Gordon continued to return every night thereafter. As did Bauchan, Bodach, their fellow visitors from the other world. Visitors, one and all, that Gordon got to know. To speak to, to understand, to, for the most part, befriend. After a while he even found himself a girlfriend, for lack of a better term. The sublimely gorgeous Glaistig. With her stunningly beautiful looks, her unspeakably long and flowing yellow hair, her ample chest; in Gordon’s normal every day life she would have been so far out of his league that even his own imagination would not have permitted him to fantasise about her level of perfection. Of course, the fact that she was half woman, half goat (the lower half) would surely raise a few eyebrows should he introduce her to any friends or relatives. It would also, he decided, undoubtedly present certain, shall we say, challenges when it came to any future, potential, acts of copulation.
But Gordon was awestruck. By Glaistig. By Bauchan. By all in that place. With them he could be who he wanted to be. A different version of himself, a better version of himself. Maybe even his true self. He felt at ease. Comfortable, needed, wanted. Yes, he felt as if he truly belonged there. In that place. The place where the lorries sleep.